The rich rewards of frugal weddings

April 12, 2017
Tzipi Polisar and her husband Matan Ziv decided to throw a frugal wedding to spare their guests the feeling they had to pay for their place settings, which is a common practice in Israel.

Tzipi Polisar and her husband could have held their wedding in an upscale wedding hall with catered food, but, like a growing number of young Israelis getting married for the first time, they opted instead for a frugal wedding.

“It was very important to us that our friends come to the wedding and enjoy themselves,” Polisar said, explaining that in Israel many couples use the money they receive as wedding gifts to pay for the event, and that guests feel obliged to cover the cost of their place setting.

“A lot of my friends are students,” said Polisar, who is in her 20s. “Every time they get invited to a wedding, they’re not excited because they know it will be expensive, and the closer a guest is to the bride and groom, the bigger the check. We wanted a celebration our friends and family would be happy attending.”

In contrast to the early decades of Israeli statehood, when food rationing and a socialist ethos meant that most weddings were very modest by Western standards, Israel’s higher standard of living, coupled with globalization, have spurred this generation of Israeli couples to throw much more sophisticated, formal weddings that typically start at $25,000 to $30,000 — a lot of money on an Israeli salary — and sometimes many times that amount.

Israeli weddings have become so expensive that various Hasidic sects have issued strict guidelines for the maximum amount a couple’s parents should spend on everything from the matchmaker to the band.

Now, a growing number of mainstream Israeli couples, like Polisar and her husband, Matan Ziv, are coming up with their own ways to throw a beautiful wedding on a very limited budget. 

In Polisar’s case, the bride told her guests there was no need to bring a gift but asked them to bring some food to the event. “It was a potluck wedding. Almost every one of our 180 guests brought food!” she said. “It was amazing.”

Ronit Peskin, administrator of the Frugal Israel Facebook group, noted that there always has been a “small minority” of couples who made less-expensive weddings than their peers. Now, however, “they’re more outspoken about it. My feeling is the more people talk about their affordable weddings, the more trendy it gets.”

Peskin said many couples, and especially those from English-speaking homes in Israel, want to celebrate the values they live by every day: “Frugality is green. It represents lack of wastefulness. Even those who can afford more may choose to spend less, for a variety of reasons.”

Polisar was able to save money by renting out a very basic event venue in her mother-in-law’s community. Her father-in-law, a rabbi, performed the wedding, her sisters made the desserts and a relative bought flowers from a florist and arranged the flowers herself.

Noa Hazony and her husband, Shimmy, also in their 20s, organized a potluck wedding on a synagogue balcony in a West Bank settlement, where events tend to be considerably less expensive. The balcony provided a stunning view of the desert. 

Like Polisar, Hazony said she has “a lot” of friends who question whether to go to weddings due to the associated costs. “I didn’t want my friends to think twice before coming. I made it very clear that I didn’t expect gifts,” she said. 

Hazony rented her wedding dress from a wedding gemach (a place that lends wedding gowns cheaply) and her mother’s friend, a seamstress, provided the tailoring as a wedding gift. Rather than buy flowers, the couple used potted plants they grew from seeds as centerpieces; a professional photographer who knew the couple photographed the ceremony as a wedding gift. The couple sent out invitations by e-mail.

“Music was the one thing we really wanted, so we hired a band for the [ceremony] and a DJ for the reception,” Hazony said. “We hired a wedding planner because arranging a pot luck wedding is a bit more complicated than a catered one.”

Hazony estimates she and Shimmy spent less than $8,000 for everything related to their nuptials.

Malki Ehrlich and her husband, Dan, said they “wanted a wedding we could easily afford to pay out of pocket because I can’t stand the crowd-funding wedding mentality in Israel, where you rely on your friends and family” to pay for the wedding costs.

Ehrlich, in her 30s, invited 70 guests, including children, to her wedding by the Mediterranean Sea.

“I wanted to get married next to the beach, so I approached a few restaurants and asked how much they would charge to rent out their place on a Friday afternoon. The place we chose was in Netanya. It was a beautiful venue and location.”

The summertime ceremony was held at noon and everyone went home by 5 p.m., in time for Shabbat.

Although Erlich kept the flowers to a minimum — with a view of the sea they seemed gratuitous — she  paid a chamber group to perform. She paid about $200 at a fancy dress shop for a $2,500 wedding dress that was custom-made for another bride who never wore it. Including her dress, Ehrlich’s wedding cost about $4,200.

Polisar, who is one of six children, and her husband, who is one of seven, said she is happy she chose to have a “community wedding.”

“We have other siblings who want to get married and didn’t like the idea of spending a fortune on only one day. Both our parents had the money to spend on a fancier wedding if we wanted one, but it was more important for us to save up to buy a home. It was definitely the right decision,” Polisar said. n

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