Wedding expenses drain pockets of the young, their parents

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Wedding expenses drain pockets of the young, their parents

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Lee Kyeong-han and Choi Hong-hee were wed in a restaurant, so a rental fee was irrelevant. They skipped the wedding photos, and the bride bought her dress on eBay for just 100,000 won ($91). The groom’s suit called for half of that.

In a country where couples spend an average of more than 30 million won on the wedding day alone, 33-year-old Lee and 29-year-old Choi pledged their eternal love like no other pair.

“Back when I was studying abroad, I once saw my friend hold a wedding at her home,” said Choi, the bride, adding that it was then that she realized how a small, modest ceremony could be incredibly intimate.

A bride-to-be, surnamed Kim, who wished that her full name not be used, had a similar fantasy for her big day, scheduled for May.

But the 30-year-old said she ended up succumbing to the wishes of her future in-laws. Her fiance is their only son, with four sisters.

“They say that marriage is a major life event and wish every part of the process to be proper,” she said. On top of an envelope filled with 10 million won in cash, she sent wedding gifts to his parents and sisters, in keeping with custom here.

But now, Kim lamented, her in-laws are elbowing her to pay more for pyebaek, an after-wedding ritual held with the couple and their immediate family, and ibaji, traditional Korean banquet food.

“I’m afraid I might have to empty more of my parents’ pockets,” the future bride said with tears in her eyes.

The Knot, a U.S. matchmaking company, revealed in 2013 that the average cost for a wedding in America is 33 million won. Yet, Korean couples pay approximately 20 million won more, recent data from the local dating agency Duo indicates.

The primary difference in wedding procedure is that many Korean couples, or their parents, stick with traditional aspects like pyebaek and ibaji, as well as the handsome presents the bride offers to her groom’s family.

Gifts range from gold rings and designer bags to luxurious fur coats.

When addressing the issue of hefty wedding costs and why most couples typically depend on their parents to finance it, most experts point to extraneous traditions and the heavy expenditure involved in purchasing a home.

The common notion that a house must be purchased from the start - tidied and with new furniture - is considered the main reason why most couples, or their parents, pay 240 million won on average to marry here. More often than not, these grand expenses end up taking a toll on seniors’ post-retirement plans and put an irreparable dent in their savings.

“The groom’s side usually purchases the house while the bride buys all the furniture to go in it,” said Lee Woong-jin, the head of Couple, a dating agency.

In an attempt to somehow equalize the amount the husband traditionally spends on the house, the wife overspends on her share, which is why marriage expenses generally add up so quickly, Lee added.

“If the couple agrees to split the costs from the beginning, they’re more likely to think within their financial boundaries and pay their own way instead of turning to their parents for assistance.”

In that sense, Hong Seung-woo, 32, and Lee Chae-yeong, 30, insist they’ve successfully saved themselves from a widespread and burdensome trend.

The pair, who got married last April, managed to spend just 100 million won, less than half the national average, without digging into their parents’ wallets.

They currently live in a 460-square-foot house in Eunpyeong District, northwestern Seoul, which was built two decades ago and which they purchased for 75 million won on a jeonse contract, a lump sum two-year housing lease.

“At first, I had fantasies of living in a bigger, fancier house,” Lee recalls. “But then, I had second thoughts, and thought I could move to another place later after I earn more money.”

“My folks were quite upset and questioned why I wanted to start my marriage in such a place,” she added. “But I reassured them that I didn’t want to drain their after-retirement savings and that I wanted to build my way up by myself while I’m young.”

The current social atmosphere, however, can make it challenging for parents to put their post-retirement plans on the discussion table, said Kim Dong-yeob, who heads a retirement research center under Mirae Asset.

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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