My Big Fat $2,000 Wedding

Weddings. What does that bring to mind?

Weddings have been on my mind a lot lately because my brother is getting married in the fall – up in Maine. This means I have to drive my family of five from CT up to Maine (about 6 or 7 hours), and they want everyone to stay in a campground for a few days. If it were just my husband and I, that would be fine, but with the three boys I’m honestly not sure how that’s going to go. Supposedly they’re going to be having activities and things to do up there. We’ll see how that goes.

But of course having his wedding come up is making me think back to my own, which happened over 15 years ago now. I was never the kind of girl that dreamed about a wedding.  To be honest I would have been happy going to a courthouse, spending $50 on a marriage certificate, and being done with it.

My now husband, however, was not like me. Growing up he had always been to big, fancy, expensive weddings with hundreds of people in attendance. So when we got engaged, this was obviously a huge topic of discussion. He wanted the big fancy bash and I couldn’t care less. Yeah, I know, usually the gender roles here would be reversed with the woman wanting the fancy wedding and the man not caring. We’ve never really been a “usual” couple, which is probably why today I’m the breadwinner and he’s a stay at home dad. I wanted to spend what savings we had on a fun, non-traditional honeymoon – not on the wedding. Side note – we went to Japan for our honeymoon, and it was much more fun than a bigger or fancier wedding would have been

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji were where we spent our honeymoon

To me, the most important part was having the opportunity to get together with friends and family to celebrate the start of our new life together. I have a special reason for being particularly passionate about this – read to the end to see why.

So how did we come to an agreement, and what did we do for our wedding? And how did I do it for under $2,000? Read on.

My Wedding Story

Back then we couldn’t have afforded a big fancy wedding anyway, which is part of what drove my side of the discussion. We had some savings, but certainly not enough to afford the “average” wedding of the time, and not enough to go on a cool honeymoon in addition to an expensive wedding. We were very young and had a low income. I was 20 during most of the planning, turning 21 a few months before the wedding, and my husband was 26.

I was still working at the call center full time to work my way through college debt free, and he worked in a factory. We were making under $50k a year – COMBINED. We made so little that we qualified for the retirement savings credit on our taxes. So even if I had wanted a big bash, there weren’t tens of thousands of dollars sitting around to pay for the wedding. And no one was going to pay for it for us – we were on our own.

So when you’re young and broke what do you do? And how do you compromise between a courthouse and a giant, fancy, elegant wedding?

I can tell you what we did on the compromise part – we had a lot of discussions over a long period of time. Communication is key whenever there’s a financial disagreement, or when you’re not aligned on financial priorities. Neither of us wanted to force our opinion on the other and make for an unhappy wedding day. After many discussions, we came to a compromise between the $50 courthouse wedding and a big fancy shindig with hundreds of people. It was one that still left us with enough savings to go on that honeymoon to Japan, with a total out of pocket cost under $2,000.

Here’s the breakdown of our wedding choices and their respective costs:

Guest list: We kept this to around 50 people total. My husband has a big extended family and I have a smaller one, so we only invited immediate family, close extended family, and two friends.

Invitations: I made the invitations out of kimono-shaped cards, origami paper, and a stamp. I then wrote the information on the inside of the invite, and popped them in the mail. Total cost – around $50. I got all the supplies at a store like AC Moore/JoAnn Fabrics/Michaels et. all.

Kimono card
The invitations looked a bit like this

Wedding dress: I got the dress at Hot Topic, believe it or not. And then I had to get another dress because the cats scratched up my first one. And no, it wasn’t black, it was a white renaissance-style wedding dress. Total cost for both dresses? $200. This dress has since been used for several Halloweens as an angel costume, and I wore it again for my 15th anniversary party recently. Reuse for the win!!

Renaissance wedding dress
The dress looked a lot like this except with white trim instead of tan/off white

Venue: We picked a local park to get married in. They had a lovely gazebo you could rent out for parties or weddings. Total cost was going to be $50, but they kept losing our check. After we sent in two checks they finally said forget it so this was free. It’s always good when you can benefit from, rather than be hurt by, for government incompetence!

