Monday, November 13, 2017

How to Throw a Fancy Wedding for $10K

Over the weekend, Nathan and I celebrated our five year wedding anniversary. (Well, I use the term "celebrate" lightly. We've both been sick all week, so it was more a "snuggle under a quilt and drink a bottle of wine while watching Jeopardy" kind of celebration. We plan to go out for a fancy dinner next week, when we're feeling better.) 

Five years feels significant - especially when added to the ten we already had when we got married. A grand total of fifteen years with one person is a lot, and sometimes thinking about how far we've come stuns me. Who would have thought that weird guy I met at a college party who, at the time, lived in an actual tent, would end up my husband? Not me, that's for sure. Yet here we are, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. 

In honor of our anniversary, and in keeping with the loose theme of personal finance, I'm re-sharing an article I wrote a few years ago about what where we splurged and where we saved in regard to our wedding. We got married pre-budget, pre-YNAB, pre-any idea of how money actually worked, but we were still fairly frugal people who loved a good deal. Some things never change. 

When Nathan and I decided to get married on our ten year anniversary, we didn’t know we’d both be back in school, with the bank account to prove it. At first, our $10,000 budget seemed like more than enough – until we started actually planning. As it turns out, weddings are really expensive! For a moment we considered postponing the event for a few more years (we'd already waited ten, after all), but quickly realized that was ridiculous. Instead, we saved where we could, splurged as needed, and ended up with a perfect day. Here are some of the choices that got us there. 

Save: Location.

For a couple that met in New York, lived in Texas, and had recently moved to North Carolina, choosing where to wed was not a cut and dry issue. We originally wanted to get married in New York – that's where our relationship began, and many of our friends and family still live there. Unfortunately, every venue we looked at was prohibitively expensive. I'm talking $4,000 for an empty barn with no heat or indoor plumbing. We switched our search to North Carolina and almost immediately found a historic train depot for only $600 - tables and chairs included. While we saved a ton of money, it meant that we were essentially hosting a destination wedding. However, considering how scattered our friends and family were, a large contingent would be traveling no matter what. We might as well make them come to us. 

Splurge: My dress.

Our wedding was five years ago, but every time I'm in a department store or thrift shop, I find a perfect, beautiful, and dirt-cheap wedding dress that would look amazing on me. Part of me regrets that I didn't go that route, and instead bought a dress from David’s Bridal. It was on sale, yes, but it still clocked in at $600. The main reason I chose it (besides being very beautiful) was because I only had one opportunity to go dress hunting with my mom and two younger sisters. Sharing the experience with them was really special, and worth every penny.

Save: Friend-ors.

Thanks to our super talented and generous friends, we avoided most of the usual vendors and relied on their kindness instead. One of my bridesmaids, who is a professional baker, made over 100 vegan cupcakes for the wedding. Another friend, who is actual pastor, officiated the ceremony. Two of our friends known for their epic dance parties took on DJ duties. My old college roommate served as day-of coordinator and bouquet-maker, crafting lovely arrangements from flowers we bought in bulk at Sam's Club. And we all had a great time drinking mimosas while decorating the space and assembling centerpieces. The only actual vendors we hired were caterers, because I was not about to ask my BFFs to cook dinner for 60 people. (Even I have my limits.) By the time I walked down the aisle, our handmade wedding was filled with so many personal touches and so much love, that even if I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Splurge: Party bus.

Our wedding venue was located 30 miles down a long, dark highway, in an area unfamiliar to 90% of our guests. We wanted everyone to have a good time (IE, drink as much as they wanted) and we needed them to be safe. Asking everyone to find a taxi seemed complicated, and Uber and Lyft hadn't come to coastal North Carolina yet. So we dropped $700 (more than the cost of the actual venue!) and rented a bus to take guests back and forth from the hotel to the wedding. At the end of the night, my brand new husband and I also boarded the bus back to Wilmington, because as it turns out, we needed a ride and we are not fancy. While the party bus was one of the most expensive items in our wedding budget, the peace of mind it provided was priceless.

In the end, it didn’t matter how much we spent or which corners we cut. The things I remember the most – all our loved ones in one place, our first kiss as husband and wife, the awesome dance party – ended up costing the least. Funny how that works.