I do, my way: Making your wedding special

Some couples splurge, others keep it simple, but their aim is the same - to make their wedding special

Ms Karen Wai and Mr Jean Paolo Ty. -- PHOTO: CAILI GOH
Ms Karen Wai and Mr Jean Paolo Ty. -- PHOTO: CAILI GOH
Ms Suniartie Sudyono and Mr Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi. -- PHOTO: BLISS PHOTO+CINEMA
Ms Sharon Han and Mr Joshua Symons. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOSHUA SYMONS
Ms Uma Ramakrishnan and Mr Jacob Jonathan (above). -- PHOTO: REFLEXIONS PHOTOGRAPHY
Mr Mark Foo and Ms Stephanie Sim releasing 50 butterflies, bought for $5 each. -- PHOTO: REVELATION CREATIVE HOUSE
To deocorate their flat for the wedding, Ms Chia Sin Nee and Mr Larry Ho spent less than $50 on fairy lights and paper to make bunting. -- PHOTO: IVAN TAN

Visitors to the Marina Barrage last month might have spied a crane lifting a large white tent onto its spiralling green roof.

Except, this was not just any tent, but the venue for a big wedding bash with a panoramic view of the city skyline.

Investment analyst Debbie Soon, 25, fell in love with the windy, sprawling turf atop the Marina Barrage. She and her 32-year- old husband, who also works in the finance industry, decided it was where they would host their dinner party after their church wedding in the morning.

Ms Soon says: "Your wedding is the one time in your life when you can justify such an expense to throw a party."

The couple approached logistics company Lian Yick Metal Tents to help them with the set-up, received the relevant clearances from the Civil Defence Force, the police and the Public Utilities Board and put together a wedding dinner bearing personal touches and dotted with colourful lanterns. The total cost was about $50,000.

Ms Soon says they saved enough for the wedding and did not bust their budget. The money from red packets they received also helped defray about 60 per cent of the cost.

But $50,000 is barely half the amount that some couples spend on their nuptials.

Throwing weddings in hotel ballrooms is the norm. For 300 guests, which is a common turnout, this works out to 30 tables costing about $1,500 each at a four- to five-star hotel. Booking a wedding venue alone works out to about $50,000, without factoring in the costs of outfits, alcohol and photography, among other things.

Singapore's rising affluence means weddings today are no longer the modest affairs they were 10 or 20 years ago.

Young couples tying the knot may have more money to spend now, but counsellors and planners note that peer influence and family expectations also contribute to the growing trend of "one-of-a-kind" weddings. Many couples hardly blink at spending a sum equivalent to the annual salary of some workers on their wedding.

The New Paper reported two weeks ago that a 36-year-old technician went into debt after his wedding, which came up to $25,500. Despite saving $10,000 for the occasion, he had to take out a bank loan of $10,000 and borrow about $5,000 from relatives to hold the wedding at the void deck below his flat.

He was quoted as saying: "My wife told me she wanted ours to be bigger and grander than the others. And I agreed with her out of love."

Dr Joel Yang, head of the master of counselling programme at SIM University's School of Human Development and Social Services, believes both traditions and modern practices have conflated to produce the current wedding trends seen here.

He says: "Traditional customs view marriage as a symbol of status, focused on the collective family rather than both individuals. This adds pressure in the way of reluctance to disappoint one's parents and family by having too humble a wedding."

At the same time, expensive weddings are glorified in popular media, bridal magazines and television shows, he adds.

"The simple 'this is your day' tagline so deeply, and reliably, influences consumer behaviour and drives couples to splurge on their weddings," he says. "Being a progressive yet conservative nation, we are influenced by both these traditional and collectivist, as well as modern and individualist, concepts, which fuel extravagant weddings."

Today, even straightforward, no-frills weddings that adhere to tradition can set a couple back by tens of thousands of dollars. The wedding becomes a family affair and the parents of the couple often chip in to help soften the financial blow.

