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The Most Surprising Thing I've Learned in Planning a Wedding (So Far)

The sneaky "wedding up-charges" and "peripheral costs" threatening our budget.

We all know weddings are expensive. There's no way around the fact that throwing a party, whether for ten or three times as many guests, is going to come with a pretty hefty price tag. As Jonah and I began planning ours, we set a budget that, although a third of the price of an average wedding in California, allowed for plenty of flexibility in unforeseen costs. We felt confident going into meetings with caterers, florists, and venue managers that we would have no problem sticking to our number, which would have been easy if not for two unforeseen costs that I've taken to calling wedding up-charges and peripheral costs.

When I reached out to a bar I love in San Diego about hosting our party, the number they quoted me for a venue buy-out sounded reasonable, at $1,000 for a weeknight, $3,000 for a weekend. We decided to move forward until I told them the party happened to be a wedding. They responded that the exact same buy-out would instead be $5,000 (a $2,000 increase, despite the fact we aren't planning on having a DJ or any other clear markers that would define it as a wedding). Some of our more rebellious friends recommended we lie, an idea I'll admit we briefly floated until realizing I wouldn't be able to explain away the white dress or the toasts to the "happy couple"... More importantly, while I resent the cost increase, I don't blame the venue—it's smart business because people are often willing to spend a lot more on weddings than they do other parties. And, let me tell you, there are a lot of companies making similar smart decisions based on (taking advantage of?) this mindset. Simply saying the words "It's for a wedding" can multiply or even add a few 0s to any cost. 

During wedding dress shopping, I tried on a white dress that, at $695, is nearly double the price of its grey counter-part at $375 (the white one looks more luxe in the photos but is the exact same dress), just as a white wedding dress can be twice as much as a nearly identical white dress. In looking for flowers, even the biggest bouquet of wrapped flowers at the shop I'm planning on purchasing my flowers from is priced at $80, but a smaller bridal bouquet is $145 (and the only discernible difference I could see was the addition of a ribbon). Hiring a team to come to a location for event hair and makeup is $80, but if you're a bride, it jumps to $400 (!). Event photography hovers around $1,000 for six hours, but I've had a difficult time finding a talented wedding photographer for under $3,000 for the same amount of time (to be fair, California is particularly expensive for weddings). It's like the pink tax, but on steroids—and it's easy to fall under its spell. 

In high school, I talked to my dentist about getting my teeth whitened. She told me that diligently using $40 whitening strips could work as well as a one-time $5,000 professional treatment. When I asked her why in the high heavens someone would get a one-time treatment, she responded simply, "Brides do it for their wedding." At the time, it made perfect sense to me. Of course a bride would want to look as beautiful as possible on her wedding day, pearly whites included, and I assumed I would do the same one day (which is why I still remember the conversation). But as I plan my own wedding, I've become aware of the thousands of peripheral costs that can be justified by a similar line, "It's for my wedding," but aren't typically accounted for in a wedding budget. This line can apply to a nearly infinite number of beauty treatments. Teeth whitening, yes, but also more facials leading up to the big day, Botox, spray tans, hair treatments and coloring, pilates...

And it doesn't stop at beauty treatments. It's easy to justify an expensive dress or even a new swimsuit if it's for a bachelorette party or rehearsal dinner (the dress, not the swimsuit...). And speaking of bachelorette parties—a "wedding" is often the only excuse a bride needs to convince her friends to travel to Tulum or spend, according to this New York Times article, up to thousands of dollars on a single trip (I once spent $3,000 on being a bridesmaid, which is a good chunk of my entire budget for my own wedding. I was happy to, but it's an astronomical cost, regardless!). 

Don't get me wrong, my acknowledgment of these costs hasn't stopped me from indulging in several of them—I fully plan on getting my hair re-dyed for my wedding, will absolutely invest in a fancy facial the week before, plan on getting a gel mani-pedi, and, after months of debating, just paid the deposit on both wedding makeup and photography. But it has made me think twice about the purchases I make. 

Personally, I'm planning on skipping a bachelorette party, since we're already asking many of our friends to travel from Los Angeles to San Diego for our wedding, and am making the dress code for my rehearsal dinner "jeans and a t-shirt" so I can wear the (white) jeans and t-shirt already in my closet. In purchasing my wedding attire, I couldn't justify spending nearly $1,000 on a dress I would wear once, no matter how special the event, so instead I decided to spend under $200 on my wedding dress (hint: It's none of these) and invest instead in the shoes and earrings, both of which I plan on wearing again and again. 

In no way am I suggesting (or preaching) that every bride should consider costs for their wedding in the same way I'm considering them for Jonah and mine—it is, at the end of the day, your big day. And as a friend recently told me, there's something so magical about a wedding day that, even though she and her husband will be paying theirs off for years, she'd do it all again in a heartbeat. But neither Jonah or I ever dreamed of having a big wedding, and we're carefully balancing the desire to celebrate this milestone with friends and family with the desire to go on an extended "honeymoon" some day, and the reality of paying off our land loan. What I'm trying to say is, although it may surprise my high school self, I'll be investing in some good old fashioned teeth whitening strips.

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