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Keep your cash—skip the wedding favors 

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Wedding favors are something I've thought maybe a little too much about as someone who's never been married and isn't going to get married anytime soon.

For years, my friends and I had a running joke for a take-home gift. I'd have a tattoo artist stationed next to the open bar at my hypothetical wedding reception. They'd only ink one design: a cheesy heart with "Bulbul + Insert Groom's Name" and the wedding date below. It'd make for a horrifying hangover but the best story.

"They still have the choice to go ahead with it!" said Alexandra Wallace, my friend and professional photographer. "I hate wedding favors. They either get left at the table, are useless, or forgotten about."

click to enlarge ANOTHER OPTION Can't avoid wedding favors? Sandcastle Celebrations founder and wedding planner Janet Tacy recommends highlighting a local, consumable product like hot sauce, honey, or cookies. - COURTESY PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA WALLACE
  • Courtesy Photo By Alexandra Wallace
  • ANOTHER OPTION Can't avoid wedding favors? Sandcastle Celebrations founder and wedding planner Janet Tacy recommends highlighting a local, consumable product like hot sauce, honey, or cookies.

Wallace has been shooting weddings for a little more than 10 years. She captures pivotal memories for lovebirds around San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles counties. Over the course of a decade, she's seen the evolution of the wedding favor.

"It used to be the Jordan almond," she explained one February evening. "You have to suck on it for 20 minutes, and it doesn't taste good."

According to Wallace, wedding favors bloat the already-mammoth cost of a wedding, which can run upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 including the venue and food costs. People underestimate how expensive a wedding on the Central Coast really is, she told New Times.

"I think it's insane the amount people pay for things. You shouldn't get into it if you aren't in a place in life where it's not painful to do so," Wallace said. "But you do get what you pay for."

She recalled a wedding she photographed last year. The bride's dad and brother owned a memory foam pillow company. Wallace and the guests each went home with a giant pillow worth more than $200. She whipped out her phone to show me the pillow on the website. Originally $219.99, the pillow price was now slashed to $129.99. Lucky future memory foam pillow owners!

click to enlarge 'GROCERY STORE' Professional Central Coast photographer Alexandra Wallace once shot a wedding where the favors were items like wine and olive oil on a shelf that guests could grab as they pleased. - COURTESY PHOTO BY ALEXANDRA WALLACE
  • Courtesy Photo By Alexandra Wallace
  • 'GROCERY STORE' Professional Central Coast photographer Alexandra Wallace once shot a wedding where the favors were items like wine and olive oil on a shelf that guests could grab as they pleased.

"It felt like leaving the Oprah show. 'You get a pillow! Memory foam pillows for everybody!' We sleep with it every night now," she admitted.

At another wedding, Wallace saw guests being gifted socks with the bride and groom's names on them.

"Useful, but pretty ugly," she said.

Then came another celebration with 60 people. The couple arranged to have shelves packed with olive oil and wine for guests.

"You took whatever you want off it, like a grocery store," Wallace recalled.

Overall, Wallace said, the average wedding favor is environmentally destructive. Paring down a wedding celebration to the essentials is key. For her own future wedding, she wants to focus on the food and make it a fun experience that's not swayed by Pinterest optics or appearing cool online for the now-strangers that she went to high school with. Unsurprisingly, her guests will be returning home sans wedding favors but with a full belly and a unique memory.

"There's a place called Pioneer Town near Joshua Tree. It was built solely for filming old Westerns," she said, noting that she and her boyfriend have their eye on it as a wedding locale. "Chris and I love it, and we want to take everyone to the middle of the desert!"

For Arroyo Grande-based wedding planner Janet Tacy, if wedding favors are a must-have, she recommends going down the sustainable route. Tacy founded Sandcastle Celebrations 10 years ago and has noticed that wedding favors are falling to the wayside.

"If they're going to have wedding favors, make it something that showcases a local product and that it's consumable," she said. "It's not anything anybody really needs. The guest experience is actually the most important component of a wedding versus having a little takeaway."

click to enlarge DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE At another wedding Wallace photographed, the married couple gave guests bottles of wine and leather key fobs as favors. - COURTESY PHOTOS BY ALEXANDRA WALLACE
  • Courtesy Photos By Alexandra Wallace
  • DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE At another wedding Wallace photographed, the married couple gave guests bottles of wine and leather key fobs as favors.

Tacy recalled planning a Lego-themed wedding where the bride and groom sent everyone home with little boxes of themselves as Lego figurines.

"I guess it's a cute idea, but I don't know the practicality of what that's ever going to be used for," she said with a laugh.

Tacy told New Times that her primary job is expectation management and making clients understand what they can truly afford. The venue, floral arrangements, and rentals—silverware, glassware, tables, and chairs—eat up most of the wedding budget. Tacking on wedding favors could add $1,000 or more, depending on what the object is.

"If somebody does want to do a wedding favor, have it be something that tells the story of the couple," she said. "I had a bride who was marrying someone who took care of bees, so they had honey as little favors."

For her own wedding, Tacy and her husband featured a jazz band. She made her own invitations and grew her own flowers for centerpieces. She also handed out native wildflower seeds as favors.

In Tacy's eyes, an air of nervousness now blankets the 2023 wedding scene. With the economy worse for wear, people are a little skittish about spending more. A budget, especially with hundreds of individual wedding favors in the mix, can make or break partners.

"Wedding planning is a great first exercise for a couple," Tacy said. "You can see how a relationship is going to play out. If you're not able to come to an agreement and compromise, it doesn't bode well." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at [email protected].

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