I’ve mentioned before that H and I threw a small budget wedding. I’ve been asked to share some tips on how to do so, and I must say I’m highly flattered. I must share one caveat, though: We got married in 1998. That was quite a few inflations and financial disasters ago, so it’s doubtful anyone can do now what we did all that time ago and still get away with spending less than $5,000.
On the other hand … couples getting married today have an advantage we did not. A little something called the Internet, which in 1998 did not boast wedding blogs and wedding sites and online boutiques and myriad other resources that kowtow to the bride and groom. We found our venue and officiant in the yellow pages. Do I sound ancient or what?
All this in mind, I do have some quick tips for keeping costs down.
Keep it small.
No need to go Kardashian here, folks. Do you really need more than 100 people at your nuptials? I know this is a toughy for people who have enormous families or whose cultures dictate that the entire city be invited, but I have two words for you: destination wedding. Or, in a pinch: elopement.
Consider nontraditional dresses.
There are more than 12,000 vintage wedding dresses listed on Etsy and most of them cost less than $200. eBay has even more. If you’ve got the time and inclination, you can go straight to the thrift store or antique mall and start looking for hidden treasures. You can easily shave hundreds of dollars off your dress budget by shopping secondhand*. Take heed of “Pretty in Pink,” though. Molly Ringwald’s dress ended up a hot mess; that’s why you don’t alter your own dress unless you’re a professional. Enlist the help of a seamstress and get that dress altered to fit your body. It’ll still cost less than a brand-new gown.
* If you absolutely must have a new dress, might I suggest BHLDN‘s line of party dresses, many of which are in the $200-$300 range?
Find an offbeat venue.
We got married on a Christmas tree farm. In June. Many seasonal places like this offer pretty good rates and pretty backdrops. Bonus? The reception area was onsite. Two-for-one! How about a public park that you love? If you live on the coast, obtain a permit and get married on a public beach. If you or someone you know has a fabulous home or backyard, do that. You can save thousands by searching for an unexpected spot.
Do it yourself.
Become friendly with your local hobby store. We bought fake flowers and designed our own bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres. We bought fish bowls and crafted our own centerpieces with pebbles and tea lights. I designed our programs. We made a few mixtapes (aging myself again) and avoided hiring a DJ. Bonus? No random awful songs popped up on the dance floor. Everyone got down, as our family is wont to do.
Know where to cut corners.
Look in your closet. Chances are you already have a pair of shoes that will work for your wedding day. And I’m pretty sure you or one of your friends knows how to use a blush brush to create a blushing bride. You don’t need a makeup artist. Other (more controversial?) places to cut corners — for your pocketbook, your parents’ pocketbooks and your bridal party’s pocketbooks: showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, rehearsals, rehearsal dinners. These are all things the media tells us we need to do, but I didn’t do any of them, and I survived (as did my marriage).
Forgo the big dinner. BYOB.
No need to cater some expensive meal that people complain about anyway (have you seen the nerve of the people on TLC’s “Four Weddings”?). We served up deli trays for sandwiches and crudite platters for guests to munch on after the ceremony. We also had a barrel of beer on ice and bottles of wine and encouraged everyone to bring their own poison. Some circles might consider this gauche, but it’s supposed to be a party. Relax. Oh, and the less time spent on dinners and speeches, the more time spent on the dance floor having a good time. Can’t go wrong there.
Call in some favors.
Are you friends with someone who sells party poms? Do you know someone who bottles their own wine? Call ’em up, see if they’ll give you a discounted rate to supply your reception. You can bake them a treat or take them out for drinks to say thank you.
Throw a party to get people to help you with projects. For instance, my brother and sister-in-law had a pumpking-carving party a few days before their wedding, and the lit jack-o-lanterns lined the path to the reception hall. You could also gather all the best bakers you know and spend a day making cupcakes for your dessert table. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t get bogged down by possibilities.
Back in 1998, it was possible to get overwhelmed just looking at bridal magazines. So many great ideas, which ones to choose, etc. But it’s even bigger now. There are so many inspirational blogs and websites it is easy to come up with huge portfolio of ideas. The downside is that it’s all the more difficult to whittle ideas down and say no to the excess. Do you really need a chocolate fountain? How about those mismatched chairs — unless you already have a collection of them, are you really going to fork over hundreds of dollars at thrift stores (chairs usually cost a minimum of $10) and/or weeks of your time trash diving or picking up free chairs off Craigslist to track down the perfectly rustic look? If not, let go of that idea and focus on the details you want your guests to remember. A fun handmade photobooth with silly hats and feathers for your guests to take impromptu photos of themselves, perhaps? It’s easy and inexpensive as opposed to deceptively elaborate and potentially costly.
Finally, do not skimp on this. Pay for quality.
I wish I had heeded my own advice, but sadly that’s why I have a cautionary tale. Our photographer was a friend of a friend, and he worked for cheap. We have cheap photos. No candids. All posed like we’re waiting for our “picture to be made” in the early 1900s, which is fine for 1919, but not so great for 1998. We would’ve been better off giving our guests a bunch of point-and-shoots and telling them to go for it. It’s laughable now, but I do wish I had a pretty wedding photo to hang on the walls.
Did you have a small budget wedding? If so, please share tips in the comments below.