Welcome to the Budget Bride series, in which I share wisdom from my "recessionista" wedding in 2007 on how to treat a small budget as a creative opportunity rather than an obstacle to the beginning of a shared lifetime of gorgeous memories. Over ten Thursdays, I am sharing updated tips on how to use the friction of financial restriction to spark the kind of light, warmth, joy, and graciousness in a wedding that money can't buy anyway. My husband and I have enjoyed almost 15 years of happy marriage (not without ups and downs but with the tools to handle challenges while remaining best buds with benefits), and we'll always have our wonderful memories of our wedding day to look back on--not just in shiny, retouched photographs but in the visceral reliving of the actual experience.
Whether you've struck it rich in the stock market or you're just grateful to have survived the past year, there is timeless wisdom in starting a marriage by setting an intentional rhythm, mood, and feeling of expectation with a well-designed wedding celebration. I am not referring specifically to aesthetic design; visual aesthetics are only one part of the whole multi-sensory and emotional presentation of a properly hosted event. A joyful experience can be had at any price point, and sometimes it actually helps not to be distracted by too many supposed shortcuts or unnecessary add-ons that can be purchased.
Today's post, "Budget Bride I," highlights the engaged couple as members of a community. If you are planning a wedding with guests you want to invite to witness your union, then despite what you may have observed from American pop convention, the day should not be all about you or even about you and your fiance but about the whole web of relationships in which the two of you are embedded. Each one of us owes our culture, elements of our personality, genes, and understanding of love largely to the people we come from and the people we've chosen to share our lives with. A wedding invites a community of family and friends to bless the union between two people, and it also gives the couple a chance to let their loved ones shine through contributions of personal talent and flavor.
To avoid coming off as a bridezilla, don't begin with an assumption that everyone you know with useful skills is obligated to contribute them for free or to be micromanaged in how they contribute their skills, if they choose to do so. As you begin planning your wedding, before you send out your registry, let your loved ones know that you would appreciate gifts of skill in creating the wedding itself in lieu of purchased gifts. You can also ask people individually if they would like to contribute in that way and how they would like to do it. Allow them a generous measure of creative freedom that feels good to both of you. Make sure you’re on the same page from the beginning in terms of big stuff like your moral values and the accessibility needs of your guests, and then give your volunteers just as much guidance as they want.
If there are non-negotiable aesthetic details that you want done a very specific way, consider taking care of those elements yourself or hiring a paid professional at a fair price. As much as possible, though, let it go and open your mind to a more collaborative vision of your big day so that feelings of gratitude and appreciation can flow between you and your loved ones and so that your big day can become something more than the sum of its eclectic--and extremely personalized--parts.
A collaborative wedding is one that honors the married couple, the friends and family who contribute to it, and all of the relationships among the collaborators. It might not turn out as slick as a professionally produced event, but it will be more personal, memorable, and meaningful. To process all worst-case scenarios and laugh off any anxieties about relinquishing control and navigating conflicts, revisit a 2000s-era classic wedding comedy such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding! Then...
Put Your Friends and Family to Work
If you are planning on getting married in a recession, congratulations! High unemployment can work in your favor. Gather together all of your friends and family with mad skills and nothing to do, and put 'em to work on your fabulous recessionista wedding!
Businesses will try to make you believe that you need to hire a hundred different people to perform a bunch of services for your wedding--not so. You can have an extremely fabulous celebration at any budget with enough creativity and help from your friends and family. Allow your favorite people to give you gifts of their time and talents for free or at a VIP discount. These gifts can include musical performances, cooking, baking, photography, beauty treatments, sewing, jewelry lending, growing and arranging flowers, setup and cleanup, even officiating your ceremony.
My wedding had a budget of $6,000 for about 100 guests. With a little ingenuity, we stretched that budget into the most glorious wedding and reception that we could have dreamed. Years later, our friends are still talking about our wedding and using it as inspiration to plan their own!
The bridesmaids and I had our hair and nails done by a student at an educational salon on the cheap. But you can save a lot more by enlisting your cousin in beauty school to lend their artistic flair to your wedding party's beauty regime. Our makeup was done on-site for $10 a face by a friend of the Maid of Honor who was working the MAC makeup counter at the mall. If you go and talk to the workers at department store beauty counters, you'll find that they often own their own arsenals of makeup products and tools, and they can freelance for very low fees.
Make sure your bridesmaids and groomsmen know they aren't just there to look pretty. A formally dressed bride and groom need people who can get them dressed, bustled, tied, whatever. Also to help you pee if you wear a traditional dress. Ah, so elegant.
All of my jewelry was "something borrowed" or gifted by my mother-in-law.
We rented chairs and tables from A-1 Rental and had the groomsmen and a few other friends and relatives set them up.
Having a friend who is a minister comes in handy at a wedding, especially if you are not a member of a church. I was married by my boss! A coworker played cello during the ceremony, and many of the flowers were provided by my mom's and grandma's gardens. We bought tulips from a florist, but the other flowers, including bleeding hearts and lilacs, were homegrown. They smelled amazing.
The musical entertainment at our reception was performed by a fellow my husband met playing a gig at a local bar: Lord of the Yum-Yum, a.k.a. Chicago musician Paul Velat. Nobody even knew what hit them when the show started with classical music beat-boxing, throat singing, and absurdist performance art. After dinner, he entertained us some more with spontaneous break dancing.
Getting lots of friends and family involved in your wedding is beneficial in so many unexpected ways. It's worth all the chaos. This is YOUR big day, princess, but what could possibly be more important to you than sharing your joy with the people you love?
The wedding photos were taken by a pair of photojournalists, one of whom is a big success these days but worked for cheap when he was just starting out, and another who offered her services to us free, as a gift. They managed to capture all of the authentic, spontaneous moments, and those photos mean more to us than the formal and cutesy staged shots.
Enlisting your own family and friends to contribute to your wedding with their skills, talents, and connections makes for a richer experience and a more personalized, meaningful set of memories than anything you could pay strangers to provide.