Shortly after we got engaged, around the time we realized how much work and money a wedding could be, we decided we wanted it to be neither. I was warned that a modest event could easily cost $20,000. Not even knowing the going rate for all things weddingish, that was unacceptable to me.
I have financial guilt the way my Catholic friends have sex guilt. I do spend money; they do have sex. But it's rare we're entirely comfortable during the act, and we almost always question ourselves after. I can imagine so many other things to spend money on — good things, things that will last longer, things more deserving, things more logical.
All this led to greater questions about why we were having a wedding in the first place. We could have gone to the courthouse on our lunch hours and sealed the deal with a dozen other couples for about $50. I didn't have any big daydreams about what I wanted my wedding to look like, and my then-fiance certainly didn't.
Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination…
There was just this lingering feeling about it. We wanted to make a promise in front of our best friends, and the family members that helped make us who we are. We wanted everyone to understand how big a commitment this was for us, to see that we believed we were up to the challenge, and that they should hold us to it when we're down. We wanted to have an awesome party, one where people got to look good, feel good, eat great food, catch up with each other and experience joy the way we knew it.
The wedding machine allows for some of that, at least, but it comes with a lot of baggage. There were traditions I didn't understand, or didn't even know until someone was surprised we hadn't followed them. There were expectations I hadn't realized people held, and dreams they wanted to live or relive through my fiance and me. So many questions. A millions questions, for months and months.
I didn't have answers, but I didn't want to do anything without a decent reason why.
And every decision to do something, to not do something, to book now or put it off, to do it here, or there, or that other place you just found, every one of them required time and money.
This wasn't just about money, though. Not at all.
I quickly realized a few things:
- We had to set priorities, even more than we needed to set a budget.
- We set a guideline, more so than a budget: spend as close to $10,000 as possible and choose wisely.
- And that keeping costs down required work.
Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination if we were going to have something more than our immediate families over for a potluck after our courthouse wedding. We could have paid someone to do all of this, but it would have been expensive. We also could have done more on our own, and kept costs down that way.
I'm shocked to realize that [the price] was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt.
In the end, I was exhausted by the planning process, and all the other non-wedding craziness in the months leading up to it. For a hot minute, we considered ditching all of it and eloping. There were things that weren't exactly what I wanted — yep, the folding chairs were homely, the reception decorations didn't cover everything I thought they would and several guests canceled at the last minute — but, day-of, it didn't matter. Our wedding delivered everything that we'd set as a priority, and those are the things I remember so vividly.
The final cost to us was about $11,000. I'm shocked to realize that it was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt. I know not everybody agreed with all our decisions, but I'll be honest: The wedding was one of the most fun days I've ever had. Better still, I really feel like it started my husband and me off in a positive, forward-moving way. Friends and family are still telling us how much they enjoyed it. Even some who initially expressed disappointment at some of our choices said they had fun, and could really sense our personalities and values.
We got what we paid for: exactly the kind of wedding we would've wanted if we'd ever bothered to daydream about it.