Marrying for Better and for Less!

by SheriLynne Hansen

Even though I've been married for over two years, people still compliment my husband and I on our beautiful wedding. We paid for almost the whole thing ourselves, and the grand total -- including the honeymoon -- was about $1200. My sister spent that much on her wedding dress, veil and shoes alone!

We didn't want a lot of things that most people have at their weddings (unity candles, tuxedos, etc.), and that's how we saved so much. Most women I talk to are not willing to give up their girlhood dreams of a storybook wedding, but you can still find a lot of ways to cut expenses without cutting corners. I suggest making a list of everything you want, and then setting priorities. You may have to give up a few things at the bottom of the list if you run out of cash, but at least you'll have the most important things.

Here are some of our money-saving ideas:

I wore my grandmother's wedding dress (free!), but if you don't have an heirloom dress, or if you want something new, consider renting a wedding dress. Or, shop ahead and buy a dress that is discontinued or off-season. A friend of mine saved a bundle because she was a model for a wedding show at the local mall. She skipped the pay in return for a 50% discount on her dress.

I didn't want a veil, but they can be made fairly inexpensively. Our local fabric stores frequently have workshops to help you make your own. They often make garters, too. I bought a $6 pair of shoes at a discount store and dressed them up with silk ribbon, which I later removed so I could wear the shoes to work.

My husband hates tuxedos, so he bought himself a nice pair of dress slacks and a great linen shirt, which he still wears all the time. He had trouble finding a jacket that he liked until he went to a thrift shop and got one for 76 cents. It was perfect! He finished his outfit with a comfortable pair of dress shoes that he's had for years. If you must have tuxedos, the best you can do is shop around for a good price...or maybe the groom can model at a wedding show in return for a discount.

We went to pawn shops, discount stores and regular jewelers to look for The Perfect Ring and came across a lot of stunning rings for not a lot of money. We also looked for alternatives to diamonds. Princess Diana wore a sapphire, other women have had pearls, rubies, and so on. In my case, I decided I was not a flashy ring person, so we went with simple 10k gold bands, bought on sale from a discount department store for $70 total.

Guest List
As a general rule, the fewer people you invite, the more money you save. If you have a lot of friends and relatives, however, it's really tough to limit your guest list. In the end, we decided to have a family-only wedding and luncheon (we gave close friends roles in the wedding, so they could be there), and then we had a large reception immediately afterwards for all our friends. We showed the video a couple of times at the reception, so people got to see the wedding.

We could have been married in our church for free, since we are members, but the sanctuary was way too big for a small family wedding. We ended up getting married in the backyard of some friends of ours, and the photos and video are gorgeous with all that lush greenery. Other options we considered were the art museum, a historic house, the state capitol, and various parks and gardens throughout the city. Many of these places were available for free, or for a low rental fee. Candles, pew bows, and so on are often unnecessary when the location is pretty. For our wedding, we borrowed chairs from our church instead of renting, but some friends of ours had guests bring their own lawn chairs.

We had our reception at our church (again, free because we are members), but there are lots of meeting halls and reception centers in most cities. Where we live, enclosed shelters in the parks can be had for $20 a day. By the way, it is crucial to have very capable people serving at your reception. We hired a woman from church to run the kitchen and clean-up crews (all volunteers). She did a great job, and then refused her pay as a wedding gift.

We designed our own invitations on the computer, and took a copy to a local printer. Our invitations measured 4 1/4 x 5 1/2, so they fit two to a page, half for wedding guests and half for reception-only people. We chose a good card stock and a special color ink, and the printer had them printed, cut and folded five days later for about 10 cents each. Another option, if you have the time, is to quick-print the text and then use rubber stamps and embossing powder for the embellishment. My sister-in-law did this and her invitations were lovely.

For envelopes, I visited small print shops all over town and bought leftover envelopes (reply-card size) in the right color for 2-3 cents each. There were several different styles, obviously, but people don't compare envelopes! For reply cards, we used postcards that measured the same as the invitations and printed four to a page at a copy center. Postage was probably one of our biggest expenses, but there isn't much you can do. We hand-delivered as many invitations as we could, which people took as a compliment.

One of our good friends shot weddings to put himself through college, and we asked him to do our wedding photos. His wife shot the video, so it was a great way to get them involved. We developed all the film at a discount store, including reprints for family. If you don't have a friend who has professional experience, however, I would suggest hiring somebody. Some friends of ours have terrible wedding photos because they didn't go with a pro, and all those moments are now lost forever. Ask around for recommendations, and only hire somebody after you've seen several samples of their work.

A friend catered a no-fuss sandwich-and-salad buffet in the backyard after the wedding. We got paper plates and so on -- including some of the food -- at Sam's Club and borrowed tables from church.

At the reception, our cake was just a two-tiered affair with frosting roses on top instead of an expensive decoration, made at a local bakery for $35. The aunts, moms and grandmothers all made sheetcakes to help out. These were cut in the kitchen and put on plates, so nobody knew they were homemade (although we received compliments for the best-tasting wedding cake!). My mother-in-law insisted on mints and nuts, which she took care of herself. We bought some really good coffee and made punch, and that was that.

My grandmother had made her own bouquet, a small bundle of flowers that she pinned to her waist, so I asked a friend who does flower arrangements to help me recreate that out of silk flowers. For my attendant (just one) and our mothers and grandmothers, we ordered corsages from a neighborhood florist for $70 -- quite a splurge for five corsages, but they were just lovely. Mark didn't want to wear a flower, so the men went without. My mother-in-law also helped me make several silk arrangements for the buffet, cake table and so on, which we used as gifts for our wedding hosts, caterer, and reception hostess.

Since we were married outdoors, processional and recessional music were easy to omit. My husband is in a band, so we asked the lead singer to sing during the wedding, while another guy from the band accompanied her on acoustic guitar. We bought them gifts instead of paying cash, and probably saved $50. For the reception, we picked out our favorite compact discs and had them playing in the background. No dancing, but it was an early afternoon reception, so a dance would have been a little much.

We took a short honeymoon to a historic city in another state, and stayed in a bed-and-breakfast for $65 a night. We brought leftover sandwich fixings from the wedding lunch, plus a lot of cake, mints and nuts, and used that for lunches. We ate out every night, but we'd brought the basket of cards from our reception and took advantage of the cash gifts. The days were spent hiking, touring, reading and being lazy. We had a great time, and then came home for several days of settling in before going back to the "real world."

Thank You Cards
We went with postcards again for thank-you notes, these measuring 4 1/4 x 6 3/4 and fitting three to a page. We had a funny cartoon about newlyweds on one side, printed at our local quick copy place, and wrote out the address and our message on the back. We saved some on postage, but again, that was a big expense.

Frugal Weddings Tips:

  • Make a list of your dreams and prioritize them. Do the important things first.

  • Small, neighborhood florists, bakers, etc., are usually less expensive than big commercial ones.

  • Ask relatives and friends to share their talents instead of giving you a gift.

  • If you want "the works," use homemade pew bows, table decorations, etc.

  • Purchase shoes, hose, undergarments, etc., that you can use for work after the wedding.

  • Don't scrimp on the important things, like photography and dress alterations, unless you have helpful friends or relatives who are professionals.

  • Plan ahead, and do as much as you can yourself...but make sure the week of your wedding is free to relax and rest, so you can be at your best for the big day.

SheriLynne Hansen writes for an international direct marketing company and several magazines. She and her husband have been developing a more frugal lifestyle for the past two years as they save for their first house.

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