As a recent bride and a relatively “new” to the industry wedding professional,  I’m often still surprised that the average cost of an American wedding is $30,000. I’m equally surprised at how easy it is to surpass that mark when planning a relatively simple and modest wedding. It’s got me paying close attention to why things cost as much as they do, and what you’re actually paying for when you hire someone for your wedding.

1.     A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You don’t anticipate planning more than one wedding, and if you’re ever going to pull out all the stops, this is it. From a bride’s perspective, it’s easy to justify (even if your bank account can’t cover the cost) why you need the lavish flower arrangements, the additional uplighting, the $5 each placecards… the list can go on and on. Weddings are emotional events- and usually involve quite a bit of stress and tension for the family. Because of this, they are typically more involved and require more work from the vendor you’re hiring. We only have one chance to get everything perfect, and usually spend quite a large amount of time preparing for your wedding, checking over all of the details, and making the last minute adjustments that inevitably happen. All with a smile on our face, of course!

2.     Most wedding professionals are small business owners. That probably won’t mean much to you if you work for a large company or haven’t spent any time understanding taxes. But it makes a big difference when you look at the cost. If you work for a company as a true employee (not a contractor) and the company takes taxes out of your paycheck, then you may not know this, but your employer is actually paying half of your taxes for you. What does that mean? Essentially, that as someone who is self-employed, you pay double the amount of taxes as you would if you worked for a larger employer. Typically, someone who is self-employed will need to set aside 30% of their income for taxes alone. So, if I charge $850 for month-of coordination, I have to set aside $255 for taxes. In addition to taxes, someone who is self-employed has to pay all of their overhead out of their income – things like license dues, certifications, insurance, website fees, any and all marketing, and whatever equipment is needed for them to do their job. It adds up really quickly!

3.     You’re paying for a skill, not just a product. Plenty of brides know this, but it seems like plenty don’t, too. When you’re hiring someone to do a job, it’s because they possess a skill that you need in order to accomplish the task. You’re not  just paying for the final product. You’re paying for the process and the execution of the services. For a photographer, you’re not just paying for the pictures. You’re paying for their skills, their editing style, and their time to process, cull, edit, and deliver all of your photos.

4.     You’re paying a professional. This is a big one.  When planning a wedding, family members often come out of the woodwork who can “bake a cake” “arrange flowers” or “do hair and make-up.” Often enough, those family members can. Just as frequently though, they don’t know what they’re getting into and they end up getting in over their head. At that point, the time and energy spent trying to finalize everything and fix anything that went wrong is going to equal what you paid for a professional. Hiring a professional should be a bit like an insurance policy – you’re hiring someone who you don’t have to worry about completing the task. It’s peace of mind.

5.     The products simply cost more. It isn’t cheap to buy a bolt of fabric to decorate an arbor with, or to purchase flowers for a 12 person bridal party. Food itself costs plenty when you’re hosting a dinner at your house and don’t pay anyone else to do the prep or service, so you can expect the same cost to apply to the caterer. Just because your budget is $10 a person doesn’t mean that the caterer can provide you food for that price – so be aware! Out of season flowers always cost more, and a wedding cake is a specialty item that’s personalized – you will rarely find any two that are alike!

Can you do a wedding with a smaller budget? Absolutely. But you do need to have realistic expectations on what you’re getting, and you need to really be able to prioritize well. Know that you get what you pay for, you’re not just paying for a product (even if your Aunt Sally can take your photos), and weddings are stressful for the professionals too. We want your day to be perfect and our time is valuable! Keep these things in mind the next time you see the price of something, and know that “unique” and “personal” touches are usually accompanied by some dollar signs. Weddings are once in a lifetime events, and have the bill to go with it!