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One Day Vs One Year – How We Kept Our Wedding Small & Our Dreams Big

by Meg · 42 comments

We have had several people close to us get engaged or married  in the past few months, which led to a discussion of our big day and honeymoon back in April 2010. With love in the air, we thought we’d share a series of articles Meg wrote last year about how we saved money on our wedding day and “consciously spent” on our honeymoon (aka lived it up). Enjoy! -Tony

How to save money on your big day

For this post, I would like to play the game “Would You Rather?”

Today’s question is: Would you rather spend your money on one amazing day or spend that same amount of money on an entire year touring the world?

My vote:  The latter!

While Tony and I have done an excellent job stashing away money from our respective jobs to fund this trip, I’ll be the first to admit that we have gotten soooome help from our parents… But this help came with a choice.

When Tony and I got engaged, both his parents and my parents struck a deal with us.  Both families set aside x amount of money for the wedding.  If we didn’t spend it all, then we could keep whatever was left to put towards savings, a down payment on a home, etc.

Since we both graduated from an undergrad business school, Tony and I saw this deal as an opportunity to leverage the cash towards something more than just a one-day lavish wedding.

Here’s a statistic for you:  The average American wedding costs roughly $30,000!!!

Both of us thought that spending this amount of money for ONE day was absolutely ABSURD…and unsettling to boot.

With this mindset, Tony and I discussed our options and chose to have a really low-key wedding.  And it was the best decision we ever made – and the best day a girl could ask for.

Our wedding rocked!

The Location

Miami Coastline

Ever since I was a little girl, I envisioned having a destination wedding on the beach.  However, destination weddings are EXPENSIVE. 

Having just moved to Miami, Tony and I thought this would be a perfect (and convenient) place to get married… Plus, Miami is a special place for us, as it was the first place where we started our lives together shortly after getting engaged.

The Guest List – Sorry Friends & Extended Family!

Toast on our rented catamaran

To go with the low-key wedding theme, we had to make some SERIOUS cuts in the guest list.  We both attended plenty of weddings of 100+ guests, where the bride and groom spent the entire night walking around (in 5 minute intervals) to each guest table to make each-and-every individual guest feel special.

These couples were so busy mingling with distant aunts, uncles, and third cousins that they didn’t even get to eat the meal they had spent months carefully planning with their costly wedding planner.

If you know anything about my love for food, you know that scenario is just not acceptable in my book!

So, we decided to just invite our immediate family down to Miami for the big day – Yup.  There were just 9 of us at our wedding… Needless to say, our friends were not too thrilled when their “Save the Dates” never arrived in the mail. We still love you guys!

Now that we had the wedding destination and guest list all sorted out, we had to plan out the details of the big day.  One great benefit of having a small-ass wedding party is that you can be incredibly creative in mapping out your dream day.

Rehearsal Dinner

More like dinners actually.

Our wedding was planned for Saturday, April 10th, but both families arrived in Miami on that Thursday to celebrate.  What was amazing about doing a small wedding was that we had no one else to entertain the entire weekend.  Thus, the weekend was spent with the two families getting to know each other over brunches, beach days, long dinners, and some fiercely competitive games of bowling. 

The ladies bowling before the big day

It was truly wonderful.


I mentioned earlier that I wanted to get married on a beach.  However, in Miami, unless you want to get married on the VERY public South Beach with topless women and screaming children ruining your vows (and your photos), you are kind of out of luck.

The altar...

Thankfully, we were able to find a private catamaran company in Miami that chartered sunset sails to be our “venue” for the wedding ceremony… Baller!

We sailed into Biscayne Bay and got married right at sunset on the catamaran’s net by a wonderful Officiant.  One thing that made the ceremony hilarious was that we got married with obnoxious faux wedding rings carved out of a Colombian nut, for fear of dropping our real platinum bands in the ocean during the ring exchange (see picture below).

Some serious bling.

On board, we brought along an affordable photographer (who did an outstanding job), champagne for the many toasts to be had, our own iPod with one EPIC wedding playlist for the boat’s surround sound system, and a yummy cheese and cracker plate to nosh on – courtesy of Whole Foods (along with the beautiful flower bouquets)… Now that’s what I call a DIY wedding!


After we sailed and danced the night away on the catamaran…

Dancing on the catamaran for our wedding

…We had a limo pick us up at the pier and take us to a private wine attic in Miami’s Hilton Conrad Hotel for a five course wine pairing dinner. The ambiance, the company, the wine, the food, and the warm brioche bread pudding (instead of the traditional tiered wedding cake) made the night unforgettable.  And because it was just the 9 of us, I ACTUALLY got to enjoy my wedding dinner… can you sense how important food is to me?

Our little reception in a lovely wine attic

I will have to save our Honeymoon story and some tips I learned about keeping the wedding costs down for future posts, but I can honestly say that this entire experience was the best experience of my life.

The wedding only took 1 month to plan and it was the most relaxing and unbelievable journey down the aisle (or boat) ever.   Not to mention, this whole wedding weekend only cost Tony and I a mere $4,000… And now look at what we did with the rest of the money!

One Day vs One Year…

What would you rather spend your money on?

