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How to Plan a Cheap Wedding and Travel Instead

Some of you may have been wondering where I got off to these past couple of months and the answer is, I got married! Yes, Kane and I tied the knot a bit over a month ago on September 16th and then promptly (read: two days after the wedding) moved to Australia for me to finish my graduate school placement! Yup, it’s been a busy time for us, what with a month in Mexico before the wedding, the glorious blur that was the wedding, and now getting on our feet in Australia, but it’s all been so worth it, so much so that I thought I’d regal you all with a bit of a recap/tips for anyone looking to plan a cheap wedding and use the money you saved to travel (or buy a house, but let’s be honest if you’re reading this blog you’re more likely to be buying a plane ticket than a house). I also just got our photos back from the photographer so why not use the website I pay for to splash them even further across the web? But, seriously, I also want to tell you all the things I wish I’d known at the beginning of the wedding planning process, because, let’s be honest, weddings have gotten out of control lately and it’s always nice to hear that it is possible to plan a cheap wedding without sacrificing fun (we had so much booze that my parents are likely to be drinking the rest of the wine until 2019).

Just so you know what type of wedding you’re getting into reading about, here’s us doing tequila shots before the ceremony.

So what do you do when you find yourself newly engaged and with more passport stamps than shoes? If you’re anything like me and my husband you decide on three things right away: 1) there will be booze, because what was the last dry (and fun) wedding you can remember, 2) it will be a cheap wedding (you need to save money on things like personalized mason jars or whatever the latest wedding trend is to have enough money in your booze fund), and 3) you won’t be like “other people” and blow your budget within two seconds of touring that “must have” venue that is also 20k. Well, when Kane and I decided to get engaged we had to reconcile a few of these things, because I had no idea how much weddings cost. I’ve never been that girl who plans their wedding from the day they know what a wedding is, but I did know that I wanted an awesome party with my friends and family. I also wanted to have a wedding for under $5,000 (Kane was pushing for under $3,000). I clearly knew nothing about the wedding industrial complex (credit to the Feminist Bride for this term, but it sums up the industry quite well).

Despite what I thought at the beginning (often after a venue came in way over budget) we pulled it off, we got married on a budget and had a blast doing it!

Fast forward to me in tears after the 10th venue I called rang in at well over $5,000 (what I’d thought I could do the whole wedding for) and I started seriously questioning our ability to a have party, get married at said party, and invite more than two people. Luckily, I stumbled upon the always amazing and hilarious Bridechilla podcast, that taught me the ways of the fuck it bucket (FIB) and, through the podcast, found The Adventures and Discoveries of a Feminist Bride by Katrina Majkut. These resources taught me that 1) your wedding is first and foremost YOUR wedding, not your mother’s, not your best friend’s, and definitely not your overzealous second cousin’s, 2) traditions are not set it stone, use what you want and ditch the rest (this is what the FIB is for), and 3) focus on the fun.

Bringing corn hole definitely added fun to the wedding. Also, this is a great way to look at wedding decisions, ask “does it add more fun or more stress?” and decide accordingly.

These tips served me so well over the course of planning a wedding long distance where 80% of the guests were either interstate or international in…wait for it…4 months. Yes, we planned a wedding while long distance (wedding was in California, I was in Oregon, and Kane was in Australia) in less than 120 days. Honestly, our short engagement was the best thing we could have ever done because it didn’t give me time to second guess anything and forced me to make decisions based solely on Kane and I’s desires, rather than getting 10,000 opinions first. So to all you bride/groomchillas out there who have been told you’re crazy for planning a wedding in less than a year, I say go forth, plan your big party in a handful of months, and enjoy the fruits of your labor long before you would have if you’d followed tradition.

The bride and groom’s families, one big, happy Aussie-American family who likes to party 🙂

A word on tradition before I meander on, I do not believe in following tradition for tradition’s sake. I know tradition is important to many people, but I am not that person. I prefer to know the reason behind something (yes I am that woman forever asking why) before I decide to do it. This attitude is what lead me to employ gratuitous use of the FIB in order to pull off our cheap wedding and have a blast doing it. In no particular order here’s a list of things we chucked firmly in the FIB:

Parent dances – I love you Dad, but felt it was odd to not dance with Mom too and there just wasn’t enough time to do both.

I honestly think he was happy to be off the hook on the dancing bit, because the speech was stressing him out enough. Turns out he didn’t need to worry though and his speech was amazing.

