A few of my readers have asked for me to write about weddings and specifically about my own wedding. Although my husband and I married almost 16 years ago, the choices we made created a meaningful and inexpensive wedding would work well to this day.
Let me take you back to the year 1993.
My husband and I were both in college. He was getting his BFA in photography, and I was mid nursing school. We’d been in a terrible car accident the year before and had just received an insurance settlement totaling $15,000 between the two of us. We were spending the summer in Portland, Oregon working for our respective parents. (He was scraping paint off his parent’s new fixer upper and I was working as a receptionist in my step-father’s law office.)
We were aimlessly driving around town together one afternoon when we decided that this was the perfect time to get married. We had time, we had money, we were in love and we’d been living together for five years. Why shouldn’t we get married?
There were no rose petal strewn bedrooms, no engagement rings hidden in a glass of bubbly. Just two adults making an important decision together.
It was June and we decided to marry in August. I considered two months to be plenty of time to pull together a wedding. Others felt differently.
I had never given a single thought to my dream wedding. I was simply not that kind of girl. I wasn’t a tom-boy, but I wasn’t a girly-girl either. This made the planning of the wedding kind of difficult because there were 10,000 tiny decisions to make. Many of which I could care less about.
First stop was the downtown Powell’s City of Books to look through wedding magazines with my mother. We scooped up a few magazines and brought them into the in-house coffee shop. The owner was a friend of my mother’s, and she got all excited when she spied our reading material.
“Have you found a place to get married yet?”
“Um, no . . . we’re just getting started on the wedding planning.”
“You should get married at my house! I live in a huge gorgeous house and you can use it for free.”
Okay, cool. We just found a place to get married for free.
The magazines got put back.
After that, most everything fell into place.
My father’s next door neighbor offered to do the flowers for free. (Many of the flowers were hydrangeas from my father’s garden.)
We bought blank invitations at an office supply store, and my artist sister designed the border and script.
A cursory look into the price of wedding photographers made us decide to provide film to certain wedding guests who were known to be excellent photographers. All happily agreed to bring their cameras. I am not a fan of the formal style of traditional wedding photographs, so I was really happy with the results. The photographers all had very distinct styles and our pictures are truly unique. One guest even brought her 3-D View-Master camera, which means we have three actual View-Master discs of wedding pictures which are super fun to look at.
I didn’t want to register for gifts. I like a gift that reflects the giver, and I feel that registries sap all meaning from a gift. (Who was this pepper grinder from?) But certain family members insisted that I provide this option, so I compromised and gave to my mother a list of things we wanted. This way, registry insistent guests could choose a gift, and could even decide where to buy it. Most people chose not to use my mom-registry. Because I did a non-registry wedding I received wonderful gifts that I would not have known to choose for myself.
For food we hired a caterer to put together a couple of huge platters of poached salmon. We fleshed this out with large wheels of brie, homemade bread, an enormous fruit salad, a couple of homemade cheesecakes, and a few unremembered miscellaneous extras. The cake was made by a friend who has made wedding cakes professionally. I paid for her ticket to fly up from New Mexico. The cake was her gift to us.
We rented the dishes and silver wear, which gave the table a very formal look. People fed themselves buffet-style. The napkins were nice paper. (I would rent or make cloth napkins if I were to do it now.)
My dress was made by my mother. It cost a few hundred dollars for the fabric, plus we hired a last minute seamstress to fine tune the fitting of the bodice. It was gorgeous! The veil was from a thrift store and cost a couple dollars.
The rings were simple since we both just wanted gold bands. The store we went to was having a 50% off sale, which meant that my ring was $40, and my husband’s was $30. We were both stunned how cheap the rings were, but happy to spend so little.
For booze, we bought a keg of local micro-brew and bought a few cases of local wine. We had an enormous amount of leftover wine and drank it for at least a year afterwards. (Waste no wine challenge!)
A judge who was a friend-of-the-family performed the ceremony. Which was short. (I can’t sit still for long weddings)
For music, my sister’s then-boyfriend made a mix tape for during the reception. My cousin played the flute while we walked to the altar.
I hate bridesmaid dresses, and told my attendants to just wear a short sleeve floral dress. The dresses looked fabulous all together, almost as if the they’d been chosen to coordinate, even though they hadn’t.
My husband wore a suit. He invested in a high quality suit jacket and dress slacks which he still wears for formal occasions to this day. The groomsmen also wore suits. Not only did this save money for us, but also for our friends and family. Renting a tuxedo is a waste of time and money.
No one is happy to spend money on clothing for a wedding that’s never to be worn again.
The hit of the wedding was most definitely our limo-service. Our friend Chuck has a wacky art car, which sports thousands of tiny toys, bowling trophies and odds and ends glued here, there and pretty much everywhere. He drove us from the wedding to the hotel.
We did splurge on a night at the historic Heathman Hotel, which was a treat. The best part of this was that the one-and-only Johnny Cash was standing in the lobby when we entered the hotel. I was still wearing my wedding dress, and he walked over to congratulate us. And don’t you know, we had no camera on us, so this was a wholly non-documented aspect of our wedding day. (Grrr . . . . )
For our honeymoon, we went to the beach the next day with some dear out-of-town guests. We did fly to New York to visit my sister a few months later, and referred to it as our “honeymoon.”
Guest after guest came up to us to tell us that it was one of the most beautiful weddings they’d ever been to. Most people assumed the grand home was a rental, and everyone raved about the food.
The wedding was a hit.
The only regret I have is not hiring someone to do dishes. A few guests ended up spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen, which to this day still makes me cringe.
Total cost for our wedding?
About $2000. (This includes flying my friend up to do the cake.)
We could have afforded more, but neither of us had any interest in have a big overblown wedding.
One thing I did notice is that every wedding has about the same number of decisions to make, whether you’re having a small or large event. This is true whether you’re getting married in your parent’s backyard or The Plaza Hotel. It’s what you do with those choices that matter.
Are you planning a wedding, or have you married recently? Would you change your wedding to match up with current frugal and green living leanings? Did you hang out with Johnny Cash on your wedding day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”