I’ve promised to write about this at least 10 times, so I guess I better do it! Talking about money does not embarrass me, I don’t really understand why so many people are reluctant to talk about it, and I think the wedding industry is kind of ridiculous, so why not share, right?
When we decided to get married in May of 2010, I did not want to have any sort of wedding at all, and just do the courthouse paperwork and then a few separate receptions for friends and family who are scattered all over the place and don’t all have the means to travel somewhere – upstate NY, Virginia, China, and Costa Rica. If you know me, it’s probably not much of a surprise that I wouldn’t want some princess-y extravaganza. Adrian’s immediate family, however, is extremely close-knit and important to him, so we chose to plan a small event and, although it wasn’t necessarily a goal, kept costs fairly low: under $3000 for the whole thing that we put together, if I’ve got the numbers right. There are a lot of reasons why I preferred not to spend much on a wedding, or really have one at all. Most of this is probably best discussed in person, but let’s just say that between personal priorities and a hot mess family, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. We were engaged for about 6 months, but had been together for quite some time, and were actually on our second completely separate round of living together.
The events we planned were a couple’s shower in Rochester, NY (where we were living and most of our mutual friends were) for about 30 people, a private family-only ceremony at my dad’s house in Virginia Beach, and a 40/50-person reception, also at home. There was also a separate portion in China with my mother that was not under my control and probably didn’t come cheap, but I choose not to worry about that portion for various reasons.
For the couple’s shower, we were fortunate to have my piano professor from my master’s degree offer to host, and she put together a large portion of the food and we made some small appetizers and Oreo truffles (nom!). I’m not sure we counted the cost of the food – it wasn’t much, probably less than $100. A very close friend (V) helped me put together a printable invitation, which we printed as postcards at a cost of $38 and gave out mostly in person, as it was meant as a local party. It was definitely not a bridal shower, and I also did not do anything remotely resembling a bachelorette party. Helps not to have bridesmaids!
For our wedding itself, we decided that my dad’s house was the best place to be. He has a great room with a brick fireplace and a wet bar in the corner, and it was my childhood home, so it felt right. The marriage license was $30, and having the commissioner come out to the house for a short and sweet ceremony was $70. V helped us design and prep the reception invitations as well, which I addressed and mailed myself, totaling $74 with postage and the return address labels. We had them printed at Zazzle, just the one piece, and they came with envelopes. RSVPs and other information for both events were taken care of on our website, which was of my own doing, of course.
I have a black J. Crew dress for performances that I love very much and decided to buy the ivory silk wedding version on eBay, which was $100. I bought $20 of orange satin to make a sash and the nice lady at our favorite cleaner/tailor place put it together for $10 (12 week lead time for whatever reason at David’s Bridal made me angry at the industry, and I got a better color). The dress alteration (just shortening) and cleaning was $100, a premium because it’s a wedding dress. A little annoying, but in light of everything else we went with it. I wore a beautiful jade and crystal necklace my maternal grandparents had given me as a gift, and did my own makeup. I had my hair done, which was $75, and I kind of hated it – when will they learn that round-faced people shouldn’t have those stupid face-framing curlicues?! We bought a vest, dress pants, and tie for Adrian from Express a couple days before on a whim, which was about $150. He would have worn pre-existing clothes otherwise.
I had chosen to wear the ring my dad’s parents had given me as an engagement ring (platinum with a tiny diamond in a very modern setting), having previously decided that I did not want Adrian to buy me anything at all until it was more appropriate to do so (like… middle age). I will tell one personal story about that: my mother originally seemed fine with the idea, but called me back a couple days later and had a meltdown about how if he didn’t buy me a big ring, it meant he didn’t love me. I don’t think it’s hard to imagine why we chose to celebrate with her separately. In any case, we bought very simple bands on eBay – a low karat white gold one for me (harder to wreck), and a titanium one for him. Those were $115 together, and then I spent another $20 to have the engagement ring resized so it would stop falling off at random. We don’t wear them much anymore – Adrian’s was scratching the neck of his bass clarinet, and mine were just supremely annoying – sometimes way too tight, sometimes almost falling off. Blame my fingers. Nothing feels any different, except that I’m glad we didn’t drop a ridiculous amount of money on them, which tells you again about our priorities. We essentially chose to route that money into musical instruments instead.
