Wedding Decisions: Thinking creatively

Wedding planning is progressing at full speed.  I’d love to share details, but am also working hard on keeping my daughter’s day hers, which means– sorry — keeping most of the planning under wraps until the big reveal.  It’s hard because I’m involved and I’m excited and I think they are coming up with some fun ideas that will be interesting to others.  You’ll have to wait a while for major details, and of course for pictures.  But from time to time in the next weeks, I’ll share just a tidbit here and there of the parts in which I am involved.

I’ve read that weddings can cost in the range of $20,000.  That number blows my mind.   Having priced wedding items lately, I can totally understand how easily one could spend that much by making standard choices.  But coming from the perspective of having spent less than $1000 on my own wedding, those numbers just stagger me.  Granted, that was 22 years ago, and even then, our wedding was incredible low-cost.  But thanks to some creative thinking, our wedding was every bit as nice as any we’d attended.  It was beautiful and meaningful, and a great party.

A big key in keeping a wedding affordable is to scrutinize every money outlay, and to consider whether there might be a less expensive option.  It’s not about being chintzy.  It’s about being smart.   There are lots of ‘standard’ ways to do things.   But — big hint — standard is usually expensive.

Here’s an example.  I’ve been thinking of ways to make the cake table interesting at the reception.  I’ve seen various pretty tiered trays that display food with height and interest.  The first way to get that look would be to just shell out the bucks for something lovely.   Here’s a gorgeous three tiered china tray that would be a beautiful way to serve candy or nuts for $79. Here’s a two-tiered version that is also nice that would only set you back $60.

Now, keep in mind that you don’t have to have a tiered tray.   We could choose to serve nuts out of a church-owned dish that looks just fine.  Cost = $0.   If we were really trying to pinch every penny, that would be what we’d do. And it would be fine.

But as I was envisioning the cake table, I didn’t want to give up on my idea.  I wondered what I could find that was interesting that would only cost a few dollars.  Yesterday I had a free half hour between dropping off kids at various play practices. Out of curiosity I swung by the thrift store.  This was actually the second thrift store I’d visited with this mission in mind.  I wasn’t even sure if I could find something suitable, but I decided it was worth a shot and I wandered the aisles with a deliberately open mind.

Half way through the store I found a black, wrought-iron 3-tiered rack.  It was just framework– it didn’t have any serving plates.  But it had a nice shape.  And for $3.50, it look promising.  I grabbed it and wandered a bit more.

Tiered rack

Tiered rack

In a section of mismatched china, I found a set of 4 white china luncheon bowls.  They were in perfect condition.  They settled into the spaces of my tiered rack as if they had been made for it. They even had a little silver edge for an elegant touch.   Cost of the bowls= $4, which made my lovely tiered rack cost a total of $7.50.

closeup of china

closeup of china

Those types of choices aren’t available for every wedding-related item.   But the more willing we are to think outside the box, the more personal the wedding will become, and the more money the bride and groom — and their families — will have for other things.


  1. You never cease to amaze me, Mary! Amanda and your other bundles of joy are so lucky to have you for their mom! I can’t wait to read (and eventually see pictures) of this beautiful day!! Can you, pretty please, at least spill the beans on a date? I won’t tell anyone… ha! 🙂

  2. I know what you mean about cost-cutting. I got married a year and a half ago and did it all for $3000 (and that includes me paying for my 5 sisters’ dresses and 2 brothers’ tuxes). It can be done!

  3. Way to go on the great find! We were all about keeping costs down for our wedding and did a pretty good job. Costco is great for flowers if someone is handy enough to make bouquets and arrangements and you can preorder specific colors so that you don’t have to hope they have the right ones on the day you need them. After shopping around and getting a fantastic deal on my dress, I was shocked to have to spend so much on my beautiful headpiece (half the cost of the dress!), so to make myself feel better I have loaned it out for two other weddings because its easy to attach a different veil to…if she needs a headpiece & wants to see a pic/borrow let me know.

  4. perfect!

