Ask Team Practical: Spending Guilt

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?

Miserly Mrs.

Dear MM,

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!

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  • Steph

    Hi Liz, this comment is not relevant at all to the subject matter, but, I love all of the Philly references :)

    • Brenda

      Me too. Septa tokens! Oh Philly and your incredibly outdated public transit systems. My husband still gets a kick out of the ten-hole-punched paper regional rail tickets whenever we go back to visit.

    • Personally, I loved the Dorney Park reference since I’ll be driving by it all lit up on my way home from work tonight. :-)

  • Itsy Bitsy


    I need to print out this Q&A and put it on my fridge for some healthy reminding now & then. Dear self: do what you can, but not everything will be priced like the Salvation Army. Breathe.

    • Michelle

      You are in my brain! I feel like that “Salvation Army” thinking is totally my enemy in planning. I’m constantly comparing things to the rock-bottom once-in-awhile deals you can sometimes find at thrift stores… and hey… um lots of wedding things are not going to have those prices! I was really proud of myself yesterday when I challenged my Salvation Army thinking. I was looking at shoe clips and thinking, “well those don’t look too hard to make, and I’m sure I could get them cheaper…. etc etc.” I decided to let myself spend a “whopping” $12 on these cuties from Etsy ( instead, and save myself the time and energy and stress of another DIY project.

      • ItsyBitsy

        Hah! Good for you for challenging that thinking! Also, those shoe clips are adorable. Win. :)

  • it seems like there are really two different concerns here: “is it okay to spend this much money on it?” and “is it okay to take this much money as a gift?” which are pretty significantly different.

    i have no idea how to answer them – they were both immensely difficult for me. i mostly managed it through a combination of trying to make sure we were spending as carefully as possible and utter resignation. but at the same time, after the wedding i never once regretted any of the money we spent (or, really, anything else).

    • M.E.

      “i mostly managed it through a combination of trying to make sure we were spending as carefully as possible and utter resignation”

      I needed to read this post and particularly this comment today! Newly engaged and 2 weeks into planning, and I have been hating EVERYTHING about it, because we are torn between feeling stingy but having dreams, navigating gifts (and expectations that come with them), weighing intimacy against guest numbers, throwing money at debt vs keeping some more for the wedding, and all sorts similar problems. Just as of this morning I had resigned myself to accepting expensive catering from Mr’s parents, and a 90-guest wedding vs the teeny wedding we considered when we first drafted our budget. We will have the great food and great photographer we (and his fam) want to prioritize, and spend the rest of our pennies so very carefully. I am really banking on the “not regretting it later” part…

  • SJ

    We’re getting so much help from family and friends it makes me feel loved and guilty at the same time.

    • Mellie

      We are about 2 weeks past our wedding and I am feeling this mix about all the way-more-generous gifts than I expected and all the above-and-beyond help our friends gave on the day. I know no one is expecting more than a thank you note and friendship, but I feel that I can’t thank them enough.

      • Mellie

        …and we even paid for the whole wedding ourselves. I am realizing that weddings are such a community undertaking that no matter what you can’t go it alone, and accepting help/gifts/money graciously is a skill you can’t skip.

  • So so true. The money is about so much more than money. Accept the love you’re given, MM.

  • Emily

    There was definite sticker shock and guilt at first. I always scoffed at the ridiculous sums people spent on weddings, so now I have my tail between my legs and no longer judge what people choose to do. I thought I could do it under $10,000, but turns out that is pretty close to impossible in the Bay Area if you want to have a sit down meal for 100+ people and not self-cater. We’ve just had to frame it this way: we are not just paying for “a day”. We are paying for all our loved ones to be in one place, to enjoy food and drink together, to honor our commitment to one another. There are very few occasions to do that since my family lives all over the world. We’ve planned something authentic to us, our lifestyle, and our priorities, so I’ve just had to accept what the going rate for that is.

    • Meeeee too. So with you.

      I’ve made a point not to discuss finances with our families (we’re paying for the wedding ourselves) because I know they’d flip out and, frankly, it’s not their money. I want the joy of knowing we’re all together to celebrate this incredibly happy moment, and paying for convenience — ours and everyone else’s — is worth it to me. I feel guilty about many things, but the wedding isn’t one of them.

      • Emily

        We’ve avoided discussing finances with our families too, for all the reasons you’ve listed!

        But with my girlfriends, I’ve had the opposite approach. Whenever one of them compliments me for having a simple wedding and not spending outrageous amount of money like “those other people” (just like I used to think!), I break down it down that while we’ve planned something seemingly simple, it does add up fast and how I completely get now why people spend even more. These are my close friends, so it doesn’t come across as flaunting what I’ve spent. I just don’t want them to end up as dismayed as I was, and many of them have thanked me for being so open about it.

        • This is a really great point and if I were your friend I would LOVE you for addressing it. For so many of us, the majority of our exposure to weddings during the early stages of planning came through blogs, and it’s so easy to look at all the indie chic in a vacuum and not realize all those adorable DIY details or that vintage glam or that effortless-looking chic came at a cost – to this post’s point, either hours of labor or a high price tag for someone else’s hours of labor. I know when I got through the brainstorming stage and started actually pricing all the adorable Brooklyn-y wedding ideas in my head, it was a rough awakening. I would have loved to have a friend break it all down honestly for me like you did!

          • Alison

            Yes, I would love to see more real budgets along with the wedding grad/wordless wedding kind of posts on APW! Of course it’s a personal thing and I understand people not wanting to share and also not wanting to make the posts about the money, but it’s hard to know what’s realistic.

