What our wedding was really worth

Guest post by jamieg
Jamieg and her husband on their wedding day. Photo by Mod4.
Jamieg and her husband on their wedding day. Photo by Mod4.

Shortly after we got engaged, around the time we realized how much work and money a wedding could be, we decided we wanted it to be neither. I was warned that a modest event could easily cost $20,000. Not even knowing the going rate for all things weddingish, that was unacceptable to me.

I have financial guilt the way my Catholic friends have sex guilt. I do spend money; they do have sex. But it's rare we're entirely comfortable during the act, and we almost always question ourselves after. I can imagine so many other things to spend money on — good things, things that will last longer, things more deserving, things more logical.

All this led to greater questions about why we were having a wedding in the first place. We could have gone to the courthouse on our lunch hours and sealed the deal with a dozen other couples for about $50. I didn't have any big daydreams about what I wanted my wedding to look like, and my then-fiance certainly didn't.

Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination…

There was just this lingering feeling about it. We wanted to make a promise in front of our best friends, and the family members that helped make us who we are. We wanted everyone to understand how big a commitment this was for us, to see that we believed we were up to the challenge, and that they should hold us to it when we're down. We wanted to have an awesome party, one where people got to look good, feel good, eat great food, catch up with each other and experience joy the way we knew it.

The wedding machine allows for some of that, at least, but it comes with a lot of baggage. There were traditions I didn't understand, or didn't even know until someone was surprised we hadn't followed them. There were expectations I hadn't realized people held, and dreams they wanted to live or relive through my fiance and me. So many questions. A millions questions, for months and months.

I didn't have answers, but I didn't want to do anything without a decent reason why.

And every decision to do something, to not do something, to book now or put it off, to do it here, or there, or that other place you just found, every one of them required time and money.

This wasn't just about money, though. Not at all.

I quickly realized a few things:

  • We had to set priorities, even more than we needed to set a budget.
  • We set a guideline, more so than a budget: spend as close to $10,000 as possible and choose wisely.
  • And that keeping costs down required work.

Remember how we decided that wedding planning should not feel like work, and that the event should not cost an extraneous amount? That was an impossible combination if we were going to have something more than our immediate families over for a potluck after our courthouse wedding. We could have paid someone to do all of this, but it would have been expensive. We also could have done more on our own, and kept costs down that way.

I'm shocked to realize that [the price] was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt.

In the end, I was exhausted by the planning process, and all the other non-wedding craziness in the months leading up to it. For a hot minute, we considered ditching all of it and eloping. There were things that weren't exactly what I wanted — yep, the folding chairs were homely, the reception decorations didn't cover everything I thought they would and several guests canceled at the last minute — but, day-of, it didn't matter. Our wedding delivered everything that we'd set as a priority, and those are the things I remember so vividly.

The final cost to us was about $11,000. I'm shocked to realize that it was entirely worth it. Every penny. There is no guilt. I know not everybody agreed with all our decisions, but I'll be honest: The wedding was one of the most fun days I've ever had. Better still, I really feel like it started my husband and me off in a positive, forward-moving way. Friends and family are still telling us how much they enjoyed it. Even some who initially expressed disappointment at some of our choices said they had fun, and could really sense our personalities and values.

We got what we paid for: exactly the kind of wedding we would've wanted if we'd ever bothered to daydream about it.

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Comments on What our wedding was really worth

  1. That’s how I feel about spending money.
    My grandmother paid 800 dollars for our cake and all I could think about was how that 800 could have paid for the couch, bookshelf, dresser and coffee table that we’ve been wishing we had for the past year, but haven’t had the money to save up for it.
    It actually caused me some pain as I saw her swipe the card and sign her name. I wanted to jump in front and say “No it’s ok, I don’t care if we have a cake, I’ll make my own cake using boxes of $1 betty crocker mix, just GIVE ME THE COUCH!”
    However, we are expected to have the cake of our dreams. It’s going to be able to feed more than DOUBLE the amount of guests we will have, but my grandma had to go big and I couldn’t stop her.
    I just hope that cake is delicious and makes me forget that when I get home I’ll be sitting on my old couch, with my coffee in my hand and no place to put my clean laundry.

    • I think you should appreciate that your grandma wanted to buy you a new cake. It’s her money. If you want a couch go buy a cheap one at Ikea. Here in Ottawa we have usedottawa.com where you can buy nice used couches for cheap.

      • I’m pretty sure Ashleigh wasn’t saying she didn’t appreciate the cake, but that it was such a lot of money for something edible when compared to something practical like furniture. I think the point she is making just reflects how many of us feel about spending money on a wedding, it’s money that’s spent on one day when we often struggle to pay for practical items in our everyday lives (whether those items are cheap and secondhand or not).

    • I understand the pain. My Fiances grandmother and father are helping us out so much, and though we need it we’re both on the same “we need this that and the other” page. I’m doing as much DIY as possible for our wedding, and though stressful I love it. Our venue came with a cake, and I’m even going basic there and decorating it myself the day of.