We rented the following for the reception from a party rental place for $368:
- 4 larger-sized cocktail tables and tablecloths to go with (no chairs – the reception was at 4PM and very informal)
- 40 each of dessert plates, luncheon plates (dinner plates are stupidly large), dessert forks, dinner forks, water goblets, and champagne flutes
- 30 wine glasses (there was also beer and a few Southern Baptists in attendance, so it was still too many)
- 5 chafing dishes for food and sterno (we borrowed another few from V’s family, which helped a lot, as these were by far the most expensive part of the rental)
- Plastic pitchers for water
My dad chose some favorite Chinese/Chinese-American dishes and a couple plates of sushi from a few area restaurants, picking what he felt was best from each place. I actually don’t know how much exactly he spent on the food, but I imagine he got a friend discount at each place. We estimate the cost at about $400, and it was a LOT of food. He donated a large portion of the leftovers to the Chinese church lunch the next day. We took care of putting everything into chafing dishes ourselves between the ceremony and reception.
We purchased 6 1.5L bottles of a big bold red (Almira Los Dos), 6 1.5L bottles of crisp white (Glenora Riesling), and 6 regular bottles of a sweeter bubbly (Barefoot Bubbly Moscato Spumante) for $165, which sounds totally ridiculous, and kind of is – the lady at the wine shop in Rochester, where we had a membership discount, accidentally ran the bottles of Los Dos as 750mL instead of 1.5L, making the case cost something insanely low like $43, which I didn’t notice until much later. We also had 36 bottles each of Sam Adams and Tsingtao, which cost $85. We paid an acquaintance $100 to help serve – would probably have been fine without, but it seemed like a nice thing to do.
We hired an old friend of mine (plus one) for photos (which we had mostly as candid snapshots, and they were of course also included as friends and spent a good chunk of time just eating and chatting, which made me happy), and V’s big sister was still in the area and making cakes at the time, so she made us a beautiful three-tier cake. Those were $250 each – definitely a steal, for which I am very grateful. It’s totally plausible I would have gone without an actual photographer and attempted to make my own cake (a bad idea) were it not for them.
We bought nice Rochester-local handmade Andes-type chocolate dinner mints and packaged them up ourselves as favors for both events, and then, in true Helen-style, promptly neglected to hand them out to everybody. The cost of those plus the little favor boxes was $57. We also had wine glass tags and tent cards for the food ($15). We bought flowers (gerbera daisies in white and orange) in bulk online for $220, and then also bought ribbon for both the flowers and general decorating for $20 on eBay. I put the flowers together myself, including my simple little bouquet, and had various vases around ($40).
There was also some miscellany that I pegged at about $150 (water, ice, napkins, flower food, even some cleaning supplies). We completely forgot to have music of any kind – Adrian’s brother (a pianist) jumped in and played the Mendelssohn wedding march after the ceremony on our piano, and his sister had lots of salsa lined up for the reception, but we were having such a great time just talking to everybody that it went forgotten and unnoticed. This might sound strange for a couple of musicians, but I don’t really think so – anybody who’s been a wedding musician is tired of “the usual”, so it never occurred to us to try to choose anything in particular.
I’m pulling all of these numbers from a spreadsheet because yes I am like that, so hopefully I’ve covered everything. I’m sure there are all kinds of things typically associated with weddings that I didn’t spring for, either because I didn’t want to or because I’m totally unaware of them, but we had a really lovely time at everything, I never heard a complaint from a guest, and most importantly, we are very happily married and didn’t have to start out with debt or obligation!