Ah, summer! Wedding season! Love is in the air, and it’s time to express that love in front of everyone you know in a legally binding and probably permanent way! No big deal!
Enter the Wedding Industrial Complex™: that wicked machine that chews up formerly sane couples and spits out crazed people who shout things like “I don’t give one single fuck about fucking hundred-dollar napkin rings why is this all so fucking expensive?!” at one another.
Expressions of enduring love strained through the colander of financial stress tend to come out a little… wrong.
I was inspired to write about cheap wedding planning when I read useless advice like “Buy a smaller diamond!” peddled as a legitimate solution to the problem of inflated wedding costs. That is woefully in-the-box thinking. Because frankly, if you’re already struggling financially to cover the cost of your wedding, buying a diamond of any size is not a reasonable option.
So we’re here to give you the only advice you’ll ever need on how to get married on the cheap. Our cred? I pulled off my rehearsal dinner, wedding, and honeymoon on a budget of $19k. And while that’s below the national average, I still felt like I was splurging. And Kitty? That bitch had a total budget of $4,000 for her DIY, forty-person backyard wedding.
We scrimped and saved, sought discounts, borrowed shit, called in favors. We DIYed till our fingers bled, went without, got strategic up in here.
How to get married
Let’s cut the shit. There is literally only one single thing you and your future spouse need to do to get married:
Sign a marriage license.
Some states have some extra paperwork or random tests to go through, but when you get right down to it, the only thing you have to do is drag yourself down to the county clerk’s office and sign that license. Which means:
Everything else is fucking optional.
The ephemeral white dress. The Pinterest-worthy centerpieces. The mildly talented violinist. None of it is actually necessary for getting married. So with this in mind, you can decide what is actually important to you… and what’s just icing on the reasonably-priced grocery store cake.
When I got married I couldn’t afford a DJ (and y’all know I needed to dance and lip-synch my ass off at my own wedding). So we just curated an iTunes playlist and assigned a friend to plug in the speakers the venue supplied and hit “play.”
Kitty didn’t want to shell out for a fancy venue. So she turned the parking lot behind her apartment building into a wedding wonderland filled with DIY décor and magical touches of loveliness for fucking pennies.
The point is that once you winnow down a wedding to its essential ingredients (a few consenting adults and a legally-binding contract), it frees you from the obligation of spending money on the things you don’t have to have. The things you don’t need, don’t want, but assumed you had to have. From there, you can prioritize and eliminate expenses.
As long as you sign that marriage license, you can do (and spend) whatever the hell you want. (Do yourself a favor and click on that link. I promise it’s worth it.)
Remember who is getting married
Your parents are not getting married on your wedding day. Nor are your grandparents, your pushy friend from high school, your judgmental sibling, your bossy aunt. You and your spouse are getting married.
So literally nobody else’s opinion counts.
What this means is you can safely ignore the “advice” given to you by friends and relatives about what you “simply must do.” Do not feel compelled to spend money on shit you don’t care about.
Don’t let Auntie Fran bully you into expensive party favors nor your mother-in-law attempt to guilt you into inviting one hundred more guests than you’d planned (this literally happened to my sister-in-law). You do not negotiate with terrorists.
When I was planning my wedding, I lamented the pressure I got from all sides to spend money on stuff I didn’t care about. A married friend actually said “Don’t you know your wedding isn’t for you, it’s for your family?”
I reject that defeatist outlook. For while our families are important to us, my husband and I honored them by including them in our wedding celebration, not by bowing to their every whim. We didn’t get married for them—we did it for us! It was our choice and—more importantly—our money.
For example, it’s important to my husband and I to save the rain forest and shit. But my mother-in-law was stuck on the idea that the dinnerware had to be fancy. We ignored her completely and got biodegradable cups, plates, and flatware (which was, incidentally, cheap af). Nobody noticed or cared.
Seriously: when Kitty was planning her own wedding six months later, she asked where I got cheap glasses and I had to remind her that we used biodegradable plastic cups instead. She was shooketh.
You shouldn’t prioritize the preferences of others in your wedding or let them talk you into spending money. They had (or will have) their chance. This one’s yours. Spend accordingly.
Do your fucking research
Once you decide on the stuff that matters to you and that you consider necessary, it’s time to hit the books.
There’s a lot of money to be lost out of ignorance. Don’t just accept the first bid that comes to you. Get competing bids, research online, ask your friends for referrals, price out how much cheaper it would be to DIY. Do this for everything.
And here’s where I’ll actually give you advice on specific items simply as a way to show you how flexible wedding costs actually are. Remember: ain’t nothing set in stone but that marriage license!
Mum’s the word
Don’t tell people it’s for a wedding! Bakeries automatically charge extra for a wedding cake. I assume the same goes for most other vendors, but I wouldn’t know because I mostly called in favors from friends. My “cake”? Ten pies lovingly baked in my own goddamn kitchen by my sister-in-law and a bridesmaid.
Timing is everything
Be not restricted by the “wedding season”! We got our wedding venue for 40% off because we got married two days after “wedding season” officially ended. The caterer threw in a discount for the same reason. They’re so grateful to be getting business outside of their busy season they’ll reward you for it.
Call in favors
Owed a favor or seventeen? This is the one time in your life when it’s socially acceptable to call them aaaaallllll in. Remember the rules of the friend trade, but it’ll still be cheaper than hiring professionals. And sometimes your friends are professionals, as was the case with our photographer and Kitty, who designed my invitations.
DIY if you dare
If you’re willing to brave the challenge of a DIY wedding, start early. I think my flower budget was under $20… because I started folding origami flowers out of the pages of used books eleven months before the wedding. It was a pleasant pastime while watching TV, I was done with plenty of time to spare, and did I mention it cost me nothing but used books and some craft supplies?
My mother made my wedding dress, just as her mother made hers.
I’m childfree af, so I’ll be breaking the family tradition. But wearing a gown lovingly designed and crafted by my own mom on my wedding day was an experience I will cherish forever. And not just because buying fabric is a helluva lot cheaper than buying a gown and having it tailored to fit.
For having my friends and loved ones involved in my efforts to pull off a cheap wedding did more than simply save money. It made the experience more personal, more special somehow.
I still have the adorable wooden cake toppers my maid of honor painted for our wedding pies. I was touched near to tears listening to our best man sing as I walked down the aisle. Sometimes I go to a friend’s house and notice, years after the fact, that they’ve kept one of my paper flower and whiskey bottle centerpieces and it makes me smile.
Remember the important stuff…
The rest will follow.
My only financial regret about my wedding is that I didn’t spend $8.99 to get our officiant ordained as a Jedi Knight. May you be equally blessed.