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This is not your “traditional Chinese wedding”…. or is it? (photo by Wikipedia)

When people ask me what was the best financial decision I’ve ever made, I start by telling them my second best decision – I chose to have an extremely simple, no-frills, stress-free wedding. Just how simple? Our guest list consisted of the minimum required to get married – five persons (i.e., 2 witnesses, 1 officiant, 1 bride, and 1 groom). As a young couple, my husband and I both came from humble beginnings, were burdened with a substantial amount of debt from education loans, and were just starting our careers. So it didn’t make sense for us to splurge on a one-day event, which would have required us to dip into our emergency fund, or borrow from family members (or worse, from our future selves). Doing so would have made us unprepared for a future crisis or would obligated us to comply with the “suggestions” of family members who would be bankrolling the wedding. The goal was to have a good and long-lasting marriage, and it seemed that having an extravagant wedding would not achieve it; in fact, it may even undermine this goal. I also imagined that if we ever needed to ask for financial help, no one would come to our aid simply because we invited them to a spectacular wedding. On the contrary, it is very likely that no one will even remember the wedding a year later. I also thought that having a grand wedding might result in anticlimatic, impractical expectations, and possible disappointment later in the marriage. I’d rather have a cheap wedding and a rich marriage, than the other way around.

Weddings in Singapore versus Weddings in the States
It wasn’t until moving here that I had heard of couples who delayed getting married because “it was too expensive”. In the states, weddings come in all different forms and budgets. Even in China, “naked marriages” or “luǒ hūn”, where the young couple has no assets (no ring, ceremony, honeymoon, home, or car), have lately been on the rise. In the US, I’ve been to grand weddings as well as to potluck weddings where the guests bring the food. Just the act of getting married (in the states) doesn’t even require an “actual” wedding – you just need a license and a marriage officiant (in most states, this could be anyone and he/she can be ordained online for free). The officiant’s main role is to serve as a witness and sign the license. There isn’t a required ceremony per se, so you really don’t need much money or time to get married in the states. Our wedding cost less than $100 (split between the cost of the license and the officiant).

How Much do Weddings Cost in Singapore?
According to Dollars and Sense, the total cost for a wedding in Singapore ranges from $35,000 (for the budget conscious) to $73,000 and up (for more lavish weddings). This can cost more than an entire year’s salary. It is not atypically for a Chinese wedding to have 300 guests. Even a recent My Paper article defines “small, intimate” wedding as having 100 guests, which still can amount to a lot of money being spent since the largest cost is the banquet. Many Singaporeans I speak to know no other way of getting marriage, and they are simply shocked when I tell them that I chose to forgo the pomp and circumstance for peace of mind and modesty instead. Some Singaporeans tell me that they would like a less formal wedding, but say they must have a large formal wedding for their parents and to keep with long-held traditions.

The Real Wedding Customs
But these huge weddings and “age-old traditions” were not always this way in Singapore. Just a few decades ago, it was very common for Singaporeans to be married in mass, with only a small minority that held individual wedding ceremonies. Yes, this is indeed the REAL tradition of Singapore. From 1937 all the way to the 1980s, mass weddings were extremely common. The Mayfair Musical and Dramatic Association, the YMCA, the Khek Community Guild and the Hokkien Huay Kuan all took part in holding such ceremonies. Mass weddings were also very customary in China. Weddings at that time were not day-long events; there was no gatecrashing, bridesmaids, groomsmen, wedding “fashion shows” (i.e., the brides changing into many different gowns), or hotel banquets. Since the 1990s, Singaporean Chinese have adopted some customs (many of which are unique only to Singapore) that were only practiced by the wealthy and by specific ethnic groups (e.g., Teochew, Cantonese). Many of these customs are practiced today even if the bride and groom and their family are not associated with these groups. Just about every wedding custom cited in Wikipedia comes from Singapore, not from mainland China.

Pre-Wedding Photography
Even the “must-have” pre-wedding photographs did not become common until recently. In the states, they are extremely rare since westerners believe seeing the bride in a wedding dress before the wedding is bad luck. Some American photographers post about how “over-the-top”, “theatrical”, and “extravagant” these pre-wedding session are. They candidly comment that these sessions are simply to “show off” their status, wealth and “reckless youth”. But where did this tradition come from? According to an article in Vice, pre-wedding photo shoots came from Taiwan in the 1980s, where dress manufacturers offered photo shoots as a way of selling more dresses. The practice then spread to China, as many Chinese used the photos as a way of proving their marriage. They also took photos in front of foreign-looking landmarks as many believed that they would never have the chance to go abroad.

So these “long-held” and “deeply rooted” traditions are not that way at all. Furthermore, they did not originate from any real cultural or heritage practice; it was more due to commercialism and materialism that these customs came about.

The Pros & Cons of a Very Frugal Wedding
I don’t think many youths or their parents would want a wedding like mine. It did cause some tensions, as some family members were upset, mostly because they couldn’t show off to their friends. But on our side, there were no tensions. There was no stress, sleepless nights, or unmet expectations simply because there were no expectations. To me, the 15 minute ceremony was lovely and it started our marriage in a sustainable way. If you or your children are thinking about what kind of wedding to have, think about the real goals of the marriage and the real goals of the wedding. How important are these traditions to you? Who will remember or even care if you followed these traditions? What kinds of tradeoffs are you willing to make? Is a year’s salary worth a wedding? Some financial planners will even tell young people that they still has time to save, and that they shouldn’t be stingy on a once-in-a-lifetime event. But do these couples really end up saving later? Does having a lavish wedding encourage saving later in life, or does it lead to unreal expectations? And it’s because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that makes the tradeoff which may amount to years of your life (in terms of salary and work required to pay for it) not worth it. It’s the lifelong things that matter more (e.g., family, health, wellbeing, relationships, friends, integrity, virtue, trust, and education), not those blue moon events. Choosing to go against the trend, and having a frugal wedding instead, could be one of the true indicators of whether you and your future spouse will be fulfilled and content in your relationship, unfazed by other people’s expectations, and able to see beyond the propagandised commercialism masquerading as tradition. For tips on how to save money on your wedding, please see this post.

My Best Financial Decision
I’ve told you my second best financial decision. So what was my first? Choosing my husband as my partner. For those who are single, choosing a spouse is perhaps the single greatest financial decision you will ever make, more than your choice of career or where you live. Even Warren Buffets agrees with me on this. He has been cited as saying that his two best financial decisions were his two wedding rings (his first wife passed). By “choosing”, I don’t mean just the courtship process, I mean choosing to maintain, grow, and respect my relationship with my partner daily. As a society, I think we focus too much on education, credentials, and careers, and too little on how to live, how to love, and how to be loved. In our day and age, I know we don’t necessarily need a partner or a spouse, as singles can support themselves and have a child alone, but I think life is better, happier, more secure, not as lonely, and easier with a spouse. No one on their death bed ever wished they had a bigger grander wedding, but they might have wished for a better marriage and/or better relationships.

 

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