Marriage is meant to be a lifelong commitment – you are, after all, vowing to your significant other “to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” But before you get to that stage, you have that ceremony to go through to make it ‘official’ – the wedding.
Now, I know not everyone subscribes to the idea of a wedding ceremony. It is, after all, expensive and stressful – and an increasing number of people are opting for simpler, more intimate affairs, or no ceremony at all.
Even so, for many other couples, a wedding is something for them to look back on – sort of their first major ‘milestone’ together. It’s understandable that they’d like to create something memorable. But this can also mean that there are times when couples go overboard with their spending, which can be a problem when it leads to starting your married life in debt, or with very little savings.
Idk about how it is for other cultures, but Malaysian Chinese weddings are notoriously expensive. Even the most simple ones cost around RM30,000, and lavish ones can go higher. A survey on kaodim reveals that the average cost for a wedding with 400 guests is around RM100,000 (USD25,000), and Malaysian Chinese people tend to have very big weddings because it’s a cultural matter of ‘face’. (面子 or miànzi. It’s a complex concept, but it basically relates to one’s worth, social standing and how they are perceived – which is very important for collective cultures, as opposed to individualistic cultures like in the West. Eg: if you’re a rich person and you organise a stingy banquet, you’ve basically ‘lost face’ among your peers, which is akin to social suicide.)
Being a millennial, I don’t subscribe to these antiquated beliefs. So when N and I planned for our wedding, we agreed that we wanted it to be as simple and as hassle-free as possible – more so because N would be in the Philippines until a few days before our ceremony (due to logistics) and I’d essentially be doing most of the planning and legwork alone. If we had our way, we’d be using the money for a honeymoon, but that would be blasphemous for my parents, and N and I needed wedding photos for the spouse visa application anyway.
Our initial plan was for a simple tea ceremony and buffet luncheon with friends and family, but my somewhat traditional mother insisted on a “proper” wedding; that is, the full monty of tea ceremony + a wedding dinner at a restaurant. Which, by the way, is what usually costs the most at Malaysian Chinese weddings. We grudgingly agreed, on the condition that it would be a small affair.
Now I mentioned earlier that a typical Malaysian Chinese wedding can cost around RM30,000 – but you can actually do it for much lesser if you’re willing to cut a few corners. With the pandemic as it is, this might be a good idea. I did it for less, without compromising too much on the experience, so it’s definitely doable! (Of course, it also involved a bit of luck). I hope that by sharing this, it will give you an idea of what to expect, and perhaps help you to better plan your own ceremony as well . At the end of the day, marriage is a commitment between two people. Remember, you have the rest of your lives to spend together.
If you want to be super traditional, Chinese weddings require a dowry, or bride price. This is usually agreed upon between the two families. There is also the ‘guo dai lai’, where the groom and bride exchange gifts. We did not do these as we felt like they were unnecessary.
We also saved on our pre-wedding photoshoot by doing it ourselves while on a trip to Ipoh. N has a DSLR, and we borrowed my cousin’s tripod. We actually had a lot of fun on our outing, as we could just be ourselves. I can’t imagine having to struggle in the Malaysian heat with an uncomfortable gown, being directed by a photographer to hold poses while I sweat like a pig – and I don’t think N would have enjoyed it either.
That being said, bridal studios usually offer pre-wedding packages that include photography, makeup and gown rental services. You would usually get a nice photo album as well. The cost can vary, between RM2,000 to RM4,000, depending on package.
Cost: Free (?) I mean we did spend some money going back to Ipoh but that was more of a holiday so I wouldn’t factor this in.
RENTING A BRIDAL GOWN
For our wedding attire, N wore his barong (a traditional Filipino shirt) for the dinner. We bought a Chinese top for him for the tea ceremony. (RM250)
I rented two dresses from Vivo Fashion Wholesale Centre in Puchong. I highly recommend this place; The boss and staff are super helpful, they have a wonderful selection of dresses in many sizes and styles (this is important for bigger brides like me!). One of the dresses was a Western-style dress for the dinner, and a Chinese cheongsam for the tea ceremony. (RM1,000). Because the clothes were fitting, I also bought nipple covers so I could go braless lol. (RM60)
*For couples who wish for their bridesmaids/best men to wear matching outfits during the tea ceremony, this will be additional cost. Unless your friends are willing to fork out their own money to buy the outfits. I just got my friends to wear ‘whatever they want in pink and beige’.