          • Rachel

            I have this secret dream of like, just for one day, having all the weddings and wedding details on the Internet having price tags on them.

          • Riah

            This feature over at DIY Bride is the closest I’ve found on the internet, although it’s just for individual pieces of things, not whole weddings:

    • Caroline

      Yup, right down to the amounts. We thought “Oh, we’ll spend $8000. That’s a reasonable, albeit huge number.” Well, let’s just say we are not spending $8000 on our Bay Area wedding, and our number isn’t even close (and we ARE self-catering.)

      But you know what, we’re having 60 of our closest family and friends to a party celebrating our marriage at my mom’s house. We’re going to have amazing photographs for us and our kids and grandkids, I’m going to wear a fancy fairy princess dress, and we’re going to feed our loved ones amazing food, wine and dine and dance them. We’re having an awesome rabbi marry us, and overall, I’m rather over the fretting about whether it’s too much. Yes, it’s a fortune to us. It’s a large amount of money which my parents can and want to pay so that their little girl, their first child, has a nice wedding, by both my standards, and theirs. And most of the time, that’s okay.

      That’s not to say getting here (this place of relative zen about the cost) was easy, but I’m mostly okay with it. Although there are elements I’m not okay with. That much on a dress!!! No way. (I’ll probably end up paying that much though.)

      Do I think it’s crazy that we how much we have to pay for everything that we want, which feels like not such great requirements? Yes. But the truth is a) We just don’t live in a place/time where we have lots of aunts and sisters and cousins who will come together and cook and bake and sew and aunts and uncles who play in a band, and such. So, we pay people to do some of it. and b) Meg likes to talk about how traditional weddings took place in the brides parents home, or the church later. But that’s not true in all cultures. In some cultures, weddings have always been pretty big, elaborate affairs in which large numbers of people are fed with live music. In the cultures our families come from, the small wedding with just the parents in the living room type of thing isn’t traditional. Big weddings with lots of extended family, and possibly the whole dang village, food for everyone including a few random poor people, and live music is traditional. That’s okay too.

      • KC

        All I can say here is: some cultures have giant *multi-day* wedding feasts! Seriously, that’s gotta be expensive, no matter how you slice it (or self-cater it).

        I do think that, if you can’t afford X, then scaling down to Y is a good plan (for lo, I am debt-averse), but if you can afford it, then feed them all delicious food and have great music and call it a non-recurring expense/gift to yourself and your family and friends.

        • CII

          I agree. In defense of guilt, it can be a much needed gut check when managed correctly. If the “guilt” you feel is a reminder that escalating costs may be cutting into other life goals (house, debt payment, honeymoon, etc.) then it may be worth a conversation with your future spouse about priorities. That said, I think the key (and the trickiest part) is letting the guilt go once you decide on what you feel comfortable spending.

          • KC

            Absolutely, and if you look at a particular decoration/dish/alcohol-option/etc. and say “you know, it is not worth $X to me to have that”, then cutting that element (or even restructuring the entire event) is an entirely reasonable response. (with the caveat of family/friends and sometimes it’s worth buying the Jordan almonds even if you hate them, fine.)

            But obviously you gotta keep that guilt behaving as a useful tool/indicator rather than something that’s unnecessarily injuring you. So if envisioning multi-day feasts in your great-grandparents’ homeland for the entire town helps with putting the wedding in perspective, then sure. :-) If envisioning the tiniest-scale wedding your family has ever had and asking yourself “would this be okay with us?” is helpful, then that’s also good. :-)

    • Audrey

      Me too! My initial 12k budget at least? doubled after spending hours debating cost cutting and afternoon wedding options and brunch and… we ended up with a Saturday night sit down buffet dinner for 145 that I completely don’t regret (we had some unexpected family help, too).

    • “We are paying for all our loved ones to be in one place, to enjoy food and drink together, to honor our commitment to one another.” THIS. While it’s hard to feel ok about spending so much money, it all felt worth it to have been able to bring together so many of our loved ones, give them good food and fun dancing, and feel how much they love us. The memories from that weekend are worth well more than the money we spent.

  • Blizalef

    I have been running into a similiar problem. My fiiance and I are paying for (most of) our wedding ourselves. We set our budget at $5000, which is within our means (if we’re careful) but still considerably more money than I am willing to spend on one day. Also, I was raised to be very frugal, and I have a very distinct concept of what I am or am not willing to spend on various things. (The only thing I have ever spend more than $1000 is our house!)
    I am still in the beginning stages of planning — I have a pretty good idea what we are going to do, but I haven’t signed the contracts yet — and while I know that a wedding does not weigh in on the same financial scale as other life milestones, some of the expenditures that have been coming up simply make my stomach turn in knots. I realize that this is largely an issue I just need to work on, as I have been very careful about shopping around and whatnot. However, I find myself feeling guilty because we are doing things cheaply, but still spending a lot.

  • Kelly

    I had slight wedding guilt over spending so much of my parents’ money (they offered to pay, gave me a budget..and about a month after I’d sent deposits in I started to wonder if it’d all be worth it – to both us and them). I even tried to refuse some of it, but they kept insisting and even questioned me when we nixed certain things that are “typical” WIC traditions. For example, no cake for us – I had to convince Mom it really was our choice to have doughnuts instead. Some things we stuck to our guns with (if you REALLY want pizza at your wedding, dammit, have pizza with that catered buffet!) and some things we were indifferent about and just let them include it in the contract (I didn’t care to have coffee service but it turned out to be a great idea).

