What’s a Broke Bride to Do?

Yesterday, our own Never teh Bride advised reader Gwen not to accept discounts from wedding vendors in exchange for putting out advertising for said vendors. I’m in absolute agreement with my collegue on that point.

That said, Gwen is still on a painfully tight budget and could probably use some help figuring out how to stretch it wisely. I thought it might be helpful if we all pitch in and offer up our best budget-stretching tips. Here are mine:

Just because it’s expected doesn’t make it necessary. Sure, everyone expects unity candles, bouquets, a decorated cake, and a formal white gown with a train. That doesn’t mean you have to have it. None of these things are required for legal or for spiritual reasons. In fact, more than 90% of wedding traditions are not legally or spiritually required. That means that if any of them fail to appeal to you or will break your budget, you’re perfectly free to simply ignore them or adapt them to something that fits better into your personal vision and budget.

Set your priorities, be ruthless with things you don’t care about. Most of us have a couple of things we care about deeply in planning our weddings. Perhaps it’s having a certain kind of flower, or live music, or the site where you want to hold it. Whatever your priority, it’s fine. Choose it, stand by it, and remember that if it’s something expensive, that means you’ll need to cut from other aspects. For instance, it was my priority to marry out of doors. Mr. Twistie was adamant that nobody was going home hungry (also a definite priority for me). We both wanted live music. We got all three on a half-shoestring budget. On the other hand, neither of us cares that much about flowers. I bought whatever was cheap, pretty, and long-stemmed at the open-to-the-public florist’s supply and itied my own bouquets and boutonnierres with the help of my bridesmaids. We spent a sum total of $35.00 on flowers and supplies related to flowers. If anyone thought we were low on florals, they didn’t mention it…and they probably appreciated the live music and the food more, anyway.

If you have to choose between priorities, choose the comfort of your guests. Deciding between a designer gown and a more expansive buffet? Trust me, guests will not be impressed with your gown if they go home hungry.

Just because it’s for your wedding doesn’t mean you have to get the thing labelled ‘bride.’ Toasting flutes, cake servers, unity candles, formalwear, guest books…if it says ‘bride’ or ‘wedding’ on it, chances are it costs a minimum of half again as much as something that doesn’t say anything about weddings on it. Use pretty glasses you already have, find a cake knife you’d like for the rest of your life, go to Macy’s for bridesmaid’s dresses, save some money.

Borrowed? Second hand? Garage sale find? Go for it! If you know someone who was married recently, don’t hesitate to ask if there’s something you can use left over from that wedding. If you find something perfect in a consignment or thrift store or in a garage sale, it’s fine to use it. Don’t dismiss the dollar store, either. Be thoughtful and choose carefully, but be open to the concept. It can save you a bundle.

Get in touch with your inner DIY diva. Okay, so I know not everyone is going to go to the extreme I did. I made my wedding lace, helped cook the food, tied the bouquets, wrote the ceremony…yeah, my fingerprints were all over that wedding. Chances are you aren’t quite as much of a DIYer as I am. Still, there are dozens of projects that can be done on a budget at home if you choose to. I’ve known couples who: grew their own flowers, designed and printed their own invitations, catered their own weddings from start to finish (cakes included), sewed their own clothes, made altar cloths and chuppot, created their own centerpieces, put together sound systems to play during the reception and recorded their own mixes of music…pretty much everything other than doing their own photography and performing the ceremony. If you’ve got an idea of something you’d like for your wedding, consider whether it’s something you can do yourself rather than hiring someone.

Not a DIY diva? Ask a crafty friend! Not everyone is able to do much DIY. There’s no shame in that. But chances are that even if you aren’t good at it, you know someone who is. Offer compensation of some sort, but if you know someone who’s really good with his/her hands, they may well offer their talents as a gift.

Remember that the most important things about a wedding don’t cost a cent. If the bride and groom smile a lot, make an effort to interact with their guests, and speak their vows from the heart, it’s usually a good wedding no matter whether it’s held in a magnificent cathedral or a VFW hall. All the designer clothes and caviar in the world can’t buy that joyful attitude and no lack of the same window dressing can dampen it. Long after your guests forget what food was served, what flowers were carried, or what music was played, they’ll remember whether you spoke graciously to them and if you smiled or not during the ceremony. Joy is infectious. Be a carrier.

So what about you, readers? What budget advice would you give Gwen, and all the other Gwens out there?

