My Frugal Simcha: Brooklyn Wedding on a Budget

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.


  1. Lovely!

  2. All nice advice, but the part about the dress g’mach is not always the case as I found. The rentals I found in Brooklyn, started at $800 (and went up from there). Also, they often did not have sizes above 16 (which I needed). David’s Bridal on the other hand can often do rush orders in less than 10 weeks and gowns start as low as $60 plus the cost of alterations (and the prices rise from there). I spent $1200 on my dress with cleaning and preservation and now I get to keep it (for the rest of my life) and maybe one day see a daughter (if I am lucky enough to have one) wear it.

    • I also found the gemach to be too expensive. I ended up buying a discontinued sample from a bridal shop. (No, I am not a size 6. Not even close!) It was very, very cheap — and beautiful.

    • Leah Sarah says

      I agree about gemachs. I went to several in Brooklyn, including one that came VERY highly recommended. First of all, they don’t clean the dresses when they receive them back. YOU must clean it before your wedding… So all the dresses you are trying on are filthy. They had a very small selection, and what they did have was clearly donated from earlier decades which are obviously quite a different style from what girls want to wear today! Even at a gemach(which is really ‘loan’ not ‘rent’), they were charging $200 plus you pay all alterations, cleaning etc. You had to pay upfront, they wouldn’t hold a dress for you. I went in about 5 months before my wedding and was told I wouldn’t be able to take it now, and that they may rent again in between now and my wedding! What would happen if the dress were ripped or damaged beyond repair? Come back and pick a new one, of course!

      I was not terribly satisified with the dress I ended up with (to be totally honest, the dress wasn’t a huge priority to me, as I’m really not a girly girl. I just wanted it to be comfy and not heavy). I paid $650 including alterations, veil, hair piece, cleaning, and petticoat if I needed it, for a rental in Brooklyn. The service was absolutely atrocious, but the gown was fine. And I think their was mis-communication in the end, because they thought I bought the dress, not rented it… Who knows. Anyway, $650 including everything isn’t anything crazy, especially considering it was tznius from the get go, therefore no build up necessary.

      I agree that David’s Bridal can be a great option. A close friend of mine got her dress for about $400 after taxes, it arrived in far less than the 6 week estimate, and her build up cost $35 or something ridiculously low. They used fabric from the bottom of the dress for the build up, and it looked really natural and beautiful. She paid far less than I did for a much nicer dress! Get recommendations for a great seamstress, and the build up can be really beautiful and tznius and natural looking, really!

      • Wow! I didn’t know it’s that bad. Taking my words back about “probably going with a gmach now”. Although, there are many of them, perhaps some are better than others.

  3. Ladies, you may be right. In truth, I didn’t have a personal experience with gmachs, and that price I mentioned I just heard from a friend who used it (but again, that was years ago). I would assume that gmach being a charitable organization should be able to give discounts for those in need and not be looking for making money. Perhaps, I have a naive perspective. But still, $800 sounds way too much for something they most probably got donated, while there are ways to get a new dress for less.
    In fact, I was looking for non-gmach rentals at that time, and only found one Chinese place. The rentals there were around $250, but I didn’t like the gowns.
    I also ended up getting my dress cleaned and boxed, perhaps it will be used again one day.

    • Dear Elina,
      I think everybody has their own perspectives (about how to get the dress and everything else), and that’s okay. When I wrote my own wedding on a budget post for KOAB in August, I mentioned that we slashed videography from the budget. Many of the commenters were shocked because for them, that was really important. It just wasn’t for us.

      Looking back now on my comment earlier, and then Leah Sarah’s second paragraph, I started laughing. I commented that my dress was beautiful, and i might be misremembering because it really did come closer to what Leah Sarah wrote — good enough for the day but not a huge priority. Truth be told, I was glad to just have the dress and be done with it. 🙂

      • Caroline, you are abolutely right. As I wrote in the very first part- it all comes down to priorities, which can differ greatly from person to person. As long as we remember our simchas warmly!

  4. I think one thing that you didn’t mention is how important it is so have someone there with you at all points when money will come up. A chassan and a kallah (particularly the latter) are often so overwhelmed, that people can take advantage of you. For example, if you order something and are dissatisfied, you might be too panicked to handle the refund/return/discount/etc. you are entitled to.

    Also, it’s good to hear what people think it’s worth cutting back on and what it isn’t worth cutting back on. I was very, very unhappy about skimping on my photos, hair and makeup, but was very happy with the borrowed centerpieces, simply catered meal and daytime chuppah–all of which saved me a bundle.