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Barb June 9, 2011 at 9:26 am

We had the big wedding and looking back I wish we had done what you did. And what amazing parents to kick in the difference! :)

admin June 14, 2011 at 8:40 am

What amazing parents indeed! Tony and I will be sure to continue this “tradition” when we have kids of our own someday!

Kim June 21, 2011 at 12:06 am

Brian and I had a great, small wedding and we spent about half of the average. Looking back, we loved the day, but now that we’re planning for our RTW we say to ourselves “if we had that money back, we’d be traveling by now!”

admin June 23, 2011 at 8:50 am

Going RTW does put everything you spend your money on into perspective…I feel guilty even buying a pair of shoes these days! But the fact that you and Brian are able to take a year off to travel the world speaks volumes to your savvy spending habits!

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures September 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I love it! Such a brilliant idea!!!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Thanks Andi!

Vicky August 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Seriously love this post and how you planned your wedding. Dave and I (though not married) definitely do not see the value in spending 30K over 1 day when that can last us for an entire year in traveling around. I have a friend getting married soon and it’s just crazy that for the past year she’s been planning everything to all come together in just 1 day and be over whereas we’ve spend the year planning what we’ll be doing for the next 2 years of our lives. I am not planning on getting married anytime soon but when I do I know my wedding ceremony will be closer to yours than the standard 30K American weddings.
PS – love love love that you didn’t have the standard wedding cake and got bread pudding instead!

Meg August 20, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Thanks Vicky and I am glad you enjoyed reading our post! It was such a magical day and Tony and I still talk about how much we enjoyed doing a small wedding.

I checked out your blog and love it! Tony and I are huge foodies and your blog is Pinterest porn haha. We love everything under the sun, and really enjoy exploring vegan, gluten-free, and paleo dishes when we can.

You must be getting so excited for your trip to Japan in September… 2 years! WOW. Let us know if you need help with anything to help prep for your trip or during your travels. We are no pros but always love sharing tips and tricks with other backpackers as we go along. We haven’t been to Japan but would love to go eventually – I am very jealous!

I am not a huge fan of most cakes, but bread pudding is one of my many dessert weaknesses (ice cream and dark chocolate being my #1 vice). Having this dessert at my wedding was an excellent substitute!

Vicky August 21, 2012 at 9:14 am

Hey Meg,
Thanks for the compliments on my food blog! I have been running that blog for over 1.5 years and recently redesigned it to be more professional and have been improving the food photography bit by bit so it’s always great to hear that it looks good! We are getting so excited (as well as nervous, stressed out, overwhelmed) for our trip! Between trip planning/preparations and trying to running the travel blog and my food blog there’s always tons to do and never enough time!
Completely agree with you on the cakes – definitely not my dessert of choice – though I do enjoy a good cheesecake (but that’s about it)!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Hi Vicky… Both of your blogs looks great! Did Dave setup both these sites? Tony is learning as he goes on how to do web design and coding for our blog but we had a professional help build our new site when we re-designed it awhile back.

I completely understand how busy you must be. We planned for 1.5 years for our RTW trip – And we are only traveling for 1 year! Although, things don’t really slow down once you’re on the road. I thought I would have all this free time during our travels, but we are now trying to start up an online business, so between that, the blog, and just plain exploring, our days get pretty jammed packed.

Ohhhh I love Cheesecake… Tony isn’t a huge fan, but I like to think that just means more for me! Basically any kind of cake with flour is a no-go for me.

Vicky August 21, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Thanks Meg! Dave set up the travel blog using the Journey theme and did a ton of coding to customize it and have it look the way it does today. As for my food blog it’s run using the Thesis theme which is much easier to customize without having go into back-end coding or having to learn CSS – but he has been helping me with that one as well! Don’t know what I would have done without him. We started planning last Sept and set up the website in Nov thinking we had sooo much time to figure everything out but I really wish we starting working on it hardcore sooner. Especially in terms of social media I feel like we started way too late and are playing catch-up now. With how busy things are now I can only imagine it gets even busier when you’re traveling full time! Now that you’re more than half way into your trip are you planning on extending your travels or just finishing them up at the end of 2012? If it’s not a secret I would love to learn more about your online business! In terms of cakes – completely agree – cakes with flour I can easily say no to – speaking of cheesecake – bought all the ingredients for NY Cheesecake with strawberries tonight and plan on making it tomorrow! Got to get those cheesecake cravings in as I doubt I’ll be making any in Asia!

Alexandra August 21, 2012 at 12:14 am

I just feel in deeper friend love with the two of you! I love your wedding story and fake rings! I personally am not a fan of big weddings i think the whole act of promising yourself to another is such a private affair and shoukd really just be done with a very close circle. I am not married and could never see myself having a giant wedding but a giant honeymoon heck yeah!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 12:19 am

Aww thanks Ally for the nice words… We love you too 😉

I agree. I always envisioned eloping, but I don’t think Tony’s or my mom were too cool with that idea, so this was our next best option. But I am all about keeping it a private, intimate affair!

And yes, it is a MUST to go all out for the honeymoon. We spent more time planning our extravagant honeymoon to the BVI’s than we did our actual wedding… Priorities!

