One semester during college, my friend Kate and I started the tradition of getting together to study a few times a month. And by “study” I mean we would meet at Barnes & Noble to pour over the pages of every bridal magazine on the shelf until they kicked us out because we only bought one latte.
I had been dreaming of my wedding day since I was a little girl (cliche, I know). It would be a summer wedding with me wearing a princess dress, bridesmaids in yellow chiffon, and every friend and family member on the dance floor in perfect harmony. Conveniently, I wasn’t dreaming about the financial and logistical implications of hosting a wedding for all of our nearest and dearest. The moment my now-husband, Stephen, and I started discussing engagement and marriage, however, all of that changed. Because we are both one of four, and because we wanted total freedom in the planning process we made the decision to pay for our wedding on our own. Today I am sharing a few ways we planned our dream wedding without breaking the bank.
Design a Dream Budget, but Be Aware of Reality.
Before we were engaged I made a list of all the things I wanted for our wedding day, including everything from dress to DJ. Next to each item I wrote the maximum amount of money I’d be willing to spend, and the grand total reached almost $45,000, which was both overwhelming and unrealistic. I wanted a dream wedding, but there was no way it would be possible at that price. Writing it all down was an important exercise for me, because seeing the potential reality of wedding costs on paper helped me to start planning with a firm grasp on reality.
Readjusting my expectations, knowing how quickly things could add up, crossing certain items off the list entirely, and being mindful of budget challenged me to get creative. It also helped me to reevaluate my priorities and focus on what is most important: the Sacrament itself.
Ask Friends and Family to Share Their Time and Talents
Like us, I am sure you have talented friends and family members who would love to be involved in your special day. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’d be willing to share their gifts and talents with you! Our main motivation in doing this was to give the day a more personal touch, but it did save money overall to pay those we knew for their expertise. Stephen and I wanted to include as many loved ones as possible by supporting their time and talents, while also sharing their gifts with our other guests.
Although the major elements like venue and photographer were through traditional vendors, almost everything else came from friends and family. Our flowers were ordered online and put together by my youth group students, the groom’s cake was made by Steve’s aunt, and my best friend’s husband went above and beyond to make our wedding video. Two good friends from college and my baby sister sang for our Mass, and another of my sisters took our engagement photos. A dear friend made four different flavors of cupcakes in lieu of a wedding cake, and my family offered their beautiful car to drive me the church. It was truly special to look back on the day and see so many details lovingly created by people who mean so much to us.
Be Creative and Intentional about Saving Money
When I was living on my own I read the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and quickly adopted his Envelope System as a way to budget my money and pay down student loans. I took this same approach to our wedding, writing savings goals or item totals on the outside of the envelopes, and dividing my paycheck into each one weekly. Figuratively spending my paycheck by budgeting this way allowed me to avoid impulse spending, and helped us meet the different payment deadlines for various vendors.
We are fortunate that Steve doesn’t have any student loan debt, and I was living with my grandmother during the time of our engagement, which allowed a good amount of money from our jobs to be used for wedding costs. Stephen’s parents generously hosted the rehearsal dinner, and my family was able to help with some of the venue costs. Despite these advantages, we still had to find creative ways to pay for everything. Throughout the year we were engaged I worked as a waitress in the summer, as a part-time nanny, and I helped a local wedding planner with her social media account, in addition to my full time job. I sold clothes I didn’t need on Poshmark, or through a local consignment shop. Steve worked two jobs, and picked up a summer parking gig at our parish. It was exhausting, I’ll admit, but it was temporary and I know it is a huge reason why we did not start our marriage with a massive amount of wedding debt.
Let Go of What the Wedding Industry Says You “Have to Have” for the Perfect Day
Now more than ever, there are so many options and elements that could go into a wedding day, and it’s easy to get caught up in the extras. Every time Stephen and I thought we’d remembered everything, another potential expense popped up. Knowing and continually revisiting our budget, and cutting out non-essentials helped keep us from feeling the pressure to add more and more.
I remember spending so much energy thinking about wedding favors, but we couldn’t ever agree on one thing that didn’t feel wasteful or was within the budget. After much debate we decided to forgo favors entirely, and focused instead on spending individual time with our guests and personally thanking them for sharing the day with us. As much as a sweet favor can represent the couple and add beautiful detail, it didn’t feel essential for us. Letting go of the elements that didn’t fit our style freed up the budget for the things that were most important to us.
Focus on God and the Sacrament of Marriage
Throughout our engagement we used different resources to help us keep the focus on the sacrament itself. Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen, Embracing God’s Plan for Marriage: A Scripture Study for Couples by Mark & Melanie Hart, and the Magnificat were all helpful resources we used to guide our spiritual preparation. The night before our wedding, we left our rehearsal dinner and headed to a local church with perpetual adoration. It was in this same church where our engagement story started and we wanted to take a few moments together to pray, knowing the next day would be a whirlwind.
Stephen and I went through many unexpected trials throughout our engagement, but centering ourselves in prayer was so key. It helped us trust that God would walk with us through the difficult days, and gave us peace of mind in all areas of the planning process.
The journey of engagement is a beautiful and joyful time, but merging finances and opinions and lifelong dreams can quickly turn into struggle and stress if you don’t have your priorities straight. Although Stephen and I were not exempt from these difficulties, we made it through together and we truly enjoyed every minute of our wedding day-- even the part where our getaway car died and we had to improvise. Praying throughout our engagement and knowing God was preparing us for a lifetime together instead of just one day helped put everything into perspective and brought us true peace and joy.
I hope that sharing some of the ways we saved for our wedding will be a source of inspiration for you, and I’d love to hear any creative things you have done throughout your own wedding planning!
Photography by Salt Water Studios
Katie Waldow is a youth minister currently living in Ocean City, NJ with her husband, Stephen, and their dog and cat. She loves the beach, a double espresso and anything blush colored. Her favorite way to pray is reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet in song. You can find her documenting more of her life & adventures over at heykatie.co .