The cost of weddings spirals in China

Every year in China more than ten million couples tie the knot. Weddings are a multi-billion-dollar business and expenses for the big day can quickly spiral out of control.

Cecilia and Ye Min were engaged in February and plan to marry in September in Shanghai. They are investing all of their savings in their big day and then a two-week honeymoon on the island of Mauritius.

Ye Min paid for the ring and has been saving for his wedding for four years, ever since he graduated and started working.

"We went together to buy the ring on February 26th," remembers Cecilia. "It's a diamond ring and my fiancé paid $3,500 (£2,150) for it. That's the average price for an engagement ring in China."

Lawrence Lo runs an etiquette consultancy in Shanghai and is a food and wine commentator in the Chinese media. He says Ye Min is not unusual.

"I run a lot of events and I notice that 85% of the participants are women. Not a lot of guys come because they are too busy working. There is an obligation for them to work very hard to build up their savings for marriage," he says.

"Ten or 15 years ago, if you asked people what diamonds were for they would tell you they were used in power tools. Now China is one of the biggest markets for diamonds - especially for engagement rings."

Wedding prestige

The engagement ring is just the beginning of the expenses. Photos, gowns and decorations all have to be budgeted for and it is the groom's parents who usually pick up the largest part of the bill.

Image caption Lawrence Lo runs an etiquette consultancy: "The wedding banquet is about more than just the couple"

The wedding banquet is the biggest expense; Cecilia and Ye Min are inviting 200 guests who will sit at 20 tables and they have a budget of $12,000 (£7,400).

"It's very hard to find the right restaurant. We both want the food to be really good, and for it to look fabulous. But it has to fit our budget," Cecilia says.

Lawrence Lo says that, in Shanghai, the sky is the limit for wedding banquets. "In the best five-star hotels the starting price for a table of 10 people is nearly $1,200 (£740)."

He adds: "In some parts of China, you could find weddings with 100 tables."

He says the wedding banquet is about far more than just the couple.

"Yes, it is a rite of passage for these two young people, but it is also very important for their parents. They will want to invite all their friends, and business associates. A wedding is about 'face' - a family's prestige. There are lots of intangibles at a wedding banquet."

Creative thinking

So is cash lavished on weddings money well spent?

Dr Feng Lui, the Chairman of the Financial Planning Standards Board of China, isn't sure.

"'Face' has too much importance in China. Financially it's stupid to spend all that money on one moment … you could put it towards buying a house, your retirement, even buying insurance," he says.

Financial advisor Crystal Ke also advises against investing heavily in a wedding ceremony. Some young couples spend their entire annual salary on the day, but travelling abroad or simply showing some creativity can effectively keep costs down.

There are some quite straightforward ways of saving money on your wedding, says Lawrence Lo.

"Offer your guests Chinese wine instead of imported wine. Keep the luxury items, like caviar and shark's fin, off your banquet menu. Or maybe do something completely different," he suggests.

"I have friends who got married in the park, and then had a cocktail party to follow. This saved on the cost of a traditional wedding banquet. Or get married abroad - you can do it relatively cheaply in Singapore, Thailand or Malaysia."

But the wedding industry in China is worth over $80bn (£49bn) and with a growing middle class, this shows no sign of decreasing.

All adds up

Cecilia and Ye Min will get married in a church because Cecilia is a Christian. They were shocked when they did their sums and realised their wedding expenses would come to around $30,000 (£18,000).

Fortunately, they do not have to worry about buying a property because they will live on one floor of Ye Min's parents' house once they are married.

A highlight for Cecilia and Ye Min will be their honeymoon in Mauritius. Ye Min is relieved the financial responsibility for the trip will not just be down to him.

"Our honeymoon trip will cost about $5,000 (£3,000). But I won't pay for all of it. Cecilia and I will share the expenses because we will be married by then!"

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