Is It Possible to Have a Low-Key, Inexpensive Wedding?

November 17, 2017

No, I’m serious. That’s a legit question.

Is it possible to have a laid back, no-stress, relaxed and fun, inexpensive wedding?

I think so, but I’m not entirely sure.

For one, everyone’s definitions of words like “low-key” or “inexpensive” vary. But secondly, you face real, serious, intense pressure to conform to the expectations of others and the wedding industry itself when you get married.

And two, we haven’t pulled it off yet. Low-key inexpensive is the goal. We’ve budgeted for an inexpensive wedding. We’re thinking “more beach party than black tie affair.”

But we’re just now starting to line up and pay for what we planned.

If you’re curious about the ins and outs of how we set our wedding budget of $15,000 and the values that guided our planning process, Eric already wrote all about it on Beyond Your Hammock.

Check it out to get some background and context on what we have in mind — but for the TL;DR, here’s what to know:

  • We saved $1,250 for 12 months in 2017 so we could have $15,000 to spend on our June 2018 wedding.
  • We prioritized other savings and investment goals first, because while, yes, we’re engaging in the act of saving, the intention is to spend that money. Long-term savings and investments still come first.
  • We know this is a big, important day and we want to celebrate it with our families. But it’s still just one day. We won’t do anything to jeopardize our long-term financial plan because we don’t think that’s a smart way to start our lives together (legally, anyway. We very much started our lives together years ago now).

$15,000 is still a lot of money. I feel like a jackass when I quote that figure when describing our “inexpensive wedding.”

But let’s just say that we live in a world where $15,000 is a small amount to pay for an event like a wedding. Really, I don’t think we have to pretend — that is our world.

I’m glad we’ve created this plan and budget and aim to keep the focus of our celebration where it matters most: on spending time and enjoying an experience with the people closest to us.

It’s not about status or showing off. It’s about the time spent together.  

But recently, I was reminded of how easy it is to say I don’t care about a big fancy wedding when I’m planning and budgeting — and how hard it is to stick to that when it comes to making final decisions on big parts of the celebration.

And that got me wondering if our goal of generating a savings fund just for the wedding, so we wouldn’t have to touch any other source of funds (like other savings or cash gifts from family), was even realistic. Was it possible to create this day on $15,000 or less?

It’s Hard to Keep Calm and Stick to the Budget in the Moment

It happened when I went wedding dress shopping. Of course, right?

I went to Anthropologie’s BHLDN boutique in Chestnut Hill after a friend recommended it to me. When I told her I wanted inexpensive and nontraditional, she immediately said I needed to check it out.

When I browsed online, I knew she was right. There were plenty of dresses under $1,000 (which, yes, is still insane for a dress) and there were several that looked exactly like my style.

When I walked in the store, I was instantly in love. I just wanted to walk circles around that room with all the beautiful dresses, gowns, skirts, and even jumpsuits.

Although I already sent in the names of a handful of dresses I saw online that I liked when I booked the appointment, the consultant, Sam — who was a wonderful help — encouraged me to take a peek at some of the dresses on the racks.

She knew my budget, and said, “If you start reaching for one that’s too expensive, I’m going to tell you.” And she stuck to her word. It just happened that I reached out for a gorgeous dress while she was setting up a few others in the dressing room — that was $1,550.

I set my budget at $1,000 and was focusing on the dresses with price tags at $500 or $600. This was way, way outside what I wanted to spend — but in the moment, I thought, I’ll just try it on to see if I like the style.

I know, I know. Classic mistake! But that’s the thing: in the moment, it is so, so hard to stay 100% reasonable, rational, and practical.

I ended up with two dresses I loved, one at $800 that likely needed very few alterations and the other dress at $1,550 that likely faced hundreds of dollars’ worth of alternations.

In the store, I felt torn but drawn toward the more expensive dress. At the very least, I had the sense to walk away and I planned to sleep on it to make my final decision the next morning.

But it didn’t even take that long to break the spell. Not even an hour after I walked out of my appointment, I realized that although the more expensive dress was stunning, it wasn’t me. Never mind that it cost double what the other dress did!

The $800 dress was near-perfect and even better than the dress I imagined. I felt comfortable and confident and wholly myself in it. It just felt right.

As a bonus, while it is a wedding dress, it doesn’t scream “bridal.” While we don’t go to formal galas every weekend, there’s a realistic possibility that I could wear that dress again to another event in the future.

That really appealed to me — how cool would it be to pull that dress out on a few special occasions and enjoy it for more than just a few hours on one day?

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men…

I ended up with the dress within the budget I set and I’m thrilled with it. But this illustrates my point about wondering if it’s really possible to have a low-key, inexpensive wedding.

