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

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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.

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

  1. i made certain that when my family was talking about giving me money for it they knew where it was going to and made it certain it was for things they couldn’t complain about, like the venue or food. My main thing was no debt i don’t want to be paying for the wedding once it was over. So we put away our tax refund, and my dad generously gave us some money from his work bonus. And now that we (begrudgingly) opened a bank account its funny how much little extra money out of the paycheck can be spent on the wedding and not dvds or fast food…or beer….or hoops……haha. but its important not to be in debt since we plan on moving some months after the wedding. Be proud of what you did regardless of the cost. Its your day and everyone can shove it haha

  2. Yes yes yes. And so much of this applies to much more than weddings. Money is such a loaded topic and can cause such friction between friends and family. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty because I now earn more than a few of my friends. I feel like I have to justify why I spent X on Y item in case they think it sounds wasteful. And while on the one hand I should be sensitive to their situation, I also try to remember that until a couple of years ago, *I* was the one struggling and scraping, and I deserve to (responsibly) enjoy the money I make now.

    As for weddings, I too have been guilty of thinking (at least not saying!!) “you spent WHAT?”. I think when you have spent time watching pennies (and my fiance and I totally have a mid-range wedding budget, btw, we didn’t get RICH, just a bit better off), when you see money being spent you don’t just see $$$, you see “that’s five mortgage/rent payments”, “that’s a downpayment on a house”, “that would pay my student loans for a year”, and letting go of the resentment that other people have that to spare can be hard. It helps to remember: they probably don’t have it SPARE. Most people don’t just have tons of money lying around. For 99% of people, I bet, even lavish weddings involve some scrimping and saving, because their wedding is something they are treating as simultaneously a luxury AND a necessity.

    As long as people are spending responsibly (i.e. not getting into dangerous debt, not denying themselves, I dunno, FOOD to afford it), and having the wedding they want, then more power to them, and their $1k or $100k wedding will contain thousands of meaningful details for them, regardless of cost.

    • I think your comment points to a very central issue on this whole subject: priorities. Some people have dreamt their whole lives about a wedding entrance on a horse or a hot air balloon flower girl. For them, that is a priority much higher than a down payment on a house. It is their life’s dream! And the house thing is just not as important as renting.

      At first I couldn’t wrap my head around it, but the more weddings I have attended and worked, the more I realize a lot of these seemingly crazy expenditures can simply be related to priorities. The one day with the most expensive cake ever can legitimately be more important than months of student loan payments or food!! It all depends on what people value for themselves.

      • Love this point! For me, I really wanted the most money spent on THE CAKE (I love cake) and the PICTURES because those last forever. I didn’t care nearly as much as the other stuff, and was really happy that I splurged (for us) on those two things!

  3. Great post. As a planner, I always try to get the money issue out of the way quickly. It’s imperative to discuss it early…accept it, and then begin enjoying the process. Thank you for the great read.

  4. This is well-timed for me; writer boy and I paid for our wedding ourselves. I felt guilty for spending $4,500 (I had $5,000 saved for the wedding). We have just started house looking, and man, I wish we had that money in the bank right now. But then I just remember; we had a nice wedding. I learned how to make tons of paper flowers (from free Craigslist books!). Thanks to Craigslist and yard sales, it turned out quite well! Writer boy and I had some serious bonding time yard-saleing in the months before the wedding, and it got him involved in a way he enjoyed.

    Bottom line; set a reasonable budget you both agree on and stick to it! You will be just as married if you spend $150 or $150,000. I will admit, I did get tiny bit jealous when I’d see an awesome venue that was completely out of the budget and someone else was getting married there. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up over it, and move on.

  5. One thing I had trouble with is that I have friends who are dirt poor. When my friends realized how much we were spending (and we are in your majority of amounts), they were outraged when we said we wouldn’t have enough for our vision and were thinking of eloping.

    I felt horrible at how much we were spending and insulted that our friends would chide us for ‘paying for a cake from a baker when you could just bake it yourself’. Part of our budget was paying for their hotels and costumes and even food outside the wedding!

    It took a long time for me to emotionally recover from that. In the end, I reached the same conclusion. This is what we were spending, the end.

    • You paid for their hotels? Wow, how ungracious of them to then complain about your budget. It may have stung for them to take assistance from you, but since they chose to do that, it seems very unfriendly to them complain about your choices.

