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Budget Savvy Bride: Carrie Lee


You know the story, the one we all dream of, that goes like this:  Boy meets girl.  Boy proposes to girl.  Boy and girl get married in huge elaborate fancy wedding with a bazillion guests and white doves and a cake six feet tall.  They live happily ever after, somehow debt-free even after throwing that huge wedding soiree.  Just like a movie.

And then... CUT!  Realization sinks in because this isn't a movie.  It's real life, and it's darn expensive to have a wedding in real life.  What's a budget-savvy girl to do?

Here's a little story about the emergence of a part of me that I didn't even know existed.  Yes, I have always been a bargain shopper and a deal hunter, but it wasn't until this whole wedding planning thing that I learned that yes, I actually AM a budget-savvy bride, and yes, I actually AM craftier than I dreamt possible!

My fiance proposed on October 18, 2009, in a lovely and sweet way that included a surprise party with my closest family and friends.  I was over the moon and quite starry-eyed when I started planning my big day.  However, the first budget decision we made jolted me to reality a bit: the Mr. and I decided we wanted to foot the bill for the wedding entirely on our own.

Why would we decide such a thing?  Well, it goes like this: between us, we have six nieces and nephews.  Both of our sets of parents, who are awesome and hard-working people, spend a large amount of their disposable incomes helping our siblings with these precious children and their needs.  And boy, are kiddos expensive!  We decided we'd rather have our parents continue helping out the little ones than spend money on what is, ultimately, just one day for us.  We decided we could save up and fund this wedding thing ourselves.

I thought to myself, "I can do this.  After all, I'm one heck of a bargain shopper!"  So I sat down with my trusty Excel program and made up a little budget spreadsheet.  I figured that we could reasonably throw a wedding bash for about 150 guests for a total of about $2,000, easy-peasy.  Aaaaand then I got my first quote for a reception venue, and that little $2,000 total I'd come up with became, well, a complete impossibility.  (I still get huffy admitting this because, man, I really thought I could pull that off!  Ah well, live and learn.)

And here's where the budget-savvy part of myself emerged.  It was time to get down, get dirty, and get THRIFTY.  With a little help from my best friend/maid of honor/fellow bride-to-be, and a little help from a certain website called Weddingbee, I started gathering money-saving ideas that I could incorporate into the big day.  Here's my list, which I've morphed into a sort of "Top Five Tips" for other savvy brides-to-be:

TIP #1: Town-owned facilities may be much cheaper than a private venue.  I spent countless hours scouring the interwebs for reception venues that wouldn't break the bank.  I was disheartened to find that many cost thousands of dollars just to rent, not including food or extras.  The horror!  But then, after weeks of Google searches, I found a bit of a hidden gem: a town-owned facility that has a nice ballroom.  It's actually a recreation department but has a ballroom with a wooden floor, stage, and these awesome old-school heavy drapes.  And it was CHEAPO in comparison to those private venues.  Um, yes please... where do I sign up?!   A phonecall, a visit, and a signed contract later, and that baby was MINE.  See below:

Reception Hall

TIP #2: Utilize the talents of people you know.  My network contains lots of talented people, and I bet yours does too!  I realized that among my closest friends I was able to cover a lot of the important "jobs" in the wedding.  My matron of honor's mother is an experienced Day-Of Coordinator; score!  One of my bridesmaids is a hair dresser; score!  A close childhood friend is an amazing soloist; score!  Another friend's mother is an award-winning pianist; score!  And a high school friend's husband is a killer DJ; score!  Another bridesmaid is close friends with the town florist; score!  I think you get my drift.  Bottom line: Let the people you know help you.  Some will help out at no charge as a wedding gift to you, and others may give you a great deal on normally high-priced services.  Can't you just picture all those dollars you'll be saving?!

TIP #3: Release your inner DIY diva. Think you can't give Martha Stewart a run for her money?  Yeah, that was me as well.  I was terrified and overwhelmed by craft stores, but now Michaels is my new favorite hangout.  Here's how I overcame my DIY (that's Do-It-Yourself) fears:

-Embrace the Trial-and-Error Process: Realize it may take a few tries and cut yourself a break if your origami dolphins (or whatever you're making) don't look 100% perfect on the first try.

-Mock It Up, Baby: The mock-up was the best way for me to see what my finished product would look like and figure out how to tweak it.  For example, I knew I didn't want to pay for floral centerpieces and I found a cool idea for paper pinwheels.  We wanted to name our tables for cities we'd visited, with a picture of us in each city.  Here was my first stab at a centerpiece mock-up.  Even though the final product looks a bit different, this made it easy for me to see what needed tweaking.

Table MockUp

-Inject Personal Details Wherever Possible: While I can't pay a professional to decorate my wedding, I can create lots of personal touches myself to add pizzazz to the event.  See below for pictures of things I made cheaply.  Our table names came out really cool in the end and help tell our "story":

Table Names

For our reception send-off, I snazzed up little tubes of bubbles with our initials and curly ribbon:


To remember our grandparents who've passed away, I created simple, tiny photo charms to hang from my bouquet.  Three frames for $2.99 at the craft store!  There will be a reference to them in our wedding program so guests can come take a closer look if they like:

Bouquet Charms

These are just a few of the ways I'm using affordable DIY touches to personalize the look and feel of our big day!

TIP #4: Coupons are your best friends!  Pay attention to the sale ads for craft stores and you'll save tons.  You should almost never pay full price for anything at AC Moore or Michaels, as they have a weekly 40 to 50% off coupon in circulation at nearly all times.  Do a Google search to find coupons you can print.  I've saved loads of money using these coupons!

TIP #5: Overcome your preconceived notions. Contrary to what I've heard other brides say, David's Bridal was actually awesome.  I found an affordable and beautiful dress that I could pay for myself. Without going into debt.  I know some brides refuse to set foot in David's, but I think budget-savvy ladies should give it a chance.  If it's not for you that's fine, but don't forget there are plenty of discount bridal warehouses where you can find an awesome dress without going into debt.  Don't be afraid to check these places out!  I won't post my dress here for fear the Mr. may stumble across it somehow, but I am absolutely in love with it.

My wedding is in 48 days and counting, and I'm still keeping an eye on the budget daily, but thankfully haven't had any budget meltdowns yet.  And while it's gonna be a close margin between what we've saved and what our end cost will be, at least we know we won't be going into mega-debt.

I'm confident other brides can pull this off too!  Good luck and happy planning, ladies!
-Carrie Lee

Last Updated: August 3, 2013 at 10:37 pm
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