    • In our case, we were mostly on our own. My parents only came 1 week before the wedding to be able to lend a hand. What was very helpful for me, is keeping everything organized. I had all contracts in writing, and multiple lists for the wedding day: menu, schedule of the reception, schedule of everything preceding the reception, lists of what everyone’s responsibilities are and when they are supposed to arrive, what I need to bring with me for the wedding day, etc. Also, we kept all wedding day payments (photographer, video, catering hall, limo) in separate envelopes.

  5. I got my wedding gown from a gemach in Brooklyn. It cost me $250 to rent and this included dress, shoes, tiara, and veil. The gown was brand new and still had the tags. They have a large selection in a wide variety of sizes (I am a 14). They also recommend an excellent and cheeap store for laundering and alterations. Plus you don’t have to clean before you return it, they do it for you. The name is Zichron Yehudis Miriam and the number is (718) 854 – 0334

  6. I would also recommend buying a new dress on sale rather than second-hand or rental (unless you are very comfortable with the source). I found a very nice dress in my budget at David’s bridal, and was very happy with my experience there. I didn’t have to deal with the uncertainty that come with those other options, and the dress was mine to alter and wear as I saw fit.

    Also, don’t assume full service catering halls are out of your budget. I researched other options, but for the type of affair I wanted, it turned out to be just as economical to use a catering hall during an off-peak time, and got a much nicer affair than I could have afforded a la carte. Venues are rock-bottom in January. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about coordinating with too many vendors (caterers, linen rental, servers, etc), the hall took care of everything.

  7. I especially liked your last item. 🙂

  8. I got married a couple years ago and get my dress for about $300 — it was a dress that had been discontinued and I got it from a RK Bridal in NY. I needed to get it altered, and the woman who did it (contact of a contact of a friend) was very talented. She used material from the train (which I didn’t want in the first place) to add a back and arms, plus some additional build up in the front. If I remember correctly she was going to charge me $100, but I insisted on paying her $200, which is still less than the going rate for these things. (I think seamstresses regularly charge $350 or $500 for wedding dress major alterations.) So $500 in total. It wasn’t the most beautiful dress I’d ever seen or anything like that, but it was ivory and looked fancy and fit, which was what I wanted. I hate dealing with clothes in general (buying, trying on, etc.) so getting a wedding dress was really just a chore for me.

    I found that as a “street size” 16-18, which in wedding-dress-land put me in the size 22 or so range, it was impossible to find nearly anything. The two gmachs I went to (one in Brooklyn and one in Queens) didn’t have a thing that was big enough for me. At RK Bridal they had many many dresses in my size.

    I agree with the importance of bargaining. Everything in life is negotiable, just remember that. For example, for bands, find out what the going rate is from people who have gotten married recently. Then when it comes to talking about price, say something lower than that, and negotiate up to that price.

  9. I got my dress from a gemach in Fairlawn. It was a $200 deposit (which I got back), and then a donation of your choosing. I also needed to pay to have it dry cleaned. It was kind of a crazy basement kind of deal, and it was initially a little difficult to arrange an appointment, but I would highly recommend it. They also have a good number of dresses at all sizes, as well as colorful ones for the mother of the bride.

    My dress was gorgeous, and it cost me very little.

    • Oh, and in normal dresses I am a size 16-18, and I still found a gorgeous dress. They also work with a seamstress who only charged me around $30 for a minor alteration.

  10. Mara Strom says

    I’m so happy to see all the comments that Elina’s wonderful post is generating. What I think is so great about this series is that we can all learn about different ways different people choose to prioritize and save money.

    There are so many great ideas in the submissions I’ve received so far and I know you all are going to enjoy reading them every Thursday!

  11. Ariela Kessler says

    I think that it is worth purchasing a bridal gown. the only thing that my father was able to afford as a gift for my mother when they got married was a wedding gown that he bought for 1000 dollars in L.A.
    My parents got married in a very low key way and it was totally amazing (as i was able to tell by pictures and video) when the wedding was over my parents vacuum packed the gown and put it way in storage.
    I just got married a little less than a year ago and I too wore my mothers wedding gown. I did have to alter it a little but overall it was magnificent. I was totally obsessed with it. I was’nt like all of those girls that had a dream picture of a wedding gown, all I wanted to do was to wear my mothers gown, and that’s exactly what I did. the cost for alterations where a total of 150 dollars. Funny thing about this whole story is that my sister said that she wants to wear it as well when the time comes for her to get married….
    I thought this would be something interesting to share…

    • I hope my daughter will be willing to wear mine (by then vintage) gown, even though it wasn’t a $1000 🙂 Beautiful story, Ariela!

  12. When my son got married, his soon to be wife did not want flowers. They both agreed it was a very unnecessary expense. Instead we did candles. I found seriously cheap “crystal” candle holders (they were $1 each at some 99 cent store). We put long tapers on each table and it was lovely! Quite unexpectedly lovely. I highly recommend it as an outside the box wedding idea.

