My Frugal Simcha features reader’s stories about their beautiful simchas – on a budget. If you have hosted a budget-friendly wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Brit Milah or other simcha, we’d love to read about it! Please fill out this form to submit your story.
By Caroline Musin Berkowitz.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: unless your last name is Trump or you are part of a royal family somewhere, your wedding is going to have a budget. You will do yourself a big favor—now and going forward—if you stick to it. There are a lot of different budgets for weddings, and this post is not designed to disparage the largest ones or rave about the smallest ones. I’m writing this post to tell you about a few of the choices my husband and I made so that we could stretch every dollar to the max. No matter how many dollars you have to spend, I think that’s a sensible plan.
To be fair, I wasn’t like most brides. I was several years older and had been on my own for a long time. I wasn’t interested in this being the best day of my life because I plan to have plenty of truly wonderful days. I was much more interested in molding our marriage than in molding our wedding. A year later, I still think that was the right choice. However, we wanted to celebrate with our family and friends, so many decisions needed to be made.
Here is how we developed a few of them:
Ladies, this is a dress to be worn for one day. I don’t care if it’s the prettiest dress in the world. It’s still only a one-day dress. My initial plan was to go to a gemach or rent a dress because I had no interest in buying one. After making several calls around town and learning that this could cost around $1000-$1500, I went (grudgingly) shopping. In the end, I bought a discontinued sample from a bridal shop.
TIP: Try to find a discontinued sample or one from a previous season. Think of it like a clearance buy! Bridal shops are in a bind: they don’t make much money when they sell samples, but it does them no good to keep them on hand when they can’t sell any more custom dresses based on the sample.
TIP: Unless you are truly in love with your dress or are certain that your future daughter will want to wear it some 20+ years from now, please consider donating your dress. I guarantee it will go farther in a gemach or elsewhere than it will in a large box in your closet. My dress, if you are curious, was sent to Brides Against Breast Cancer.
My cousin is a brilliant graphic designer. She designed our monogram and helped us put together a great package of invitations, reply cards, thank yous, place cards, etc.
TIP: Think about all of the pieces of paper you will need (and quantities) and order them all at once. You’ll save by planning ahead.
TIP: People in your life have skills that can be useful in planning a wedding. Utilize those skills, but don’t take advantage of them. Be willing to pay for their services if you choose to use them; they will also appreciate it if you refer others to their services, too!
We didn’t have any. Really. We got married on Lag B’Omer and chose a wheat theme instead. What does a wheat-themed wedding look like? Google it and enjoy the images. We ordered three cases of wheat and had enough for bouquets, boutonnieres, centerpieces, and to go around the chuppah poles. Because we did not have live flowers, we were able to make bouquets and boutonnieres several weeks in advance. Yes, I made my own bouquet, and as the uncraftiest person ever, if I can play with a hot glue gun, pins, and lace, so can you.
TIP: Using wheat instead of flowers was initially a money-saving decision. However, many of our guests thought it was incredibly creative! You can certainly surprise people by thinking outside of the box.
TIP: When you find a new vendor online, sign up for their email newsletter. They may just send you a coupon code. We got 10% off plus free shipping based the quantity of our wheat order.
Our chuppah was a beautiful tallit that I bought my husband as a wedding gift. It was attached to the synagogue’s chuppah poles and held up by terra cotta pots filled with cement (with a well so the poles could stand up straight). We borrowed the terra cotta pots from a friend who had made them for her daughter’s wedding.
I will admit that I was picky and did not like any of the artsy options out there.That’s not really true. I liked ONE, but it was out of our budget. Here, we got lucky and had a friend who put the ketubah text in a Davka (Hebrew word-processing) document, sent it to our rabbi for approval, and printed it on a sheet of paper we bought at the art store and cut down to a size that would fit in her printer. Our main cost here has been for the framing.
TIP: Find a custom framing shop that you trust. We waited until a terrific coupon came out and went to a major store whose name I won’t mention here. It took four months and four framing attempts before the work was done correctly. I am not certain that our savings were worth the aggravation. It may be wiser to spend a little more to have it done right the first time.
We took an informal poll to see how many times our friends and family had watched their wedding videos. Based on the results — almost nobody admitted to watching it more than 2-3 times — we cut videography from our list.
Our wedding was on a Sunday in the early afternoon. This meant that we were serving a meal well before dinnertime. It also meant people could fly back that night without needing to take another day off work or leave the festivities early.
Food and Alcohol
Our wedding was dairy – practically completely pareve, in fact. Why? We had a finite amount of money to spend and a large number of guests. We chose the best food we could get based on our parameters – and the food was very, very good.
We were fortunate that our caterer permitted us to provide our own drinks. She told us exactly what quantities we would need for wine, soda, coffee, etc. We purchased all of our wine (just one variety, by the way) when it was on sale before Pesach. (Pre-Rosh Hashanah sales are great, too!) Soda was purchased when it went on sale at our desired price point two weeks before the wedding. My husband went to Target with his list and asked the manager’s permission before he purchased a couple dozen 2-liter bottles at once. He didn’t want to be accused of being an extreme couponer—or of clearing the shelf.
TIP: Ask potential caterers (and all vendors) plenty of questions. Ask the caterer you’ve signed even more questions. They can be very receptive to creative ideas and have plenty of their own, too, to help make the wedding manageable on your terms.
TIP: Know your limits. You may have sourced every random detail and doodad for the event, but at some point, it may be worth it to pay a little more to have someone else do more of the work. That’s okay.
I could go on and on about our strategies for benchers, hotel goodie bags, table linens, and more, but here’s my bottom line: I suggest that you think about what’s truly important to you and invest in that. Make decisions and then trust yourself. Work with vendors who are experts in their field; trust their expertise and listen to their suggestions. If you do not trust them, you may want to find other vendors.
At the end of the day, however, you will be married. The linens, the flowers, and most of the myriad details will all be forgotten. Be present, rejoice in the glowing faces of everybody who is able to be join in the celebration, and take a few minutes to appreciate all the intangible gifts you have been given.
Caroline Musin Berkowitz is a Jewish educator, an avid reader, and a whiz at stretching a dollar. Her musings on life can be observed (and commented upon) on Twitter @CarolineEr.