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Terrific Tightwad Weddings: Two Approaches

Wedding for $300-$3000, total: two tight-budget approaches (excerpt from The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook).

I've been to lots of catering-hall weddings, where money is spent lavishly, liquor flows freely, and the band's lead singer controls the whole agenda for the reception. Frankly, I can't stand that kind of wedding, and no matter what the price, it never seems like a good value. For me, the weddings that stand out as meaningful, always, are the ones where the happy couple creates their own ceremony, and where the details of the wedding all reflect on and reveal the personalities involved. And for a hedonist like me, it helps if the food is good.

As it happens, the two most memorable wedding banquets I've ever been to were also two of the cheapest. One was my own, catered wedding in 1983. The other was an assigned potluck.

We used a professional caterer, but one who was home-based and affordable--and who worked closely with us to come up with food that was easy and inexpensive to prepare, but was worthy of a great restaurant. Food was our biggest cost: $11 per person, including hors d'oeuvres before the ceremony, table decorations, three vegetarian main dishes, salads, and a great tasting chocolate-orange wedding cake. Except for a champagne toast, we served no alcohol. Although an open bar is traditional at Jewish weddings, most of our guests had some distance to drive--and we wanted to make sure they all arrived home safely. We (and nearly all our guests) felt thoroughly satisfied in our bellies as we left for our honeymoon night.

We got married in a local park known for its vivid floral arrangements, so instead of using a florist we stood in front of a luxuriant October flower bed; all the pictures are full of bright fall blooms.

Those pictures were taken by a friend--an artist and architect who also did photography. We had been stuck about finding the right photographer for months. Fortunately, we were with a group of friends when he passed around some outrageously fine photos. He charged us $50 for his services, plus the cost of film and developing, and the pictures are superb--with none of the stilted formality that too often mars wedding pictures. We also handed another friend an audio tape recorder, and he captured the ceremony on cassette. (The age of the camcorder had not quite arrived.) For music, we found a newly-formed 5-member klezmer band (playing Eastern European Jewish music, very appropriate to our Jewish wedding). We were their third gig and their first wedding, but they were so good that two other couples at our wedding hired them for their own upcoming nuptials. They charged us $250.

My wife Dina's wedding dress was a handmade present from a close friend. She also bought a colorful handwoven shawl at a craft fair; she still treasures it and wears it for special occasions. I found a loose, flowing Moroccan embroidered shirt and Italian baggy fashion pants, which I wore with a vest that Dina made for me. I wore all three frequently for several years afterward. For the two of us, our total investment in clothes was under $200.

Other than the rabbi's fee, rental charges for the park and a synagogue social hall for the reception, and an elaborate multi-part invitation, our only other major expense was $130 for a calligrapher, who wrote out our self-written wedding vows in Hebrew and English on a large poster that all our wedding guests signed. It hangs proudly, framed in our living room, as a reminder of that wonderful day.

The total cost, including everything, was around $3000--with 130 guests. (Our honeymoon, a couple of months later in New Orleans, added about $700, including round-trip train transportation from Massachusetts, eight nights' accommodations, and all our food, entertainment, and souvenir shopping.) Not a small amount of money, but nothing like the $15,000 or $30,000 extravaganzas that are all-too- common now. (After all, we've been to weddings where the cost of flowers alone was more than we'd spent on our entire event!) More importantly, we had exactly the wedding we planned: a perfect ceremony, virtually every detail the way we wanted it, and lots of very happy memories. Of course it might cost a bit more to do the same event now--maybe not, since we could do invitations on our computer-- but our wedding shows that you can purchase everything and still not only keep costs low, but provide an event so enjoyable that people are still talking about it more than ten years later.

Still, if we'd wanted to, we could have spent considerably less--as did the potluck couple. And theirs was the only wedding I've ever been to where the food was even better than at my own wedding.

They were on a really low budget. They invited a large percentage of local guests, who were all assigned specific dishes, in a quantity to serve 10 people. Of course, everyone cooked more than enough, and those who came from far away (and didn't have to bring food) probably thought it was expensively catered. There was a huge and scrumptious feast, with easy but elegant main dishes such as cold noodles with sesame sauce, hummus, summer salads, and a wide array of outrageous desserts. They were members of a free-form dance collective, and they used the hall where the dance took place (donated by the manager for the occasion). Instead of live music, they used dance tapes they had made. And rather than hiring a photographer, they passed out rolls of 35 mm film to several friends with cameras. They had picked their own wildflowers and put simple bouquets on every table. Even the officiant was a family friend who donated his services.

I would guess they probably spent less than $500, and again, they created a memorable event that captured the spirit of who they were. And many other friends who've written their own ceremony and held the costs down had weddings that still stick in my mind.

Unique weddings involve advance planning and communication-- great skills to resolve marital disputes while they're still small and manageable. Ultimately, the long-term success of the relationship is far more important than any kind of wedding.

This report was taken from The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook by Shel Horowitz--280 pages of great advice to save you money and increase your enjoyment of the fun things in life: travel, fine dining, live entertainment, and much more. To get your copy of this wonderful resource, visit Ordering Made Easy/Talk to Us.

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