Sunday, January 18, 2015

No Regrets: Our Thrifty Wedding Proudly Done Our Way

Debt is where dreams go to die, author Elizabeth Gilbert rightly said at a book reading I went to for her sweeping novel, The Signature of All Things. I cannot think of a worse way to start out married life than by getting yourself into debt for what is essentially a party for a few hours after your wedding ceremony. The average cost of a wedding in the United States was nearly $30,000 in 2013, according to the, as reported by CNN/Money, with almost 15% of couples spending more than $40,000 on their wedding and related events, not including the honeymoon.

In an article in The Washington Post entitled, "A marriage license isn’t license to take on wedding debt" a reader wrote in...

"Maybe someday you should ask all of us who had nice but inexpensive weddings how it went. Take my case. I have been married for more than 30 years. We were married in the garden of my mother’s home. Our plain gold rings came from W. Bell, a now defunct catalogue store. I think we paid $50 total. Our wedding cake came from Woodward & Lothrop. It was on sale and cost about $100. We had champagne from the corner liquor store and a few little “finger” sandwiches. That was it! Oh, and my dress was an antique, found in my grandmother’s attic. I think it was from a distant relative’s confirmation. Flowers were from my mother’s garden. We had about 75 people. It was really nice, and everyone had a great time."

I'm sharing the story of our thrifty wedding here, a follow-up to my post Our Thrifty Wedding: We're Doing it Our Way. Since our wedding in September of 2012, we've added two dogs to our household less than two months after our big day, our daughter Grace was born in February of 2014 and I resigned from my full-time position in New York City to be a stay-at-home mom, cutting our income in half. We have a huge sigh of relief that we did not dig ourselves into debt for a huge, lavish wedding. We think it's one of the best financial decisions we made, and encourage others to be proud of their thrifty weddings, and urge couples to consider a similar path. That money will seem so important later, money you may want for a house, children, college funds, travel, and retirement.

The CNN/Money article reported "beyond the wedding venue and catering, which cost an average of $13,385 in 2013, other big-ticket items included engagement rings (at an average of $5,598), reception bands ($3,469), flowers and other decor ($2,069) and wedding photos ($2,440)...

Last year, 30% of couples provided additional guest entertainment, such as a photo booth, compared to only 11% in 2009. Couples also spent more on rehearsal dinners, after parties and morning-after brunches, which can easily add thousands of dollars to the total wedding bill."

The weekend before our wedding, Steve and I attended the wedding of his former co-worker's daughter at a farm in upstate New York. Apart from our own, it was the best wedding I have ever been to. Women wore flowery cotton dresses, some in cowboy boots. Instead of an over-the-top happy hour where people overfill themselves even before the meal, we ate some local cheeses and pumpkin soup. There was a homey buffet and cupcakes after. Guests could lounge on haystacks. I love farms and I kept asking Steve, "Are you sorry we didn't have a wedding like this?" To which he answered no, and I do too, simply because I know that wedding cost was in excess of $25,000.

There's a show with David Tutera where he redoes couple's modest plans and gives them a "Platinum Wedding." I think most of the time there's nothing wrong with the original plans. That's what people can afford. Why should we be expected to live the life of a celebrity or the ultra rich?

No deprivation feeling at all two and a half years after our wedding. Happily remembering these fond memories.

Our rehearsal dinner. I did not wear the dress I talked about in my original thrifty wedding post. I donated it back to the Goodwill, and wore instead a yellow vintage blouse and green skirt from an estate sale with a white silk flower from Housing Works thrift shop.  We celebrated with under 20 people at one of our favorite restaurants, The Kitchen in Englewood, New Jersey. My parents paid for this and the champagne at the wedding. We love BYOB restaurants. We brought wonderful French wine won at an annual chef picnic we attend. The day after the wedding there was an informal brunch at Steve's brother's home.

Baked Alaska at The Kitchen.

We did our own invitations. I found these beautiful note cards at a favorite charity thrift shop, C.A.T.S. Resale in Westwood, New Jersey. We used the rose ones for the invitations and the others for reply cards, and printed the details out on our computer. These fit in perfectly with our garden party theme.

We used my paternal grandmother's engagement ring from the 1920's. It is a simple ring with a small diamond. One of my least favorite words in the English language: "Bling." Flashy rings seem to be more for showing off. Wearing a family ring feels far more personal. Steve actually proposed at the Grand Canyon with an IOU note for a ring. I told him before we ever got engaged I did not want an expensive, showy ring and preferred something vintage. He feared I would resent that he did not buy me a ring, but I've never once regretted our choice.

We found a simple rose gold wedding band for under $300, and Steve's titanium wedding band was just $120.

My dress: a Hartley dress I found at the Goodwill for $15! I actually would have paid more, but there's no arguing with the price tag. I was there around Valentine's Day and found it on a display of wedding dresses on mannequins. When I tell people I got my dress at the Goodwill, I've gotten some looks followed by, "Well,  that's okay." Yes, well, that's fabulous. I remember a Trader Joe's cashier proudly saying her wedding dress was $15 too and from H&M. I was not going to spend hundreds, never mind thousands, of dollars on a dress I wore for about eight hours. I wore a handmade silk red orchid in my hair, a thrifted butterfly pin and pair of red earrings, and small blue heels I got an estate sale. Steve wore a tuxedo he already owns.

We didn't have a wedding party. My sister was the maid of honor and Steve's brother was the best man. I told my sister Michele to wear whatever she pleased and she donned a beautiful raspberry colored dress from Kohl's. Michele treated me to a manicure and pedicure at an organic nail salon, and I did my own hair and makeup which I kept very simple. I am not a big makeup person in my everyday life and I did not feel the pressure to differ from that on my wedding day. We also did not have bachelor/bachelorette parties. I do not believe that drunken, wild "right of passages" are needed.  Steve's brother, not a drinker who is also a chef like my husband, splurged for a high end dinner for the two of them in New York City, and Michele treated us to aromatherapy massages at a day spa which always reminds me of one of my favorite states I've visited: New Mexico.