17 Responses to “What’s a Broke Bride to Do?”

  1. Mary December 13, 2008 at 9:39 am #

    Talk to your fiance about how you think of the wedding in terms of your values. Do you think that the exchange of vows is essentially a private act between the two of you? Have the ceremony on a weekday with just you two, the required witnesses, and the officiant, followed by a nice lunch and a blow-out first anniversary party. Do you think that the important element of the wedding is that the community of your family and friends witnesses your vows and offers their support? Then don’t listen to people who tell you to save money by keeping it small. Think a morning wedding followed by brunch. You think a wedding is primarily a party? Does it have to be a formal party, or would you be happy with a barbecue?

    If you decide on a lower level of formality, it’s easier to save money. If you have a wedding in a park, you’ll look charming in a white eyelet sundress. You’d look odd in a full gown with a train.

    Don’t fall into thinking a wedding has to follow a certain template. It may be a civil contract, a religious sacrament, a party, or whatever your beliefs tell you it is, but it doesn’t have to be a religious ceremony followed by an evening dinner and dance unless you want it to be.

  2. rach December 13, 2008 at 11:57 am #

    i second all the advice above… and i also suggest another fantastic site i found, where folks sell their barely used/sometimes not even opened extra wedding supplies such as table linens, candles, vases, etc. there are also some lovely gowns and other accessories on there :)

    http://www.bravobride.com

  3. Melissa B. December 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm #

    If you have to choose between priorities, choose the comfort of your guests.

    Twistie, I second, third, and fourth this sentiment. An acquaintance of mine was telling me about her brother-in-law’s wedding. They had a fairly small budget, around $5,000 — but half of it went to the bride’s couture gown. Among the things the couple scrimped on to afford said gown? Chair rental. Yep, that’s right, there weren’t enough chairs for everyone. I’m all for deciding on your own priorities and not letting anyone bully you into giving up something you really care about, but who decides that a designer gown is more important than giving the guests a place to sit?

  4. Fabrisse December 13, 2008 at 12:45 pm #

    I’d like to add that handwritten invitations are the most correct according to Miss Manners and other etiquette sources and much cheaper than printed or engraved. If you’re having 500 guests, it’s probably not an option. But if the wedding is small, it’s a huge money saver.

    A wedding breakfast or afternoon tea is much less expensive than a full lunch or dinner, too.

  5. Fabrisse December 13, 2008 at 12:47 pm #

    Oh, and one mixed-religion wedding I went to, the Scottish groom’s family made the chuppah by hand and used the family tartan as the covering. It was a lovely and witty blending of traditions.

  6. Twistie December 13, 2008 at 12:54 pm #

    Mary: You’re so right. Off times and less formal places usually cost less, so they’re good options if you’re looking to save money.

    rach: Thanks for the tip! Good resources are half the battle to staying in budget.

    Melissa B.: They cut CHAIRS so the bride could spend half the budget on her DRESS???? Ye gods and little purple fishes! My gob is well and truly smacked by that one.

    Fabrisse: Absolutely correct, my friend. In fact, if my handwriting hadn’t looked so much as though a chicken were attempting to scratch out a message in a bizarre combination of Greek and Klingon, I might well have handwritten invitations myself.

  7. Nariya December 13, 2008 at 2:27 pm #

    Enlist the help of willing friends. Not that your MoH should do everything, but I have yet to mind being asked by my bride friends to help write wedding invitations or put together wedding favors, especially while we watched a movie together or something. I got my wedding bouquet tied at a grocery store florist; I’d highly recommend it and it cost me $10.

    As far as clothing and accessories go, I have found that aside from the gown (and maybe not even that), you can find everything to wear for your wedding at a non-bridal store. My friend found us pretty bridesmaid dresses from a prom gown shop for about a quarter of what we’d have paid elsewhere. Necklaces, earrings, shoes? Try normal stores, or use what you have! Jewelry and shoes that go with a wedding dress are not difficult to find.

    Check out after-Christmas sales for these things as well as “holiday themed” decorations in white or gold. Also, don’t underestimate the power of craft stores to help you with easy and inexpensive decorating ideas.

    I am personally a huge fan of a minimalist look to get the highest level of elegance. Choose what you want to use carefully, and don’t overstock your wedding with stuff. It will look great!

    Finally, your guests are going to have a good time because you are important to them. As long as they have chairs and maybe food, depending on how you structure the ceremony, they’ll be happy! Expensive flowers and costly jewelry won’t really add to the atmosphere as much as one may think anyway, in my humble experience. Good luck!

