As stories filled my inbox and DMs this past week, I was overwhelmed at the number of people sharing their wedding planning horror stories.
What started as a simple observation on my end, illuminated a very real issue in our community: the way that comparison culture, competition and social media have collided and created a monster that is getting out of hand, pushing far too many people to live outside of their means.
Weddings, which are meant to be joyous occasions filled with laughter, love and people you care about, have become opportunities to display wealth. Focus has shifted from the spiritual union and joining of families taking place, to who had the best pakoras and whose decorations satisfied Dimple aunty (who isn’t even really your aunty, and is telling people the pakoras were too salty).
The stories I heard mainly focused on how so many people have developed deep anxiety and in some cases feelings of depression while planning for their big day.
Some said that the reality of planning a wedding has made them question whether or not they even want to have one in the first place.
While Indian weddings have always been big week-long events with different wedding ceremonies or parties nearly everyday, the extravagance has increased in recent years, with even “small” weddings costing close to $100K.
Many shared that the pressures of parents who want a big wedding, and to keep up with the Jones’ (or should I say, Chopra-Jonases) on social media, has made them feel like they need all the bells and whistles if they are to have a wedding at all.
Normal maiyan and choora ceremonies at the house have transitioned into 200-300+ people events in a banquet hall (at a minimum), fit with extravagant and colourful decor, catering, bartenders, an open bar, fancy outfits, photos and videography and more.
Wedding receptions, which were usually already pretty big even ten years ago, have gotten even bigger, with cocktail hours, outfit changes, glamorous decor, performances, and so much more, making many of us wonder if we are celebrating a marriage or attending the Met Gala.
Even religious ceremonies are fit with hair and makeup and outfits costing upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, with the focus in many cases more on getting the best photos for the ‘gram, and less on the spiritual union taking place.
So I was curious.
What does an Indian wedding cost right now?
I spoke to a bride from Surrey who agreed to speak with me on the condition of anonymity, who is getting married in 2024.
Booking weddings this early has become the norm, especially in B.C. where wedding venues get booked up so far in advance.
The bride, who I’m going to call “Jasleen,” told me that she has hated every second of her wedding planning process so far. Many times, she said she has considered cancelling and eloping instead, especially after seeing the costs.
“We're looking at it, and we're like, is it even worth getting married at this point?” she said.
“We don't want to do a big grand wedding. We both know that. We want to have the money to buy a house. That's our priority.”
But once she got into the planning process, she realized that her dream for a wedding that was “as minimal as possible,” was much harder to achieve in reality.
She came to learn that many venues have minimums on the number of guests required to book a space.
This forced Jasleen into increasing the guest list from what was originally supposed to be 50, to 300, because that was the minimum number for the venue they wanted.
So let’s talk numbers.
Here are estimates that “Jasleen” received from some of the vendors she reached out to.
Photography: One vendor charges $12,500 for just the wedding & reception, they found a vendor to do videography & photography for the week for $17,000
Mehndi (Henna): Bridal mehndi starts at around $1000
Makeup/Hair: Just for the wedding & reception, some brides are paying up to $4,000. Jasleen is paying $2,800 for three events.
Tents: Some “premium” tents that come with chandeliers, fancy tables, portable bathrooms etc. cost $9,000 for the week. Jasleen is paying $3,000
Wedding lengha: Starting prices are $4,000-$5,000 (just for the morning of the wedding, & not including the groom’s outfit and the rest of the families outfits, and the reception outfits.
Venue: She originally wanted an outdoor wedding but was quoted $18,000 just for the venue (excluding decor & food).
Decor: Just for the reception, Jasleen said she wanted minimal decor, no fresh flowers, basic centrepieces & a nice backdrop and was told $10,000 and up.
DJ: In addition to having a DJ for the reception, she wanted to book a DJ for one of the events at the house, and was quoted $2,000 for one evening
Reception: Venue, food, decor bartenders, alcohol, DJ etc: close to $40,000
Dance floor wrap: Nowadays, it has become common practice to have a “floor wrap” on the dancefloor, that is often customized for the bride and groom with their initials or to match their decor. Jasleen was quoted $2,000 for this alone.
