This summer, Bride magazine published a sample budget for a wedding whose budget totaled $35,000. That total price tag is considered the “average” price for a wedding nationwide. Of course averages just being averages, that means there are many weddings that cost much more than that, and many weddings that cost much less.
The writer gave a line-item listing of what each element would cost and take a guess how much she budgeted for the officiant at this $35,000 event — for the person who stands up before all of your guests and crafts the very words and memories that are what make you married? Take a guess!
Alas, not even that much. On a $35,000 wedding, Bride magazine thinks it’s OK to pay an officiant a measly $350. At that rate, the janitor who cleans up after the party is over is earning more money per hour than the minister or rabbi earned.
Compared to USAA Magazine, however, $350 for an officiant appears to be generous. That magazine recently ran an article on a couple who threw their “dream wedding” for under $480. I admire frugality and innovation, but the way they managed this frugality was by roping large numbers of people into doing things for free.
It’s one thing to ask your church social club to donate desserts for a potluck at your wedding; it’s an entirely other matter to ask someone like a Protestant minister to conduct a wedding for FREE, since conducting weddings is a major way ministers earn a living and feed their families! Protestant ministers have among the lowest annual salaries of anyone in the country — they earn less, on average, than teachers and even social workers. And yet, this couple, so focused on saving money for themselves, got a “family friend” to conduct their wedding for free. Did they ask themselves whether this request was fair to him, and respectful of the years he had spent developing the pastoral skills needed in a good officiant?
Folks, at some point, frugality is no longer about preventing financial harm to yourself; it enters into the realm of doing financial harm an another person. I can’t speak for this minister who said “yes” to this request, and can only hope that he had the financial means to give away his professional services for free — and that he loved this couple enough to do so without resentment.
I’ve been officiating weddings for five years, and I’ve had to learn many of the financial lessons of running this “business” the hard way. I’ve made plenty of mistake.
Perhaps my worst mistake was the time I gave a couple a price quote for a wedding ($500) and a few months later, they moved the wedding to another state, an 8-hour drive away. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding that I realized that I had never gone back to the couple to discuss my fee, and point out that my time investment was much higher than what we had originally discussed.
It would have been nice if they had thought about it; but they didn’t. Beginning to end, I spent about 20 hours on a wedding for which I was paid $500, and for which I paid out over $100 in child care costs.
Another mistake: The time I quoted a price for an at-home wedding that I was told was a 10-minute drive from my house. The day of the wedding, I typed the address in my GPS and discovered it was 45 miles from my house. They had moved it without telling me. Again … financial disaster for me. I basically didn’t get paid for 4 hours of driving and child care … again. And to add insult to injury, I was late to their wedding! I’ve never been late to a wedding and I was mortified; then again, it actually their fault.
What are the insider-costs of trying to make a living heralding people into the covenant of marriage? Well, if you have read this far, I am happy to tell you:
The Hidden Costs of A Wedding Officiant:
* I pay $300 a month for online advertising; rabbis or ministers who have brick-and-mortar congregations don’t have to pay for advertising because they have a huge referral stream in their own congregation, in addition to “phone book” referrals (these are the people looking for an officiant who naturally start looking at congregations near their home or wedding venue.) Freelance rabbis or ministers don’t have this perk, so we have to pay for our web presence. Without it, we’d have virtually no business at all, so nixing this expense isn’t really an option.
* In light of this, I hope you will consider looking for a freelance wedding officiant for your ceremony! We usually have the same training as bricks-and-mortar rabbis, and we usually have more time to dedicate to your wedding, since we have fewer other obligations. Plus, you can feel good for supporting what is essentially a mom-and-pop-styled family-based business!
* Most years, I have no weddings to officiate for 6 out of the 12 months. Weddings are a hugely seasonal business. So, in an average year, I’m paying $1800 in ad costs for 6 months when I am earning no money to pay for it! Ouch-o-rama.
* Weddings are SUCH a seasonal business, the days and times you can potentially officiate a wedding and hence earn money is narrow. 95% of weddings are on Friday or Saturday nights, or Sunday mornings. Holiday weekends are popular. I had four people try to hire me for a wedding on September 15 this year. I have no idea why that Sunday was so popular, but it was painful to turn away three couples. By the time people shop for an officiant, their date is set, so, they went on and found someone else to officiate. How great it would have been to have spread those three couples onto the three other weekends in September and had four weddings that month! Alas, it doesn’t work that way.
* (Of course) no health care, 401(k) or any other benefits of traditional employment.
* Not all officiants have this cost, but for me, $15 an hour for every hour I’m not at home to pay for
babysitting: If my meeting with the couple is at a
coffee shop or somewhere other than my house, that is 2 hours of babysitting, plus: travel time to and from your wedding venue, arriving at least 1 hour early, staying up to an hour after the ceremony — on the day of wedding, I usually pay for 4-5 hours of babysitting for a local wedding, even though your ceremony itself only lasted 20 minutes.
* Gas and the asundry costs of owning an automobile.
* This final cost varies widely, but, the cost of paying for the education that led to your ordination. Here, rabbis really take it in the gut. Most Protestant ministers are ordained after 2 or 3 years of study. Most rabbis have to complete 5 or 6 years of study; rabbinic ordination if roughly equivalent to getting a doctorate. A generation ago, rabbis went through school largely on scholarships but that has changed. Nowadays, some rabbis graduate over $100,000 in debt.
* The last issue also varies widely, but it’s a question you can as you shop around: How long does your officiant plan to spend preparing for, getting to and officiating your wedding. My average time investment, for a wedding in the Philly metro area, is 13 hours. Give or take. If you interview a candidate who you know lives several hours away from your venue, and they offer you some improbably low price — you might ask them this question. Because offers that sound too good to be true; well, they probably are!
Some other articles on marrying and dying: