I Got Married On A Unicorn, And Other Tips For Having A Cheap Amazing Wedding Covered By The New York Times
I got married in early March to the love of my life, who incidentally, I met on Craigslist 5 years to the day of my wedding, when I wrote a strict list of demands, received 300 responses including 50 solid dick pics and chose the best one.
Even more than a ceremony where I pledged my love to someone incredibly special to me for the rest of my life, it was an interesting set of lessons about how to please my family, my friends and my self, save money and throw the best party ever.
I’ve been told if you do it right, you’re only going to get married once, and it will be one of the greatest days of your life. So I figured it’d be OK to think big, but thinking big doesn’t have to necessarily mean thinking expensive.
When I first started planning my wedding, I was shocked, I mean, really -- like, eyeballs popping out of my head stunned at the numbers that were coming up.
“How is anyone supposed to get married for less than $20k?” I thought. It’s a valid question, if you go the wedding industry route. America already ruined Christmas, now they have to try to ruin weddings, too?!?
From my research, I learned the first thing most people do as a married couple is go into debt from their wedding. Not these guys, I decided, meaning me and my husbo.
I’m not going to say how much my wedding cost because that’s not classy or whatever, but I will say this: It was half what ever your wedding cost, and this is how I did it.
Get married outside.
My mom wanted us to get married in rural Maryland. She imagined “a garden and some candles.” One expensive and lovely historic hotel wanted an $8000 non-refundable cash deposit. My husband’s mom wanted us to get married near her in the expensive suburbs of Philly. Basically everyone wanted us to get married under some kind of ROOF.
Instead, we opted for a beach wedding in the exact spot where we had gotten engaged 2 years earlier, rain or shine. Luckily, we got shine.
What if it had rained? I had a back up plan. I bought a beautiful white umbrella and told others to bring theirs, too, just in case, because that shit was going down on the beach, and when I said rain or shine, I meant drought or hurricane, too.
OK, so there were neither candles nor a garden, but there was a perfect sunset, a brief ceremony -- I think it was 15 minutes long -- and plenty of room for me to march into the
ceremony on a white unicorn. WIN.
Wait a minute, white unicorn? Yep. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Cost: $0 for our location, however, be sure to research if you’ll need a permit, typically $25-$35. If it’s a state park or beach, you usually will need one.
Buy your dream vintage dress online for the price of lunch.
My mom wanted me to wear a giant white cupcake wedding dress. My sister wanted me to not buy a dress made in China via LightInTheBox.com and instead buy a bias cut dress on Etsy, never mind bias cut dresses always make me look like I’m hiding a growing fetus.
I entertained her vintage dress suggestion, though, and together over the phone, we selected dozens and dozens of dresses in a rainbow of wedding-tastic shades; white, beige, cream, pink, pale pink, champagne, ivory, baby blue, and pinned them all to Pinterest so I could peruse and sit with them.
I ultimately chose a shin length satin peach vintage 80s number with a killer sweetheart neckline to showcase my lovely décolletage. It was beautiful and perfect. Can you believe that people spend $2,000 or more on a dress they’re only going to wear once?
Cost: $35 for dress, $20 for alterations, $10 for pro cleaning, $65 total
Get your cake at Pathmark.
To an Italian emotional eater with a mad sweet tooth, the wedding cake was really important to me. I wanted something chocolate with some disgusting filling, coated in that gross, delicious sugary sweet frosting, preferably homemade. I even considered making my own cake.
I found someone to make it for me, but she flaked at the last minute, and so I found the perfect, delicious, so yummy it’s yucky, lovely sheet cake at a pretty fancy grocery store for $25. But no, my husband’s mom insisted on buying us a special expensive cake from some special expensive cake place.
“It’s delicious,” she insisted.
“OK,” I relented. “Just, PLEASE, no fondant.”
I don’t like fondant. I think it tastes like stale marshmallows. But the baker insisted it be wrapped in the gunk, otherwise the cake would “fall apart.” Interestingly, I’ve never had a cake fall apart because I didn’t cover it in a mod podge coating of high fructose glue. But I guess wedding bakers do things -- um, the most expensive way possible.
