Weddings are expensive, elaborate, complicated occasions that require a lot of planning. You need to find a venue and then coordinate all your vendors, including a caterer, florist, baker, DJ, photographer, officiant, etc. There are a lot of details that require quite a bit of advanced planning. And most of those details are very expensive. That means you spend months and months immersed in things you would never pay so much for on a regular basis. It starts to warp your sense of perspective.
After you’ve spent weeks getting price quotes from caterers who want to charge you $100pp, suddenly going out for a $15 lunch doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Once you’ve tried on $1000 dresses, that cute $150 sun dress you saw at the store seems downright cheap. If you’re not careful, you could blow your entire budget.
Understanding Your Brain – Anchoring
Anchoring is a psychological phenomenon in which your judgment is influenced by irrelevant data. The classic example of anchoring goes like this:
Have a group of people each write down an arbitrary number – make it the last two digits of their social security number. Then show them an item, say a bottle of wine, and ask them how much they would be willing to pay for it. The people who happened to write down higher numbers will be willing to pay more for the bottle of wine than the people who happened to write down lower numbers. They were influenced by an irrelevant piece of data. Merely being primed with a higher number caused them to place a higher value on the wine.
So when you’ve been seeing all the huge numbers wedding vendors are quoting you, your brain adjusts accordingly and your perception of the value of items is pulled toward those higher numbers.
So what can you do to fight the effects of anchoring?
Being Aware of it Might Not Be Enough
Your subconscious is powerful. You can tell yourself over and over again that you only think $150 sounds like the right price for a sun dress because of that $1000 wedding dress you just tried on, but your attempts at logic may not prevail over the profound effect of anchoring. Smart people have a tendency to believe that they are immune to psychological traps that the lowly masses fall victim to, but such arrogance is unwise. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how much you know about psychology, you are still susceptible to psychological tricks.
You’d be better served to just avoid temptation altogether. You can’t fall victim to anchoring if you don’t put yourself in the situation where you might buy things. The problem is that wedding planning spans several months, and you might not be able to avoid stores for that long. If you have the forethought, buy any necessary items before you start planning your wedding. Stock up on a few months’ worth of wine, replace your old winter coat ahead of time, choose the restaurant and make reservations now for your fiancé’s upcoming Birthday. If you absolutely must buy something while you’re in wedding planning mode…
Bring a Frugal Friend
Bring someone with you who will keep you grounded. Someone who has not been immersed in talks of $900 cakes and $200 bouquets. Someone who shares your pre-wedding planning frugal views. Ask them to weigh in on every item you’re considering purchasing. You’re not allowed to buy it unless they say the price is reasonable.
This is pretty standard personal finance advice for all occasions, but for those of us who don’t employ this tactic on a regular basis, now is a good time to start. Swiping your credit card allows you to make your overpriced purchase without giving it a second thought. Doling out wads of cash is a painful reminder of how much money you’re paying. Even better: after you get money from the ATM, write a note for yourself on each bill: “this bill took me x hours of work to earn.” Hide your credit card for the duration of wedding planning in an out-of-the-way location and only use it for wedding-related purchases.