  13. I remember as a kid going to the wedding of a second cousin whose family didn’t have much money to spend. Instead of centerpieces, the middle of each table was sprinkled with metallic confetti, and it looked quite festive. Maybe it would also go well with the tapers from the previous comment.

  14. Mom of the groom here…son and fiancee are on the opposite coast but will be having their wedding here. I am coordinating things, as the bride’s parents are overseas.

    They are pretty low-key and since they are paying for it all themselves, concerned about the cost. It will not be a big simcha, but hopefully one that is meaningful and fun! My DH and younger son are catering a buffet (they have done catering at our shul for years so know the drill), and my sister, friends and I will make appetizers and desserts (and hit the local pick-your-own farms for fresh fruit and veg).

    No videographer. No open bar — just wine at the tables. No showers or bachelorette parties. Just two attendants each.

    Ordering bulk flowers from Costco and we’ll make some simple free-form bouquets and small arrangements (hydrangeas in mason jars w/ribbon), and will probably go to Lowe’s for some small plants for serving tables. We will have ivy for decorations, too — cut from my overgrown back yard. 🙂 Getting cupcakes in lieu of wedding cake — it’s much cheaper. I got strings of white lights at the post-holiday sales. Bride got her dress at David’s — was adamant about not spending lots of $$. Found one she liked on sale and even with alterations, it’s under her budget.

    Am still working on photography. I am big on pictures and do a lot of shooting myself, but prefer to have someone else do the wedding, esp. since I will be plenty busy that day! OTOH, the B&G hate having their pics taken and being the center of attention.

    I got some votive candleholders at Ikea for 3/99 cents, and found candles for 30 cents each. (The venue does not allow open flames, so no tapers.) We will be doing a LOT of DIY stuff to keep costs down. Knowing what’s important to you and having a clear budget in mind are crucial.

  15. Chaya Sternfeld says

    I am shocked at some of the comments here! I got my gown at Ehrenfeld’s in Boro Park. Not 100% sure, Tamar, but I think that’s the same as Zichron Yehudis Miriam Gemach. The gown was stunning! Brand new. I know that the same gown I got rents for 2500 dollars in a bridal rental for the night. I got my headpiece and shoes included. I thought this was the most awesome experience!!! I would think that 5 months is a crazy amount of time to rent out a gown. Nothing on this blog makes sense. We need to applaud the people who sweat on our behalf. I’d love to open a bridal gemach in my lifetime!!! I think its the nicest thing.

  16. Leah Rochel says

    I agree with Chaya! I think it unfair and ungrateful to down the people who work so hard to help a fellow jew. I am a size 18, frustratingly shapeless and was unable to find a gown ANYWHERE! at the boro park gemach (zichron Yehudis miriam), they refused to give up on me. It’s true, it cost me 250 bucks, but— their seamstress put in two extension panels on the two sides and created a SHAPE for me. I felt beautiful and danced my heart out on my wedding night, feeling so uplifted in my shape and in the incredible kindness that was extended to me. So I say, all of you critics, spoilers of 2013, rise and applaud all the gemach organizers who could be eating lunch out, but are instead occupied with making things easier for us!

  17. What bothers me most is the vast differences in everyone’s experience. I don’t think anyone is exaggerating. I think different people get treated differently and that’s sad.

    • It’s not that people get treated differently, Surella. It’s the difference in the way people percieve things. Or how our experiences pan out. I got a gown that I absolutely loved, at a gemach in Boro Park that made me feel like a queen, not like they were doing me a favor, at a ridiculously low price. If the volunteers there would be reading some of the blogs here, they’d be so discouraged. I have tremendous Hakoras Hatov to them, and that’s is the outcome of my experience with a Gemach. However, I can hear you frustration, too. I challenge you to beat the circumstances by opeining a Gemach that is better than what’s available out there.. Let’s be in touch!

  18. Fraidel, I don’t see a gmach in my future! But I understand what you are saying. They’re are just so many factors, it’s hard to generalize.

  19. Wow! So many different responses. I also got my gown at Ehrenfeld’s (Zichron Yehudis Miriam) Gemach and had an awesome experience! My mom who is not so religious (yet) was touched to tears by the incredible experience we had there. For 250 bucks, I walked out with a stunning gown, a headpiece, veil, petticoat, and shoes!! and the warmest fuzziest feeling in my heart! I was on a really tight budget, so I was glad that I did not have to fret the gown part of it.

  20. Devorah Blau says

    The Boro Park Gemach (Ehrenfeld’s) is absolutely fabulous! I got three of my girls’ gowns there, and besides for my success, I was flabbergasted that a Gemach can be like that. Stunning place, such care, and so many beautiful fresh and new gowns. I’m a volunteer-in-waiting, now. Just waiting for my youngest son to go off to Yeshiva.

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