11 September 2018
When we shared a few months ago that Southern Weddings was retiring, I promised that I’d always be available to offer wedding planning advice. After all, weddings are my first love, and I’ll never tire of chatting about them! Today’s Marvelous Money topic is giving me the perfect opportunity, falling as it does at the intersection of celebrations and personal finance. From Judy, the reader who emailed me:
I’m engaged and getting married in just a month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how the wedding fits into our overall financial priorities. My fiance and I are lucky to share similar views as you and John – pay off debt fast, save a lot, and spend only on things that bring joy. I am so excited for the wedding, but I’ve been having a hard time justifying some expenses in the perspective of our broader financial goals. Should we really pay for several hundred dollars of chair rentals, or just deal with less-than-ideal chair covers? Should I feel guilty about wanting peonies in my bouquet? Will prettier chairs actually be better than putting that money towards a vacation or retirement?!
I would love to hear your perspective on how you decided which parts of your vision were worth it, what you chose to forgo for practicality, and how you dealt with any complicated feelings about spending extra money on a wedding instead of saving for retirement or other more “practical” things. I know weddings are worth spending money on to honor the sacrament of marriage and celebrate with friends and family, but it’s so hard to know what it worth it, and what’s too far!
I love this question, because it has legs far beyond wedding planning — it will come up over and over again for anyone who follows a budget or has big money goals. (For us, currently, it looks like deciding how much we should prioritize making aesthetic upgrades to our living room.) But let’s break down Judy’s specific question a bit:
How we decided which parts of our wedding vision were worth it:
It sounds like a bit of a circular answer, but our spending priorities were the things that brought our vision most powerfully to life. In the first place, we had a very clear vision for how we wanted our easy-elegant-classic-garden party-seaside wedding to feel. From there, we identified the things we thought would add to it most strongly: our location, our tent, our band, and our caterer and chosen method of catering. A view out to the ocean, an airy, elegant tent, a live band playing swing music, and waiter-passed food versus a sit-down dinner: these things were fitting for our story as a couple and created a memorable experience for our guests, and so they were worth spending on (for us).
Don’t get me wrong: the micro decisions, like chair covers or peonies, were in some cases excruciating to make! But circling back to our overall vision always helped us align our priorities.
What we chose to forgo for the sake of our future finances:
We cut back or saved in areas that would not contribute significantly to our vision or the experience of our wedding. We served just beer and wine at cocktail hour, we added no decor to our beautiful chapel, I made our signage with scrap paper and addressed the envelopes myself, we played a custom CD at cocktail hour, we drove our own car instead of renting a vintage one, and I sold my dress to recoup more than 50% of the cost — to name just a few things.
We also knew the exact budget we had to work with, so we knew if we wanted to splurge somewhere, we’d have to cut back elsewhere. A money mindset shift that helped when we were feeling sorry for ourselves: it’s not that we couldn’t afford XYZ, it’s that XYZ wasn’t a priority for us. (This is a powerful shift for all budget followers!)
One major area where we did splurge without regret was our photography and videography. As someone who has consumed wedding images daily for literally decades, I have extremely high standards and very particular opinions. I wanted our wedding captured in a particular way, and I am so grateful we prioritized it – the photos and videos match perfectly with how I remember our wedding, strengthening my memories even six years on.
Why we decided to spend money on a wedding at all:
Our wedding was a magical day, a touchstone we will return to for the rest of our lives. It was a chance to honor and celebrate our community, to paint a picture of the beauty of the gospel, and to say to the world, this is who we are and who we will be, and this is what matters to us.
For all these reasons and more, we placed a high value on celebrating our marriage, and so we made it the first financial priority as we began our life together — as important as saving for a down payment or paying off student loans. Those things were so important to us, too, but only after the most important relationship we’ll have in this life was honored in the way we felt best.
You may or may not feel the same way. (I have two dear friends who chose elopements, and that was the perfect choice for both of them.) This all might sound incredibly silly to you, even!