  2. This is great perspective – in fact, hearing you say it helps me realize that it’s exactly how I feel! We never even added up our total costs – I’d guess it’s close to yours, but in the end, we did what we wanted, and savings here allowed spending there. Thanks for writing this!

  3. I couldnt have said it better myself! That is exactly how I felt during the whole process!

  4. I’m so glad to see this post. We had a similar reaction, made bigger when we got non-trivial and unexpected assistance from parents. We aimed for $10k, and blew far past that, including splurging on things like a second party for our out-of-town guests. We’re lucky that we could afford it comfortably…. but given that we could, it was *totally* the right answer. As you say, worth every penny. For all that my instincts are to spend on concrete stuff and not “just a day”, my mother’s also right: memories matter *way* more than things. And there is that recent research that says that experiences make people happier than stuff. So it’s not just in our heads!

    ….which will only do so much to stop the guilt. But it’s still good to hear.

    • Thank you for that message from your mom! I needed to hear that 🙂 I keep saying that I can’t justify spending so much money on 1 day, but that is a great way to think of it.. it’s not just one day, the memories will last. And also that the details don’t really matter as long as you’re with the people you love and you’re having a good time.

  5. Thank you for writing in! That was a good message to hear…(if you want to do it all yourself, awesome; if you pay for things towards the wedding also awesome. 🙂

    What all did you guys do yourselves?

    I loved the offbeatbride article about DIY fail…we’ve all been there.

  6. It’s Michigander. 🙂

    This is just the kind of thing I need to hear right now as I’m just beginning the planning process. Luckily we’ve got two years before the wedding (we’ve been engaged a week and a half). We have time to save some money and fund the things we want and it also gives me time to bargain hunt for other things.

    I’m hoping for a $10,000 budget and my parents have said they’ll help a little, but I’m not expecting any more than $2,000 from them and that alone would be a huge help. We always anticipated having to pay for it ourselves so anything extra I get I’m super grateful for.

    • Your story sounds so much like mine! I’m expecting probably about the same contribution from our families and have the same timeline. I like to tell people that we are waiting 2 years because we need 2 more tax returns and 2 more bonuses.

  7. I’m so glad to read this. I’ve never hear someone but my money compulsion into words so well.
    $10,000 is our goal as well and big families and lots of friends is the only way we would have it. We can keep cost down but hearing someone with same money guilt say to breath and let it happen is a god sent.

    • I don’t know how much of a difference it will make with your family/friends, but I only allowed +1 for those who didn’t know anybody. I was worried about how people would feel about it, but lots of friends and family (including my brother!) came alone and I didn’t hear one complaint. That saved a LOT of money.

  8. Great post. My wedding cost about $10,000 also (for about 100 guests), which I thought was a lot of money until I really got to the planning. Buying a $400 David’s Bridal dress gave me more money to spend on flowers. Even though I’m a bit of a shoe fanatic, I wore cheap dyeable sandals because my dress was so long you couldn’t see them. Having it on a Sunday afternoon meant we could afford a nicer reception hall. And our friends agreed to do the photography at a highly discounted price as a wedding gift to us. All the trade-offs were worth it.

  9. This post was so touching. I have been having the same feelings about my wedding – worried about it being too small, too expensive, too much work – it’s nice to know there are other who have made it work. Gives me hope!

  10. A number of years ago (8, actually) our wedding cost a little more, but it was financed by my folks, which I am very very lucky for, I know. Even though it wasn’t “my” money, it wasn’t like I wanted to go spending willy nilly by folks hard earned cash. But this is _exactly_ how I felt about my wedding. Did I need an $800 dress? No way. Did I need a band instead of a dj – nope. But we wanted a big wedding, and big weddings cost money. But I do not regret one iota having a single person there to share our day with us, and I can look back on my wedding without a single regret – including the money. That’s the best feeling.

  11. Thank you for writing this. A selfish part of me wants a lot of the pettier things that make for a big wedding, and both families seem to expect a grand affair, but it’s really really hard to even consider spending so much on one day when my maintenance light is on and student loans are coming in. Every little detail is a juggle of finances, families, and personal wants. Hopefully our story will end as well as yours has.

  12. Just found this website and am diving in to read all I can!! Your article hit home about spending and guilt. I’m known as the return queen because of my buyer’s remorse and my shopping compulsion 🙁

    But now I am planning and shopping for a wedding targeted in less than 5 months. I recently became unemployed and so our “budget” just shrank dramatically. I’m looking at a less than $5,000 wedding.

    I’m torn between trying to make it happen (and WHERE to find inexpensive ideas) or just eloping and meeting up with family afterward. I’m hoping to find answers and ideas from brides like you!!

