I was just four months into a year-long stint teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, when I met Sally at a party five years ago.
I was struck by her big smile and bright eyes -- and we hit it off instantly, bonding over our private-school jobs and shared love of travel.
We began dating soon after, and as our relationship progressed, my one-year stay evolved into two. And when my second teaching contract came to an end in March 2011, I asked Sally to leave South Korea with me -- and she said yes.
In search of adventure -- and because we'd heard it was easy to get a 12-month "working holiday visa" there -- we decided to spend a year living in Perth, Australia, working in restaurants, coffee shops and bars to pad our checking and savings accounts along the way.
When our Australian visas expired, we agreed it was time to settle down for a while, so we moved to San Jose, Calif., which was close to where I grew up. At that point, we'd been together for years and knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. So in April 2013, we decided to get married.
Living the Fast, Good and Frugal Life
Part of what I love about my relationship with Sally is that we share the same goals and values. We're especially interested in travel, adventure and relaxation -- and we've realized that the way to achieve the financial independence necessary to enjoy these things early in life is to live frugally, a topic I often blog about on my own site.
We do that by keeping our transportation costs in check, eating at home and saving half our income -- mine as a software salesman and Sally's as a government employee -- each month.
When spending our fun money, we follow the "fast, good and cheap project-management triangle" -- a diagram that illustrates the idea that you can only prioritize two of the three characteristics. So if you want to buy something good and cheap, it won't be fast. Alternatively, if you want something cheap and fast, you'll risk quality.
By doing our research and practicing patience, we're able to source the best deals on clothing, travel and other lifestyle purchases without making any sacrifices -- a principle that we also applied to our wedding planning.
Related: 10 Questions for a Wedding Planner
Something Borrowed, Something New -- Within Budget
When we started planning, we knew that we wanted an intimate affair because most of Sally's family wouldn't be able to travel to the U.S. from South Korea. We also wanted to keep it as inexpensive as possible.
I remember sitting at our dining room table, looking up wedding venues in San Francisco, when we had our first discussion about what we were willing to spend.
I told Sally that I didn't want our wedding to turn into a big, stressful event -- or for it to drain our savings, which we'd earmarked for a down payment on a house. From the get-go, Sally was in complete agreement.
Once we'd defined our terms, planning the wedding became relatively easy. We began by asking friends and colleagues about inexpensive places to get married in the Bay Area, and after some online research, landed on San Francisco City Hall, which was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. It was perfect for photos and very inexpensive -- we paid less than $200 for the marriage license and booking the space. We also decided to skip an expensive engagement ring and chose simple wedding bands.
As a bonus, some expenses ended up being free, thanks to family and friends who offered to chip in. My aunt baked a two-tiered, chocolate-and-cheesecake wedding dessert; my uncle bought beautiful flowers; my cousin made the bouquet and corsages; and my fraternity brother generously offered to handle our photography.
But of all our frugal decisions, I am most proud of the deals we found for our wedding attire. For Sally's dress, we researched gowns online and went to stores, but on a weekend trip to Sacramento, we came across a beautiful gown in a thrift store that was just $50.
I was hesitant about buying a secondhand dress, as I didn't want to be perceived as cheap, but after seeing Sally in it, there was no way we could leave the store without it. To truly make it the dress of her dreams, my mother created a sweetheart neckline and made a beautiful veil. And my grandmother gave Sally her "something old" -- a vintage necklace and earrings.
As for my own duds, I found an awesome Brooks Brothers tuxedo on eBay for about $250. I also purchased a slim-fit Boss tuxedo shirt on eBay for $50, a handmade bow tie for $12 on Etsy, and onyx cufflinks from a garage sale for $1. My father gave me his old cummerbund for the finishing touch.
Why We're Proud of Our Thrifty Wedding
After three months of planning, the big day -- July 1, 2013 -- finally rolled around.
We posed for pictures before, during and after the ceremony -- both inside and outside City Hall. And thanks to my friend's efforts, we ended up with numerous great shots to help us remember the day.
After the ceremony, my parents hosted a small reception for us and nine guests -- Sally's brother, my brother, my grandmother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin and her boyfriend, and my fraternity brother and his girlfriend -- at a French restaurant a few blocks from City Hall. The wedding cake was so delicious we ended up sharing it with the restaurant staff!
Post-reception, Sally and I took off for our honeymoon in Lake Tahoe. We stayed at a friend's cabin, where we relaxed, cooked and sat by the lake.
We wanted our honeymoon to be a mix of relaxation and fun, so once we were rested up, we drove to Reno, Nevada, for a few days of fun. We paid just $240 for three nights in a hotel, plus food and gas.