Though I’m confident we could have celebrated well with a bigger or smaller budget, I don’t regret the amount we spent. After all, the point of budgeting and saving money is to have money for what’s most important to you. As people passionate about personal finance, John and I tend to highly prioritize our future selves. Our wedding was a good reminder that we only get one chance at certain things in life, and they don’t always line up neatly with when we have tons of extra cash lying around. From one frugal person to another: spend on the things that matter deeply to you — you’ll never regret it as long as you only spend money you have.
Friends, I’m laughing at myself because I tried to make this post as concise as possible and it’s still a novel! I hope it’s helpful, whether you’re currently planning a wedding or debating some other noble use for your money! I’d love to hear: if you’re married, what was the best thing you spent money on at your wedding, large or small?
P.S. Our sixth anniversary is on Saturday! I have another wedding-themed post coming up later this week :)
All photos by the wonderful Tanja Lippert
12 September 2017
John and I are celebrating five years of marriage this week! (Our anniversary is on Friday!) I have some deeper thoughts coming your way soon, but today, I have a question for you: if you’re married, do your wedding photos look timeless?
I ask because I kind of keep waiting for mine to look dated, but at least to my eyes (and I do admit my eyes could be biased), they don’t. Maybe in another five years?
Maybe. Maybe not. After all, we made a lot of traditional choices: I wore a blusher veil. John wore a black tuxedo. I carried a white bouquet. My makeup was minimal. We were married in a chapel. Our centerpieces were in collected silver. We swayed on a black and white dance floor under a sailcloth tent, to the tunes of a big band.
Of course, there were other details that were more unexpected: we served donuts and cookies as our dessert. In lieu of favors, we made a donation to a pet adoption agency, and shared the news via watercolor portraits of our cats.
Each of those decisions, whether traditional or unique, was carefully considered, and chosen because it felt fitting for our story and relationship. Rooting our wedding in classic style was a way we honored the enduring legacy of marriage in our families. (Similarly, I love how our gold wedding bands link us to some of the treasured people in our lives with beautiful marriages — our parents, our grandparents — many of whom wear gold bands.)
I’m pretty familiar with weddings these days, and from my viewpoint, we are certainly in a “classic moment” (having shifted out of the rustic, shabby chic “moment” that immediately preceded it!). Blame it on the Duchess or Father of the Bride (a millenial childhood staple!), but I hear people talking about wanting to have a classic, timeless wedding a LOT. No one wants to look back on their wedding photos and cringe. While I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a “classic” wedding (obviously!), I think choosing something simply because it’s classic, not because it’s meaningful to you, is a missed opportunity.
After all, when your kids look at your wedding photos in twenty years and laugh at your choices (because they will certainly find something to laugh at!), don’t you want to be able to tell them why you made those choices? Why they were meaningful to you, why you loved them at the time? And don’t you want a better reason than “because it was trendy”? (Even if, ironically, the trend is classic style?)
Wedding photos looking dated isn’t a bad thing — it just means you’re lucky enough to have celebrated several years of marriage! :)
Alright, getting off my soap box. Friends, I would LOVE to hear: If you’re married, do your photos look “timeless”? Is that something you were striving for when making decisions? If not, what dates them? Do you care?
P.S. I think it can’t be understated that photography makes a big difference in whether a wedding photo seems dated. A big reason why our photos seem timeless is Tanja’s crisp, clean, true color film wizardry. Certain posing styles and processing techniques could make any wedding appear dated!
P.P.S. The best kind of dated wedding photos.
20 January 2016
One of my very favorite weddings from the latest issue of Southern Weddings is on their blog today! Elyse and Jack, who began dating when they were 16, blew me away with all of the thoughtful and sentimental details they packed into their celebration. (See: the ways they incorporated Elyse’s “xoxo” sign off, Jack’s proposal and their subsequent catering choices, and their confetti bar!) And yes, this wedding holds a special place in my heart because I got to play a small role in the decor, providing the tinsel stirrers for their cocktail hour champagne station. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my sparkly creations look better!
Tinsel stirrers are available here. All photos are by Greer Gattuso – visit Southern Weddings to see the rest of this wedding, including more images of the stunning cake below!!