Hubbard park
This is what the park looks like in the fall, which is when we got married (September)

Officiant: I picked out a justice of the peace from the phone book (this was back when phone books were actually a thing). Cost was about $200

Flowers: All I got was a fall bouquet and a flower head wreath. Did you know that if you buy beautiful flowers that are for a “wedding”, somehow they magically cost twice as much (or more!) than flowers for other reasons? Total cost was $50

Pictures: I bought disposable cameras for all the tables – again, back  when those were a thing. Plus, there was this stuff called film that needed to be developed to get your picture. And you had to print all the pictures, even if they were blurry or bad. I am grateful for the invention of digital cameras and cell phone cameras. Cost was $100 or so

For my younger readers – here’s what a “disposable camera” and “film” looks like

Wedding cake: My mother in law made this. Cost = free

Favors: I bought little paper umbrellas for all the tables, and handmade individual bars of soap that had tags with our names & wedding date. Cost was maybe $50

Music: The restaurant where we had our wedding reception had a band every Saturday night. Free band! Cost = free

Hair & makeup: I did my own with stuff I already had in the house. Cost = Free

Shoes: I bought a pair of white shoes somewhere (I think Payless) for $30

Food: We went to a local restaurant, and saved some major money. Did you know that most places that hold weddings also hold parties? And that they have “party” packages and “wedding” packages, with the “wedding” ones being twice (or more!) the cost of the “party”? Guess what? The food is the same. The people that will serve it are the same. The restrauant is the same. So what are you paying extra for? For the pleasure of the word “wedding”.  So I told the restaurant I wanted to buy a party package at $15 a plate, instead of the “wedding” package for almost $50 a plate. We didn’t have an open bar – my family doesn’t drink, my husband and I didn’t want to drink, and about 10% of the guests weren’t of drinking age anyway.  Cost was $750 plus tax & tip, plus about $150 for drinks.

Add in the rings, and the entire thing cost under $2,000.

Are Inexpensive Weddings Still Possible?

“Now CMO,” you may be thinking , “that was 15 years ago! Surely you couldn’t do the same thing today. Costs have gone up, etc.”. And you’d be right – things have changed a lot. So let’s see how the costs stack up if I were doing it again today:

Category 2001 Cost 2017 Cost 2017 Difference Notes
Invites $50 $100 Today I would use Shutterfly instead of making my own. For 50 people I probably needed 30 invites and RSVP cards.  With coupons like Shutterfly always has I wouldn’t need to pay more than $100, and it would be much less work than handmaking all those cards
Wedding dress $200 $200 I’m still not spending a ton of money on a dress. Although Hot Topic sadly doesn’t seem to sell wedding dresses anymore (darn it!), I was able to find a similar dress for the same price. This time I would make sure the cats didn’t destroy it.
Venue Free $100 Assuming they wouldn’t lose my check this time, the price has increased to $100
Officiant $200 $250 Looks like justices of the peace cost about the same as they did back in the day. Either that or I’m remembering the cost back in 2001 as way too high. This is without a rehearsal, because we didn’t rehearse back in 2001 (although we probably should have)
Flowers $50 $75 Florists are still doing the same thing they were 15 years ago. You put “wedding” in front of something and they triple the price! I just ranted to my husband for 10 minutes about how ridiculous this is. A “wedding” bouquet is $200! But there are plenty of beautiful “love and romance”, “fall flowers”, and other bouquets for $50. If I really wanted roses I would go to BJ’s and buy two dozen for $20 and make my own bouquet
Pictures $100 $200 You can get cheap digital cameras for $20 each. If I got one for every table, and there were 10 tables like I had back in the day, it would be $200.
Wedding cake Free Free I would make my own. I make fancy cakes now for all my kids birthdays, I certainly could make a wedding cake.
Favors $50 $105 Soap mold – $7

Soap – 12 pounds for $40

Soap Coloring – $12 ($2 each)

Fabric bags with ribbons – $31

Tags – $10

Umbrellas – $5

Origami paper – $20

Music Free Free iPod for the win!
Hair & Makeup Free Free Still not paying for this
Shoes $30 $70 I’d spring for fancy white shoes so I could also wear them to work
Food $1000 $1500 Dinner prices have gone up quite a bit. Sit down dinner at the same restaurant we had our wedding at is an average of $25 per person, so $1,250. This includes an appetizer, salad, bread, pasta, dinner, and dessert. They still rip you off on the wedding package with it being twice the price for the same food – they just add in extras like hors d’oeuvres and champagne, fancier desserts, soda and bar service, and wine. Lets say that soda and the few drinks people would get cost $250-almost double the cost of 15 years ago.
Total $1,680 $2,600

So today, to have the same kind of wedding I had 15 years ago, would cost $2,600. Adding in $400 for jewelry costs, it would come to $3k. A great deal if you ask me!

How This Stacks Up – A Typical Wedding

Now let’s compare this to a “typical” wedding.

