As an older Millennial, I was a fan of Friends long before the current generation discovered the series on Netflix. While I’ve also enjoyed the show and still giggle uncontrollably when watching it, there’s one episode that makes me downright uncomfortable.
In it, Monica learns that her parents have spent the funds they had been holding onto for her future wedding. This depressing reality is seemingly remedied as her fiance Chandler mentions he has some savings socked away that they could tap. Cut to Monica laying claim over the entire nest egg and Chandler getting scolded for suggesting they not spend his life savings on “a party.”
To me, Chandler is 100% right. Thankfully, my wife agrees wholeheartedly. In fact, on our first “date” (we didn’t know it was a date at the time), we even discussed how we both wanted to elope as opposed to having a big wedding. Less than a year later, that’s nearly exactly what we did, tying the knot at a Las Vegas hotel chapel with only our parents, a few siblings, and a couple of friends in physical attendance. The bill? Less than $2,000 including travel, rings, and reception.
Our frugal wedding not only holds up as a representation of who we are as a couple but also allowed us to start our new lives together on the right foot. Plus, doing the whole thing in Vegas proved to offer a painless planning process. Of course, even if our little Sin City nuptials aren’t for you, some of the lessons we learned from our experience may just help you in keeping your big day on budget.
How We Achieved Our Budget-Friendly Wedding
Setting the Ground Rules
One of the reasons our small wedding was successful was because we made it clear from the beginning that only a few guests would be invited to attend in person. That way there was no pressure to expand our guest list and no hurt feelings among those who didn’t make the cut. Although I obviously don’t have any personal experience with other weddings, from what I can tell, this isn’t always the case.
Finding an Affordable Venue
A major factor in our decision to get married in Las Vegas is the fact that the city is practically built for easy weddings. While you might assume that every venue in Clark County is staffed by Elvis impersonators and looks like the rundown dives you’ve seen in TV shows, that’s far from the case. In actuality, a number of the hotels have their own chapels, often tucked in the back away from all the commotion of the casino.
Our ceremony was held at the Excalibur Wedding Chapel. Okay, so the castle-themed resort isn’t the classiest on the Strip nor is the walk you take through the food court to get to the chapel the most romantic, but the venue itself more than met our needs. The wedding package we chose was $200 and included a bouquet, boutonniere, a set of professional photos, and more.
Looking beyond Vegas, there’s no shame in choosing what some would consider a less conventional venue. Backyard ceremonies can be just as beautiful as those in massive churches or stylish galleries. As long as you find something that makes sense for you and your partner, go with that.
Streaming the Ceremony
You may be wondering why I’ve mentioned terms like “physically present” and “in person” a couple of times. That’s because we technically invited more than 100 people to our wedding — or at least invited them to watch the ceremony live on their computer or mobile device. After we learned that the Excalibur Chapel offered a live-streaming option, we ponied up the extra fee to have our vows streamed live and keep them hosted on the site for two months after the fact.
When sending out our “save the dates,” we included a custom TinyURL that would make it easy for our virtual guests to find the stream. Again, this made it so that we could include everyone in our big day and allow them to celebrate with us. Because of that, the $100 or so we paid to add the stream was some of the best money we spent.
Since our 2013 wedding, streaming technology has exploded. These days, there are plenty of options for sharing your ceremony with anyone and everyone. Using this to your advantage will not only save you money but, as we learned, will also give your guests a unique experience and lead to plenty of great “where I was when” stories.
A Simple Reception
I know this is going to make me sound like an awful person but I really don’t enjoy wedding receptions. Admittedly, part of this is due to me trying to tally up all of the expenses, but on top of that they just seem to be such a production. That’s why I was relieved that, instead of having a regular reception, we merely opted to join our guests for dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Despite 13 people being small for a wedding, it is still relatively large for a dining party. Thus, we did need to make reservations ahead of time and were even directed to the resort’s event director. After learning what the occasion was, she did try to sell us on some of the wedding cake’s they offered. We declined that option but did take them up on the idea of having customized sugar cookies bearing our names and wedding date. This was actually a great move as it allowed each of our guests to have their own (and we had an extra one we froze and ate on our first anniversary). By the way, I should admit that my dad and my wife’s parents agreed to split the bill for dinner, bringing down our overall total — but we did cover the cookies.
There are a lot of traditions that go with wedding receptions. For you and your partner, retaining some of these may be important. However, chances are that some can fall by the wayside when you’re trying to stick to a budget. To me, as long as you’re able to spend time with your loved ones and celebrate your milestone, your reception will be a success.
The Benefits of Our Small Big Day
I’ve always wondered what those who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars on hand do when they want to host a big wedding. Unfortunately, chances are they’re putting the expenses on credit cards or taking out a loan. That was never an option for us, so any wedding plans we had needed to fit in budget. Considering that my now-wife had just moved to Los Angeles and had yet to find a job at the time, also meant that this budget wasn’t terribly large — but, hey, we did it!
The fact that we made it out of our wedding without incurring a dollar of debt from it is truly a blessing. I can’t imagine the stress that would have come from trying to pay down a loan while also attempting to find full-time employment, all the while paying steep rent. In hindsight, a lot of the financial successes we’ve had since our union can be traced back to this big decision not to start our lives together in debt.
As I mentioned, the venue package we choose covered a lot of the logistics that would otherwise be left up to the couple to decide. To some, that might spell a lack of customization but, to me, it meant several fewer things to worry about. Photographer? Handled. Flowers? Check. Officiant? Included. Honestly, all we had to do was show up. Even the wedding licensing process in Clark County was simple, allowing us to apply online, pay in person, and walk out in less than five minutes total.
A perfect wedding can mean many things to many people. For us, being able to dictate the details we cared about while shucking those we didn’t was as perfect as can be.
A Better Honeymoon
Even though we only had a few people join us in Las Vegas for our wedding, several of those who viewed from home were nice enough to send along gifts to “get us started.” Since we didn’t need to put this money toward paying down any debt, we decided to funnel a portion of it toward our honeymoon. You may be wondering how that works out since we’d need to have booked our travel before getting these checks, but we actually opted for a delayed honeymoon, setting off for a 12-day Tokyo adventure six months into our marriage.
One might wonder why we felt it was acceptable to spend more freely on a honeymoon than on a wedding. That answer is simple: enjoying an awesome trip and exploring a new city together was more important to us than fancy cakes and flowing gowns. Beyond that, thanks to our time delay, our honeymoon trip was paid in cash whereas a larger wedding would have required financing. Therefore, I certainly have no regrets about our plan to prioritize our first big trip as a married couple and doing it in a way that allowed us to enjoy every moment of it guilt and worry-free.
If you’re planning a wedding and worrying about the money, I have to say that there’s no one-size-fits solution. However, that’s actually a good thing! Just like in everyday budgeting, the key to pulling off a frugal wedding is to pick your priorities. Ultimately, while your friends, family, and society may have their opinions about what a “proper” wedding should and shouldn’t include, what’s most important is staying true to what you and your partner want out of your big day.