  5. I’m looking forward to seeing what other ideas you have Mary.

    My sister in law in getting married in the Spring and is trying to cut costs too. In fact, this Friday she’s having a get together for making the invitations.


  6. Two things – first have you seen that Lands End has good deals on overstocked swim suits. I remember your loving your top from last year and thought you might be interested in checking out what they have now.

    Second, an idea for the wedding dance. A friend of us told us about the “German Wedding Dance”, something I’m sure she made up, but she’s German so she called it that. As bride and groom we did our first dance with an umbrella, except that the top was entirely removed and string was strung connecting the tips of the umbrella. The guests all had rolled up paper strips (oh I’ve forgotten what it’s called). They blew into the rolls toward our direction and that had the thin paper bits fall onto the umbrella. In the end it made this very cute canopy that covered my husband and I. We wanted an interactive wedding and so this was a fun way for our guests to participate in the ritual of the first dance.

  7. we spent a little more on flowers than we had anticipated- but I really liked the bouquets (my girls dresses were choc. brown and I pictured sunflowers for our fall wedding)… compensate for the cost- we used them as decorations at the reception- it wasn’t like my bridesmaids were going to carry the flowers around while they were dancing! and after the wedding- they got to take them home if they wanted to- you are so right- it only takes a little bit of time and creativity to create the wedding you want for less…….

  8. Good find! I appreciate your tenacity to keep looking; I usually hit one second-hand store and give up. AND that will be nice for appetizers at a future holiday get together. That makes it an even better find 🙂

  9. Emily, yes, actually I have it sitting on my dining room table filled with oranges at the moment! It looks so pretty!

  10. You are so right! If there is something that you cannot compromise on then don’t. I knew that allowing children at my wedding would be more expensive but I couldn’t imagine telling my little cousins they couldn’t come.

    For everything else a little creativity plus the willingness to beg, borrow and steal kept costs under control.
    Beg: “Oh, please. It would mean so much to my husband’s family” went a long way in getting my pastor to recite the Jewish wedding blessings at our ceremony.
    Borrow: Why buy when you can borrow your grandmother’s pearls, a silver punch bowl or get a ride in a friend’s brand new car instead of a limo?
    Steal: Comb the internet, ask recent brides and steal their ideas.

    Enjoy all the planning with your daughter! It was stressful at times but I have very fond memories of making these decisions with my mother 10 years ago.

  11. Dawn in OR says:

    I think the very most important thing to remember is this is a Christian wedding…we as His Family have no need to do it up like those in the world do. Nice does not need to cost a bundle ! But things $$$$ can get out of hand fast too. I am so happy for you and your family. A celebration of what God has done for you all is surely in order!

  12. The average cost of a wedding is simply staggering isn’t it? Makes me scared to face the kids getting married!

  13. We spent less than 3,000 for 120 guests…but that included some luxuries like engraved invitations, tons of fresh flowers and no paper plates/cups. Luckily in our part of the country an afternoon-tea style reception is totally acceptable.

    I love your server and predict you will get many years of use from it! I love to change the plates on mine to suit the occasions.

    Plus, you still have 9 more weddings in your future!

  14. I want that tiered rack, I love those old fashioned racks, I ahve several at home. Having just been through the wedding experience, then I can tell you yes it can get expensive. We, like you, didn’t want to scrimp and save but were practical about what we wanted and how we got it. We made all our place settings ourselves with coloured card and a printer. I never wanted a dress that was goign to cost the earth, specially as I was never goign to wear it again. I got my dress made and in the end my dress and my bridesmaid dress cost less than a shop brought one by at least $1000, and I love my dress and don’t feel we scrimped on it at all. I look forward to seeing more when they have the big day, I love weddings

  15. Not that I’m telling you how to blog, or anything, but I think it would be neat if you solicited ideas on various wedding subjects from your readers. As you can see, we’re already finding out what others have done, and YOU might get some good ideas! Plus, they’d be easy to find in the archives under headings!

