A New Way To Think About Wedding Budgets

If you are on any sort of a budget (which in the common parlance seems to mean that you don’t have a money printing press for your wedding in the basement), the minute you get engaged people tell you that you need to prioritize what’s important to you at your wedding, and build you budget from there. This seems like such deeply sensible advice, that I never gave it a second thought. It seemed so obviously true that I took it as gospel.

But here is the thing. I don’t think this is helpful advice. Not really.

In some ways I *do* think it’s a good way to think about things. If you have a limited amount of money to spend, it’s smart to do one or two things well, instead of doing everything in a way that leaves you feeling over stretched. Maybe this means that you hire a great bluegrass band, but then have a potluck dinner. Maybe, like us, you hire a great organic and local food caterer, but then do your own flowers and have an ipod playlist. Maybe this means its all potluck, and there is no band at all, but you get to invite everyone you love. All of these plans are smart.

But. But. What the idea of priorities assumes is that things that are “good” or “of more value” to you cost more money then things that are of less value to you. And this is false.

When we sat down at the beginning of planning to talk about priorities for our reception they went something like this: I cared about a dress, flowers, good photography, and dancing like crazy. I did not care much about food, because I figured the real importance of food was just to refuel your guests so they could keep on dancing. David thought my priorities idea was nuts, so he only participated by sighing deeply, and saying “Sure.”

Turns out he was right. This is how spending money has played out for us:

  • When I said I cared about a dress, it turns out I meant that I cared that I had a wedding dress that reflected who I am and didn’t look like every other wedding dress in the world. In the beginning I figured this might mean I needed to spend more, and I was ok with that. After trying on a million and one dresses at a million and one salons, from Lazaro to David’s Bridal, it turned out that no amount of money could buy me the dress I wanted. A dress that was a powerful ritual garment for a important milestone in my life was not something I was willing to outsource to the wedding industry. So, we’re making the dress. It’s costing a fraction of what I thought it would, and its still very important to me. Yesyesyes, if I had a bajillan dollars, I might have gone with a lace dress, but even making a lace dress was out of the question because well, my taste in lace runs towards the French.
  • Turns out when I said I cared about flowers, it meant that I cared about *having* flowers, period. More to the point, it meant that I cared about having flowers that didn’t look like standard issue wedding blah. So, we’re doing the flowers ourselves, at a fraction of what I thought it would cost.
  • But now we get to the food. The food that I had dubbed as not important at all. Well, it turns out when I said that food was not important, I meant that I didn’t want to spend money on expensive steaks and trendy appetizers so everyone could be impressed at our fancy food. But after talking to a few caterers we discovered that, in our particular situation, we could pay less and get standard issue wedding food that didn’t taste like much, or we could pay a little more and get simple local organic food that tasted like heaven and reflected our values. We chose the later option. It’s simple food, we’re paying more for it, and we’re happy.
  • And then there was the photography. It was something that was important to us, so we found a photographer who was very talented and experienced that would give us a simple package. We paid about what we had hoped to.

I tell you all this not because I think your values should be our values, or our choices should be our choices. They shouldn’t be. The whole point is that your choices should reflect who you are as a couple. But, be wary when you set your budget based on your priorities. Sometimes you find that the way you care about things is more important then how much you care about them.

There are times when things that didn’t top your “priority” list end up being things you spend more on, and that is fine. It seems to be a common mis-perception that I think that the “practical” option is always the cheapest one. Heck no. There are times in wedding planning where you will think, “I do not care about this thing, and I will rip out my eyes if I have to think about it for one more second. Hence, I will throw a bit of money at the problem to make it go away.” And you know what? That’s the sane part of my mantra.

And sometimes, as each of the wedding graduates have reminded us, the things that you care the most about are the things that cost the least. A dress that you made yourself. The toasts people make around the table. The time you spent with your mom putting together your flowers.

So, think about your priorities with your wedding, think about what you care about and what you don’t. But be very careful when to assign a dollar amount to those values, because that just may miss the whole point.

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