    • My fiance and I are throwing our wedding for about 13,000 but it’s for 200 guests (my fiance is Italian) which I think is pretty darn impressive! Here’s some things that helped us:
      *the reception is in a town owned building so not only was it super cheap, we got to rent it for 4 whole days.
      *We’re making our own playlist and one of friends who is extremely outgoing is going to MC for us so no DJ cost
      *I found a gal on Etsy who is custom making my bridesmaid dresses for under $100, that the girls can REALLY wear again. One of my other friends actually found hers at Target and they were beautiful
      *give the cheap cheap caterer a chance. We asked our guy why he was stupid cheap and it’s because he’s been in business for 30 + years so he’s made relationships with the folks he buys the food from so he can afford to cut the prices and therefore get more bookings.
      *For our invitations we found a photo online that we liked, put the text on it in an editing program and used a 1/2 off coupon to order them as matte photos at Walgreens, then we glued the photos to card stock. They’re beautiful.
      *the response cards are thick card stock the legal size of post cards so no extra envelope is necessary.
      *I got my dress at David’s Bridal, and it’s awesome
      *we’re having a close family friend make a small fancy cake for us to cut and such and a big sheet cake to feed the majority of guests.
      *we realized that a champagne toast, even if we used super cheap champagne would end up costing an extra $500 so we decided we can toast with whatever is in our glasses!
      *we’re buying bulk flowers and another family friend is putting together the arrangements for us.
      *basically, know that your family and friends want to help, and think of it this way, what’s more special, a bouquet that a florist put together or one that your mother in law helped put arrange?
      Hope this helps and Congratulations!

  13. YES! I’m not engaged yet but there will be religious and cultural traditions to follow, I dread already the circus! But I am determined to enjoy my wedding day the opposite way I have not enjoyed other celebrations in “my” honor, aka honoring my parents’ happiness on my behalf. And $10,000 is completely reasonable considering clothing, food, decor, etc. That will be my target when we’re official…no matter how many people are invited!

  14. Thank you so much for eloquently articulating what I grappled with while planning my wedding. I was raised Catholic by an accountant, so I am plagued with sex guilt and financial guilt!

    I never particularly wanted to have a wedding and certainly never dreamed of being the bride, so planning (and spending) was very challenging for me. In the end, my husband and I stuck to our principles and embraced what is important to us – the result was a day that truly embodied our spirit and love for each other. In the weeks since, we have received numerous compliments noting that the day was so fully shaped to reflect our personalities and tastes.

    I still feel a twinge knowing that we spent (far) more on our wedding day than we did on the down payment for our home, but I admit it was worth it. We had a fantastic time and will forever recall the waves of gratitude and love that washed over us throughout the day.

  15. Thank you so much for this!!! I have been on the verge of going batty with my future in-laws. It’s like they have been looking down on us for wanting to spending more than $3,000 on our wedding, and trying to convince them that we are actually getting really good deals and saving as much money as possible is a losing battle. Any who THANK YOU!!

  16. What a sigh of relief reading this knowing my panicking is normal. I went into planning my wedding thinking 10,000 is the price where we can feel comfortable but realizing with the sizes of our family and friends it has gotten out of control. We are at about 14,000 even with ‘hook ups’ we know nd finding center pieces on sale and thrift stores. I just needed to read this to bring me down out of my ‘i am going crazy” cloud and remember this is a party ro celebrate my love with my best friend.

  17. Me and my fiance are planning a 3-4k wedding with around 100 plus people, not counting any outside help we get, and so far we’re comming in under that with our venue being the most expensive. And we’re doing everything we want for it, without blowing a huge amount of money.

    • Can you share some of your tricks? This sounds like what we will be trying to pull off and it would be great to get some pointers.

  18. I’d love to see the details of this wedding that Jamieg posted. Even though I’m a member of OBT, I can’t access the archive. Anyone know how to fix/get around this?

  19. I too, would love to see the breakdown. I just bumped up my budget from 5K (I’m such a cheapo) to 10K and I’ve been freaking out. This article definitely calmed my nerves a tad!

  20. I was proposed to just before Halloween, and our wedding date us set for Halloween of next year. It would be so much easier to postpone it a year, but neither of us wants to wait. In my mind I’m trying to stay within a 5k budget. 10k sounds like a dream! I’m still researching the possibilities before discussing anything with my fiancé. It’s near impossible to afford the “perfect” venue in the city we want to marry in. I found a wonderful place off the beaten path about 40 minutes out that has reasonably priced onsite lodging and even camping space for event guests only. The rental cost is around $1600 for 100-150 guests and includes tables, chairs, linens. The venue has personality and is also perfectly pre-lit exactly as I would have done. I really want to throw a good party in a venue that is aesthetically pleasing. To stay in budget I plan on doing some DIY decor along with thrifted items. I’ll buy a dress from the mall if I have to, otherwise I’m not going over $300. Hopefully I can get a deal on photography and a DJ via my network of friends. I’m a cake decorator, so if I absolutely have to, I can put together a simply elegant cake. Our wedding will be all vegan, so if it comes down to it, we can throw together some food. Unfortunately, we live out of state from our family and have to include travel costs to and from our hometown as well. It’s definitely stressful to think about, and I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but I believe we can make it happen!

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