The church cost was $500 total for the ceremony and organist. We had a nominal fee too for the marriage license.

We kept our guest list to around 30 close friends and family, and had the party after the church in our backyard patio and garden  This is a hard but truthful question to be asked: Do 200 people really want to go to anyone's wedding, or will many of them view it as an obligation? Steve had some of his relatives fly in from Iowa and his mother came from Arizona, but with my parents' relatives all in Switzerland it was too far away to even invite them.

We said on our invitation, and meant every word of it, that we hoped our guests would warm our home with their love, which they did! We set up tables outside on our patio and on our elevated grassy area had formal tables for dinner. We loved that guests mingled and sat wherever they pleased, instead of being forced to a table. Steve bought two outdoors tents: one at Campmore, the other at the Goodwill, which we ended up not needing since it was cloudy. No loss at all: we use one all the time on our sunny patio, and gave the other to my parents. Anything else we purchased - tables, dishes, and such - we now own.

I snapped photos the day after. It was overcast the day of our wedding, but I am not complaining since it was pouring the entire week leading up to the day.

Chairs we owed, a thrifted table cloth, a table from the Goodwill.

A small fortune saved having it at our home. We've been downsizing the past year and the chairs, table and table cloth on the right were donated to the Goodwill to pass on the good karma.

Even our scarecrow is thrifted! I picked him up at a garage sale for $2 during the summer. Fragrant basil next to it, making me long for summer.

This outdoor table was rescued from a woman who was going to throw it in the garbage the next day if we hadn't come along. Good thing we did! I wrote about that massive curbside rescue in "Wanted: A Thriving American Reuse Market."

A ladybug tablecloth, wine coasters and a butterfly candle, all from thrift shops, and the vase rescued from the garbage we spotted outside a vintage shop. I consider the amount of perfectly good items discarded into landfills an economic and environmental crisis. I'm so grateful for the people who take the time and love to donate their items to charity shops or even sell their goods to those in their communities at garage sales for bargain prices. The reuse market is a big part of my American dream, and I'm happy so much from our wedding was secondhand.

Our seating area for dinner. Some guests ate here, others on the patio, some inside. We just wanted our guests to be happy!

We had on music from a commercial-free radio station. Steve is not a dancer at all, so we broke from tradition and did not do dancing. We detest loud music where people cannot hold a conversation. We also did not do the bouquet toss.

My mother did the flowers, some from her garden, others from Trader Joe's. I inherited a love of flowers from my mom, which I hope to pass onto my daughter. These were on our sweetheart table with two Lenox doves from an estate sale and a rose candle from Housing Works. We never even got around to sitting here!

My bouquet came from one of my favorite local farms, Old Hook Farm in Emerson, New Jersey. When my mom picked it up and asked how much it was, the owner just said, "Congratulations!"

Steve's brother Jim, an avid hobby photographer, took the pictures, and he presented us with beautiful albums from For Christmas he gave us assorted framed photos from Costco. After the ceremony, we headed to a local park to take some pictures.

Many people thought we were nuts for doing our own food, but my husband is a chef and was proud to cook for his family and friends and wanted to control the quality. My cousin in Switzerland did her own wedding food too. The guests could take the leftovers, and since we were leaving on our honeymoon, we gave away all of their perishable items too. We copied the idea for pumpkin soup we had at the wedding the week before. Steve estimated our food cost at $700 but that was with the large bounty we gave to the guests. We did hire a woman to work as a dishwasher and to help with a few other tasks.

We had cupcakes, not a fancy cake, and kept our dessert offerings simple. People still mention how much they loved our vegan cupcakes from Sweet Avenue Bake Shop in Rutherford, New Jersey. We cut them in half so people could try a few. Steve also put out fresh strawberries in raspberry sauce with Grand Marnier and sugar, along with two large Crème Brulees. That was it.

Our favors: flower seed packets. I loved watching the orange marigolds I planted emerge from seeds. They feel like sunshine in my garden.

We did not register. If we need something for our household, we can get it for pennies on the dollar at a garage or estate sale. We asked on our invitation for contributions to our honeymoon. I still have the fondest memories of our trip to Northern California, visiting San Francisco (my favorite major U.S. city), Muir Woods and Lands End, Yosemite, the wine country, Columbia, a Gold Rush town, and Berkeley. With the monetary gifts from our families, friends and my colleagues, our entire wedding and honeymoon was paid for! I look so serene in the photos from the wedding day and the trip, with such a happy wedding day behind us, and an exciting future ahead.

Heaven on earth: Yosemite Valley.

We did get one big item, a large 55 inch flat screen television several of Steve's family members paid for. Some of my favorite gifts we received were a Basho poetry book and a copy of The Prophet, a white tea pot and tea cup set from Harney and Sons with rose tea and madeleines, and  my colleagues at work gave us a dogwood tree. I love these personal gifts. Gifts to me aren't about the value, but about the love and thoughtfulness of the giver.

I recall reading an article in our local paper about the business of brides and how the wedding industry was viewed as something that could thrive in spite of the Depression, and the emergence of bridal magazines and the industry itself. I  am not sure how we arrived at the point where $30,000 weddings are considered normal, but Steve and I are all for challenging American conventions and culture, particularly involving money and waste. I believe "thrifty" and "frugal" are badges of honor, nothing to be ashamed of. We are proud of our thrifty wedding. Debt is not part of our American dream.  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments sections on the cost of modern weddings, and anything else on your mind wedding related. 

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