Gurdwara: $2,100 for the booking deposit
Artificial Jewellery: $500 +
Gold: If the family buys the bride a real gold set (which is common) $14,000
In total, Jasleen estimates the entire wedding, which she said they are trying to keep on the smaller side compared to the ones we see on social media, will cost close to $100,000.
One thing Jasleen highlighted was that even though many people may want a smaller wedding, the prices have gone up a ton in recent years, and the reason is that many people are willing to pay the price.
“People will never not pay because they always want to keep up with the Jones',” she said.
“They have this urge to want to be better than the next. So this is what it's going to be. It's going to just keep going up.”
In addition, Jasleen said that vendors aren’t as keen to work with those who want smaller weddings, or try to upsell and offer premium packages because that has become the expectation.
“Just the cost of photography I was quoted for a “Vogue” style was insanity. I don’t want Vogue, I want normal!” she said.
But the cost of people trying to keep up with appearances often leads to financial turmoil, stress, and in some cases, divorce.
Money Coach & Mortgage broker Gina Judge spoke to me about how many families are going into debt to help their kids pay for their weddings.
She advises people not to spend more than 10-20% of their net worth on their wedding, and certainly not to live outside of their means.
“If your net worth is $500,000, then realistically, you shouldn't be spending more than $100 grand on your wedding, and even that's a lot.”
She said that most of the time, the couples getting married and wanting the extravagant bells and whistles aren’t even the ones paying for it themselves.
“It's their parents. And even then your parents are literally compromising their retirement, and that’s just one part of it,” she said.
“Some people are now [building] a brand new house before they get married, because they want everyone to see their new house during the wedding.”
From having worked at a bank, Gina also added that she has seen firsthand how many people have taken out additional mortgages to pay for their lavish weddings.
“They don't even have the money for their wedding, what they're doing is they're tapping into the equity of their home,” she said.
Parents pay for the extravagant weddings, but a big wedding doesn’t always mean happily ever after.
“I work with a lot of young South Asian women and [it’s surprising] the amount of girls that got married in their early 20s that are divorced now. It's crazy,” she said,
“A lot of them got married in their early 20s, their parents go into debt, and then by their 30s they are divorced. And divorces are expensive.”
This is the problem with our need to paint a pretty picture for social media.
We see how happy and in love others look, we see their big wedding and fancy gifts, and start to internalize that pressure, and the need to keep up. Couples end up getting married because they are “supposed to” and the big weddings are a natural byproduct.
Then, they share the pretty pictures and the lights go down and they realize that they spent so much time focusing on the wedding and less on the marriage and lifetime partnership.
And the stakes just keep going up.
Some individuals shared that they know people who are spending $10,000 - $20,000 on an engagement ring, while some are even asking their parents for help paying for it.
Others shared that the now staged proposals cost up to $2,000 or more for the set up and photographer, all to ensure that the moment is IG ready.
The costs keep piling up, because people are comparing and trying to compete. Think about it.
Preeti sees that Simran got a Chanel bag on the morning of her wedding and posted a Reel to Instagram of her opening her gift, so she shows it to her boyfriend and tells him that she wants that too, even though she’s 18 and they aren’t even engaged.
Then, a video goes viral of a guy whose parents bought him a new car as a wedding gift, and now Raj is telling his parents he wants a G Wagon since he “did the wedding for them anyways,” even though he didn’t contribute a dime.
And of course, Dimple aunty sees that Jinder aunty’s daughter had fire dancers at the reception so now she wants her son to ride in on an elephant.
But this becomes hard to escape when posting has quite literally become a part of the wedding experience. Not only is it normal to have hashtags to showcase the wedding for your family, friends, and ten thousand of your closest strangers, but some vendors now require you to sign a contract stating that you will post about the wedding.
Showing off for the validation of others is literally baked into the process.
Jasleen shared that she had this experience with some vendors.
“They were just basically like, it's in our contract. So if you signed a contract with us, that's what it's going to have to be, you're going to have to post about it,” she said.
“They want us to post on our personal page and tag all of them in there and everything as well.”
So really, is there any escaping it?
It just makes me wonder, with the extremely high costs in more ways than one, why are we still doing this?
Because by my calculations, if we’re doing all of it just to end up emotionally and financially bankrupt, even the pretty pictures wouldn’t make it worth our while.
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