Weddings are on my mind. My stepdaughter is getting married soon after several years of engagement. With a mortgage and larger-than-budgeted-for building costs for their forever home, their wedding is on a budget. This month also marks five years since I remarried. Unsurprisingly, we chose a frugal wedding with a budget of $5000 (for 200 guests).
I’m passionate about making frugal weddings fashionable. I’ve seen too many people spend a fortune on weddings only to start their married life in debt. I’ve been to big, expensive weddings and small intimate nuptials. You might think that bigger is better, but honestly, the most sentimental weddings are those where the couple is clearly in love with one another. The most fun weddings are those that have created an inclusive atmosphere that ensures everyone feels welcome. It’s hard to get down on the dancefloor if you feel unwelcome or not quite posh enough.
Sadly, too often, people aim for an Instagram-worthy wedding. Sneaky confession: I love watching reels of beautiful brides in ridiculously puffy and expensive gowns (think long trains, lots of lace and bling). I especially like the one where the bride arrives at the venue carried by balloons, seeming to flout any semblance of personal safety in the process. While beautiful and obviously staged, what is often missing in these images is their fiancé, their family – or even anyone else.
And here’s the thing: a big and beautiful wedding does not equal a happy ever after. In fact, according to a 2014 study in the Social Science Research Network journal, couples who spend more than US$20,000 on their wedding are 3.5 times more likely to divorce than couples who had more modest weddings.
So what can you do if you, or someone you know, is getting married and is on a budget? Here are five frugal tips for planning a spring wedding in Canberra to ensure you tie the knot without breaking the bank.
1. Choose an outdoor venue
Luckily for us Ken Behrens, we are blessed to enjoy a naturally beautiful backdrop. There are many public parks and gardens that would be stunning for a ceremony or even a reception. Beautiful venues include the National Carillion, Lennox Gardens, Weston Park, Lake Ginninderra (eg Diddams Close), the National Botanical Gardens or the sunken gardens at Queanbeyan.
And with a dry forecast ahead of us, early spring is a good time for an outdoor wedding as the chances of rain are less than in the last few years. That said, it’s important to have a covered option as a backup, just in case.
2. Embrace DIY
One of the best ways to save on wedding expenses is to get creative with decorations. You can craft your own centrepieces, flower arrangements and even bonbonniere (that’s a fancy word for small gifts for guests). At our wedding, I got exceedingly crafty with crepe paper carnations and toyed with the idea of making bouquets from old books (it’s a thing). I also used large and small jars to hold LED lights and other things.
With more people embracing sustainability, wedding trends have moved beyond mass helium balloons in non-degradable foil and more towards making confetti from gum leaves and using retro lace curtains or tablecloths picked up from local op shops. The more rustic, the better.
Consider asking for help from crafty friends and family. For instance, one of my aunts loves doing caricatures and she designed some cheeky blackboard art for our wedding. You might even have a friend who loves making flowers or decorating cakes. You never know unless you ask.
3. Use local flowers
We have some talented local florists in Canberra. While I advocate living frugally, it is never, ever okay to try to extract a bargain for an event such as a wedding with the promise of providing ‘influence’ through your social media channels. Florists are artists who put a lot of work into making an event such as a wedding special and often must order stock for a special event.
When working with a florist, you can save money by choosing flowers in season. For instance, local roses are not yet flowering but will be plentiful in November. But tulips are in season, as are blossoms. Consider giving your florist a colour scheme and overall vibe and letting them source the best flowers to make your vision happen.
You can save by complementing a professional florist by doing some floral work yourself. You may choose, for instance, to buy the bridal bouquet but put together table decorations. For our wedding, I collected small glass bottles and filled them with tiny pink roses and white baby’s breath, and I also made matching Boutonniere (aka buttonhole flowers) for the groomsmen and family.
You can often source flowers and blossoms from our surrounding environment in spring. Wattle can look stunning in large vases, as can flowering crab apple, Manchurian pears and cherry or plum blossoms. Some of your wedding guests might even have flowers they might be able to contribute to make your wedding special.
4. Choose a marriage celebrant you like
Often celebrants are the last to be booked but you should book one early because you can’t legally get married without a celebrant. The celebrant is often one of the cheapest parts of the wedding yet will be centre stage. Find someone you like, and work with them to make the ceremony magical. And don’t forget churches or places of worship. They are often happy to celebrate your special event with you and make it joyful.
5. Frugal fashionistas
Why do grooms usually hire their suit while brides and bridesmaids spend thousands of dollars having theirs custom-made? There’s a lot of psychology behind this, but I’m going to put it out there and say there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a wedding dress. It ensures you have the right style at the right time, and let’s face it, you probably aren’t going to wear it again. You can even hire multiple outfits to ensure a bit of cosplay throughout the event.
If you have a custom wedding dress, consider selling it or gifting it after the event. Online stores for second-hand clothing are a thing, and someone might really be looking for that boho-chic look that you spent months searching for. I gifted my cream 1950s style dress to a friend for her COVID wedding. She looked stunning in it; it felt like such a special way to contribute to her nuptials.
Don’t forget op-shops, either. They have a lot of amazing stock, and it’s not just retro classics, either, as they often have modern ex-display stock. Even if you don’t find something your style, you may wish to repurpose the lace, beading or fabric. And you may even find something for the groom. My husband found his stylish wedding jacket for only $12.
Do you have a frugal or memorable Canberra wedding story to share?
Serina Bird is a self-styled frugalista who built wealth through saving and investing. She is host of The Joyful Frugalista podcast and author of How to Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years (Even When Interest Rates Are Going Up), The Joyful Startup Guide and The Joyful Frugalista.