“I want it to feel like a million bucks,” I told my fiancé, “…but I don’t want to spend that.” That is how our ‘bougie on a budget’ wedding theme was born.
Obviously, I had an idea of what I wanted for our wedding – embarrassingly long before my fiancé Will got down on one knee in March 2022. But once my imaginary future became my immediate one, what surprised me was not that we almost certainly couldn’t afford all the things I had planned in that fanciful little brain of mine, but that I didn’t actually want to spend a lot of money. I quickly concluded that, the more we spent, the more perfect the day had to feel. The bigger the spend, the higher the pressure.
I also realised I didn’t want to spend far beyond our means for one day, I wanted to preserve some of our hard-won savings for our future. Like any true millennial, I had a Friends quote ringing in my ears to back this up. “I don’t want a big fancy wedding,” says Monica, after discussing whether or not to spend all of Chandler’s savings on their big day. “I want everything you just said…I want a marriage.”
But let’s get back track. I do also want a big fancy wedding. I just knew I needed to be smart about it.
Define your own luxury
One thing we both knew for certain, was that we didn’t want a ‘cookie cutter’ wedding. We wanted it to feel incredibly personal and different without being gimmicky. This, to me, is the perfect approach for an event that feels luxurious without having to slavishly follow a prescribed (often overpriced) notion of what that grandeur has to feel like.
For us, this was finding a venue that was personal. We are incredibly lucky to have just such a place within Will’s family- an old family home in rural South East France. We knew immediately this was where we wanted to get married. It has a quiet grandeur of its own, but is simple, crumbling and deeply personal.
Put your money where it matters
When you know you don’t want to spend a lot of money, the first step is to actually agree on what you do want to spend money on. Listing your priorities is the best way to set a budget as you know what your big money items will be. We knew we wanted a multi-day wedding and we knew we wanted a free bar. Once we realised that, we knew money should be directed towards food and drink to accommodate everyone over these days. For us, a wedding is only as good as its people -and having as many of our friends there as we could, for as long as possible, felt like the ultimate luxury.
Don’t have what you don’t want
In making our wedding our own, it was easy to cut the things we knew we didn’t care about. Cars, for example, were immediately out. As was anything too gimmicky, like a photobooth or ‘statement wall.’ Whilst fun, neither of us felt this was a hill we wanted to die on. The cake was something neither of us cared about, but is something a very kind family member has decided to gift us with. Even so, we are not going for a traditional tiered extravagance, but something more reasonable and actually, far more individual – a Norwegian cake, inspired by Will’s heritage.
Flowers were another biggie. Whilst I know many couples care a lot (and spend a fortune on) flowers, neither of us thought the perfect blooms would make or break our day. The flower budget was therefore scrapped to next-to-nothing.
Tablescaping was another thing we didn’t especially care for. Ours will be simple white linen, a few candles and some posies, which will sit in recycled glass coffee pots my mother has been collecting all year. Our aim for the table is wine stains from raucousness, not an Instagramable display.
We also didn’t fancy anything matchy-matchy. In light of this, though I did pick a colour, I decided to let my bridesmaids choose their own dresses or jumpsuits. This not only saved money (I have a lot of bridesmaids) it also meant that I knew they would feel comfortable on the day and hopefully have bought something they would wear again.
Think smart – make cuts
We really wanted a band. This was initially near the top of our ‘big money’ list, but once we realised the cost of shipping out a five-piece band to France, we realised it was either a band or cut one day out of the wedding. Sometimes compromises are blessings, though, and the alternative we found for our music on the day – more on which later- is actually far more exciting to us.
A videographer was also something we initially thought would be amazing, but very quickly backtracked on. We also originally selected a British photographer who we adored, but again decided to rethink as the cost of travel and accommodation for overseas vendors started to mount up. Much like the music, we found a charming alternative, who is amazing. In the end, choosing him did not feel like a compromise at all.
Money saving changes have also been made throughout. We cut a course from our dinner, and opted instead for more delicious canapes at cocktail hour and a delayed dessert, which means it will also act as a late-night snack. After all, French patisserie is to be savoured, not rushed after too much fromage. We also gutted our marquee of all its unnecessary trimmings. Not only has this cut costs, it has paired it back to the vibe we want, which is the feeling of eating outdoors, under the trees. Though we still have a marquee for our piece of mind in case it rains, keeping it to just its bare bones is the closest we could get to our rustic French picnic.
Work with what – and who – you have.
The best way we have embraced our shoestring wedding is by working with the talents of the amazing people we know and love. Will’s family have been incredible at sorting the logistics on the day, especially his mother who has been in charge of emailing vendors in her (far superior) French and his uncle who is single-handedly sorting out the complicated electricity set up (and even snared us some free chairs for the dinner). My mother has been essential at sorting out our religious wedding, not to mention the table set up (shout out to my father speed drinking all that coffee).
My maid of honour is an amazing amateur make-up artist and will be doing my makeup on the day. Another friend is an incredible artist, who will be helping to create the invitations and we also have a friend who runs a magnificent distillery, and we will be working with him to create cocktails and a bar for the day.
Perhaps my favourite helper is my friend Calum, who is a beautiful singer and a musical genius. His first task was to sing at the ceremony but, when we realised we couldn’t afford a band, we brainstormed what we wanted the music to feel like. “I just want it to be like that party when Calum DJ’d,” my fiancé said. And so, we asked him to be our wedding DJ. I like to think of him now as our ‘musical director.’
I think that decision has encapsulated, for us, the aim of our wedding. We just want it to feel like a great party, with all the people we love. And what a luxury that is.
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