My Frugal Simcha is a new series on KOAB, featuring reader stories about their beautiful simcha – 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 Elina Rokhkind
Eight years ago, my husband-to-be and I embarked on our wedding planning project. Outraged by costs of all things “wedding,” we aimed at keeping it as frugal as we were comfortable with. Even though the actual prices we paid are not relevant anymore, I am glad to share the all-time useful tips that can help keep your celebration budget at bay.
1. Set Your Priorities.
While distributing the budget, decide which wedding elements are the deal-breakers, which are subject to compromise, and which you can totally skip. We, for instance, chose to make do without a wedding party with color-themed-clad bridesmaids, without an open bar, guest favors, and even a traditional cake, in addition to subduing many of the other celebratory aspects. On the other hand, we invested in the things that we deemed important like our looks and a talented photographer. Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal preferences, and your ability to set realistic expectations. Keep in mind that even minor luxuries have a mean tendency to add up on your balance sheet.
2. DIY Whenever Possible.
The possibilities are endless and depend on your circumstances – use your talents and the talents of those willing to help. I know a bride who sewed her own wedding dress. I’ve heard of other brides who had their bridal hair and makeup done by a friend. I even knew somebody who had a low-key wedding, where all the food was prepared by family and friends with minimal hired help. In our case, I designed the invitations and the wedding programs, and printed them out at home at a fraction of the price professionals charge. My father put together centerpieces (simple pink and white roses in short clear vases) and, with the help of another relative, decorated our chuppa with ivy.
3. Avoid the “Wedding” Word and Brush Up on Your Bargaining Skills.
The wedding industry is notorious for its markups. “Wedding” makeup may look the same as the “evening” one, but costs twice as much. At the beauty salon, I kept to myself the fact that I needed those acrylic French tips for my own wedding. Whenever possible, do not mention the “wedding” word, and make it a habit to negotiate every given quote. Never show how desperate you are to get the product or service, and remember that you can not lose by trying to bargain. Most businesses are willing to give you some sort of discount or price cut in order to gain you as a customer.
4. Saving on the Reception.
The reception is going to be your largest expense, and one obvious saving technique is to cut the number of guests. Another idea is to pick a less popular day or season when venues are more inclined to give discounts.
Our solution was to go with a Sunday brunch reception, which was over by 3 pm. The catering hall, while having an evening reception on the same day, was able give us a good price at this time of day. The menu appropriate for a brunch is more economical than for a full-scale evening dinner, and less alcohol is needed. We went even further, and opted for self-service with minimal amount of waiting staff. We found such an arrangement quite acceptable for a daytime affair. In addition, we discovered non-monetary advantages of a brunch reception: we were less tired and stressed, our pre-wedding fast was shorter, our guests loved such a setup, and we had an opportunity to go for a photo shoot in Manhattan after the reception (sans worries about ruining my dress).
We were also able to save by bringing our own alcohol (bought in bulk at a discount). Do not forget to negotiate the discount for child portions with your caterer. Ask if they can include anything for free – kippot, benchers, vases, artificial plants, etc. Our hall provided the chuppa canopy at no additional charge.
5. Saving on Wedding Attire.
Even if it’s utterly non-frugal to pay thousands of dollars for a dress you will only wear once, many brides are willing to go to considerable financial lengths for a dream gown. Luckily, there are many (at least in frum areas) gmachs that rent wedding gowns and accessories for $100-$200 (you may need to get them dry-cleaned afterwards). Another option is to buy a used dress through classifieds or online. Ultimate minimalists can purchase an elegant white or ivory non-wedding dress to save even more.
Bridal boutiques are not only expensive – they are not even an option if you can not wait several months for delivery via catalog. Alternatively, you may try to shop floor sample sales or scout the Internet for immediately available inventories. I got my beautiful dress at an online discount retailer (no longer in business) for $450. With shipping and professional alterations (I dropped two sizes during those hectic wedding preparations!), the tag went up to $650. Today, I would probably go with a gmach. I borrowed the veil and tiara from a recent bride, and my jewelry was cubic zirconium.
6. Saving on Photo, Video, Music, and Decorations.
Since we were to relive our special day through their work, we picked photo and video professionals we really liked, but went “bare bones” with them. Having decided to leave the creation of the movie and photo albums for later, we only got our pictures in the digital format from our super-talented photographer, and unedited footage from the videographer.
We skipped the band, and had a nice guy with a keyboard, which was sufficient for our short daytime wedding. Our good friend was responsible for making important announcements.
We saved considerably on fresh flowers by ordering them online (I am still amazed that 200 roses from Ecuador cost us $122 with delivery), keeping them in water-filled buckets, and having my father arrange them before the wedding. We only ordered a bridal bouquet and a few bouquets for chuppa decorations from the florist. Alternatively, one can use synthetic flowers for decorations, and guests probably would not notice.
7. The Best Things Are Free.
Ironically, the most memorable things at a wedding, be it your rabbi’s moving speech, your grandpa’s rhymed toast, or your friends’ amazing “shtick” performance, cost next to nothing. Remember that the most important thing is to switch to your “happiness” mode, immune to any minor or major deviations from the envisioned perfection, which are bound to happen. Your simcha should only increase with the knowledge that you have not broken the bank on your big day!
Elina Rokhkind is a stay-at-home mom, and an occasional writer and Russian translator from Brooklyn, NY. Her guest posts appeared on the Yeah That’s Kosher! blog, and she is currently translating the book The Youngest Partisan by A.Romi Cohn to be published in the Yevreiskiy Mir Russian Jewish newspaper.