Big Wedding, Small Budget

Wedding Consumerism

Wedding budgets are ridiculous. There is just so much to pay for! Food, venue, rentals, photographer, and more. There is also a lot of stuff to buy: guestbook, kipot, flowers, dress, ring, shoes, jewelry, underthings….wait, what? Why am I buying all this stuff, anyway?

Some of it is necessary. Once I decided to wear a wedding dress, I needed to buy one. We don’t already have wedding rings, so we have to buy those. I guess I could make a guestbook, but that doesn’t sound fun to me at all, nor is it a realistic project for someone this un-crafty. I’ve picked out a necklace I love, and I’ve been looking around for earrings…and that’s where I stopped.

The WIC says you must buy everything new. Everything must be purchased just for your wedding. The indie blog world isn’t that different, although they do talk about family heirlooms a little more, I guess. But why does everything really need to be new?

When you delve a little deeper, the wedding industry is selling not just items, but special-ness. Weddings are marketed as a once-in-a-lifetime event. And that’s fine; I mean, I hope to have only one wedding in my lifetime. But just the fact that’s it’s a wedding makes it special. Just the fact that it’s happening once makes it once-in-a-lifetime. Spending a ton of money on a bridal-looking necklace that I can never wear again doesn’t make my wedding any more special.

I tried to mitigate this at first by making a rule for myself about accessories and beauty products. I would only buy things I would use/wear again. So my necklace doesn’t look bridal, but it is awesome! And I can think of a couple other outfits to pair it with. I’ve been looking for shoes that I can wear all spring and summer (And fall and winter; who are we kidding here? I live in Florida) long. But that wasn’t enough. The consumerism started to get to me; the shopping and buying felt almost compulsive.

I knew it had gone too far when I found myself looking for shoes, unable to find anything affordable that I liked. Suddenly, I happened upon a perfectly good pair of off-white sandals, pretty much exactly what I was looking for. In my own closet. And I’ve been trying to convince myself that it’s ok to wear them, even though they’re not new. Then, I got into an in-depth conversation with a friend about what kind of eyeliner I should buy. Until I realized that I already have an eyeliner I love.

So, my buying will become more thoughtful from now on. If I have something already that works for the weddings (like my earrings from India that I adore), I will be using it. If I need something new, I will buy it, but not because it makes my wedding more special. That comes from the day itself, from the vows, from the celebration with friends and family. What does it say about my life if I look for that special feeling from a pair of shoes, anyway?

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Letting Go of the Budget

Obviously, the budget is a huge part of this wedding. I mean, it’s part of the name of this blog, right? We’ve had to make many of our wedding choices based on budget, both for financial and more philosophical reasons. And anyone who knows me in real life knows what a tightwad I am. I’m the one who agonizes over a five dollar eye shadow purchase at Walgreens. I’m the one who comparison shops for everything online before buying. I’m the one who gets such a rush from saving money that I have a separate spreadsheet in Excel for wedding savings, with a chart that actually fills up as I save money.

So it may surprise you to learn, then, that I haven’t been tracking my wedding expenses and expenditures. I haven’t been adding up the totals, and I haven’t been counting the nickels and dimes (and more!) that have gone into the wedding so far. In fact, I’ve pretty much let go of thinking about the budget. And that might just be my best wedding-related decision so far.

When we first got engaged, I pored over sample wedding budgets online. I plugged in and adjusted numbers into The Knot’s budget calculator. I looked through wedding blogs looking for the budgets of real weddings, trying to figure out how much this thing was going to cost us. I made pie charts, graphs, and fancy budget spreadsheets with all of our potential totals.

This was really helpful at first. By doing all that math at the start, I was able to budget for the venue, catering, dress, and photographer, the biggest expenses. I knew I had to fit those into the budget I had set. And I did, pretty much (after a serious reality check). But when it comes to the smaller things, like invitations, a Ketubah, kipot, shoes, accessories, and more, I have just been trying to spend as little as possible to get what I want. I’ve been trying not to sacrifice too much quality, but I’ve been sticking to financially responsible decisions and remembering that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.

All of those little purchases add up. So it’s been important for me to keep thinking of this as a budget wedding (which it definitely is) and to try to keep expenses down. But constantly adding up the numbers doesn’t accomplish anything except stressing me out. I realized early on that if I kept looking at the money spent total on the spreadsheet, it was going to be an anxious 15 months of wedding planning.

