10 Ways to Have a Fantastic, Budget-Conscious Wedding

Since tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, I’m betting that forty-eight hours from now, there are going to be a lot more engaged folks than there are today. And all of those newly engaged folks will be planning a wedding.

Now, I’m not one to tell you that if you’ve got the money hanging around your bank account, you shouldn’t be spending it on a kick-ass wedding. (Though you might want to be kind and send a little of your excess my way…)

However, if you’re going to do the whole thing on your credit card, take a good long look at what’s really important for this day of days. Money woes end more marriages than just about any other cause, and starting off your new life together in debt (or more in debt than you already are) is a foolish extravagance, especially when you remember that you won’t even look at the pictures all that much once the reality of everyday living settles in.

There are some good articles out there on how to have a lovely budget wedding–the best I’ve seen so far is over at Squawkfox.

My son got married last April, and I think we gave Squawkfox a good run for her money as far as cheapness is concerned. Here’s how we did it:

1) Plan your own wedding, or get a friend to help you.

Wedding planners are a nice extra, but if you’re going to do a budget thing, do it yourself.

2) Determine where the ceremony is to take place and who is going to officiate.

It was a no-brainer on our part–we’re all active church members, so a civic ceremony was out of the question. It’s also cheaper, as I’ll get to in a moment. Then you need to contact the venue in question, and work together to find a date that works for everyone.

You need to determine the venue and the officiant first because (and this is especially true for church weddings) you might not be able to get the date you want. My son was aware, for example, that his April wedding would have to avoid Lent and Easter, as these are exceptionally busy times for church folks.

3) You may not even need to purchase a marriage license!

If it is the first marriage for both you and your partner, and you are “in regular attendance” at a place of worship, ask the officiant if you can have the banns called at worship services leading up to the wedding date.

It’s free, and you DO NOT need a marriage license, at least in Ontario (and I would guess, in most of North America.) Check the laws in your area.

What we now call a marriage license used to be called a “Special License,” to be obtained when calling the banns wasn’t possible. It used to be rare and hard to get. However, as our culture sped up, and as people stopped going to church regularly, marriage licenses became the more common way to tie the knot. But they’re not the only legal way to do the job. (In Ontario, where same-sex marriages are legal, calling the banns for same-sex marriages is also legal. My son and son-in-law were not only the first same-sex couple to be married at our church, but the first same-sex couple to have the banns called there.)

In addition, you’ll be telling everyone at worship what’s happening in your life, and if you’re at all liked, you may get a lot of offers to help with the wedding, as well as more cards and presents.

Our church policies also allow for free use of the sanctuary for the wedding of a member. The minister is a friend, and was willing to do the ceremony as his gift.

In other words, if you’re friends or relatives with a minister, and you belong to a church, you could potentially get married for $0! (Not that we opted for this…)

3) Keep the guest list down.

My own wedding was more or less planned by my mother, and the guest list included friends of hers that neither I nor my husband-to-be even knew! You need to feed and entertain every one of those guests, so be selective.

Do not, however, leave out first-degree relatives (siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) unless you’re absolutely not speaking to them. My son was reluctant to invite his uncle and his cousin, who hadn’t been a big part of his life. I insisted that he did-and months later I’m glad about it. Though they couldn’t come, when the crisis started with my dad, we had enough of a relationship that we could build a working partnership. I guess what I’m saying is that keeping your relatives on your good side, even if you don’t have much in common with them, is insurance for the future of a sort.

4)Do what you can yourself, within reason.

We made all of the table decorations, and did all the cooking except for the cake. My SIL made the invitations by hand, and most of them were hand-delivered as well.

A few caveats: the bigger the guest list, the more a caterer earns her money. I’ve told my daughter that her wedding will be catered!

If you decide to go for the DIY option with the food, test the recipes first, and make sure they work in large quantities. And be prepared for left overs!

Finally, accept that you may not be able to do everything. We got a professional to make the cake (cupcakes, actually) because we needed a vegan gluten-free recipe, and my daughter (who is the only one in the family who could have pulled it off) was busy with other tasks.

5) Open bar,; cash bar, or no bar?

My son’s reception was in the church hall, and our church policy forbids the use of alcohol. Not only cheaper, but a heck of a lot more pleasant. The only objection came from my alcoholic brother and sister-in-law, but since my brother had to drive my parents home afterwards, I was not in the least bothered by it.

