(By Sam Beckbessinger, first published on ChangeExchange.co.za)

Now might not be the best time to have that big wedding you’ve always dreamed of, but there’s life and love beyond lockdown. These tips will help you save money as you plan the wedding of your dreams…

In South Africa, weddings are an important cultural institution, across almost every part of our society. As our cultures have abandoned many of the small rituals that used to glue our societies together, the wedding has come to absorb all of their cultural meanings into one giant blowout event.

“Because weddings mean so much to people, they can also end up meaning debt. A lot of it. Debt that can follow you around for years, adding stress to your marriage.”

A wedding can be an expression of how much you love your partner, a way of cementing the bonds between your friends and family, a way of marking the transition into full adulthood, a meaningful spiritual or religious ceremony, even (for some queer people) a powerful political statement of inclusion and personhood.

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And because weddings mean so much to people, they can also end up meaning debt. A lot of it. Debt that can follow you around for years, adding stress to your marriage.

The problem is, the moment a couple leaves the intimacy of the decision to have a wedding, they enter the extremely non-intimate world of the wedding industry. The wedding industry wants you to spend as much money as possible, and they achieve that by creating momentum around a whole bunch of choices.

Before you’ve even started thinking about the stuff that really matters to you – the people who you want to share your day, or the rituals that will give it meaning – you’re bombarded with tiny decisions about centrepieces and flower arrangements and which font to use in the invite.

You get so tangled in the weeds of these micro-decisions, that you completely forget that each and every one of these elements is entirely optional in the first place.

Because you’ve never planned a wedding before, you go into the process with no idea of what any of these things cost. And one of the wedding industry’s main tactics is to hide all costs from you until you’ve already come to see each of these elements as essential.

Before planning a wedding, most people would have no idea how much like a bouquet of flowers costs, or what a reasonable cost-per-head is for a communal fancy meal catered by a traditional wedding venue.

If having a wedding is really important to you, that’s awesome. You should spend money on stuff that adds value and meaning to your life. Just remember you’re trading that money against all the other stuff that could add value and meaning to your life. Building a home, sending your future kids to a good school, having adventures, or spending your long happy retirement together enjoying the good life.

So I’m not going to entreat you to spend less on your wedding

I’m going to entreat you to not waste money on your wedding. That means not spending money on anything that doesn’t actually bring you joy or matter to you, just because you got swept up in the traditional ideas of what weddings are supposed to look like.

When you’re 85 and thinking back on your wedding, are you really going to care what ties the groomsmen wore? Or whether they matched the centrepieces?

I have a simple idea for you, to help keep things on track

When you start planning a wedding, sit down with your partner and write down the top 3 to 5 things you really want from this wedding. What are the absolute emotional priorities that will make this event meaningful for you, or not?

And then remember that if you focus on these core things, and ignore everything else about the normal wedding script, there might be some much more cost-effective ways to achieve those same goals.

Say your main priority is “I really want my family to share a joyful experience with me, especially my great-auntie Millie”. You could achieve that goal with a small family ceremony in the garden of Great-Auntie Millie’s home.

Say your main priority is “I want to have a big party with my friends”. You could rent out your favourite bar for the evening and get a local food truck to do the catering. This is what friends of mine did, by the way. It was one of the best weddings I’ve ever been to.

Say your main priority is “I want beautiful photographs so I can remember how gorgeous and young and in love we were” (that’s a noble goal! I support this goal!). You could achieve that goal by flying you and your closest friends to a beautiful remote destination and spending the whole wedding budget on swank outfits and a top-notch photographer. Heck, you don’t even need to have the wedding.

As with so many things when it comes to money, it can be liberating to recognise that you can have anything, but not everything. Rather than getting sucked into the black hole of the Wedding Industry, remember that everything in a wedding is optional.

Before you start planning, take time to figure out what really matters to you, so you can be sure that your (or your family’s) hard-earned money is going to add more joy to your life, not just line the pockets of wedding vendors.

*Sam Beckbessinger is the author of Manage Your Money like a F*cking Grown Up: The Best Money Advice You Never Got.

This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.