Being given away – I am not property, this is 2018.

Walking down the aisle – Kane and I walked in together (then split to walk around a big planter thing and meet up in the middle) and it meant everything to me to be able to squeeze his hand before taking those steps.

Groom-only speech – Women can talk too you know.

We did a joint couple thank you to all our guests.

Not seeing each other the day of – We had been living together so this just felt archaic and I like waking up to his handsome face, why change that just because we’re getting married?

Large wedding party – I was not about to deal with the drama of large wedding parties, we just had my lovely sister as maid of honor and Kane’s best mate as best man.

Our wedding party being our usual silly selves.

Picking wedding colors – When people asked what my wedding colors were I just said “all of them!”. I honestly, couldn’t be bothered coordinating the whole thing, instead I picked a theme (latin fiesta, in line with our travels) that matched the venue (1800s Spanish hacienda) and went from there. I told everyone what Kane and I were wearing, said “don’t match us”, and let them go from there. I think we ended up with a beautiful mix of patterns and colors.

Here’s our talavera inspired seating chart that I designed myself on Canva for free. I highly recommend Canva for making wedding signs due the aforementioned free aspect and also that it’s just a really good, easy to use graphic design site.

An elaborate/expensive wedding dress – Personally, I never wanted to wear white to my wedding, because I didn’t like that it originated as a classist thing (people who could afford to buy a dress to only wear once began mimicking Queen Victoria after she married Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840 as, before modern dry cleaning, whites could not be re-worn) and the “purity” undertones make my blood boil (I really disagree with the whole idea of “purity”, but won’t get into that here). Instead, I ended up wearing a blush skirt and ivory top from BHLDN’s bridesmaids line that was super easy to dance in and didn’t even show when I spilt red salsa all over it before even having a bite of my tacos (brides-to-be or people with brides-to-be in their lives, always bring a Tide to Go pen, it will save the day). Despite what many bridal forums will tell you, I still felt very bridal and very beautiful.

Bridal is not a color, it is a feeling and I promise you, if you are marrying the right person, you will feel like a beautiful, joyful bride no matter what color you wear.

Wedding planner – Yes, planning the wedding was a lot of work, but I still managed it while in graduate school and felt that the $3,000 one would have charged was better used elsewhere, like renting a massive guest house for the out of town guests to act as wedding base camp. I do, however, think wedding coordinators are worth their weight in gold due to how much stress they take off of you on the day of the wedding. I was lucky enough to have a very organized, detail-oriented friend do this job for me, but if I hadn’t had her the day would have been much more stressful for me (as it was it was one of the most fun, stress-free days of my life).

This is one of my very best friends and the bad ass lady who coordinated my wedding, she was the real VIP of the wedding.

Large guest list – To keep our wedding under budget we had to be brutal with the guest list and it was wonderful in the end, because when we said those special words to each other and then looked out into the crowd the faces staring back at us were only our nearest and dearest. I’m not a small talk type of person and it was so, so, so nice not to have to be making small talk with strangers at my own wedding.

Elaborate decorations/florals – I intentionally picked a venue I thought was beautiful on its own so that I did not have to worry about planning/paying for excessive decorations. Once I started looking at the cost of florists, I was particularly happy about this choice.

Why add to something this beautiful already?

Garter toss/bouquet toss – The garter toss is just plain creepy. It comes from an old medieval tradition where having a piece of the bride’s clothes was considered good luck so, as the bride was being carried off to consummate the marriage, wedding goers would attempt to rip off a piece of her dress to take home. Due to the rape-y connotations of this one it was quickly ditched. That being said, an old friend of mine recently got married and pulled this tradition off in the best way I’ve seen yet, she seductively removed a garter from his leg! When I saw those photos I thought, “I didn’t think there was a feminist way to do a garter toss, I was wrong.” As for the bouquet toss, I loved my bouquet and paid a pretty penny for it, thus I didn’t really want to chuck it in the air and I did not want to single my single friends out (there would have been like three people standing awkwardly on the dance floor).

After reading that list, you might be thinking, “damn did anything happen at their wedding?” because, yes, we did ditch a lot of stuff, but don’t you worry, we filled that time with lots of exciting things like booze-filled piñatas, a taco truck, and a surprise 35th dance for my parents (they never had a first dance at their wedding, so my dad and I planned one for them at my wedding to Shania Tawin’s song, You’re Still the One).

