I was the editor-in-chief of three regional wedding magazines for years, long before I got married this past October. I’ve seen the most extravagant affairs and the simplest, most bare-bones nuptials. This gave me an inside view into what elements are truly necessary to have a fun, memorable wedding. The rest is just icing on the cake.
Most brides follow the standard recipe for a wedding and end up spending an average of $30,000. In reality, many of these ingredients are 100% optional, and you can still have an awesome event without going broke. Here’s how.
1. Skip the engagement shoot. Let’s be real—unless you just started dating, you and your beau have plenty of cute couple photos already. Shots of you at a concert or party are way more authentic and meaningful than posed professional photos. Let your existing photos be your cherished memories since they already are anyway.
2. Don’t have an engagement party. This is basically a mini wedding and totally not required. Your guests aren’t going to expect it unless you’re already part of high society, in which case, you probably have plenty of money and don’t need to be reading this blog post. If you’re not rich but reeeeally feel the need to celebrate getting engaged, have some friends over for pizza. Everybody likes a pizza party!
3. Don’t bother sending out save-the-date cards. People don’t actually need that much notice. They’ll likely lose/toss the card anyway. Just send out your wedding invitations a few months before the wedding. Your guests will figure out a way to come to your wedding if they really want to be there. And if not, their absence will free you up to invite someone else who IS able to make it.
4. Skip the response cards, reception cards, etc. We printed a single one-sided invitation that listed our names, wedding date and website where they could RSVP and see all the important details (which was easy to create using one of the many affordable website-building sites out there, like squarespace.com). Save even more by designing your own invites using one of the many custom stationery sites out there, like minted.com.
12. Don’t buy a wedding dress. Just buy a beautiful dress or gown you love, whether it’s white or some other color (I chose black). Wedding dress prices are artificially inflated and cost way more than regular evening gowns for no real reason. Skip the bridal boutiques and hit up department stores and upscale indie shops instead.
5. Limit your headcount. Don’t feel like you have to invite people to your wedding just because you were invited to theirs. Invite only those who you can’t imagine not being there. Create a “B list” of people you can invite as “A list” people say they can’t make it. This isn’t cruel — it’s logical. And many couples are doing it already. You’ve probably been on someone’s B list, and you’re still a wonderful person. It’s all good.
6. Have your wedding on a Friday or Sunday, and/or during the off-season. Our wedding was on a Friday, saving us hundreds. This also expanded vendor availability since I wasn’t competing with oodles of Saturday weddings. It would’ve been even cheaper and easier if we’d had our wedding in November instead of October.
7. Pick a flexible venue that’ll let you bring in your own alcohol. Buying bulk booze and wine in advance from a place like Costco (or a regular liquor store) and buying kegs of beer yourself will save you thousands of dollars. Hire a couple bartenders from a local bartending school; they’ll work for a low hourly rate — even lower if you let them put out a tip jar.
8. Place an ad for a photographer and/or videographer on craigslist. Name your date, price and expectations, and whoever’s interested will email you with a link to their portfolio. I did this and got dozens of submissions. Many didn’t have good portfolios, but several did. Of those, I interviewed three photographers and picked my favorite. Done. Money saved.
9. Limit your decorations. All of the little wedding trinkets and add-ons you see on Pinterest are totally optional — guests are often more focused on socializing, eating, drinking and dancing than details. They won't notice that you didn't hand-stitch your own placements or calligraph intricate signs. Minimize stress by spending your time and energy on the many other tasks necessary for hosting a wedding. Less is more, I promise.
10. Forgo giving out favors at the end of the night. These are totally optional. You’re already wining and dining your guests — they don’t need little presents too. And you might be annoyed when you see how many don't get taken home at the end of the night.
11. Don’t hire a florist. I’m sorry. They’re wonderful, creative, talented people, but they’re EXPENSIVE. Just buy your own vases (we got Mason jars off craigslist) and pick up flowers from the local farmers’ market. Spend an hour the day before the wedding arranging the centerpieces, and boom: you're done.
13. Have a small, private ceremony, preferably in your reception venue. Ceremonies are one of the biggest costs of the day: renting a separate venue, paying an officiant, hiring musicians, buying decorations, etc.— it adds up quickly. Instead, just set up some chairs in your reception space and have a quick, intimate ceremony with a dozen or so guests before the reception starts. This is what we did, and it felt perfect having only our parents, siblings and grandma present. My brother-in-law officiated the ceremony, a couple people said some words, we exchanged vows, signed the documents, and presto: married.
14. Hire a DJ to just play music—not emcee the event. You should be able to negotiate a lower rate with your DJ if he’s not expected to announce a grand march, dollar dance, bouquet & garter toss, run a slideshow, introduce people, chat up the crowd, etc. And if you have a simple ceremony that doesn’t require certain songs to be played at precise times during preludes, processional, candle-lighting, etc., you should also be able to knock off some of the cost. Just have him play background music while you do your readings and rituals. Keep it simple. You don’t really need all the other stuff.
15. Buy cupcakes, bars, macarons or some type of dessert other than a wedding cake. It’s way cheaper and easier to get the per-person amount right. And don’t let the baker talk you into providing more than one serving per person. They WILL try to talk you into it, and you WILL have leftovers. In actuality, plenty of your guests won’t even have one serving, which will balance out the few people who have two.
16. Decide in advance what you DO want to splurge on. Only pick one or two things. In our case, we decided to hire a day-of wedding coordinator to make sure everything happened according to plan during the event itself. It relieved a lot of stress. We also splurged on the king suite at our hotel. This gave us a spacious place to do hair and makeup before the wedding and feel extra fancy the rest of the time.
Overall, remember: There are no real requirements to having a wedding other than the presence of you and your fiancé. Everything else is optional. Pick the elements that mean something to you and skip the rest. You guests won’t care. Ignore the sticklers who try to make you feel bad for not following the standard wedding formula. You’ll have more fun if you can end the day knowing you had an awesome time and didn't go broke as a result.
All photos by Santrizos Photography