24 April 2015
From the minute John and I met Joe, we knew he would be the perfect addition to the Thomas family. In fact, I don’t know about anyone else, but I took it as a foregone conclusion that he was going to be a permanent addition from that first meeting! (Which was actually at Marget’s wedding, and the way he charmed, chauffeured, and danced with random family members he had never met before told me all I needed to know!) He and Natalie, my sister-in-law, fit together beautifully. I am SO lucky to have these two in my life, and lucky to be sharing their wedding with you today. (Natalie graciously agreed to share a few thoughts, too!)
Marget drew the most beautiful illustration of the Branford House for Natalie and Joe’s save the date, and I contributed the graphic design!
Hana Floral did a beautiful job with the flowers, just like she did for Marget’s wedding! Natalie’s bouquet included garden roses, lavender, tweedia, freesia, a cafe au lair dahlia, and mini phaleonopsis orchids.
Bridesmaid dresses were a little bit of a conundrum, because as you can see, Marget was the most beautiful 39-week pregnant matron of honor I can imagine! She chose to wear a Two Birds dress while Kate and I wore J.Crew dresses in rich peacock. I love that color SO much! Jennie Fresa made everyone look good!
Joe chose the same tuxedo John wore for our wedding, and has worn many times since – I can’t recommend it enough!
From Natalie: Joe and I were married in July before a group of close family and friends at the Branford House at Avery Point in Connecticut. Being the third and last of my siblings to wed, led to some benefits and challenges! Among the challenges was finding a location we loved that would be unique to us (in other words, we didn’t want to revisit a venue that had already hosted a sibling’s wedding, which was hard because Marget/Seth and Emily/John got married in such amazing spots). However, the Branford House ended up working out really well for us—we were still on the shoreline and it was fun to choose a spot where my family had previously enjoyed picnics and where I had taken a physics class over the summer while home from college. It’s fun to think that I have pictures of me from elementary school enjoying a grinder on the steps of the lighthouse on the property and I now also have our first look photos from almost the same spot.
Among the benefits was that Joe and I were able to put all of the wisdom and experience that my siblings had gained from their shoreline weddings to good use! We knew right away that we would use the same wonderful caterer and we also used the same amazing florist that Marget and Seth worked with (as well as the same musician for the ceremony!). Another benefit—our splendid photographer, Meredith Perdue, was recommended to us by Emily and John as both a great photographer and great person and, as promised, she made two camera-shy people feel comfortable and relaxed!
Marget and I were thrilled that Natalie chose to wear the custom horsehair veil we each wore at our weddings. Fingers crossed my younger sister will choose to wear it, too! :)
I am grateful that we managed to bring personal touches into the ceremony. Joe and I met while serving as law clerks and we were so honored to be able to have the judge that we clerked for officiate. It was also particularly meaningful to us to have close friends contribute readings and offer blessings.
Look at those happy faces!!
Natalie, Marget, and I joke that we should start some sort of southeastern Connecticut shoreline wedding blog, because between the three of us, we have quite a bit of experience in the area! I personally couldn’t have been happier that N+J chose the Branford House, because when John and I were back in high school, we would (pretend) argue about whether we should get married at Branford House or Harkness some day. We didn’t end up getting married at either, but instead got to live vicariously through our siblings!
John’s amazing parents grew lavender specifically to use in the centerpieces and floral arrangements. It looked beautiful! Another fun detail: one of Joe’s culinary specialties is sriracha deviled eggs, so A Thyme to Cook included a riff on them at cocktail hour.
Eagle-eyed readers might recognize those cloth-wrapped frames. They were built for our wedding (see them here!), and have since made appearances at two other celebrations!
Natalie and Joe chose to have a delicious desserts table as well as a small cake for cutting. They baked the cake themselves using Joe’s grandmother’s recipe, and we three girls used rosemary and lavender to accent the tiers.
One of the favorite memories that Natalie wrote to me about was Joe calling the Virginia Reel at the reception, and I’d imagine that pretty much every guest would echo that! I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun on a dance floor!!
Dj JD (with whom Natalie and Marget went to high school!) kept the dance floor packed all night. Even Marget was tearing it up, which had me convinced our nephew was going to be born at midnight. He ended up waiting about one more week for his debut :)
Natalie and Joe, I love you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your magical day. I am already a bit in denial that I only have one sibling wedding to look forward to… but it’s hard to be sad when each was more wonderful than the last!