  6. This is a fantastic post! My partner and I got married in the city we wanted/needed to, which is an expensive place, and I dealt with countless vendors referring to me (TO MY FACE) as a “budget bride” and saying things like “budget weddings are so hard” (we eventually found vendors who did not do this and gave them our money instead). But we spent close to $14,000 and hey, it felt like a rough, calculated challenge to be able to do what we did in this city with that much. Privately, we were very happy with how far we managed to make what we had go!

    But the one or two friends who asked (while we weren’t sober and before we got real careful about these things) exactly how much we spent were HORRIFIED at how expensive our wedding was. And that was pretty deflating for us after feeling so beaten down for not having more money to spend, and after what felt like pretty savvy and careful decisions on our part.

    I can never, ever, read this enough: “Engaged women don’t need another voice telling them they’re failing.”

    • I dealt with countless vendors referring to me (TO MY FACE) as a “budget bride” and saying things like “budget weddings are so hard”

      I really like how Liene over at ThinkSplendid suggests vendors use the term “economical wedding” instead of “budget wedding.” As she said:

      I also wanted to name the segments with terms that were not demeaning to a couple’s financial choices … I also wanted to stay away from the term “low-budget”. $10,000 is a lot of money, no matter your household income. If someone chooses to spend less on a wedding than someone else does, we as an industry shouldn’t be turning that into some type of wedding caste system.

      Every wedding budget has a story — some couples pay for their weddings entirely themselves, some are paid for by parents who have been socking money away every month since the day the doctor told them their baby was a girl, and so on. How we talk about budgets in the wedding industry matters, and I tried to choose words that were respectful of the different choices we see every day.

      Read Liene’s full post.

      • Right, because aren’t, like, 90% of brides budget brides? I have friends who spent way, way more than we are on our wedding, but they still had to make budget decisions, too. They couldn’t have everything they wanted or dreamed of either.

        • A friend of mine who is a bridal florist said that whenever she was in a consultation with the couple they’d always say, “We’re on a budget.” She’d reply, “I’ve never known a wedding that doesn’t have a budget.”

          (Meaning some may have a $1K budget and some a $100K budget, but [nearly] everyone chooses to draw a dollar line somewhere.)

          • That’s totally my experience as another wedding vendor — almost everyone says they are on a budget, or even a tight budget, but what amount they think that means varies from $300 to $2000 (for what I make, not for their entire wedding.) So even people on relatively larger budgets are still thinking of everything as a very controlled stretch.

        • Exactly, Barbra! I’m having a destination wedding in Disneyworld this September, and it’s costing us a lot of money. Not Beyonce money, but still ridiculous when you think about it. We’re very lucky that we can afford it, we’ve worked hard for it and waited a long time. But we’re still on a budget – almost everyone has to draw a line somewhere, make compromises, and not everyone can have everything they’ve dreamed. Because we’re doing what we are, some people don’t get why we won’t spend cash on certain things. Like, I fell in love with some designer shoes, but I’m not spending £500 on shoes I’ll wear once, and my friend said ‘but your wedding is costing loads, why not!’ Er, because you have to stop somewhere? Because I still have rent to pay? Because it’s my money?

    • Yeah, I think what’s troubling to me about the cost of weddings (currently in initial planning stages for a poly commitment ceremony in a year or so) is that the amount we have to spend is, like, a couple of thousand. I don’t begrudge other people their larger budgets, and I’d love a big elaborate wedding or even a slightly more elaborate wedding, but that’s all we’ve got as I’m a PhD student and one of my partners is currently unemployed. We just don’t have a lot of money to spend on anything, let alone a party. And it’s rather distressing to go looking for “budget” wedding advice and find that most of that stuff is directed at weddings with budgets more like yours than mine! I find that can make me resentful of people who have $20,000+ to spend and still complain they can’t get their perfect ice sculpture. I’m trying to be more understanding about that, but it does feel a bit like a slap in the face.

  7. Aah so true. I’ve been struggling with this the last couple days especially, and eventually came to the same sort of conclusion. If I have a loving and supportive family who’s willing to spend this much money to make sure we have a special, memorable day, why be sad about it? And since this is one of the only times in my life where I’ll even be able to spend this much on one day/thing, why waste it feeling anxious? Might as well at least enjoy it! I’m sure I’ll continue to have weird feelings about it, but thinking about it like that helps.

