Why I Dislike The Term “Budget Wedding”

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 some 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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  • Desaray

    Well put. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t better at being budget, but better at budgeting. We have what we have as far as money, but there are all these little cracks where money slips through, like how we made twice as many save-the-dates than we needed and it seems that only half of them have arrived beacause of their irregular shape. I think about how I should be able to itemize each morsel of each purchase and post it on the internets to show how practical I am. But that is really just *not* my personality. It’s interesting how we internalize other people’s methods as “good” or “right” or “responsible”, when ours are too, just a little, um, different. I’m responsible in a . . . haphazard kinda way ;} I should rename by blog “ADHD Bride”. Ha!

  • Great post. It’s funny how easy it can be to find yourself trying to shun the WIC by instead living up to indie wedding “standards” (e.g., the $10,000 budget). I’m grateful for the reminder that doing either blindly is taking my focus away from what is important–a celebration of us enjoyed with family and friends.

  • Thanks again Meg, for bringing me back down to earth. I consider my wedding budget but everytime I check a blog where brides are spending thousands less tha we are I feel guilty. I think about all the ways I could’ve saved money but in the end we are spending what we can afford and doing whats right for us personally. My ultimate goal is to stick to our budget and with less than 30 days to go we are still on track. I’m most proud of that because it’s so easy to get sucked in and think oh a few hundred extra here and there and then your whole budget is blown.

  • Very well put! When I first got engaged a very dear friend told me that “You couldn’t do a wedding for much less than 20grand.” and after much debate(mostly in my head!) we decided to do it our way which is to not go into debt for a single day! Plus I’m such a bargain hunter that we’re still going to end up coming in under our budget!

  • amen

  • thank you.

  • I agree that it’s silly to pressure someone into having a wedding budget that falls below a specific number. You said it: as long as you’re spending your money in a way that makes sense for you …that’s what counts. But I’m not sure how these points tie into the term “Budget Wedding.” For me, the term means creating a budget, sticking with it, and simply being smart about your choices. I also think it means taking a step back, thinking outside the box, and allowing yourself to come up with a creative alternative for something you may not be able to afford.

  • jmiddy

    exactly. thank you!

  • Meg

    I agree with you on all points. I just don’t personally like the term “budget wedding.” Because what the heck is a budget wedding anyway? Is it a $5K wedding? a $10K wedding? a $20K wedding? Who knows, it depends on the person and the circumstances. I think “budget wedding” has become this catch all term for everyone thinking outside the box. Most of the ways in which it’s used I find condescending, AKA, we have this site set up for “normal brides” but if you are a “budget bride” well, we have this little budget corner for you, and we feel badly you have to use it. Ick, I say to that, ick.

    I don’t like “budget wedding” because over here, that’s just not what I care about. I care about my budget, and sticking to it, I care about you being empowered to stick to your budget. But, what binds us all together is not that we have budgets (of varying sizes) what binds us together is that we are trying to have simple, honest weddings.

    So! There is no reason for you to dislike the term, but that’s why I dislike it. It’s subjective, and it tends to include/exclude in a way I am uncomfortable with. I, personally, don’t need one more thing to live up to ;)


  • LPC

    I couldn’t agree more. One thing that can happen if you’ve got the $$$ to spend is that your wedding becomes a big gift to your guests. If you decide to go for the fantastic wines and the great food and the custom lighting that makes everyone who walks into your space feel instantly like they would have been let into Studio 54 in its heyday, well, that’s a gift. I think the indulgence of the last decade, fueled by what turned out to be actual evil-doings, is causing a backlash. The backlash makes sense, but if you want to spend $$$ and you have it to spend, that is not in and of itself evil. Spending money you don’t have, spending money to impress rather than fete people, spending money that creates a burden on the environment, those are different issues.

  • I completely agree. I recently attended the wedding of my boyfriend’s cousin– it was probably the coolest wedding I’ve ever attended. It was held in an old bank turned Real World Philly house turned art gallery, with the ceremony and reception in the same place. The ceremony was 15 minutes long and combined a regular civil ceremony with some Jewish traditions. Most of us had drinks in our hands during the ceremony! Dinner was a buffet of fantastic food, and good wine was abundant. Instead of favors, the couple made a large donation to the Autism Speaks foundation. I was shocked to recently find out, after the wedding, that it had cost nearly $27,000. For a second I found myself thinking “How could you spend that much on a wedding?” but then I realized it didn’t SEEM like it cost $27,000. There was nothing gaudy and showy, it was just very “them.” That was the budget they had, with help from parents and with a lot of money put in themselves. Soon I realized that it’s actually okay to spend that much money (especially when you’re getting married in Philadelphia, where you won’t find less than $100/plate caterers unless you know somebody). I’m sure my budget will be nowhere near that amount, but I realized I can’t judge someone for doing what they wanted with what they had. They wanted a funky venue (art gallery– how cool is that?!); they wanted good food, wine and liquor (they know their family well!); and they wanted dancing all night long. These things cost money, but it was what they wanted. There was nothing WIC about it. Who am I to judge them for spending that much money when they are definitely not in debt because of it?

