Classic APW: How Is More Important Than How Much

Mouse, the blogger over at Good Mouse Bad Mouse has started a new blog about planning her wedding, Souris Mariage. The blog makes me feel strange, because it reminds me of APW back in the day, and makes me want to yell things at the screen like, “Save-The-Dates don’t matter that much Isweartogod! Stay out of bridal salons Isweartogod! Engagement pictures are not worth lots of thought, or really any thought at all, Isweartogod!” Which are of course my lessons, not Mouse’s lessons, and everyone gets to learn their own. Or something. I tell myself that. But, anyway. The other day, in the middle of a post Mouse said something that made me blink my eyes at the screen, “Blink-blink-blink, wiggling-head-around, blink?” She said: “Meg, over at A Practical Wedding, has made a passionate and sustained argument for using your wedding money *for something.* Indeed, I won’t have a chunk of expendable income like this for, like, ever. So the purchases I make for my wedding–and I am making this commitment now–must support a better world. I’m not a super-hippie, and I may not be able to be green all the time, but when spending this amount of money, I’m called to consider its impact.” And then I whispered to myself, “Oh. Is that what I’ve been saying all this time? Oh.” So. In honor of that, I thought we’d revisit this post about the hows and whys of wedding spending. It wasn’t from ages and ages ago, but if I was compiling the posts I’ve written here that are most important to me, this would make the cut.I’ve noticed, over and over again, that out here in the indie wedding world, brides still a tremendous amount of pressure to fit in. It’s like when we get rid of all the crazy WIC rules (favors! matching dresses! chicken or fish! limos!) we want to substitute a bunch of other rules to live up to.

I know this, because I regularly get emails from people assuring me that their wedding was practical because they spent “under $10,000” (we’ve put a lot of pressure around the arbitrary $10,000 number for some reason) or because they only spent $4,000, or because they spent $16,000 but that included their rings and their honeymoon. But here is the thing: I don’t care. I really, really don’t care how much you spent. You can spend a tiny bit of money and still drive yourself mad trying to live up to all the wedding industry standards, but at a lower price point. Or, you can spend a pile of money and still have a amazing laid back generous wedding that reflects who you are. So let’s re-think this. Here are some things that I think are important:

  • That you have a honest wedding. That your wedding budget (whatever it is) reflects who you are, and what you feel you can afford to spend. That when you think of your wedding budget you don’t feel ill and wonder, “oh dear god, how are we ever going to pay off this party?” I mean, in my experience *any* wedding budget will make you feel ill now and then, but most of the time it should make you feel confident like, “Hey, it feels like a lot of money, but we’re spending smart, and we can do this thing.”
  • That you tried to spend less then you can afford. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know that you have a little in the bank in case of an emergency, and you didn’t blow it all on one day. (I’m aware that this is not always possible. In my most broke days a marriage license would have felt like more then I could afford.)
  • That you have a laid back wedding where you care more about having a wedding that reflects who you are then meeting some arbitrary criteria, whether they are set by a wedding magazine or a blog.
  • But there is one thing that I care about most of all: I think how you spend your money is more important than how much you spend. When I look back at what we’ve spent our money on, the decisions I feel the best about are the ones where we put our money towards things we believe in. I don’t feel best about the affordable wine we bought at Bevmo (though I think it was a smart choice), instead I feel the best about the wine that we bought on sale from Meeker – our favorite funky, low brow, small, local winery. When we bought Meeker wine, we helped support a business that we want to thrive in a difficult economic environment, and I feel great about that. I’ve tried to look at our wedding budget as money we are going to spend regardless, and tried to allocate it to people, businesses, and local artists that we want to thrive.

Drea, who’s amaaaazzzzziiinnngggg wedding I posted back here summed it up well on her blog:

We wanted to keep the focus on friends and family and each other. That said; things still cost money. We decided to spend money in a way that made sense to us, on goods and services from local vendors, many of them friends, and many of them Josh’s clients. I believe that these decisions, the energy we put out into our community, and our little bit of local economic stimulus are the reasons we had such a beautiful, and authentic-to-us wedding. Go karma!

So: PLEASE stop obsessing about if your budget meets some arbitrary standards, and start thinking about if it feels honest. Start thinking about where you are spending your money, and if it reflects your values and makes you feel good. And forget the phrase ‘budget wedding’, because it’s meaningless. My budget is not your budget. My wedding is not your wedding. And if you are reading wedding sites that are making you feel sad because they are suggesting that the budget alternative for invitations is a $2,000 letterpress package, or that you should scribble your invitations on printer paper for free and not even use the postal service because it is for sellouts, or some other nonsense, just stop reading. Their budget is *clearly* not your budget.

Keep it simple, keep it sane, keep it honest. And go karma!

