Non-Consumer Advocate Wedding

by Katy on July 11, 2010 · 12 comments

The following is a reprint of a previously published post.

Get Rich Slowly has a reader guest column today about how a woman raised with extreme frugal learned to spend. It also details her wedding, which reminded me of mine. Enjoy!

Wedding Cake

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 wedding-food

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.

wedding-rings 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!)

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.

Katy and an attendant or twoI 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.

wedding-pix The hit of the wedding was most definitely our limo-service. Our friend Chuck has a wacky art car, which sportsthousands 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 thecomments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjamin Bankruptcy July 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

See this to me sounds like the perfect wedding and the perfect proposal, nothing convoluted nothing non authentic. I wouldn’t worry about the guest washing up it was YOUR day after all and most poeple just want to feel wanted and useful


Shannon July 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

We did our wedding for about $5000 8 years ago, which when I look back was kind of a lot for what we did which was a wedding at our church with the reception in the church gym, free to us because we were members. We hired a caterer, which for the size of my family was a must and I’d still do that. I think I would have explored my wedding dress options and maybe found something vintage or pre owned which fit my personality better and maybe been less expensive, I would definitely have done my own flowers and invitations—we spent a bundle because basically I didn’t think I could do it. Did my sister’s flowers two years ago and they were beautiful, and I did the whole thing for under $50, and I did her invites on my computer with a kit that I got for super cheap with my Michael’s 50% off coupon. Misc. frugal things we did were driving ourselves in the husband’s blue pickup truck, having the whole wedding at the church, serving a luncheon instead of dinner, and of course at church we were not allowed to serve alcohol. Bottom line, I think I would really be more picky about the things that were worth the splurge and trust my own sense of creativity and ability to do things myself.


Jen July 11, 2010 at 6:07 pm

I was kind of like you, I didn’t care too much about details but managed to have a beautiful wedding for about $2000. We got married on Cannon Beach and had the reception for about 35 people at the Surfsand Resort, which we we had never seen before in one of their conference rooms (they have since remodeled for weddings). We had beef and salmon in a really nice buffet and music from a mix CD too. My dress was a white $100 prom dress and my friend made the flower arrangements that day after buying flowers from a florist down the street. My husband wore a suit he still wears and my mom bought a cake with no input from me. It was all fun and it was kind of nice to have surprises rather than to plan everything to the last detail. We did have a few professional photos, which are nice. We spent the night at the Stephanie Inn which is amazing! We then splurged on a Caribbean honeymoon and a big BBQ party later on (another $1000 for that party). I feel like we spent money on things that are more important to me, like trips and food. I don’t care about dresses and engraved invites.


CindyC July 11, 2010 at 6:15 pm

We got married in 2000 in San Francisco during the height of the dot com boom. $15k for 130 guests was extremely frugal at the time. I refer to it as a budget, Mexican wedding like the ones I grew up going to. The reception was held in the afternoon in the Church hall. Didn’t have to worry about limos — we just walked to the reception. We did a Mexican food buffet that we arranged without a contract. They delivered and brought servers, as well. I only bought my bouquet, 3 bridesmaids bouquets, about 4 corsages, and 5 boutonierres from a florist who just tacked our order onto one she was already doing for a bigger wedding. The centerpieces were done with flowers from the flower market the day before. My dress was off the rack for less than $500. I would’ve been fine with a simple dress and suits for the men, but my husband had his heart set on wearing a tux. 🙂 Two family members took video. The cake was made by a family friend. My family flew in and decorated the hall, put together the centerpieces, and the favors. An uncle arranged and paid for the DJ. Another uncle brought the drinks. An aunt brought champagne. Another aunt sprung for the table linens. The big splurge was paying for a photographer to fly from LA. She was the daughter-in-law of one of my husband’s classmates. We paid for her lodging and rental car. She is now a popular photo blogger and we cherish her images.


Cara July 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Most of the really fun weddings I’ve been to, including my own, were small and largely DIY. For ours we spent about $1500 total. We rented a dance studio at a local community centre for $250. I’m not into traditional wedding gowns, so I found an antique-gold and purple dress (actually meant to be a bridesmaid dress), on eBay for $50, and it fir perfectly! We only had 30 guests, and a friend of my mother’s made the food. She’s East Indian and said 30 people is a Sunday dinner at her house! Everyone raved about the food, served buff-style. We also decorated with out-of-style sari fabric donated from the same friend. It was gorgeous! We did rent the linens & dishes, but got a great deal. The cake was vegan (as am I), and was made by another friend of my mother’s for an undisclosed sum (Mum insisted on paying). Kirk wore a $130 suit, and my brother (who was my maid of honour), and the best man wore their own suits. They were our only bridal party. My mother and I did the flowers, which we purchased at Safeway for about $100, and I’d been collecting vases at yard sales for over a year. The only thing I regret is that Kirk’s mom’s boyfriend did the photography as his gift to us, and they turned out terribly. Other than that, everything went off without a hitch, and we weren’t saddled with debt (other than student loans!) going in to our marriage.