  • The average cost of a wedding is $26,645, but most couples spend under $10,000. As usual, when the average is higher than what the majority of people pay, that means that there are some huge outliers at the “very expensive” end that are skewing the numbers higher. In this case there are probably weddings costing $100k or more that bring the average up.
  • I did a quick search in my area, and if you have under 50 guests the average cost in my region is between $11k and $18k. Enough to buy a brand new car (I mean, not a fancy brand new car. But still, a basic new car).
  • Here’s a side by side comparison of “CMO Costs” versus “Average Wedding Costs” (using that same link above in the first bullet).
Category Today CMO Cost Today Average Cost CMO Comment
Invites $100 $792 People are just going to throw this in the trash, you know. Want a fancy invite for your wedding scrapbook? Get ONE fancy one, and use Shutterfly for the ones that will get thrown in the garbage
Wedding dress and Shoes (Attire & accessories) $270 $1,628 Wow
Venue, Food, Wedding Cake, Officiant (Venue, Catering and Rentals) $1,850 $11,908 Holy wow
Flowers (Flowers and Decorations) $75 $1,568 Almost $1600 for something stuff that will die in a week?
Pictures (Photography and Video) $200 $2,789 That’s pricy.
Favors (Gifts & Favors) $105 $698 Expensive favors here!
Music (Entertainment) $0 $1,363 Ugh
Hair & Makeup (Beauty & Spa) $0 $130 This ones not too bad
Jewelry $400 $4,141 Yikes
Planner/Consultant $0 $811 Really?
Total $3,000 $25,828

Fifteen Years Later – Party On!

Recently I had a surprise party for my husband to celebrate our 15th anniversary. Almost half of our original wedding guests, plus some new family members from the last 15 years, came to the party. I surprised him at the same park where we originally got married, got the party catered with food from the same restaurant we had our reception, and I even wore my wedding dress (yes, the same wedding dress from 15 years ago). The total cost for 30 people was $400 for everything.  If I had a fancier wedding, I couldn’t have done this kind of celebration party.

renewal 1
Fifteen years later – same park, same dress, three new people in the family

The honeymoon is another story for another day – sometime I’ll tell you about our honeymoon trip to Japan one week after 9/11*

*P.S. Did I forget to mention the day we got married? September 15th, 2001 – only four days after 9/11. That really put the important parts of  a wedding into perspective. My brother-in-law was in the air flying to CT on 9/11 coming up for our wedding – he was grounded a few states away and my in-laws had to drive to get him. My sister in law from Florida was unable to fly up, and had to listen to the wedding via 2001 cell phone (aka a large brick). My husband’s uncle and aunt from CA couldn’t fly in either. Living in Connecticut, both my husband and I both know real people who were impacted by 9/11. One of my former co-workers had a sister in the towers, and another had a brother in law who was a NY firefighter and didn’t make it out.

So you see, I’m serious when I say that the most important part was just getting together with family to celebrate-not the dress, the food, the favors, the invites, or the ring. 

I Want To Hear From You!

Everyone has different financial priorities – and that’s fine! Really, if you’ve always dreamed of a beautiful wedding, and you can afford it without sacrificing your other goals, then I’m all for it. Financial freedom isn’t achieved just by saving the absolute most money on every last thing – it’s about making sure you’re spending on what’s really important to you (not to your family, or to impress others).

What’s your opinion on today’s weddings – are they too expensive? Or is it a day worth spending a lot of money on? Let me know in the comments.

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19 thoughts on “My Big Fat $2,000 Wedding”

  1. I’ve been to a lot of weddings (I stopped counting after 20!), and have been a bridesmaid several times. I’ve seen the whole range, from vodka ice luges for cocktails (yes more than one!) & oyster shooters to a steampunk backyard pot luck. My favorites have been where it’s about friends and family gathering to celebrate.
    If I ever get married the family gets big fast with my dad having 4 brothers. I definitely want really tasty dinner and a good dessert.
    I admire your frugality and compromise. The 15 year party sounds like it was a lot of fun too!

    1. Wow vodka ice luges-that sounds interesting! I’ve been to plenty of expensive weddings myself-many that cost a lot more than mine. They’re fun but I still can’t imagine spending so much on one day. I’m just not the kind of person that dreamed about a fancy wedding. And yes the 15 year party was a blast!

  2. DadsDollarsDebts

    We had 2 weddings. A small one at the courthouse before we moved to Argenitna. This cost us maybe $300 total (the judge was my high school friends mom). We had our family there and met our close friends at a bar for a night of celebrating. This was for us and was by far my favorite event.

    The second wedding was massive. It was when we came back from Argentina. We invited 400 people and probably had 200 show. It was in a nice local in Boston overlooking the harbor. We had to spend a high minimum and ended up blowing in the Tens of thousands of dollars. Not smart financial moves. This wedding was fine but way more stressful and way less fun then the first one.

    So I will be recommending small intimate weddings for my kids in the future (hopefully 25 to 30 years in the future)!

