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you really can have a wedding for $1000 or less.
...why are you still laughing?
by maigen thomas (@Maigen)

Author's Note: Five years later, the column I wrote about planning a wedding on a small budget is still timely and applicable. Economic downturn, joblessness and housing bubble aside, people still fall in love and get married. After editing and adding more specific content, this column has been expanded and is now available at amazon.com!

I realize this column comes very close on the heels of another wedding-themed column. My apologies for the continuance and you have my promises that this is my final addition to the age-old (and forever continuing) discussion of white versus ivory and the choice of bubbles over doves.

At the end of my wedding column I made a promise, and I’m here to deliver the goods. A wedding CAN be had for less than One Thousand Dollars -– and I can tell you how.

There is ONE thing and ONE thing only to remember: The Wedding Is Not Important.

If you can ‘have and hold’ that mantra –- you’re going to do just fine. Because I hope you, dear reader (and everyone else who will ever get married), will understand me when I tell you that the wedding really doesn’t matter. The wedding is just icing on the amazingly delicious, fulfilling and fat-free cake that is your love for each other: The Marriage. So, yes, the wedding doesn’t matter one whit. Remember that. Now breathe, you’re looking a bit blue.

I have previously outlined the basics of what makes up a wedding:

- Pick a date
- Invite people
- Get food and beverage to be there
- Get hitched
- Party

Pick a Date
They say Love Don’t Cost a Thang, and the same goes for setting a date. Quit freaking out already. Pick a date between six months and a year from the happy moment of engagement. Hell, if three years works with your schedules –- pick a date three years hence. Some provisos: Nothing within two weeks of a major holiday or either of your birthdays. You WILL get shafted for presents. And, for the love of … Not on Valentine’s Day. Period.

Under $1000 Budget Tip: Depending on your region, try not to book in June and July. They’re the High Rent months for weddings. Having my wedding in August (so I found) got me a ½ price discount on the Estate Fee (the cost of having my wedding at a location I really wanted). Also, bear in mind the time of day you would like to have the wedding and reception. Five pm on, and you’re looking at expensive night rates. 11 o’clock in the morning isn’t too early for the wedding, and an afternoon reception is lovely and far less expensive at most venues!

FREE: A friend’s gorgeous backyard. To decorate, have friends and family ‘loan’ potted plants and greenery to spruce up a sparse area.

Invite People
Here’s the tough question. Who really needs to be here for your big day? Close, cherished friends and family? Extended relations you see every three years for a picnic? The people you went to high school with -– ten years ago?

If you want to really have a great time on your wedding day –- invite those people you really love and care for. Quantity does not equal quality, unless you plan on selling those shrimp forks your third cousin four times removed gave you to pay off your massive catering bill. Make a list. Separate people into whatever you want to call the groups: Close Family and Cherished Friends, Family and Friends, and of course “People we know, who may or may not be related to us.”

Under $1000 Budget Tip: Make your own invitations. Enlist the help of an artistic friend to design one for you on the computer and print them yourself. Alternatively, gather a gaggle of great girlfriends and scrapbook-style your way to gorgeous, one of a kind invites. They don’t have to be perfect. They need to embrace YOUR style, not force you into a style you aren’t. **The only money-saving tip I can share on postage is to do them on the machine at work, but that’s not usually a great idea…

FREE: There are quite a few online sites that let you design your own invitations and keep track of RSVPs, Evite and Sendomatic, to name just two. Sendomatic promises no advertisements. Either way, doing it online is free, cute and ‘with the times’. Who doesn’t have email these days? My grandmother RSVP’d for my Bridesmaid’s Luncheon on evite. She’s 75.

Food and Beverage
Oh, Food and Beverage. Weddings are the reason caterers have jobs. They know they have you by the balls, so they charge exorbitantly. These days, some –- if not most -– people expect to come to a wedding and be fed. They don’t eat breakfast and lunch so they can belly up and wreak havoc on the buffet at your expense. Not to put too fine a point on it, but ‘people’ (I use the term generically, of course) can go fuck themselves. Somehow, weddings have become the All You Can Eat Buffet of the 2000’s, and I’m not okay with that.

Also along the lines of What People Expect For Free is alcohol. I went with no alcohol at my own reception. Partly because it was prohibitively expensive when provided by any venue other than the local 7-11, partly because it was a noon reception, and partly because there were going to be recovering alcoholics in attendance. These are all important aspects to consider when making the decision about whether or not to include alcohol.

