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A Frugal Wedding Adventure: The Planning Phase
I recently got engaged. I managed to stay frugal throughout the entire process. The ring did not set me back three months’ salary. I got a reasonably priced ring made from a small operation in Chicago that uses reclaimed wood to make beautiful jewelry. It confused my family, who was baffled by its lack of diamonds, but it delighted my fiancee. I proposed to her on a hike, not at a five-star restaurant. All in all, the proposal process fit our style, and it did the bare minimum of damage to my checking account.
But now we face the real challenge: the wedding. Not only are weddings expensive… they are stressful. According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, marriage is the seventh most stressful event that we experience in our lives. Further complicating matters is the fact that one of the biggest sources of stress among engaged couples is the financial strain weddings cause.
Here’s how we’re tackling the problem of throwing a fun, low-stress wedding – while keeping our spending under control.
Setting a Wedding Budget
The average cost of a wedding in America is more than $32,000, according to wedding website The Knot.
My fiancee was a wedding planner at one point in her career, so she knew all about how expensive weddings tend to be. I, on the other hand, was stunned. I knew they were expensive — but not that expensive.
We decided the best plan of action was to set a small budget right off the bat. And I’m taking actually small, not small as determined by the wedding industry, which would probably be anything that didn’t feature a bespoke candy bar and a live band.
We settled on $2,500 dollars for our budget. Here are the different areas where we aim to drastically cut our spending in comparison to the national average:
If you want a truly cheap wedding, the most feasible way to do it is to throw a party at your home, a free public park (and they’re not all free), or the home of a friend or family member. Luckily, my fiancee’s family is going to let us use their backyard, free of charge.
While throwing a backyard wedding at a simple, middle-class home might seem crazy to a lot of people I grew up with, we’re happy with our decision. It reminds me of the Bar Mitzvah craze that sweeps through affluent Jewish communities in certain parts of the U.S. When I was 13, I went to many Bar Mitzvah parties (a celebration for reaching adulthood) that were like mini-weddings. These parties sometimes included fancy food, poker tables with real card dealers, and upwards of 10 hired dancers in charge of dragging awkward teenagers out of their huddled circles and onto the dance floor.
I thought all of this was quite normal at the time. Then, I spent some time living in Israel, and I realized we’re just a bunch of crazy, over-the-top Americans. Bar Mitzvahs out there are much simpler, family-oriented affairs.
Likewise, if you explore wedding traditions in different parts of the world, you’d find a similar trend, especially in lower-income countries and communities. Family is more important than fancy.
One of the strategies my fiancee and I use to lower our stress levels is to constantly remind each other that this is our day. We don’t have to impress anyone. We aren’t the kind of people who go out to fancy meals — so why do we need to provide fancy food at a wedding?
We thought about cooking the food ourselves — as that’s what we do for 95% of our meals — but scuttled that idea after thinking about the scale. If we had a slow cooker that could serve 100+ people, this would be a more realistic option. (Get on it, Crock Pot!)
We are, though, planning to include local restaurants that are meaningful to us. My fiancee worked at an amazing steakhouse near her home throughout high school and college, and we go to that same restaurant to eat every time we’re in town. We’ll work with her old boss to get what we can from them, and she’ll give us a deal on all of it.
For everything else, we’ll run around town to pull it all together. My fiancee has a big family, and you can be sure that they’ll be helping with errands and deliveries. Family friends and neighbors will be able to provide equipment to keep everything warm, so we won’t need to spend money on catering supplies. Although it’s not as environmentally friendly as we’d like, we’ll get disposable dinnerware and glassware to save on cleanup time and rental costs.
As for dessert, neither of us are big cake people, and we’re certainly not going to spend hundreds of dollars for a cake with tiny plastic figures on top of it. Tubs of ice cream with a selection of locally made pastries is more our style.
There will be no bands, no DJ, and no photo booths. However, we do love to boogie down, so we’ll collaborate on a playlist of songs we love, and those tunes will blast the whole night. We’re budgeting $100 for speaker equipment rental.
We’re also quite fond of board games and lawn games, so we’ll set those up in the garage and on the lawn. There will be volleyball, croquet, and Frisbee games, all of which will be crowdsourced – borrowed from neighbors and friends.
Since we realize most people don’t expect to run around outside at a wedding, we’ll be extra diligent to point out the casual dress code on the invitations.
This is a wedding cost that sneaks up on people. Invitations end up costing about $445 for your average wedding, according to The Knot.
Thankfully for us, this was the easiest decision of the whole planning process. We will send out an email. Simple as that.
I’ve never met a person who talked fondly about the process of creating and sending out invitations. In fact, the conversations I’ve had usually revolve around what a painstaking, expensive, time-consuming process it is.
As much as I’d like to brush up on my cursive handwriting and pound out some classy invitations, it’s simply not enough of a priority for me to take the time.
There will be many people from Wisconsin at this party, and they love to drink.
Because we’re spending basically nothing on the venue, entertainment, and decorations, we’re fully prepared to pony up to make sure there are adequate adult beverages.
For light beer, we want to get kegs, because we’re confident there won’t be much leftover after the party. My fiancee says she’s mostly interested in kegs for cost savings, but I think she’s secretly excited to relive her college days and throw a “kegger.”
We ran the numbers and found that a keg of Spotted Cow (a very popular beer only sold in Wisconsin) will cost $140 and give us 165 12-ounce servings. Since we have to account for cups (50 Solo cups are $9, so we’d would need to add $27 to total), this will run us $167 per keg, or about $1 per 12-ounce serving.
If we were to provide the same amount of beer in bottles, it would cost us $1.42 per 12-ounce beer. And you can’t do keg stands with a bottle!
We’ll also be providing wine, which will most likely be Bota Boxes, a brand of boxed wine we enjoy. Not only are they cost efficient, but my fiancee’s brother will drink them — and he’s a wine buyer at one of San Francisco’s best restaurants. Good enough for me!
As for hard alcohol, we’re still deciding whether we’ll provide it. We’re thinking about inviting people to BYOB if they prefer hard alcohol to wine or beer. But if we do decide to provide it, you can be sure we’ll be buying it at Costco.
Everyone has a smartphone these days, and everyone loves to take pictures at a wedding. Why not just fully crowdsource our photography? If we send an email message to all of our friends and family after the wedding asking for them to upload their favorite images into a designated Dropbox folder, we’re sure to come away with plenty of fantastic pictures.
My fiancee and I see our wedding as a way for people to get to know us better as a couple, as well as an opportunity for our friends and family from across the country to meet and have a good time together. This takes away some of the pressure to do traditional (and expensive) things.
If it’s not something Drew and Ashley value, it’s not going to be a big part of the wedding. This mindset allows us to make quick decisions with confidence. We’re also bolstered by the fact that couples who spend the most money on their weddings actually face a higher risk of divorce.
We understand that some people in attendance might find that things are different than what they’re used to, but we hope that serves as a way for them to understand a little bit more about who we are and how we want to live our life together. And if it’s intolerable, our guests can take solace in the fact that there will be plenty of adult beverages.