  3. We are invited to a wedding this weekend that cost more than $150,000. The father-of-the-bride has 3 daughters so this is the first of 3 weddings he will be paying for. The youngest daughter, who is in college and has dated the same young man for 6 years, had the best line of all at the rehearsal dinner the other day. She said that when she’s ready to get married they’ll just stop at the courthouse on the way to the bank. Everyone laughed but I thought to myself, “finally, someone who has their head on straight”. $150,000 does make for one heck of a celebration but it can also be a game-changer when you’re just starting out in life.

  4. Wow that’s a beautiful dress! Mr. FAF and I had two weddings in two different countries. Our parents paid for both weddings, and it wasn’t cheap. But they wanted to announce the news to their family, friends, and neighbors, so we had almost 200 guests at each wedding.

    It’s amazing how you kept the cost so low and prioritized other things in life that made you happy. 🙂

    1. If my parents were paying, I might not have been so frugal! 😄 My parents had a very small wedding in my grandparents living room (maybe 10 people) and then went out for dinner. So weddings also weren’t a priority for them, which I assume is why they didn’t want to pay.

  5. jumpstartfromscratch

    I’m quite convinced the tv show “Say yes to the Dress” is just a marketing scheme to convince women that it is normal to pay $5000 for a wedding dress. They throw around terms like “fell in love with the dress” and “deserve the best”. Mrs. JumpStart wore a bridesmaid dress that she ordered in white 23 years ago. She was beautiful, and it cost $125.

  6. I won’t give too much away as I have an upcoming post in this area but seven years ago we were married with similar numbers to you own. It’s definitely still doable and I’m not sure why you wouldn’t. Who wants to burden their family with an expensive wedding or worse, begin your marital journey in stressful debt?

  7. I’m currently planning one. We budgeted it and I looked at everyone like crazy ppl when they said it would be a lot more money than I’m anticipating ….. ummm yea times my budget by like 20 😫

    1. For some reason people think it’s impossible to have a nice, inexpensive wedding-but it’s not. You can think differently, be creative, and still have a great time! Good luck with your wedding!

  8. makingyourmoneymatter

    I didn’t keep track of each expense as well as you did, but I bet our wedding was very similar in cost to yours. I do remember my wedding dress was around $150 and we were able to get our reception venue for free at a local Bed and Breakfast where I had worked for many years in my younger days. The only thing I regret is not spending more money to get my hair and makeup professionally done. Some things are worth splurging on (but $25-30,000 is crazy!)

  9. Your wedding dress reminds me of my wedding dress! I’ll have to see if I can scan a photo from our album. I hired my dress, because it was WAY too expensive to buy. I’m glad I did – I don’t fit into anything now, and it would have been one of those guilt things that contributed to clutter, but that I would have had a hard time getting rid of.

    Our wedding was $6,500-ish, nearly 20 years ago. Mum and dad put in $5,000. Mum did most of the shopping around, so got things for a reasonable price. Of course, it also meant she had a big say, so our ideal 50 person wedding turned into 110. It was a great day, but all the frou-frou isn’t worth it. Do what my cousin did – small ceremony for direct family only, then a few more family and friends for dinner at a gastro-pub. Superb!

    1. Your cousins wedding sounds a lot like my parents-they got married at my grandparents house with just immediate family, then went out to dinner. Here renting (hiring) a wedding dress still isn’t common, although I don’t know why. You literally wear it for one day, unless it’s ultra cheap like mine I don’t know why you’d buy it. I’d love to see pictures of yours, see if you can find one!

  10. This is along the lines of what my husband and I did approximately 30 years ago. I did indeed rent my wedding dress here in the states but that store has since gone out of business. My mother could not stand the idea of my not having a wedding dress to pass down to future children (rolling eyes here) so she bought the dress after the wedding– but still the total cost for the dress was around 200$. I have one daughter who is 5″ taller than I am and the other who says it is not to her taste……… I have told my kids not to expect us to pay for a big wedding. We have not been frugal all our lives to blow thousands on a one day affair that has a good chance of ending in a divorce down the road. Afterall, I am sure that they wouldn’t want to spend their hard earned money on us later in life because we blew all our money on their weddings…….In addition, this whole thing of parents paying for the wedding dates back to times when girls/women did not have their own property or jobs to pay for a wedding. Nowadays most women work (and some make terrific salaries) so there really is no need for the parents to pay for the wedding. I think that if more young ladies and men had to foot the bill, you would definitely see the average cost of a wedding come down! But, since they are spending their parents’ money……. that said, we will most likely give each of our kids $xxxx to spend on the wedding as they see fit and anything above that amount they will have to kick in themselves.

    1. I think your strategy makes sense-I’m planning a similar strategy for college. I haven’t thought yet about what, if anything, Right now I would give my three boys for a wedding. I would probably have them save and pay for the wedding themselves but would make a generous gift at their wedding. But I have a ways to go, so I’m not 100% sure.

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