Life / Money

How to save $20K and plan your wedding on the fly

“You bought your wedding dress online?!” exclaimed my seamstress.

“Yes,” I murmured, suddenly turning the shade of a ripened tomato and rambling on about how it’s a casual affair, we’ve been together almost a decade and it’s a waste of money to spend a small fortune on something you’ll wear once.

Later, The Fiancé and I went to a local florist. When she asked which colours I wanted I said: “I dunno… red?” She exclaimed: “Red? At a June wedding?!”

A pattern was emerging. Planning a wedding on a whim was causing members of the public to lose it. Both times these women literally shrieked their disapproval at my plans I thought to myself: “THIS is exactly why I’ve always wanted to elope.”

The amount of furrowed brows and not-so-silent judging has been a surprise. On Instagram and Pinterest it looks like everyone is happily opting for floral crowns, coloured dresses, suspenders and polka-dot bow-ties while everyone beams with delight at their whimsical choices. But in real life, there is still significant shade thrown at couples eschewing the traditional princess dress and tux.

Causing complete strangers’ consternation wasn’t the main reason it took so long for my cold feet to warm up to the idea of putting a ring on it. It was mainly the reported cost of those rings and the dress and the banquet hall etc., etc., etc.

Love don’t cost a thing, but weddings sure do.

According to Weddingbells’ annual reader survey, the expected cost of a wedding in Canada in 2014 was $31,685. Not to humblebrag, but we planned our wedding in five days and the whole thing will cost about $5,000. The Fiancé and I actually thought it’d be more like $3,500, but have found that the little things (like dress alterations and flowers) quickly add up.

One of the ways we are keeping the costs so low is by keeping the guest list to about 30 family and friends. With the average number of guests at 128, according to the survey, I now see how the numbers quickly balloon. But, still, the average couple couldn’t really be spending the equivalent to a down payment on tying the knot? Could they?

Yes, they could.

The co-founder and vice-president of The Wedding Planners Institute of Canada says based on her experience, couples really are spending $30,000+ on nuptials. In fact, many of her clients spend more than that.

“It’s usually about $27,000,” says Tracey Manailescu, who trains the next generation of wedding planners and has been helping couples plan their trips down the aisle for more than fifteen years.

Oh, and the $27,000 is just for the vendors and food. Everything else, like the dress and honeymoon would be on top of that figure, she clarifies. Ouch.

After hearing those numbers I’m happy we committed to planning what a friend dubbed a “slapdash” wedding. But, is deciding to wed with less than two months’ notice rude to our guests?

The rules when there are no rules

Manners maven Karen Cleveland also had a slapdash wedding by today’s standards and assures me a last-minute event is just fine.

“My husband and I pulled ours together in four months,” says the etiquette adviser at “There’s no right or wrong way to do things.”

I sheepishly tell her we sent an e-vite to save money and time.

She says it’s A-OK to send a digital invitation in the Digital Age.

Mentioning the registry, or lack thereof in our case, on the other hand ...

The Fiancé insisted it was rude to mention the topic of registries or money at all, while I insisted we spell it out for guests in the e-vite, arguing it’s ruder to force people to ask us directly.

Cleveland says The Fiancé was right and I was wrong (I’m turning red all over again!) The polite thing to do is not to mention money or gifts at all. Wait until people ask, she advises.

Cleveland adds couples should not expect guests to “pay their way.”

Guests are just that — focus on giving them a good time, not on what they might give you, she advises. I couldn’t agree more.

OK, there is one rule

While the manners expert is surprisingly open-minded when it comes to weddings she does have one iron-clad rule. Write handwritten thank-you notes to every guest.

“No email thank-yous,” she says sternly.

With just over four weeks to go until I say “I do,” I’m sure I’ll get scolded for breaking a few more unspoken rules along the way. For the record: I’m going with a mix of daisies and white roses — not a red flower in sight.

Turns out picking flowers and dresses is not that different than picking out one person to spend the rest of your life with (eek). At some point you just have to trust your gut, close your eyes and take the plunge — trusting it will all work out in the end.

Or, you could just elope.

Making your special day unique and thrifty

The new normal is there is no normal when it comes to weddings, says Toronto-based wedding planner Tracey Manailescu. Want to celebrate your second marriage in a cape on a bicycle like singer Solange Knowles? Go for it. Is a yellow dress and a canoe à la actress Amber Tamblyn more your style? Why not? Here’s how to uniquely celebrate without going into debt till death do you part.

Something borrowed

Manailescu suggests renting your dress or buying a used one. She’s So Beautiful in Brantford, Ont., is a good place to start, advises the expert. And the site has a wide range of non-traditional options.

Roses are red, violets are blue — and they will cost you

Flowers are another area where couples are shocked by the blooming costs, says the wedding planner and trainer.

Commit (to a budget)

Solange's instagram/@strecords

Guesstimate how much things will cost and then go ahead and assume it will cost 25 per cent more than that. Then stick to that number.

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