So, I made a command decision to trust myself with wedding spending. My everyday life doesn’t include a budget. I’m such a low spender that I almost always have money left over at the end of the month. I’ve trusted myself to keep spending in check every day of my adult life so far, so why shouldn’t I trust myself when it comes to wedding spending? (Hint: consumerist pressure on brides is ridiculous. Look for another post about that.) When I do, both myself and my savings account are a lot happier.

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Ethics vs Finances

I’ve talked before on the blog about spending money in a meaningful way. For us, that means supporting independent artists and vendors as much as we can. My engagement ring came from Etsy; probably my jewelry and some other things for the wedding will as well. Our caterer is a local restaurant owner; our invitations will come from an independent designer.

But the title of this blog is Big Wedding, Small Budget for a reason. We are also trying to throw this wedding in the most economical way possible. And sometimes, our finances and our ethics have trouble playing well together. Sometimes, they are in direct conflict.

For example: our invitations. We are planning to buy a digital file of a printable invitation, and then have it printed. We could use a local, independent print shop, or we could save a ton of money by going with an online printer.

Another example: our tableware. We could rent actual dishes, silverware, and glasses, cutting down on the amount of trash. But we could also spend less money on nice disposable that we wouldn’t have to clean and return afterward.

One last example: my dress, which I did not buy on Etsy or from a local boutique. Instead, I bought it from a big chain bridal store. They had the most dresses in my size and my price range, so I went for it.

Each of these choices has caused me to re-examine my ethics, to prioritize. It’s impossible to do everything just the way we want. But that’s true for everyone’s wedding, I think, whether they are concerned with budget, or ethics, or neither. It’s just part of planning a wedding.

So I’ve decided to approach these decisions the same way I approach eating meat. I’m not a total vegetarian; I do eat meat, but sparingly, for several reasons. Cutting back on the amount of meat I eat is better than not cutting back at all. It’s better (and more realistic) than saying, “Eff it. If I’m not going to give up meat, I may as well eat it all the time.” I don’t have to have an all or nothing approach to planning the wedding. It’s ok for me to use local or independent vendors when I can, and to save money or choose convenience where I need to.

After all, that’s a reflection of my life in general, right? I do what I can, when I can, and I don’t beat myself up about the rest. If I want a wedding that is a reflection of how we live, then this is it.

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The other night, I got a call from the University of Texas (where I got my Masters) asking me to donate money for scholarships for social work students. While I was figuring out how to say no in a nice way, as I usually do, I surprised myself and said yes instead. After I hung up I realized that since getting engaged, I have been much more willing to donate when asked (and even when not asked).

This seemed counterintuitive at first. I mean, I’ve been pinching pennies since January in order to help pay for the wedding. I’ve cut out a huge portion of my more frivolous spending. I’ve bought new clothes exactly once. I haven’t bought a full-price book in six months (a minor miracle, for those who know me). I’ve been way more of a tightwad than normal, and that’s really saying something. So why am I, all of the sudden, so much more willing to give away money?

I think it stems from an awareness of just how much money we are spending on this wedding. Obviously, as you can see from the title of this blog, we’re trying to keep costs low. But we’re not normally big spenders, so even our modest budget feels big. I’ve been able to rationalize it, at least partially, by spending our wedding budget in a responsible, constructive way. But that awareness remains, in the back of my head, especially when I’m asked to give money to a good cause. My first instinct is always to remind myself that I’m saving everything I can for the wedding. But then, another voice pipes up. That voice reminds me that if I can afford to spend so much on a wedding, then surely I can afford to give a little bit away.

It’s not guilt, exactly. It’s more like a realization of how privileged I am to be able to spend money on a wedding, invite whomever I want, agonize over it, and give up buying clothes in order to pay for it. First world problems, much?

The thing is, I’m not any more privileged than usual. I didn’t take on an extra job for more money, I’m just redistributing money I pretty much always have. The money I’ll be spending on the wedding would just be spent on something else if I wasn’t getting married. And if I can afford to spend that amount of money on clothes, books, and eating out, then surely I can afford to give some of it away.

Being a social worker means that I have always been hyper-aware of my status in the world, of my privilege, and of the extras I am lucky enough to have. I’ve always felt fortunate, but that hasn’t always translated into being as generous as I should be. It has taken this wedding to flip that particular switch, but it is a lesson I plan to carry with me for all of the years to come.

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Making Wedding Spending Meaningful

I’ve talked about money and budget a lot on the blog recently. Or maybe not…maybe I just think about a lot. Anyway, that is reflective of where we are in wedding planning right now. We’re almost ready to book the venue and caterer (stay tuned!), and to look for a photographer. I crunch the wedding budget numbers All. The. Time (more later on how I’m beating that back!).

