Bridegroom price is extracting a heavy toll on the poor in rural Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, India. Poor households are becoming indebted and losing assets to pay the increasing amounts demanded by grooms at the time of their daughters' weddings. Bridegroom price is a relatively recent phenomenon in the area, first practiced amongst scheduled and backward caste groups less than two decades ago. This article draws upon practice theory and cultural neo-institutionalism to offer an alternative explanation for the emergence and persistence of bridegroom price as a time, space and socially specific institution. Using empirical material from in-depth qualitative interviews in two villages in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh in 2010, it suggests that bridegroom price emerged as a result of shifts in the subjectivities of low-caste men, and in particular the evaluation of the self in relation to the social whole. The article seeks to contribute to existing explanations for bridegroom price and dowry, while also arguing that theoretically informed approaches are necessary in order to develop effective measures to combat these institutions.