Of course, I know it’s possible, as in within the realm of reality. But it is really, really freakin’ hard because the pressure coming at you to do things a certain way or to spend a certain amount is intense.

For that hour of time in BHLDN, I was seriously considering buying a dress that would have cost me nearly double my maximum budget (after taxes and alterations).

It’s what I wanted; this was my wedding; technically I had the money so why shouldn’t I spend it? Do I really want to be cheap when it comes to this big day? Am I going to regret being practical in this situation?

These are all thoughts that went through my head — and I spend a great deal of my time talking about how I do not want a traditional wedding, how I think it’s insane how much people spend and how easily others get carried away.

And here I was, getting carried away.

Mind you, this happened without any kind of pressure from the people I was with or even the employee of the store.

Sam, my consultant, was the one who encouraged me to walk away and sleep on it. She didn’t suggest I go with one dress over another. She only gave me her business card and told me to call whenever I was ready to decide.

I can only imagine how difficult it would have been to stick to what I wanted had my family, friends, or the people helping me tried to push me in a particular direction. I felt totally open to making my own decision, and that was instrumental in allowing me to come to the right decision.

It’s one thing to say you’re going to keep your wedding small and only spend a small amount, a fraction of the average or what your friends are spending.

It’s another to stick to that at every turn. As a friend of ours put it, wedding planning gets complicated and you’ll face problems and challenges as you put the day together. But there’s no problem that can’t be solved if you just throw more money at it.

6 Tips for Sticking to an Inexpensive Wedding

The wedding industry knows this. It’s an emotional time and most people get stressed and confused about how to make it all work.

“Throw more money at it” becomes the easy solution when you’re busy, tired, uncertain, or pressured.

But you have to stick to your guns. This is, after all, about commitment. If you can’t commit to your budget to start your life together, what are the rest of your years going to look like?

I remind myself of this, too. And each time I make the practical, reasonable, within-budget, my commitment to the goal of having a particular type of celebration that focuses on what’s important to us — which includes our commitment to save for and spend on a wedding in a way that aligns with our existing financial plan — I feel more confident that we can make an inexpensive wedding a reality despite all the pressure that’s out there.

Here are the 6 tips I’m outlining for myself to follow through the rest of this process as we finalize contracts, hire vendors, and make final decisions between now and June 2018:

  1. Think big picture. Are the flowers and decor (or lack thereof) something I’ll remember in 20 years? No.

    But getting down on the dance floor is something I’ll remember. Clinking glasses to many toasts is something I’ll treasure. Who cares about centerpieces when my memories will be full of moments with people, not artfully-arranged vased and candles?

    When it comes to making decisions about what to include or not include — because when you’re operating on a budget, you will have to make sacrifices or do without, keep the focus on the big picture. What will matter in 5 years? What will you remember in 15?
  2. Track every dollar and cent spent. Just like your normal monthly budget, mindfulness matters. If I keep my wedding budget updated with every last detail, I’m more aware of what we spent, on what, and how much is left.

    I think that’s a powerful tool in making better spending decisions.
  3. Reflect on values. Our values are what helped create our plan and budget for our wedding in the first place.

    It’s easy to get distracted by things that don’t matter as we go through the process of putting the big day together, which is why it’s important to reflect — frequently — on what you actually care about.

    And remember, what you care about is not what other people probably care about. That’s okay. But you don’t need to let a vendor, a bridal shop employee, your friends, or anyone else tell you that you should care about something that’s not on your list of core values.
  4. Walk away and sleep on it before deciding. Had I chosen in the moment, I would have wound up with a pricey dress I actually liked less than the cheaper gown. If you feel torn, conflicted, or maybe even a little reckless — walk away. Decide later.
  5. Talk it out. I called Eric almost immediately after I left my bridal appointment at BHLDN. I explained what I was thinking and why I liked both dresses — and shared that one was nearly double the cost of the other.

    Eric didn’t tell me what to do or offer much in the way of his opinions at all. But he did listen, which is what I needed at the time. I needed to talk through it and say out loud, “…but the embellished dress costs $1,550.” When I said that, it really sunk in in a way that it didn’t when I just looked at the price tag.
  6. …with more than one person. I also talked to my mom and dad; my future mother-in-law, Demetra; and my friend Bailey.

    They offered a little more in the way of opinions because they could actually see photos of me in the dress (no peeking for Eric, obviously). But they, too, also listened more than they said anything.

    Each of these conversations helped me get past the initial emotion to think more clearly and rationally. It was actually in talking to Bailey that I realized I didn’t feel like me in the more expensive dress, which really sealed the deal.

I still believe it’s possible to have an inexpensive wedding. But it requires resolution and determination to set your budget first. And it helps to base your plans and your budget on your values, not on what the wedding industry suggests for you.

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