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10 years later: looking back on my simple wedding

My husband and I celebrated ten years of marriage last month. We decided to splurge, and headed to New York City for four nights. It was fabulous! We ate amazing food, saw the sights, and even stuck to our resolution that while we were there, we would not hurry to get anywhere. It was so good for our souls, AND our marriage (it was our first real vacation since 2006, before the kiddos came along!).

Anniversaries always make me wax nostalgic, and Shaun and I enjoyed reminiscing about the time we spent dating, our engagement, and the wedding itself. If there were ever a contest for the simplest wedding, I think ours would be a pretty solid contestant. It’s still probably the simplest wedding I’ve ever attended.

Back when we got married, we were young and idealistic. We planned to move overseas after getting married, and we didn’t want to accumulate a lot of “stuff”. In the same vein, we scorned the excesses of the wedding industry and rejected the idea of an expensive, extravagant affair. In the words of Dewey Finn, you could say we had a bad case of “stick-it-to-the-man-eosis”.

So, it was a simple wedding. Really simple. We reserved a pretty little city park in the middle of downtown for $60. We rented white folding chairs, and we asked a talented artist friend to do our flowers. Some other friends provided the music. I wore a white linen sundress that I found at TJ Maxx, with little white sandals, and I asked my two bridesmaids to wear sundresses of their choice. The men wore khakis and guayaberas. My dad even wore a Hawaiian shirt!

The reception space presented a little conundrum, until my aunt and uncle offered their home. Perfect. We asked four friends to each make one cake, and our biggest splurge of the event was that we catered a bar-b-que dinner, so everyone could go home with full bellies. It was simple, and it was all we wanted. We were deliriously happy.

Of course, we were young and poor, and totally constrained by finances, so it’s hard to say if we would have done it differently, had we had gobs of money. But honestly, I don’t think so. After it was all said and done, we heard a lot of feedback:

“I loved your wedding!”

“Your wedding was so YOU!”

“Man, you guys had the coolest wedding EVER!”
(I think that comment was from a fellow sufferer of stick-it-to-the-man-eosis.)

Today, if we were going to get married, would we do it the same way? Honestly, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that we would go all the way to the other end of the spectrum, either.

After all, the wedding industry is anything but simple. It’s designed to suck us in and make us want to blow our budget on the ultimate event. All the “must-haves” can quickly add up – and I got married long before the days of Pinterest. But I can also understand the desire to make the day truly magical.

Interestingly enough, there have been some articles in the news lately about the correlation between happy marriages and cheap weddings. If those studies are true, then the odds are definitely in our favor. And it’s pretty obvious that starting off a marriage by going into debt to pay for the wedding is no bueno.

So, we looked at it like this: it’s just one day. One very important day, yet still – only one. But now, we’d probably do it differently. We might invite more people, or serve different food (I’m not even much of a bar-b-que fan!). I might wear a fancier dress, or choose a different location…who knows?

The point is that we no longer have the desire to buck the system simply for the sake of bucking. It’s okay to splurge and celebrate a wedding. It’s wonderful, actually (as long as you can afford it). Life is full of moments that are worth celebrating, that are worth the splurge. And we are learning to do justice to those moments.

As with everything, it’s finding the balance that’s the challenge. In the face of our comparison-driven culture, it’s not always easy. We can get swept up into thinking that every possibility is a “must-have” without even realizing it.

10 years down the road from our sweet little wedding, we look back on it with great fondness and affection. But honestly, it’s everything that’s happened since then that really matters. Weddings last a day, but a marriage will (hopefully) last forever. I’m glad we did it simply.

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  1. Abigail

    i like this :). When we got married 2 years ago my goal was to keep it simple and affordable. We did take out a small loan ($5k) and with a little help from our parents were able to pay for the entire wedding and honeymoon for less than $10k. Which I know sounds like a lot but for a wedding it really isn’t. We both had good jobs and were able to pay off the loan in one year so for us it wasn’t a bad thing to have that little bit of debt at the start of our marriage. And now after two years we are completely debt free!

    • Katie Fox

      I’m glad that worked out for you, Abigail!