When “the boys” first considered having their reception at the church ($75 rental fee, btw), we talked about the lack of a bar, and I asked my SIL-to-be, “Is alcohol an important part of your family’s celebrations?” He admitted it wasn’t. Not only that, a few of the invitees did not drink due to religious or alcoholism issues, and not serving alcohol made the whole party a lot more fun for them. We served non-alcoholic “champagne” at the meal, and had lost of water and non-alcholic punch available, and everyone had a great time.

If alcohol is a necessity for you, go for a cash bar, where folks pay for their own drinks.

6) Ask for help from friends and family.

We had friends and family cooking and making table decorations in the week before the wedding. Ladies from church volunteered to serve so the guests wouldn’t have to work. My daughter is an accomplished cellist and provided some music during the ceremony. Another friend with a great camera took pictures. One of my son’s friends is a DJ. Two of my SIL’s aunts have taken belly dancing lessons.

We had a FANTASTIC party!

People love to use their gifts, especially on occasions like this. Let them!

8) Dress well, but not out of your price range.

Most of the clothes we (family and wedding party) wore were bought at thrift shops. The boys had new shirts, ties, and pocket squares. That was it. We must have outfitted the whole wedding party and family for under $500!

If thrift shops aren’t your thing (and I’ll admit that if we had more money, this is one place we would have spent it), at least reconsider the lacy white gown thing. White has only been a “traditional” bridal colour since the time of Queen Victoria. Lacy, designer wedding gowns are expensive, they are only suitable to be worn on one single occasion during a woman’s lifetime, and white looks good on very few people. Even buying a used gown is a waste of money, IMHO. Go for a dress that you can wear again (even if it’s a long formal gown) and in a colour that looks good on YOU!

Unless you’re a guy. Tux rentals are still okay, but the purchase of a really decent suit is an investment, as it can be worn on many occasions, not just your wedding.

(ETA: This evening, I Stumbled upon this post, describing the most unique wedding gown I’ve ever seen. Not that I’d ever want to wear something like this, mind you, but if you have the patience and the skill and the bread tags…)

9) The rings. Ah, yes, the rings.

That crap about spending three months salary on a wedding ring? Forget it! Save the money and use it to pay off student loans, or buy a car with cash, or put a downpayment on a house.

My next-door-neighbour is finally getting married, after ten years and one son. The hang-up? They never had enough money. Finally she convinced him that all she wanted was a gold band. They got two of them for $300 each, and they’ll be married in May.

My sons ordered theirs off the internet, which I don’t recommend. The rings came, and they didn’t fit. There wasn’t enough time to get new ones, so they used rings they already had.

Then again, rings are another “extra” that you may want to forego. Or you can wait until you’ve got the cash, and give them to each other in the future, maybe for a significant anniversary, or for Valentine’s Day.

10) Finally, the honeymoon.

First off, it should be obvious that a budget wedding is NOT a destination wedding. Not that I’m in favour of those anyhow–a wedding is a community affair (if it’s not for you, just do the City Hall thing with a witness), and having it where you don’t live seems to me to defeat the purpose. Plus, it’s expensive. A friend of my son is spending $60,000 on her destination wedding, which would be enough to pay off the student loans of everyone in our family, or provide a decent downpayment on a house!

If you’re really strapped for money, it might be wise to delay the honeymoon, perhaps until the first anniversary, so the bills don’t come all at the same time. Or you can plan your honeymoon to take advantage of sales and get a much better value than if you are stuck with going the day after your wedding.

Of course, if you’re adventurous, you could always do what my husband and I did after we married. We went on a two-week canoe trip in Algonquin Park that cost us little more than food, gas, and park fees, as we already had the requisite equipment. And we had a great time, at least until the blackflies emerged. (Which didn’t happen until the last day or two, as we’d started mid-May.)

At it’s heart, your wedding is about the promises you and your partner make to one another, and about the community gathering around you to support your vows. The clothes, the food, the party, the honeymoon–all of those should direct the focus to you and to those promises, not leave you with a lasting financial burden. Spend what you can afford, not what the wedding industry says you should spend. Customize your day so it’s unique. And enjoy the results for a lifetime.

(ETA: Mrs January has some tips that I missed, and some tips that might appeal to those with a slightly larger budget than ours…)


About Ruth Cooke

Ruth Cooke B.A, M.Div., MPS is a writer, public speaker, and itinerant preacher whose areas of expertise and interest include poverty issues and solutions, parenting exceptional children, sexual orientation, and the place of religious institutions in society. If you would like Ruth to come preach, speak or lead a class or group, please contact her via email.
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