    I know people say this, but FOR REAL – after that glorious weekend-long celebration with almost 200 of our closest friends and family all in the same town/hotel/party, I seriously would not trade one second of it!
    Looking back, yep – it was definitely worth it. Every. Single. Penny.

  • Annie

    I still sometimes struggle with this, and I have been married 2 years! I think, was our wedding too expensive/too fancy/too frivolous? Did people walk away thinking it was over-the-top? It was a beautiful wedding in our city at an amazing location, with dinner and drinks and a twinkle-lit courtyard…
    But then I remind myself that of the fact that multiple family members made generous financial contributions (with few strings attached, yay!), we used our own money we had saved, and no one went into debt over the whole thing. And we had a damn fine celebration, and we loved it.

  • My husband and I are currently planning a “getting weddinged” (thanks OBB) ceremony for our fourth anniversary. We’ve set a budget and plan to stick to it. It’s more than I ever thought I would have paid for a one day celebration. But, we are getting more than that.

    Four years after eloping thanks to his job in the USAF, we’ll get to have all our friends and family in one place. Four years after driving to a JP on a Tuesday afternoon, after he got off shift, we get to have a Saturday evening ceremony. Four years after having only three friends in witness, we get to express our love in front of our most dear. Four years after a quick dinner at a burger joint, we get to have the dinner, the drinks, and the dancing all night long.

    You really can’t put a price tag on that. So I’m trying not too. We’ve been budget wise and we’re working hard to choose good but affordable options. But at the end of the day, we’re willing to pay for the children to come, for our many and disparate friends to have a guest, for an open bar. We’ve waited a long time to get to celebrate and so we’re okay with that, within budget.

    • That’s going to be awesome. Enjoy every second, and congrats!

      • Thanks so much! We’re pretty excited!

    • Sarah

      “Getting weddinged” – LOVE it!

    • When I tried to plan a wedding I got sick over every thought of how much money we’d spend on it. I just wasn’t ok with any number I could come up with, largely because I didn’t really want the whole wedding hoopla. Spending $5000 on something I wasn’t crazy about doing? That was hard.

      In the end, my husband and I got married at city hall, spent a night at a hotel, had afternoon champagne with our moms and took the streetcar out to a fancy dinner (and stopped at the liquor store for more bubbles after). Objectively we still spent a decent chunk of money between buying his clothes, my last minute dress, the hotel and dinner and other miscellaneous nothings. I don’t actually know the exact number, and I obsess over numbers so this shocks me. But it speaks to the fact that we got married in a way that was authentic to us and that we could afford.

      If I’d spent the same amount on a big event I’d still be fretting about it, because I don’t like events. Any more than ten people to a group and I’m uncomfortable and would automatically be uncomfortable spending the money on those things.

  • Chalk

    When I first began planning my wedding, I had the same issues with budget and spending as you are experiencing. At the time, a friend of mine said, “There are only two occasions in your life when all of your loved gather in one place to celebrate you – and you’re only alive for one of them.” I really appreciated the fresh prospective and carried it with me through the planning process.

    • SarahT

      THIS. There are plenty of sad times in a life and in a family, so you have to seize the opportunity to celebrate the good things too. As a reaction to the WIC message of more equals better we can go too far the other way and feel guilty about spending any money at all. Make good decisions and then ENJOY it!!

  • There was definiely a lot of sticker shock on our part. I’d never helped a friend plan a wedding, because out of my girlfriend group, I am only the third to get married. I thought I knew what the costs would be, but I was shocked at what some things cost when I started shopping. We had to stick to a really tight budget and it was hard to do. There were many compromises to stay within budget, and there was a lot of guilt about the compromises and the money we were spending. We wanted to be able to include as many of our loved ones as possible and have a wedding that was us, and many of our compromises were what made that possible.

    It was hard work, but it was all worth it. Every penny. I got to see family I hadn’t seen in eleven years. I got to meet a good bit of my husband’s extended family. We spent the night surrounded by love and loved ones and it was fantastic and wonderful and perfect for us.

  • I’ve been dealing with the “spending other people’s money anxiety” part a lot. I set out expecting to pay for everything myself, only to be surprised that there had actually been money put away by my family for this very occasion. So now my dad wants to make sure I don’t scrimp on anything, which is a difficult conversation, because even if we had billions of dollars we would not be spending it on a 4-course sit down dinner and 300 guests.

    It’s also uncomfortable signing over a check for a couple thousand for a caterer and then dealing with the hyperventilation of oh god I’ve never signed a check that large in my life, even if we have the money.

    For me the key has been reminding myself that, no matter how much or how little money we have, we’re spending it on what we think is important. If we have it, let’s use it to have great food, great music, and to get us some nice outfits. But just because we have the money doesn’t mean we have to waste it on things we don’t care about just because they’re “wedding” things (for us this means no flowers, no wedding party, no favors, no videographer, and family style dinner instead of a million waiters).

  • Casey

    My fiancé and I struggled with this too, and have adapted a helpful saying along the lines of “YOLO”: “WOMO,” or We Only Marry Once. As in, crap, we have to rent a bunch of heat lamps and they cost 75 bucks a piece? Is it worth it for our guests to be warm and comfortable? WOMO!! Again, not to justify throwing money around, but there are certain expenses that are worth it for a once in a lifetime celebration.

    • WOMO.

      You are the best, and also that’s hilariously fun to say out loud.

      • Stalking Sarah

        WOMO!! What an amazing slogan!


