I Can't Afford My Own Wedding Because I Have To Go To Yours

Photographed by Winnie Au.
When my boyfriend of four-and-a-half years finally proposed in December from a hot-air balloon at sunrise, I was elated. He then sent me on a daylong scavenger hunt to all of our favorite memorable spots, ending with bubbly above San Francisco and a night at The Ritz-Carlton.

It was the best, most romantic day of my life, completely worth the wait and exceeding what I’d been daydreaming about for months. And I got to bask in the limelight for all of 24 hours.

The very next night, as we were getting ready to go out to celebrate with friends, I got the call from one of my closest friends from college. She was engaged, too. As I screamed excitedly into the phone, I didn’t resent her one bit for encroaching on my moment. The two of us had spent the past year overanalyzing every little thing our boyfriends said or did, on high alert for a sign that it might be happening soon. Vacation after vacation passed with hopes dashed, but finally, it had happened for both of us. I was thrilled to share it with her.

Three days later, another good friend texted me her ring photo. Then on Christmas Eve, exactly one week after my engagement, I received the call from my best friend and future maid of honor.

It happens to many of us. We hit a certain age — for me, it was 27 — and everyone we know starts getting hitched all at once. There’s seemingly a new engagement announcement to “love” on Facebook every other day; wedding photos to scroll through every weekend, April through October. My holidays were overflowing with Champagne, love, and excitement for myself and my friends, thinking about how much fun it was going to be to plan our weddings together. Then as the post-holiday blues seeped in, so did reality.

One of the first decisions, and sacrifices, my fiancé and I made for our wedding was to wait until 2017, a full 18 months. The driving force behind this choice was the seven weddings we already knew about for 2016 — and that wasn’t counting the three friends who got engaged the same week as us. I made peace with waiting by telling myself, and all of my inquiring family members, that a long engagement gave us more time to save up for the big day. We certainly needed it, considering we’re getting married in Napa Valley, CA. It’s our home, but also, unfortunately for us, a popular destination-wedding choice.

We hoped to showcase to our friends and family, most of whom will be traveling from out of town, the extreme beauty of where we live. Yet the venue search alone was extremely disheartening, as the average site fee for a winery or place with any sort of vineyards was $10,000 — and that didn’t always include rentals. A Friday or Sunday wedding only knocked down the price about a grand.

Our parents are thankfully contributing an extremely generous amount. Without them, it would be impossible, and luckily, I’m my parents’ only child. But it’s clear that we’ll still be responsible for covering a portion — around the going rate of a Napa Valley venue. Half of that, we’re spending on attending other weddings this year.

The second decision we made was to open a joint checking account, where we planned to deposit $500 ($250 each!) every month. For the first two months we excitedly exceeded that amount, feeling confident that it was doable. But the account has not been touched since March, which marked the beginning of our wedding season.

It kicked off with a chic bachelorette party in Palm Springs, where it was just as hot as it was pricey. One thousand dollars later, I had some great memories, new friends, a tan, and a dead flower crown to show for it. In April, there was a four-day trip to Austin for a high school friend’s wedding in which I was co-maid of honor. It was a fun-filled weekend and one of the best weddings we’ve ever attended, but it cost us collectively nearly $1,500. Only $30 of that was spent on BBQ.

Coming up are two more bachelorette parties, two cross-country weddings, and two local ones. Another close friend called just last month to tell me she was getting married out of state this August. We've sent our regrets to a handful of other invites, including a third cross-country affair, and we got lucky that a few weddings fell on the same day, forcing us to choose. Still, we not only haven’t been saving any money for our own wedding, but we’ve also been racking up credit-card debt thanks to everyone else’s. With each plane ticket, gift, or bridesmaid dress purchased, I feel like I’m letting go of details I planned and pinned for my day, like the oyster bar, photo booth, or the high-energy live dance band I so badly want.
Photographed by Winnie Au.
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I reassure myself that a lot of people don’t even like oysters, that photo booths are so 2014, and that a DJ will suffice. But as a slew of wedding, bachelorette, and shower invites continues to file into my inbox, intermixed with outrageous quotes from vendors ($19,000 catering proposal for 150 people?!), my stress and fear only mount. Friends and family who are not getting married this year keep insisting I say no, or cancel. They say my friends will understand. They say that this is the biggest day of my life, and I should have everything I want.

I don’t disagree.

I definitely wish I had said “no” more. No to the joint bridesmaids' shower gift that somehow evened out to $75 a person, for a wedding that is already costing us upwards of $2,000. No to the professional hair and makeup. No to helping the bride get HER dream wedding band. No to the $270-per-night hotel room, even though it’s where all of my best friends are staying.

But I also don’t have the heart to fully skip out on my friendships, which I value above all other relationships (apart from my fiancé and parents). I would hate to miss out on their milestones just as much as I’d hate to be without them for mine. I may be spending 2016 flying all over the country, purchasing way too many gifts and being an attentive bridesmaid, but next year will be my turn. My friends will be the ones paying the hefty price to come to California, donning dresses they’ll never wear again, and patiently engaging in annoying shower games, all for me.

And in a few years, the cycle will start up again. Baby showers aren’t nearly as fun or booze-fueled as weddings, but they only require one gift purchase — and no ugly bridesmaid dress.

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