How to Throw a Frugal Wedding (Without Alienating Your Friends)

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My sister’s wedding was the worst day of my life. I would like to say it was because I felt like I was losing her. But no, I was fine with that. The real reason was because she had a nightmare frugal wedding. Would money have fixed the problem? Well, let’s find out!

The Terrible Prelude

My sister’s wedding had about 75 people and cost a few thousand. It’s not the frugalest wedding of all time but it’s pretty good.

My brother in law chose his only brother as his best man. I am my sister’s only sister. My sister chose to have three bridesmaids and no maid of honor. She wanted us to be equal. I really felt like this was a slap in the face. My sister stated though that there would be no toasts at the wedding so it wouldn’t matter. Remember this detail.

Also, despite what I will write about below, my sister and I have a great relationship. I hated her wedding but she’s a lovely person. It’s just that a lack of planning (and the stress of weddings in general) can make everyone go crazy.

The Garbage Rehearsal

At the rehearsal, the church wedding planner created name tags for all of us. I was designated the maid of honor, because I guess she needed one for staging purposes. I was also the tallest, which probably made the pictures a bit easier.

At the rehearsal dinner, one of my BIL’s relatives opted to bless the meal. His prayer had some line about being overjoyed to be able to celebrate the wedding of [my BIL] and ..pause. I hiss my sister’s name. He seems to finally remember the name of the bride. I wanted to stab him.

The Nightmare Wedding

So the wedding day arrives. My sister said the bridesmaids could all wear black dresses we owned. I’m of course mistaken for the bride. (Ugh all Asians don’t look alike! Plus the bride is the one in the big white dress!).

The ceremony starts at 10am. My sister is chillzilla. But around 9:40 she ponders, should I wear makeup? So we decide on some foundation. Some gets dripped on her dress. I immediately make a beeline for the groomsman who told me he would bring a Tide pen. Crisis averted.

Wedding goes off fine, if a little long. The kiss, well that’s a whole other story. (It was all everyone, but me, could talk about after the wedding.)

Anyway, the reception is in the church basement. My sister said she had heard of weddings where the friends and family would serve the food buffet- style. It cuts down on catering costs and people are happy to help.

The food has been delivered but there are no caterers. There are no waiters. Which means there is no one to figure out where the food will be served. There is no one to bring out the large buffet trays. A bunch of people come up to me asking, what do we do?

The Disastrous Climax

I enlist the help of the ushers (these guys were godsends and I hope my sister and BIL realize what treasures these guys were). We assemble the tables, bring out the food, find the serving wear and well, serve the guests. Fine, everyone’s eating. I sneak in some food. While I’m sitting at the head table by myself (the newlyweds were making the rounds and the other bridesmaids and groomsmen were elsewhere) the emcee starts his schtick. He congratulates the new bride and groom. Then he says words that haunt me to this day.

Now for the maid of honor toast.

And he shoves the microphone straight in my face while I’m eating my dinner alone. And 75 heads turn my way. I swat away the mic, a look of horror spreading on my face.

Fortunately, my dad jumps up and gives an impromptu speech. Thanks, dad.

The Whimpering Conclusion

Then it’s time for cake. I again enlist the ushers to bring all the food back to the kitchen. (I don’t remember what happened to people’s dinner plates). So then we served cake.

The reception was pretty much over at this point. Except for one thing: we are supposed to clean all the dishes. Surprisingly, the wedding party all has plans so they leave tout de suite. I’m left with the two ushers. We clean dishes for a few hours. The floor is a puddle of water so I can’t even take off my four-inch heels. I also make sure the church is back in tip top shape. When the ushers leave, I wished I had firstborn children to give them. They were super amazing.

Then, my sister’s friend asks for a lift to go buy a gift. He’s a good guy, if a little scatter-brained. I literally cannot feel my feet and can barely walk at this point so I say he can take my car but he has to drive. I slink into the passenger seat, my dress covered in food smells. It’s only a few miles to the Best Buy. But my friend gets into a fender bender with a car in front of him. Thankfully, my car is a beater, but still, it was the perfect cap to the worst day of my life.

Oh and then for bridesmaid gifts, my sister gave me a copy of her favorite children’s book. I don’t want YOUR favorite children’s book, I say. And she happily takes it back.
The end result was that I was exhausted, sore, humiliated, scared (about what would happen with my car), frustrated, resentful and angry. This is what happens when your “frugal” wedding goes wrong.

Why Frugal Wedding Advice is Infuriating

To her credit, my sister is not a personal finance blogger. Because so help me, if she writes a how-to on having a frugal wedding, I will ….think really bad thoughts about her. (Incidentally, my sister’s uber-cheap bridesmaid friend copied my sister’s wedding to a tee. She even requested the same church – which she doesn’t attend – and asked to take my sister’s dress. Two of a kind).

