15 tips: How to plan a wedding in 3 months, on a budget (and not kill anyone)

Dear all,

In my last post, I shared some great news with you: we got married! I also promised to tell you all about it my next post, so here goes.

We planned our wedding in less than two months, and I guess you can call it a “shotgun” wedding – we found out I was pregnant on May 27, already 6 weeks along. We settled on July 20, a Saturday, for an evening wedding. We planned 100 guests and 2500€, but ended up at 150 guests and 3500€.

Wedding tip #1: Get the basics set

bride with wedding dressThe basics are:
– money
– date, time, place
– guests

Where we live, the custom is that parents help the couple with money for the wedding. They either pay for the whole thing or for as much as they can afford.

We broke the news of me being pregnant (yaaaay!) to each set of parents. After giving the news some time to sink in – about a week – we had to hurry up and start planning a wedding. Each of us had a pre-talk with the parents to get a feel of how much money they could pitch in – I talked to my mom and my fiance talked to his parents.

Once the parents were prepped by the pre-talk (and allowed a week to look into their bank account statements), we scheduled a family meeting where all of us sat together. We had no time to waste so we got straight to business: told our parents we estimated 100 guests and 2500€ for the wedding. We asked if they could pitch in 750€ per family, and they happily agreed. Apart from money in cash, they also wanted to buy us some things as a gift – for example, my mom would pay the church fee and his parents would pay for the rings.

Our original plan for the wedding was to have it around October so we could save up for it and not rely on our parents for everything. Now we were completely unprepared and while we were thrilled that our parents would cover our @sses, we also felt a little… eh. But we didn’t have much time to feel “eh”, because we had less than two months to plan the wedding!

We told our parents we would try to give them 500€ back per family after the wedding (but can’t promise since we don’t know how much money will raise from the wedding), and we felt a little better about the whole thing. Moving on!

The next big step was choosing a date, time and place. Getting a date was quite a challenge, since there are only four Saturdays in a month and only three places we liked for the wedding. Also, the date had to work for the restaurant, the church, the town hall, the cameraman, the DJ, and it had to be before I hit three months with my pregnancy.

But we managed, thanks to mom’s help and also because we decided to have the wedding in my hometown instead of the groom’s – which was against tradition. But we had good reasons for it:
– my hometown was smaller, which meant people and places were easier to book on a shorter notice
– we had more connections there and could pull more favors
– with favors, we got discounts on everything – restaurant menu, decorations, cameraman, photographer, DJ, wedding cake
– my mom had more free time than the groom’s parents and basically served as a wedding agent
– most of the guests were from my side anyway

Having a small-town wedding definitely has its upsides! Not to mention the atmosphere is so much more relaxed as opposed to having a big-city wedding.

Wedding tip #2: The guestlist

The groom - coming to my house to take his bride, according to tradition
The groom – coming to my house to take his bride, according to tradition
Couples on a budget have to choose between two types of weddings: small and classy or big but more casual. That is, you can invite less people (less servings) but spend more per serving, OR you can invite more people (more servings) and spend less per serving. The number and price of servings is the one thing that depends directly on the number of guests.

We sat down to think about this. If we chose less servings but more expencive dishes, we’d have wine instead of beer, gourme potatoes instead of French fries, fish salad instead of regular and ice-cream along with the wedding cake. However, we’d seat no more than 50-70 people instead of the desired 100; also we’d get so little in gifts that we wouldn’t cover even half the wedding costs.

So we decided to go with the big-but-more-casual type of wedding and invite more friends. A year from now, nobody would remember what they ate for dinner, but our guests would definitely remember talking to a friend they hadn’t seen in years, someone telling a joke, or how cute my friend’s kid looked dancing with the groom.

Not even the most gourmet potato can do that.

Wedding tip #3: Ask for cash for wedding gift

I told you all about it here: How to ask for cash for wedding gift

Wedding tip #4: I rented my wedding dress

Mom kisses me goodbye
Mom kisses me goodbye
…instead of buying a brand new one. Renting was 50% cheaper, and why would I want to own a dress that I would only wear once in my life? I’m just not a sentimental person – I prefer to look forward to the great future ahead of me instead of seeking comfort in the past and dwelling in bitter-sweat memories. Since I only rented the dress, I just dropped it off at the boutique after the wedding and forgot about it. If I had bought it, I would have had to keep it in the house for the next 60 years.

I guess I could have bought a brand-new dress and sold it later. But what if I couldn’t sell it? So many boutiques rent their dresses, and you can walk in and try a bunch of models on. They can fit it to you if it’s not exactly right. And I would have to sell the dress online, where the other bride wouldn’t be able to inspect the dress for defects, she wouldn’t be able to try it on, and I certainly couldn’t do the fitting for her. Even if I was able to sell it, it could take months, during which the money I paid to have the dress new would stay locked until I could sell it. If I could sell it.

And one more thing: with so many models for sale, you could never know if the dress you buy as “new” is really new.