  2. Katherine Willis Pershey

    I love this! We had a simple wedding, too, and there are things I’d do the same (I looooved my $50 pink dress from Delia*s!) and things I’d do differently (we didn’t feed people enough – the low budget & vegetarian didn’t quite cut it – bring on the BBQ!). And even though I am grateful for all of our nearly-thirteen years of marriage, I SO wish we’d been married in the age of digital photography!!

    • Katie Fox

      OOh, I’d love to see pics of you in that dress, Katherine! 🙂

  3. Paul Van Allen

    Thanks, Katie, for a great post! Anyone who offices out of coffee shops has probably the misfortune of ending up next to a wedding planning table…oh my! In business we talk about the “opportunity cost” of pursuing a project. Even if we have the dollars to pursue it we know we are saying “no” to something else if we take on a given project. I think that holds true for elaborate weddings especially if they are done with a sense of manic stress. The tyranny of meeting our own expectations on that perfect ceremony can’t help but cost us in other categories be it premarital counseling type discussions or just setting a pace for our lives that is sustainable and facilitates relationship. You and your husband bookended that first 10 years of your marriage well! Keep not rushing in a busy world.

    • Katie Fox

      Thank you, Paul. 🙂

  4. Janie Fox

    Don’t forget the wonderful, yet simple, rehearsal dinner and the airline miles for your honeymoon, given by Shaun’s parents! Your special day was important to all of us!

  5. Brynn

    My husband and I eloped seven years ago due to some major family drama on his side. That allowed us have a very inexpensive wedding. We got married in a park with only the preacher (my youth pastor) and the photographer (a friend). My parents still graciously gave us the money that they had set aside for my wedding which we were able to put on student debt. Six months after the wedding we were completely debt free with a fully funded emergency fund. While it would have been nice to not have the family issues as a backdrop, I loved having such a simple wedding. If I could go back, there is no way I would blow thousands of dollars on a party. Starting off with stable finances is much better for your marriage, in my opinion. And that day is still so special to us! I read once that lots of people regret spending too much on their wedding, but very few people regret eloping. I know we don’t regret it.

    • Katie Fox

      That’s a neat story, Brynn, and beautiful to see how something good came out of something hard.

  6. Cindy

    I appreciate the tone of this article. My daughter got married last summer and we did not have the money for an expensive wedding. I wanted a certain level of niceness without spending a lot. Fortunately, my daughter and her fiance were on the same page. We had a nice event for 100 people for $3700. It was a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but my daughter later told her older sister she loved it! This same sister got married 6 years earlier and had an $11,000 wedding. She now says she regrets that we spent that much because her younger sister’s wedding was just as nice. I have one more daughter to go, and I hope she sees the value in simplicity and teamwork.

    • Katie Fox

      Yes! There’s something really wonderful about family and friends coming together to support a couple in marriage and help create their special day, as opposed to hiring everything out to impersonal professionals. It’s easier in some ways, for sure, but it’s also missing that something special.

  7. Vicki Stringfellow Cook

    My husband and I were married in 1981 on a Sunday right after church service ended. I wore a white sundress. He wore a suit he already owned. We went home afterward, changed into jeans and t-shirts, and then had a picnic in the park with our immediate family. Best. Wedding. Ever.

    • Katie Fox

      I love it!

  8. kariane

    My Sweetie and I eloped, sharing our vows while sitting on a rock in the middle of a mountain stream, over a decade ago. It was simple, sweet, and totally us. Then we threw a huge party at our house to celebrate. We would definitely do it again.

    • Katie Fox

      That sounds beautiful!