      Haha – my maid of honor and I have adopted a similar saying… ‘YOGMO’ (you only get married once). Usually used when jokingly trying to convince my fiance of something extraordinarily out of our budget :)

      • The Family Jules

        My partner has been using the YOGMO phrase on me lately.

        Me- “Weddings are so expensive and stressful. Why can’t we just elope?”
        Him- “YOLO?No…you only get married once…YOGMO! If we’re doing it once we’re going to do it right.”

  • Kats

    Meg has a great line in The Book, about the importance of protecting your own experience at your wedding. I keep reminding myself of it as I wince at writing checks – part of what we’re spending the money on (and it’s ours, not from family) is to try to protect our experience, to be able to be fully present in the moment without worrying about folks getting enough to drink or the iPod playing the right music at the right time or fussing over making sure the DIY projects look ok and are done in time. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing all of those things yourself or with friends — if doing them makes you happy and adds to your experience. But for me, at least, the idea of trying to wrangle a slew of Trader Joe’s flowers into some semblance of a centerpiece or a bouquet the day before my wedding makes me want to strangle myself with floral tape. Just not my thing…and so paying a florist to help take that off my hands is money well spent, because it protects (hopefully) my overall experience. And if it doesn’t? Well, shucks. Made the best guess I could at the time we wrote the checks, and if something interferes, well, we’re wiser for it. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself in the 0’dark thirty OMG-what-if moments.

    • Erin

      Kats, if I could wrap you up in a long-distance OH MY GOD THANK YOU hug right now I would. I’m six weeks out and so stressed about costs that I’ve legitimately stopped counting what the total is in order to save my sanity. This outlook is exactly what I needed to hear.

      • Michelle

        Hang in there, Erin! I’m 6 weeks as well – Sept 14, so I feel you. We will both make it and it is going to be so awesome and so worth all the planning.

        • Kats

          Right back at you – been there, done that, rockin’ the t-shirt – ours is the weekend after. It’s an anxious time, with flavors of OMG-it’s-almost-here ranging from giddy to so-much-to-do. You’ll be awesome, it will be awesome, and end of the day, you’ll be married. Also, ice cream and red wine. Maybe not together.

        • Erin

          Hurrah, Sept 14th! What a lovely day for a wedding. :)

          It is all going to be awesome and great and fun and everything is ok. (this is my mantra).

      • dawn

        I’m getting married Saturday, and I have followed the “do not keep track of the total” method of budgeting. We figure out each issue / item just as we would for any other purchase…At first, I felt guilty for not having a definite budget or a budget spreadsheet or whatever, but now I feel totally fine with it. This is my normal budget method applied to a wedding.

        • Hear hear. My normal budgeting method is “I know I have way more in my checking account than anything I would spend it on today” combined with “Does this seem like a reasonable price y/n?” and that’s how I approached wedding spending.

          I have no idea how much we spent (well, I spent, really. I was the one with the money, ha). I know it was quite a bit, but all I really know is that I still had money in the bank at the end of every month, and I didn’t feel like I was getting ripped off for anything I paid for. I think it’s better that way, because if I actually saw the grand total I might throw up.

          • Erin

            I’m so glad I’m not the only one that budgets this way! Spreadsheets are all fun and good, but I never stick to filling them out, so why try? This sort of ‘this thing seems reasonably priced and I have some money’ budgeting is right up my alley. (well, except for the ‘reasonably priced’ bit when it comes to weddings…)

            Throw up indeed. Better not to count, I think.

  • Jenny

    It helped us to put things in comparison to some things we could fathom. Food was a big one but we kept reminding ourselves and each other. Even if we took 100 people out to eat at McDonalds, it would still be more money than we usually spend on food. Feeding 100 people is a lot of people and it’s going to be “expensive” no matter what you serve.

  • Stalking Sarah

    It’s not what you spend, it’s how you spend it. It sounds like MM is making thoughtful, meaningful decisions, isn’t going into debt, and is getting the support of her friends and community. You can’t put a price tag on that.

    I had a number in my head about how much would get spent at our wedding, initially, but it got quickly revised. That’s because we wanted to buy dinner for everyone, and that everyone meant a LOT of people. And you know what, if I could bottle up the feeling that I had at our wedding, of looking around and literally just seeing love and support from every person in the room, I would get high on that stuff all day long. It was worth what we spent.

  • I’m not sure if this was directly addressed or maybe I just missed this in skimming it, but for me the wedding, while a day in duration, is not just a day. It’s symbolic of so much more. It’s the first day of our wedded life, which is a huge transition. For my fiance and me, it’s a day to thank and love and appreciate all of our loved ones for getting us here and for guiding us through the future. It’s one day out of our whole lives dedicated to saying “Thank you for getting us here and making us who we are today. We are entering this new phase in our lives, and we love you all enough to want you to be a part of not just today but the rest of our lives. We trust you all to be a witness to these vows that we are making and help hold us accountable for them.” Seems like $10,000+ for a nice meal and party aren’t even enough in exchange for a lifetime of support. Plus, for us, getting married is a Big Deal one of the biggest of big deals of our lives. So I think it’s worth it. It’s so much more than music and booze and decorations.

    At least that’s what I tell myself when I start writing checks like my hands are on fire.