    For instance. I never even gave a thought to the cake table since my mom didn’t help me plan my wedding. There it was: cake, not decorated to specifications and no decor on the table. The photographer kindly arranged all the bridesmaids bouquets around the cake and dressed it up. It looked so much better!

  16. Please please please ask Amanda to consider spending some money on getting her bouquet preserved. I had beautiful flowers – calla lilies and red roses – and honestly I never saw them on the day, with being shunted here there and everywhere. But we had already arranged for my parents to take them for preseving the day after the wedding. You have to pre-arrange and I think you need to wet the flowers beforehand too. But honestly, it makes a lovely momento. At least make her think about it 😀

  17. so fun-that is exactly how we did our wedding stuff! for centerpieces on all the tables, i bought plain clear glass bowls from the dollar tree, put 3 floating candles in each and then put fresh holly around it from my friend’s tree (it was december)-it was beautiful! and all the tables cost $25 total!! for favors we printed and had laminated a little poem about ringing bells and then some friends and i just all sat one night and tied craft bells to all of them-again, like $10 total or something. We coordinated our wedding weekend with the church’s putting up the Chistmas tree and pointsettias also happened to be delivered that day for the altar and they said we could use them so we had an abundance of beautiful, but borrowed, flowers-which actually was great b/c what would we have done with gigantic bouquets after the wedding was over??? we chose patterns for the bridesmaid dresses and bought fabric and left it up to each girl to get it made so if they had a friend/mom/aunt who could sew, their dresses cost less than very little. I honestly really enjoyed it-it was a stunnig wedding with the bridesmaids in rich velvet dresses, beautiful greenery, all for not a lot of money–it was kind of like a game to see how little we could spend 🙂 the best part was we involved friends and family in special ways that included them but kept our cost down-the most special one was that my father made our rings as a gift to us (i know, not everyone has this option 🙂 but in that vein, a friend and i made the wedding cake for another friend as our gift to her. although it was nerve wracking to make such a huge part of the event, we kept it simple but beautiful and it turned out really pretty-it is amazing how easy it can be to make a wedding cake, there are directions all over the internet!! the whole cost of the cake was maybe$50 and we split it between the 2 of us so it was even an inexpensive wedding gift!! that is just some of the ways we did it-thanks for indulging my stroll down my frugal memory lane-teehee. 🙂

  18. What a beautiful cake stand! We got married in December, and spent around $1000. We paid $200 for the pastor, $175 for the wedding venue and $300 for photographs. We had the reception at a friend’s house (free, and we used their dishes and stereo) and decorated with white balloons ($3) and white ribbon ($2). We had a (non-wedding) cake made by our favorite local bakery and frosted in ivory ($24). My bouquet was 12 ivory roses with greenery and cost around $40 (this could be done cheaper if you do it yourself, getting the flowers from a grocery store). I didn’t throw it at the wedding – instead, we used it to adorn the cake table simply by putting it in a vase. We had the local (upscale) grocery store provide buffet-style food (sandwich and veggie platters and coffee) at a cost of $250. It was the most incredible day and we all had a blast. I found that the key to getting value for money was NOT to mention the word “wedding” – florists and caterers will all automatically TRIPLE their prices if you say that magic word. I simply called it an “event” and didn’t mention the words “bride’s bouquet” to the florist – I just said that I wanted a “tied bouquet” of my chosen flowers. Worked like a charm! 🙂

  19. That’s how we did it and no one knew the difference! Keep it up!

  20. I much prefer the tiered stand that you bought compared to the expensive one. My Mum made my cakes, and we hired a cake stand. I made my own invites, order or service and thank you cards with a simple design involving silver card and fabric hearts. The most expensive part in my eyes was my dress and accessories, but it was worth it, and I now can lend a lovely tiara (comb style not headband one) and veil to other brides to be!

  21. We found a great teired plate at TJMaxx or Marshells (someplace like that) for my wedding. I love, love, loved my cake table and we spent next to nothing on it. Also, for our flowers we found a distrubution center and they sold us many many varities of flowers by the 5 gal bucket, it was awesome. I would send you some pictures if you wanted.

