National / International News
Couples hoping to walk down the aisle this summer may incur some hidden expenses. From tax penalties to prenups, navigating your new life can be a tough row to hoe. In many cases, getting married might not make financial sense.
CBS News Business Analyst Jill Schlesinger joins Lizzie O’Leary to talk about what you need to know.
For Indian millennials living in the U.S., a wedding may be the biggest party of their lives. Combining ancient tradition and American extravagance, these events can last for weeks and run well over six figures. It’s a booming industry, and venues across the country are all vying for a piece of the action.
“When hotels hear ‘Indian weddings’ they think, ‘cha-ching!’ ” says Ani Sandhu, owner of Ace of Events in the District of Columbia. He’s one of the area’s most successful Indian wedding planners. In order to plan a successful Indian wedding, he says you must first understand the cultural significance of the event. “In the Indian community, there are two things on their mind: one is education and one is marriage,” Sandhu says. “It’s not just the bride and groom getting married, it’s two families coming together … it’s a party that lasts a very, very long time.” Understanding the context, however, is just the prerequisite. The real heavy lifting happens when bringing together hundreds and even thousands of different elements to make each wedding a unique experience for each couple.
As lavish South Asian weddings grow in popularity, more venues are rolling out the red carpet to the wealthy client base. “On an average … we’re usually over a quarter-million dollars when it’s all said and done,” Sandhu says. Three-hundred- to 400-person guest lists are just the start. “By the time you are flying back and forth from India, you have jewelry that’s coming in, then you have all these events that are happening, all these traditions that need to take place, the total value that clients are spending towards weddings adds up to be a quarter million, three-hundred thousand plus.” Many hotels have started training their staffs in Indian traditions and customs in an effort to make families feel more welcome.
Sandhu often gets some pretty out-of-the-box requests. One groom asked to arrive on the back of an elephant. Another asked to arrive in helicopter. But when a groom came to him two years ago asking to make his entrance on a jet ski in the Maryland harbor, Sandhu had to do some brainstorming. “And I’m like, 'How do you expect to get off a jet ski, take off your wet suit, and be in your traditional Indian gown and not need it to be ironed or anything?' ” He managed to talk the groom out this idea and found a compromise: “For that specific client then we rented a private yacht that could accommodate about 30 guests, and the groom and his groomsmen made their entrance on the yacht.”
At the courthouse and beyond, the American wedding is more than just a legal act or even a big day— it's a massive business. The wedding industry brings in about $80 billion a year.
Businesses across the country reap the benefits: venues and florists, caterers, tent rental companies, dressmakers — they're all making big money.
David Wood, president of the Association of Bridal Consultants, spoke about the wedding industry and how to make the price of a wedding fit into a budget.
To hear the full interview, tune in using the player above.
When disaster strikes in a country like Bangladesh, first responders are often regular folks who happen to be on the scene. Now they're getting training so they can face the risks and save lives.
If the economy is sluggish, you wouldn’t know it by looking at the wedding business. Alan Katz started his 24-hour elopement chapel 11 years ago, and business has been booming ever since.
Great Officiants in Long Beach, California, sees a steady stream of weddings daily, “and they come in for a variety of reasons,” Katz says. Price and convenience are two major selling points. Because Katz can perform services and dispense licenses in-house, his company has established itself as a bona fide “one-stop shop” for couples hoping to tie the knot. “I’m doing more weddings than ever before. I’ve assembled a team of 33 officiants to do weddings because I couldn’t handle them all,” Katz says.
Over the years, Katz has helped more than 5,000 couples tie the knot, but there is one service that gives him a special joy: same-sex couples. “I specifically love marrying couples that have been denied the right to marry in the past,” Katz says. “When I see couples walk into my office who have been denied all their lives and get them to say ‘I do,’ it’s the most amazing feeling.”
Katz likes to think of his services as the cure for the common wedding. With a little advance notice, you can be married by Elvis, Austin Powers or even Marilyn Monroe. Other popular themes include Harry Potter and the Princess Bride. With a new Star Wars movie slated for release later this year, Katz is already buying new costumes to meet the expected spike in demand.
As one of the most creative wedding chapels in California, Katz says, couples come from miles around to tie the knot. Katz says business is good, and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing. “In tough economic times, people get married, and in affluent times, people get married. What does change is the size of the wedding and the perks.” And at about $300 a pop, couples aren’t too afraid to splurge a little.
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Economies of scale. We talk about it all the time, making lots of something to bring the costs down. It works with electricity, as large power plants far away affordably generate most of our energy. The thing is, the delivery system, the plumbing of electricity – i.e., the grid – is becoming less reliable. In Connecticut, failures affecting up 850,000 customers from three major storms in 2011 and 2012 have the state investing in a new type of redundancy: locally made power.