  • Well point out. When I read all this blogs about “practical weddings” and I read about their budget, I feel bad, because ours is so much bigger. But then I realize that their wedding location is not ours, that dollars and euros are not the same currency and that we are actually spending most of the money at what is important to us: in making it comfortable for the people who is important to us.

  • What a great article! Thanks

  • well said!

  • I love you lady.

    The people, the celebration, the act of getting married – that is what it’s all about! And regardless of whether you did it for $100 000 or $100, once it was a true reflection of your style, was what you could afford, and everyone had a fab time, then mission accomplished!

    I have a newly engaged friend whom I keep prodding to read this blog from start to finish. I hope she does!

  • Well said. A number is just a number. It’s how you spend it to make your wedding yours that matters. Thanks for driving the point home!

  • Oh, thank you.

  • Thank you and thank you again for this post. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. A wedding budget is a personal choice and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we’re spending more or less than others.

    The key is to spend what you can afford and stick to your defined budget – whatever it may be!

  • great post!

  • Great post, thank you! :)

  • Levi-Rose

    Great post! This is why I love your blog!!!

  • Jen

    Great post. You’d think this would be common sense by now, but who doesn’t lose their sanity during the wedding-planning process? I think of our wedding as being pretty darn responsible, financially speaking, but I’ve been amazed at some of the beautiful weddings I’ve seen that cost even less! It’s so hard to stay true to yourself in this process as there’s so much pressure – usually from the well-meaning! Thanks for the mental refresher.

  • Thank you! Very well put, I’m printing this article to show to my “budget brides”.

  • Great post! It’s easy to forget that budgets and costs vary all over the board depending on a whole range of issues. I feel that the word “budget” implies that a specific amount of money is being spent, whether it’s $500 or $50,000. Granted, it’s been kind of interpreted as “inexpensive,” but I don’t think that should be the case.

    I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit here and play a little devil’s advocate and say that the budget for our wedding is going to be teeny since we are paying for it ourselves, and we would rather spend the money on a down payment for a house. With that in mind, it can be frustrating to read wedding blogs with (what I consider to be) expensive elements, with a “And at only $xx per invite/centerpiece/etc., it’s sooo inexpensive!!” That happens on regular blogs, budget blogs, all blogs. I understand that everyone’s definition of expense is different. In my head, you can bet that I’m thinking, “No way!! What a crazy amount to spend!!” Just like I’m sure people would react to our (intended) postcard invite as, “Oh my gosh! Why not just send an evite while you’re at it?” (Not saying there’s anything wrong with those either!) Everyone has opinions, and much like other buzzwords (eco-friendly, anyone?) people will have different interpretations. And I don’t think that’s anything to shy away from. All in all, I think everyone should respect the amount of money people choose to spend on their weddings, respect different interpretations on the phrase “budget wedding,” and respect each others opinions in general.

  • A great post! I completely agree. It’s so important not to give in to wedding standards. A couple needs to feel free to spend their money they way they choose.

    I’ve definitely felt some guilt, as my budget is somewhat larger than brides generally featured here, and sometimes I wonder if I’m indulging in unnecessary extravagances. And then I realize that I made the decisions I did for my own reasons, and not the WIC’s reasons, or even indie bride reasons. My wedding will incorporate some very “traditional” elements (white — well, ivory — dress bought at boutique, somewhat fancy venue, bridesmaids) but also some DIY elements (non-floral centerpieces made by my mom and her friends, a Lego-themed groom’s cake and topper). And overall, every element is something my fiance and I have discussed and agreed upon as a general reflection of our desires. PLUS we are judiciously saving, and I am hoping we come out of this event with no or very minimal debt. I would have done some things at a smaller scale if I were planning this wedding where I live (it’s 1000 miles away, where all my family is based), but the most important part of it all is to celebrate my relationship with my future husband, and to have my family and closest friends share in that joy. When i keep that as the focus, the amount of money – high or low – seems absolutely irrelevant.

  • Thank you for this. Really. Just today we had a conversation about how we never expected to have as expensive a wedding as we are, and that yes: it is still something that feels right to us, and yes: we feel good about where the money is going. We just need to let go of our guilt, I think.

  • Exactly! Exactly.

  • I couldn’t agree more, and I must say I agree with MaryKate too. Our wedding is going to cost us quite a bit, but we’re happy with it. Because our parents are paying for a lot of it (else we would have made some other choices… because even though we HAVE the money we’re spending, we’re planning to use it for something more important i.e our jobs and a house), because we spent it on things that were important to us : a nice venue that didn’t need much decoration, great food, great wine. Those are the really expensive things. The photographer is a third of the price of photographers I’d really would have liked but that’s fine. My wedding dress is home made, I’m doing my centerpieces and some of my flowers, I did our invites for a third of what they would have costed us… We had the money but didn’t see the use of spending it on such things. We preferred to spend it on things people would really appreciate like food and drink lol.

  • WORD, Meg!