The tips that personal finance bloggers write about weddings is infuriating and one would end up with a wedding not dissimilar to my sister’s. Look at any list of frugal wedding tips and they’ll tell you to be dishonest (don’t tell them it’s a wedding, tell them it’s a retirement party!). They’ll also tell you to use your friends and family for free labor, and then pat themselves on the back for all the free hours, weeks and months that their friends and family spent worrying about their wedding.

Weddings are that funny occasion when personal finance bloggers do not put their money where their mouth is.  These are the same people who will encourage you to side hustle in one post. But with regard to weddings, they’ll encourage you to get your hard side-hustling friends to work for free.

A personal finance blogger will say, ignore the expectations of your peers. But their concept of a frugal wedding still abides by the same rules. You have to feed everyone a meal, you have to have alcohol, you have to have music, you have to have professional photography, and new fancy clothes. The only way to do those things is to be kinda rich already (so you can stockpile booze or have connections for cheap food) or to use people (free photography, free music, free setup and cleanup). What people who pay for the $30k wedding are paying for is not diamond-encrusted swans – but logistics. It can cost a lot of money for things to run smoothly. Otherwise, you have to get your wedding party to pick up the slack, which can be stressful (see above).

My Experience Planning A Wedding

I’ve never been married but I have planned a wedding. We cut all the corners for the bride and groom (wear clothes we owned, no hair or makeup, as few flowers and decorations as possible) but we would not cut corners for our guests and friends. We hired a friend to do the photography – but we were paying her. We hired a friend to do the ceremony – but we were paying her and had looked into the ordination rules for her. We were going to pay for travel and lodging for family that wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Still, the wedding budget was right around $30k – the average price for a wedding. We were also 1%ers and this amount of money was still stressing me out. The difference for us was that this was about how much money we could save in 5 months. For many couples, that’s one entire salary for a year.

How to Have a Frugal Wedding Without Alienating Your Friends

If you can’t afford the big ordeal wedding, that’s totally fine. Weddings used to be punch and cake in the church basement while wearing your Sunday best.  You can create a sustainable, honest wedding. If all you can afford is punch and cake, the people who will be offended will not be around for long anyway. There are a million ways to say, hey wedding industry, I can’t do the huge party. I just want to gather my friends and family together and drink beers. And that’s ok.  Personally, I would rather have a barbecue and call it a day than lie or use people.

Living within your means requires bravery. Throwing a wedding that flouts the traditional won’t be for everyone. But I’m betting that a lot of people will hear of your wedding and be relieved. At least some of these people will be your guests. But at least one of those people will be me.

 

10 thoughts on “How to Throw a Frugal Wedding (Without Alienating Your Friends)

  1. Girl you need a truckload of cheese to go with all that whine! Maybe call the whaaaaambulance too! Weddings don’t matter at all, only the marriage does. Chill…

    1. Sorry if it came off as complaining to you. My point is that by reducing costs at a wedding, you are passing off work and stress to your friends and family.

  2. I don’t consider your sister’s wedding a nightmare frugal wedding. More like a cheap wedding. In my opinion, frugality primarily affects the person who is frugal. But being cheap has collateral damage–everybody is affected (often negatively) by a person’s cheapness.

    What about those people who try to plan a frugal wedding by making it a “destination wedding”, hoping that only 5% of invited guests actually come, but still expect a gift from the other 95% of those who were unable to attend? That would probably classified as cheap.

    1. Fair – it’s the difference between frugal and cheap. But I’ve definitely seen tips for “frugal” weddings that would end up just like my sister’s wedding.
      And yeah, those destination wedding people are some of the worst. =P

  3. That was the worst day of your life? Your life has been super easy and awesome. No one was in the ICU? No one died? You didn’t lose your job, or get evicted? Must be nice.

  4. Tough crowd! I disagree with Steveark—I don’t think you’re a whiner—and I enjoyed this post. I am a big fan of living within one’s means, and I applaud simple weddings. At the same time, I HATE the idea that it’s perfectly fine inconvenience (or soak for cash, or enlist into involuntary labor) your friends and family in order to save money on your wedding. Do your spending on making sure the logistics work out and that things are easy for your guests; do your saving on things like bouquets, clothes, decorations, and other things that literally nobody notices: that’s my philosophy. And you’re the first person I’ve ever seen voice it in a blog post! May more people take your good advice! 🙂

  5. My dream wedding in PF community style is a picnic at a public park or a beach potluck style and telling all close family and friend guests, “we’re getting married right now! ”

    That or someone’s backyard + bbq

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