By Alysa Seeland
In one of the most memorable episodes of Say Yes To The Dress, a southern bride was trying on gowns with her mother and sister. Her mother clearly stated that the budget was 2,000 (about the most anyone should pay for a dress) and by the end of the show the ticket was $11,000. The only one who mention the tiny little detail of being $9,000 over budget was the younger sister who said, "Pretty much her whole life has been like this - she always gets what she wants." This mindset- "she gets what she wants"- exponentially grows when a beloved daughter becomes the iconic bride. (Read Bridal Bootcamp - the first post in this series)
If the marketing industry has done one thing right in the 22nd century, it's that they've made us believe that a big ticket wedding is a down payment on a good marriage; the more you put down the less trouble you'll run into later. And though the success rate of a marriage hovers at an abysmal 49%, we continue to give up everything- a retirement fund, take out another loan, bleed both bank accounts dry- just for the sake of one blissful day. At what cost?
Real Simple suggests a $50,000 average and a $30,000 minimum. They even break down your budget based upon state so you can feel even more pressure to pay up for the occasion. Furthermore, the reality of most failed marriages is financial stress that leads to irreconcilable differences, yet we continue to operate under the facade of a Big Down-payment.
Why An Overly-Indulgent Wedding Hurts More Than Your Wallet:
So how can we throw a wedding that prepares us for marriage?
Talk to any couple who has been married for more than 20 years and what do they say about marriage? "It's hard." Do you know what makes it even harder? Thinking of the Big Day as the apex of our marriage. Whether we do so consciously or subconsciously, our lives will always be a step down from that peak.
The reality of so much life is that though we make up our faces and put on a $10,000 dress - we're still only human. We get upset at stupid things, we are selfish, we are so small, and just want to be loved. So how can we throw a wedding that prepares us for marriage? Get in the habit of making small sacrifices.
I Do's and I Don'ts: Where To Splurge And Where To Save:
In this section I'll go through every element of the Big Day that the Wedding Industry wants you to spend Big Money on. With my tips, I'll give the low-down on what it's really worth and how to save on just about every detail. I don't hit everything you'll need to cover - the list was mighty long :) but feel free to ask me any questions about things I haven't formally covered.
Coordinating The Wedding:
I do believe that coordinating the wedding is important. I don't recommend hiring a wedding planner. They can be crazy expensive and while it is great to have someone else giving marching orders on that day there are plenty of ways to save:
- Give an outspoken relative, who isn't in the wedding party, the honor of the headache.
- Go through your list of girlfriends for someone who is organized and can rally the troops, and ask her to do it for you.
- Task a group of friends or relatives with a portion of the day: i.e. bachlorette party, ceremony, reception.
- Task your man with the job of the getaway car and the honeymoon - more on this to come.
The bottom line: $50/giftcard per helper or $100 if for one.
I do believe in finding the perfect dress, but I don't believe in shopping exclusively at fancy boutiques. Check out these other places to save big on your unique style:
- Local: A lot of local stores make their buck by charging less than the established boutiques everyone runs off to!
- Consignment: My dress should have cost me $5,000 but I purchased it (it had never been worn) for $950 at a consignment store called Wedding Belles.
- Vintage: you can get gorgeous Grace Kelly-esque dresses for as low as the hundreds if you spend time hunting.
The bottom line: you can find the perfect dress for $2,000 max, often times less.
I do believe a bride should look stunning and depending on your neckline, jewelry could be a must. I do not believe you should ever spend $5,000 (suggested by New York Bride) on 1-2 pieces of jewelry.
- Heirlooms: free and full of meaning.
- Shop antique: antique hops have a gorgeous array of gems at often a fraction of the price.
- Vintage, consignment and thrift stores.
- Costume Jewelry: you'll only wear this jewelry for one day and I PROMISE you if you buy costume jewelry no one will be the wiser.
The bottom line: heirloom if you can, spend up to $200 if you must.
It is important that the man feels comfortable - because he will most likely, but not always, be uncomfortable. Commitment is no easy thing and engagement is often a crucible that puts a lot of strain on a relationship; making small sacrifices about what he wears can go a long way.
- Embrace his style: Is he rugged, metro, or academic - how can you make him feel as comfortable as possible?
- Same color suits: does he want his gents to wear a suit they own with the same shirt? Or does he want to skip a suit and simply a jacket? Being more flexible here will save you both money in the long run.
- Tux or summer suit: is it REALLY necessary for him to wear a penguin tux? If not, he may be able to dress up a suit he already has.