  8. kate December 13, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    I agree with the advice above. I’ll add just two things: eBay, and find out what you’re already paying for.

    eBay is a potentially inexpensive source for all manner of things. We used it for print-your-own invitations as well as my tiara.

    And before we worried about centerpieces, we asked the hall what was included in our deal with them. It turns out that they were willing to include simple centerpieces with marbles & a hurricane glass, if we provided for the candles. Done! (Candles didn’t come from eBay but we certainly bought them online, as we bought many many things.)

  9. seresy December 13, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    I keep saying this to people, but remember it’s a day- it’s going to go by very quickly and you won’t remember much of anything clearly when it’s all over. The one thing I planned to spend a decent amount on was the photographer, but even there you can enlist friends, or ask at the local university.

    For my wedding, I went to the local florist and asked for table bouquets for a party, not for a wedding. That cut several hundred off of the price immediately. I also ordered freeze-dried peony petals from the web, which were gorgeous, looked and smelled fresh, and were about 1/4 the price of fresh. I didn’t carry a bouquet, which was a personal choice, but if you want one, there’s no law stating you have to order a whole wedding’s worth of flowers when you order a bouquet.

    We had a cocktail reception (with beer and wine- cash bar for liquor) with great, out of the ordinary finger food (I can NOT spell hors d’euvres), at the local museum’s cafe (which was gorgeous and MUCH less expensive than anywhere else we could find) and we had more time with the guests than a sit-down dinner reception. We also made compilations of jazz and Rat Pack songs for atmosphere, with room for dancing if anyone wanted to. There are so many ways to do things a little less expectedly, for a good price, without looking cheap, and while making it a memorable event. People still compliment us on our wedding and on such a good time everyone had (and also say they enjoyed themselves much more than at bigger, more traditional receptions). Think about what reflects you, not what tradition demands for the reception.

  10. Loren @ I Do Monday Morning December 13, 2008 at 5:47 pm #

    Hi. These are all wonderful tips, I’ll add a few. Look to getting married in an off-season time and possibly even on a weekday. You don’t realize how badly some places want weekday business. It not only brings them business, but it gives the appearance that they are so popular, people are getting married on weekdays! Also, you’ll have a much better chance of negotiating with other vendors who normally wouldn’t be working. I would go to dress shops & ask them when they have their sales if you’re set on a new dress. My friend saved a lot of money by buying used vases from another bride for cheap & giving them to the florist to use for her wedding. Having a friend pick up the flowers can save you on the delivery fee. Get the venue/caterer to lock in menu prices including service charges at time of contracting. Good luck, I’m sure it’ll be great. Remember, the most important thing is that you’re getting married.

  11. khazar December 14, 2008 at 5:54 am #

    If you don’t want to keep the dress, try this:

    Rent one.

    Costume shops usually have vintage gowns that they will rent. You may be able to rent the bridesmaids’ gowns, too. It doesn’t have to be costumey, either; I have some stunners that are as gorgeous & timeless as ever.

  12. mcmiller December 14, 2008 at 1:36 pm #

    Seconding what everyone else said, buy things for your wedding outside the official “wedding” channels whenever possible. A prom dress can, unfortunately, be just as elaborate and bridal as a wedding gown. Debutante and quinceanera dresses are (usually) white ball gowns for hundreds, not thousands of dollars and are available throughout the year, especially in southern markets.

    Look for party venues instead of wedding venues. Especially look for free venues like clubhouses that a relative belongs to, the meeting rooms at a family member’s church, or, if you are connected to the military, an on post location. Before you look for somewhere inexpensive, make sure you haven’t overlooked somewhere free.

    Look for decorations that can serve another purpose (like holiday themed ones) or can travel – we decorated the chapel with clusters of balloons in our colors tied to sand weights and had a helpful guest move them to the reception site in her van. Look for wholesale flower markets as opposed to a florist’s shop – they’ve got all the talent without the markup if you are willing to pick up your flowers instead of having them delivered. Also, the flowers are fresher than you would get from a florist (wholesalers turn around and sell to stores who then turn around and sell to you). If you don’t have a wholesaler nearby, make use of big box stores (if it isn’t against your moral code) – a dozen red roses from Sam’s Club smell just as sweet.

  13. Toni December 16, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    After-holiday clearance sales! Chances are that some of the holiday decorations out now will fit your theme, and they will likely be 75% off in a couple weeks. Scout beforehand, and then pounce the day after Christmas. Clear Christmas lights add twinkle to a room year-round.