I got a friend to do my makeup; she’s a part-time makeup artist and a computer programmer by day. She charged me RM1,000 for both morning and evening makeup, which was a steal as it also included hairstyling. She even loaned me some accessories, so I didn’t have to buy any. Most makeup artists charge around RM1,000 to RM2,000.
Rings! I know older folks prefer gold because it has resell value, but I didn’t see the sense in buying jewellery I wasn’t going to wear. I’ve always wanted a sapphire ring, so I bought the cheapest one from Poh Kong for RM1,500. It still looks super pretty imo, and it costs way more than any kind of jewellery I’ve ever worn so I’m happy with it. N got a simple wedding band, which set us back RM500.
Since we didn’t have a pre-wedding photoshoot, I wanted to make sure we had nice photos on our wedding day. I looked around for many photographers, but they were all rather pricey, averaging between RM2,000 to RM5,000.
To be perfectly candid, I know they deserve to be paid as much because photography is not easy work, and as a creative myself, I hate being low balled. But a friend of mine had her wedding right before mine, and she recommended her photographers to me. They are not full-time photographers, but do events and weddings on weekends. The final negotiated price was RM1,500, which covered the tea ceremony and the dinner, plus a slide show, plus all the photos in digital format. Sometimes when you pay peanuts you get monkeys, but I think we really lucked out on this one as the photos turned out great.
Our wedding invitation cards were included as a bundle with our dinner booking. Cost: free. If you’re good with design software, you can even make your own e-cards, which will save on printing.
For the benefit of my non-Malaysian readers, a quick course on Malaysian Chinese weddings: they usually take an entire day. In the morning, there’s a tea ceremony where we serve tea to the elders and ask for their blessings; and in the evening, we have a dinner at a restaurant with a six to eight-course dinner.
Traditionally, the morning tea ceremony would be officiated by a dai kum, or a chaperone. He or she (usually a she) is someone knowledgeable in traditional rites, so she’ll guide the couple through the entire process, and also liven up the atmosphere with auspicious sayings.
I wanted N to experience Chinese culture, so I engaged a chaperone. Finding a bilingual one was difficult, as most dai kums officiate in Chinese. I managed to find one who could also emcee for our dinner – 2 in 1, perfect! (link: here. She’s very young, but super professional.) For me personally, I think it’s important to have a master of ceremony to ensure everything flows smoothly – that way you don’t have to sweat the details on your big day.
*My parents actually wanted my friend to help emcee the dinner to ‘save cost’, which I flat out refused – I want my friends to enjoy the ceremony, not work for free ffs.
After the tea ceremony, we usually order buffet catering for guests who visit the house. If you have a caterer to bring their food and help you setup the area, it’ll cost more. My family members helped out by ordering ourselves and picking up the food from restaurants, so we didn’t have to engage a caterer. We spent about RM500 on roast pork, curry chicken, fried noodles, nasi lemak, etc. for 30 guests. We also rented a canopy for the guests to sit under, for RM270.
On average in the Klang Valley, a table at a Chinese restaurant (jao lao) which seats 10, starts from RM1,000. The more expensive the table, the better the dishes. I’m not sure how it is in other Chinese communities, but here in Malaysia, guests give angpaus (red packets containing money) to the couple when they attend the banquet. These angpaus can be used to help offset the cost of the banquet. How much people pay is really up to the guest; but the unspoken consensus in KL is at least RM100 per pax.
In our case, we had about 10 tables. We skipped all the extras like wine and only opted for beer, since wine has a corkage fee. The restaurant provided a fake wedding cake and apple juice for the champagne pouring. We did not have any decorations, and the cost for our night was RM13,000. We were very lucky as our guests were generous, and we had just enough to cover the cost.
Cost: RM13,000 (covered)
In accordance to tradition and based on the recommendation of our chaperone, we bought a couple of wedding gift essentials like the red umbrella, teapot set for pouring tea, biscuits and honey, for gifting during the tea ceremony. If you’re not traditional, you can forgo these altogether. I also bought some basic decorations (paper cut outs, candles) to spruce up the home. While we’re at it, let me also park the wedding bouquet cost under miscellaneous (RM150).
|Pre Wedding: Free|
|Bridal Clothes: RM1,310|
|Dinner: RM13,000 (covered)|
And there you have it! A breakdown of our wedding costs. RM9.3k is not a small amount, but I think we’ve managed to keep it way below budget. I hope this has been useful for couples who are planning to get hitched soon. Organising a wedding ceremony without the help of a planner is no mean feat, and there is a lot of stress involved (I was certainly stressed af), but with the support of family and friends, it makes things easier.
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