Recently, there was a post on the Offbeat Bride Tribe regarding feeling conflicted about wedding spending. I stopped reading the thread when I realized that most of the writers have much smaller budgets than we do. Now, I know that this blog is all about throwing a wedding on a budget. And we are. But a large guest list is a large guest list; there’s just no way around that.

Even with our aimed-for budget being considerably lower than the national average (and our guest list higher), we are spending what feels like a lot of money. More money than I’ve ever spent all at once on just one thing. So I totally understand why the tribe members had conflicted feelings. I do to.

What could I do with the money we are spending on this wedding? I could pay off my car with less. I could take my dream trip to Africa for less. Oh wait—I could do both of those things with our wedding budget. I could be extremely charitable and help people who have actual needs, like food and shelter, rather than my want of throwing a big party.

But. Weddings are important. It’s really important to me to have the people I love in one place, celebrating. So, spend the money we shall. But not blindly.

Meg pointed out this truth over on APW: your wedding is probably the only chance you will ever have to put so much money into the local economy, and to dictate how it is spent. The money we spend on our wedding will not be just thrown away on “one day.” It will provide us with a really great day, an important day, a day to remember. But more than that, we are choosing to spend our money (for the most part) on local businesses that we believe in.

So, my engagement ring? Found on That expensive venue I’ve talked about? It’s a farm built by the current owner’s grandfather. Our caterer? The owner of a small, local Italian restaurant where we had our first date (True story: the next night, my parents ate there and got the total scoop from the servers!). Our invitations? Hopefully designed by an independent artist.

When I remind myself of the way that our spending reflects our values, I feel better. When I remind myself that we are using the wedding to support independent, smaller businesses, I feel great. The truth is, in this economy, even our small wedding budget can mean something.

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Spending Diet

As soon as I put all of our guest lists together, I realized that some major saving would have to be done if we were going to pull of this wedding. Now, those of you who know me already know that I am really a tightwad thrifty. I don’t spend a ton of money on extra things, at least not compared to some people. But, of course, I spend more than I absolutely need to.

As far as I could see, there are two main areas where I could cut down my spending. The first: eating out. I love eating out. There is no way I could cut it out altogether. But, we definitely eat out more than we need to, and often, we don’t even really enjoy the food; instead, I’m just too tired or I worked too late to cook dinner. Now, on our wedding spending plan, I’ve cut eating out to no more than twice a week. This may seem like a lot to some of you, but it’s a big sacrifice for me. Especially when I’m aiming to keep at least 90% of our meals to 15 dollars a person. That means no appetizers and no drinks at dinner. And no grabbing a quick lunch while I’m working, because why would I want to waste an eating out opportunity on a smoothie?

The next area to be drastically downsized was buying stuff. And by stuff, I mean books, makeup, clothes, and other frivolous things. But especially books. I have plenty of books in my house and on my Kindle that I haven’t read, not to mention the friends I have that read and could lend me books. On the other hand, sometimes the Kindle Deal of the Day is too good to pass up. So, I’ve decided—no books over $2.99.

Giving up the other stuff is pretty easy. Do I really need another nail polish? Do I need to go to Old Navy just because or should I wait until I really am missing some important article of clothing? Should I buy another eye shadow when I really just wear the same one every day? No, no, and no.

It’s been almost a month now of my spending diet and the effect it’s having is interesting. I feel a little disconnected from normal, capitalistic life, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m not always looking for the next thing to buy. My money is not burning a hole in my pocket. I have fewer errands to run, since I don’t need to go check out what is new at LOFT or Old Navy. And the lack of eating out (and drinking) has been positive, too. I know it’s healthier. I’ve been forced to find some new recipes. And eating out at all, but especially at a restaurant with actual servers, feels more special, more exciting.

Also, I feel like I’m living up to my ideals a little more. I’m being more thoughtful with my resources. I’m not participating in this super-capitalistic, materialist society we have as much, which makes me less hypocritical when I complain about it.

Oh, and lest I sound too noble, I should reveal that I am actually a money hoarder. There is not much that makes me happier than watching the balance of my savings account go up, even without a specific reason to be saving. This spending diet will certainly up the endorphin quotient at the end of the month. So, there’s that.

I’ve been trying to find the balance between increased thriftiness and total self-deprivation, because the latter never works for me. If I try it, I know a future binge is inevitable. Right now, I feel a little uncomfortable, but not angry or resentful, so I think that’s a good sign. I’m stretching myself, and hopefully creating a new pattern that will continue long after the wedding day has come and gone.