  • Lauren

    Wow – Liz’s response (and all of the comments) are exactly what I need to read right now! I’ve been having serious budget woes. We started off with a budget we felt would be good for what we wanted. Quickly had to increase that when we realized that it was absolutely impossible to do what we wanted (or anything close to it) for that figure. Then we increased it again when our caterer told us their quote was “off” by about $3000 (umm – yeah). Along the way our families have generously helped us out while we still tried everything to save money (I made all of our decor or bought it all used, I made my own veil, we found an awesome suit for my fiance at the Salvation Army, we made our own invites and did online RSVPs, we’re DITing the flowers, and the list goes on). Even with all this, we are still spending way more than we ever thought.
    The last few weeks I’ve had a huge sense of GUILT over the amount we’re spending – especially because we both have large amounts of student debt and I’ve been wondering if we made a mistake in having this large wedding. This all has come to a head when my father called me a few days ago to say that he really wants us to have the rental company handle having the cafe lights I bought in the pavilion (the pavilion has electricity but no lights!). Our original plan was to have some friends come the day before to help hang lights. My dad was in near panic mode about these darn lights being too much to hang on our own so, I promised I would look into it to try and calm him down. I looked into it and it’s almost $1,200 to hang lights – AND they won’t use the ones I bought…it has to be the rental company’s lights. I told my dad the cost and said we can’t imagine spending that much when I’m confident we can do it ourselves (we’ve already done a partial test run and, while it will be time consuming, we can do it). My father said he would pay it for us and just let him do this because of the “investment in your future.” While the “investment” thing makes me so angry (because – um, not really) but it is an investment in making sure that people aren’t killing themselves on the day before to hang lights. And its not like its *our* money. But, still, I can’t fathom allowing this additional money to be spent when we’ve already spent SO MUCH. So, please help team practical – do I accept my dad’s generous offer or do I allow my wonderful friends to help out (who are all doing this in exchange for giving us wedding gifts…a totally fair and excellent trade in our book!).

    • Your dad wants to give you a gift. Your friends also want to give you a gift. Either way it sounds like it may be mildly inconvenient (who wants to drop $1200 on hanging lights? vs. who wants to spend a day hanging lights?) but not actually a problem. Clearly both are willing.
      If your dad’s really okay with spending the money, that would simplify your oversight responsibilities and free up your friends to do other things, like DIT the flowers or hold your hand and tell you it’s okay to go to Mexico.
      Contrariwise, if your friends are really okay with helping and you’re certain it’s not a stretch / you have it covered if Murphy acts up, then maybe it’d be fun to hang out working on something that day.

      I’d accept Dad’s offer, but that’s because of what makes sense for me and my priorities–which basically boil down to “the fewer loose ends, the better”–and you’ve got to figure out what works best for you and yours.
      There was a great post on here a couple days ago about accepting big gifts. I loved the mental image about being as gracious about accepting a five-figure check as you would be about receiving a single spatula. It’s what someone can give, and what they want to give. It’s okay.

    • thursday

      My advice would be to totally take him up on the offer and use my friends’ time for something else (other wedding setup things, last-minute emotional and/or vodka support, etc).

      I feel this way about my dress…my parents paid for it. It was pretty cheap for a WIC wedding dress but still cost more than the rest of my wardrobe put together. So I feel like I should have shopped around more and found something cheaper…on the other hand, now I have more planning energy to spend on other things.

    • Aubry

      I would do it yourself (well, your friends selves anyway) but I am that kind of girl. But I would also say to weigh your feelings and do what seems right. That does seem high to hang lights, but I assume that includes the cost of the light rental? Can you return or otherwise recoup the money you have already spent on lights? Or, depending on the kind of lights, shop around more and see if anyone will use the ones you have? I would hate to lose money on something I had already spent it on.

      • dawn

        Do you have to take the lights off? If so, how difficult is it to do so and when do they need to be removed by?

    • Liz

      Same as the OP, it sounds (based on the way you phrase your question) like your Dad isn’t just trying to throw around money for the sake of spending money. It sounds like he wants to pay for his own peace of mind that the lights will be hung, no one will die in the process, and he won’t have to stress or worry about it. It’s worth $1200 to him to not have to worry, so I’d let him do it.

      I’m really bad at accepting gifts. I’m always tied up in guilt over it. But there are instances where it’s not so much a gift as, “I’ll feel better MYSELF if you let me do this thing for you.” In which case, the best thing you can do is let them have at it.

  • Sarah NCtoPA

    I totally agree that sometimes the (often high) cost is worth the trouble you save. Our caterer had great food prices but really high service costs. However she’s done tons of events at our venue and made the day run smoothly. And I didn’t have to worry about hiring some Craigslist vendors who might flake out. My dress ended up being way too big.My seamstress was more than the dress cost but made me look great and feel comfortable. As long as you can pay it all in cash (I strongly believe one should never finance a wedding or any related components like rings) and have support you’re in a good spot.

  • Sarah

    The sticker shock of weddings and the “one day” notion happens when we compare the cost of a wedding to a physical thing we could buy with it (a car, for example) when it’s not a fair comparison. Buying experiences (dinners out, vacations, weddings) and buying things are two totally different things and if it helps, spending money on experiences and spending money on others makes you happier.


    To sum up, our memories of experiences appreciate over time. All the stress and negativity melt away and the good things stay with us. Good news for anyone who’s gone through childbirth. Not so with things. When we buy things they immediately depreciate, we get used to them, they get old, they don’t continue to make us happy.

    SO: all this to say that you should not feel guilty about how much you are spending on your wedding because you are buying an experience for yourself and your people. AND, you are allowing them also to spend their money on other people and an experience. Recalling it will make everybody happy happy for years to come.

    • Jacquelyn

      This is perfect. I always opt to spend money on an experience rather than an object. Just need to refocus so I can see it that way. Thank you for this!!

