I just responded to a friend’s Facebook plea for affordable wedding planning advice. And it turned into a three page dissertation. Which I will now share with you. I have strong opinions about the wedding ceremony (But what don’t I have a strong opinion about?), and my passion for this important day comes out full force whenever a poor betrothed soul asks me for guidance. Here’s to all my wives- and husbands-to-be:
Strap in! I know this looks like a lot of information, but you’ll be grateful that you put in the effort for an affordable gathering. And I think you’ll be glad you were so involved in the experience.
There is certainly no need to be paying off your wedding for years to come. I think we did our whole wedding (and we threw in airline flights for two attendees and my maid of honor’s dress) plus our honeymoon for under $5000. Our secret was just finding friends who were willing to help. And that wasn’t hard to do.
Ultimately, I recommend having the wedding that you want to have, not what everyone else wants. For us, that happened to be pretty simple. It’s your and C’s day to commemorate the most important decision you’ll ever make, so don’t let others push you over. If you want to wear climbing shoes, do it. If C wants to wear shorts, do it. You don’t even have to wear white. That tradition started just 150 years ago as a fad to copy Queen Victoria’s wedding gown. We decided to wash each others’ feet at the beginning of the ceremony and went barefoot for the rest of the ordeal. We wrote our own vows that reflected why we were really there. And we only used ceremony elements that we felt were meaningful to us.
We had our wedding at a friend’s house, in the living room. Granted, it was a huge house on the side of a mountain in Golden, and we only invited about 100 people, 65 of which actually came. The owners of the house charged us a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. Even if you don’t find a deal this good, I’m sure you can find an inexpensive venue. And the South in March — maybe you could be outside?
We had a couple foodie friends do the catering — meaning, we gave them a food budget and let them run wild (and it was delicious). Another friend made a photo slideshow as a gift to us to show during the reception. I bought all my flowers (daisies) wholesale from a local florist. And I just happened to know a certified flower arranger who offered to make my bouquets and boutonnieres as a gift to me. But honestly, you can make your own bouquets. Just buy some green flower tape from a craft store (like Micheals) and wrap some ribbon or lace around it, fixing it in with a straight pin. This can be a fun activity to do with your attendants.
I designed and printed all my invitations myself. I like making stuff like that, but if you’re not into it, you might find that a friend would love to broaden his/her portfolio and make your invitations as a wedding gift to you guys. All you really need is some cool paper with the info written on it and bulk envelopes at Office Depot.
The only two things I wish I’d spent more time/effort on are my dress and the photographer. And even then, they weren’t bad at all. I bought my dress from a second-hand wedding shop that was going out of business. I think I spent $300 on the dress itself and $300-$400 on tailoring (it needed a lot of work). You can find great cheap dresses from smaller shops without having to go to David’s Bridal – though, if you want something traditional, David’s may be your reasonably-priced ticket. I even had someone offer to design a dress for me (and I would pay for fabric) as a gift, but I decided to forgo that offer. Looking back, I wish I had allowed myself a little more cash to find the perfect dress. But what I had really did fit who I was at the time.
Another dress option would be to wear your mom’s or grandma’s dress. This is assuming that they aren’t hideous and that you wear relatively the same size. You can get it tailored to you or you could just use the fabric to make a new dress. My mom is a lot taller than me, and the style didn’t look so hot on me. But I did use some ribbon from her dress to tie around my bouquet, which I loved.
We stumbled upon a photographer who was just starting his business, so he was crazy cheap – like $400. Being a photographer myself, I should have known better. The pictures were good (especially for the price), but not superb. You shouldn’t have to spend more than $1500 for a good pro photographer. And if you know any photography students, you should be able to get good work for a lot less. Don’t get sucked into a package where you have to order prints directly from the photographer. Most photographers these days will give you a disc with all your edited photos so you can print them yourself (I print almost all mine at King Soopers and Walgreens with great results). If the photographer is wanting to charge you extra for editing the photos, find someone else — you’re paying a lot of money, and the bulk of the real work lies in the post-shoot fine tuning. **Most importantly, look thoroughly through the photographer’s portfolio!** Focus on the overall style you want to achieve when you frame these all-important prints. If you don’t like all the pictures you see, you won’t be happy with your results.
One more thing about the photos… I don’t know how traditional you are about not letting C see you in your wedding dress before the ceremony, but I would highly recommend having your couple photos taken before the ceremony begins. We did photos between the ceremony and reception, and I feel like it really cut into our time with the people who came. You can just as easily have your “first sight” moment earlier, just the two of you, and take stress-free photos of the two of you and your attendants before you walk down the aisle and wipe away tears of happiness. In the weddings I’ve photographed, I’ll tell you that it’s a lot easier to get these shots out of the way so you can spend more time with the people who came to celebrate with you.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but if you can find a few friends who are willing to jump in and handle some of the projects, it’ll be taken care of in no time! Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help. It’s been my experience that almost everyone will jump at the chance to be a part of the occasion. And it will make the whole thing feel like a collaborative gathering, rather than a performance you put on for your guests.
By far our favorite aspect of our wedding was having so many friends and family actively help in the preparation.