“We realized how centralized we are,” state lawmaker Lonnie Reed says. “And more centralization means more vulnerability.”
It’s really two vulnerabilities. A less reliable grid and our addiction to it. One of Reed’s constituents called up during the storm, demanding the National Guard.
“And I said ‘well, is your house still standing?’ ” Reed says. “ 'Oh yes.’ ‘Do you have water?’ ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘My children can’t go to school and there is no TV! And they depend on video games and Wii.’ He was having a Wii meltdown.”
After the storms, Connecticut enacted a law that’s the first of its kind in the country. It invests in what are call microgrids.
“It became clear that there was an opportunity,” Yale law professor Dan Esty says. He was state energy and environment commissioner at the time. “While not protecting against the grid going out, of having some microgrids that would stay up.”
A microgrid is what it sounds like: a hyper-local source of energy — it could be a natural gas plant, solar panels, a wind farm or fuel cell – that makes electricity independent of the main grid. Think community garden, in case shipped food can’t make it in. It’s a form of decentralized or “distributed” generation.
Danbury Hospital's microgridScott Tong/Marketplace
Danbury Hospital in western Connecticut put in its own system four years ago. At the heart of it is an on-site natural gas plant that kept the lights on during Superstorm Sandy.
“We decided to go island mode,” says Morris Gross, hospital facilities vice president. “And island mode basically meant that we split away from the power company during the worst of that storm.”
Much of the region went dark then, including New York University’s Medical Center in Manhattan.
“So they had to evacuate their patients,” Gross says. “These patients had to be carried downstairs. You know, elevators don’t work. You can imagine, if you have to worry about people on respirators.”
Danbury Hospital’s microgrid makes local power as well as local heat. The system captures the power generator’s waste heat, which normally goes up the smokestack, and turns it into steam.
“We take the steam, we heat buildings with it,” Gross says. “We take the steam, we create hot water with it. We take the steam, we sterilize instruments with it. And then we take the steam and we convert it to air conditioning through heat-absorption chiller."
Danbury Hospital saved so much on heating and air conditioning, it paid for its $17 million microgrid in four years.
It’s the same story an hour east, at Wesleyan University’s microgrid.
Alan Rubacha of Wesleyan UniversityScott Tong/Marketplace
The school, like a hospital, can’t afford to go dark. The science lab, for instance, has strict temperature controls. “We save about $5,000 per day operating these machines,” says Alan Rubacha, director of physical plant and capital projects at the university.
“Certainly at stake there is science,” Rubacha says, “the business of the university and the students. We’ve got minus 80 freezers and minus 20 freezers with things in them that are irreplaceable.”
Keeping a college building or hospital up is one of several reasons to make power locally. It can save money in places where grid power’s expensive. It can generate clean energy in the form of rooftop solar panels. It can hedge against terror attacks on the physical grid, which is why the military has built microgrids.
“There are so many reasons to have a structure of distributed generation,” Yale Law’s Dan Esty said. “That is going to happen with or without a strategy from government, with or without the support of the old utilities.”
Utilities are noticing. One industry paper (PDF) from the Edison Electric Institute calls distributed energy a “disruptive challenge.”
Still, in the near-term, Connecticut’s microgrid program faces significant hurdles. One is legal. Say you live there, and you want to build your very own microgrid. Does the law define what it is? No. Can you build one that crosses over or under a city street? Not sure. Are you subject to the myriad laws that apply to utilities? Could be.
“Lawyers are needed at every stage,” says Sara Bronin of the University of Connecticut School of Law. “If a project has to comply with public utility rules, even more lawyers are needed. Which is great for lawyers, but not for microgrid development.”
The state’s pilot program provides utility-approved legal exemptions for the small number of early microgrids.
“Future microgrid projects may not get the same treatment from utilities,” Bronin says. “And that’s what scares people off from trying to invest in microgrids in the first place here.”
Another barrier in Connecticut and around the country: electricity pricing. For most of us in our homes, electricity costs the same — whether it’s green or fossil, whether we’re energy hogs or not, whether it’s imported or made locally. Reformers want to overhaul pricing, so consumers pay more for energy that’s worth more.
“You start to pay for redundancy,” Esty says. “You pay for resiliency. You pay for any number of these attributes that have been on the sidelines of the 20th century marketplace.”
An old electricity marketplace and architecture, built yesterday, for yesterday.
“Eventually the public will become so frustrated with the storm response of the traditional grid that they will demand the changes that would allow for more resilience of the grid,” Bronin says.
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