Unlike a lot of little girls, I didn’t grow up thinking about or planning my dream wedding. In fact, up until just a few years ago I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to get married. It wasn’t something I labored over or gave a tremendous amount of thought to; I simply thought, “Some people get married and that’s great, but I probably won’t.” And then the man I love changed everything about the way I had always thought about marriage, and particularly my participation in one.
Earlier this month, on July 11, 2015, I married a man who has repeatedly proven to me that unconditional love is real and possible. I think that is what had always held me back from allowing myself to think about the possibility of ever getting married — I’ve had almost no relationship role models. Being raised by a divorced, single dad, a grandmother who raised three children on her own, and an aunt who never married, I had role models for strong, independent people taking on the world in spades, but I didn’t know what a healthy romantic relationship looked like. Until I was in one and realized that sometimes we get to be our own role models.
It turns out that never having planned my “dream wedding” actually gave me and my now-husband a lot of freedom in planning a day that was uniquely our own and celebrated who we are as a couple, which is precisely what a wedding should be. The fact that we are both very practical people who focus on what is truly important to us and not much else made the entire wedding planning process easier. Did I seriously just use the words ‘wedding planning’ and ‘easy’ in the same sentence? I know.
Our wedding day was one spectacular DIY effort held right in our own backyard. We knew that we wanted to keep things intimate, with just our immediate family and closest friends by our side as we became husband and wife, and as much delicious food as we could eat. That was our checklist: get married, family, friends, food, fun!
Opting for a backyard wedding and keeping things as intimate as they could be came with a myriad of advantages. It allowed us to socialize with every single one of our guests with no one feeling left out. Seeing a wedding guest (or being a wedding guest) who sits alone at a table, virtually ignored and wallowing into their wine glass while everyone else has fun without them is always an unfortunate byproduct of big weddings. We were able to avoid turning any of our guests into “that person,” which I like to think was appreciated.
As you might have guessed, another benefit of hosting our own backyard wedding was the tremendous amount of money we saved.
The average wedding today typically costs over $18,000. Not only do I personally find that figure to be ridiculous, but the best piece of advice I was given around the time we were just starting to plan our wedding was that you should never begin a marriage in debt. And so we didn’t. Instead, we eliminated costs where we could, shopped wholesale and discount stores, used coupons, searched for sales and clearances, and were fortunate enough to have some incredible people in our lives who were eager to help.
Our wedding day was a little more nontraditional than most. I was a bride in a multicolored sundress (that I even got on sale!), my husband wore shorts and promptly changed into something more comfortable after our ceremony, much to the delight of my father who had brought a change of clothes because apparently the men in my life are allergic to dress shirts. We had a Quaker (self-uniting) ceremony that was written by me, edited and signed off on by my husband, and unofficially officiated by a very dear friend of ours — who was so emotional he stuttered through every sentence, giving us another truly unique layer to our wedding and one funny story. We specifically asked for favors in lieu of gifts, because when you’re in a relationship for over nine years before you get married, you just don’t need a new toaster or blender. Real talk.
I am still amazed by how we were able to pull off our backyard wedding. It was definitely a lofty undertaking, but it turned out to be a beautiful day spent with those who mean the most to us, and an incredible way to begin our marriage.
If you’re just beginning the wedding planning process, don’t let national averages and articles by so-called experts fool you into thinking you need to take out an enormous loan to have the perfect day. The biggest thing I have learned throughout this process is that there is no right or wrong way to get married as long as you stay true to yourselves — both as individuals and as a couple — and pulling off a day that you will remember for the rest of your lives takes a combination of planning, saving, and a whole lot of heart.
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The opinions and text are all mine.