Ms Suniartie Sudyono, 28, who got married in September, enjoyed the communal feel of her traditional void deck wedding. She works as a public officer in the Civil Service College's international department.

She and her husband, Mr Azrulnizam Shah Sohaimi, 29, who is the national football team's manager, had about 1,500 guests at their wedding held in a void deck and a community centre. They had two concurrent receptions, one for the bride's friends and family, and another for the groom's. A week later, they held a lunch for their friends at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

Ms Suniartie, her husband and her parents split the $70,000 bill for the void deck wedding and hotel reception. Catering food for more than 1,000 visitors, including neighbours, colleagues and friends from school, made up a large chunk of the costs.

She had six outfits, including a white wedding gown and a classic baju kurung.

Their celebration included a silat presentation and colourful processions, as well as several elegant platforms, known as pelamin, on which the bride and groom would sit. She found it very meaningful that they stuck to tradition.

"I don't think ours was that elaborate," she says, "but both of us are the eldest child in our families so, understandably, our parents were okay with spending a bit more."

With her own savings as well as her parents' help, she says she did not incur debt for the wedding.

While a wedding is rarely the sole cause of financial woes, it can be a strong contributing factor.

Ms Tan Huey Min, general manager of Credit Counselling Singapore, says her organisation has seen clients who reveal that their wedding spending contributed to their debt.

She cites the example of a woman in her 20s whom she met several years ago.

"She told me, 'It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing and being the bride, you're always the focus'," she recalls. "They had their wedding in a hotel but, unfortunately, they came from a humble background and the hongbao money collected was not enough to pay for the banquet. So debt was incurred and they didn't have savings. She also went for a honeymoon, so that led to another debt."

Such a situation is not uncommon, she adds. "People either haven't saved enough or what they've saved is not enough for the type of wedding they want. Sometimes, they might count on the hongbao money to take care of their expenses, but unfortunately it doesn't."

Focus on the Family Singapore is one of the charities here that provide marriage counselling for engaged couples and newlyweds.

Its counselling manager, Ms Tan Soh Hiang, says the charity sometimes sees male clients who feel compelled to accede to the requests or demands of their bride and her family and have to take out a loan as a result.

"Generally, we Asians are still concerned about the 'face' issue. Parents or the bride want to be able to look good in front of their friends and relatives and not be outdone by other weddings in the clan," she says.

Couples who opt to break with tradition and hold a smaller ceremony often have a tough time getting their parents' approval, but several newlyweds say it can be done.

Ms Uma Ramakrishnan, who married her husband, Mr Jacob Jonathan, in August last year, says her parents "took a bit of convincing" to come round to the idea of an intimate, 30-person vintage-style ceremony she envisioned at bakery-cafe Carpenter & Cook in Upper Bukit Timah.

"My parents wanted to invite everyone they knew, but after we talked to them, they got quite excited about our idea. It was quite an eclectic mix with my friends all dressing to the vintage theme and my family all decked out in saris," she recalls.

The couple, both 27-year-old teachers, limited their guest list to their family and bridesmaids and groomsmen, who are friends they have known since secondary school.

The couple spent just under $1,600 on the entire wedding, including the venue, food, clothing and photography.

Similarly, Mr Joshua Symons, 37, and Ms Sharon Han, 31, opted for a casual ceremony with a Hawaiian theme at the Sunset Bay Garden Bistro in East Coast Park three weeks ago. While they had aimed to keep their guest list to under 50, it soon expanded to 100. But they maintained the relaxed feel they wanted by encouraging guests to turn up in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

Ms Han, a senior programming executive, wore a simple white gown while MrSymons donned a Hawaiian shirt.

"We were getting our new flat, so rather than do a grand wedding dinner with 25 tables and then still have to pay for a house and renovation, we decided to set a budget and have a small party," says Mr Symons, a business development manager.