Under $1000 Budget Tip: Have a Dessert and ‘Sham’pagne reception. Serve an assortment of small but lovely desserts such as individual cheesecakes, tarts, tortes and pies; biscotti and cookies; candies and mints. Don’t forget the wedding cake! These should be accompanied by coffee, tea –- and ‘Sham’pagne –- sparkling fruit juices and sparkling water. Ask those wonderful older ladies in your family and circle of friends if they’ll help you out by making something each. They would love to be such a big part of your ‘Big Day’, and it keeps you from feeling like you’re in the trenches by yourself!

FREE: Even I’m not so delusional as to think you can get food and drink for free. I have no free tips for this area, I’m so sorry to say.

Get Hitched
One of my biggest decisions for the wedding was who I wanted to marry us. I’m not a church-goer, so I couldn’t immediately fall back on a pastor or minister I knew well. I also didn’t want to get married in a church, so I had to find a non-denominational minister who was willing to go along with my desire for a ceremony where God wasn’t mentioned by name. This should be a really easy decision, and for most –- less expensive than most anything else to do with the wedding.

Under $1000 Budget Tip: Go with your own minister in your own church. If you don’t have one, ask your family how they feel about theirs. Go to church with your family members a few times to get an idea for the minister’s style and personality.

FREE: Ask a close friend how they feel about being an ordained minister. At the Universal Life Church at www.ulc.org, your friend can become a non-denominational ordained minister, able to perform your marriage rites. You should probably check this out with plenty of time, because you’ll need to know your state’s laws on officiating marriages. This page might help with some information.

You shouldn’t really need any help with this. At this point in time, you will have already arranged for the location, people to attend and the food and drink. Now, it’s time to kick off your shoes and relax. Or down the Jell-o shots you and your bachelorette buddies made the night before in preparation for the shin-dig!

Other Budget-y Tips

The Dress: Check Ebay. Check the Junior League. Check Sample Sales. Don’t pay full price. It’s absurd what they charge for wedding dresses. You could also make your own. Check with your family –- chances are that someone has a dress that would look lovely on you, have meaning, and can be altered without too much cost.

The Music: Ask a friend to play DJ. The last three wedding I’ve attended (including my own), the music has been mix CDs that the bride and groom made together. It’s far more fun and personal than having a DJ ‘accidentally’ play the chicken dance, or heaven forbid, the Macarena.

The Favors: My husband, Adrian, and I chose to write a poem together about how our love has grown, attached it to tiny ivy plants, and asked people to wish us well every time they watered the plant -– as it grew, so would our love. You can totally steal that idea, if you want. If nothing else, I hope it encourages you to branch out from Jordan almonds and tulle.

The Invites: Stampin’ Up parties are not to be overlooked. They’re so CUTE!

The Flowers: Not nearly as important as you might think. But if you absolutely can’t live without them, have your own bouquet done at your favourite florist -– everyone else can have wildflowers. Remember that neighbour who has a plethora of daffodils every spring? Yeah, go kiss up to them…

In the end, it really comes down to how much you care about ‘Appearances’. If your wedding is more about making the Society pages or Keeping up with the Joneses than about celebrating your love together, then please feel free to disregard anything I’ve said.

But if you really want to have a fabulous time, uniting yourself with the one person who completes you, in front of the people you both care about the most…then you can save as much money as you want –- you’ll still have the perfect wedding. There’s no amount of money that can buy the happiness you already have.


Maigen is simple. is smart. is wholesome. is skeevy. is spicy. is delicate. is better. is purer. is 100% more awesome than yesterday. She';s traveling the world and writing about her experiences with life, love, yoga, food, travel and people. Mostly people. Because they';re funny. hear more of her random thoughts @maigen on twitter.

more about maigen thomas


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jael mchenry
10.16.06 @ 11:32a

Great suggestions! I think some brides (and grooms) just get an image in their head of each individual thing being utterly gorgeous and perfect, and on a budget, that's not realistic. People will not remember your centerpieces. Sure, they might say "Oh, what pretty centerpieces," but it doesn't really affect the quality of the party, if you know what I mean.

Congrats again on the wedding and the marriage and keeping your wits about you, Maigen!

heather millen
10.16.06 @ 11:56a

I think you have some inspiring ideas here. But, I gotta tell ya, I can't even BEGIN to fathom how your wedding was under $1000 even with the shabby chic tricks. Unless there were 10 people there. In a friends backyard. But you even RENTED somewhere it appears, so here's to you!

ken mohnkern
10.16.06 @ 3:31p

Thank you for teaching me something interesting today: I can become ordained online at ulc.org! I didn't go through with it, but I'm happy to know I could become a minister at the drop of a hat in case the need ever arose.