    We’ve set a budget and right now we are coming under in almost every category. We’ve made compromises and pretty much slashed almost everything you can think of that we don’t feel necessary by WIC standards but we will still have what many would consider and expensive wedding. Living in and wanting a wedding in NYC doesn’t necessarily help. At the same time I’m proud of our planning process so far because it’s been SO SANE and I’ve enjoyed it.
    Everyone, do what you can with what you can in the way you want to do it.

  • Meg

    Maybe this has to be another post, because I thought this went without saying, given this blog: but I agree with you. I’m *not* saying SPEND SPEND SPEND, at allll. If you read this post carefully, that isn’t the message. I think the spendy mcspendy pants ethos of lots wedding publications is really destructive, frankly. I don’t believe in that, and that is in large part what this blog is about.

    BUT. I think we can go too far in the other direction, and that’s destructive too. I get all these emails from people trying to justify their budgets, and it makes me sad for all of us. My message is NOT spend spend spend: it’s keep it simple, keep it honest (And how many of us are rich enough to spend like crazy? Please.) But more than anything else, and this may be being missed here, my message is: THINK WHERE YOU SPEND! Spend to reflect your values. Do not put money into parts of an industry that make you crazy. If, like me, you want local businesses and artists to survive, put your money towards them.

    The world has enough crazy weddings where it’s all about the lighting show and the chandeliers. Spend honest, spend smart, and relax.

    And yeah. I still don’t like the term “budget wedding.” But if you do, what do you care what I think? Seriously.


  • I love this post. You are absolutely correct. It’s how the money is spent not how much… What awesome insight!

  • Meg– for sure. There’s enough destructiveness going on! I’m just thinking on the flip side, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who says they’re not on a budget (because then they’re spending fistfuls of money and know it) or aren’t being practical (because that leaves them… impractical?)

    I love the phrase “Think to where you spend”, btw! I’ll need to use that, wedding and otherwise.

    Lots to think about! And don’t get me wrong, I love your blog :)


  • Meg

    That’s what bugs me about the phrase “if you’re on a budget.” Um, what is the alternative? A money tree? It just seems like another way to slowly wear you down (on bad days). If that makes sense. I’ve had days when I’ve wanted to scream: “OF COURSE I’M ON A BUDGET! I want to own a HOUSE one day! I want to send kids to COLLEGE! I don’t have a MONEY TREE! I don’t want to spend my parent’s whole RETIREMENT!”

    But those are the bad days. On the good days I just go read East Side Bride ;) or whatever….


    PS – I think some people would turn their nose up at the term “practical wedding.” Betcha. But I hear what your saying.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this post. When I read it I let out a breath a didn’t realise I’d been holding. I’m going to think about where I spend and make a choice that reflects me, not the wedding industry or my peers.

  • Shanna

    I always felt a little iffy about the term “budget wedding.” Unless you are a billionaire whose wallet really won’t take any hit at all no matter how much everything costs, you are planning a wedding on a budget. So isn’t every wedding really a so-called “budget wedding”? There are so few people in the world who can afford to spend as much as they want on anything they want and if we compare ourselves to them, we’ll never be happy. That’s not what getting married is about.

  • Meg and everyone else, thanks for this. One of the things that I’ve really liked about wedding planning is that so many of the people I’m dealing with are small business owners — our cake baker’s shop just celebrated its five-year anniversary, our caterer is a woman-owned local business, our photographer owns his own company, and our musicians are just out of music school. I sometimes feel guilty when I read about all of the brides who are doing their weddings for *much* less than we are, but I do feel good about the way we’re spending our budget, and the people who will get paid because of it.

  • GO KARMA indeed! Manifesto-licious. Thanks for getting this out there, Meg!

  • Wonderful post. As much as I wouldn’t mind spending a few thousand more on our wedding, the reality is that I want money in the bank, a down payment for a house, and a trip to Europe at some point…so what we spend has to be right for us–for right now, and for our future.

  • Standing ovation for your post, then cracking up at your “of course I’m on a budget” screaming fit. I never realised why that sounded so stupid before. Next time I hear it, I’ll be the one making the sarcastic ‘money tree’ comments, then giggling to myself, thinking of Team Practical.

  • Excellent post! I completely agree – I’m not worried about how much people spend, really, (although I do love seeing how people economize creatively), I’m just annoyed with the arbitrary spending on things they don’t really care about if they took the time to think about it for 5 seconds.
    Spending money thoughtfully is fine by me.

  • K

    I think the key word to all of this debate is “justify”. Why feel the need to justify YOUR budget? Who the heck cares what YOUR budget is? Be comfortable in your own skin and your own wallet(s). You don’t owe anybody an explanation.

    While we were planning our wedding, my mom told me that no matter the bride or the budget, the couple always finds a way to get what is important to them at the wedding. Rarely does a bride walk away from her wedding day feeling like the day was nothing that she wanted. I think that embodies Meg’s feelings about thinking about where and how you spend.

  • well said. perspective, we all need to have perspective. especially right now. comparison to others is not. do well with what you have and plan the wedding of the century!

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  • thank you. this is not a contest. it is your life. live it as who you are! i wish more brides would do this.