The couple spent about $4,500 on the food, decoration, photography and wedding gown, with some friends providing these services at discounted rates.

The atmosphere was "awesome", says Mr Symons. "Everyone was comfortable and had a good time. It wasn't too pompous but was laid-back."

Ms Karen Wai, 28, and Mr Jean Paolo Ty, 30, both film-makers, also tried to manage the cost of their wedding by setting a budget of $10,000, which included the cost of their outfits and wedding rings.

They tied the knot in July last year at Fort Canning Park, a venue that did not need much decorating.

They bought all their decorations from Daiso, a chain store where all items cost $2 or less, turning rope and mason jars into hanging lamps. And for their wet-weather plan, they bought umbrellas from Daiso for their guests instead of renting a tent. Luckily, that plan did not have to be activated.

"Even though it was all very simple, everything turned out well," says Ms Wai. "A small wedding celebration, surrounded by our closest family and friends, is more than enough for us. Also, as a young couple, we wanted to use our money wisely, and this meant saving for our new home."

The bid to make their big day a special one can drive up the costs.

Wedding consultants interviewed say some couples are driven by the desire to make their wedding stand out from the ones they have attended.

Ms Caroline Tan-Reed, founder of wedding planning service The Wedding Stylist who helps with about 20 weddings a year, says some of her clients spend up to $50,000 on floral decorations.

There are also those who turn to overseas destinations, such as Bali, Phuket or the Maldives, to make their wedding stand out. Even though fewer guests fly abroad for these weddings, planning something in the azure waters of the Maldives can start from about $60,000.

Retiree Lawrence Loh, 64, whose son is getting married next year, feels that young couples can sometimes get carried away when planning their nuptials. He expects he will have to contribute a sum to his son's wedding at some point.

His future daughter-in-law has set her heart on a $10,000 wedding gown. Most five-star hotels require a minimum of 40 tables and the cheapest package is $1,488 a table before service charge and GST. Videography and photography services cost $11,000.

Mr Loh says: "After the wedding, nobody really cares what happened. Who cares whether it was a beautiful wedding or otherwise? How often will the wedding video and photographs be viewed?

"What is truly important is how the couple live out their marriage vows. An expensive wedding does not guarantee this."



Tell us how you budgeted for your wedding. Write to suntimes@sph.com.sg


Who: Mr Larry Ho, 37, an assistant sales manager in a chemical firm, and Ms Chia Sin Nee, 30, a relationship manager in a bank

When: April last year

Where: Their four-room HDB flat in Marine Terrace

Food: About $300

Stools: Less than $60

Flowers: Less than $50

Paper bunting & lights: Less than $50

Photography: $400

After weeks of considering various venues for their wedding ceremony, Ms Chia Sin Nee and Mr Larry Ho realised that the perfect setting had been right in front of them the whole time.

The couple decided to hold the ceremony in their four-room HDB flat in Marine Terrace, which was newly renovated to the tune of $50,000. "We wanted the ceremony to be warm and cosy. We had just moved in and realised it was the perfect setting for an intimate party," says Ms Chia.

Their solemnisation ceremony, officiated by a Justice of the Peace, took place in April last year in front of 30 friends and family members.

The couple, whose combined income is about $10,000 a month, spent just under $900 on the event, paying only for food, photography and decorative items. They bought 15 white stools from Ikea that cost $3.90 each and decorated the flat with fairy lights and bunting made with paper bought from a craft store. All the flowers used that day - gerberas, daisies and baby's breath - were bought from a wet market nearby for less than $50.

Mr Ho, whose parents are retired, put together his outfit with existing pieces in his wardrobe, while MsChia wore a short white dress with a faux-fur collar she had bought some time ago but never wore. They catered food from their favourite nasi padang stall in Kandahar Street, placing the food outside the flat.

Their families pitched in too. Ms Chia's older brother paid for the champagne.

