If I told you how much our wedding cost you would probably gasp.
It’s not what you think.
While the average American wedding, according to USA Today, now runs about $27,000, ours cost about a tenth of that.
Despite the fact that we were married at sunset on the beach in Costa Rica with twelve of our closest friends and family.
And despite the fact that we ate lobster and drank champagne all night at our reception.
Listen up, folks, because you don’t want to still be paying for your wedding ten years from now. Here are some tips on saving money on a destination wedding…
Choose your destination wisely.
We chose Costa Rica because Mark always raved about it to me, after stopping there on a cruise he went on years ago. I think it was mostly the fruit that won him over (oh my gosh, best papaya, mango, pineapple, and bananas I’ve ever had), but the cost was pretty enticing as well. People seemed to get by very well on very little.
And they are always happy about it.
I would argue that Costa Rica is the best location for a destination wedding, but it’s not the only one.
Do your research. If you want to get away, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands offer some enticing deals.
Keep in mind the travel distance (especially if your party includes more than just the two of you), and the cost of airfare.
Research a venue that’s right for you.
We found our hotel and reception venue, Conchal Hotel, on TripAdvisor. What initially won us over were the rave reviews they received, but we wouldn’t have booked it if the price wasn’t affordable, too.
Not only for the cost of the wedding ceremony and reception — both fully orchestrated by the hotel — but the room rates themselves weren’t outrageous, either.
Had we opted for the all-inclusive Westin resort down the road, we would have paid more than four times our bill just for rooms alone.
We were lucky enough to find a place that offered great service, delicious food, and a comfortable environment, all for budget-hotel rates.
Be flexible with your dates.
As much as you might want to be married on 11/12/13, you can snag some good deals at certain destinations during the off-season (and different destinations have different off-seasons).
Plus you won’t have to share your anniversary with every other number obsessed couple in the world.
While the thought of a January wedding isn’t every bride’s dream, it breaks up the dreariness of winter. Now we have a reason to celebrate the end of every January, a slow time for airlines and many destinations around the world.
That translates to lower costs to get away for our anniversary, for as long as we both shall live.
Book your flight with airline miles.
This goes hand in hand with being flexible with dates.
The reason we were able to book our flight with airline miles — in effect saving us hundreds of dollars — was because of our flexibility.
We had originally planned a February wedding, but realized that moving up the date a few weeks would put us in the off-peak award chart for Spirit Airlines.
Buy your dress on Ebay.
I don’t know why so many people were surprised that I actually bought my wedding dress on Ebay. It was from JCrew, perfect for a sandy beach wedding, and only cost me $165 (originally $575)! Not only that, but someone wore it and loved it before me.
That dress was just full of good karmic vibes.
When the temptation to spend hundreds (if not thousands!) of dollars on a single item of clothing you’ll only wear once crops up, remember that fact: you’re only going to wear it once.
And if you’re getting married on a beach, or some other outdoor locale, it’s likely going to get soiled anyway.
You’ll sleep much easier knowing you didn’t spend your future kid’s college fund on that couture item that’s now stained with saltwater.
Do your own hair and makeup.
I actually paid to have my hair and makeup done for our wedding, and I kinda regret it. It’s not that it didn’t turn out great, it just didn’t look quite the way I imagined. I tend to be a bit of a control freak about certain things, and this seemed to be one of them.
Just minutes before the car came to pick me up to take me to the beach, I was in my bathroom scrubbing purple lipstick from my lips and replacing it with Burt’s Bees lip balm.
Maybe my request for a “really, really natural” look didn’t quite translate.
One thing we didn’t plan on was how windy it was going to be right next to the Pacific Ocean. (Duh.)
However perfect your hair is before you leave the hotel, it will all be blowin’ in the wind the moment you step onto that sand.
You don’t want to pay for that.
Get married beforehand at your local courthouse.
Mark and I drove down to Toledo to get our marriage license. We paid $50 for the license and $25 for the official ceremony. It turned out to be a romantic and adventurous trip.
And we didn’t have to worry about bringing sensitive paperwork and filing in a foreign country.
Also, our judge’s name was Puffenberger. How cool is that?
Have a friend perform your symbolic ceremony.
This saved us $750!
We just couldn’t justify paying that kind of money to have someone we don’t know perform such a deeply personal service. Having one of our best friends marry us was one of our most favorite parts of the wedding.
Mark wrote the ceremony ahead of time, making it quite personal to us.
It even touched on the spirit of adventure that is the center of our relationship.
Designate a member of your family to take photos.
Our photographer was amazing, and she just so happened to be my aunt and godmother!
My advice would be to start collecting ideas and inspirations from different wedding blogs, Pinterest boards, etc.
Share them with your photographer so they can strive to recreate them on your big day.
You can also edit the photos yourself in Photoshop, or with a free online photo editor.
Underestimate the alcohol order.
Depending on your venue, you can usually replenish your alcohol allowance if you reach your limit, but you won’t be reimbursed for anything left over.
We ended up with quite a few bottles of wine and champagne after our reception.
I guess I should have anticipated the rate in which the tequila would be flowing…and flowing…and flowing. (We had to entice the mariachi band to play a few extra sets.)
Let your iPod be your DJ.
I don’t think its worth paying a DJ to play the same songs you have on your iTunes playlist.
You can also save yourself and your guests from having to dance to “Celebrate Good Times” or “Shout!”. When those songs come on at a wedding, it’s usually my cue to sit down.
But do make sure that you find out what your venue is capable of ahead of time.
We loaded all of our songs onto a laptop, and we planned to link it to the hotel’s speakers with a standard 3.5mm jack. The hotel had warned us that they had a jack, but had never tested it before. As a backup, we loaded the same playlist onto a thumb drive.
That thumb drive saved the night, because the headphone jack didn’t function.
Or opt for local live entertainment.
When we found out that we had the option of hiring a live mariachi band to play our wedding, we originally bristled a bit. Hiring a live band to play a wedding in the USA usually runs more than $1000.
Not so in Costa Rica.
When we found out it would only be $100 to have the band play a set, we immediately agreed to it, deciding to keep it a secret from all of our guests.
We were so wrapped up in the excitement of the rest of the day, we were completely surprised ourselves when these guys showed up.
They were such a hit, we had them play an additional two sets.
Let go and let the location work its magic.
Remember the reason you’re not having your special day at the local hall or golf club.
Hopefully, you chose a beautiful part of the world, and the weather worked out, and the scenery is gorgeous.
These are all things that cannot be replicated or upsold to you.
The best part of our wedding was being surprised by everything just as much as our guests were.
This is not the route to go if you are a control freak or bridezilla and want to have control over every tiny detail of one day of your life (granted, it’s one of the most important, we get that).
But if you can let go of those control issues, enjoy yourself, and trust in all your advance planning and research, your destination wedding can be the most memorable experience of your life without costing you your future.