Archana August 21, 2012 at 4:24 am

I love this! You guys made some wise choices here — love the faux nut rings — and it clearly paid off, especially because you’re positively glowing in the pics. Such a great lesson!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Thanks Archana! The faux rings were a must – Both Tony and I are way too clumsy to handle an over-water transfer of actual wedding rings!

Barb and Dana August 21, 2012 at 11:01 am

What a fabulous article!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Thanks Barb! It so great great having such supportive parents 😉

Devon Mills August 21, 2012 at 2:04 pm

LOVE this. I’m set on having a small, quirky, non-traditional but very personal wedding and I love reading about how happy you guys were with yours. : )

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Thanks Devon! We talked to so many people that had large weddings and they all advised us to have a small wedding… It was something they wish they did differently. However, we never spoke to anyone that did a small wedding and say they wish they went big… I think us small wedding people are on to something here 😉

Steph August 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

You’ve got some serious words of wisdom in here… definitely got Mike and I talking!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Aww I am so excited for you two! Are you starting to plan for the wedding yet beyond just general discussions of what you want? Definitely go BIG on the honeymoon… I enjoyed planning that more than our actual wedding day! We are no pros, but let us know if you need any tips/advice with the planning :-)

Steph August 21, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Just in the conceptual stage at this point… Way more fun to plan things like trips to Europe!

Caroline August 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Yippee for your wise decision! I have been married for 32 years, our wedding only cost us $3500 however neither of us were given any money from our parents as neither could afford such a lavish gift. I remember having to pull our credit card out to the bartender to keep the bar open..scary! But… our guest list was well under 100. I believe our best adventures in life are to experience travel and with the one you love. No one can ever take that away from you! Keep the goals going girl, theres a huge world out there to see, taste, drink and feel! I traveled extensively for 13 years in my past profession, now I dream of making those same trips with my sould mate of 32 years. Trying so hard to save up the money and keep afloat is the huge challenge, but we will make that trip and soon.

Meg August 21, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Hi Caroline. My sister did a smallish wedding too of 50 people and it was such a fun wedding and she was able to still keep it intimate by only having her close friends and loved ones there. Thanks for the words of wisdom! I wish you the best of luck on your travels with your true love (32 years – WOW!)… So exciting 😉

Lauren August 21, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Yes. I am so reassured reading this. My fiance and I got engaged in February, and since then we’ve constantly been fielding questions about when and where. He’s Australian, I’m American, and we’re about to become homeless as we’re leaving Korea after 2 years teaching here. The answer to all of their questions has been “We don’t know yet.”
The only thing I know is that people spend WAY too much money at these things! Your wedding story is much closer to what I envision for us than what ‘the norm’ seems to be. Thanks for sharing!

Meg August 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Congrats Lauren on your engagement! Glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like you two have plenty of awesome options for a wedding location! And if you go small, your families can’t complain about expensive airline flights to wherever you get married, since it is still much cheaper than throwing a big wedding…. And then of course there is always eloping! Best of luck and enjoy the wedding planning – It is such a fun time!

Megan August 23, 2012 at 2:36 am

totally respectable and i would have done the EXACT same thing! that is sick to know the average american wedding is $30,000. super sick. $30,000 is what some people make in ONE year of working! good for yall for realizing the true worth of money and that being spending it on lifetime memories as opposed to one day of letting your family and friends drink themselves silly.

Meg August 23, 2012 at 3:27 am

That is also how much money it takes to travel the world for an entire year! :-)

As always, thanks for your lovely comments Megan!

JR August 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

This has been a great discussion to read. I am so happy for you two and the choices you have made.

Meg August 26, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Thanks JR…. It helped having such amazing parents to support our ideas!

Tal Gur August 28, 2012 at 3:25 am

Love this post. My partner and I also had a small wedding and I totally relate with the “One Day Vs One Year” title. Keep living your dreams! :)

Meg August 28, 2012 at 4:48 am

Thanks Tal. Small is the way to go! I just checked out your site and loved it! We will be sure to keep in touch with you and follow your journeys :-)

Adventurous Kate August 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm

What a GREAT wedding! It’s great to see a real-life example from people I know who REALLY pared it down. I’ve seen lots of examples of cheap weddings (I’ve got Offbeat Bride in my RSS reader) but NINE PEOPLE? Including you two?! That’s a new level of incredible.

Cheers to spending cash on traveling the world! And I love those crazy rings!

Meg August 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Thanks Kate! Surprisingly a nine person wedding can be just as fun as a giant one with a great band. To this day, we have no regrets on our decision… Especially now as we are writing to you from Thailand! :-)

Angie Away August 31, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Brilliant post! And what a great idea. I know in my heart there’s no way I can ever justify spending a small fortune on just one day, so even though I’m as single as the day is long, I still think about how in the world I could manage to have a special day without it costing so much. This is a pretty great template! So thanks =)

Meg August 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Thanks Angie! Many of my friends have had big weddings and loved it (and Tony and I personally had a blast going to all the festivities)… I think any bride is entitled to her own dream day – I just wanted my dream day to be super tiny and intimate :-)

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