Marriage, debt and moving your home are ranked among the top most stressful life events. A wedding often combines all three into a well-planned panic attack. Budget trends for weddings have been steadily going up, despite the economic downturn. In fact, the average wedding in the US can cost up to $27,000. There is no short supply of suggestions to make a wedding more budget-friendly, and rightfully so! Imagine what other things can be done with $27,000 to support your new married life. Since disagreements over money are still the number one reason for divorce, a couple approaching matrimony would do well to consider using a lot of that money for their life after the wedding day.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for marriage and weddings – it’s just the spend-all-your-money-in-one-day, super-extravagance that bothers me. My wedding day was everything I wanted it to be for less than $1000. Yes, that’s right – under a $1000, and yes, after 8.5 years, I’m still happily married, in love with my wife and share that love with 5 daughters. We were not so fortunate as to have wealthy parents who covered our costs. In fact, we covered all of our costs. How was I able to pull that off? I’m glad you asked. I’d like to share it with you.
The first thing we did was understand all of the potential costs and set a budget for ourselves. We got a bridal book which outlined all of the items we’d have to pay for. In the end, we only used it as a guide, because we discarded many of the (insane) suggestions. But running any major event with a budget is key to doing it right.
Church and Hall
Our first major consideration, the rental of a church, minister (Bishop), and dance hall all cost $0. The church I belong to doesn’t charge anything for building rental (it has a chapel and a large gym), and the marriage itself is a religious service, and thus clergy doesn’t charge for their time. Having since served as a Bishop (for 5 years ending 1.5 years ago) I’ve had the opportunity to pay-it-forward some by marrying several couples and renting out our building – all for $0. Friends and family provided the necessary clean-up crew after our reception.
We hired a DJ through a friend who got a great deal. Total cost, $300, but our friend paid for $150 of it as a wedding gift.
I think we paired down the invite list to about 130 or so with just over 110 that actually came.
We skipped the limo service. It just seemed a waste and we both agreed this added nothing to the day except cost.
The food at the reception was probably the most costly item. We know a friend who was really good in the kitchen for large gatherings and had some informal catering experience. We met with her and she agreed to help out – also at no charge. She enlisted her daughter to assist in the kitchen and we had a crew of about 6-8 youth friends who came along as servers. I’ve seen a lot of self-serve buffet meals lately which can also cut costs. We just paid for the food itself, which we got at a discount because we bought so much at once at stores that offered discounts for bulk buying. We opted for an inexpensive, but elegant chicken, roast potatoes and vegetables meal. We had leftovers for months which also helped our grocery bill as a new couple – even though we were very sick of eating that same meal almost every day for months :) We also did not serve any alcohol. We bought sparkling grape juice for toasts, and various flavors of soda and water otherwise. This not only reduced the budget, it meant no drunk relatives making scenes!
We have another friend who was looking to get into the wedding industry and was looking for an opportunity to build a portfolio. We had her do our cake, which was very beautiful, and she charged only a fraction of what she could have.
We delegated most of this to another friend (one of the Bride’s Maids). She made that gym look gorgeous with a rental archway, white decor, table centerpieces (which we gave away at the end of the night), and small white Christmas tree lights on tooling. I was impressed.
We rented some time at a nearby floral greenhouse which made for beautiful pictures with some nature (despite it being February 3 and snow was everywhere outside). We had an artsy friend be our official photographer and another friend be the videographer (all $0). We ended up with some great pictures that we were quite happy with. For more candid shots, we bought disposable cameras and put one on each table and had our MC announce that people should take pictures throughout the night.
My mother happens to be a seamstress – so she made my bride’s dress and did so for under $100 material cost. A friend made an accompanying cape for about $30. When all was done, the dress could easily have sold for many hundreds of dollars in a store. We asked each bridesmaid and groomsman to cover the cost of their own dress and tuxedo respectively. My rental came to just over $120.
My family and I spent about 20+ hours hand-making invitations from a kit a friend had. They turned out really nice – textured with raised surfaces and inked with some special ink. We paid only for materials and postage. I also created a web site for RSVPs, although not many used it.
All in all, we ended up paying almost only for raw materials. Luckily we have a large social network and were able to find high-quality service/labour provided by friends for free. We spent more on our honeymoon to enjoy a good vacation as we started our life together, but even that was a cruise that was under $4000 all inclusive. No one complained about anything because in the end – everything looked and ran wonderfully. Judging from the average we saved ourselves about $21,000. We had a super-special day, just like anyone else who spent the national average or more, but we had money to start our life, and more especially not start it with the stress of being in debt. We were very very thankful for all the help we had and money saved. I now repay that kindness by helping at other weddings when I can – usually DJing for the ridiculously low price of $150 for the night.
So, anyone who may be holding back getting married because of fears about the associated costs… have a talk with your future spouse and review what costs can and should be avoided and how that money can be better placed as an investment in your future rather than spent on just a one-day extravagant party. If you find your fiancee unwilling to bend at all, unwilling to make concessions, let this be a high-alert warning about your future marriage. It may be time to set some financial ground rules as a couple or perhaps even reconsider if your love is going to take you all the way to the poor house.