Wedding tip #5: I did my own hair, makeup and toenails

I kick off a brass thingie full of water - according to tradition
I kick off a brass thingie full of water – according to tradition
This wasn’t about the money. I just felt comfortable with a more natural look and I actually didn’t feel comfortable with someone else doing my face and hair. I don’t go to a hairdressers on regular days – I even cut my own hair – so why should I go for my wedding day? That’s just not me.

I also didn’t have to worry about keeping three appointments on that very day. It took a lot of pressure off.

Wedding tip #6: No bridesmaids’ dresses

I never wanted bridesmaids’ dresses to begin with. I don’t like the idea of a bride forcing her best friends into dresses they may or may not like. And then there’s the cost.

I thought that instead of dresses, we could order cute little boukets or scarfs or gloves for them to look like a group; but eventually I dropped the idea of having “bridesmaids” altogether. My girlfriends don’t need a “title” or a scarf to be assured of our friendship.

An upside of not having bridesmaids was that I didn’t have to deal with choosing accessories for them – another load off my mind.

Wedding tip #7: No printed invitations

Wedding ceremony
Wedding ceremony
What’s the point of a printed invitation, exactly? It’s main purpose is to tell the general properties of the wedding: who marries whom, who’s the best man, and time-date-place. It’s convenient if you send out invitations months in advance – that way you don’t people through the trouble of writing the details down, and they don’t have to call you again should they lose the piece of paper they scribbled it on. It’s elegant, for sure.

But other than that, I see no use for printed invitations. A friend of mine gave me an invitation to his wedding, and even though all the information is in there, I’m still going to call him with questions. Also, before mailing the invitation, he called me to ask for my address and to tell me I will be receiving a wedding invitation.

So a printed invitation saves you none of the hassle of making phone calls. It actually adds to that. It also adds to the total cost of your wedding, and soaks up time.

Of course, some of you may see skipping invitations as a breach or etiquette. If skipping wedding invitations makes you uncomfortable, then go ahead and print them. For us though? We preferred to use that money and add an extra drink to our guests’ menu.

Wedding tip #8: Have “cheerleader” dancers

Part 2 of the wedding ceremony - in the church. We're Orthodox Christians.
Part 2 of the wedding ceremony – in the church. We’re Orthodox Christians.
Ask a group of non-shy friends to jump on the dance floor if no one’s up and dancing by song #3. Having a full dance-floor really adds a lot to the mood of the wedding and also prompts other, more shy guests to get up and dance. Your guests will remember your wedding as fun, lively, and a great party altogether.

Wedding tip #9: Ask for samples

When you’re choosing the wedding staff (DJ, officiant, band, cameraman, photographer, whatever), absolutely ask for samples.

It’s one thing to hear the DJ talk about what they do, it’s another to actually see what they did at another couple’s wedding. Ask to see a video. That way you’ll see how they interact with the audience and what kind of mood they set. If you’re having an officiant, ask them for a video as well.

Wedding tip #10: We skipped flowers

This is in front of the restaurant where we had the wedding reception. It was outdoors.
This is in front of the restaurant where we had the wedding reception. It was outdoors.
The only flowers we had were two rented boukets of artificial flowers: one for the car and one for our table at the restaurant.

For the guest tables, we thought mom + ladyfriends could gather all boukets from the ceremony, then cut and rearrange the flowers to make them into centerpieces.

Feeling smart for thinking of this, we asked our guests to get smaller (and lower in height) flowers instead of the traditional big boukets. Well… that didn’t work out :) Our guests either forgot or decided against it and all we got was boukets. Not to mention my mom was so chaotic on our wedding day she totally forgot the flower business altogether!

So if you think of a “clever” tactic like this one, know that it may not work. (And also know that you’ll need lots of vases – we totally forgot about vases.) We only got away with it because our wedding was outdoors, in the restaurant’s beautiful garden with lots of natural flowers and color.

Wedding tip #11: We skipped most decorations

This is our table, with the best man's family seated with us
This is our table, with the best man’s family seated with us
Decorations can definitely give a more “wedding-ly” vibe to your reception, but just like flowers, they cost a fortune. We decided to just have our table and chairs decorated, and we also got a wedding arch with six stand-up pieces. That was it.

We wouldn’t even have our table decorated, but we thought our guests might wonder why we have no “wedding-ly” decorations at all. So we focused on a few essentials, just enough to accentuate the wedding theme.

Again, we got away with it because the restaurant was beautiful anyway.

Wedding tip #12: We hired a “DJ-slash-officiant”.

Part of our wedding guests
Part of our wedding guests
Some couples hire a DJ, a live band and an officiant. We decided a good DJ could make up for the rest, and he did.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on DJ + officiant or if a the really good DJ who could also serve as officiant has a high fee, there’s still one more option for you. You can ask a more artistic friend with a taste for performance to step in and announce the key points in your wedding. You could have the bride’s mom announce the first dance and have the groom’s dad announce the cutting of the cake. It could be really fun that way, and also your relatives will get more camera time. (Our parents didn’t!)

However, this option has two big drawbacks: first, the people you choose to do the DJ/officiant job won’t be able to just relax and enjoy the wedding since they’ll be busy doing their job; second, what if it turns out they suck at it? I’ve seen people who are really eager and excited about public speaking, but when the event actually comes, they panic, get all tight, and everything falls apart.

