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A Wedding on a Budget - Real Tips!

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail about Jennifer, a bride who planned almost her entire wedding using things she found on e-bay. Jen was going to school, working part time and getting ready to move to a different state, all while trying to plan her wedding! Some e-mails were exchanged back and forth, and Jen agreed to let me interview her & get her advice for those of us trying to plan a stylish wedding that doesn't cost a fortune. It turned out to be a little long, but it's worth the read!

With This Ring: What led you to buy items for your wedding in this unconventional way? Would you recommend this route to other brides?

Jen: I turned to eBay because I was on a budget, I have unique and very particular personal tastes, and had a great idea of what I wanted. Plus, I planned our wedding while working on my senior thesis (Experiential Poetry Readings: Catharsis for Author and Audience), coordinating a move to another state, and working 28 hours a week as a Patient Advocate in our local community hospital ED.

My daily schedule looked a bit like this: 5am wakeup, breakfast, homework, 8am class, class until 2pm, work 3 - 11pm, wedding planning/purchasing 11 pm until midnight (or so...:), senior thesis work 12 - 2 or 3 am. Wash, rinse, drink lots of coffee, repeat. I didn't have time to jet around doing traditional wedding shopping. Cruising eBay was something I could do when I had the time (and money).

WTR: Please tell us a little about what exactly you bought for your wedding on eBay.

Jen: Well, everything I wore except my sassy blue undies came from eBay. My wedding gown was an Ian Stuart worn in a fashion show in Canada. Pure silk, pleated halter top, full skirt - GORGEOUS and so comfy I wore it without regret for 12 hours. $1,200 or more retail, I got it for $430 including shipping.

My barrettes, our cobalt blue glass toasting goblets (which we still have), marzipan fruits to decorate the wedding cake, assorted cobalt glass and heirloom silver to supplement the family pieces we used to cluster flowers for centerpieces, the bridesmaids dresses for all my bridesmaids (varying styles in hues from silver to pewter - all were either in school or on a strict budget at the time so I set a limit of $30 per dress and hit it), even my wedding ring - a gorgeous vintage 1950s platinum and diamond shebang we got for just over $300 and appraised at over $1500. Not bad for bargain shopping, and it's completely 'me.'

WTR: What wedding item were you most excited about finding?

Jen: Probably our guest bench. Unfortunately that's being shipped in an ocean liner to The Netherlands right now (my husband was just relocated and I'll join him early next month), so I can't take a photo for you. I'll send one in a few weeks though! It was handmade with distressed white barnwood. We had all the guests sign it with a black Sharpie. It has been prominently placed in each of the 6 homes we've lived in since our wedding, and when we unpack it the place finally feels finished. It was about $60 bucks with shipping, and bears the last signature of my husband's uncle Paul, who died after battling melanoma about a week after the wedding. We went directly from our honeymoon cruise to his memorial in Pennsylvania, so his writing is an even more powerful memory of life and love for us.

WTR: Where there any “close calls” on the auctions, or did you ever not get an item you were hoping for?

Jen: I actually missed out on a couple of pairs of shoes. I wanted some really sweet Vera Wang mules but kept losing those auctions. Ironically, I ended up going barefoot for most of our beautiful reception, which was outdoors at Fall Creek Farm (my aunt and uncle's farm and residence) in Maryland.

WTR: Would you mind sharing what the overall budget of your wedding was? Did you stick to it?

Jen: Let me just tell you it was under 10k. WAY under 10k. And yep, I stuck to it on everything except the honeymoon, which we splurged on as the result of a very generous family gift. I did look at honeymoon possibilities on eBay, but just couldn't find one that thrilled us. We booked our cruise through CruCon, an outlet, after reading about them on I also looked at rentals in exotic locales on the VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) site...looked like there were some good bargains there, especially for those with frequent flyer miles to redeem.

WTR: What tips do you have for other brides on a budget?

