When we got engaged, my husband and I knew one thing: We didn’t want to spend anywhere near the national average cost of a wedding ($44,105, says the Brides 2018 American Wedding Study). As a couple in our late 20s, we had our sights set on larger financial goals—our first home! Early retirement!—so we budgeted $14,000 and braced ourselves to make sacrifices. Then, just to keep things interesting, we planned it all in 52 short days due to an unforeseen family matter.
I’m a creative person working in digital media, so the sacrifices couldn’t be visual (tablescapes had to be on point), and I didn’t want people to know they were at a budget affair.
We started by ruthlessly cutting our guest list. Our head count went from 80 to 40 of our absolute closest family and friends, nixing plus-ones and hoping those we cared about most would attend. (Spoiler: They did—and at our budgeted $350 a head, we created memories.)
Another key step was finding a venue that didn’t need costly decorations to fit into my Pinterest-board aesthetic: garden-fairy princess meets rustic chic. We landed on the whimsical Denver Botanic Gardens (miraculously still available on a weekend date), which not only allowed us to BOOB (buy our own booze) but also self-cater, avoiding catering-company upcharges.
For all other details, we splurged on things that really made a difference in optics (table florals, translucent Chiavari chairs, and simple farm tables)—and compromised on others (a dress my mom made from scratch, gorgeous chargers that doubled as dinner plates, and a $200 camcorder that was passed around all night in lieu of a videographer).
We also asked our loved ones for help (a designer friend illustrated our e-invites, and my future mother-in-law thrifted vintage-style family platters). Shopping around for less expensive vendors (we went with the $1,500 photographer, not the $5,000 one) paid off, and rather than dealing with fussy catering, we ordered favorite dishes from a local Cuban restaurant where we had celebrated our second year anniversary seven years prior.
I won’t say it was easy, but being constrained on time gave me the freedom to let go and make difficult decisions quickly—without obsessing over (or missing) every last pinned detail I’d sworn to recreate one day. Was it the best day of my life? Absolutely. Would I do it all over again? Not a chance, so here’s hoping I never have to.
This story originally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Brides, on stands starting December 18.