We all know that weddings can cost major bucks. Luckily there are ways around all the crazy costs. LearnVest shares the story of how one man planned his own wedding for the unbelievable cost of less than $1,000.
I was just four months into a yearlong stint teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, when I met Sally at a party five years ago.
I was struck by her big smile and bright eyes — and we hit it off instantly, bonding over our private-school jobs and shared love of travel.
We began dating soon after, and as our relationship progressed, my one-year stay evolved into two. And when my second teaching contract came to an end in March 2011, I asked Sally to leave South Korea with me — and she said yes.
In search of adventure — and because we'd heard it was easy to get a 12-month "working holiday visa" there — we decided to spend a year living in Perth, Australia, working in restaurants, coffee shops, and bars to pad our checking and savings accounts along the way.
When our Australian visas expired, we agreed it was time to settle down for a while, so we moved to San Jose, CA, which was close to where I grew up. At that point, we'd been together for years, and knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. So in April 2013, we decided to get married.
Living the Fast, Good and Frugal Life
Part of what I love about my relationship with Sally is that we share the same goals and values. We're especially interested in travel, adventure, and relaxation — and we've realized that the way to achieve the financial independence necessary to enjoy these things early in life is to live frugally, a topic I often blog about on my own site.
We do that by keeping our transportation costs in check, eating at home, and saving half our income — mine as a software salesman and Sally's as a government employee — each month.
When spending our fun money, we follow the "fast, good, and cheap project-management triangle" — a diagram that illustrates the idea that you can only prioritize two of the three characteristics. So if you want to buy something good and cheap, it won't be fast. Alternatively, if you want something cheap and fast, you'll risk quality.
By doing our research and practicing patience, we're able to source the best deals on clothing, travel, and other lifestyle purchases without making any sacrifices — a principle that we also applied to our wedding planning.
Something Borrowed, Something New — Within Budget
When we started planning, we knew that we wanted an intimate affair because most of Sally's family wouldn't be able to travel to the US from South Korea. We also wanted to keep it as inexpensive as possible.
I remember sitting at our dining room table, looking up wedding venues in San Francisco, when we had our first discussion about what we were willing to spend.
I told Sally that I didn't want our wedding to turn into a big, stressful event — or for it to drain our savings, which we'd earmarked for a down payment on a house. From the get-go, Sally was in complete agreement.
Once we'd defined our terms, planning the wedding became relatively easy. We began by asking friends and colleagues about inexpensive places to get married in the Bay Area, and after some online research, landed on San Francisco City Hall, which was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It was perfect for photos and very inexpensive — we paid less than $200 for the marriage license and booking the space. We also decided to skip an expensive engagement ring and chose simple wedding bands.
As a bonus, some expenses ended up being free, thanks to family and friends who offered to chip in. My aunt baked a two-tiered, chocolate-and-cheesecake wedding dessert; my uncle bought beautiful flowers; my cousin made the bouquet and corsages; and my fraternity brother generously offered to handle our photography.
But of all our frugal decisions, I am most proud of the deals we found for our wedding attire. For Sally's dress, we researched gowns online and went to stores, but on a weekend trip to Sacramento, we came across a beautiful gown in a thrift store that was just $50.
I was hesitant about buying a secondhand dress, as I didn't want to be perceived as cheap, but after seeing Sally in it, there was no way we could leave the store without it. To truly make it the dress of her dreams, my mother created a sweetheart neckline and made a beautiful veil. And my grandmother gave Sally her "something old" — a vintage necklace and earrings.
As for my own duds, I found an awesome Brooks Brothers tuxedo on eBay for about $250. I also purchased a slim-fit Boss tuxedo shirt on eBay for $50, a handmade bow tie for $12 on Etsy, and onyx cufflinks from a garage sale for $1. My father gave me his old cummerbund for the finishing touch.
Why We're Proud of Our Thrifty Wedding
After three months of planning, the big day — July 1, 2013 — finally rolled around.
We posed for pictures before, during, and after the ceremony — both inside and outside City Hall. And thanks to my friend's efforts, we ended up with numerous great shots to help us remember the day.
After the ceremony, my parents hosted a small reception for us and nine guests — Sally's brother, my brother, my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin and her boyfriend, and my fraternity brother and his girlfriend — at a French restaurant a few blocks from City Hall. The wedding cake was so delicious, we ended up sharing it with the restaurant staff!
Postreception, Sally and I took off for our honeymoon in Lake Tahoe. We stayed at a friend's cabin, where we relaxed, cooked, and sat by the lake.
We wanted our honeymoon to be a mix of relaxation and fun, so once we were rested up, we drove to Reno, NV, for a few days of fun. We paid just $240 for three nights in a hotel, plus food and gas.
Our weeklong honeymoon cost $400 — bringing our wedding and honeymoon budget to a grand total of $1,003.
While there's a lot of societal pressure to splurge on a huge, expensive wedding, Sally and I held onto this one truth: An extravagant wedding does not equal a perfect marriage.
And while our friends and family were supportive and happy for us — after all, their contributions helped keep our wedding costs so low — I'm sure many of them wouldn't follow the same route for their own weddings. But they understood we had other priorities: to celebrate our love without derailing our financial independence.
As for the money we saved on the wedding? We're still aggressively banking our cash in an effort to build up enough to purchase our first home next year — and then pay off the entire mortgage before 2030.
— By Steve Reed, as told to Christine Ryan Jyoti
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