WASHINGTON -- In several recent online discussions, I've gotten into a debate about the cost of a wedding.
It all started when someone on a tight budget asked: "How do I find a place and feed 100 people?"
I responded that the best solution is to stick to your budget and cut the guest list.
You would have thought I had attacked the very institution of family.
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Here's what one person said: "I was surprised at your advice to the poster who wanted to reduce wedding costs. I absolutely agree that people should stick to a wedding budget, but I was raised to believe that weddings are not just about the couple, but about the families being joined together. So the guest list is the last thing to cut, not the first."
Another wrote: "Certain cultures and religions do place a lot of emphasis on family during a wedding celebration."
Then there was this response from someone who cut costs and was ridiculed.
"My family was just appalled at the 'quaintness' of my wedding, a lunch with a cocktail hour," the person wrote. "It wasn't a big New York blowout. I got married in Atlanta. They wouldn't even have thought about coming down here if they weren't getting fed. Honestly, I would have been embarrassed to do much less."
There you have it, folks.
This is one of the reasons so many people are broke. They -- perhaps even you -- are trying to meet other people's expectations.
A wedding is not about the family. The families aren't being joined (although you likely will have to deal with a lot of family drama). A wedding is about the couple. (And no, Bridezilla, it's not about you.) It's supposed to be about the vows the two people make to each other.
Onlookers, except required officials or witnesses, are expendable.
Yes, I'm aware many cultures have blowout bashes to celebrate the holy matrimony of two people. In some cultures, brides, grooms or their families spend precious resources -- money, farm animals, etc. -- to pay for a wedding.
But some traditions, no matter how venerable, should be abandoned if they aren't reasonable. You can and should put a price on this special day.
You should have the wedding you can afford.
And when I say afford, I mean weigh the wedding expenses against how that money could be better used. Consider if it's worth spending upward of $30,000 for a wedding in which the majority of the costs goes toward the reception and honeymoon -- a party and vacation.
At least ask yourself if the money you plan on spending for a lavish wedding and honeymoon could be better used to pay down debt, buy a home or invest for retirement.
I've always believed, as I did when planning my wedding almost 17 years ago, that you start with a budget. Then you plan for the wedding. If you start with a guest list, venue or all the other things you want, you will overspend.
ING Direct, an online banking company, surveyed British couples and found that spiraling costs forced people to postpone weddings or abandon getting hitched altogether. Fifteen percent of the couples said they didn't think they would ever get married, with the majority claiming this was because of the huge cost.
How idiotic that folks who say they've found the love of their life won't commit because they don't have the funds for the celebration. You can get married for what it costs to attend a play.
Trust me, there are people who have found marital bliss by spending less.
"I've already found the friend's back yard to hold the wedding reception," one person wrote. "The rest of our money will be spent on a miniweekend away until we can afford the European getaway of 'my' dreams, perhaps as a five-year anniversary gift."
If friends or family complain about a small guest list, simply say, "We would love to have a bigger bash but we just can't." End the discussion there because it's your life and your money.
Here's what I tell couples fretting over paying for a big wedding.
Spend lavishly for your wedding if you like -- with money you have saved, not with debt -- if you can check off the following:
If you can't check off every item on that list, you need to reconsider big reception plans and go on an inexpensive honeymoon because you can't afford more.
Write to Michelle Singletary in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20071, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.