  9. Kristin S

    I’ve been a bridesmaid 14 times. Or maybe 17. I lost count. My all time favorite wedding was my best friend from college. Engagement to wedding was 6 weeks so there was no time to fret over unnecessary things. No time for invitations, so they did announcements and told people to spread the word. His dad stood up with him and I stood up with her. Her dress came from the Laura Ashley (1994, y’all) outlet for $99. She asked what color my dress would be so they could choose the colors for the men’s ties and announcement ink color. Teal. Again, 1994. The women in the church did the reception and bows for the wedding. The men in the church did the rehearsal dinner. She and I woke up that Saturday, went for a walk, washed the car, visited the church, went to Walmart for extra ribbon for the pew bows, and then went back to her parents’ house to get ready. It was delightful! No stress and so much fun. Her brothers were the ushers and her daddy married them. After the reception, a whole slew of us who were college friends went to Denny’s. Yep, simple and fun. They are still happily married 21 years later with five boys keeping the house fun.

    If I ever marry (any of y’all know a single man who loves Jesus?), I want to take a note from that wedding and keep it simple.

    • Katie Fox

      I feel for the ladies who are bridesmaids soooo many times…I can’t imagine how much money you’ve spent on dresses over the years! My best friend was a bridesmaid over 20 times before she got married herself. So crazy! That wedding sounds perfect.

  10. Tricia

    I loved reading this! We will celebrate 22 years in August. I wore my MIL’s wedding dress (it fit, but I really didn’t like it or feel beautiful in it) before knowing one of my mom’s friends owned the shop I tried dresses on and would have given me any one I wanted for $200. We married in my dad’s church with our college pastor officiating (his gift to us, but we still gave him a small thank you gift of money). Our organist played as a gift to my dad (they were good friends), my brother played the bagpipes, and my neighbor catered the reception as her gift to us – the reception being in my dad’s yard under a tent. Hubby prerecord the music which played from the porch. I think the total spent was $600, mostly for the tent and the two bridesmaid dresses which I had a seamstress make for them as my gift to them – they chose the patterns. I would have done my wedding differently – to reflect me, not my dad – he planned it without my knowing while I was finishing up my last semester of college, after he said he had no money for my wedding. I was hurt, feeling very unattractive and had food Is didn’t like! So yeah, my 25th anniversary is going to be a little celebration just how I’d like it to have been the first time.

    • Tricia

      sorry, should’ve added…it will be simple, in our backyard with a pot-luck type meal, very casual, yet classy, and not every.single.item being mauve! Seriously, every single item…he even planned the rehearsal dinner to be at a restaraunt whose decor was mauve. Mauve everything. guess what my least favorite color at the time was…mauve!

    • Katie Fox

      Oh, that makes me a little sad for you! Yeah, simple doesn’t have to mean ugly, or that it doesn’t reflect who you are. I hope you get a great do-over for the 25th anniversary!!! 🙂

  11. Andrea

    We too had a simple wedding but if I did it again I’d definitely do it differently. Now in my 40’s I think it is important to celebrate big ie. Go ahead and use the expensive perfume so to speak. I did not like my $50 dress, I would not do a potluck again. It was a pain for guests and much work for us. Now I would treat my guests to a meal to join in the celebration! I would have more guests and include everyone important to us and family even if not close. This is a one time event! I love going to weddings and am always thrilled to be invited. Our very cheap wedding did not mean a solid, good, healthy start to marriage. I really don’t see how there could be a correlation to size/expense of wedding and good marriage. simple or extravagant wedding will not determine the marriage outcome. Do what suits you and your budget remembering that you hopefully will never be doing it again.

    • Katie Fox

      Well, did you read any of the articles in the links? The studies have found a correlation between cheaper weddings and lasting/happier marriages, and my understanding is that it’s because of what it says about you if you’re willing to spend ridiculous amounts of money (like $20,000-$30,000+) on a wedding, especially if you have to go into debt to do it…then that doesn’t bode well for the kind of character that is required of someone to make a marriage work. Compromises, setting aside our own desires for the good of the other, making wise financial plans together for the future, etc. Anyway, I agree about the expensive perfume – that’s what I’m getting at in the post. Celebrations are important and we need to be doing them well!

