In retrospect, re-cutting the vintage organza prom gown wasn’t a great idea. It seemed like it at the time, though. After all, I have sewn a lot, including formals—I love vintage clothing, and who doesn’t want to tell people that their simple, amazing dress cost $30? It seemed brilliant up until six weeks before the wedding, when fitting issues dictated that I either re-cut the entire dress or lose ten pounds. Since neither of those was an option I relished, I ordered the dress I’d wanted in the beginning.
That was a less-than-stellar moment in my seven month gallop to the altar, but it sums up a simple formula that will become your mantra when you begin planning a wedding on any sort of a budget: There’s always a tradeoff between money and time. To put it another way: The more time and effort you’re willing to invest, the less you’re going to have to spend. That’s great if you’re crafty, but for the rest of us, here are ten suggestions.
Know your budget. In 2005, the average wedding cost $26,000 not including the engagement ring or honeymoon. If you have no desire to spend more on one day than I spent on my car, you’re not alone. Sit down together soon after you get engaged, and figure out what you can afford to spend. If parents are helping out, include them in this discussion. Before you arrive at a number, realize that most people go over-budget by about ten percent, so plan for it.
Prioritize. What have you always dreamed of at your wedding? Your first dance to the strains of a live jazz band? Pulitzer-worthy photos? The sounds of waves in the background as you say your vows? Pick what is most important, and save on the rest. Remember that at the end of the day, all you’re going to have to show are pictures. I don’t know anyone who regrets getting the best photographer they could afford. On the other hand, I had two friends taking pictures at my wedding, and I’m happy with the results.
Shorten the guest list. This is the fastest way to cut costs. Do you really need to invite your entire high-school class? Chances are, you don’t even remember most of their names. Invite those who will hold you accountable for the vows you’re making.
Eliminate the unimportant. Do you really need RSVP cards in special envelopes? How about a postcard instead? For my wedding, I designed a self-mailing invitation, and we used online RSVP. I made invitations for 150 people for around sixty dollars; however, I spent hours doing it.
Choose your location carefully. The cheapest venue isn’t always the best idea. Are you going to have to spend hours and a fortune decorating? Take advantage of beautiful places: a park, an old church, the beach or a friend’s house. I chose a tiny church near my apartment; it was beautiful, breathtakingly so, and the only decorations needed were pew bouquets.
Limit alcohol. An open bar is an easy way to spend thousands of dollars. People will drink more than you expect, and nothing is worse than running short. Try serving just champagne or develop a signature drink and have it passed on trays. If it’s an option, skip the alcohol altogether.
Enlist friends. My mother-in-law arranged flowers, my coworker baked cookies, and my sister made my cake. The best advice I received as I started planning was, "Don’t turn down help. You’ll always need more than you think."
Rethink food. Do you have to have a seated meal? How about a buffet? Hot hor d’oeuvres? In the south, cake and nuts are common at receptions. In some communities, couples ask for guests to bring a hot dish instead of a gift. Don’t put out a lavish spread just because it’s expected.
Focus on the ceremony. It’s easy to get lost in details surrounding the reception, but the ceremony should be the heart of the day. This is the time that changes your life forever as you make a vow before God and witnesses. Think through the proceedings, choosing each element to reflect your convictions and testimony.
Keep your perspective. At the end of the day, you’re going to be married. That’s what matters. You’re building a marriage, and the wedding is only a tiny part of that. So when your mom refuses to stand in the receiving line with your step mom, the photographer has a family emergency the day before and one of the bridesmaids shows up late for pictures, remember that it’s only a wedding. You’re getting married, and that’s what counts.