Our weeklong honeymoon cost $400 -- bringing our wedding and honeymoon budget to a grand total of $1,003.
While there's a lot of societal pressure to splurge on a huge, expensive wedding, Sally and I held onto this one truth: An extravagant wedding does not equal a perfect marriage.
And while our friends and family were supportive and happy for us -- after all, their contributions helped keep our wedding costs so low -- I'm sure many of them wouldn't follow the same route for their own weddings. But they understood we had other priorities: to celebrate our love without derailing our financial independence.
As for the money we saved on the wedding? We're still aggressively banking our cash in an effort to build up enough to purchase our first home next year -- and then pay off the entire mortgage before 2030.
This post originally appeared on LearnVest.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other's products, services or policies.
The most important tip cited by many wedding experts is to create a budget plan before you purchase anything -- and stick to it. Wedding experts Susan Southerland and Samantha Goldberg agreed that couples need to sit down and figure out exactly what their wedding "must-haves" are and how much they want to spend. "If they don't have a level head and they haven't started thinking, 'Here's what I can spend without getting into trouble,' they wind up going with their heart and not sticking to it," Southerland said. And, if you follow your budget, you shouldn't have any problems with overspending. "If they have a blueprint, there won't be a reason to feel like they're going to go over, because they've been on this plan the entire time," Goldberg said (download her wedding budget tracker here).
By cutting the guest list, you can save exponentially on things like flowers, tables, and square footage, said wedding planner Marcy Blum. You'll have a better event if you invite fewer guests, rather than eliminating services like an open bar and proper facilities. "It would be much better to cut the guest list than cut the wait staff. There's no point in doing something halfway," Blum said.
Money-saving expert Kendal Perez offered this little-known tip: buy used gift cards from stores you'd like to purchase wedding items from at GiftCardGranny.com. When shoppers receive a gift card to a store they don't like, they can sell the card on GiftCardGranny.com for less than face value -- meaning you can buy the card and save up to 30 percent. For example, there are cards available from 1-800 Flowers, Tiffany, and wedding dress retailers like J. Crew. "It’s a different way to save money without having to shop sales, but if you can couple that with something on sale then you’re getting even more savings," Perez said.
Matthew Robbins, author of "Matthew Robinns' Inspired Weddings," cautioned couples against renting too many fancy items, and instead recommended mixing in just a few special pieces with items already included in your venue. For example, rent a unique water or champagne glass to add something special to the table, or use a simple cloth from the venue for the tables and rent a beautiful overlay or runner to dress things up. "Choose wisely and consider rental items as a special accent to embellish what your venue provides," Robbins said.
Holidays are more expensive, plain and simple, said wedding planner Yifat Oren. "You might think it's easier for people to get time off work, but they'll be spending more money all around on travel and accommodations, not to mention the challenges with availability during high season times," she said.
Sign up for all your potential vendors' email lists and follow them on social media in order to get the first scoop on deals, contests, and freebies, said Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of "The Bride's Guide To Freebies." You'll hear about clearance sales, "Pin It To Win It" contests on Pinterest, trunk shows and more deals you wouldn't have known about otherwise. "If you’re following them and keeping a good eye on them, you can cash in on some great stuff," Naylor said.
Don't feel like you need to spend money on things you don't really need but feel like you have to have, said money-saving expert Kendal Perez. Skip wedding traditions that seem necessary, like programs and favors. "I don’t think I've ever kept a wedding favor. Those things are unnecessary expenses," Perez said. "Make sure you're planning the party you want and you're not including things just because everyone includes them."
Vendors will sometimes give discounts to clients they enjoyed working with and, if you ask, may agree to give you freebies or substitutions, said wedding expert Sharon Naylor. But don't forget to be nice! "You cannot be a steamroller and you can't demand it and you can't say, 'Well, I heard you gave my friend a free [food] station so what am I going to get?'" Naylor said. "When vendors don't like you you're not going to get as many freebies."
There's no rule that you must have a pricey dinner or cocktail hour for all of your guests, said wedding planner Xochtil Gonzalez. As long as you give guests something to eat and drink, that constitutes a party. Hire a food truck or consider holding a brunch on a Sunday afternoon. "If you know you have a fun crowd that’s going to dance no matter what if the music’s good and they’ve had a couple drinks, there’s no reason to force yourself to just have a nighttime party," Gonzalez said.
Instead of registering for kitchen supplies you don't really need, wedding planner Samantha Goldberg said you can actually register for wedding items such as a videographer or upgraded room on your honeymoon. Many vendors will make cards you can put in your invitations explaining your request to your guests. "You'd be surprised -- everyone pitches in here and there and suddenly you now have this money to have something you thought you wanted but weren't able to afford," Goldberg said.
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