Hitched: You Don’t Have To Spend All The Money On Your Wedding, I Promise

Had Patrick and I enjoyed the luxury of a gigantor wedding budget, there are some things that we did not get to have at our wedding but which we would have liked to have had. For me: a photo booth, more chairs, a custom dress. For Patrick: a second photographer, a videographer, a soft serve ice cream machine, a llama.

Yes, like a real, live, breathing and huffing llama. But only at the reception — obviously it’d be a distraction to bring in a domesticated South American camelid for the ceremony.

“It speaks to things for people to do, many more things to make it fun for people,” Patrick explained, intent on convincing Hitched readers that he’s not secretly a third-grader. “Like a photo booth.”

But a llama rental probably would have doubled our $5,000 budget. So no llamas for us. And as it turns out, we managed to power through it and get married without one.

We also powered through with one set of chairs — for the ceremony and the dinner, with our wedding party and the venue staff helping carry them from the patio to the indoor area — and while a custom wedding dress would have been lovely, the longer I look at my sweet little ’50s-prom wedding dress hanging in my closet, the more I’m glad I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on it. (Though I have indeed worn it since the wedding, at an end-of-the-world party we hosted last year. The thing about a dress that’s white that’s also a wedding dress, but a dress that isn’t a wedding dress, is that it doesn’t necessarily scream “wedding dress” forever. Pro tip.)

It was a struggle to throw a cheap wedding. But in hindsight, there really isn’t much either Patrick or I would change about ours, at least not in ways that meaningfully or significantly alter the nature of the events that took place in our lives on April 21, 2012. There are a few things I might have done differently from the get-go, including hiring a wedding planner to professionally handle other people’s bullshit — I’d have paid just about any amount of money to avoid having to change our wedding venue 20 days before the event, though the new spot was better and cheaper in the end, anyway. But on April 22nd, 2012? I was a married lady, and that’s what mattered.

I loved our cheap wedding, despite the hassle it was to organize and throw. But I have also loved the big-budget weddings I’ve been too. Hell, I just love weddings. I think they are a blast, , every last one of them, whether they’re at the top of a glass-walled skyscraper in San Francisco or a high-end Vegas casino or a brewery in San Antonio or a garden in Fort Worth or a mid-century theatre in Dallas.

But, like the folks over at Offbeat Bride, I have noticed a trend: the higher-budget weddings I’ve attended have also been the ones that adhere more to the traditional trappings of the modern American wedding. Why does it seem to be that people who can afford to pay for big-ticket, big-budget Capital-W-Wedding things … do?

Ariel at OBB notes that most “offbeat” brides are working with a budget of $10,000 or less — that’s still double our wedding budget, and 10 times that of many folks’ — but a quarter of that site’s “tribe” is also working with $20,000 or so. But the bigger the budget, the more likely you are to see all-inclusive venues, destinations, open bars, and, perhaps most importantly … parents.

Writes Megan at OBB, about her big-budget wedding: “Yes, our wedding was MORE than we ever imagined when we thought we’d be paying for it ourselves. But that’s also why our wedding was a bit more on the offbeat lite side.” She goes on: “I had to fight tooth and nail for every non-traditional detail.”

Quite simply, when you don’t have a big budget, and thereby the ability to deal with professional wedding vendors that jack up prices because something something special day you’ll always regret not splurging on the something something, you have to make do. In a wedding climate wherein “offbeat” is not only acceptable but even preferable, that’s not the world’s biggest problem.

For me, the stress of having to make do on a smaller budget was far more manageable than the stress of having to say “No,” and then undoubtedly and eventually “Yes,” to what my parents wanted for our wedding, had they been picking up the check. Might we have had a more photogenic wedding? Perhaps. Would we have had a karaoke reception at a dive bar? I don’t expect so.

But for many people, parents are an integral part of the wedding process, maybe even the main reason for the wedding itself — as opposed to a jaunt down to the courthouse, or perpetual living-in-sin. I think parents want to throw a dream wedding for the grown-up kids they love, and I think that’s way less likely to involve llamas and way more likely to involve a horse-drawn carriage.

Both my parents and Patrick’s parents offered up tempting chunks of money for our wedding, but ultimately we declined that money, deciding instead to ask our parents to pay for specific, no-contest items we knew we needed (like those chairs, for example) rather than fancy extras.

But when I call that money “tempting,” I mean it. It really was. Because so much of the available wedding-related media — even on sites like Offbeat Bride, which really just sell a different kind of wedding — puts an emphasis on buying or creating an aesthetic that’s costly either in cash or in that thing we all seem to forget is actually very, very important: time.

With a blank check from Mom and Dad in hand, we would have bought all kinds of beautiful, shiny, fun crap we didn’t really need, instead of finding the work-arounds, non-traditional vendors and alternatives that took more time and effort, but ultimately saved us money. And we would have more explicitly fueled an industry that, I believe, is driven largely by consumerism, on encouraging people to do just what I would have done, because it was easy: spend money, anyone’s money, on something I didn’t need that didn’t advance me toward my goal, which was to be married to the man I loved.

Does that mean my wedding was more important, real or meaningful than a big-budget traditional job, because my dress cost $150 or Patrick got his pants from Macy’s? No. Because the folks I know who’ve had the giant blow-out weddings? Are kind of giant blow-out people, with giant blow-out families, and their huge, twinkling weddings fit right in with that.

But my instincts told me that the foofy-dress church wedding my parents might have preferred wasn’t right for us. And that’s really the measure: if it feels right to incorporate your parents, and their money, into the planning process? Go for it. If it doesn’t? You can pay for your own wedding, you can do it on your scale and on your budget, and you can love it.

I know I did. Even if I’ve now penciled in “llama!” to my mental five-year-anniversary party plan.

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