It was important for us to share our wedding with family, and to spend quality time with them. We decided to have a marriage celebration after the wedding to celebrate with our friends. After all, I needed an opportunity to earn my “Frugal Wedding Badge of Honor.”
It’s so important to pick your top priorities and focus on doing those well.
Priority 1: Enjoying time with our friends and celebrating our marriage.
Priority 2: Feeding (and watering) everyone well.
Priority 3: A low-key, low-stress, low-cost evening.
Suit and Dress
Clothes for one day don’t have to be expensive or new. The Wanderer wore a suit he already owned. The original plan was to wear my wedding dress again, but my wedding dress had a long train and felt heavy to be running around in all day, especially with setting up and cleaning up for our own party. Rather than bust it out, I bought a $99 (plus tax) Vera Wang dress at David’s Bridal. It was originally $1,148 but on the clearance rack. I tucked the spaghetti straps into the dress and wore it strapless, which helped the fact that it was one size too small. I wore flats I already owned since the dress was already to the ground when I tried it on barefoot. I wore my grandmother’s pearls.
I did my own hair, and got my makeup done at the mall. I wanted to purchase a foundation, so I saved the shopping trip specifically for the day of our celebration and had my makeup done for free at the mall. Cost for foundation and powder from the MAC counted was $65. I’ve never actually owned either, but I “needed” them (for headshots and a destination wedding we’ll be attending) and timed the purchase accordingly. I don’t count it toward the cost of the celebration.
Cost: $100 cash
We posted an ad on our local wedding Facebook group two weeks prior, and got about 5 responses that were for $250 or less for the three hours requested. We hired a photographer who was looking to add to her portfolio, and who was just starting out with weddings. We specifically asked for digital copies and all reproduction rights, and she gave us a flash drive of all the photos. Since she had only done one wedding before, she missed a lot of great shots, and she needed guidance about shots we wanted. It’s a reminder that you get what you pay for.
Photography is an art. After our first photographer, who was full-time, well-practiced, could roll with all the punches, and gave us full digital downloads with photo rights so we could get the photo products at a deep discount later, this experience completely reaffirmed what a good choice for us that spend really was. We love looking over all the photos from our wedding. We’d 100% hire our photographer again. We’ve since purchased 11 photo books for our family for only $170 total from Snapfish (while some photographers charge that for one book!) and are planning to order more photo products soon, so in the long term it was absolutely worth it to spend extra on an experienced photographer who gives full photo rights.
My stepdad officiated our ceremony for free, and could have done it in our backyard instead of at the resort. Rather than attempt a reenactment or a commitment ceremony for our marriage celebration, we decided to share the 5 minute highlight film after dinner once everyone had arrived. It featured the vows and fun wedding day details, and further reaffirmed that our videographer was money well spent. We sincerely love watching the video and were so happy to share it with our friends.
It was nice to have a party at home, and we have plenty of room. There are some nearby spaces we could have used (two churches and a hall are within a mile) for low or no cost, but we really wanted to have a low-key and low-stress evening that wasn’t spent running around or setting up a hall.
We already had candles, vases, and lanterns to put out. Our house is minimalistic and our living room is comfortable. We didn’t want to go crazy with decorations, since adding too much would make it “feel” like a house party. Instead, we cleaned the house really well, focused on putting every last thing away, cleaned the pool, and finally hired a permanent lawn service to clean up the yard (which had fallen so far behind... we had been talking about a lawn service for two months before the lawn mower broke down). These things made far more of an impact than throwing up streamers or balloons.
A cute idea I was bummed we missed out on? A photo booth! Set up a dedicated hallway or closet space, move over an end table down with some props on it, and put fun dollar store wrapping paper on the walls. Viola! I had every intention of setting one up, and just forgot about it with everything going on...
Since our first “real date” was on Cinco de Mayo, and since our favorite day of the week is Taco Tuesday, we wanted to do a taco bar. We got catering from our local Tijuana Flats ($157.07), which included a taco bar fried wheat bowls, soft white taco shells, and all the fixings for 20. Plates, napkins, and utensils were included. It also included chips, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole for appetizers. I bought a bag of soft wheat taco shells to add extra options ($1.89). We invited 25, but figured we’d have a ton of extra food and a couple no-shows. Just in case, I purchased a big bag of chips, an extra jar of salsa, and a bag of extra cheese, which we did not end up needing and ate later that week. We picked the food up ourselves about an hour before the celebration started to save on the delivery fee, but it would have only been $25.
We set up all the food on the island in the kitchen and let people eat when they arrived instead of making it a formal sit-down dinner where everyone ate at once. This helped with dining space, as people could migrate to the couch when they finished eating. It also meant we didn’t need to find extra tables or chairs.
We could have chopped up our own ingredients for less (probably about $100), but that would have meant a lot more stress day of to prepare and cook, and was in direct conflict with the “low stress” part of priority 3. We also could have done something easier or more cost effective, like sandwiches, but this was in conflict with feeding everyone well, our second priority. Food was an area where we really had to balance our priorities while still choosing something meaningful for us.
All week prior, I was emptying the ice from the ice maker into a bowl in our also-empty freezer. Hooray for not purchasing a bag of ice! We have a 10-liter beverage dispenser that we completely filled with water a few days prior. We put that in the fridge to cool along with the rest of the beverages. The day of, we filled a second pitcher with ice, poured water from the dispenser into the pitcher, and then filled the rest of the dispenser up with ice.