My husband having a go at the candy and booze filled piñata (don’t worry we made sure the airplane sized bottles were plastic before stuffing them in). We used the reception time that we saved by ditching the garter/bouquet tosses for the piñata.

So now that I’ve written what we didn’t do, I’ll talk a little bit about how we chose to do what we did. In the end we decided that a $10,000 budget was more reasonable given our location (Southern California) and that I did not want to elope. Once we decided this we had to figure out how to allocate it. We ended up spending about 25% on the venue, 20% on a rental house for the weekend, 15% on rentals, 10% on photography, 8% on alcohol (self service wine and beer that we bought in bulk), 7% on attire and rings, 5% on food (this is because we had an awesome and super cheap taco truck), 3% on DJ, 2% on flowers (just a bridal bouquet, maid of honor bouquet, and my flower crown), 2% on hair/makeup, 1% on celebrant, 1% on cake, and 1% on other decorations.

Our tasty, and cheap, wedding food that fit perfectly with the wedding theme, because Kane and I met in Guatemala.

These numbers will change based on where your wedding is and what you prioritize, because, remember rule number one, no two weddings are the same. We prioritized having an outside wedding with the ceremony and reception at the same place (to avoid transportation issues), getting good pictures because we are bad at posing and needed someone skilled at candids, never running out of alcohol, having a rocking dance floor, and tasty food. We got great deals in some aspects of these things (for example, our taco truck for 50 people only cost $450 and my photographer, Stephanie Klotz, gave us a great deal at $1000), but we shopped around and cut costs where we could, like having potted succulents on the tables instead of floral centerpieces and getting bundtinis instead of a fancy wedding cake (fancy weddings things do not fit into the ethos or price range of a cheap wedding).

Nothing Bundt Cakes does amazingly tasty cakes for very affordable prices and if you dress them up with flowers, they still look beautiful.

Only you know what is a must have for your wedding and what you can ditch, but I urge you to really take a hard look at what you want to see if it’s coming from a place of “I really want this and it will add so much enjoyment to the wedding” or from a place of “I’ve always been taught that weddings have to have X,Y, and Z to be real weddings so I’m doing this because I’ve never thought to do otherwise”.

Another random recommendation, always take advantage of that beautiful golden hour light right before sunset, especially if you have a historic bell tower to take pictures with.

It feels cheesy to say it, but my wedding was truly one of the best days of my life, not because of what I wore or what it looked like, but because of the people who were there. While you’ll often hear, your wedding is YOUR day, it’s all about you, this doesn’t capture what I felt to be the truth of the day.

A wedding is about surrounding yourselves with the people who love you guys and will support your marriage.

A wedding is about the people who have brought you two to this point in your lives and who will continue to support you through your marriage. A wedding is a celebration of the love two people have found together with the love of all of the people who have brought them through life, your friends, your family, your community. Yes, we could have saved even more money than we did by eloping (we still only spent about $10,000 which is less than half the average spend on weddings these days), but in eloping we would have lost what I felt was the heart and soul of the wedding. My best friend says “a wedding is about community”, my dad says “a wedding is a public commitment”, but what I kept saying the day of was “my heart feels so full it could burst”.

This is what I remember from my wedding, the blissful joy of being surrounded by love.

When it comes down to it none of the little things you spend hours obsessing over matter (flowers, invitations, etc.), what matters are the people, that’s why you’re there, that’s what is being celebrated and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. So plan your big party, put thought into the details (I highly recommend Google Spreadsheets), but when it comes to the day, let that all go and let yourself be enveloped by the love of your family and friends, because that is what you will remember.

If you end the night looking like this, you’ve done things right.

And don’t forget, even if it all does go to shit (hey we can’t plan everything), if you end up married to your best friend by the end of the night then you’ve succeeded. There’s heaps more I could say about having a fun, cheap wedding, but as I’ve already gone on excessively, I’ll end it here. If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment below and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Here’s a quick thank you to everyone who made my wedding possible: my amazing family and friends and my wonderful, loving, perfectly imperfect husband, my best friend, travel buddy for life, and the love of my life.


2 thoughts on “How to Plan a Cheap Wedding and Travel Instead

  1. I’m actually interested in getting married here next year. Do you still have those google spreadsheets handy? 😂

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