Wedding wisely: How to avoid biases while planning your big day

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Jun 28, 2024

Not so long ago, I video-called all of my loved ones to show off my hand with a new and important accessory on it. That’s right—I got engaged. After the excitement, tears, and shrieks over the phone ended, the realization that I now had to plan a wedding started to sink in.

As someone who takes her birthday parties very seriously, I was confident I could choose the perfect venue, menu, and music without any friction. Yet, soon enough, I felt various cognitive biases and heuristics creeping into the process. I was surprised to discover that irrational thinking escorted me even on my way down the aisle. Hopefully, after reading this short guide on which kinds of biases you should look out for while planning your wedding, you will have the power to make them stand still before reaching the altar.

The one

Congratulations, you found the love of your life! And now, you’re ready to declare it to the world. A wedding is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and the pressure is felt instantly after someone pops the question. Not only is your significant other “The One,” but the entire event is, too! 

Non-coincidentally, the question “Is this The One?” has been used by many of the wedding vendors I’ve spoken with about any product they are trying to sell: the gown, the venue, the flower arrangements, you name it! 

This all comes down to the power of the framing effect. Identical information can sound more or less enticing depending on what is highlighted. For instance, when dress sellers and bakeries used “love” semantics, I felt as though I needed to treat selecting the veil or cake decorations as seriously as choosing my own life partner. These carefully chosen words can influence our decision-making process and sway us to exceed our budget.

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We make 35,000 decisions each day, often in environments that aren’t conducive to making sound choices. 

At TDL, we work with organizations in the public and private sectors—from new startups, to governments, to established players like the Gates Foundation—to debias decision-making and create better outcomes for everyone.

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What if?

What if your wedding gown isn’t as breathtaking as you hoped? What if the flower arrangements don’t match the venue? What if the catered food isn’t delicious? 

All of these “what-ifs” while planning a wedding trigger our innate tendency toward loss aversion. As Kahneman and Tversky illustrated in their paper on prospect theory, humans feel the pain of losing out twice as intensely as the satisfaction of gaining the same amount. This means that highlighting the potential loss of choosing a cheaper option can lead buyers to eventually opt for the more expensive one—and this goes for weddings, too.

For instance, the bar manager might claim that if the couple doesn’t add another staff member, their guests will have to wait in line too long, leaving the dance floor empty. Thus, a new equation is formed: it’s not the monetary loss you should be hesitant about, but the potential ruin of your once-in-a-lifetime experience, prompting you to spend more on the extra help.

If you can dream it, you can have it

It took only a fleeting interest in a particular gown to spark the salesperson's instinct to pop the question: “Can you envision yourself walking down the aisle wearing this?” 

Immediately, the conversation shifted from picking out the right color or shape to imagining the big moment I could (and now felt like I would) experience in the gown. To add to this vision, the salesperson brought out the big guns: a bouquet and a veil. Looking in the mirror, adorned in the dress and additional accessories, I could effortlessly see myself as “Bridal Yael.” This created a much stronger attachment to this specific gown when compared to the others, ultimately leading me to eagerly purchase it.

This experience aligns with psychological ownership theory, which suggests that interacting with a product before buying it can make us feel as though it’s already ours. Our need to maintain a high self-concept extends to our possessions—so imagining ourselves with the product can enhance its perceived value. Due to this sales tactic, I formed a stronger attachment to a specific dress compared to the others, ultimately leading me to eagerly purchase it and willingly pay more for the sake of experiencing those moments as I imagined them. 

You do you

This is a great opportunity for a reminder that investing in your happiness is essential, and your wedding is just one way to do so! However, this is only possible if you stay true to your personal preferences. 

When it comes to weddings, everyone has an opinion. Some opinions are outdated, some are too modern, and some are just not... you. As more suggestions pile up from your family, friends, and vendors, you might find yourself overwhelmed by the frustration of deciding among multiple alternatives. The paradox of choice describes how an increased number of options can make the decision-making process more difficult, rather than giving us the freedom that we may have initially believed it would.

