How To Throw a Wedding Without Going Into Debt

"I used to think a wedding was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say 'I do.' I was wrong. That’s getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition."

That opening monologue from Father of the Bride is really quite brilliant, and quite accurate — a marriage is a legal union between two people in love. A wedding is a whole different beast. And with extravagant wedding trends and celebrity nuptials that make the Oscars look like a backyard BBQ, it may seem like dropping tens of thousands of dollars on the big day is practically required.

The average wedding in the U.S. costs about $26,000. That's a whole lot of money to spend on a big party that presumably only lasts one night. The school of thought seems to be that the more money involved, the more perfect the event, but the following stories will prove that theory wrong — all of these women spent less than $20,000 on their big day and all of them had weddings that were special and wonderful.

1. Helena Svendsen, Nutrition, Health and Organic Beauty Examiner Married James Littlewood, a consultant for Ernst and Young

Wedding Date: June 18, 2011

Wedding Cost: $13,000

"We didn't want to spend tons on a wedding because so many people do and get into some serious debt," Svendsen says.

How they did it:

  • Friends and family members made the programs and bouquets, and handled the transportation and photography.
  • Her mother-in-law played the ceremony music.
  • Helena's vintage gown cost $800.

"It was really wonderful and so much fun because it was a team effort, a bonding experience for everyone involved. Strangers became friends and we all partied into the early morning," she says. "Most of our budget went into quality drink, food, and music — and we got married in the highlands of Scotland where food and drink are generally cheaper, and so is entertainment."

2. Genevieve West, Relationship and Dating Consultant, Married Eric West, owner of Mix 'N' Match Creamery

Wedding Date: Oct. 21, 2006

Wedding Cost: $3,000

"We were both of the opinion that the wedding itself wasn't nearly as important as preparing for marriage. While I would have loved a fairy tale wedding with a horse drawn carriage, a princess dress, and the perfect venue, it was more important that our guests had fun," West says. "And that we left married."

How they did it:

  • Friends of the bridge and groom handled the music, flowers, and cleanup.
  • They bought the champagne wholesale.
  • The event was at 2 p.m. and they served just light hors d'oeuvres and cake.
  • Her dress cost only $99.

"I've seen enough videos of 'fairy tale' weddings gone horribly wrong — imagine the bride's despair at the horse going berserk, or the swans pooping on the wedding cake, or Uncle John giving a drunken toast," West said. "The more things that need to go perfectly, the more stress goes along with it, and there's more potential for disappointment."

3. LeslieAnn Dunn, Education Administrator, Married Brian Dunn, an Executive Leadership Consultant.

Wedding date: Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wedding cost: $15,000

"I've never been the Cinderella type, but I knew that I wanted it to be beautiful and not the kind of wedding that we would be paying for through the next decade," Dunn says.

How they did it:

  • They reserved a wedding ceremony space in Central Park for $25.
  • They made their own cheese and fruit platters and ordered a few appetizers from restaurants.
  • They only served champagne
  • Dunn bought her dress at David's Bridal for less than $1,000, and her shoes cost $125. She rented her jewelry from Rent the Runway for $120.
  • Her best friend, a stylist, did her hair, and she hired a woman from the MAC counter to do her makeup for $75.
  • Dunn printed the programs at home for $30.
  • A college friend did the photography for $500.
  • The couple threw the reception at the penthouse suite where they were staying for $5,000.

"The $5,000 was worth it, as most had never been in a penthouse and those floor-to-ceiling windows gave us views of Fifth Avenue and the Empire State Building that created a lifetime of memories."

Image: Fotolia