  • Beth

    As a naturally frugal person, I also had a hard time with the sticker shock of paying for a wedding. I constantly worried about whether this or that was worth the cost, if we were being ripped off (I’m looking at you, caterers), or if there was someone else was out there who would be more affordable. The way we handled it was to do all the research ever. So many spreadsheets comparing price vs service. Oy. But what this ensured was that when we did make a decision to pay for something, we felt really good about it. We knew that we were meeting our needs without going overboard and still getting the level of service that we felt comfortable with. It was a huge pain in the ass, but I don’t regret any of our purchases.

    Sometimes it’s hard to see the worth of things when they feel extravagent, and for the most part I hated it when some WIC vendor would throw out the line, “But it’s your wedding day and you only get married once!” as justification for dropping way more money than I was comfortable with….but in some sense that’s a little true. There are ways to make sure you feel comfortable with it, though, and I think that starts with doing research into what things actually cost and then balancing that with its importance to you and your loved ones.

  • Anon for this

    Oy, this is is such a fraught topic for me. My husband and I both have jobs that will never make us close to as much money as our parents, and we live relatively frugally day to day, but we both come from financially privileged backgrounds. Our parents expected to pay for our wedding. They are wonderful, generous people, and their financial assistance came with no absolute strings attached, but they have ideas about what it means to be the hosts of a large party, and would have really struggled if we had insisted on doing without some of the non-necessities/lower priority items that we ended up spending a lot of money on.

    We did our best to spend money on vendors with similar values to us wherever possible, and many of our friends and family (who are used to events similar to what our parents are used to) were surprised at how simple and DIT our wedding felt, but the actual dollar amount makes me feel SO GUILTY. It’s not even that it would have been better off spent elsewhere, though, because it wasn’t offered “elsewhere.” It’s the number itself that makes me queasy.

    I know that people along the whole financial spectrum end up feeling this way, but it’s hard when the sane wedding blogs never mention budgets anywhere near what you ended up spending. I’ve been trying to write a post about guilt (and privilege: we know how fortunate we are), but it always ends up sounding so ‘poor little rich girl’ that I just give up. (Gah, even this comment feels that way. Why is money so hard to talk about?)

    • Anon To

      PLEASE write that post. Please. I feel like I’m the only one in the “sane wedding world” who is spending more than $5,000-$10,000 on her wedding day…and when you’re spending almost triple that (and you feel like you shouldn’t be spending that much if you’re trying to have a “sane” wedding), the guilt mounts and you start to question yourself and…ugh, it’s just awful.

      So, please, write that post :o)

    • Your comment doesn’t sound ‘poor little rich girl’! I think you should keep trying to write that post. If there were ever a crowd LESS likely to be judgmental in a thoughtful discussion about money and privilege, it’s this one.

    • Ellie

      You’re not alone! My parents are very well off due to their jobs (both of them are/were in technical fields) and are very fiscally responsible. We’ve never lived crazy privileged lives, but my parents are very good with managing their money. Even before I got engaged my mom told me they were going to pay for my wedding. It gives me so much guilt, even though they’re happy to do it and the money has absolutely no strings attached. It’s hard to accept when you’re given something as generous as within-reason free-range with someone else’s money. I’ve just had to sort of accept it graciously and make sure to take very good care of my parents when they’re old. :)

      It’s hard to justify the money, but it really does make them happy (so they’ve told me). It’s just about saying thank you a crap ton and accepting the generosity of family and friends.

    • GCDC

      Ah I’m so sorry I accidentally reported your comment. Comment gods, forgive me!

    • Gina

      Thank you for writing this comment. I have been struggling with the exact same sentiments. My fiancée and I are both young, just beginning our careers, and recently purchased our first house. When we got engaged, my parents offered to pay for the wedding, whatever that cost may be. My mother even encouraged us to hire a wedding planner (her close friend) who usually deals with the semi-celebrities and high-society types. They have all been incredibly receptive to our ideas to “keep it simple”, but we are still planning a wedding that is very different from what we could afford on our own.

      The fiancée and I had a long discussion just a few nights ago about how guilty we feel at the cost of the wedding (total amount – I am not even sure) even though my parents are willing and able to spend the money. With every wedding decision to make, it is hard not to think that if it was our money, and our budget, we would be doing things VERY differently.

      How can I still have a “practical wedding” knowing that the cost is really impractical? Any one else struggling to come to terms with this?

    • Kelly

      Thank you thank you for this post APW. (and for your comments, anon!) Just last week I searched the web for “wedding budget guilt”

      I also come from a pretty privileged background and am lucky to not have student loans or other debt. My parents taught me to live frugally and reasonably, but they are financially well off. I’ve rebelled a little bit, taking a personally meaningful but low-paying job that I hope will make a difference in the world, but I know that I was free to make that choice because of my privilege.

      Big mistake (or blessing in disguise): updating your wedding budget while watching a heart-wrenching news story about refugees

      What I feel guilty about is not exactly the actual dollars spent, because I know my parents could afford more if I asked (and we’ve insisted on footing a part of the bill ourselves). I feel guilty that I have this privilege to begin with. I feel guilty that I’m not making sacrifices to confront injustice with more of my heart and budget.

      I’ve wrestled with my privilege before, and I thought me and privilege were cool! We were in a good place. I was making life choices that I was proud of… but I’m not willing to let go of this storybook wedding idea. Damn it.

      After a solid 24 hours of freaking out, my sweet fiance came up with a solution (sigh. xo) We’ve recently moved, and I haven’t yet been volunteering. I’ve been intimidated because I want to make a commitment, but I want it to be the right one, you know?

