High school sweethearts plan a wedding on their terms

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High school sweethearts Margaret and Dan were certain of two things by the time they were 20; they were going to get married as soon as their busy lives allowed, and they were going to plan (and finance) their own wedding. Margaret says she knew pretty early in their engagement that they wanted to foot the bill. “I felt like if we paid for it ourselves, we wouldn’t have to cater to anyone else’s wants and needs,” she says. “We decided to have the wedding and reception that we wanted, not what someone else expected.”

Even though Margaret’s parents preferred that the couple have an elaborate wedding with a formal dinner, they planned an event that was “really geared toward our personalities,” Dan notes. Even better, it also had a manageable price tag … around $5,000. They opted for finger foods and limited the bar options to beer and wine. Margaret bought her dress at a consignment shop, and the rehearsal dinner was catered barbeque at the bride’s brother’s home. It was a non-traditional wedding for the bride’s Southern family, but it was also perfect.   

Having spent their college years separated between Philadelphia and Cleveland, Margaret and Dan realized that a couple of additional years apart would only make their hearts grow fonder (and their bank accounts bigger). Margaret took a well-paying job as a nurse working night shifts, while Dan started his engineering career. “She was working full time, living in an apartment, and saving a ton of money,” Dan remembers. “The only time Margaret spent money was when she came out to Cleveland to visit me.”

As a result, their wedding budget was never really a challenge or a source of stress for the couple. “We may have carried over a couple of months [of wedding expenses] on a credit card, but for the most part it was paid off pretty quickly,” she notes. 

An unexpected (and unwelcome) benefit to smart budgeting

Not only did their frugal wedding deliver the experience they wanted; it ended up being a lifesaver. Dan was diagnosed with leukemia before their first anniversary, and the medical bills started rolling in. Face-to-face with these serious concerns so early in their marriage, the young couple was fortunate to be free of wedding-related debt.

A successful return to full health, three kids, several promotions and nearly two decades later, Margaret and Dan say they wouldn’t do anything different if they were to get married today. “We didn’t have a formal dinner not just because it wasn’t in the budget, but because that just wasn’t us,” Dan says. “So many people traveled from long distances and we didn’t want to trap them at a table. We wanted to keep it informal so they could mingle.” Long-time friends agree: “People still talk about what a fun wedding it was, and joke about making someone else get married so we can do it all again,” he says. 

When asked if they’d encourage their kids—16-year-old twin daughters and an 11-year-old son—to be responsible for their own wedding budgets in the future, Margaret laughs. “I’m not opposed to helping them out, but it really made us proud to be able to do it on our own. I think there’s something to that.”

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