After their June 4 wedding ceremony at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Brooke Tuohy and her fiancé, Caleb Wenzel, won’t be taking a limousine to a lavish reception at a fancy hotel. A limo rental alone would eat up a significant portion of the couple’s wedding budget.
While the average American couple spends about $25,000 on their wedding, Tuohy and Wenzel have opted for a $4,000 budget. Saving the money for a house was one reason for simplifying, but beyond that the couple wanted to focus on what comes after the wedding.
“We’re trying to do it reasonably,” said Tuohy, a West St. Paul native who now lives in St. Joseph. “We really wanted to keep the focus on the fact that this is the beginning of a marriage and it’s not just about the wedding day.”
As society pressures couples to plan expensive, elaborate weddings, some like Tuohy and Wenzel are finding that by setting a more modest budget together and finding creative ways to cut costs they’re better able to prepare for the sacrament of marriage and their life together.
Pressures divide, not unite
Planning a big wedding can separate a couple when they need to grow together, said Deacon John Wallin, who has prepared about 50 couples for marriage in the past five years at St. John the Baptist in Dayton and St. Albert in Albertville, and has worked with Catholic Engaged Encounter for more than 30 years.
“Those are pressures that are just not necessary on both of them and it starts to divide them,” he said. “It starts to pull at each other and for a lot of the guys it becomes the bride’s day, whatever they want they get, even though they don’t want to do it that way and it kind of brings the division right there on that given day.”
When couples start to understand the sacrament and how to live it out, they realize they don’t need everything the wedding industry tells them they need, said Deacon Wallin, who sees more couples choosing smaller weddings with more realistic budgets.
Setting a wedding budget together can help couples be open, make sacrifices and reveal their own interests, Deacon Wallin said. “When you start putting money into things, you understand what you think is important and what you don’t think is important.”
Though they initially planned to get married last summer, one reason Tuohy and Wenzel decided to postpone their wedding was because Tuohy’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. The longer engagement has helped them grow stronger in their relationship and not feel as rushed with wedding planning, she added.
During the planning period, couples also decide on their joint approach to money and other issues, said Michelle Gagnon, a St. Louis, King of France parishioner who was married in 2007.
“There are just a lot of future conversations that come up that, at the time, you think are centered on the wedding but really are going to be centered on how you approach life,” she said.
A debt-free beginning
When she and her husband, Philippe, decided they didn’t want to take on wedding debt, Gagnon said they set the tone for a debt-free marriage.
“Instead of starting out that way and getting used to debt and kind of making our peace with it, we didn’t make peace with it; we just didn’t do it,” she said.
The Gagnons were able to invite 500 guests while staying within their $13,000 wedding budget, in part, because many of the guests served at the wedding, she said. Friends and family offered DJ, photography and other services. The youth group Gagnon led helped prepare the reception dinner and also did clean up.
Having the support of friends and family during the wedding made the Gagnons confident that this support would continue during their marriage, she said.
“I think it really helped to build community,” Gagnon said. “It helped to have people be part of your life. They felt like they were kind of part of the marriage.”
By keeping their wedding reception simple, Tuohy said she and Wenzel plan to spend more time with their guests — they’ve invited 175.
“It’s just a time for us to talk to our family and friends who have come to watch us get married,” she said. “To me it’s not about the decorations. We want it to look nice but it doesn’t have to be so perfect. It’s really easy to get lost in the details but for me that’s not the important part.”
Tips for a simpler, more meaningful wedding» Church halls are often less expensive to rent than regular halls and most let you bring in your own food.
» Buy wedding and bridesmaid dresses off the rack when possible and save up to 50 percent.
» Church halls and other venues may have table decorations you can use without having to purchase them.
» Order paper online and print your own personalized invitations to save up to 75 percent off pre-made invitations.
» Have guests donate to a charity you choose rather than bring gifts.
» If friends and family members are willing to serve as bartender and DJ, they can better monitor music played and keep minors from drinking. Some church halls have sound systems so you may not need to hire a DJ with a separate system.
» Don’t skimp on how you look. You can save money in other areas, but you’ll have better memories of the day if you feel good about how you look.
» Plan your wedding to take place soon after the Christmas or Easter holidays, while the church still has flowers and decorations on display.
Inspirational and affordable wedding gifts
Nothing against toasters but if you’re looking for a wedding gift that reflects the couple’s faith or something unique that celebrates their marriage, here are a few ideas. (If you don’t like these, you can always fall back on the toaster idea.) Thanks to St. George’s Catholic Books and Gifts and St. Patrick’s Guild for their suggestions.
» Antiques such as jewelry boxes, picture frames, decorative bowls, bookends, etc.
» Crucifix or cross with wedding theme.
» Family Bible.
» Faith-related pictures, calligraphy etc. with house blessing, wedding, Last Supper or other themes.
» Framed pictures of the couple with friends or relatives or baby/childhood pictures.
» Marriage related picture frames.
» Nativity set starter kit or pieces.
» Photos taken during wedding and reception, printed and framed to give the day of wedding.
» Sick Call Crucifixes.
» Themed gift baskets such as movies, picnic, games, pizza night, cookies.
» Tickets/gift cards to zoo, museum, theme park or theater.
» Wedding/Faith figurines.
» Wedding remembrance book.