If you’re planning a wedding, then you’ve likely felt that soul-crushing moment of fear when you wonder how in the world you’re going to pay for everything. My husband and I opted for a frugal wedding because, in truth, neither of us had been the type who daydreamed about our wedding day.
Don’t get me wrong. I always assumed I would get married at some point. Finding a partner for life was important to me. But I’ll be the first to admit that visions of a big white dress, monogrammed cocktail napkins, and my very own “princess day” just never set my heart aflutter.
When my now-husband proposed, I was of course ecstatic. I did the standard phone calls to friends and family. I posted the ring to all of my social media.
But after the initial excitement faded, the reality of what it means to really put on a wedding hit me. “Oh, crap,” we both thought. “Can we just skip that whole wedding planning thing?”
Our Adventure in Frugal Wedding Planning
I didn't do the typical paging through magazines, filling up binders, or scouring Pinterest for inspiration for rustic centerpieces. Instead, when I was struck with the realization that I would now have to plan this extravagant affair for 300 of my closest friends and family, I was stressed and overwhelmed.
My aversion to wedding planning was strong, even if it was frugal wedding planning. The aversion was so strong, in fact, that I almost didn’t plan it at all. I wondered, Was there a way to enjoy the big day and have no wedding debt at all?
Six months into our engagement, we still had no plans for how or when we’d tie the knot. Friends and family became frustrated. It had taken us years to get engaged, so why were we being so slow when it came to setting a date? (I’m talking to you, mother-in-law.)
What most people don’t know is that we were spending that time debating how we wanted to get married. We must have weighed every option under the sun.
We considered a ceremony on the lakeshore for just the two of us, a traditionally big shindig in a banquet hall, a destination wedding, and an intimate celebration at the courthouse. While other factors were definitely important, our greatest consideration was always cold, hard cash.
Why We Didn’t Want an Expensive Wedding
The average American wedding costs $38,700 for the engagement ring ($5,000), ceremony and reception ($29,200), and honeymoon ($4,500) combined, according to Wedding Wire. But my husband and I were already saddled with student debt, car loans, and a mortgage payment. We just couldn’t stomach the idea of blowing that kind of cash on one day.
A little over $1,400 of our monthly income is dedicated to just our vehicle and education debts — let’s not even talk about the mortgage payment. So I think our desire to keep the purse strings tightened was justified. I’ve been to some pretty amazing weddings — but absolutely none that warrant that hefty price tag. Send me home with a puppy as a wedding favor, and maybe I’ll change my tune.
Saving Tips for the Big Day
If you have any viable skills to facilitate a side hustle, consider a second job or maybe starting your own thing entirely. Andy Young, a financial adviser at LifeWealth Group, says that he and his wife started their own business that they managed during their free time after work in order to supplement their income to save for the big day.
“In our case, it was lawn care,” Andy says. “From cleaning up 12 yards per week we were able to make $12,000 that year. This not only afforded us the ability to pay for the wedding and reception but also our honeymoon!”
Now, $12,000 in supplemental income is ambitious for a couple already working full-time, and it may not be a viable option for everyone.
You might consider using a savings app to help you manage and remind you to put money away. For example, Digit tracks your spending habits over time and makes small withdrawals, which it stores into an FDIC-protected savings account for you.
If budgeting is proving difficult and you want to maximize your savings quickly, there are even more drastic measures that you can take. Evan Wagner, vice president and head of communications and brand experience at Axos Bank, suggests you try the No-Spend Challenge.
“For one month, you must commit to only spending money on food, transportation, and bills,” Wagner says.
“Expenses that fall outside of these categories are off-limits until the challenge is complete (i.e., streaming service subscriptions, salon appointments, pet grooming, etc.).”
Ultra-strict savings models such as these are not something you can do indefinitely. But by the end of that month, you should have a good chunk of change saved, especially if you were vigilant about always choosing low-cost options in every area you absolutely had to spend in.
Our Frugal Wedding Decision
In the end, we settled on the most frugal wedding possible: the courthouse option.
We would keep it incredibly small by inviting just our parents and siblings. We also decided that we’d follow up the brief ceremony with a cookout in our own backyard.
All in all, we felt relieved to finally have a firm plan and date in place. We felt happy and comfortable with the route we had chosen for our nuptials. But when I started to share the news, I was surprised by most of the reactions.
Other People’s Reactions to Our Frugal Wedding Plans
I had expected plenty of, “Wow, you’re so smart to save your money and stress!” and “Good for you for not giving in to pressure and just doing what you want!” But instead, people seemed sincerely disappointed in me.
Why would I give up my chance at that one special day? Why did the frugal wedding have to be that frugal? And, why wouldn’t I want to include them? I didn’t think that their friendship and support was worth an open bar? I couldn’t offer them a rubbery piece of chicken and a drunken version of the Cupid Shuffle?
Apparently, by today’s standards, spending heaps of money on a wedding is more socially acceptable than attempting to be frugal with your planning.
“You’re going to regret this,” they all said. So far, I’m still waiting for that painful moment of remorse. And honestly, I don’t think it will ever arrive.
Of course, I adore all of my loved ones, and their roles in my life are worthy of a lot more than an overcooked banquet meal. While there’s definitely a small part of me that wishes we could’ve had them all together under one roof to celebrate our union, $20,000 spent on one day of our lives still seemed impossible to justify.
In the End, It’s Not About Them
In the end, I realized that our wedding day wasn’t about what they wanted (or even what they wanted for us). It was about what my partner and I wanted.
Even with our frugal, bare-bones planning, our wedding ended up costing a little more than $3,000. It’s still more than I would’ve liked to spend on one day. After all, whether you marry in a cathedral or a courthouse, the result is the same. But it was still way more cost effective than hosting a large celebration (especially as I would’ve insisted on the puppy wedding favors).
All in all, my husband and I are satisfied with our decisions. We loved our simple, wonderful, frugal wedding.
We used the money we saved to pay off my husband’s car loan. Next, we’ll work on my monthly vehicle payment. From there, we’ll start chipping away at our student loans.
No, it’s not as glamorous as a photo booth or personalized Champagne glasses. But enjoying new experiences without feeling overwhelmed by piles of debt? To me, there’s simply nothing more romantic.
Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.