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  • Liz

    yes yes!

    what is it about the weddingcrazy that makes you start to care about what everyone else is spending and how you compare?

  • You are so right about indie wedding rules. When I started planning my wedding I kept thinking we would be so avant garde, so original, and that we had to be in order to make a statement about ourselves. As time went on I realized I *wanted* to wear a wedding dress. I liked the mountain of a cake. I didn't want to make every decoration myself. I spent a ton on some things that were very important to me, but that seemed silly to so many other women (and by that I mean the small fortune I spent on my hair). The day of the wedding I realized I loved everything we chose, and that it was perfect for us. Same goes for the budget. I am proud of us for our budget, but I know I could have cut even more corners if I had wanted to. At some point I realized that it wasn't important that I had the least expensive wedding, it was important that I had a wedding where everything I spent money on was meaningful to my wife and I.

  • I believe the first time I read this I cheered periodically throughout the whole thing. Now that I'm actually engaged and in graduate school, any discussion about any budget makes me feel ill. Hopefully once I'm gainfully employed full-time in May I'll be able to shake this feeling. I know there are other women who balanced money-draining higher education with setting a realistic budget. Does anyone have any advice?

  • Meg

    Family help? It gets a bad name in Indie wedding circles, but I think that's stupid as hell. David's in grad school, so we just split the costs in fourths – his family, my family, me, him (he had some savings). If he hadn't had savings it probably would have been thirds – his family, my family, us. Doing it that way felt really fair. Everyone had some money in, and some influance (which they would have had anyway), but since we were paying for half (and were ostensably poorer than anyone else), we never felt like people had a right to push us around. So it was a good balance.

    Just my two cents. I'm sure other people have other ideas. I will say that I really really hate when people say they are putting off getting married because they can't afford it. It makes me really sad. I want to shake them and say "get a cute dress, go to the courthouse, go out to dinner, save for a amazing five year anniversary party! Just get married!"

  • Liz

    butting in:

    bunnies, my fiance and i were both unemployed during engagement (and had no savings stored up! i had just finished grad school) it's doable!!

  • This blog (and particularly this post) saved my sanity when I thought I would just sit down and cry out of frustration with the whole wedding industry crap (and polar opposite, though just as frustrating, indie bride crap). My husband and I sat down the weekend we got engaged (because I am a psycho planner who will stress out until we at least have a "tentative" plan… I'm working on that) and decided how long we wanted to be engaged. Then we figured out how much we could afford and split it up into a monthly savings plan. We ended up saving more than we spent and split it towards saving for our next big adventure and a house. We aren't as lucky as some I've seen in the wedding blogosphere to have tons of creative friends with independent businesses and great skills at things like photography and sewing (I don't think a single friend of mine would have a clue even how to turn on a sewing machine!!!), so we had no choice but to hire services. We just made sure to hire independent artists we felt a connection with, that have passion for what they do at a value-added price. After the cold hard reality of a budget, we came up with a list of what was most important to us about our wedding day.
    1. We get married to each other and enjoy it!
    2. All of our closest friends and family are there (and ONLY our closest friends and family).
    3. Everyone has an amazing time and cannot stop smiling.
    4. An open bar and delicious food.
    5. That I felt beautiful (I don't mean this in a princess-y way, but I just wanted to feel my most beautiful that day).
    And then we just let the list guide us… when we had to make decisions or things felt like they were getting out of hand, we'd ask, "Is this really important to us?" and "How would this fit into the budget?". In the end, we went super budget on some things that we just didn't care about as much, I took on a few DIY projects (more like one, but it mattered to me and we couldn’t afford the quality I wanted if I didn’t do it myself) and splurged in other areas that we cared more about. The overall number really DOES NOT matter and it IS OK to splurge on what really matters to you (THANK YOU MEG!!!). In the end, my husband and I had an INCREDIBLE time – (1) we got married, (2)ALL (and ONLY) of our closest friends and family were there and we not only talked to everyone, but we spent real time with them (3) When we got the pictures back from the photographers, there wasn't one single picture where people weren't smiling (I'm not kidding!!), (4) We had an open bar and delicious food – and I don't care what people say about not being able to eat on your wedding day, we ate ALL of our food and heartily partook of the libations, (5) I felt more beautiful than I ever have or ever will again – something about marrying the love of my life I think :-)
    Meg is SO right – if you keep it honest and true to what is important to you and your husband, you will have amazing memories! One last thing I'd like to add, I was present the whole day and not worrying about any of the details – things might go wrong, but so what, you're probably the only one who'll notice anyway and you'll still be married in the end!

