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In light of all the recent posts asking how to save money on a wedding, I thought I'd take this opportunity to rant a little about a particular pet peeve of mine. I call it "Weddings Inside the Box." I'm sure I'm going to get flamed for this by lots of horrified relatives and brides-to-be, but my butt-hide is tough, I can take it. I think.

Anyway, last weekend, DH and I were visiting with an old HS friend who has been married for seven years. He and his wife had been in a big hurry seven years ago to amass all the trappings of a "grown-up lifestyle:" the big wedding, the big house in the suburbs, the minivan, the three kids, etc. This man made open (and none-too-gentle) fun of DH and I for years because we dated for so long before marrying, and because we still haven't bought a home. "When are you guys gonna GROW UP?" he'd demand. What the hell does growing up have to do with buying a house, by the way? At any rate, I know that things are pretty financially tight for this couple right now, and last weekend, while discussing my recent elopement with DH, this guy shocked us by not making fun of us, but instead saying, "Well,that's good - we're still paying off our wedding." Huh? Seven years later? Ouch.

So here's my main point: you can try all you want to save a few pennies here and there on your wedding - for example, buying cheaper invitations, or mixing silk flowers with genuine blooms, or purchasing a less expensive wine or fewer appetizers, or hiring a band for three hours instead of four - but when all is said and done, you're not going to save very much on your wedding at all. That's because you're still purchasing the wedding that the wedding industry is telling you to purchase - essentially, you're buying into a game that's rigged against you. You're planning a wedding that differs from every other wedding only in the most insignificant details.

Once the wedding industry convinces you that you need a sit-down dinner for 200 in order to be genuinely married, they've won. Because at that point, you're reduced to quibbling about peripheral details - is the sit-down chicken dinner 0.75 cents cheaper per plate than the sit-down beef dinner? If we get plain white linens on the tables instead of white-and-gold, can we save $120? What if we get a table centerpiece with lillies instead of roses - how much does that save? The industry professionals are no doubt delighted to let you go on believing that you are cleverly cutting down on your costs, since they have *already* sold you the biggest bill of goods: the very notion of the necessity of the big wedding.

The wedding industry is designed to separate you from your money. That's all it is designed to do. It is not designed to teach you about love, sexual pasion, or companionship; it is not designed to make your marriage last; it is not even designd to make sure that your wedding turns out to be a fun party. It is designed with one purpose in mind, and that it to get you to sign the check. Period. End of story. (Of course, if you ask me, it is also a cartoonish expression of the very worst human impulses that tend to be fostered by a consumption-oriented society, but let's not get into that here). As long as you buy into the vision of The Wedding that the industry sells, you will be forced to spend a great deal of money on your wedding. You may not have to go into debt, like DH's friend, but let's not pretend that you're going to walk away with your 401K padded by your choice of laser-printed, as opposed to heat-engraved, invitations.

If you really want to save money on your invitations, then you'll need to have a different kind of wedding entirely - a "Wedding Outside the Box." This means drastically re-thinking your notions of what your wedding "needs" to be. And please don't give me that tired crap about how it's not you but rather your mother/father/minister/grandmother/ailing Aunt Lucy who wants a big wedding, because it is not - it is YOU and nobody but YOU. I have no doubt that your mother/father/minister/grandmother/ailing Aunt Lucy didn't want you getting naked with your intended on the third date either, but you didn't much care about what they had to say then, did you? There have been a zillion moments in your relationships with your relatives when you chose a path different from the one they would have liked. If you wanted to take a certain trajectory in life, you did - and if you didn't, you have no business getting married until you become your own person first, so give that damn ring back. Don't use the excuse of some fictional heartbroken relative to cover up your own big-wedding-lust. Your parents will be thrilled that they don't have to fork over ten grand to watch you pop a vein screaming at the caterer about the stuffed mushrooms, and your relatives will be overjoyed that they don't have to shlep hundreds of miles to dance the crazy chicken, or whatever the hell that dance is. Your family - most of whom have been married for eons now - knows that it is not about the size of the wedding. They know that it is about the relationship itself. They're smarter than you.

So what is a "Wedding Outside the Box"? It is any wedding at all that discards the stereotypic notions of what a wedding "should be" or "must contain," and that instead celebrates the couple in all their unique wackiness. Maybe you want to invite 100 friends to an ice cream sundae reception at midnight. Maybe you want to get married in your parents' home, with your best pals from high school looking on. Maybe you want to get married on a city bus or in the cheese aisle of a gourmet grocery store, as two people we know did. For my husband and I, this meant running away to Italy and eloping. Many of my friends talk about their wedding days as though it had been surgery - something intended to help them that they luckily survived. As for me, I have memories of DH and I getting lost in Venice, and the crowd in the piazza that cheered when they saw DH and I emerge from the Palazzo. One of my pals had her wedding outside the box at a local park. A baseball enthusiast, she threw the first-ever "baseball wedding." We bridesmaids made her a "Bride" baseball cap (white, with a tiny veil attached and the word "BRIDE" in sequins), and everyone played softball and ate hot dogs. I can't tell you how many of us enthused, "This is the best wedding I've ever been to!" Another friend took ten family members and friends to Hawaii, and got hitched on the beach. Yet another couple took their parents with them to City Hall, then spent six weeks traveling in Africa. What all of these folks had in common was a rich understanding of who they were as individuals and as a couple, and a clear sense of their priorities. For example, the friend who went to Africa is a gifted photographer, and his wife is an anthropologist. Their wedding trip was the fulfillment of a shared dream, not the means by which a number of industry professionals got rich.

Every "in the box" wedding I have ever attended has been eminently forgettable. Maybe that's crass to say, but it's true. They all blur together, appearing identical upon reflection. I have yet to hear a couple tell me that they "loved" their big wedding. After all, big weddings are no different than any other big purchase you will make in your lifetime. Would you buy a house that is substantially beyond your means simply because the real estate agent told you that "everyone" lived in houses of that size, and it's a very special house you'll remember for the rest of your life? Would you buy a car from a salesman who told you that you don't want to skimp on the leather upholstery or top-of-the-line extras, because your car represents your one chance in life to "feel like a princess"? No, of course you wouldn't. You'd laugh in their credulous little faces, and then you'd run right to the LBYM Board to post the hilarious story. So why do you believe it when some excessively manicured "wedding consultant" tells you that your wedding day is your only chance to feel like a princess?

When DH and I first became engaged, my mother gave my home telephone number to one of those wedding consultants. "It's your day!" she enthused at me, "It's your one day to feel like a princess!" Sorry, but that's wrong. As I explained to her over the suddenly-silent telephone, what makes me feel like a princess is being married to the right man - and that lasts a hell of a lot longer than one measly day.

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