We have a giant 120-quart cooler that we love bringing out for pool parties. However, a cooler in the middle of the kitchen wasn’t the vibe we were going for. Two weeks prior, we did a good clean out of the fridge and started eating everything left. That way, we had plenty of room for cans and bottles to chill. I had some leftover beer from Airbnb guests, plus we purchased a 12-pack of Stella ($16.01) and a 24-pack of Yuengling ($21.39). We got a pack of 16oz cups for beer from Target ($3.31) and put them near the fridge so guests could serve themselves.
We purchased three bottles of wine at our local World Market ($21.56), plus a two pack of Beringer White Zinfandel ($7.47). Overkill for sure, but we figured it wouldn’t go to waste. We brought out a bottle of red, pink, and white, and left the others in the fridge until (not actually) needed. We got three packs of 9oz cups for wine at the dollar store ($3.21) so guests could pour whenever they were running dry. Most guests also used these cups for the water.
We also bought a 48 pack of coffee Kcups ($15.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond) for our coffee station. We already had milk and sugar, and pulled down some mugs.
One bottle of our LaMarca Prosecco ($11.96/bottle) filled 8 glasses close to the top once we added in a piece of strawberry ($3.50 for the carton) and a couple blueberries ($2.50 for the carton). Raspberries also would have been a nice touch, but there weren’t any nice ones at the store that day. Total: $44.40 with tax, but we probably could have saved the third bottle and filled less per glass.
Glasses: We had a bunch of champagne glasses already, and were gifted additional glasses from our Buy Nothing group. If we needed more, we would have bought them at the dollar store for $1/glass.
Chantilly Cake from Publix ($25.99), Carrot Cake from Publix ($6.49), Key Lime Pie from Publix ($7.99), brownie mix ($1.50), White chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie mix ($1.50), Double chocolate chip cookie mix ($1.50). I baked the brownies and cookies the night before, and picked up the cakes and pie day of. Total: $44.97
Dollar store goodies: White plastic table cloth (for desk protection and easy clean up), two packs of small blue dessert plates, pack of clear forks, two packs of blue cocktail napkins. Total: $6.42
Borrowed: Cake stand, cake cutters
Splurge: A “We Still Do” cake topper ($13.99), which felt appropriate
In hindsight, it was far too much dessert for 25 people. I should have scrapped the carrot cake and the pie, although pieces of each were eaten. A dessert bar would be really easy to scale up inexpensively by adding more brownies and cookies, both in quantity and variety. For more cost savings, consider baking the cakes or pies the day before. We clearly paid for the convenience.
And the final number is...
- Suit and Dress: $105.93
- Photographer: $100.00
- Ceremony: $0.00
- Venue: $0.00
- Entertainment: $0.00
- Decorations: $0.00
- Appetizers/Dinner: $158.96
- Beverages: $88.94
- Champagne Toast: $44.40
- Dessert Bar: $65.38
- Total: $563.61
We set our budget for $500, although we did end up blowing it by almost $64 (12.8%). Not a big deal with our small budget, but if you blow a $10k budget by the same percentage, that’s almost $1,300! This is why you should build contingencies into every budget.
How did this align with our priorities for the celebration?
Priority 1: Enjoying time with our friends and celebrating our marriage. Check! It was such a fun evening, and we were so happy to have everyone together to hang out.
Priority 2: Feeding (and watering) everyone well. Check! $357 (about $15pp, or 63% of total spend) went toward food and beverages. We definitely could have purchased less desserts and beverages, but I’m an awful judge of how much people will eat and wanted everyone to eat, drink, and be merry and gluttonous. It didn’t matter to us in the end, because there’s more to life than money.
Priority 3: A low-key, low-stress, low-cost evening. Check! It was a very relaxed and low-key affair. We didn’t hit the low-cost part perfectly, but I blame the lack of planning around the dress for that. It was a last minute decision, and I definitely could have done better had I started shopping around earlier or ordered a dress online. This is why planning thoughtfully beforehand is so important.
So... Which Was Better?
Our wedding prioritized family togetherness, which we felt was best achieved through a hotel or resort wedding that did the heavy lifting and allowed us all to stay together the entire weekend and just enjoy the time. Second, we wanted to capture every moment, which led to a highly-trained and high-quality photographer and videographer. Our third priority was music, ultimately leading us to hire a guitarist for everyone to enjoy throughout the day.
Because the weddings had such different priorities, it’s hard to make an honest comparison. I would have hated to have all my family fly in from all over, only to spend little to no time with them because they were all in different hotels and I was busy planning a house party. If I had to choose, I obviously would choose the first, but it’s because of how much I loved spending the entire weekend with my family. It meant the world to me that so many people came together to support us and spend time with us, not just during the first reception but also the second. If everyone lived locally, the second reception would have been my favorite, and I likely wouldn’t have planned the first at all. $24k would have meant 40 at-home parties and a whole lot more togetherness than the first wedding. Alas, the circumstances are what they are.
At the end of the day, only you can know what your own priorities truly are and what will be meaningful for you. As long as you are spending in line with your priorities (and not going into debt to do so), have at it! There is definitely a happy medium as you start a lifetime of happiness with your partner.