    It doesn’t help when people turn it into some kind of moral thing (we don’t *believe* in spending that much money on that kind of thing), implying that whoever may choose to do so is somehow morally wrong. For instance I got a shiny expensive ring and I’m still feeling a little anxious about how much we’re spending on it, but . . . that’s something I’m going to cherish my whole life!! We had it custom designed by a local jeweler and I’ve seriously never seen a ring so beautiful in my whole life (of course, that’s probably just because it’s just so *me*). So, yeah, I’d say that it was the right decision, emphasizing FOR US. Not everyone.

  8. Hi! I love LOVE this post. The issue is within the tribe, it’s with your partner, it’s with your mother-in-law, and it’s with your friend who’s getting married 6 months after you. We kind of started out with having a 10K budget in mind. But then you find out everything f***ing costs $1000. $1K here, 1K there, and boom, you’re over your 10K budget that you started out with (yep, that’s me). In fact like 5 or 6K over that budget. My partner and I feel bad about it but it’s within our means and YOGMO (Yo Only Get Married Once/ Once More). But, it’s okay. We have parents that have helped and we’re not going into credit card debt. We’re not having an affair that is too lavish for us or is going to make us feel guilty. We like good food and we’re not ashamed to admit it. Our April/May budget sucks, but only in a guilty “we’re touching our savings and we don’t normally do this” sort of way.

    • with us it was: “venues in this area for the amount of people you want to celebrate with you that don’t make you cringe (aka: why spend the money? Why spend min $12k on something you HATE? 12k on something you hate is very different then 15k on something you love) will cost you MINIMUM $15k”

      As soon as I figured out that we were having a $20,000 wedding for just venue and food ALONE (luckily we own a home already and have resources) we just accepted it and said “okay. we can afford this with the help that people are giving us. let’s have this really special day the way we want to have it.”

      I feel guilt every time i read comments on DIY posts and posts about economical weddings. left out, sure, but also like a spoiled brat. I feel judged by those who have economical weddings and are DIY divas (i am not a natural born crafter), even though I know that the only one judging me is ME.

      • I just wanted to say THANK YOU for : “12k on something you hate is very different then 15k on something you love” and “okay. we can afford this with the help that people are giving us. let’s have this really special day the way we want to have it.”

        This is exactly the kind of thing I needed to hear, and the way I need to start looking at my situation.

    • I started with a 3000 budget that has doubled and I have been feeling really bad about it, as I am a full time student and my partner is the main breadwinner. Its not going into debt, as we saved more than the 3000 and as some of the family that urged us into a larger venue and guest list than originally planned is helping us out, but I keep beating myself up about it, especially since my brother and his wife just got married at the courthouse and didn’t even buy rings because they are saving for a house. I find myself jealous every time I see a tiny courthouse or backyard potluck wedding on an indie blog, more than I used to get of people with the $50,000 200 person weddings. But I’m getting past it, this wedding is important to me, all our family and friends are so excited about it, and if we work hard and make good plans for our future going forward, $6000 should not seem like a lot to sacrifice for what I hope will be a beautiful experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

  9. I managed to circumvent the guilt by having a long engagement followed by a tri-continental wedding. A year before we got married, we visited my home in America and bought our wedding clothes and some other necessities. We picked up other small things – favors, decorations – in Japan, where we were living. And we got married in England, in my husband’s hometown, so spent most of our budget there. How much I spent depends a lot on the value of the pound versus the dollar versus the yen!

    • Is this my wedding you’re talking about? This is exactly what we’re doing, but in Scotland! Complete with little bits from Japan. Right now we’re in the process of socking away yen to transfer to pounds whenever the exchange rate is particularly good. Our budget, however, is in dollars, as I find that easiest to keep track of simultaneously (don’t ask me why).

  10. A couple of my co-workers are getting married & spending on the upper end of budgets. Both young ladies are working 5-6 days a week, twelve hour shifts. When I first heard of the amount of the spending, I thought to myself “that’s a lot money.” After seeing how hard each woman is working to make it happen, I realize how important it is to them on many levels. And I will admit that I was never that committed to working so hard to have a wedding of that nature. But if it’s your dream, & you want it that badly…go for it! I hope both of them have the loveliest of days. They’ve earned some time off & pampering. I’m happy for them! 🙂

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