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Home / Money / Personal-finance /  Three celebrity weddings and Middle India’s cry of angst

The amount spent on the wedding of the daughter of India’s richest man, how much the bride’s clothes cost, what the invitation boxes contained have been the subject of almost every conversation for the last few weeks. This is a carry-over from the same talk about the two big Bollywood 70mm weddings just a few days earlier. Why they are spending so much, how vulgar such spending is and how this money could have been better spent elsewhere is the one thread that runs through most of these social media forwards, office café talks, metro gossip and drawing room debates. The gasp of middle India horror at this vulgarity is loud and clear.

How much should the very rich spend on themselves? This seems to be the issue at stake. Let’s stay with first principals. Media reports say that India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani spent on his daughter’s wedding anything between 100 crore and 700 crore. Mukesh Ambani’s net worth, according to Forbes, is $47.3 billion, or 3.4 trillion at current exchange rates. This makes his spend between 0.03% to 0.21% of his net worth. The 2018 combined earning of the two movie stars, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who got married to each other, according to Forbes is almost 200 crore. Though estimates vary, a conservative number of 4 crore spent on their wedding is about 2% of their annual earning. Or they just had to work for slightly over a week to pay for the wedding.

What does an urban mass affluent Indian spend on his child’s wedding? Though the range seems to be between 20 lakh and 5-8 crore, let’s stay with a “conservative" 30 lakh wedding. Applying the higher ratio of 0.21% of your net worth on your children’s wedding, the person spending 30 lakh should have a net worth of 143 crore. I’d put the average net worth of a 30 lakh wedding parent at anything between 2 crore and 6 crore, including the house they live in. Take an average net worth number of 4 crore, and they spend 7.5% of their net worth on their children’s wedding party. In pure number terms, the urban mass affluent is the one spending excessively and making a spectacle, not the rich and the famous.

Let’s take this argument a bit further. Why do we, the average non-movie star, non-business tycoon commentators spend so much time stressing over what the super rich spent and how lavish their big dos are, and what mansions they build to live? Should we not spend this breath and angst over how the taxpayers money is used for a few servants of the public to upkeep their acres-deep bungalows in the prime locations in each state capital? One reason could be that most people in India still don’t pay their share of income tax. As of 2017-18, just 81,344 taxpayers in India have a declared income of 1 crore or more—a number not supported by the spends on luxury SUVs, hotel spends, jewellery sales and travel. Maybe as more of us begin to pay taxes, we could shift our attention to how that is spent rather than stressing over how people with earned or inherited money spend theirs. (For my view on inheritors, read this piece: Why it is so cool to beat up the rich).

The way we deal with money has a lot to do with our own feelings of inferiority, superiority, insecurities, jealously, pride and a whole host of growing up issues with money being at the core. How many of those calling such high-decibel weddings “vulgar" opt for a simple registered wedding for their children? Think about this: have the people spending their money earned it from drug dealing, not paying back bank loans or by any other means that breaks the law of the land? If not, it is only fair to let them enjoy the wealth they have created and get on with your own journey of wealth creation. Look in and not out.

My colleague Sabari Saran contributed to the number crunching for this piece.

Monika Halan is Consulting Editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation.

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