Here comes … the cliché: “What really matters is that you’re about to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.” And, while no one’s going to stand up and argue that point—yeah, yeah, true love trumps a horse-drawn carriage and a Vera Wang gown—the wedding industry didn’t become a $40-billion-a-year business based on daisy chains and hand-written vows. You can’t buy love, but you sure can max out a credit card on catering, bridesmaids’ dresses and a cake no one really wants to eat.
But just because taking out a line of credit to finance the nuptials is au courant, it doesn’t mean everyone has to go that route. There’s always eloping (you pay for the marriage license and the Niagara Falls honeymoon). If that isn’t your style, your next best bet is the budget wedding.
About.com offers a planning worksheet that breaks the wedding budget down like this: The largest part of your money (48%) goes into the reception. After that, 12% goes to photography, 10% for attire, 8% each to flowers and music, 3% each for rings, stationery, gifts and the ceremony (including location, officiant’s fee, license and musicians at the ceremony) and 2% for transportation.
That means if your budget is $5,000, you’ll drop $2,400 on a catered reception, $600 on the photographer, $400 on a band, etc. Which sounds do-able until you realize you’ve only got $500 left to dress the wedding party. Stretch your money by cutting out what you don’t need (is a limo necessary when your guests are unlikely to see you arrive?) and getting creative with what you really want. Here are some tips from About.com:
• Check eBay for everything from favors and ring pillows to wedding dresses. Xpress found a Victorian silk gown with crystal beading for $150 and never-worn J. Crew gowns for $50.
• Hold your wedding on a Sunday or weeknight; there is less demand for these days, so venue fees are less.
• Print your own invitations and ask guests to RSVP by phone or e-mail to save on return postage.
• A candlelit ceremony is atmospheric and less expensive than complicated decorations.
• Create a honeymoon registry. This is a round-about way of asking your guests to pay for your honeymoon, but it doesn’t violate any laws of etiquette. This requires a fairly specific itinerary, but once your travel plans are set, guests can sign on to pay for a night’s stay, a meal, or tickets to a show. Honeymoonwishes.com, HoneyFund.com and Moonrings.com can get you started.
• Cheap-chic-weddings.com suggests a beach wedding. “The biggest thing to remember is to keep everything light and simple. The setting is beautiful and you won’t need to add a lot to it. Weddings by the water afford the wedding party and the guests [the opportunity] to dress casually and be themselves,” the web site advises. “Have everyone wear white or cream linen or gauze, Hawaiian shirts and shorts and definitely go barefoot.”
Great-cheap-weddings.com offers these tips:
• Hold the reception at your house, or the home of a friend or family member, and have a buffet meal.
• Decorate with flowers from your yard or sprigs of greenery, which can be easily obtained.
• Consider silver wedding bands instead of gold: They’re modern and cost much less.
• Low-budget wedding-favor ideas include burning a CD of the new couple’s favorite songs for each guest or handing out fortune cookies in individual bags.
Budget weddings can fall into any category: traditional, formal, whimsical, or free-spirited. They don’t have to involve an Elvis impersonator and a drive-thru chapel. Nor do they need to incorporate your parents’ backyard and the family-heirloom wedding gown—but these ideas, dog-eared as they may seem, are worth considering.
The hand-me-down gown can be altered by a local seamstress. Other money-saving options include letting the bridesmaids wear mismatched dresses (or canning the bridesmaids altogether), sewing your own wedding clothes if you have the skills, asking guests to help with the cooking (potluck receptions are making a comeback), and postponing the honeymoon until you can afford it.
Hey, your love may not pay the rent, but the cash you save with a budget wedding just might. And since you’re about to spend the rest of your life with your soul mate, you may as well start out in the black, finance-wise.