  22. Ooooo! A friend of mine does something even cheaper which looks beautiful and the pieces are super easy to find: Collect thrifted china candle holders (like the Avon ones) and use gorilla glue to glue them onto vintage plates. You can make cake stand style or even do tiered. She made me one and it has been ooed and ahed over by eve4ryone who comes to my house.

  23. We used similar racks for serving food at my wedding and spray painted them silver for a more elegant look. They turned out beautifully.

    FWIW, ebay can be a great source of wedding supplies. My tiara and several other accessories came from there.

  24. Oooh, what a lovely find! Thrift stores are just wonderful, aren’t they?

  25. Beautiful!

    My wedding was done on a tight budget as well. It was lovely and romantic. My mom made my wedding gown (she’s a master seamstress) and I made the flower girls (I had 3!) floral head rings. I made the table centerpieces as well. We did have a wonderful caterer, a beautiful church, ballroom, and a terrific florist.

    The only thing I wish we had done differently was to spend more money on the photographer. Ours either had a bad day, a new camera, or something. Most of his photos were not very good. There were some that were beautiful, praise God. And we got the negatives (big Bonus!). But thankfully, I had given cameras to my younger brother and his friend. We ended up using a lot of their candid shots in our album.

  26. Dear Mary,
    I just love your blog, and I can’t wait to get your book! Not to get too personal, but how many bridesmaids are in the works? I have a bridesmaid’s dress that I bought to wear at my best friend’s wedding, but never wore it (or even got it altered) as I was in Australia and had to cancel coming back to the States for the wedding as I was pregnant and not allowed to fly. It was in a consignment shop for two years and was recently returned to us; obviously unsold. I can’t remember the details of it, I just remember it was a cream colour and long – in fact, it could easily be a bridal gown if the bride didn’t want to wear pure white; and because it’s cream, it could easily be dyed. If Eldest is only planning on one attendant and they happen to wear a size 8/10 – you can have it! Seriously – I bought it almost 4 years ago, it’s been hanging on a rack in plastic wrap for that entire time, has never been altered, and if I remember correctly, is quite simple and elegant. If you’re interested, send me an email and I can get my mom to take a picture of it to send you.

    I totally agree with Hilary – try not to mention the word “wedding”. A friend of mine got a quote from a drycleaner prior to her big day – she told him the length, materials, all the details and he told her it would cost $40 to dryclean and box. When she brought it in he told her “No, not $40, it’s $100 – you didn’t tell me it’s a wedding dress.” She promptly showed him the written quote he’d given her, complete with material details, and he did it begrudgingly for $40.

  27. I think you should keep an ongoing list of the things Ben & Amanda would like for the wedding,( including style & color). We readers can look through our things to see if we have something to gift or loan. The theme really could be, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something else borrowed, something else borrowed, and something blue”.

  28. That’s lovely!

    Another cheap and easy way to create display heights is to place several sturdy boxes of varying heights around the table, then drape a large cloth creatively over the whole thing. (It would have to be bigger than the cloth you would normally use to cover that particular table – you need waves and fluffs between the boxes and still have enough left to cover the table itself.)