The cake was $350, $325 more than the grocery store cake I wanted to provide. But ultimately, it was very beautiful and ultimately considered edible to our guests, as there was none left. I’ve also had friends who catered their weddings with grocery store food. I mean, it’s good enough for our meals and parties all the 364 other days of the year, no?
Cost: $25 or less
Get married in the Winter.
Having a wedding in the summer is a huge, I mean, colossal waste of money. Get married in the winter, spring or fall. Avoid “wedding season” all together.
Plus, white is a great color for a winter wedding. And if you get married on Christmas, you’ll have something to celebrate that’s a lot more fun than Jesus stuff. You can incorporate sledding, skiing or your cold disposition into your winter wedding theme, gardening, flowers and picnicking into a Spring wedding, and change, trees and foliage colors for fall. We chose to have a Spring wedding which is risky due to weather, but it worked out perfectly, probably because God wanted us to be together.
Cost: Our venue cost was free because we paid them to cook and serve food and brought in 75 people to sleep over, but many places charge $500 or more for use of the facilities.
Overestimate the alcohol bill.
If you opt for a wedding venue for the reception like I did, save yourself some stress and moolah by going over the guest list and estimating what each person will be drinking, i.e., Mom – 6 glasses of wine. Alcoholic friend Nick – 10 whiskeys. Cousin Sara’s ADD kids – 16 sodas each.
We added a drink or two extra onto each for our total, and based on our research, we decided it wasn’t worth getting an “all you can drink” bar because that’d still cost hundreds more.
Then, when the last tally came in on the booze, we were pleasantly surprised to see it was $500 less than the deposit we were asked to pay, and still hundreds less than an unlimited bar. I mean, hey, I want my family to drink til they puke, paid for by my blood, sweat and tears just like the next guy, but getting $500 back at the end was one of the greatest wedding gifts of all.
Cost: I think our alcohol bill for 75 people was about $1k
Get some PR mileage out of your wedding.
Don’t get married AS a PR stunt, that’s corny. But if you’re getting married anyway, get that PR, girl! Go ahead and send your announcement into the NY Times, why not? It’s a free service, and it’s a nice piece to send to guests in your thank you cards or to loved ones who couldn’t be there.
Typically, that precious ink is saved for couples with last names like Carnegie and Rockefeller, but if you have a cool enough story, like, say, you’re a rambunctious, sassy magical pussy-having comedienne who on a whim and a prayer posted a list of her dream dude’s qualities on Craigslist, well, you might just get some of that sweet newsprint normally reserved for the blue bloods.
In my case, it was a full knock-your-eyes-out page. EVERYBODY saw that article. For weeks, and even now, when I run into someone who hasn’t seen me since the wedding, the first thing they say is, “I saw you on a unicorn in the New York Times, who the fuck are you?”
I say, “I’m Jessica mofo Delfino” but the truth is, I just give good story, and always have my eyes out for an opportunity. With this kind of chutzpah, someday soon, you and I both will be very, very rich.
Added side bonus: They might send a photographer to take photos to add to your photo album.
Cost: $0, the price of a full page ad in NY Times is probably $100k
Speaking of which, don’t hire a photographer -– Instagram your wedding.
Yep, you read correctly. Teach your family how to download and use Instagram (I did it via email, sending out links and details) and tell them to tag your wedding pics with a pre-determined, easy to remember tag. There is no way a wedding photographer could have been in all the places at once. Plus, at $4-10k a pop, I’d rather have a house deposit.
Finally, those beautiful, instant filters really bring out the best in wedding photos. I had over 100 photos total, taken by friends and family who love me, and we were able to share them all immediately. BAM.
Plan a shenanigan.
Wedding stunts will help you get a little more PR mileage if that’s at all part of your goal. Put your personality into your wedding. Involve DIY. The media loves when people have a good story or a niche angle. What’s yours?
I had the idea to ride a unicorn into my wedding, an idea I stole from the illustration I drew for my CD cover, so I called some carriage places near the wedding location -- Cape May, NJ, both beautiful and affordable off season for weddings.
