One-lowmanship and luxury shame: one more way you're supposed to feel bad about your stupid wedding

By on Mar. 18th

One of the most important pieces I wrote in Offbeat Bride's first few months online was a post titled Your wedding is not a contest. In that post, I was trying to address the reverse-offbeat concerns I was hearing from more traditional readers (lovingly known as Offbeat Lite), who were basically like, "omg, I'm freaking out — is my wedding TOO NORMAL?!"

You should read that old post for my answer, but the tl;dr version is this: brides do not need more ways to feel bad about their weddings.

…And yet, we're constantly finding new ones. What's the most recent way I see brides feeling bad? Couples with resources are feeling bad about their higher-budget weddings.

I know from our reader survey exactly how many of you are trying to plan economical weddings with budgets under $10k (or $5k… or $2k). It's a lot of you. But I also know exactly how many of you are planning weddings with budgets over $10k — or even over $30k:

wedding budget
So if almost one-third of you are planning weddings over $10,000, why is everyone feeling so weird about it?

This shit is hard to talk about

I absolutely understand why wedding budgets are such a loaded issue. Not only is there money involved (which gets into issues of class and privilege) but there's often family involved (Who's paying? Why? What do they want?). And as if issues of financial responsibility and family responsibility weren't enough, we add the whole issue of "tastefulness" on top of it all and… yeah. Shit gets ugly real fast, with lower-budget brides feeling pulled to spend money on things they can't afford, and higher-budget brides feeling like they can't talk about the money they've decided to spend, because it might look wasteful or indulgent.

For me personally, my best guidance is to spend within your means (avoid debt), and feel good about your purchasing decisions (avoid buying things because you feel like you "should"; despite what the mainstream wedding industry may tell you, there are very few "you gottas" with wedding budgets). Also, and this is key for everyone: recognize that other people's financial and family situations are different, and that's ok.

One-lowmanship vs. One-upmanship

The competitive nature of weddings is so easy to get sucked into, and for some people low-budget machismo can be new way to keep up with the Joneses. As I wrote in another post, On being an offbeat consumer:

I see [competitive vibes] embodied all sorts of ways in nontraditonal wedding culture. DIY machismo is one example. Wedding hipsterism is another, where novelty threatens to overwhelm authenticity. Then there's budget one-lowmanship, where how little money you spend is a matter of stern pride, and you get judgey about how much others spend. It's all forms of status-seeking and seriously: that's just fine. We all status-seek — the issue is laying off the judgment of people who are seeking a status different than yours.

That bride on some reality show gritting her teeth and fighting for the overpriced ice sculpture that has to be dyed exactly to match the bridesmaids' bouquets or else she's going to pitch a fit is just seeking a different status than the eco-bride who stays up at night worrying that her plastic cups aren't going to bio-degrade for 65 years and maybe she should buy a carbon off-set for her brother's flight. We can make a judgment call about whose anxiety is more worthy, but ultimately we're all just freaking out about shit and need to be more patient with each other.

The moving target of tastefulness

So, yes: some of us have more money to spend on our weddings. It might be because we're lucky enough to have families who are willing and able to contribute. It might be because we have established careers and substantial savings. It might be because we won the lottery (yay!) or lost a family member (sad!) or any number of other reasons. Again, as far as I'm concerned, as long as you're not thoughtlessly putting it all on a credit card you can't pay off, you can spend whatever you want, however you want on your wedding. (And for those of you who put it on credit: I grit my teeth and cross my fingers for you and hope you can get it paid off smoother than I was able to pay off the credit card bills that dogged me through my early 20s. Godspeed!)

I totally understand and respect that for some of us, seeing someone else spend more than X amount on a wedding can seem wasteful. But ultimately, when it comes to how much is "too much" for other people spend on their weddings, it all comes down to an issue of personal taste — and we all know how I feel about the word tacky and the concept of decreeing what's tasteful. More importantly, other people's personal tastes make for an impossible measuring stick. What qualifies as "too much" will vary widely depending on a lot of factors — for some people, if they see couples planning more than a justice of the peace wedding, it seems like a waste. For others, they feel fine up until they see a wedding with ice sculptures. Others are ok with it up until they see people renting a private island. For every person, there's going to be a different line in the tasteful sand. Trying to measure yourself against a moving tastefulness target is a sure-fire way to drive yourself crazy.

Where is your money going? (And where COULD it go?)

Then again, even if most of us can agree that spending over $200,000 on a wedding might be pretty indulgent, there's a silver lining even there: the vast majority of wedding vendors are independent businesses (most of which are owned by women) and those higher-end budgets go toward supporting these creative indie business types.

Trying measure yourself against a moving tastefulness target is a sure-fire way to drive yourself crazy.

I have an old friend who does high-end videography, and she's worked some extremely high-budget weddings, charging more for her services alone than the majority of Offbeat Brides spend on their entire weddings. And you know what? These high-budget weddings make it possible for her to stay in business, and cut deals for the smaller, lower-budget weddings that are a better fit with her style and cultural leanings.

I'm certainly not arguing that anyone should spend money they don't have on a wedding. All I'm saying is, if you have the money, and you've chosen to spend it, stop feeling bad about it. Feeling bad helps no-one. If you want to feel like your high-budget wedding is doing some kind of greater good, how about making a donation to your favorite charity, timed up with your wedding? Or having a charitable gift registry, like the ones offered by Heifer International? What about giving away your wedding supplies on the Offbeat Bride Tribe's classifieds forum? How about telling your favorite vendor that you'd like to offer a grant for one of their lower-budget clients? How about spending your honeymoon doing aid work? (I'm sure there are a ton of awesome and constructive ways couples with large budgets could spread their wedding resources around — share your ideas in the comments!)

Too long; didn't read

Ultimately, as I said six years ago, way back in May of 2007:

Engaged women don't need another voice telling them they're failing. It doesn't matter if it's a voice of tradition telling them they're wrong for wanting to have their wedding in the round, or a voice of non-tradition telling them they're wrong for wanting to wear a white dress — brides need encouragement and support.