  29. I just got married in June and we spent about $5,000 on our wedding and reception. Here are some of the highlights… (and look here for pictures)
    We ordered bulk daisies and roses from Costco for the flowers. I bought a few glass vases at Michael’s but the majority of the flowers were placed in tin cans that family and friends had been saving. Some had ribbons tied around the cans, others were plain. Guests took them home at the end.
    I collected vintage floral table clothes from family and friends to decorate the tables with. My colors were red, white and blue so I looked for cloths that had those colors predominately.
    We hired a local, family owned BBQ joint for a nice, simple, satisfying (and cheap at $5.95 per plate) meal. The cake, boutinneres and corsages came from a local grocery store, along with some appetizers for guests for the time we were taking pictures.
    We held the entire event at our home.. we had the wedding, snapped some photos as guests had appetizers, then all ate together.
    A friend who loves to take photos was our photographer.
    I asked my Aunts if they would be willing to decorate the gazebo for the ceremony as a gift to me. They were quite happy to participate. And I decided up front I didn’t mind at all how they did it. My Mom made a card box for me (my husband and I paid for the wedding), my sister-in-law made our guest book (she is into scrapbooking) and I asked close friends and older relatives, etc. if I could use pretty serving bowls and dishes and serving spoons since it was an extra small fee to borrow them from the BBQ place. We bought all of our drinks, napkins, plates, silverware, etc. at Sam’s Club.
    We also had a website and used that almost exclusively along with people just calling us, for RSVPs. And we printed our own invitations with a Wilton kit.
    In the Thank you cards I sent out wallet sized photos from the wedding that I printed through for like 9 cents each.
    We rented long, white table cloths to give the vintage ones some uniformity and we also rented chairs. We set them up for the ceremony and asked people to take a chair with them to the reception which was a few steps away.

    I could talk about it all day. It was very beautiful, we loved every minute of it, people told me I was the calmest bride they had ever seen and the best part.. it was fun and it was truly about the marriage and not about some big, showy thing. 🙂

  30. Isn’t it wonderful when you find such a deal….it is simply beautiful. Congrats 🙂

  31. My wedding (5 and a half years ago) cost under $5000, the bulk of which was for the reception venue with open bar. (My parents wouldn’t want a dry wedding, and everyone behaved themselves). Everything else we did ourselves or people we knew did.

    Our senior pastor’s wife had been slated to play the organ, but then ended up on a mission trip to Ireland, where they later went permanently (they’re still there). She paid for another musician, a young man from our church who regularly is part of the service and is very, very good.

    We couldn’t find wedding dresses in my size. Just wasn’t happening. So we got a pattern, and I helped my mom make one. I am willing to bet most people have a friend who would be willing to make a wedding dress, and it’d be cheaper paying for materials, a pattern, and labor than a dress. At $85, it was still the most expensive thing I’d ever worn (until my mom got me a really nice winter coat). The tux was a rental.

    My mom personally catered the wedding for (it turned out) about 140. She bought a freezer (something she’d always wanted) and made all the food. My aunt missed the ceremony at the last minute.

    My original photographer was a friend from school. She backed out at the last minute, and some relatives put together an album for me. We also had cheap throwaway cameras at all the tables.

    Decorating: Think Dollar Store, Christmas Tree Shoppe, etc. We found cheap tablecloths, cheap doilie-things, and a nice centerpiece candle for each table. I don’t care that much about flowers, so we pretty much had the bouquets.

    My mom works at a grocery store, so she had the floral woman show her how to make corsages. My sister and I made the corsages and bouquets.

    My mom made the cake. I could probably make a wedding cake myself, though I’d need to practice up a bit. The biggest difficulty was keeping it from getting cat-hair.

    My dad and his computer was the DJ. He picked the songs, except for the first dance song, which my husband picked. I looked over the songs and exercised my veto option many times. (“Your Body is a Wonderland”? Um, no.)

    The cake cutting song was the Star Wars theme. The bridesmaid dresses were cheapish (but nice) and reusable. The flower girls’ mother saw some dresses she liked in the right color and asked if she could use them; I said sure. My hair and makeup were not professionally done, and my redneck relatives got to wear jeans and a T-shirt. (Really, who looks back at the pictures and thinks how Cousin Shad being in jeans ruined it? Everyone was allowed to be comfortable except the wedding party.) The bouquet and garter were caught by a newly engaged couple, who were married about a year later (you should have seen him dive!)

    It was good stuff, and I got to keep all the plastic serving spoons we bought.

  32. After everyone has put in their two-cents worth, I’ll throw out just a few kind suggestions, too! 🙂

    I TOTALLY agree with another commenter about spending a few extra dollars on a GOOD photographer. We did not hire a professional photographer and I soooo wish that we would have done without some other things (or done it cheaper) so we could have afforded one. I was a bride once, so I think I can safely say that Amanda hopes everyone will remember what her dress looked like, food, music, decorations, etc. Other than maybe a select few, people won’t remember the details. Pictures, though? They last forever!