I was shocked at the number of decisions I needed to make while planning my wedding. The roads I decided not to travel haunted me until the big day itself. This overwhelming pressure might lead us to prioritize options that receive the most social approval, rather than selecting what suits us best—which creates a loop of frustration from the available options. During the wedding planning process, it's important to resist the urge to please others. After all, it is supposed to be your day. (Oh, and your partner’s, too!)

All eyes on us

While walking down the aisle, I felt adored by all my guests. All of them had traveled far distances to celebrate this special day with my husband and me. Nonetheless, there were downsides to being in the spotlight. As a bride-to-be, I was terrified of what people would think about every single detail as if they were going to judge everything I did. 

This feeling is a classic example of the spotlight effect. We tend to believe others pay more attention to us than they actually do. It's the same feeling that makes us relive the jokes we told that landed flat or fear that everybody will mock our bad hair days behind our back. The fact that a wedding happens once in a lifetime elevates this feeling to an even higher level.

With all of the high expectations I mistakenly believed others were putting on me, my decisions on what to purchase skewed towards spending more money on services I didn’t really need. To avoid falling for this same trap, try thinking about your friends' weddings or your siblings’ weddings. Can you really recall specific details about the outfits or the design, or do you really remember the atmosphere and how you felt? The answer is: probably not.

Unfortunately, humans often have poor predictive abilities—not only in estimating others' reactions to us but also in overestimating our reactions to future events. This tendency, known as the impact bias, can lead us to fixate on the wrong aspects of a significant event like a wedding. 

For instance, I found myself consumed by anxiety over every detail of “Bridal Yael.” What if I didn’t like my hairstyle, makeup, or dress? I even purchased six pairs of shoes in a state of indecision. I spent hours in pursuit of the perfect outfit, yet once the time had come to change to my second outfit, all I could think about was, Why is it taking so long? When can I go back to the dance floor? Who cares what I am wearing? In reality, what made “Bridal Yael” extremely happy was being surrounded by her loved ones and not what she would look like. 

My soon-to-be-married toolkit

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! You are less likely to become a bridezilla or groomzilla, which will make your wedding process significantly smoother. Although all of these biases can impact your day-to-day life such as when shopping, they tend to become amplified from high-pressure events such as weddings. To help any soon-to-be wedded couples out, I’ll leave you with some do’s and don’ts for when you’re getting ready for the big day:

  1. You are a newbie: There’s a good chance that you’ve never gotten married before. With this in mind, try not to judge yourself for not making the right calls all the time—it’s your first attempt at this kind of event.
  2. Use your biases for your own good: Taking the time to create a budget can help. Even a rough estimate of the prices for each item can leverage the anchoring bias, helping to minimize recurring overspending.
  3. Fewer interactions mean better ones: Try to avoid spending too much time on your purchases to avoid some of the above biases. If it does happen, make sure you separate your wedding experience from the true value of the product to prevent exceeding your budget.
  4. The world doesn’t revolve around you (even if today does): Remember that the spotlight effect is merely in your head. The hiccups in your wedding won’t hold any significant consequences. Luckily, most people won't remember minor details.
  5. You have a lifetime ahead of you: One way to mitigate the impact bias and reduce stress is to set dates for events that will occur after your wedding to make it feel like less of a big deal. For example, I bought tickets to the Boston Music Festival and planned a trip to London after the wedding. The realization that there are other exciting events to come unconsciously moderates the emotional forecasts. 
  6. All you need is love: Minimize loss aversion by shifting your focus from the little things you might get wrong and thinking about what you are going to gain—love from your significant other, love from all your loved ones at the reception, and celebrating with your favorite people and music at the party.

I hope this article can help you to be mindful of the biases that are often amplified during the wedding planning process. A key rule is to keep your emotions reserved for the celebration itself and apply rationality to the planning process. By doing so, you can ensure that your wedding day will be filled with joy and love, rather than stress and regret.

About the Author

Yael Mark headshot

Yael Mark

Staff Writer

Yael Mark is a seasoned product manager with a true passion for behavioral economics/science. In her works, Yael is focusing on implementing applicable behavioral theories to influence user adoption, enhance retention and elevate engagement  levels.

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