My fiancé Ryan proposed to me the day after he graduated with his bachelor’s degree. We have been together for seven years, and both of us are eager to start our life together. But we also knew that with him working part time and job hunting, we would have to keep ourselves on a tight budget. Throughout the wedding planning process, we’ve learned six lessons that have helped keep our cash, and our goals, in check.
1. Know what you want
From the beginning, Ryan and I knew that our biggest challenge would be our large families. Both of us have very close relationships with our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Having all of those close family members at our wedding is important to us, and we chose to make that our number one priority, which has meant compromising on other things. The decision to have a Sunday wedding instead of the Saturday night one we originally envisioned wasn’t so tough when it meant including more of the people we love!
One of the best ways to figure out what is important to you is to be an attentive wedding guest. Ryan and I were lucky enough to attend 15 amazing (and diverse) weddings while we were dating, so it has been easier to know exactly what we want.
2. Respect (but don’t obsess about) the expectations of others
Everyone has ideas about what a wedding should be. Open bar versus cocktail hour, a formal rehearsal dinner as opposed to something more casual, etc. Cutting some things we aren’t too concerned about has helped us save some money. Even if there are some things missing that other people might find odd, we haven’t spent too much time trying to please every person. (It helped me a lot to remember the Offbeat Bride saying, “It’s all tacky!”)
Everyone should have the wedding they want, but don’t compromise your goals based on the opinions of others. We’re completely respectful when people offer advice, but we try not to feel like we have to change every little thing to match everyone’s expectations.
3. When friends offer help, take it
We have been enormously lucky. We have many talented and generous friends and family who have volunteered their graphic design talents, professional photography experience, floral expertise, and hair/makeup skills for a reduced cost or for free. Sometimes you can be so scared of putting people out that you might pass friends and family up on their offers. Of course you don’t want to run around begging everybody to help you, but if the people you love are honestly coming to you and offering their skills, take them up on it.
For instance, my green thumb mother offered to plant more fall-colored flowers in her garden this year which will bloom just in time for our September wedding. Those can then be incorporated into the bouquets and floral arrangements my aunt is designing. In the end, these little touches that come from our family and friends mean more to us because they remind us of our loved ones. The people around you love you and want to be involved in your wedding — let them! If you are thankful and appreciative, they will be happy. In the case of planning a wedding on a budget, sometimes it takes a village.
4. Be honest
When people ask, we are very honest about our wedding budget. We had an open line of communication with our parents in the beginning, and asked them to be very clear with us about what they could contribute and what they felt comfortable with. Neither of us had an expectation about how much our parents should contribute, which made us all the more thankful when they did provide some financial assistance.
When friends ask about the wedding, we are honest with them as well. One of the first nights after my engagement, I told my single girlfriends that because of our budget and our large families, we had made the decision to cut plus-ones for our single guests. My friends are not only supportive of our decision, they are excited to have the opportunity to spend a night with their friends without any pressure to have a date, or feeling like they need to entertain a guest who might not know anyone.
One of the great things that has come out of being honest is that people have offered tips, tricks, and recommended vendors they know. A lot of that advice has ended up helping us stay on track with our budget.
5. Don’t beat yourself up
At the beginning of planning our wedding we made some very strict financial goals for ourselves. We were excited when we found a venue that hit our budget exactly, but we also haven’t beat ourselves up for going a little over on our total budget. I had originally planned on just finding a very inexpensive dress, but when I fell in love with one that was a little bit more, I didn’t force myself out of it. Try not to go overboard, but don’t obsess if you go a little over on a few things. We still have a few months before the wedding day, and if a couple of unexpected costs pop up, we’ll try and keep them in check, but if not everything works out exactly how we want it, we won’t spend time beating ourselves up about it.
6. Find your wedding mantra
For our whole engagement, we have had our own little wedding mantra: “Everyone we love, in one place, with food.” Anytime we get caught up in little details, we bring ourselves back to what our big day is really going to be about — “everyone we love, in one place, with food.” Everything else is just icing on the proverbial wedding cake (or, in our case, the wedding cupcake).
What are your tips for staying happy with a small budget?