The High Cost of Tying the Knot

Raid Qusti • Riyadh Bureau Chief
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2003-08-03 03:00

RIYADH, 3 August 2003 — The average cost of getting married in Saudi Arabia is SR165,000 per person, and is taken up by several main expenses including the dowry, renting and furnishing an apartment, the wedding ceremony itself and the honeymoon, the Al-Watan daily reported yesterday.

A symposium held in Riyadh in March revealed that “the number of marriages in 2002 was 71,000,” the newspaper said, adding that several judges who specialize in marriage ceremonies and who were interviewed by the newspaper explained that 70 percent of marriages take place in summer.

The assistant executive manager of the Bin Baz Charity for Helping Saudi Youth Marry, Sheikh Saud Al-Assadi, said that the number of marriages in Saudi Arabia was increasing because of the increase in population, and that the annual number of marriages was in all probability higher than indicated by official statistics.

The SR165,000 cost quoted as the average for Saudis was outrageous and well out of the range of most people.

Al-Assadi said that the average dowry for Saudi women is between SR40,000 and SR50,000, and may include the gold given to the bride according to traditions in various parts of the country. He said that a dowry of SR25,000 was common in most of the country; the highest dowry he was aware of was SR100,000.

As for the average annual rent for an apartment, the sheikh said that rents in middle-class neighborhoods were about SR15,000. Once the apartment has been furnished and appliances bought, the expenditure will amount to some SR50,000. Most Saudi residences have two separate sitting rooms — one for men and one for women. These two rooms are usually the most expensively decorated, as they are the rooms in which guests are received and welcomed. In general, guests are not received in a Saudi family’s private sitting room, unless they are relatives.

Al-Assadi went on to say that wedding halls are no longer available for a few thousand riyals as they were in the past. The average cost of renting a good wedding hall for an evening is about SR18,000. The money spent on the one night celebration includes quantities of incense and perfumes, a lavish meal, hot and cold drinks as various services to guests. All this plus the rent itself will probably come to more than SR35,000.

In many cases, a women’s band is hired to play at the separate women’s wedding hall and the rates charged by these bands have skyrocketed in the past few years to as much as SR7,000 for one night. The sheikh said that because of these enormous expenses, many couples spend their first few years in very tight economic circumstances.

Much of the husband’s salary goes to pay back money borrowed from friends, family and banks. It is not unusual for repayment to take four or five years. He pointed out that young men with average incomes cannot really think of marrying before about age 29 and then only if they have managed to save some money.

What is a bigger problem is that employees with incomes less than SR5,000 a month — and there are many — face even greater difficulties in saving money for marriage. They may not be able to marry until their mid-thirties, preferring to travel abroad in search of change every year for a few thousand riyals.

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The high cost of weddings has also led to an increase in the number of unmarried Saudi women.

In some cases, men take advantage of marriages by turning their daughters into profitable businesses for themselves and requiring impossible financial conditions from young men, the sheikh explained.

Al-Watan spoke to a man known as Abu Ziyad who said that the average matchmaker’s charge for introducing a couple ranges from SR3,000 to SR5,000.

The cost of course rises with every new requirement on the part of the man or woman — either or both of whom often specify certain physical and mental characteristics which take additional time to find.

The final charge may reach SR50,000. Abu Ziyad also said that nowadays Saudi families are more willing to use matchmakers than they were in the past.

Sami Al-Mahanaa, a gold merchant, said that Saudis annually buy up to 32 tons of gold for purposes related to marriage. He said the total amount is in the region of SR1.7 billion.

He explained that in some traditional areas, the gold does not only go to the bride but to her mother, her sisters and even her aunts as well.

He said the rate of consumption varies from one area of the Kingdom to another, pointing out that the Najd area (Riyadh and the central region) and the southern area (Asir and Najran) are first in the Kingdom, consuming up to 25 percent of the total amount.

He mentioned that some traditions related to gold and gold consumption have become less prevalent than in the past.

At one time, families in Najd and in the south would not accept less than a kilo and a half of gold from the groom.

This was mainly in the form of gold necklaces or gold belts.

The general manager of a local chain of restaurants, Khaled Al-Mugrin, said that the number of sheep slaughtered for wedding feasts in Saudi Arabia is more than 994,000 annually.

He explained that the number of sheep for one celebration usually ranged from 6 to 14; in some cases, the number of sheep may be more than 20, depending on the number of guests.

The cost of only slaughtering a sheep is SR500 but this does not include charges by what is called “the kitchen” for preparing the food.

Other charges are for salad, hot and cold drinks, fruit and delivery. The total cost per sheep can thus easily mount up to SR750.

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