02/07/2012 12:26 pm ET Updated Apr 08, 2012

Why Weddings Are So Expensive

Working in the wedding business in New York, one of the hardest parts of my job is telling couples who may call for information and tell me about their dream wedding, that their budget is not large enough to make their particular dream come true. The national average for wedding costs is somewhere around $27,000, but in a city like New York, that doesn't get you very far. And, even in areas where that will buy you a very nice wedding, it is still a big chunk of change for the average couple or family.

Often, when couples start planning a wedding, the question soon becomes "Why are weddings so expensive?" This is typically followed by the thought "We could put a down payment on a house for this money." And then, at some point, the question is asked, "Are they charging us more because they know that it's a wedding!?"

I'm about to reveal a secret to you that isn't widely discussed: the answer is yes. In seven of 10 cases you are being charged ever so slightly more because it's a wedding. But, it's not because you are suddenly "a mark" for markups. It's because with a wedding comes a need to provide perfection (or something close to it), and perfection comes with a slightly higher price tag.

Let's take for instance, a florist. On Tuesday, Mr. Flowers gets a call from Miss X, who is planning a fundraiser for her charity dinner of 150 guests. She lays out her needs to him: 15 centerpieces for the dinner and she cannot spend more than $4,000 including tax and delivery. She was thinking the color scheme would be all white. She has a personal aversion to lilies, but other than that, she's open to his suggestions and is happy to take his input into how to get the most bang for her buck and make it look fabulous.

On Wednesday he gets a call from Miss Y, who heard from Miss X that he is a pleasure to work with. She is getting married in six months and would like to come in and meet with him about her reception flowers. She arrives with images from her Pinterest. She would like the centerpieces to contain blush garden roses, white hydrangea, pale pink peony and bit of sweet pea in pink and white. She explains her obsession with a certain mercury glass vase that she saw on a blog and would like the centerpieces to be in that same container. She's anticipating 150 guests at the reception. Mr. Flowers tells her he will get her a proposal.

He contemplates the cost to him to create what the bride wants: he must build in the cost of obtaining those exact flowers that she requested, and build in enough room for both fluctuating flower prices AND his own profit. He doesn't currently own the container the bride wants, so he prices out purchasing that container for use at her event. He also needs to add in bouquets for the bride and her bridesmaids. He knows he will have at least two more meetings with her between now and the wedding and will likely have to put together one or two sample arrangements, which are costly to him. Additionally, because the event is on a weekend AND he must pay his staff to return very late at night on a Saturday to clean up, he adds in that additional cost. His proposal to Miss Y comes in at $7,000.

Miss Y is distraught and annoyed. That was way more than she wanted to spend and a lot more than she knows her friend Miss X was charged for the benefit she was planning. She doesn't care how good a florist she is, she is going to take her business elsewhere. Mr. Flowers never hears from her again.

I offer up this anecdote NOT to chastise the bride for being particular about her wedding flowers; I firmly believe with all my hear that a wedding is the time to be a bit exacting about what you'd like. Rather, this is to give you, the bride or groom on a budget, some insight into how it is that "wedding" expenses can get out of hand with hopes that with this information you can be a smarter "wedding shopper."

Mr. Flowers would be happy to book the wedding of Miss Y at $4,000, perhaps not as happy as he would be at $7,000, but he'd be content. However, once Miss Y came in with her list of specific requests, from a business perspective, he sent her a proposal that met her requirements while still covering his profit margin.

Too often brides and grooms approach vendors with such specific requests and desires, not realizing that this doesn't result in getting them the best price from their vendors. If you ask for something, the vendor will tell you what it costs to make that happen: be it flowers, or invitations or catering or cakes. They are, after all, in the business of making dreams happen. However, they are still in a business, and sometimes producing those dreams can get expensive.

So, what is a bride to do? How can she get what she wants, more or less, for less? The short answer is: for more flexible pricing, take a more flexible approach. Approach your vendors with three things: a sense of your budget, a sense of what it is that you like and an open mind.

Let's revisit Mr. Flowers and Miss Y, shall we? Instead of calling someone else, Miss Y calls his studio and says, "Thank you for the proposal, but I think the $7,000 is a out of my price range. I really loved your work, and I'm curious if there are any changes that we could make to the proposal to bring it in closer to $5,000?" Mr. Flowers, now understanding both the "look" that the bride wants AND her budget, makes a number of suggestions that won't sacrifice the finished product, but will cut the costs. Pleased at his flexibility and willingness to walk her through the process, she hires him and spends the next six months certain she is in capable hands.

For the couple on a budget, a little flexibility and an open mind can go a long, long way.