  12. Laurie

    Reading this makes me feel like we might be kindred spirits. Our wedding was similarly simple. We loved it. Everyone says it was amazing. But we do talk about how we might of let it be a little more special if we did it again. 🙂

  13. Amy

    We had a simple wedding. A small thing at a church my Mom attended when she lived here. Then took our family and the few friends who we invited out to dinner at our favorite Chinese place. We spent $800 total including a suit, tie and shoes for my husband and 7 year old son. We also paid for two wedding dresses for me because I accidentally ruined the first one while altering it to fit me. After dinner my son went to the hotel with one of my sisters and we went to a drag show with a few friends, played some pool and then got Steak N Shake. If we were to do it again we’d just go to the court house.

  14. Allison

    We, too, went for simple in our wedding almost 13 years ago. The best of the simple choices was to have my mama make my dress–which she accomplished for $125. Bridesmaids’ dresses were from J. Crew. The one thing I would certainly change is how we handled gifts…Years before getting married, I wanted to ask friends and family to donate to certain ministries or charities instead of giving pots and pans and dishes. But my husband was so excited to register for gifts that we did just that. I know that people want to celebrate with the bride and groom and to bless the happy couple with gifts; I just wish we’d given people the option to give to certain of our favorite charities, too.

    • Katie Fox

      That’s a good idea. But you know, my husband and I didn’t really register for gifts, just a few basics, since we were planning to move overseas…and we ended up regretting that (since we didn’t go). Buying all that stuff ourselves wasn’t cheap! So, I can see both sides. 🙂

  15. priest's wife @byzcathwife

    Our wedding was very simple, too- and we will celebrate 17 happy years this May!

  16. Pat Aho

    We had a simple wedding with family and friends pitching in to make it happen. Simple wedding did not equal simple or easy marriage. Tho’ we have been married for 34 years it has been a hard road.

  17. Lindsay

    My parents promised me from a young age that they would pay for my honeymoon if I had a small wedding. I’m a beach girl so I knew from the get go Id be married on a beach. My husband and I have collectively lived in 5 states before we were married with family spread out in twice as many states. So when it came time to plan the wedding, we knew a destination wedding was the best option. The only things we planned before the trip were our outfits , rings, and the time of ceremony. We got married in Jamaica. Our wedding was “free” because my parents paid for a7 day honeymoon. We had 30 family members travel for the wedding. They treated it as a vacation. The hubby and I moved to a more private resort after the wedding and all the family had a great time on their getaway, as did we.
    I wouldn’t change a thing. It was so much less expensive for my parents who paid for our stay, we didn’t go into debt over the wedding, and my family still talks today about what a great wedding it was. We didn’t have the fanciest food or cake, but we made a commitment to each other in front of God and the people we love. You can’t get any better than that!

  18. Deserae

    My husband and I had a simple, inexpensive wedding also. It was a Wednesday night (long story) and I wore a cream knee length dress I found somewhere in the mall. Our biggest expense was the reverend who came to our apartment clubhouse to marry us, and we had bottles of wine and prosciutto to serve afterward. We even had a cake… a $20 affair from a gourmet market. There were only a handful of choice guests. I loved it!

  19. MelD

    Coming from families who all married young and therefore cheaply out of necessity (and some in wartime), we also had a simple wedding 25 years ago in May… If I were to do it again, I’d do what I really wanted and not what my MIL felt we “ought” to do – it would be smaller, less formal and more fun. Still, I love that my mom made my dress and my daughter’s and after all the ups and downs we are still here to tell the story (our 25th involves a rock concert in Paris, on our own LOL!).
    Two of our three daughters are married and had delightfully simple and low-price autumn weddings, especially considering how wedding-mania has escalated over the years, thank goodness they had no desire for that kind of craziness. They also married very young by today’s standards (did I say family tradition?!) and much more how I would have liked to do it. At this rate, the youngest will also soon marry, let’s hope it’s just as nice and simple (and low price!!). 🙂

  20. Eddie Barack

    The problem with young people who want to get married is that they dream of big weddings that leave them in large debts that sometimes take years to settle leading to a myriad of marriage problems. My preference is a simple cheap wedding that will leave the couple financially stable.

  21. Abi

    My parents got married in 1990 one day before work. It wasn’t a ceremony, as neither of them are religious. They literally just went to the courthouse in their work clothes one morning before work. I myself intend to never marry. But I still think the commitment and weddings are beautiful.

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