When Mr. Steward and I got engaged six (!!!) years ago, we knew that neither of us had enough money to do an expensive wedding, nor did we want to start our marriage on a bad financial footing. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, we were able to have a phenomenal wedding that still fills me with joy when I think about it. And we did it for less than $5000.
Since you’re reading this, I figure you want my advice on how to make a wedding day awesome. Two things are key: Figure out exactly what you need to feel like you had a successful wedding. For us, that looked like getting married in a meaningful service surrounded by all of our friends and family, treating those same friends and family to a nice time, and not having to dance. (We don’t dance in our everyday lives, why would we want to feel self-conscious on our wedding day?!) I also wanted to look pretty (duh).
Once you know what is key, let everything else go. My great-aunt desperately wanted us to have a wedding cake and napkins with our names printed on them. Go for it, Aunt. My mom had strong opinions on the best flowers for weddings. Pick out the flowers, Mom. I had a unifying theme (orange and silver, with a laid-back country wedding vibe), and I retained final veto power. But I decided that if it wasn’t integral to us feeling like we were successfully wed, I wasn’t willing to waste time fighting or stressing over it. That decision left me free to enjoy the day and the planning leading up to it.
Ladies And Gentlemen, The Numbers
Wedding Getup – $1255
My dress was the first thing I bought for my wedding (technically before I had the ring). It was the most expensive single item. I have no regrets, and still stare at my dress sometimes. Retrospectively, the alterations and undergarments would have been cheaper from somewhere other than the dress shop.
- Dress, alterations, and undergarments: $800
- Veil: $200
- Shoes: $10 (Indian khussa, a la Ever After, ordered online)
- Bracelet: $15 at a department store
- Make-Up: $30
Mr. Steward’s suit was a gift from his parents, for around $200.
Location – Free!
We had the option of getting married in ultra-expensive Chicago (Mr. Steward’s hometown) or my hometown (a tiny podunk spot in rural Kentucky). My hometown was the obvious choice, since most of my family would not be able to travel because of age and expense, whereas most of Mr. Steward’s would have to travel to us either way. We held the ceremony in my childhood church, a small place loaded with beautiful stained glass. Since we didn’t need a dancing space, we could use the church’s fellowship hall for the reception. It made it easy on our guests, who did not need to move to a new site, and saved us the rental fees on a banquet hall. Our location was probably the single biggest cost-saving decision.
Marriage License – $40
Officiant Fee – Free!
Mr. Steward’s dad is a minister.
Flowers – $330
We went with faux flowers, which are cheaper. We got just a few big arrangements, to get the most bang for our buck with visual impact (two wreaths for outside, and two big arrangements for inside). We used single rosettes as accents for the tables downstairs, and used food as a centerpiece instead. We got the vases for the rosettes from the Dollar Tree for about $30 and had the florist fill them. We lined the pews with bows only. I had a bouquet, my maid of honor had a corsage, and Mr. Steward plus the two fathers received boutonnieres.
Bridal Party Gifts – $150
We had a fairly nontraditional wedding party, comprised of five dudes and one dudette as my maid of honor. Everyone wore black dress pants with white shirts. (We purposefully chose clothing we assumed everyone already owned, to save them the expense of fancy gear.) All of the guys received a tie in our color scheme to wear during the wedding, which they could keep. These cost us about $10 each. I also bought additional gifts, running between $10 and $20 each, unique to each member of my bridal party. My flower girl received a pearl jewelry set.
Invitations, Programs, and Shipping – $33
Conveniently, my maid-of-honor’s mother owned a printing company. She gave me the invitation design and the printing as a gift. We used a postcard-style invitation to save on postage. We also took out an announcement in the local paper, inviting my entire hometown. The announcement cost about $10.
Ceremony – $15
We had a unity candle ceremony, in which our mothers lit the candle. I also bought maybe 5 new songs from iTunes for the music.
Food and Favors – $1200
Rather than have to pay for a caterer, my Memaw astoundingly volunteered to pay for and make all of the food. This turned out to be a bucket list item for her. She said she had always wondered if she could single-handedly serve over one hundred people (120+, in this case). Her thoughts afterwards? “I’m glad I did it, and I’m never doing it again.”
We served a brunch, because brunch food is clearly superior to all other food, and it allowed us to serve a more limited menu. It also curbed any expectation of alcohol, dancing, or a fancy dinner. We ended up with three or four types of muffins, several kinds of quiche, fresh fruit, and every type of breakfast drink under the sun. My Memaw gave ten or so church ladies $50 gift certificates for helping with the cooking.
As wedding favors, my Memaw bought glass bottles of Orange Crush. Crush is Mr. Steward’s favorite drink, and it fit our orange color scheme. These ran about $60. I hand-wrote and tied on little labels to personalize the bottles.
My great-aunt also bought the aforementioned cake, which was made by my grade school bus driver. (Small town life for you, folks.) She paid, at most, $100 for the pretty cake and a supplemental sheet cake. I think we may have gotten a deal, since she knew me since I was child.
Table Settings – $130
We borrowed the church’s white tablecloths for the tables. My mom ordered silver table runners and 120 orange polyester napkins for the tables (which was the same price as renting them). I ordered biodegradable disposable wooden tableware for about $30. The muffins on white china platters served as a centerpiece, and we used clear plastic plates (included in the food total, since my Memaw bought them).
Rings – $170
Mr. Steward’s ring cost $120 or so. The jeweler happened to have an extra band in my size left over from an order that was never picked up. I paid $50 for it.
Photographer – Free!
One of my cousins enjoys taking family photographs as a hobby, and had a really nice camera. She volunteered to take photos of our day for free. Sometimes I wonder if we should have sprung for a professional photographer, but the only kinds of shots we don’t have are the cheesy, obvious sorts of staged wedding photography.
Rehearsal Dinner – $350
Covered by the groom’s family, as tradition dictates, the rehearsal dinner was at a local Mexican restaurant, after an arrangement with a different restaurant fell through. It was for the best. The Mexican restaurant was having a half-off margarita night, during which everyone ate and drank their fill and had a great time. The wait staff put on an unexpected show, flipping meal plates and chatting up our guests. The dinner for the bridal party and family from out-of-town came to $250, with $100 tip. It ended up being less than $10 per person, even with drinks.
Honeymoon – $500
Our honeymoon was a timeshare stay, also donated by my grandparents. The amount listed covered lots of food, a massage for me, a few attractions, and a couple of souvenirs. With gas and everything, I doubt we spent over $500. Now, how our honeymoon went from being in Nashville, Tennessee to Branson, Missouri is a tale for another time… but being in a very non-exciting place proved to be great, because it meant we spent a lot of time with one another basking in post-wedding bliss.
All of that totals up to $4173. Thanks to the family and friends, we paid less than $2000 out-of-pocket. We made money by getting married if we count up all of the exceedingly kind and generous gifts we received.
Let’s return to my original wedding goals:
Our ceremony was loaded with meaning, with each individual part made special by the people participating.
We were completely surrounded by friends and family. I can’t explain how beautiful it is to cram 120 people from all different parts of your life together in one room. I loved that I didn’t have to worry about a guest list–if you wanted to be there, we wanted you to be there, too! We actually had people take us up on the offer, with friends of friends in attendance.
And despite not dancing a single step, people still mention to me that our wedding was one of the most enjoyable, happy occasions they have ever attended. I’d call that a success.