5 Ways the Wedding Industry Is Plotting to Destroy Us

by Dina Gachman

Diamond rings and poofy princess dresses never mattered to me. I knew I’d like to get married one day, though. It seemed like a romantic thing to do: Find someone you love and who you can imagine tolerating every single day for the rest of your life until death or divorce do you part. Someone who makes you coffee in the morning and who will love you even when they’re bald and you’re half bald and you’re both hobbling along in your Depends.

Even so, I never fantasized about my wedding day as a teen. Instead I imagined living in Paris and having torrid affairs with renowned writers and psychotherapists, like Anaïs Nin. But then a strange thing happened. Someone I love put a diamond on my finger and, like a woman possessed, I couldn’t stop staring at it. When the light hit it just right it created tiny rainbows all across my car steering wheel. I took a picture of those tiny rainbows one day because the best thing that had graced my steering wheel previously had been a little bit of potato chip grease. And then, before I knew what was happening to me, I signed up for Pinterest and started planning a wedding.

“You’re a Pinterest girl?!” my friend Michelle lamented when I sent her my “Design” board, which was quickly filling up with images of shabby chic wheelbarrows full of beer and pretty floral centerpieces held in coffee tins instead of fancy vases. “I’m not a ‘Pinterest girl,’” I said, a little too forcefully. OK, maybe I was. But it’s not like I was morphing into one of those brides whose head starts spinning if the cocktail napkins aren’t the same exact shade of pink as the filling inside the bespoke macaroons. I was looking at coffee tins and wheelbarrows. I was going to plan a beautiful budget wedding, and Pinterest was just my “inspiration.” Besides, how pricey could some succulents inside a silver antique-y coffee tin really be?

Pretty freaking pricey, it turns out. If you’re planning a wedding that doesn’t involve eloping or city hall, enjoy Pinterest while you can — because soon enough you’ll learn that those “quaint” centerpieces and “vintage inspired” tumbleweeds you thought would add some rustic flavor to the reception cost a lot of money.

Planning a budget wedding can be deeply satisfying — said no one, ever. But it is doable, once you weather the emotional roller coaster and accept the fact that the entire wedding industry is out to destroy your bank account, ride roughshod over your soul, and push your relationship to the breaking point. The definition of “buzzkill” should be: falling in love, getting engaged, and then spending several months discussing finances and crunching numbers with your soul mate.

As someone who is dealing with budget wedding planning and with the realization that the wedding industry is made up of sinister cake bakers and villainous florists all conspiring to bleed our bank accounts dry, I would like to present five ways that They — “They” being the wedding industry and everyone in it — are trying to destroy us.

Conspiracy #1: The over-the-top wedding checklist

Very soon after the proposal, like, immediately, you’ll start hearing this: “Have you picked a date?” But it’ll actually sound more like this: “HAVE YOU PICKED A DATE?? YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO PLAN THIS SHIT, RIGHT? AND IT MAY BANKRUPT YOU?? GOOD FUCKING LUCK!”

A few days after I got engaged, I was driving around Los Angeles in a cold sweat, thinking, “Why do I feel so anxious?” Brides magazine has a checklist of everything you need to do in the twelve months before your “big day” and it says mindboggling things like, “Book the getaway car!” My mom and sisters were sending me venue ideas and photos of cakes and bouquets. I was having strange thoughts like, “Mason jars are the Merlot of weddings.” I had read some articles saying that mason jars were “so over,” and I guess that notion trickled into my psyche. Who was I? What was happening to me? Eloping sounded good, but I wanted my friends to be there. I was anxious and confused. I was recoiling at the sight of a mason jar.

Then I realized I was succumbing to the tension created by the checklist. Instead of doing that, you should take deep breaths. Talk to your fiance about eloping versus having an actual wedding and decide what you two want to do. Not your parents or their parents or Martha Stewart. If anyone is making you feel anxious and pressuring you about the list, calmly but firmly say this: “I love you, I appreciate all you’re doing, but you need to let me breathe, please.” And remember, you are the puppet master when it comes to your wedding checklist.