The bottom line: Unless you frequent the opera, rent a tux, buy a suit, or simply a nice shirt and bow tie for $200
Flowers are important but there are great ways to spend less than you might imagine
- Buying bulk at Costco
- Choosing arrangements that are in season
- Selecting a variety of petals instead of just red roses
- Adding texture: I had eucalyptus, ostrich feathers, and lamb's ear to name a few. Not your normal wedding bouquet but a lot cheaper!
- Don't be afraid to add some fake - it may seem like a cardinal sin but it's not and it's a lot more practical if you'll be spending lots of time in scorching heat!
The bottom line: spend $500 on flowers total.
- Find a local quartet or jazz band, a classical guitarist, organist
- Use conservatory students - cheaper than hiring a professional quartet and just as wonderful.
- Make good use of your local church - they often have a long list of wedding musicians in a range of prices.
The bottom line: for the wedding ceremony spend no more than $400
I do believe it is ok to splurge on this area. That being said - you should aim to spend no more than $3,000 here and you can certainly get GREAT photographers for less.
The bottom line: $3,000 max
Location, location - you do want a memorable setting for the celebration. Indoor or outdoor - that is the question. In my opinion you should almost always do outdoor. Why? They're normally cheaper, cost less to decorate, and formal locations come with an "in the event of rain" location.
The bottom line: While you certainly can do it more cheaply, I do suggest spending up to $5,000 on your location.
Another important area to splurge - you want to appropriately thank guests for joining you on your special day. If you can get it down to $25 a plate that is ideal but you can certainly go cheaper if you find a good buffet-style catering service.
The bottom line: $25-$50 a plate.
While I believe whole-heartedly in scrumptious food, I will not pay through the nose to get it.
- Do not buy cake by the slice/serving.
- Consider a bride and groom cake with scrumptious decoration, but a less costly sheet cake for guests.
- Buy Local! Lots of perks here, especially since: a) the owner probably knows you, and b) can often give you a discount if you're brining them a surge in business.
- Buy Small: some small bakeries are open to discounting or donating cake if you allow them to try new recipes!
The bottom line: $200-$500 We had 246 people attend our wedding, and paid $500 for a replica of a Martha Stewart cake I drooled over.
Decor sets the tone and mood for your event - will it be romantic and dramatic? Will it be seductive? Will it be a country party with friends? Will it be artsy? Most bridal magazines suggest $200-$600, but there are a lot of ideas out there for a whole lot less.
- Use the bridal party bouquets when you get to the reception
- Use fruit: The trick about centerpieces is you need lots of them and you need them to vary in size. Lemons, Limes, plumbs, anything that matches your color pallets can help take up space in the vase and add color to the table.
- Think beta fish: one of my favorite centerpieces was a few calla lily in a long stem vase with black marbles as the bottom - swimming around in the vase was a black beta fish! Frugal and successful!
- Hunt and gather: flea markets, Hobby Lobby, your local vintage shop - there are GORGEOUS finds to fit any centerpiece.
The bottom line: no more than $50 per centerpiece
The Honey Moon:
I'm a firm believer in tasking your man to do this. Why? Because besides what he wears he's unlikely to care about every detail of the event, you'll be asking him questions he's doomed to fail on because it's just not a point on intrigue. The BEST way to keep him engaged during engagement is to give him a project to be successful with: finding the honeymoon getaway for the best price possible. It presents a challenge, takes the pressure off of you so that once you get into that limo to go to the airport - he's taking the reigns.
The bottom line: it is possible to find AMAZING and exotic getaways for less but $3,000 with airfare is my suggestion.
There is no doubt that weddings are expensive but if you follow my suggested bottom lines you will be able to throw a swanky affair for $11,000 and probably less. The trick is to remember that even though this day is so special and you should cherish it - the real thing to cherish is your love and your new life together. So keep things in perspective and keep open to making small sacrifices - it will do you a wealth of good!
Be sure to check out these other posts in our Frugal Bride Series:
Bridal Bootcamp: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Married
His and Hers: Who Pays For What and How Coco, Kelly, and Monroe Can Help
I’ve Waited For You My Whole Life: 6 Tips to Find the Perfect Wedding Dres
Anatomy of a Satellite Bride: What I Learned Planning my DIY Wedding from 1,000 Miles Away
DIY Bride: The Cost-Efficient Way to Be Unforgettable
And don’t forget our Frugal Bride Pinterest Board!