Bethany and Greg didn’t want to drop tons of money on their wedding. Instead they opted for a simple front porch ceremony at their Ohio home to celebrate the day.
As feminists, enlightened consumers, and citizens of the world, we need to consider why we place so much cultural emphasis on the perfect wedding day. If we argue that weddings are truly about love, devotion, and commitment, then more people would get married in nice pedestrian clothes at city hall — or, for the devout among us, church clothes at one’s local place of worship. However, I believe that we as a culture place so much importance on a single day for a simple, semi-obvious reason: there is profit to be made.
In the United States, the wedding industry is worth $53.4 billion. As with other billion dollar industries that feminists are critical of — for instance, the soon-to-be $265 billion global beauty industry — we need to ask ourselves: is this empowering? Does this serve us and lift us to our highest selves, or are corporations creating fake problems in order to make a profit?
Now, before I start pissing everyone right off, obviously there are ways that these industries can be empowering. If you enjoy doing your makeup, that is, of course, not anti-feminist or contributing to a culture that harms other people. We can both be critical of a beauty industry that lightens people’s skin in magazines, while simultaneously enjoying doing our eyebrows.
If we bring this discerning eye to the wedding industry, we find definite ways weddings can be empowering. We can stimulate our local economies by supporting local businesses; we can promote sustainability by buying items secondhand. Engaging in these industries in ways that foster art and self expression are incredibly empowering to both oneself and the community. But ultimately it comes down to where we are placing value. Are we valuing one costly party? Or are we valuing a lifetime of love, devotion, and care through sacred commitment to each other as partners?
When Greg and I first became engaged, the immediate worry in our minds was the cost of the wedding. In the U.S. the average wedding costs $26,645. This number is outrageous and unachievable for so many people. In my generation, one in five millennials live in poverty, with the wage gap widening for people who are not white males. I myself make a living just above the poverty line, so I wondered how in the world I could afford my dream wedding with such obvious financial constraints. I did not want to burden myself or Greg with self-inflicted debt for years to come, but I also did not want to compromise the significance of committing our lives to each other. Determined, I created the following list that permitted us to have the wedding of our dreams without sending us to collections…
10 Realistic Tips for Having a Wedding on a Budget
1. Wedding < Marriage
There is so much pressure (both external and internal) to spend insane amounts of money on one day to achieve the “perfect wedding” and have “the best day of your life.” What is largely (intentionally) missing from this conversation is that marriage isn’t just one day. Would you rather spend $10,000 on a wedding, or invest in a mortgage to share your lives together? Would you rather spend months — or years! — paying off an outrageous amount of debt that you and your partner have burdened yourselves with for one day? Or, would you rather start your joint life together with little debt, focusing on living wholly and presently, without that persistent stress hanging over your heads?
We knew that our marriage was much more important than our wedding day, so instead of investing in a venue, we invested in our future and bought a house! We ended up getting married on our front porch and held our reception in the backyard. (I know that buying a house is a privilege many cannot afford, and I want to be sensitive to that. Before we made the decision to take on a mortgage, we strongly considered getting married at a state park.) Speaking of which…
2. Don’t Overspend on an Expensive Venue
Wedding venues these days cost literally thousands of dollars! Remember lovers: this is one single day. Do you really want to throw down the equivalent of a semester or two of college for a single day?! There are many awesome alternatives to expensive venues: state parks, friends’ or families’ houses, etc. A permit to get married at a state park is usually between $50–$100, which is incredible in comparison to the average $3,000– $13,000 spent on a venue.
3. Make a Budget and STICK TO IT
I know this is a common “how to” on all budget wedding lists, but it is for a solid reason. As a couple, you need to determine early on what your maximum limit for the wedding budget is — plus, your ideal aim. For Greg and me, our maximum limit was $5,000 with our ideal amount of spending somewhere around $3,500–$4,000.
4. Ask Yourself: Who is the Wedding For?
This question is perhaps the most important question you can ask yourselves. Is the wedding for the two of you? For your families? For your friends? In order to stay true to your budget, you have to address this question and adhere to a strict guest list. Let’s say your limit is 50 guests. Now to some, this number seems impossible — trust me, I come from a large Irish Catholic family, and cutting the list down was an extremely difficult decision. Important questions to ask yourselves include: do you speak or interact regularly with this person? Do they know the goings-on of your everyday life — and you, of theirs? Are you mutually invested in each other’s lives and growing together? Or, are you inviting them out of feelings of guilt or obligation? If you find it impossible to trim your list, then your best bet is to have a destination wedding — that way, fewer guests will be able to make the trip, and you will save mucho moola.
5. Buy Secondhand
Buying items secondhand, from your wedding dress/suit to decorations, is environmentally sustainable, avoids supporting the oppressive garment industry, and saves you money. Several online secondhand wedding sites, such as Tradesy, Ruffled, Once Wed, and Wedding Recycle, offer platforms to purchase clothing, accessories, and centerpieces at an affordable, discounted rate. You can also do what I did: buy your wedding dress on Etsy and thrift the hell out of everything else. I am a serious penny-pincher, so I learned what times the thrift stores around me held half-off days and purchased items then. I bought all of our dinnerware and tablecloths at half the cost it would have been to rent them — plus, now we have actual plates for our house instead of shitty plastic bowls from the dollar section at Target.
6. Consider a Potluck
The average cost per plate (including food, drink, and cake) for a wedding is $85 a person. The easiest way to cut this cost is to have a potluck! Guests can bring an assigned food dish instead of a gift, saving you huge catering costs. Think of a potluck as your community coming together to nourish you in a beautiful expression of love. The same goes with alcohol. For instance, we had a “signature drink” while also encouraging guests to BYOB. As for the cake, while most local bakeries have very decent prices, I skipped that entirely and baked our own wedding cake. When in doubt, DIY.
7. Play Your Own Music
We avoided paying for a DJ altogether by creating our own wedding and dance playlists. We instead invested the money into a (relatively) inexpensive Bluetooth speaker that was not only perfect for our dance party in the garage, but also an accessory that we can use well after the wedding.
8. Prioritize Your Spending
Ask yourselves: what is the one thing we are okay with spending the majority of our budget on? For most, it is photography — with good reason. Wedding photography is a “get what you pay for” situation, so I would behoove you to allow more room in your budget for photographs that will last forever — instead of flowers that will die two days later. That brings me to my next point…
9. Go Light on Flowers Or DIY Them
Flowers can take up a huge part of your budget. Obviously, they are stunning and photograph excellently, but you need to remember that you’re buying something with an expiration date. I recommend either doing simple flower bouquets and skipping floral centerpieces altogether —or creating alternative “flowers” (from paper, vintage brooches, felt, etc). There are awesome blog and YouTube tutorials on how to craft your own unique florals, plus you will have a special part of your wedding that you can keep forever and decorate your home with.
10. Enlist the Help of Family & Friends
I will be honest with you: it is very hard for me to ask for — and accept — help. I had several friends ask over and over how they could help with the wedding, and I insisted I had it under control. However, I ignored their beautiful gifts of service. Here’s what it comes down to: the giver and the receiver are like two friends playing catch. If your friend throws you a ball (to, say, help assemble all of those aforementioned DIY flowers), and you “drop the ball” (so to speak), you are disrespecting your friend and yourself. The beauty of service is that it requires humility and acceptance, and it strengthens the reciprocal love between you. Your friends and family will surely want to help—so allow them! In the wise words of Amanda Palmer, “take the donuts,” dammit — whether those “donuts” are flowers, photography, crafts, or food.
This article originally appeared in Volume Four of Catalyst Wedding Magazine.