  • We are in our late twenties and have after working really hard at universtiy / trade apprenticeships for best part of a decade are quite estblished in our careers. Our wedding isnt planned on the skin of our teeth.. but we value our money and do our best to prioritise. There was a recent post about a couple who didnt really budget per se, rather kept track of spending, to make sure it remained at a level they were comfortable at- this describes up to a tee. Each purchace we just sorta go 'is that cool' and if we both nod then we go with it and move on

  • @bunniesnbeagles and Meg

    Yes, please don't put off getting married because of money! Everyone's solution is different though – my family couldn't help out so my husband and I extended our engagement by 6 months to save up. Though, the engagement was so long more beacuse I had to deploy right in the middle of it. I know I could have planned the wedding in 3 months and been done with it by the time I deployed. But I didn't want to do that – it turns out I really fully enjoyed planning our wedding. If I'd shotgun styled it, I would never have had time to find out about or this wonderful blog!!! One option that might work is to look at your favorite local resturaunt that doesn't cater to weddings (read: WAAAY more reasonable). We were surprised to find our favorite local Mexican resturaunt has a private room for functions that doesn't cost a single penny, as long as you have a least 30 guests! The menu was VERY reasonable and drinks were included at a very reasonable price as well! Plus, the resturaunt is beautifully decorated with spansih tile floors, whitewashed walls, colorful streamers, twinkle lights, colorful tablecloths and a roving mariachi band!!! Another option we looked into was a late morning wedding with brunch (everything seemed cheaper if you went with a lunch vs. dinner option, but without sacrificing quality!) or a cocktail reception.

  • sorry Ive already made a comment but just thought of one more thing to say. I'd like to quote my Grandma, who was born in the great depression and is over 80 years old. "getting married should be an emotional decision, not a financial decison"
    Go Gran!

  • Meg

    Or to quote a post over at Peonies & Polaroids:
    "No pockets in a shroud" as Gran used to say.

    That helped.

  • When I first red this post I hadn't started planning my wedding, but it made perfect "duh" sense. It's the way I try and approach my entire life and I was committed to it for my wedding. But then, after jumping into this wedding thing full on, this is the sort of post that helps me keep sane, especially as the budget balloons beyond my nice initial number and especially as I make peace with the whys of my individual decisions and compromises. Which is, after all, how I try and approach my entire life after all.

  • Thank you everyone. We really do not want to put it off because of finances. It's just one of those weeks where the whole budgeting process seems like an insurmountable mountain. It's difficult to realize that I personally won't be able to contribute much at all because of grad school. It's hard to reconcile that because I've always valued paying my own way for things. Plus there might be some family conflicts due to ceremony location. But it'll get worked out — you've all renewed my hope.

  • In the homestretch, when I'm adding up all the last minute purchases and the accounts that need to be settled on the day of, this post was a godsend (as I'm reading it for the first time). I'm confident in the How – no need to fret the How Much and condemn myself for it!

  • Yay, Meg! Yay for karma and re-posting this.

    And thanks for being patient about watching me learn all this for myself! xo

  • agirl

    I remember this post. It helped relieve me of a lot of guilt I was feeling around planning my own wedding. I hated the idea of buying into the WIC, but with our circumstances we pretty much had to spend money for services. And fortunately, we could afford to. I tried to choose those carefully – people I genuinely liked and wanted to support. But checking out all the indie wedding blogs made me feel like some hideous sellout for my approach, even though I clearly didn't have to justify our choices to anyone else. So this post was incredibly reassuring when it came.

  • Brandy

    I think that what we are spending on our wedding is a huge amount of money…..because IT IS. But I consistantly have to reassure myself that we set this "budget" thoughtfully and carefully, and we are not spending money frivolously. We are making decisions that are right for us and supporting independent vendors. We haven't publicized what this is costing, and we have NO INTENTIONS to do so. Because in the end, as long as we stayed true to what we felt we could afford reasonably and felt good about where we spent our money, then it isn't really anyone else's concern. I do look at what we are spending occasionally and get a wee bit queasy. Then I think of how amazing our wedding will be and how much it will mean to us and to our families and friends to be included and treated to this wonderful affair, and all is right again.

    So Meg – Amen Sister! :)

  • I love the bit about how to spend your money. I own and run a small business and know how hard at times that can be.

    When we were trying to hire table cloths and chair covers we were trying to save money by going with a big company. But then we ran across a lady around our age that runs a hire place from her shed. We went to see her at the shed beside her house, her two little kids twirling around in chair sashes and it just felt right. How much more the money would mean to her than to some big corporation. Even though it cost us a few dollars more we went with her. And you're so right – it just feels better.

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    'But here is the thing: I don't care. I really, really don't care how much you spent.'

    I love you.

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    Hey! You quoted me! I love you even more.

    @bunniesnbeagles don't put it off, just do it cheaply. It's possible. Equally, take your time finding out what is available and at what price. We booked a lot of things straight away when we got engaged, a year later we had come across quite a few much cheaper options but we were stuck with our initial decisions.

    You can do it. Wonderfully. With any budget, I promise.