Frugal Couple Throws Reasonably Priced Wedding, Manages to Avoid Looking Like Tightwads

We did it in style for a little over $8,000.

I was underemployed, my fiancé was looking to resign from her job, and we had accidentally given birth to three children. My trust fund, a water cooler bottle full of quarters from Dad, had been spent years earlier. In short, we had no business having a 100-guest wedding in San Diego, California — one of the world’s most expensive cities — but dammit we did just that, and we did it in style for a little over $8,000.

Wedding Venue = A Year’s Worth Of Mortgage Payments
The average cost to rent a 100-person wedding and reception venue in San Diego was over $15,000, which was double our entire wedding budget, and about as much we pay over the course of a year to avoid homelessness.

A cheaper option was to get married on the beach. All we’d have to do is arrive early and have recently paroled family members block off the perimeter to prevent random beachgoers from interrupting. Unfortunately, there was a permit and reservation process that could take up to 12 months. Our wedding, scheduled for Valentine’s Day, was just four months away.

Parks were also a consideration. Space would be cheap, and the grounds would be well-maintained. Plus there was a bonus: Management allowed drunkenness provided the alcohol was ingested through a plastic or aluminum container. But the restrooms would be a bit of a problem. Sure, they were usable and fairly clean, but not to the level where a bridesmaid would feel comfortable hiking up her dress and letting one rip. The internet told me luxury porta potties were a thing. They were a bit more costly than I anticipated, but still cheaper than renting a venue. This seemed to be the way to go.

My fiancée, Amber, did not agree with my vision of luxury latrines. So we rented a relatively unknown wedding and reception space at a nearby golf course. It was well-kept and sat atop a hill with distant views of the ocean and the stacked homes of Tijuana, Mexico. They provided chairs and most of the setup. It even had an outdoor dance floor. If the weather stayed nice, great. If it rained, even better — we’d have a melodramatic first dance. The total cost for six hours at the venue, including beer and wine: $2,640.

Do We Really Have To Feed People?
Strangely, many people prefer to have food with said beer and wine, thereby foregoing the more intense and efficient buzz that comes with drinking on an empty stomach. At first glance the costs of catering were obscene, $25 or more a plate. Our upcoming wedding began to seem more like a fancy group date for 100 guests. I was not feeling that generous.

We settled on a vendor to provide the only item, food or otherwise, that’s affordable in San Diego: tacos. Authentic, all-you-can-eat street tacos filled with guacamole, homemade salsa, cilantro, and the meat of your choice: steak, chicken, or pork. We also had side dishes of rice and beans, along with horchata to drink. To feed and serve 100 people, the taco man charged us $1,100.

It was more fun dining than fine dining. People had to get their asses up and stand in line for tacos while holding paper plates (the top-shelf special occasion ones!). Overall, we got a lot of compliments on the food, and most weren’t sarcastic, except from the DJ. During the rehearsal meeting, upon learning of our choice of food, he broke out in laughter and said, “Damn, that’s ghetto!” He would go on to eat mass amounts of tacos.

Maybe Instagram Can Cherish Our Memories Forever?
Amber took the lead on finding a photographer and after learning of their rates, I couldn’t help but think how everyone’s a photographer these days thanks to Instagram. Obviously that’s terribly dismissive of a professional’s skill in properly capturing one of the most important days of our lives, but damn, a couple thousand dollars for pictures?

A hashtag wedding sounded like a viable option. We’d rely on our guests to snap photos throughout the day and evening and mark each picture with our hashtag of choice. Sometime after the wedding, or possibly never, we’d go through the pictures and print the most memorable photos to create a wedding album.

That’s a lot of trust to put into guests who may very well be snapping pictures with a drink in one hand, phone in the other. So we searched the internet and found a photographer who fit our budget. He was great; he used clever one-liners to relax his subjects and constantly lurked to catch intimate and staged-to-appear-intimate pre-ceremony photos. Overall, he was worth the $1,000, though we couldn’t afford to keep him around for the reception.

As our luck would have it, we found out the week before the wedding that a friend of a friend was a videographer. The videographer and his co-producer were only 15, but they seemed enthusiastic and eager to provide child labor. In the end, they produced a really high-quality video synopsis of our wedding. Had it aired on Netflix it would have at least received a four star rating. We paid them $250, which is like fifty thousand kid dollars.

Don’t Rent a Tux, Buy A Low-Quality Stylish One
My goal in choosing a tux was to pick something classic that would minimize the amount of laughter from my children when they look at our wedding pictures 20 years down the road. I searched the usual tuxedo rental retailers and much of what I found was boxy and swag-deficient.

So I went to H&M, a great place to buy fashionable clothes that you can wear once before they rip. I bought a slim-fit tuxedo and shirt for just $142, and later, a purple paisley bowtie from eBay for $12. I asked my groomsmen to buy the same tux from H&M before the New Year’s rush. Three of the four did. The one who missed the sale was at least able to snag the jacket. He bought tuxedo pants from a different store.

Amber went the traditional route and purchased a $500 wedding dress from David’s Bridal. It was form fitting and elegant and had a section that detached in case she wanted to dance or quickly re-consummate our marriage. It was also strapless, which enabled easy emergency nursing of our youngest boy. Her bridesmaids bought above-knee dresses that reached Amber’s criteria of not looking homely.

Can You Even Make Things, Bro?
I cannot. But my wife can. She is handy and creative and owns a fancy drill and sewing machine. As far as craftsmanship, I bring nothing to the table besides complaints about having to tag along with her in the arts and crafts store.

For our wedding, Amber bought flowers from Trader Joe’s at a deep discount and used them to make the bouquet, corsages, and boutonnieres. Then she “borrowed” flowers from the golf resort (with permission from the venue manager who understood our struggle) to decorate the wedding arch. She also cut pages from our favorite books—the theme of our wedding was literature—to create centerpiece candles and bookmarks as wedding favors. She cut and sewed satin to make table runners.

Amber’s do-it-yourself skills saved us a lot of money and I shall always speak fondly of arts and crafts stores, provided I don’t actually have to go inside.

Relationships Are About The Little Things, And So Are Wedding Budgets
When it comes to surprise line-item costs, weddings rival medical bills. In addition to everything mentioned above, we also paid for outfits for the kids, a hotel room for my parents, hair and makeup, alterations, a marriage license, wedding bands, and various other costs I didn’t immediately think of when planning a celebration of our departure from a life of sin.

Still, the wedding was well worth it, even for someone like me, who previously saw weddings as little more than a stressful and overpriced opportunity to publicly express love until it makes others cry. Sure, we could have married at the courthouse and saved a lot of money. (I have friends who have gone this route. Most planned to have a larger celebration down the road, but life happened. Years passed and they became sane and ended up putting the money towards a new home, long vacation, or a divorce lawyer.) But I’m glad we splurged to make our big day memorable. A day we’re still reminded of with each monthly credit card statement.

Dewan Gibson blogs at Instead of going to senior prom, he used his savings to purchase a 1987 Plymouth Horizon for $550.

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