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DIY Wedding On The Cheap & Awesome

February 19, 2015
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The whole scene, from behind the scenes

I kid you not, you can ask anyone who was there, Brady and my wedding was the most fun wedding ever. (Except, of course, your own, which I hope you had – or have – an even better time at.) Our goal with our wedding was simple: Have as much fun as is humanly possible. But we also wanted to do it on the cheap, because, well, why spend a ton of money on one event, when…..

Seriously, the average cost of a wedding in the US is more than $28,ooo. That’s insane. And a lot of it is spent on crap that lasts exactly one night, but gets paid for on credit for years to come (which would drive that cost up exponentially, because interest is an exponential multiplier that should be avoided at all, well, costs.)

So, I get asked a lot how we did it. And it was really very simple. But to be clear, we did spend some money. We just managed to shave costs on some of the most expensive ticket items. The only place that we really spent “real” money was food and the DJ, which would be relatively easy to save on also, if you got creative.

The most important place to start, however, was understanding what our goal was with this wedding. And that was pretty simple. We wanted to have – and for all our friends to have – as much fun as humanly possible. We didn’t need this wedding to prove our love for each other, at all. We didn’t need to impress anyone by doing something “perfect.” Rather, this wedding was, pretty much, the uncontrollable explosion of our love. It was a chance for the people who make our life what it is to come together and meet each other. To connect them so that our worlds can fully explode in the awesome goo that we feel about each other.

Every time we came up with an idea, we asked ourselves, “would that make it more fun for our guests?” If “yes,” then we did it. If “no,” then we didn’t.

Things as simple as setting up chairs for the ceremony, which was on the grass. Why? They set up their own blankets, picnic style, everyone was free to spread out however they wanted. Free. Easy. Fun.

With that in mind, here are some of the big ways that we spent less money and made more fun:

BOOZE

We had all our guests bring wine. Why? Because we didn’t need gifts. We didn’t need more stuff. So in our invite, we asked guests to bring wine instead of gifts. The result? More wine than we could possibly drink that night, and there weren’t very many sober people at our wedding. And we saved a ton of money.

FLOWERS

This is going to depend on the time of year that you have your wedding, but we planted ALL of our own flowers. Between our house, and the houses of 4 or 5 friends, we were positively overflowing with Zinnia, Gerber Daisies and Dahlia. We had them on every table, in bouquets, ALL over the place.

As a bonus, assembling them was a really fun “craft” session with all those people who offered to help. We had a bunch of Mason jars (mostly gotten at Goodwill, or we asked people to bring them) and people made gorgeous bouquets that then covered almost every available surface.

Saved a ton of money, got everyone involved and working together.

VENUE

We were absurdly lucky, in that we had a dear friend who had a house on a lake that she let us take over for the weekend. So we spent no money on the venue, just some time getting it ready. But I have been to GREAT weddings in people’s homes. They are usually tons of fun, because your guests feel comfortable, it feels homey. Assuming you’ve already given up the idea of a sit down dinner with white-glove service for a thousand people, then think of places that you can have a wedding for free.

PHOTOS

If you have a friend who is particularly good with a camera, ask them if they’ll get those few key shots you want of family. But beyond that, honestly, the photos that you’ll probably keep turning to are the ones your friends took. We asked all our friend to take pictures of each other, being silly, and post them to shared online albums.

Also, never underestimate the power of bartering. We actually bartered for those few key shots, and we’re glad we had them, for sure. (We own a gym and are trainers, so we bartered with free CrossFit in exchange for photos, which worked out well for everyone.) But really, it’s all the photos that our friends took of each other that really help us remember the spirit of the event.

Pro Tip: You can rent lenses, and the lens you shoot with almost matters more than the skill with which you are shooting. If you have a digital SLR camera (or a friend who has one, and is a decent shot) rent and 85mm 2.8 lens. It’ll cost you about $35, and give you shots that look like a pro took them. (OR if you’re a friend of mine, borrow mine, or ask me to take pictures.)

