When I first got engaged, I sat down and asked myself, “How much do I feel comfortable spending on one day?” and eventually settled on $2,000. Once I started researching, I realized pretty quickly that my partner and I don’t have the kind of creative resources available to pull off our wedding for $2,000, so we raised the amount. My parents donated additional funds to the cause, with the stipulation that we use them toward the things we’d nixed but they viewed as necessities (paper invites, etc.). With our new, expanded budget we reserved a beautiful but very reasonably priced venue, hired a photographer off Craigslist, and hired some college students to set up chairs and serve pizza. A friend heard about the pizza and offered to contribute enough money to serve a catered buffet dinner. I feel very lucky to have so much financial help, and I know that my wedding is still considered a budget wedding in the grand scheme of things. Even with this extra money, we’re finding ways to cut corners and do some of the things ourselves. At the same time, the idea of spending so much money on twelve hours fills me with anxiety and shame, and I feel frivolous and selfish every time I consider the amount. Should I turn away the generous financial help from family and friends and stick with pizza?
The first thing we need to get straight is that you’re not spending all that money on “one day.” I get your point. It feels that way. But you’re paying for much more than just a regular old day. How much does a day at the art museum cost? Or twelve hours at Dorney Park? Okay, now how much would twelve hours of food and drinks and dancing for your hundred closest friends cost? It’s a little tough to compare, right? I’m gonna take a guess that you’ve never paid for anything remotely similar to this particular kind of twelve hours.
When you’re dealing with something you’ve never bought before, it’s easy to have a warped sense of finance. Things with big price tags that you’re not used to purchasing may feel “expensive,” but expense is relative. It’s not always a matter of being frivolous or outrageous, or even of being ripped off (though sometimes maybe it is). Most of the time, it’s just a matter of not having any experience buying anything similar.
Let me tell you a story. I grew up in an urban area and I could always walk wherever I needed to—everything was nearby. And if it wasn’t, there were eight kinds of public transit going in all directions that could take me there. Then I went to college, where things weren’t quite so convenient. Bumming rides off friends got old, so I decided to buy a used car. I figured, hm, for a few rides to Walmart now and then, it’d probably be worth about $300 to me. Stop laughing at me, I meant it. Naturally, it was only a few days of hunting before I realized that $300 budget wasn’t going to get me anything with working brakes and a gas tank. But it was just a car! I could do the very same thing with a $2 Septa token!
Is there a reason I couldn’t find a $300 car? Well, yeah, cars cost about ten times that, even used, dipshit (me, not you). I just didn’t know it because I’d never, ever bought anything even remotely like it. Though probably a few of those folks on Craigslist were out to rip me off, in most cases, the rest of those cars were ten times my original budget because that’s what they were worth. That’s just how much a car costs, no matter how much I tried to convince everyone otherwise.
In paying that $3,000 (or whatever it was I eventually needed to cough up for a car), I wasn’t just paying for a trip to work. I was paying for convenience. For sleeping in without being afraid of missing the bus. For rainy days not spent huddled on a corner. For the perk of not showing up to class drenched in sweat from walking a mile and a half to get there. Sure, I could forgo coughing up the cash. But I’d have to do something else—either wake up early and ride a bike, or skip going to the supermarket, or bum a ride off of friends.
In the same way, you’re not just paying for twelve hours. Even apart from the stuff I listed above—the food, the dancing, the place to do it all—you’re paying for even more than that. You’re also paying for that week before when you don’t have to spend all of your time bent over a hot stove. For not needing to run around during your wedding, picking up discarded napkins and plates. You’re paying for avoiding a fight with your mom over the etiquette of e-invites. Saying you’re paying all of this money for just twelve hours is akin to my being flabbergasted at paying $3,000 just for a ride to work. It’s like saying, “I spent $100 on just one hour?!” after an expensive haircut. You’ve got to count in all of the convenience, the expertise, the luxury that comes with that price tag. How do you normally rationalize spending—whether on a car or a haircut or anything else? Sometimes you’re avoiding stress. Sometimes you’re storing up memories. Sometimes you’re, let’s be honest, just spoiling yourself. And you know, all of those things can cost a lot of money, but not always because you’re necessarily being frivolous or decadent (though sometimes you are, which is just fine, too). In this case, it’s because your priorities and abilities are slightly different than someone who will risk that fight with mom or will spend those hours in the kitchen.
I realize the dynamic is slightly different when you’re spending other people’s money. As far as your dear, sweet loved ones go (including your friend who isn’t keen on pizza) you’re paying for their happiness and comfort in knowing that you’re not doing without. Humbly and graciously accepting a gift sometimes is just about giving someone else peace of mind. Your friend is paying for you feeling loved and fancy and not slopping pepperoni over your dress. She’s not just paying for food. She’s also paying so that she can rest easy that you feel special on your wedding day. She’s celebrating with you.
This might all seem like an argument for recklessly throwing around cash for a wedding. It’s not. Believe me it’s not. But, it is encouragement to acknowledge your own priorities and accept that if you want something, it comes with a price. Sometimes that price is in cold, hard cash.
Of course, there’s the possibility you’ll read the above and still feel that it was a mistake to spend so much. It’s true that maybe it was money that could’ve been better spent on a down payment on a house or a fancy vacation or your investment portfolio (or whatever it is that people spend their money on). But the fact is: it’s already spent. Now you have the option to enjoy it, or to spend the entire day racked with guilt. That second one would make it a true waste of money.
Team Practical, did you experience any guilt over the cost of your wedding? How did you handle the generous financial contributions of friends and family?
Photo: Corey Torpie Photography.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!