My $30,000 Wedding Returned Million Dollar Memories
Sometimes spending money to create valuable memories is worth the price.
Before I get into my own story of wedding costs and fairy tale endings, let me start with another cliché.
When I was a little girl, I never dreamed that my wedding day would include a trailing white wedding dress, smiling bridesmaids, a bouquet of flowers, a huge cake or sentimental first dances. Like many tomboys who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, I wanted to be the rebellious one.
I wanted to be the one who bucked tradition and said, “To hell with weddings!”
That was until I met Brendan. By all accounts, we were doing everything the ‘traditional’ way. We met in our mid-twenties, moved in together after a good year of dating, worked diligently at our own professions, and eventually decided that marriage was the best path for us.
To celebrate our engagement, we took a short vacation. On our first night as an engaged couple, we both had a realization that would change the game. We thought to ourselves,
IF WE WERE GOING TO DO THIS THING, WE WERE GOING TO DO IT OUR WAY.
So began our wedding mania. Woah there. Didn’t I start this thing talking about how I was essentially Julia Stiles in the teen angst movie 10 Things I Hate About You? What happened to that girl?
What did happen was reality. It started with me fighting for my small, unconventional wedding. I wanted immediate family only for an outdoor picnic. But my immediate family was a little bit more than just mom, dad, brother, and sister. And in the spirit of family and fairness, it meant inviting the same people on my husband’s much, much larger family side. In our first draft alone, we counted nearly 200 guests. (We eventually pared this down to a more manageable 150.)
I started hunting for a place that could accommodate our crowd on a budget. But the average wedding costs here in Chicago hover around $50,934, according to the Knot.
Even in the suburbs, we were still looking at $25 to $30,000 for a “budget wedding.”
So we did the only thing we could do. We made it work, coming in at the high end of our “budget” nuptials at $30,000.
To be honest, I’m not sure how we came to that number. I think it was just where we both ended up feeling comfortable. Even though we were solid on our finances, jobs, and saving and spending habits until then, we knew it would still take some time to raise that amount in cash. So we gave ourselves 21 months to come up with our wedding costs. Twenty-one months to make this right.
We cut out eating at restaurants every weekend. We stopped traveling as much, and we both used our car less.
FOR A YEAR, I DIDN’T SHOP FOR ANYTHING THAT WASN’T WEDDING-RELATED, AND MY HUSBAND TOOK A FEW ODD JOBS HERE AND THERE
We tried to be as frugal as possible with our vendors, too. We cut things like flowers and expensive centerpieces. Instead of a big boutique, I went to a cheap bridal salon. Similarly, my husband wore a suit from Macy’s. We even stocked our open bar with liquor from a discount store.
On that September evening in 2013, I walked down that aisle I once swore to avoid. I wore a white wedding dress I used to make fun of, and said vows that I thought were an imposition. But as I spoke those “I dos,” watched my friends tear up giving their toasts, and danced to just about every song, I didn’t have one ounce of regret or longing to be that girl at the courthouse.
Now that I write about personal finance – and specifically about getting out from under my own debt – I am always asked about my wedding costs and whether I would do it differently. The answer is a solid, “No.”
In the personal finance world – and even here on CentSai – there’s emphasis on “less stuff, more memories.” My $30,000 budget (all paid in cash, no debt taken out, and nothing borrowed or given from our parents) may seem insane to some for just one day. But it bought a lifetime of memories with the people we love, in a time and place we will cherish forever.