  14. Twistie December 16, 2008 at 1:30 pm #

    And don’t forget post-Valentine’s Day sales!

  15. Tanya December 17, 2008 at 2:10 pm #

    I am also on a limited budget for my wedding. While I found my dress at one store, I purchased it at another for almost $400 cheaper because they sold it to me for a “no service” price. I am looking to purchase my accessories at http://www.etsy.com. There are some really talented people on this website and prices are much cheaper than retail.

    Our ceremony and reception is being held in one location and for our reception they are allowing us to hook our iPod up to their sound system. My FH is looking forward to putting together the playlist and it gives him something to work on for the wedding that he is truly interested in (ie not flowers).

    We are also making our own invitations, response cards, table numbers, and placecards. It won’t be overcomplicated but simple/elegant and something we can do at home. We picked our’s up from Target but I am sure there are a ton of other places available.

    Overall, just be patient, shop around and you will find the best deals on items. Good luck!!

  16. again December 18, 2008 at 2:26 pm #

    I went trying on wedding dresses with my roommate in the local thrift stores, just for entertainment (we got married the same summer). My tastes tend toward the very traditional, and everyone I knew had worn a strapless A-line satin winter white gown already. At Value World, I found a 100% silk taffeta, never-worn ivory gown with a VERY full skirt, a train, and long sleeves. I couldn’t really try it on, because they don’t have dressing rooms. My crazy roommate said I should buy it; it was $17. This was a lot for my grad student budget. (The checker asked what I was buying it for, and I told her, “I’m getting married.”) At home, I tried it on and it fit perfectly. I took off the sleeves because I was getting married in August (I used the fabric to make a ring bearer pillow), and ended up with a quite covered-up sleeveless dress with an interesting neckline. I removed all the iridescent sequins with nail scissors, and discovered lovely chantilly lace and pearls. It turns out the dress was elegant. I had planned to buy a new one – it changed my mind. A week later, I went back to the same thrift store and bought a crinoline slip for $9. (Got the same checker; she asked what I wanted the slip for, too.) I made my veil from ivory tulle ($1.98/yd. at Wal-Mart), ivory edging lace (I think $3.98/yd. for an 18″ width), and a clear plastic comb (total cost $11, and it was full-length and the lace trim floated along nicely on the plain taffeta train of the dress). Even if you can’t sew, you can make a wedding veil.

    I did a lot of other things too – got my “trousseau” at Wal-Mart (they sell some pretty things in white), bridesmaid dresses at Chadwick’s for $79, and shoes (mine and the bridesmaids’) for $10 at Payless, flowers from Sam’s Club (roses in bulk, and I handmade all the bouquets and boutonnieres), made the invitations and programs myself with a color printer (they all turned out well), asked a friend to take the pictures, ordered three 12″ cakes and put them on matching mixed-height cake stands (my mother and MIL happened to have a set of three between them that MATCHED. They had never met before my DH and I started dating), had some VERY talented and extremely gracious friends do the music for the ceremony, and skipped things I didn’t want (like videography and a limousine). Tuxes at Men’s Wearhouse. Flower girl dress (to match the bridesmaids, not the bride) from a seller on eBay who makes lovely new ones for $12.95 (at that time, anyway). Semi-precious stone necklaces and Cross pens as wedding party gifts, also new from eBay. We did a buffet for the reception but the restaurant (a beautiful historic inn, believe it or not) was amazing and did a great job with the food. Cash bar but with wine carafes on the tables (one red, one sparkling for the toast), open bar for soda and juice, and a few hundred for open for mixed drinks (when it was gone, it was gone). Weddingringhotline.com for the rings (they did a perfect job on the inscription and shipped really promptly). Made the centerpieces (I repotted miniature rose plants – I love miniature roses).

    I did a lot of clever (and some lucky) things and swung it all on $5500 – all of my savings, but I’m not as proud of anything as that dress.

    Things I would do differently – invite about two dozen more people (even if they couldn’t make it, I would have liked to ask them). Skip flowers for a church that was already magnificent; the arrangements I made never got put out, which didn’t really matter, because they were just not on a large enough scale (and they were pretty big). Try harder to drink in the day of (I micromanage).

    And I’ve heard a few ideas since then that I really like – including individual cakes as table centerpieces. What a fabulous idea!

  17. penelope December 24, 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    Great ideas! I’ve been reading http://www.thebrokeassbride.com. She’s hysterical and constantly has tips.