THE OUTFITS

DIY wedding dress that was perfect for me, and his red pants that he wore until he accidentally poured bleach on them a year later.

DIY wedding dress that was perfect for me, and his red pants that he wore until he accidentally poured bleach on them a year later.

Okay, herein lies the biggest lie ever foisted on brides and grooms to be. You do NOT need a big, fancy, absurdly expensive outfit that you’re going to wear once. Brady just bought a great pair of red pants and a shirt that he wore again and again and again. Because I am lucky enough to have seamstress skills, I made myself a dress that was exactly what I wanted. (And is, still, in a crumpled mess with seaweed in it because we went paddle-boarding in our “finery” and well, it’s not like I’m going to wear it again anyway.)

Honestly, wear something that makes you feel like YOU. The most YOU that you’ve ever been. And if you’re going to spend money, spend it on something that you’d wear again and again.

Also, don’t forget the power of bedazzling. Maybe not literally (unless, like me, you think everything would benefit from some bedazzling. I mean, I bedazzled my weightlifting shoes.) Buy something simple and embellish it. Paint it, embroider it, bedazzle it.

But don’t start your new life trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what you “should” wear as a bride or a groom. Rock into it as the most pure manifestation of YOU that you can be. Vintage? Costume? Whatever!

That said, if you really “need” a couture gown, rent it. Places like Rent The Runway let you get Red Carpet dresses that you rent for less than it would cost to  figure out how to attend Fashion Week and look like you belonged.

HAIR & MAKE-UP

This is what friends are for. You have a friend who is in to all this stuff. The one who is always perfectly styled, while you’re trying to pull off the “bedraggled mom who does yoga in the clothes she slept in” as a legitimate trend. (Maybe that’s just me.) Use them. Gather them around you for the hours beforehand, let them make you perfect. It’s free. It’s fun. And it’s really awesome bonding time. We didn’t have bridesmaids and groomsmen, but we did each hunker down with our mates in the hours leading up to the ceremony. And it was the best time. (I don’t know what they did, but my girls and I got down a few tequila shots. Seriously, I was nervous, and I have no idea why.)

THE WEDDING PARTY

Please be nice to your bridesmaids and groomsmen, if you have those. Do not make them buy an expensive outfit that they’ll never wear again and not feel like themselves in. It’s just not nice. If you are going to require them to wear a costume that suits your fantasy, you have to buy it for them, period.

Instead, let them buy themselves something that they want to wear. Preferably again and again. Give them a color and a length and let them find a dress. Sure, it’s okay to have them ask you if it fits within your vision, but let them choose something off the rack, to their suiting. It will make it more fun for everyone.

FOOD

This is where we spent almost all of our money. And people are still talking about it. So I can’t tell you that we were thrifty here. But it’s a great example of us asking ourselves, “will this make it more fun for our guests.” Awesome food WILL make for a better party. (Besides, we probably saved thousands on the wine!)

That said, I’ve been to AWESOME parties (and remember, that’s all this is, an awesome party) that were potluck. And if we didn’t happen to have a good friend who happened to be a James Beard Award-winning chef, we totally would have gone pot luck. No problem.

Think about an awesome BBQ. Maybe you provide all the meats to grill (and borrow grills from people you know) and your guests bring all the sides and salads. (Do designate, or even hire, someone to work the grill.)

MUSIC

The other place we spent money, but you probably don’t have to. We had the best DJ in the universe (who also happened to be a great friend) work the wedding. And we paid him his rate to do so because he’s worth it and deserves it and…..  But when it comes to the experience that your friends are having, if you want dancing, make sure you have great tunes.

How to do that on the cheap? Spend the next few months writing down every time an AWESOME song comes on that you want to dance to. Make a mater play list, and hit “play” when the time is right.

