Depending on your priorities, there are all kinds of ways to save money on your wedding. You can forgo a sit-down dinner and just serve heavy appetizers. You can scale back on pricey floral arrangements or choose a DJ (or even a well-stocked iPod) over a band. You should sink the big bucks into the elements of the wedding that matter most to you. But that’s not what this column is about. This week I’ve got some money-saving ideas that won’t take away from your big day one bit. In fact, some of them will actually amp up your wedding’s style, sophistication and sentimentality. You’ll thank me when you’re sipping mai tais on the beach in Bora Bora because you were able to pay for your dream honeymoon with all the cash you saved on your wedding.
Find a venue where you can BYOB
If you choose a traditional venue that requires you to use their beverage service, you can plan to spend $20 to $40 per person for an open bar. Not only does that add up very fast, but you’re paying a steep mark-up for liquor. That means your guests may very well be limited to, shall we say, less-than-premium brands. If you take that same booze budget and spend it at a venue that allows you to bring in your own beer, wine and liquor, you may be able to afford top shelf libations.
If you’re having visions of your goofy uncle pouring shots for your friends at your wedding reception, don’t worry – that’s not how it works. Most locations that permit you to BYOB require that alcohol be served by a licensed caterer or bartender (who typically provides glassware and mixers), so your guests will never know the difference. What they will notice is that they are drinking Grey Goose and Veuve Cliquot rather than well vodka and mediocre sparkling wine. In my neck of the woods, there is a liquor store chain that accepts returns of unopened bottles. If you find a similar place where you live, you can stock up for the reception so you won’t have to worry about running out of anything. I think choosing a BYOB venue is the best way to save thousands of dollars without sacrificing an ounce of style.
Say no to the overpriced dress
If you have ever read this column before, you may have gleaned that I am a girlie girl who has a minor obsession with wedding dresses. Bridal magazines are my porn. So, I’m not going to tell you to buy a second-hand dress or order a reasonably-priced bridesmaid dress in white or ivory (although those aren’t terrible ideas). I think every girl (who likes to wear dresses) deserves to have a beautiful gown on her wedding day.
But, what I am going to tell you is that you don’t need to drop $5,000 on a designer dress to look stunning. Under normal circumstances, if I told you I paid $1,000 for a dress, you’d think I was a pretty fancy lady, right? Well, in some bridal shop, if you say you want to spend just $1,000, you may be made to feel like you asked if you could pay for your dress with your unemployment check. I have watched seemingly-normal (albeit totally irritating) women purchase $14,000 wedding gowns on Say Yes to the Dress.
Come on! It’s a dress! Yes, I know it’s got intricate beading and layers of tulle, but still, it is a dress. The bridal industry preys on women’s insecurities and makes us feel like we need a ridiculously expensive dress to look our best on our wedding days. Since I got engaged, my hobby has quickly become trying on wedding dresses, and I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Wedding dresses are designed to make women look good. Many have boning in the bodice that is magically slimming. They are usually long and dramatic, and bear no resemblance to your everyday wardrobe. Everyone looks prettier in a wedding dress – 100% of the time – and that’s just when you’re trying them on in a bridal salon with a messy ponytail.
On the day of your actual wedding, you’ll look even better because you will probably have your hair professionally styled and your makeup done, and you’ll be glowing with happiness. So, I’ve developed a new motto: If I can’t look good in a $1,000 dress, then no one should be marrying me. I’ve loved this Vera Wang ball gown since the moment I laid eyes on it. It’s timeless, dramatic and beautiful – and you can buy it for $1,028 at David’s Bridal. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t!
Ladies who plan to get married in menswear or a women’s pantsuit, I wish I had similar good news for you. I love a lady in a three-piece suit, but menswear is made for men’s bodies, so lesbian brooms should plan on spending some money on expert tailoring or investing in a custom-made suit. The upshot, however, is that unlike a bridal gown, you can wear a nice suit after your wedding, so go ahead and splurge.
Keep it in the family
Hiring a minister or a rabbi to marry you can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000. I understand that ministers and rabbis have to make a living, but unless religion is very important to you, paying $1,000 for one hour of someone’s time seems a little excessive. Not to mention that the same-sex marriages performed by ministers and rabbis in 43 U.S. states aren’t legally recognized anyway.
So, if you’re basically going through the motions on your wedding day and will actually have to legalize your marriage in an attorney’s office, I say skip the officiant fee and have a relative or close friend marry you. From what I’ve read, it’s pretty easy to become certified online to perform marriages. Kris Jenner and Kathy Griffin are two celebs who have the power to marry people, and apparently it’s free and not very difficult. Griffin told the New York Times that it took her assistant just 10 minutes to complete the online application.
The most popular site for online ordination appears to be Universal Life Church, which does recognize same-sex marriages. Not only will you save some money by having a friend or family member preside over your nuptials, but having an officiant who actually knows you and your fiancée will probably make for a much more meaningful ceremony than one performed by a minister who’s chatted with you for all of 30 minutes before the big day.
Get clever with your cake stand
I love cake, I really do. But, I think wedding cakes are a huge waste of money. They can cost thousands of dollars and some of them don’t even taste that good. In a past column, I’ve advocated for getting a small cake for your and your wife to cut for the obligatory photograph and then serving sheet cake to guests (who won’t notice the difference). However, I know some people really have their hearts set on a mile-high cake that makes a big statement.
If you want towering cake, but don’t want to go broke over it, I think I’ve found the perfect solution for you. Purchase a small three-tier cake, and then jack it up on an ornate stand, like these sophisticated confections by Elizabeth Hodes Custom Cakes and Sugar Art. High drama, low(er) cost.
Send them home with empty hands, but warm hearts
Nobody cares about wedding favors. They just don’t. Even if you choose an economical or a DIY favor, once you multiply the cost by 100 (or 150 or 200), you’ll inevitably eat up a chunk of your wedding budget. So, I say make a donation to a non-profit organization in your guests’ honor.
And, here’s the thing: You don’t have to make a huge donation for it to count as a lovely and respectable wedding favor. You should actually make some donation, but the amount you choose to give is between you and your checkbook. If you’re not sure which cause to support, may I suggest marriage equality? Not that you want to turn your wedding into a politicized protest, but let’s not ignore the elephant in the room – most of us still cannot get legally married, and I think our weddings are as good a time as any to remind people that the fight for marriage equality is far from over. Assuming you and your bride will have to get married in another state before your hometown wedding reception, I think a meaningful favor would be a photo from your out-of-state courthouse nuptials with heartfelt message about marriage equality that lets guests know you’ve made a donation to the cause in their names. Classy, sentimental and nearly free – what’s not to love?
What’s your best tip to throw a low-cost, high-style wedding?