Not every feminist wedding is low budget, and not every low budget wedding is feminist. But for me and The Boyfriend, planning a relatively inexpensive wedding is important to us, both personally and politically.
Neither of us are particularly formal people, and for us the standard embossed invitations, 3+ layer cakes and $5000 couture gowns would feel like playing a role. What’s more, as I wrote in my last post in this series, one of my chief gripes with the wedding industry is the way it tries to convince you that things you manage to get by without perfectly happy most times in your life are ABSOLUTELY AND UNNEGOTIABLY NECESSARY when it comes to weddings, and if you don’t do them YOUR WEDDING WILL BE RUINED AND EVERYONE WILL HATE YOU.
So for me, showing that these things are not necessary, and that if you don’t do them everyone’s day/night will not be ruined, has been an important form of resistance. There’s more than one way to get hitched, and if sharing my experiences can help others plan weddings that better fit their values, I’ll be a happy feminist wedding planner indeed.
It’s popular these days to roll your eyes at the increasingly obscene average cost of tying the knot. But those people who spend $20,000 or $30,000 on their nuptials? They’re not the same people who are buying Oscar de la Renta gowns, ice sculptures or chocolate fountains. They’re just people who are doing everything (or most of the things) we’ve come to expect from modern weddings.
That said, it is possible to do it for less - and quite substantially less at that. You just have to think outside the box. Here are my six tips for planning a genuinely budget (and wedding industry circumventing) wedding.
1. Take whatever you think it’s going to cost… and double it. Even budget weddings cost money, and unless you’re planning to head down to the registry office/courthouse in clothes you already own with one witness each, usually they cost more than you think you will. You may have thrown parties before – big ones even – but chances are they weren’t 100 (or even 50) person events where you footed the entire sit down dinner and alcohol bill. (Trust me when I say that even on a budget, this kind of thing doesn’t come cheap.) The lesson here is not that you will inevitably find yourself smack bang in the middle of a Brides spread when you once swore that no one even noticed centrepieces anyway, but that if you want to keep your spending low, you need to start out aiming even lower.
2. Avoid the wedding industry wherever possible. Don’t want to get locked into a $35,000 ballroom affair? Don’t approach venues that regularly host wedding receptions (we’re having ours in the space belonging to the organisation through which we met). Heart not set on a handmade corseted ball gown? Buy your dress at a high street store or on Etsy instead (mine is French Connection). The only wedding industry vendors we’re engaging for our “do” are our caterer (whose main business isn’t weddings, anyway) and a make-up artist (what can I say? I’m vain).
3. Enlist your friends to help. This one is surprisingly controversial in the bridalsphere, where you will learn that engaging “friendors”, as they call them, is a fast track to RUINING YOUR FRIENDSHIP, RUINING YOUR DAY (friends can’t be trusted) and RUINING YOUR FRIENDS’ DAY to boot. They may well be right, but I’m taking a punt anyway.
We’ve got a friend celebrant, a friend MC, a friend photographer (a particular sin in wedding land, where only seasoned wedding professionals can be entrusted with your precious memories), mum-designed invitations and a Mr Musings’ mum-designed guestbook. In an insane act of generosity, one of our friends offered to organise a cartel of friend caterers for us, but that didn’t work out due to venue restrictions. I would have had a friend do my makeup if she didn’t live on the opposite side of the globe and is thus unable to attend.
I do think there’s some merit to the argument that getting your friends too involved can hamper their ability to have a fun night, but years of organising events have taught me that it’s often more fun to get involved than to stand around making awkward conversation with strangers or your significant other. Just try to be conscious of the difference between what they want to do, and what they might be doing because you twisted their arm.
4. Be honest about what you really want and need. All those things the wedding industry says you need in order to have a nice wedding? You don’t actually. As with all things in life, it’s good to be able to differentiate between the things that are genuinely important to you, and the things you want because everyone says you should want them. In our case, we decided to ditch flowers, cars, DJ/band, paper invitations, favours and wedding cake (although non-wedding cake is pretty important – yum). So far, no one has gasped in horror (as far as I know).
5. Remember that, 30 or 40 years ago, almost all weddings were like this. Dress? Made your aunt. Venue? Local church hall or courthouse. Food? A cake platter put together by the old ladies at the local church. Hair and make-up? Put together by your most beauty-oriented bridesmaid. People managed to remember what went down without doing a softly-lit glamour photo sessions, and seeking help from those around you wasn’t an imposition but an expectation. Mr Musings and I are planning a wedding that is lower key and lower budget than any I’ve been to, but it will still be far more extravagant and probably cost twice as much as either of our parents’ nuptials… even accounting for inflation. What we have come to think of as non-negotiable is in fact a relatively recent invention.
Other money saving tips you might want to try, but which we’re not using ourselves, include:
- Cut your guest list. I’m with Miss Manners on this one (who says that you should plan your bash around the people you’d like to attend, rather than plan the number of people you’d like to attend around the kind of bash you’d like to have), but the fact remains that feeding 50 people is a hell of a lot cheaper than feeding 100, and feeding 20 people is cheaper still. All’s the better if there are only 20 or 30 people you’d like to attend.
- Ditch the sit down dinner and go for a cocktail reception or hit a nearby bar instead. (I’m a stickler for seating charts, though – I think they’re a godsend for shy people or people who don’t know many other guests – so not going with this one.)
- Go destination. I’m not sure this option actually saves money, given the cost of flying to the wedding site and the fact that these celebrations usually run for several days, but it is a good way to cut the guest list or create a more intimate celebration, if that’s what you’re going for.
- Screw it all and just head down to the registry office/courthouse/Vegas.
Previously in this series: The Musings of an Inappropriate Woman guide to Feminist Wedding Planning