I started a few awkward conversations with, “Hi, um, so, this might sound kind of weird, but, heh, did anyone ever call and ask if someone can put a unicorn horn on one of your horse’s heads and then ride it into their wedding ceremony?” I knew I’d found a match when one woman laughed out loud and didn’t even hang up on me immediately afterwards.
Several YouTube wedding videos have huge choreographed dance pieces and other pre-planned ridiculousness. For me, the unicorn was great, because I hate dancing and I wanted to do something that felt fun and me.
My husband was a great sport and loved the unicorn idea. It was a huge hit, and was one of the smallest wedding expenses. It made everyone laugh and smile, taking the tension and drama away from our wedding. I didn’t even shed one salty tear at my own wedding, and I’m a notorious crybaby. I was too busy laughing and filled with joy and childlike wonder and bemusement, along with everyone else.
Cost: $250 + tip
Tap Wedding TV shows.
"4 Weddings" and "Bridezillas" both wanted to feature me on their TV shows, but I had to turn them both down because the venue refused to give us a location release. As nice as the wedding was otherwise, I will never refer them because of that. It was the only part of the wedding that seriously bummed me out.
With "4 Weddings," you compete for a luxurious honeymoon with 3 other weddings, which I, um, totally would have won because I RODE INTO MY WEDDING ON A WHITE FUCKING UNICORN. Instead, I took a honeymoon back to work.
With "Bridezillas," they cover some costs of your wedding. Instead, I covered my own costs, because my venue didn’t want to show parts of the hotel because it’s getting renovated next year. Stupid, stupid, stupid…but don’t get me started.
So, confirm your venue is on board with your hi-jinx or you’ll be a frown-y face bride. I missed out on a free honeymoon and thousands in cash because I failed to ask the venue about this before putting down a non-refundable deposit.
Cost: They pay you
Don’t count on gifts when budgeting; some people are not going to give you money or gifts for your wedding.
Some of my very close friends and family members did not give us gifts, cards or money at the wedding. I was surprised, confused and even thought perhaps I’d misplaced cards or had them stolen. But you just have to suck it up.
Some people don’t have money to give and are too embarrassed to say anything about it. Some people are cheapskates. Some just don’t want to. Many people don’t understand how expensive it is to have a wedding. Others, like myself embarrassingly until just a few years ago, don’t even know that wedding etiquette calls for guests to give enough money to cover their estimated meal and drink costs, plus a little extra.
No one told me that for my whole adult life. When I was finally told, I was humiliated, thinking back on all the weddings I’d attended, gorged myself at and overindulged, leaving the bill to the newlyweds.
Allow me to help clear up a thing or two: Even if you are a resource-monger like myself, weddings cost thousands of dollars. The nicer it is, the more it costs. The less nice it is, it still costs a shit ton. Even crappy wedding places cost a bundle.
Our wedding ran us about $50-$75 per person for food and drink. It is considered customary to pay for about what you think your meal and drinks will cost when you go to a wedding. It will be no less than $50, unless it’s a picnic, and maybe even then.
So if you go to a wedding, just plan to give them $50-$75 at LEAST. If you can’t give it to them for financial reasons, give them a heartfelt card with a nice message in it. But if you have money to give and you don’t give them any, that’s not cool, brah.
Also, I should add, according to some etiquette tip I read somewhere, wedding guests have up to a year to give a wedding gift. So, another option is to give a heartfelt card with something like, “Gift to come” written in it so at least they know you didn’t completely shit in their mouth and call it a sundae.
If you’re stiffed at your wedding, there’s nothing you can really say or do about it, either. If you call them out on it, they will promptly give you cash and then not speak to you for several months, if ever again. So you have to ask yourself, is $100 worth your friendship or embarrassing someone? I say no.
Cost: Some couples make their money back on their weddings, but many don't.
In closing, weddings are amazing, no matter what you spend or don’t spend.
It was, without exaggeration, the best day of my life. They’re usually even fun to attend and a really special day for a lot of people. Ultimately, weddings aren’t about money or family feuds or who’s wrong and who’s right. But don’t be surprised if someone tries to tell you otherwise. So have fun, and remember the most important thing about getting married: it’s about you and the one you’re getting married to, oh, and also about pleasing and entertaining everyone who attends.
Photo Credits to the husband, Alex M. Smith