    Second, my husband did NOT want to wear a boutonniere…nor, did he want any of his groomsmen or his dad to wear one, either so we didn’t. Everyone thinks that so many details like this are “expected” but it’s a detail that no one even missed and we saved a lot of money. (The bride’s face is always smashed up against the groom’s boutonniere in the bride/groom pictures, anyway… 😉 )

    Good Luck, Mary — there are lots of us out here who are anxious to hear/read/see more. God’s blessings to Amanda and Ben as they prepare for their life together.

  33. I’m pleased to hear they are coming up with creative ideas. I told them to have fun with it. I’m feeling left out because I don’t know what they are! You can tell me, can’t you?!

  34. Great find! Our best wedding tip for saving money was not to tell any vendor we were having a wedding until after we got a price quote. Often the price for a “party” is much less than for a “wedding.”

  35. I love the tiered plate stand! What a great find!

    I know you did not ask us to share persay, but I was thinking if you all had even more ideas you would be able to use them to help. I am not sure if anyone mentioned this above so I am going to share really quick. (have to get back to schooling)

    My cousin found mirrored tiles at her home improvement store, cheaper than at the decorator stores. She bought enough for all her tables. She put votive candles and other decorations on them. Our church has used this same idea and put a small cute fish bowls with floating flowers or with votive candles and marbles in them. You also can find small decorative clear bowls in stores. The tables all had two table cloths on them. One white and then one colored. The colored fabric was discount fabric that matched the colors of the wedding party. It was a small square that fit the table just right and the sides were all hemmed so you had no raw edges. It was cheaper than tableclothes made of fabric. I know also a woman a couple years ago donated a ton of things to the church from her daughters wedding. People have modified many things with their own colors of flowers and ideas and been able to reuse them. I never had a big wedding. Had no attendents standing with me, but if I was to do this I would sure make it as cost efficient and use anything I could get my hands on. What and exciting time for you all!

  36. I got married a year and a half ago and had so much fun figuring out how to put together my dream wedding without spending a fortune! I’ve written an article explaining how my sisters and I did all our own flowers for super cheap:–Boutonnieres

  37. I love it! I think I would spray paint it white though. Makes me want to visit the thrift store!

  38. Such an exciting time. I’m taking notes for future reference. I know now how quickly time passes….savor every moment! Of course you will.

  39. If this link doesn’t work for you (it’s my cousin’s facebook), shoot me a message. This is a picture of the cake from my cousin’s wedding. They actually went to Sam’s club and bought the cakes, and the cake towers (For like $10 or less I think) and then scattered rose petals, wrapped in toole, etc and it was gorgeous.

    We did something similiar at my brother’s wedding over the summer, still looking for a pic of that.

  40. Score! That looks great!

  41. HA! Thanks for the reminder! I have two of these squirreled away that I got somewhere on clearance ~ and my son’s wedding coming up. I just know my future daughter-in-law would love to use them. She’s organizing her own wedding ~ FRUGALLY, bless her. (She’ll make my son such a wonderful wife!) I’m excited to send her your link for other ideas!

  42. Awesome find! These are beautiful.

  43. Found your blog through Rocks in my Dryer.. and I’m in love.

    My guy and I are planning two weddings in the next few years. One will be a handfasting on top of Longs Peak. We will leave around 3am climb it and get up there before the afternoon thunderstorms. It will just be us, and perhaps an officiant, though that is unnecessary.

    Then.. something for the families, that is the one I will need the most help on. We are not big spenders on frivolous things. Between the two of us we have seven kids, and the money can go to better things!

    I will be glued to this blog!

  44. Great find, I love when things work out perfectly like that.

  45. if you have a lot of articles or content on Hubpages, you can really get lots of traffic and in turn you can make lots of money from it.’:,


  1. […] to save money when planning a wedding – doing it first-class on a less than first-class budget. (I can’t wait to help my […]