A few years back, I was engaged and planned a destination wedding for our family and loved ones for over 100 people that would take place in Los Angeles.
Though I had been actively involved with many of my friends who had planned weddings, and put together many-a-centerpiece, planning my own shindig was personally eye opening because this time it was my pocketbook and hard earned cash.
I knew I wanted to plan a debt free wedding and established a budget of about $20,000 to be able to do that. I was darn proud of that number and felt that this would be a Pinterest-worthy shindig that would be both beautiful and fun. The double whammy was that it would NOT be financed on a credit card at 14-18% interest and it had been the most expensive party I could imagine hosting.
Well, I was proud of that number. I felt a swift kick in the ass to discover that even looking for some atypical, less traditionally “weddingy” type venues doesn’t mean that you won’t pay sky high prices and feel like you’re on an assembly line for a wedding factory.
I knew the wedding wasn’t going to be cheap, I just didn’t know how cheap it was going to make me feel.
I saved for months and was so proud of the cash I put away. $20,000 is by no means a “cheap” wedding, yet is it just me or does the industry seem out of friggin’ control? It amazed me that instantly some venues made me feel so. friggin. insignificant.
They sell you on all this emotional crap, “it’s your big day!” and a gushy, bestie-esque “we are so excited to help you celebrate the most special day of your life!” and then, when it comes to talking about booking, it amazes me how you are just another number and suddenly the emotion is gone- it’s just cold hard cash. Yes, I totally get it that it’s a business, but don’t try to sweet talk me before you take my cash.
The wedding industrial complex feels like one giant backhanded compliment
I’m not new to buying stuff- even big stuff like cars and houses leaves room for negotiation, or at least lay their cards on the table without pressuring you in such a skeezy way. If you buy a car, yes, you are just one customer in a sea of customers, but you can typically work with even limited inventory to find a vehicle that suits you and your needs.
Yet several venues I looked at took a tone with me, “We’re booking up fast, and we can’t be flexible on our minimums, fees or mandatory extras*. Weddings are our bread and butter.”
*some of these extras were a valet fee even if we wanted to rent a party bus, or one venue that required we hire a babysitter if any kids were attending. Because, you know, kids don’t come with parents. Parents that already know how to take care of said children.
I honestly could not believe how many nickle and dimed fees were added on that were absolutely non-negotiable. If you book a venue, you have to use their approved vendors- which really means you can’t shop around for a DJ, caterer or DIY your own food at some locations. Another venue had a food and beverage minimum, so if you loved the location and simply wanted a standing reception with horderves and beer and wine only- no thanks, we don’t want your business.
I mean, I get it, they’re a business- but it also leaves you feeling greasy. Can’t really afford the $1000 cocktail minimum? Well, it’s your special day but don’t feel like you won’t get guilted or shoved out the door for another family who is willing to take on gobs of debt to party their way.
So basically, you’re just one bride in a sea of brides that all have their cute budgets and willing to write a check.
That’s fine, I totally understand- but don’t sell me on how special this is, unique I am and how wonderful it all is then get all like “get in line,” when it comes to asking hard questions about where my money is going.
I think this speaks volumes about the wedding industrial complex and how we emotionally manipulate people into throwing a party that could easily be a down payment on a house, or help build a family. Yes, it’s a special day, but also, it’s a party.
If you’re a bride who is proud of your budget, anticipate that no matter what the budget actually is, there will be a few vendors who make you feel like a cheapskate even if you’re willing to put down a sizeable amount of cash.
About that time my budget started to feel bad, that’s when I should have done a 180 to reclaim my wedding planning, yet it took about 4 weeks of unsettled nights before I threw in the towel and reclaimed our wedding.
We originally looked into, and fell in love with, a venue out in Palm Springs, California. It offered an all-inclusive package that was beyond what I felt was right for our budget, but it had a great vibe and solved a lot of the problems that come to planning a wedding from 1,000 miles away.
The venue was super nice in answering all my questions, and truthfully, I wanted it to work. I knew that this would eat up a large part of my budget since they had some rock solid food and beverage minimums. Additionally, it would mean that we couldn’t have the date we wanted since the food/beverage minimum jumped over $5,000 between Saturday and Sunday.
I knew they were a popular venue, but that astounded me- over a $5,500 price difference to book and eat for a wedding on a Saturday vs. Sunday. Yes, I totally get market demand- but it also makes me wonder how inflated and arbitrary wedding prices can be. Was this wedding venue so amazing and so popular that it could justify a $5,500 price difference in a 24 hour window? Maybe so, for someone else!
I stressed and stressed. We made spreadsheets. We had to make it work. I felt powerless in the situation so I tried to regain control by making sacrifices of things I wanted elsewhere for our wedding and recrunching numbers. For weeks, I grappled with the decision, and quite frankly, couldn’t make one.
Here’s your sign.
Well, the final nail in the coffin came when I asked about s’mores. I wanted s’mores. Could they do that? You bet! For $9.95 a person. Great! For $1,000 I could have s’mores that cost about, I don’t know, $100 in materials to put together.
Here’s the deal. To me, a cake can be worth $1,000. Cakes are cool. They take talent and you usually have to go to baker’s school (or whatever it’s called) to make wedding cakes worth $1,000. Right? S’mores are usually made by the guests (that’s the point to me, they’re fun for kids too) and it’s a fun experience with little expertise necessary.
I couldn’t take it. That was a crazy chunk of change for a bunch of grocery store items haphazardly assembled over an open flame. Since I wasn’t allowed to bring in my own food/beverage for this venue so I could still have my (non)cake and eat it too, this was a deal breaker.
I finally had a beautiful sense of clarity. This venue wasn’t right for us & I couldn’t force it to be right.
Sometimes, indecision is a good thing. A money saving, sanity saving, very good thing.
Look, I know it was probably obvious to you, but it totally wasn’t obvious to me until it had to get so bad, so out of whack I finally reached the tipping point of crazy.
I was even previously questioning if I even wanted to get married at all because I’d had such a bad time figuring out a venue that was still quirky, retro, comfortable and unique but wasn’t going to cost $18,000 just to sit down and eat at.
We’ve found a venue that’s much more in our price range and also didn’t make me feel like a $20,000 budget (which I know we will go over) was “cheap”… and it allows for BYOB, open fires (for s’mores..or you know, for other fun things), and more options for catering or food trucks if we want!
And a spoiler…this is the new venue we’re looking at…
…it helps that one of the mockup weddings from Amorology hit the nail on the head for what we’re after: retro, comfy, unique, quirky. It also helps that they rented scooters from Route 66 Scooters. Yes… I’m trying not to jinx it with how. many. right. things. there. are.
Source: Green Wedding Shoes & Amorology
Sanity. Restored. We hope.