namastemama July 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm

What a great post! The Johnny Cash story sent chills up my spine! I am a wedding photographer and could write a book but I’ll just write what I did almost 12 years ago. We really wanted to elope and get married in front of a mountain, and if I had to do it all over again I would, but we did this instead. I bought a beautiful blue evening gown and gloves 🙂 I didn’t see the point in buying a dress to only wear once although I did look in some consignment shops. My husband wore a nice suit, probably even got new shoes but again money spent on something we would own. Officiant was probably less than $100 and provided a nice 15 min. service. My mom wanted a unity candle so she bought that. We only invited our closest friends and immediate family. Purchased great food and had a friend of a friend man the grill. He was paid in free booze. Also spent money on decent alcohol. The reception was low key under a pavillion at the lake. Family decorated and we rented a pontoon boat and gave rides. Another friend was the DJ. I wanted a ‘fall’ wedding but it was record heat that year so we just went with it. Everyone got to wish us well and there were some funny moments shared by all. Maybe 30 people total. An ice cream wedding cake was purchased and we ate it first on account of the heat. I hired a photojournalist student to document the day and provided the film and paid for my prints later. This would be my biggest tip, even if you don’t want to pay a lot, hire someone that knows their craft. Even a hobby photographer can provide great photos but make sure you like the photos and the person since he/she will be with you all day. Don’t just go with the “cheapest”.
Finally, I asked my hubby one night recently, “What if our daughter ask for a $25 +K wedding?” He said NO WAY. I agree. There is so much meaning that gets lost in all the hoopla. My fav weddings are the small ones. The most important part of the day is to get married, and that cost little to nothing. A wedding is a day, a marriage is a lifetime. We did spend our money on our 2 week honeymoon trekking across the US to Jackson Hole WY. What a great and unique way to start a life together and a vacation we haven’t been able to top yet.


Stacey July 12, 2010 at 8:05 am

Your wedding sounds a lot like mine. I too didn’t really care about all the details of the wedding. Thankfully all the wonderful people at my church stepped in and took care of the food and flowers and music during the ceremony for free. My pastor officiated, and my mom and aunts made our wedding invitations. Thankfully my fiance already owned a tuxedo from all his years singing in a choir, so he didn’t have to rent one, and my grandma was able to alter my great-great-grandmother’s wedding dress so that it fit me.

In the end, all that my fiance and I had to pay for was our wedding license, and a tank of gas to get to the beach to stay at my family’s beach house for our honeymoon. Our expenses for the wedding were about $100. And everyone loved our wedding and said it was beautiful.


Melissa July 12, 2010 at 10:32 am

Your wedding sounds a lot like mine, too. It was a fall wedding, so lots of candles and autumn flowers just made the whole room seem cozy. Bought two antique vases for cheap and the flowers from Fred Meyer, and my sister arranged them in her hotel room. Got married in front of a nice big fireplace and decorated the mantle with little pumpkins and other squash and candles. Had a fledgling photographer friend (say that three times fast!) take the pictures in B&W and put out disposable cameras at every table. Great candid shots (oddly, quite a few of people taking pictures of other people taking pictures of them taking a picture… How much wine did people drink?) It was a great night. But it was only a night, and we both knew it didn’t make any sense to go over the top. We were just as married for spending $3000 and we would have been if we had spent $30,000.


Karen July 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Great wedding recap!
I LOVE that car. I want to go to an event in Portland, just to be in that car, if it’s still around 🙂


Tracy Balazy July 13, 2010 at 5:36 am

Sounds like a great time, Katy! Ours was simple, too. We were married four years ago at 38. I wanted to center the wedding on Detroit because I grew up there, so we had the ceremony at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle, a beautiful, wooded island in the Detroit River off downtown. Because it’s a botanical garden, we didn’t need flowers. The city charged us $150 for its use, and we paid $150 for the non-denominational services of an Episcopalian pastor I know through the newspaper business (he used to write a column for the Detroit Free Press). He donates his wedding fees to charity.

The “reception” was at Honest John’s Bar & Grill, a quirky little bar in Detroit owned by a very quirky guy. The food/drink tab probably came to around $500 for our 30-some guests. We spent that night at a Victorian bed & breakfast in Detroit that my co-workers had arranged for.

My dress was $40 on eBay. The seller had paid $450 for it new in 1984 for her own wedding. It wasn’t puffy and hoop-skirted like the typical ’80s formal; straight skirt, no train, short, fluted sleeves, I actually liked it. It’s hanging in the closet now and is going on eBay any day.

A friend who’s a professional photographer took the photos throughout the day and evening as his wedding gift to us. One of my best friends is very creative and made my bouquet and the corsages for the mothers and groom and the two people who stood up in the wedding, for a total of about $25 in white roses from Kroger, accented by mesh she already had and English ivy from her garden.

We didn’t have a cake, as I didn’t care to have one. So, our grand total was around $1,000. That year, we went to a wedding the bride insisted she was forced into by her inlaws, and it cost in excess of $100,000. I’m glad we did ours the way we did!


BarbS @ 1 Sentence Diary July 13, 2010 at 9:43 am

“There were no rose petal strewn bedrooms, no engagement rings hidden in a glass of bubbly. Just two adults making an important decision together.”

I love that sentence. I wish all young couples would read it.


Delores Thomas July 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm

For my 2nd wedding I didn’t want anything big. I got a nice cream dress and my husband a white dinner jacket at Goodwill. My daughter was my bridesmaid and we also picked her dress up at Goodwill. The flowers were silk and done by a friend as her gift. The food was bought in bulk and laid out at our new home in the backyard. It was cold cuts, cheeses, different breads, different salads, BBQ baby back ribs, and of course the cake. It was made at Kroger and very nice. I had no gift registery, just suggestions and reminding everyone that we were melding 2 existing households. Very few duplications other than towels, and sheets both of which were needed.
The honeymoon was a camping trip with friends from the church. They gave us an old fashioned shivery which no one ever forgot. Our total costs rounded out to about $500. No that is frugal even in 1994.


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