I especially like this from that site: "Please turn off your spam filters and pop-up blockers prior to your ordination. Thank you."

dave lentell
10.16.06 @ 3:46p

Our wedding was cheap, but that was simply because I had to plan it. You know those girls who dream of getting married and start planning their weddings from about age 6? Yeah... my wife was not one of those girls.

You want a cheap wedding? Let the guy plan it. Pizza and Doritos on Paper Plates Baby!

Still... this advice would have been useful to me about 11 years ago. I'll keep it on file for my son in case his future wife is as abnormal as his mother when it comes to weddings.

maigen thomas
10.16.06 @ 4:10p

dear buddha - you can't just copy and paste from word and expect your article to show up as it was meant to.

I am SO sorry for not checking out the apostrophes. They (and almost anything else that was a symbol) showed up as a ?

It looked normal when I submitted. Promise.

jael mchenry
10.16.06 @ 5:07p

It looks normal from here -- maybe it's a browser thing? Anyone else having punctuation trouble?

dave lentell
10.16.06 @ 5:16p

Nope. No problem here.

Looked (and still looks) fine to me.

sarah ficke
10.16.06 @ 5:29p

Looks good to me. It sounds like a browser issue to me as well.

stacy smith
10.16.06 @ 5:42p

Our wedding was cheap, but that was simply because I had to plan it. You know those girls who dream of getting married and start planning their weddings from about age 6? Yeah... my wife was not one of those girls.

Good for her! I'm not one of those people either.

Homer and I eloped. It costed $50.00 or $80.00 if you count the blood test.

I don't understand these silly people that spend thousands of dollars on weddings. I'd rather buy a house instead. Weddings are nice and all, but it's also nice to have a roof over ones head.

maigen thomas
10.16.06 @ 5:54p

holy hannah. that is the ONLY thing I've ever seen Internet Explorer do better than Firefox.


my heart is broken.


I didn't intend to be the bride with the white wedding dress, and the flowers and the tux and stuff, either. I had to make concessions, though, since I'm the ONLY one in my family to get married in 20 years, and the only one LIKELY to get married in the next 10 or so. Everyone wanted in on the action.

I wanted to make my own dress, but my mom surprised me with the only one I liked at a store (sweet of her, really).

To be perfectly honest, I wanted a lakeside wedding in my family's neighbourhood (lake = pond and vice versa) with an old school pig roast as a reception. NO ONE ELSE LIKED THAT IDEA. WTF??

lisa r
10.16.06 @ 9:59p

To be perfectly honest, I wanted a lakeside wedding in my family's neighbourhood (lake = pond and vice versa) with an old school pig roast as a reception. NO ONE ELSE LIKED THAT IDEA. WTF??

Now see, that's the kind of shindig I'd go for. Something tells me if I ever get married it will be met with the same disdain in my family, too. Sigh....

alex b
10.16.06 @ 10:54p

I love this article. Especially because one of the last weddings I went to was a $60,000 flashy affair where the bride wasn't in love with the groom, but still felt obliged to roll on with a good show (and now today complains about how she isn't thrilled). If I ever tie the ball and chain (ha), it'll be about commemorating a good relationship.

Oh, and Ken, I'm ordained too. Hehe, I couldn't resist the temptation.


ken mohnkern
10.17.06 @ 1:39p

Oh, and Ken, I'm ordained too. Hehe, I couldn't resist the temptation.

You went through with it? (I didn't, by the way.) Did you buy the Ministry in a Box?

alex b
10.17.06 @ 9:08p

I didn't buy the Ministry in a Box. (That's hilarious). I was in it for the sheer value of a certificate. Which, methinks, is now in my closet somewhere. Or a paper airplane.

sandra thompson
10.18.06 @ 7:41a

As an ordained ULC minister I've officiated at two weddings in Florida. It works here.

Maigen, I wish you long and happy lives! Ya done good, kid!

juli mccarthy
10.18.06 @ 11:19a

I just became an ordained ULC minister. My confirmation email said, "CONGRADULATIONS!" (sic)


maigen thomas
10.18.06 @ 4:59p

sweet, sandra! That's awesome to hear that you've officiated!

And yes, the spelling... eep.

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