Conspiracy #2: The venue

When you’re feeling calmer and you’re ready to tiptoe back into wedding planning, take it slow, because whatever numbers you and your fiance have come up with will be quickly obliterated. I started looking at wedding venues in and around Los Angeles and immediately disregarded any places with websites that said Kelsey Grammar or Don Henley or some contestant from The Bachelor got hitched there. Then I searched for wedding venues on Groupon. No luck. I Googled “budget wedding Los Angeles” and the L.A. Police Academy Rock Garden came up. Someone can take a square room in a tin shack, call it a “wedding venue” and charge $1,000 an hour if they want to. When you start to realize what you can and cannot afford, you may feel a little nauseous. But that’s OK. Soldier on. Gnaw on some ginger or slug back some Pepto. You can also remind yourself, as my sister reminded me, that each place and thing you rule out is only getting you closer to what you do want (and what you can afford).

Conspiracy #3: The “most important dress/suit of your life”

If you can spend $8,000 on a wedding dress or buy a Tom Ford suit without a second thought, then have at it. If not, don’t feel like you need to spend thousands on the “perfect” dress/suit. Picking your wedding outfit is a fun interlude when it comes to budget wedding planning. You can tell the salesperson at the dress shop, “I’d like a wedding dress that makes me feel like a queen but that’s more like a belted potato sack, price wise,” but that may not go over well. Set your dress/suit budget and don’t start trying on $10,000 ensembles if your budget is $800. You can also try RentTheRunway.com, or look at “reception dresses” and — what the hell — bridesmaid dresses. My wedding dress cost $275 and I love it and I don’t give a damn that it’s a “reception dress.” You can find an amazing dress/suit for cheap if you open your mind. Check out the bridesmaids dresses at BHLDN, wear a lace romper — it’s your choice. If you do find a dress that’s way under budget it’ll give you hope for the next stage of planning. And trust me, you’ll need it.

Conspiracy #4: Bridal magazines

Bridal magazines are a racket. The “special editions” are pricey, and they have articles that pose questions like, “Would you like to create your own cookie flavors?” I mean, what? All the cookie flavors that have been invented seem pretty good.

The whole idea of having a “bride’s cake” and “groom’s cake” or two grooms cakes and two brides cakes is also a conspiracy you’ll find in magazines. One bridal magazine had photos of centerpieces and explained that peonies and lilacs telegraph to people: “We’re tea drinkers.” And if your centerpiece is a kumquat topiary it says, “I own Tory Burch flats in every color.” I am not making this up. All these little details can be confusing when you’re stressing about whether or not you can afford a florist or if you’re going to make your own ceremony arch out of some sticks and ivy from the yard. The magazines are fun to look at though, so pick one and get a subscription. They’ll probably send you a free tote bag. Instead they should send a cute, festive pouch with some Xanax inside.

Conspiracy #5: The officiant

Maybe your cousin got ordained online and you’re getting an officiant for free. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to find a priest or rabbi or shaman or guru, get ready to pay up. It seems like spiritual people would officiate weddings for free, out of the kindness of their hearts. But I guess they need to make a living like the rest of us, so some of them charge a fat fee to join you in holy matrimony. I was a little shocked when I found out how much rabbis in Los Angeles were asking ($850 and up — way up), but my fiancé begged me not to haggle with rabbis over the cost, I guess because that’s embarrassing or whatever.

My dad tried to help out by Googling “California rabbi” and sending me some dude’s website. I emailed him but when I started reading his bio and seeing phrases like “bringing Jews and Christians together” and “teachings of the Bible” I realized I was dealing with a Jew for Jesus, which is likely why his rate was pretty reasonable.

In conclusion

When wedding planning, take whatever you think something will cost and tack on about $500. Then find a creative way to cut the price or do it yourself.

Be decisive and don’t do this shit by committee.

Take Pinterest with a grain of salt.

Same goes for bridal magazines.

You can always elope.

And, last but not least: When discussing finances and budgets and wedding vendors with your soul mate, have a spreadsheet that breaks everything down sitting on the table between you so you can refer to it and discuss numbers and math and cold, hard facts. Otherwise all the money talk can get emotional, and personal, and all hell could break loose.

If you’re planning a budget wedding, stay strong, and do not let them break you — even if they’re trying to charge $200 for a tray of pigs in the blanket.

Dina Gachman’s first book, Brokenomics, will be published by Seal Press this spring. She’s on Twitter @TheElf26.

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