We did that for various parts of our wedding, and honestly, it was like months of foreplay for the big event.

INVITATIONS

The outside of wedding ALMOST said it all.

The outside of wedding ALMOST said it all.

I do think that invitations matter. They set the tone. I’ve been married twice, and both times, I put a lot of thought into the invitations. The first time, with my limited artistic talent, I carved a linoleum block and hand-printed invitations. They were not museum quality, but they were totally awesome. The second time, I let my husband take the lead (it was his first – and only – wedding, so he got to drive the wedding train.) We hired a graphic designer to create a circus themed invite, and again, it totally set the mood. People knew we were going to have fun. And inside – of both – we spelled out exactly what to expect, in language that was reflective of who we are. For my first wedding, I think that all 100 or so invites cost us about $25, and some time spent crafting. My wedding to Brady was a bit more expensive, coming in at around $500, paying the designer (who was a friend) and just ordering them from a local printer (not a wedding place. Anything “wedding” costs a ton more than “not wedding,” so DO NOT USE SOMEONE WHO SPECIALIZED IN WEDDINGS!)

But the inside really DID explain it all.

But the inside really DID explain it all.

As a gift, our friend – the amazing designer – had a print of our invitation made for us, and it hangs in our bedroom. Awesome.  (If you have a friend who’s a designer, or artist, ask them if you can pay them something to create a special invite that you can then have printed……  Unique, affordable, supports a friend……)

TABLES, CHAIRS etc….

We needed a big tent, so we just rented it from a company that dropped it all off the day before, and picked it all up. We rented tables, chairs, dishes, utensils etc….  they dropped it off, set it up, came back to break it down and pick it up.

We did NOT rent tablecloths, napkins, glasses? It was much cheaper to just buy all the table cloths on Amazon, (and we wanted rainbow colors anyway.) Our intention was to keep them and loan them to anyone who needed them later but, truth is, we lost them in the shuffle. That said, it was about $150 for all of them, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

We found a cheap source online for brightly colored paper napkins, and nice, clear-plastic cups. (No red keg-cups, okay!)

BONUS FEATURES

Bouncy Castle: If you ask anyone who was at our wedding what the best part was, I am embarrassed to say that many people will tell you “the bouncy castle.” Yes, really. It was about $150, of PURE AWESOME. We thought we were renting it for the kids. We were wrong. We were renting it for drunk firefighters and drunk CrossFitters. The resulting broken bones are still the stuff of legends. A good time was had by all.

Camping: We had a “destination” wedding, but not in some truly exotic locale. We were at a friend’s house on a lake, and since it was a 90 minute drive or so, and many of our friends are prone to imbibe, we arranged for people to be able to pitch tents. I’m not sure how to explain how awesome it was to have so many people there all day, playing and setting up camp – and helping set-up. And to have them there, the net morning, hungover and eating a potluck breakfast buffet while we all heard tales of what had happened the night before. But it was, really, like a great hug of a hysterical sort.

Drunk Wedding Crasher: Better than the movie. That uninvited guest who gets drunk and naked, hits on some friends and picks fights with others? Worth their weight in gold. The stories will live forever.

Remember, this is one night. It should be FUN. This is supposed to be the social manifestation of a love so awesome that you cannot keep it to yourselves. There are no rules. There is nothing that you have to do. There is no one that you have to impress. Don’t do anything that isn’t an accurate reflection of who you are, how you feel, and how you want your life to be.

YES, it’s worth spending SOME time and money to have an awesome time, if that’s what you want to do. But there is no universe in which it’s worth going into debt, or spending money that would otherwise be spent on more important things (like travel, starting a business, paying rent, saving for your dream home……)

It’s a party. It should be fun.

It’s love. It should be fun.1167460_10151833645070921_99949536_o

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    February 19, 2015 11:25 pm

    I love it. Especially the not spending lots of money on the dress part… If I ever get married I’ll be coming back here for tips

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