Growing up, I was addicted to a board game called Barbie: Queen of the Prom, which my mum had kept since she was a kid in 1961. The object was to earn enough money by modelling, babysitting or addressing a neighbour’s party invitations to afford a dream prom dress and beat the competition to the ball – all while bagging a boyfriend in the process (Ken was top choice, with Bob, Tom and Poindexter as back-ups).
Sounds pretty dated, right? But what the game lacked in feminist cred it made up for in sixties styling (Google the Silken Flame outfit, with gold belt and matching clutch, and tell me it wouldn’t make deliciously flirty wedding wear!). There was also something alluring about hoarding piles of bank notes just to blow it all on one unforgettable party.
Of course, there’s play money and then there’s cold, hard, grown-up cash. So when my (now) husband and I decided to tie the knot and throw our own unforgettable party – kicking off the biggest financial challenge of our relationship – we went in the opposite direction and obsessed over every. single. penny. Or, at least, we did at first.
A Y&YW reader survey showed that only 10% of couples today have parents who are footing the full wedding bill, while 90% are either chipping in or paying themselves*. As the main investors in our day, we soon found that – shock of shocks – putting up the bulk of the money initially curbed our urge to splurge.
I was a particularly proactive deal-finder straight out of the gate, when my bridal sticker shock was at its highest (fizz for 140 people costs how much?). Within three months I’d signed budget-friendly contracts on the venue, band and catering. I scored the Grecian-style dress I’d had my eye on at a sample sale, then kept bridal party expenses low by capping my team to just my MOH and two mini-maids. And at our floral consultation, I laid out our budget before talking colour schemes or greenery types so I wouldn’t risk being seduced by centrepieces that were out of our price range.
But as the months of planning wore on and the total tab escalated, it got easier to part with £50 here or £100 there. Globetrotters are familiar with Monopoly Money Syndrome, where foreign currency takes on a magical quality and all purchases feel like freebies. Well, eventually, our wedding fund started to morph into play money too. New gym kit? Definitely a write-offable wedding expense. An extra dinner out because we were too exhausted to cook after sealing invite envelopes? Throw it on the wedding tally.
It was the Barbie prom economy all over again and this time even my fiancé got in on the game. Early on, he’d declared he’d be hiring the same grey suit he’d worn as a guest to a school friend’s wedding a few years earlier. But, with 10 weeks to go, he traded up and got himself fitted for a bespoke silk dinner jacket, trousers and cummerbund – totalling more than the cost of my gown.
Meanwhile, I cited the money I’d saved at that sample sale as justification for countless splurges, from a high-end headpiece to an upgrade of our honeymoon hotel. But the low point came on my hen weekend in NYC, when I slapped a round of karaoke and a hotel suite (plus a 4am pizza delivery for 10 tipsy girls) onto the wedding credit card. Had I really scrimped and saved in the first half of our engagement to burn it all on the home stretch?
Fortunately, the big day arrived before much more fiscal damage could be done. And by the time we returned from honeymoon to face the bank statements, we’d also received an unexpected and extremely generous pile of congratulatory new money to play with. Er, I mean save – obviously. Sorry, Barbie.