      He suggested that I pay myself to volunteer and use that money towards the wedding. ( HOORAY. It was like this huge cloud cleared. (Yes, I know this is a little bit exploiting and making myself feel good. But forgive me, I’m doing the best I can)

      Of course, my 100 hours (or whatever) will not come close to the cost of our wedding but I hope that the side effects will be even better. I’ll force myself to just pick a few volunteer opps and run with it— so post-wedding, I will know what I loved doing and can continue. I’ll meet people in my new city. And I will remind myself that there is a gritty world outside of cakes and decorations (don’t get me wrong, I love those things— this actually contributed hugely to the guilt factor)

      I haven’t told many people, because it feels a little braggy. But those who I’ve told, I’ve invited to pledge a few hours towards my wedding :)

      Seriously, thanks APW.

  • AIH

    My husband and I spent about 12k on our DC area wedding and it was completely worth. The memories surrounded by so many family and friends is worth so much more than that. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  • Anonymized

    We spent a shit-ton of money on our wedding, way more than I would ever have expected. We could have bought a new car or put a down payment on a house in my hometown (but not where we live now) or gone on a killer trip or had one of us quit working for most of a year. We had a lot of angst about it. Every time I thought about the complete number I felt kind of nauseated.

    All the stories about why people spend so much on weddings are about things, about the objects people buy for the wedding, but mostly the expensive stuff is the place, the food, the booze, people to clean up so friends can hang out after. These are the things that make it possible to have a big community-building celebration. We spent our money on having community, and I am fiercely endlessly glad that we spent our money on that and not on a trip or a car or a house we wanted less.

  • Rachel

    One of the things that has struck me about conversations about wedding or ring budgets is that someone always says, “You could go on an amazing trip with that money!” And I’m like, “Um…but I don’t WANT to go on a trip.” I think it’s easy to let other people contextualize our weddings for us, when in reality, why and how we spend on them is deeply personal and, as Liz said, not usually about the thing at hand.

    While we scrapped our original plans because I couldn’t get past the guilt over how much we were going to spend or how hard I, personally, was going to have to work to contribute to that, the number our practical wedding will cost is still sort of inconceivable to me. But like someone else said, it may be ONE DAY, but it is also the ONE DAY in my life when ALL MY PEOPLE will be in the same place. With no family near us and my friends all over the country, the thought of having all my people in one place at the same time is seriously worth every penny. I don’t necessarily buy into the “your wedding is the best day of your life” thing, but for me…I kinda feel like this might be the best day of my life. So I’m paying for/accepting as gifts the things that will make it feel like the best day of my life. (And the things that will make it feel that way for Eric, like the DJ and the cake.) All I have to do is imagine of all my best friends laughing together in the photo booth and I’m like, Yeah, this is the best not-a-worthwhile-investment money I’ll EVER spend, and probably the only time I’ll do it. #YOMO

  • LMN

    I had to get bullied a little bit into spending what I did on my dress. Venue and food I can understand paying a lot for, even if the number makes me cringe a bit, but clothing? That just seemed a little ridiculous. I found a few dresses at DB that were perfectly fine and then I found a significantly nicer dress at a different shop for about $100 outside of my (already pretty low) dress budget. After a my BM, my Fiance, AND my mom told me I should most definitely spend the extra money (and 2 of these people are super budget conscious) I decided to go for it and I’m pretty sure they were right. Sometimes it helps to people who you know are very practical to help you keep perspective. My mom has harped on me about spending too much (ie any) money for *years* and my Fiance will be the first to admit that he’s a cheap bastard, so when both of them say “No, you/we really should spend more money on this” it caries a lot more weight.

  • CeeBeeUK

    So helpful! My parents responded to ‘guess what, we want to get married!’ with ‘Congrats, here is your budget!’. I think I turned a bit green to think of spending the money on ‘one day’ in the face of a troublesome car, a mortgage, and a student loan bill. But I needed to remind myself that that money wasn’t going to go towards any of those things and I have to let people (who are thrilled to do it) help.

  • Such a great post Liz.

    Your wedding is so much more than a day.

    Don’t be fooled by these “perfect” weddings you see that cost £500. I just didn’t have the friends, the contacts or the creativity to have the wedding I wanted for £500. Sure I would have loved a cheaper wedding but do I regret spending more money. Not at all.

  • Actual conversation my husband and I had about my wedding band, which was custom made to fit with my unusually shaped engagement ring.
    (Pre-Husband) Husband: They sent me a sketch of your ring. One with little diamonds, and one without.
    Me: Crap, I like the one with all the diamonds better.
    H: So let’s get the one with all the diamonds.
    M: But its soooo expensiiiiveeee (that was whining, by the way)
    H: Are you going to wear it forever?
    M: Yes.
    H: Then let’s get the one with the diamonds.
    M: But its soooo expensiiiiveeee. (repeat exchange like 5 more times)
    H: Shut up. I’m getting it.

    Point is, diamond rings and dinner parties for 100 people and ball gowns cost a lot of damn money. They just do. And you shouldn’t be embarrassed to either want these things, or to spend the money on them. Especially if you can afford it and/or generous people who love you are offering to help.

