Two of the most expensive words you can utter in Singapore these days, it seems, are "I do".
The cost of wedding dinners here has risen sharply in the past few years, as checks with couples, wedding planners as well as hotels and restaurant owners show.
It now costs about $104,000 to hold a wedding banquet for 250 guests at a top hotel in Singapore, going by an annual lifestyle index by Swiss private bank Julius Baer and the Bank of China, released in October.
The princely sum is a 14 per cent spike from the previous year and makes Singapore the sixth most expensive city in Asia in which to throw a wedding banquet, after Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul and Mumbai.
Freelance art designer Jaslyn Chong and senior engineer Cheong Zhen Siong, both 32, tied the knot in December 2013, and were among couples who had to dip into their savings for their big day.
Ms Chong, who spent about $60,000 on her wedding dinner at Sheraton Towers Singapore, says: "We ended up with a loss of $18,000... We were prepared to lose some, but I'd expected to get more back." The money from the hongbao (red packets) they collected was not enough to cover their expenses.
Ms Hannah Chong, 42, creative director of 11- year-old Heaven's Gift Wedding Concierge, attributes the steeper prices to changing expectations and the rising cost of living.
"Young couples today want an intimate wedding which must also serve the family obligations of entertaining many guests." she says.
"A dinner is not just about providing dinner for your guests, but rather creating a memorable experience for them."
Checks with 15 hotels and five restaurants here found that all of them have raised their wedding banquet prices by between 10 and 40 per cent compared with three or four years ago.
A weekday wedding dinner package for a table of 10 at the five-star Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel, for instance, now costs $1,789, a 41 per cent increase from $1,268 in 2011.
A similar lunch package will set one back by $1,390 for a table of 10, up 28 per cent from $1,086 in 2011. The hotel receives booking inquiries as early as 16 months in advance, says the hotel's catering director, Ms Alicia Lee.
She says: "Rising food and manpower costs, coupled with a strong demand for our wedding venues and services, are key reasons for the price increase."
Over at ParkRoyal on Beach Road, wedding package prices have climbed by 10 to 15 per cent annually over the last five years, in part due to a new standalone ballroom facility that it opened in 2013.
A weekday dinner for a table of 10 at the hotel now costs at least $1,228. And the sum does not include the 10 per cent service charge, 7 per cent GST and extra fees levied for holding weddings on weekends or public holidays, which usually cost 10 to 20 per cent more.
Restaurants are also charging 15 to 40 per cent more compared with five years ago.
At the Peony Jade Cantonese restaurants managed by Quayside Group, prices for weekday wedding dinners now start at $738 for a table of 10, up 40 per cent from $528 in 2010, says the group's business development manager, Ms Hilary Kong.
The White Rabbit restaurant, which is housed inside a chapel in Harding Road at the Dempsey area and serves European cuisine, has also raised prices for its four-course wedding dinner packages, from $108++ a head in 2013 to $123++ this year, a jump of about 14 per cent.
"The price hike is in line with rising food and manpower costs and increased liquor taxes," says its general manager Kelvin Tay.
Mr Samuel Tan, course manager for retail management at Temasek Polytechnic, says it is "inevitable" for businesses to increase prices to cover operating costs.
"Costs of materials and transportation have gone up and manpower costs have shot up even for part-time workers," he points out.
To cope with the surging banquet costs, couples looking to tie the knot are finding novel ways to scrimp.
Ms Chong, for instance, set up a Facebook group called Budget Brides (Singapore) before her wedding. It is filled with vendor reviews, posts on warehouse sales and tips on DIY decorations.
It also connects people looking to split shipping costs for items ordered online. She still maintains the group and runs a photo-editing business for brides.
Budget Brides (Singapore) has more than 1,300 members and applicants are screened to ensure they are not vendors.
"Brides like myself have offered contacts, recommendations, support and even hand-me- downs," Ms Chong says.
One bride-to-be who has joined the network is marketing officer Seraphic Ong, 29, who is set to marry in May at Hilltop Garden Restaurant in Bukit Batok.
"We initially budgeted about $1,200 a table for a hotel banquet, but that didn't seem possible, so we chose a restaurant," she says.
In total, she and her fiancee still expect to spend more than $30,000 on 32 tables. To cut costs, they may skip their honeymoon.
Wedding planner Jessica Claire Chew of three- year-old Wedrock Weddings advises couples to whittle down their guest list as one way to stay within budget.
She adds: "Some other tips would be to throw a lunch instead of dinner, trim the decor budget and go with DIY options for certain elements, such as the thank you notes and guest book."
Some couples choose instead to do away with the banquet.
Media production executive Yueh Huiying, 25, and civil servant Malcolm Koh, 26, for instance, will hold their wedding and lunch reception at the Church of the Ascension in Potong Pasir in May.
Says Ms Yueh: "We will save about $500 from doing our own decor and getting a gown for $80 from Taobao, a Chinese online shopping website. We're also hiring start-ups for services such as flower decorations, as they charge about 30 per cent less."
She estimates that their wedding will cost them $19,000.
"We bought a flat so that's an additional strain on our finances," she adds.
Her father, part-time contractor Yueh Song Choo, 60, supports the couple's choice of wedding celebrations.
He says: "It's up to them to plan, they are adults. They also need to buy a house and start a family, it's hard to cope with all these expenses at once."
Then there are those who opt for destination weddings. Senior sales development manager Suraj Laungani, 28, who held his wedding
at the Pan Pacific Nirwana Resort in Bali in November 2012, is one example.
"We wanted our wedding to be a holiday for our friends. Not only did we save on our three-day wedding, but we also got perks such as free stays and cheaper decor thrown into the package," he says.
Their budget covered the costs of decor, food, hiring a deejay and bartenders, alcohol and photography and videography, while their 350 guests paid for their own airfare and accommodation.
The couple spent about $185,000 on their wedding in total, a sum which Mr Laungani estimates is usually the cost of one big dinner reception in Singapore at a five-star hotel.
"In contrast, we had six events spread over three days for the same price," he says of the welcome dinner, cocktail party, pool party, henna ceremony, traditional Hindu wedding ceremony and dinner reception.
There are others, however, who have to manage parental expectations.
Wedding stylist Eunice Wong, 29, and her husband, property agent Ong Helong, 27, had contemplated an intimate, outdoor garden wedding at Alkaff Mansion in Telok Blangah, but settled on a lunch banquet at the Orchid Country Club instead. They got married in November.
"My parents found it weird to not throw a banquet, so we acceded to their wishes in the end," says Ms Wong, who spent about $40,000. Her original plan would have cost about $10,000 less, she estimates.
"It can't be helped as a wedding involves two families."
Then there are parents who are more liberal and less fussy, who strive to help their children cut costs.
Carpenter Teo Yeong Chye, 51, for instance, organised and paid about $25,000 for a wedding for his 27-year-old son at Kim San Leng coffee shop in Bukit Timah last month. About 380 guests were invited.
Mr Teo, whose son and daughter-in-law declined to be interviewed, reckons he saved at least $13,000 by opting for the less glamorous venue.
"Even with a seafood feast, karaoke services, balloons, tentage and alcohol, it was still cheaper than throwing a banquet in a hotel. I'm not worried about face. I had enough room to host all my family and friends - that's all the face I need."
This article was first published on Jan 18, 2015.
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