I read about weddings where people bring their own mp3 playlists and use their home stereo, but I think this would only work for really small and casual weddings.

Wedding tip #13: Тhe menu

We had one menu (not two or three options) and we pretty much let the restaurant staff choose it for us. We just pitched in here and there to make sure the serving’s price doesn’t go above our limit.

bride with micFor drinks, mom talked to the restaurant and got us a really cool favor: we could bring our own drinks with no limit, PLUS appetizers. (This restaurant doesn’t typically do that – you have to buy at least some drinks from them before you can bring your own for refills). Mom also found a drinks warehouse with great prices; they not only delivered to the restaurant and picked up afterwards, but refunded whatever bottles were left unopen.

The wedding cake also came with a huge discount because the lady who owns the bakery is a family friend.

Our final menu included: salad, middle dish, main dish, dry/smoked meat and fried peanuts; for drinks there were two sodas and two beers a person, a glass of wine, unlimited rakia, and lots of water; and of course wedding cake. (I think on average, a guest only consumed half of all that.)

We asked the restaurant manager what should we do if a guest wants to order something outside the menu. We thought it should go on our bill since it’s our ceremony, but we were also afraid this might go overboard. The manager was really open about this and she told us not to do it. “I know you mean well,” she said, “but I’ve seen too many weddings where the guests forget themselves and abuse the good will of the hosts. Also, too often it happens that if one person orders an extra drink, all the rest would follow them.”

Huh. “We don’t think any of our guests would do that,” we said, but she shook her head.
“People will be drinking. That loosens them up. My advice is – don’t take on the extra orders.”
“But how do we do that elegantly?”
“Our staff will take care of it. If a guest orders something extra, they’ll discreetly let them know that anything outside the pre-fix menu is billed separately.”

Wedding tip #14: Assign ONE task per person

Most of the planning fell on my mom, and a significant chunk fell on me. My mom coordinated the date with the Town hall, the church, the restaurant, and the staff (DJ, cameraman, photographer); she helped with the menu; she handled payments; she looked for liquor discounts; she helped with sleeping arrangements and hotels; all while renovating her house for the wedding!

As you can imagine, some things got mixed up.

If you’re planning your own wedding, get your relatives or friends involved, and assign ONE task per person. One task per person is absolutely reasonable, and even the busiest person would find half an hour here and there to help you.

For example: flowers. Ask a friend to make a list of florists, and then contact the three florists you pick and get their prices. If you decide you want white roses instead of red, call your friend and have them check availability and prices – instead of you making all the calls.

Another example: menu. Ask a friend to get at least two menus from the restaurant and to also get two menus from a caterer. Have them cross-check prices. Have them ask if you can bring your own drinks or side-dishes. That will save you a ton of calls and stress.

Wedding tip #15: Focus on the big stuff and skip what you can

wedding danceAs I researched online before writing this, I found many articles on how to plan a wedding, and most say you need 6 months to plan a wedding. They talked about stuff like choosing stationeries for wedding invitations, choosing music down to the last song, making color themes and whatnot. I think this somehow implies that it’s okay for brides to stress over every little detail and that they should have a nervous breakdown if something is not exactly as they imagined it. But we weren’t obsessed over everything being perfect, because, well – what does it matter? “Perfect” is unnatural.

We saw things differently. Our wedding wasn’t about making us happy – we were already happy because of the fact that we were getting married, and we didn’t need any props for that. Our wedding was about making our guests happy. That was our biggest goal.

Our second-biggest goal was to, not go broke while making our guests happy :)

But we were on a budget, and some things had to give. We decided we would easily pay for things that contributed to our guest experience, and we would cut anything that didn’t.

Things we would NOT skip

I read online many people’s stories where people had a morning wedding so they could serve guests only cake and tea. I read suggestions about having a buffet instead of individual servings. I read about weddings where people plug mp3 playlists to a laptop.

Reading my tips, you’ve probably gathered by now that one of the easiest way to plan a fast wedding for a small cost is to just skip a bunch of stuff. Scratch off invitations, bridesmaids and flowers, and there you go!

But actually, we were afraid that stripping a wedding too much will make it look cheap and take a toll on the guest experience. When people go to a wedding, they expect to see certain attributes that mark the event as a wedding¸and not just some get-together party: they expect romantic atmosphere, official ceremony, rings, and a big white dress. We didn’t want our wedding to be pompous like The Queen of England, but we didn’t want it to be too casual. We felt that “too casual”might look cheap and be kind of offensive to our guests. After all, our guests would spend time, money, and travel 700 km to respect our wedding.

They had to be respected in return.

Like that? Check all our stories in the archive.

1 thought on “15 tips: How to plan a wedding in 3 months, on a budget (and not kill anyone)”

  1. Hi there! This is one very interesting article :) The title is so impressive! In addition to your tips my experience shows that the best way to organize a wedding (regardless the period you have) is to track almost every single expense and to relate it to you budget. Plan how much money you could spend as a whole and by categories – some things could be more important to you than others. That’s how you will manage to cover the essentials and to see where you can cut your budget.

    Good luck to all who are about to face that challenge :)

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