  • Karen

    Thank you, Team Practical!! I soooo needed this post today. My fiance and I just spent the last agonizing week deciding between two venues with VERY different price tags, finally settling on the more expensive one. We haven’t even signed the contract but I was already having sticker shock and anxiety about whether people would judge our choice (it’s one of the few wedding venues that actually lists costs on their website). But after reading this post, I am starting to come to terms with it. I want to have a practical wedding, but I also don’t want to spend the next year worrying about whether our guests will be comfortable in their spartan rooms, whether we will have enough time to get ready if we can only check in at 3:30 on the day of the wedding, what the food will be like, or how people will find each other on the sprawling grounds without cell phone service. The venue we chose is beautiful, if more compact, reasonably close to hotels for being in the mountains, and has an excellent caterer whose food we’ve gone out of our way to eat. We don’t have to worry about where our guests will stay or if we will have to pay for additional upgrades because everything we need (and more) is included in the price. It won’t be quite the laid back, backyard wedding I thought I would have after gorging myself on this and other wedding blogs, but it will be happy and beautiful and I will save myself a lot of anxiety over the next twelve months. As a perennial worrier, I think that’s probably worth the cost. Thanks, APW, for putting this all back in perspective.

    • Seriously–peace of mind is worth SO MUCH. We opted to spend a bit extra on a reception restaurant that included everything–special linens, simple centerpieces, cake cutting, even staff help with taking gifts down to the car! While writing that big check was a little bit “augh!!” it was also a huge part “THANK GOD. I don’t have to think about ANY OF THIS SHIT anymore!”

  • ART

    I’ve been dealing with some similar budget/spending guilt. We are paying for the wedding ourselves, and have not yet been offered any money from our parents, but have agreed that we don’t expect anything and don’t want to accept anything that has strings attached (I have had major strings-attached-gift issues with my dad for…my whole life, so that’s just my personal baggage). I’ve had to dip into my lay economics knowledge to articulate my feelings and decide whether I’m just being miserly/spending-averse or if I’m making good decision, and that has actually REALLY helped alleviate my guilt about spending and my fear of regretting not spending more.

    At first I found myself complaining to my mom that I couldn’t find a dress within my small budget, then when she offered to help pay for my dress, I had a real moment of clarity in which I realized, it’s not about “can’t afford” (for me), it’s about “don’t value.” I would not get $1,000 of value from a $1,000 dress, so that is not a reasonable expense for me. My budget was $200 and I found a lovely simple option on etsy that is hand made in the U.S. for $180 ($20 of consumer surplus for me – score!)

    There’s also opportunity cost – if we pay $2,000 for a photographer, we can’t pay that same $2,000 for a house down payment, our big priority right now. We believe that we will experience more value from $2,000 worth of house than $2,000 worth of photos. This is not to suggest AT ALL that wedding photography isn’t worth its price tag, or that we should be able to get it cheaper. We can’t – that’s the market, and for good reason – we’ve just chosen to go without because we have to choose between one use of that money and another – we have a finite number of $2,000s. It works for us, but it’s not meant to imply that it should work for anyone else or that photography is overpriced or any of that.

    I talk pretty openly about money to anyone who will listen, so I’ve been discussing wedding budget with friends and family. But in trying to be considerate about the difference between “We’ve chosen not to do X” and “Anyone who does X is just spending too much/WIC obsessed/etc.” (which would be mean) I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the reasons for our decisions about what we are and aren’t spending money on for the wedding.

    Sorry, that was long!

  • CallieG

    I have been having this very internal debate about catering vs self catering. While it would be cheaper for me to self cater my wedding and have family and friends help serve, we don’t have a whole lot of family support and most of our friends are out of town if not state. I think I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that I would rather have professional help, if for no other reason than to give me the peace of mind of not having to run around all night worried if the sandwich trays stay full or it we’re running out of sangria.

  • This post changed my entire perspective on planning our wedding. In the 18 months that we’ve been engaged, my fiance and I have been talking about how ‘our wedding will be different’ and ‘we don’t need to spend all that money on one day’ and ‘it’s ridiculous the amount of money people spend on weddings.’

    And that kind of talk has made it impossible for us to plan our wedding the way we’d like to, because as I’m learning, weddings cost money. They just do.

    Because, as you say in this post, it’s not just one day. It’s an event. And it’s not an obligation, it’s a celebration for crying out loud! As soon as I realized that this is our chance to get the people we love together in one place (something that is near-impossible as he’s Aussie, I’m American & we live in Oz), I let go of the thought that our wedding wasn’t worth spending money on. Because it is.

    So THANK YOU for this post.

  • Nicole Kuker

    I found this post on the morning of my wedding (when I wake up, I need a little time to kill on my computer just to feel human), and it really helped me. Our wedding was the latest in a string of friends’ weddings, and they were all sticking to a fairly strict budget. In our case, my parents offered to pay for the whole thing, and their pockets went pretty deep. We definitely splurged on our wedding and even though it wasn’t anything that my parents couldn’t easily afford, I still felt guilty over the amount that we were asking my parents to spend. I was afraid that people would think we were spending too much money on one day. And it was also really hard for me to accept that much money from my parents.

    But during my wedding, the thought never crossed my mind. I heard repeatedly how much fun everyone had, and how much they enjoyed the wedding and the whole day. I got to see family and friends that I hadn’t seen in years, and that alone was worth the occasion and money spent. My parents clearly didn’t regret spending the money, even after the reception when my husband and I asked them to increase the tip we were giving certain vendors (b/c said vendors had gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations). I realized that I couldn’t worry about it, that all I should do was just enjoy the day and remember to thank my parents over and over. And I don’t regret anything.

    As their only daughter, my parents were graciously offering me this money, it just took all 2+ years of my engagement to learn how to graciously accept it.

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