One of the best parts about holding the wedding bash at home was that their guests could go barefoot and relax, she says. "People made themselves comfortable in every corner of the house."

Her mother, Madam Yvonne Chow, 56, says she was not at all disappointed by the small-scale ceremony. "I thought it was very meaningful to have it in their own home with just a few relatives and close friends," says the accountant. Ms Chia's father is retired. "Besides, a marriage is about the two of them, so whatever they feel comfortable with, I am comfortable with too."

Jennani Durai


Who: Mark Foo, 35, managing director of gourmet meat provider Swiss Butchery, and Stephanie Sim, 30, brand manager of the same company

When: June this year

Where: Church of St Teresa and W Singapore - Sentosa Cove

Venue & food: $87,000

Alcoholic beverages: $5,000, including champagne

Clothing: $20,000, including a gown from The Atelier Bridal, suits from Dior Homme and Digio Bridal, shoes from Jimmy Choo and Prada, and handmade origami paper cranes by bridal studio Olive Suite

Decor & floral arrangements: $27,000, by Mirage Flowers

Photography: $4,000, by Revelation Creative House Videography: $10,000, by Substance Films

Make-up & hair: From $1,100 by Kenneth Lee

Others: $6,500, including live butterflies, wedding stationery, musicians and dancers

True to the garden theme they wanted, lush arches and bouquets of flowers formed centrepieces at the church wedding and wedding dinner of Mr Mark Foo and Ms Stephanie Sim.

The couple even released 50 live butterflies, bought from a local butterfly farm at $5 each, on the steps of the church after their solemnisation.

Ms Sim says: "I wanted butterflies because they represent the evolution of our relationship and of ourselves as people."

"On top of that, they're very pretty," she adds with a laugh.

She discovered a little too late that butterflies could be caught only at night. They had initially wanted to release 500 butterflies, but ended up with 50 because they could not be caught in time.

She wore a gown from American bridalwear designer Romona Keveza, which cost about $7,500, and had plastic butterfly replicas woven into her hair. Her 3m-long veil was laced with origami cranes and fans.

She says: "I love origami for its structure."

A staunch Catholic, she felt that the most important and meaningful wedding traditions were those pertaining to her faith, such as exchanging her vows in a church. In fact, Mr Foo had proposed to her outside Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, a sacred place for Catholics around the world.

The couple started proper planning for the wedding about three months before the actual day. They chose to host a banquet at the W in Sentosa as it was one of the newer venues in Singapore.

Ms Sim says: "My husband is probably one of the last of his friends to get married, so everyone has already been everywhere. We wanted somewhere new so it wouldn't be boring for them."

They also liked the W's "quirky" feel, and had an after-party at one of its bars after the dinner, which was attended by about 420 people and held two days after the church reception.

Ms Sim approached florist Mirage Flowers to create an "enchanted garden" setting for the ballroom and the church using flowers such as peonies, calla lilies and proteas. Mirage also put together a "wishing tree", a small tree-like structure on which guests could leave congratulatory notes.

Mr Foo foot the bill for most of the items and events, save for some of the decorations and the church buffet, for which Ms Sim's mother helped to pay.

The bride says, tongue firmly in cheek: "I think he's broke now."

She adds: "He very kindly said, 'Don't worry, I'll settle it.' But as the receipts grew, he would say, 'Are you sure you need to have this? Are you very sure we can't make do with something else?'"

But they both agreed that it was a once- in-a-lifetime event and that they should indulge their desires.

Ms Sim gushes: "He is very, very, very flexible and very kind and generous."

They have had to delay their honeymoon because of work commitments, but are considering either a visit to Iceland to see the Northern Lights or a trip to South Africa.

Mr Foo says he was able to plan ahead and set aside money for the wedding and so did not break the bank. Together, the couple draw a six-figure annual salary.

He adds: "To me, a wedding is about sharing your joy with your close friends and family, to let them have an enjoyable time and to be happy - just as you are."

Corrie Tan

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