Married in Manhattan…on a Budget

After being together for thirteen years, my then boyfriend (now husband) proposed to me. As he nervously put the ring on my finger my first words to him, after saying yes, were, "Wait, does this mean I have to plan a wedding?"

Married in Manhattan
My Husband and I on our wedding day at Washington Square Park

At that point in time, the majority of our coupled friends had already gotten married. I happened to be in a couple of weddings so had seen firsthand what I did and did not want in my own nuptials. However, even with that knowledge, planning a wedding was not easy.

The additional challenge for us was that our families were unable to financially support us so the burden of paying for the wedding fell squarely on our shoulders. That said, this is not necessarily a bad thing! Saving for a major expenditure, together, is actually good practice for saving for other things like a house, college fund or a nice vacation.

When the dust settled, we were able to get married in Manhattan for just under $15K which is well under the national average for weddings in this country. This is also WAY under the average for Manhattan which is currently at a ridiculous $88,176.

Additionally, I should note that this amount is inclusive of our honeymoon flight and lodging which ended up being a wonderful reward for all our saving and planning. Some folks suggested maybe we should wait until later and have a longer honeymoon but it was actually really nice to get away on an adventure that included our passports, however modest.

So, without further ado, now that it's been a full year since the wedding and I've had a chance to reflect on that day—and all the planning that led up to it—here are some tips and tricks on how we did it:

1. Limit Scope

The first thing we did was to limit the scope of what we were going to do. We decided we are going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 people and focused our search for venues on finding a place that would accommodate this small number of folks. It definitely wasn't easy to find a small venue but it's important to stick to your guns on defining scope. You can't invite everyone and people really won't be that offended. I have absolutely no regrets about this.

2. Budget for stuff that matters to you

We also set budgets for different categories like the dress (I'll get to that in a second), his suiting, our wedding bands, etc. Here are some of the budgets we defined:

  • My dress: $1000
  • His suiting: $400
  • Paper invitations: $150
  • Wedding Bands (for both of us combined): $350
  • Honeymoon (Flight & Lodging): $2000

You need to focus on what matters to you and your future spouse. Not what matters to everyone else. Not what you think you should do because The Knot tells you so.

In our case, we ended up going a little over on the honeymoon and spent closer to $2200 for our flight and lodging, which was well worth the extra money. Also, I should mention that the bulk of the approximately 15K we spent was on our venue which has phenomenal character…and food. Food was clearly important to us.

Wedding bands were not very important to us. We both opted for simple white gold bands from Blue Nile where my engagement ring was purchased. I would've loved to get a more ornate wedding band but it didn't make good financial sense. This is another one of those decisions I definitely do not regret.

Same holds true for paper invitations; we used a "save the date" template as our paper invite and pushed folks to RSVP via our wedding website in order to save money both on postage and printing. Fortunately for us, I was able to build our website but there are lots of services out there that aren't incredibly expensive for this sort of thing.

3. Go off the beaten path

I think it's important to be flexible if you are going to try to plan a budget wedding. For my husband and I, we are used to being super unconventional so doing things that most people typically don't do for a wedding wasn't too out of character for us. A lot of people decide to get married and fall back on conventional norms about how weddings are "supposed to be." We had none of that.

This translated to how we even selected our wedding venue. We ended up getting married at a restaurant in the West Village. It was a great deal but we had to make some concessions. One concession was that our wedding was basically during brunch-time instead of the traditional dinner service. This helped us save a lot of money and it was such a beautiful sunny day that I think it worked out for the best that we had the ceremony and reception before the sun went down. Additionally, our venue provided flower arrangements on every table so we didn't have to buy flowers, except for my bouquet.

The other unconventional thing we did was shopping off the rack for our attire. My husband and I bought his suit from the Macy's men's department. We found a woman there who helped us select something that would be in budget. We told her it was for a wedding — but we didn't tell her it was for HIS wedding. This is a good technique to use as, once sales people hear you are getting married, they try to use that emotion to their advantage to try to goad you into spending more. Don't give them the opportunity!

My dress, meanwhile, I purchased from Anthropologie as they have a small wedding salon in some of their shops. I really love the Anthro styles (one of my favorite shops) so I had quite a few different dresses to choose from. Ultimately, I went with the one I got which was at the very top end of my budget of $1000 (I think the final total for the dress was something like $1025 and then the alterations I had to get elsewhere cost me an additional $250). Of the 3 I was enamored with, the one I chose was the most comfortable and that mattered most as I knew I would be wearing that dress the entire day.

4. Take your time and save your money

Also, one thing to note is that we had a very long engagement which ultimately helped us save money over time without sacrificing the quality of life that we were used to. We put aside $200 per paycheck automatically (this is key to making this work!) which, over time, added up.

This also allowed us to take advantage of off-season deals or other sales as we happened upon them. We bought a whole lot of odds and ends online which, with coupon codes, really helped us save money. We used Wedding Paper Divas for our invitations (with a coupon code, of course) but, as I mentioned previously, we saved some money there by doing an online RSVP process instead of costly (and not exactly environmentally friendly!) paper response cards. We did have to chase a few people but for the most part, the RSVPs happened; in fact, a lot of folks I know said it was smart that we didn't spend all that money on invitations response cards because many of their wedding guests didn't even send them back!

5. Keep your perspective about you

It's really important to keep your perspective. I read so many bridal magazines that would say, "You deserve X!" When, in truth, you don't deserve anything except each other. The wedding is about two people coming together and sharing their joy with the village around them. It's not about the stuff. It's never about the stuff.

The important thing is that you and your significant other can share a moment together to kickoff the rest of your lives. When we were at City Hall getting our marriage license, we saw so many blissful couples getting married there.

Life is too short to try to strive for a Pinterest-perfect wedding, but you should definitely make sure to strive for an open bar for your guests!

Looking back at it now, we had a wonderful wedding and I wouldn't change a single thing.