Getting married on the cheap

January 28, 2009

Two friends of mine are getting married soon.

Their wedding will take place at a camp ground in the country. They have saved their meagre funds to pay an excellent local band and pay for their guests to stay overnight. Instead of gifts, they have asked guests to bring a dish for a pot luck supper.

I know for sure that as a musician, I’ve attended a lot of weddings, and I’ve never noticed any more happiness at a posh hotel reception than at a primary school hall. My own idea of a good do involves a lamb on a spit, a keg, and a ceilidh, in someone’s back garden. Since Kathy is a vegetarian, I suppose we’ll have to make some felafel or something too…

If you are going to get married at all, this strikes me as far more sensible than sticking a house deposit’s worth of money into the hands of caterers and dress makers and other hangers-on.

Have you been to a good cheap wedding?



  1. Yes, my own to Liz.

    We hired the Wellesley Boat. All guests paid a “ticket price”, the bar was supplied by my parents. The boat was decorated by mates whilst others acted as MC, guest welcomers and worked tirelessly in the background to make it all happen.

    It rocked!!! (and rolled *ahem*)

    Having said all that – if someone’s idea of happiness is to spend “a house deposit’s worth of money” on a huge party that will remain in their memory for ever and not lose it on the current housing market, all power to them.

    Thinking outside the “norm” is good but the “norm” is as good a choice as any other.

  2. For me personally the “house deposit” scenario kind of makes me sick. Also the last 3 BIG weddings I have been to have ended up in divorce within 3 years. I hope there is no corrolation

    Best I’ve been to was in a garden and catered by a local indian community group. I have been to a really awful “cheap” wedding too where the couple and families took on too much and all sorts of distaster struck.

  3. We were married at the registry office and spent the rest on a band and booze and food at a pub. Cost us a *tiny* fraction of what a big-formal thing would cost, and we had a ball.

    If you really think that the 1st day of married life is the most important day of married life, then feel free to spend 5-6 figures on your ‘special day’. But that doesn’t seem logical to me

  4. Morgue and Cal got civil unioned on Saturday and held a pot luck reception. Morgue’s sister Miriam coordinated this with a dazzling mixture of efficiency and grace: the result was a lovely three-course cold buffet with plenty of variety for everyone. Jack and I made a white chocolate cheesecake, and Rebecca insisted that she had to bring a cake too so she and Jack made a chocolate sponge. We all enjoyed contributing to the shared meal: it was very much part of who Morgue and Cal are and the sort of day it was – the emphasis was on community, and the importance of as many people being able to attend as wanted to. I thought it was great!

    If you are going to do a wedding/union on modest means you need lots of support from friends and relations. But it’s the sort that people often seem happy to give.

    Jack and I were lucky enough to be in this position when organising our wedding, nine years ago(!). We were living in the UK at the time and the fact that we were planning the thing from 12,000 miles away meant we had to keep things fairly simple and DIY: ergo, we got to focus on the stuff that really mattered to us and, as a wise man once said, bugger the rest. The result was a relaxed garden party at my parents-in-law’s place. Flowers from the wholesalers, food by my mum-in-law, who excels at these sorts of things (my stipulation concerning the food was: ‘There should be some’), waiters from Student Job Search (we made sure to overpay them). Frock made by a mate of mine in the UK who could sew (I seem to remember taking it home in a Tesco bag: classy or what?). And a jazz quartet playing in the corner. And great weather. And all our mates there. The only thing I would change was my shoes, which I got in a sale, and hurt like hell. So I guess the moral is: it’s worth plonking down a couple of extra quid for the things that matter 😉

  5. Heather reports accurately about our pot-luck bash being extremely well-received. Having a co-ordinator is good, because many people will want a steer on what sort of thing they should bring, while others will want to bring their favourite dessert or whatever. I don’t think having a co-ordinator is necessary, but it made things exceptionally smooth for us.

    Heather’s account of her own wedding is also accurate, because I was there and it was marvellous! Student Job Search wait staff worked great for us as well.

    And yes: the happiness seems the same no matter what the celebration.

    Huzzah 🙂

  6. Sorry, if the parents of the bride don’t have to remortgage the house and get into debt with the mob to pay for the nuptials it’s not legally binding.

  7. [engage Yorkshire accent] “Garden”, oooh, we used to dream about getting married in a garden.

  8. As an addenda – at one point, we met a couple of people who’d had a Big Wedding. Booked the local cathedral, huge party, lots of guests, etc. We met them two years later. We met them because we were buying their stuff, because it was easier for them to sell their household goods as part of the divorce settlement than argue about who got what. Turned out that the groom had been knocking off all the bridesmaids (I don’t think simultaneously). In the meantime, the insane increase in the worth of their house in the two years since their wedding (this was at the height of the property bubble in the UK) just covered the remaining loan they’d taken out to pay for the wedding. When I heard the cost, I blanched; you could buy entire streets in some parts of the South Island for that.

    OK, it’s not a tip for frugality, but it’s a good cautionary tale: it’s easy to get into financial trouble out there. I guess the tip I’d have would be that weddings are status events, and it’s easy to get into the “must spend more” trap. Particularly when there’s an entire industry out there encouraging you to spend money on bullshit like matching place settings. I’ve been to a lot of weddings, and I have _never_ been able to tell you whether the place settings matched, what the calligraphy looked like, etc. The only things that I really note at any given wedding are whether the food’s any good, whether the booze runs out, and roughly what color the bride’s dress was. Oh, and if there’s a punch-up I tend to notice that too.

    I have many opinions about weddings. This has been one of them.

  9. Hmm. Tried to write a long, involved comment which does not seem to have appeared. Is there some naughty language filter on? I did use a mildly scatological term.

    Stephen writes: For some reason, nearly every comment you submit seems to get caught by the spam filter. I don’t know why, but it’s just you…

  10. I have a fairly conventional wedding coming up very soon indeed. We’ve deliberately shopped around and tried to get good prices; we certainly aren’t dropping 20% of a 400K house price on it (Seriously? You’ve been to 80K weddings? In NZ?). As with most things, there is a middle ground to be found with which the interested parties are happy with.

  11. You’ve been to 80K weddings? In NZ?

    Only as a hired musician, but yes, they definitely exist. You can still get a mortgage with less than 20% if you ask around too…

    I should make it clear that I’m not knocking your spending choices if you’re happy with them. I just am interested in how to have a cheap occasion, if cheap is your thing.

  12. I went to a 60k wedding at a vinyard in Martinborough. It was one of the “did not last” ones.

    And like others I am not really knocking big weddings if thats your choice – just not my cup of tea

  13. We did ours for under $4000. That covered outfits for me, my husband and my sister/bridesmaid (no white in sight!) and everything else. Outdoor wedding venue courtesy of the city council $40, reception venue a local community place for a couple hundred I think, $4 gerberas, cake bought by mum, spit roast for catering (no dishes!) and we asked people to bring wine to share with others instead of gifts.
    It was great! And a couple of nights at a local boutique hotel for the honeymoon.

  14. Ours (which Stephen was at, actually was best man at), was definitely not that pricey. The main factors were location (in a very nice garden that’s a little way off the “wedding trail”), having them do the catering instead of getting separate food, having a stand up affair instead of a big sit-down do and then spending as much of the savings as possible on a good band and heaps of alcohol.

  15. My partner and I had our Civil Union for about $1,000.
    We sent our own invitations, hired a local hall for the afternoon, and did the catering in the family. My brothers bought some grog and we told people that we did not want presents, they should make a donation to the SPCA, and if they really had to bring something, a bottle of wine to add to the festivities would be nice.
    We had been together for 20 years anyway! And still are.

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