Jen: Oh boy. I could seriously write a book on this one. But the most important one for me was this:Throw out just about all the crap they tell you you MUST have for the perfect wedding. Sit down with your partner and decide on the top 3 things you'll remember in 50 years. What do you want your kids to see in your photo album? How do you want the people who attend to feel? This helped us realize we wanted a party with great live music (we went with classic rock band Bad Neighbors from Baltimore), excellent food, and hay rides. Yes, hay rides. Also croquet, a wedding pinata, and no obligatory speeches (the best man and maid of honor gave short funny ones).

We also got married in a beautiful church. We didn't pay a cent to decorate with flowers, since it was gorgeous as is. Thinking about the mood we wanted to create for our guests and ourselves helped inform all the other wedding-related decisions, including our budget. We alloted the greatest amount for food, provided by a caterer we found using recommendations on Next was the photographer, Chris Hensel, based out of Pennsylvania. We did so well budgeting we had extra left over for things like a pinata (GREAT pics and GREAT fun), a croquet set (my favorite wedding photo was actually my grandmother and my husband side by side, Muz holding a croquet mallet like she owned that field and my new hubby Brandon holding a Corona, his suit jacket slung over one shoulder - priceless!), and some other fun things.

I guess that's the point, buy based on what it'll take for you to have fun. Maybe that means a 5 course dinner at your favorite Thai place for 50 people, and maybe it means a cathedral wedding and a reception cruise, but be sure it reflects who you are. Then get all kinds of creative and use the talents of friends and family to make the day even more meaningful and affordable.

WTR: What tips do you have for other brides hoping to buy items for their weddings on eBay?

Jen: Have a general idea but you want, but be open to change. Always ALWAYS stick to a budget and don't let yourself go beyond your max bid, no matter how tempted you are. Use the newer auction notification features including cell alerts and IM...especially for larger items like a gown, groomsman's tie, etc. I exactly knew when I found THE perfect cake topper out of hundreds of options (a deep cobalt blue vintage glass Eiffel Tower, since we were engaged while on a trip to Paris and Dijon France), but I didn't know I had found the perfect dress until the photo jumped out at me after hours of laptop-browsing.

Whether you buy on eBay or not, read and look at hundreds of options. To ramp up my excitement and get a good idea of what my tastes would embody in special occasion planning, I read tons of magazines from the library. They covered things from of course wedding planning to interior design, architecture, photography, even National Geographic. ANY photos I liked I bought the issue, cut them out, and tacked them up on a small corkboard 'mood board' that contained swatches of fabric, paint samples that helped me isolate color choices and explore complementary themes, ribbon, doodles, stationary samples, and other bits of wedding stuff. I loved the board so much that I actually hung it up in our first apartment after the wedding!

The good news is that eBay can certainly help any bride stick to a budget, even if the most valuable thing you're missing is an abundance of time to plan. Also, shooting an eBay auction page to a friend or family member to get their feedback is so simple just about anyone can do it. We certainly wouldn't have had (according to one of my younger female cousins) "the wedding of the century" without eBay. As a matter of fact, my family thinks nothing is funnier than when another cousin got married. At her rehearsal dinner, she raised a glass to Jen, her cousin who "got married like a champ."

Thank you, Jen!!

I think I represent everyone when I say, "guest bench?!" That's such a fantastic idea! I've asked Jen if she'll share a few more pictures from her wedding, so I'll be sure to post those when I hear back from her. Hope you all enjoyed the interview!


Jane said...

LOVE this post, Great Job Jen!!

Kathy said...

Wow! That was a great post, Darci! Those are some awesome tips for people who have plenty of time to plan for their big day! I look forward to more "Q&A" type articles from you!

Anonymous said...

please, please, a picture of the wedding bench when it arrives in the netherlands!!!

classic bride said...

this post really excited me! i can't wait to see some more pics! :o)

laura said...

yes please,more pictures.

and I agree, E-Bay is the best resource.

I find it hard to even make it through a post with out mentioning E-Bay.