Every year, the popular wedding website The Knot releases an annual poll detailing the national and state-by-state averages of costs of weddings. If you haven’t planned a wedding in a decade or two, their findings might astound, so hold on to your hats: In 2016, the national average was just more than $35,000. Arkansas has the lowest average wedding cost, but at just under $20,000, it’s still a sum that could pay for new car or a down payment on a house.
It’s no wonder that budget-savvy brides find ways around such expenses. With a little bit of research and creativity and a whole lot of help from family and friends, three area brides demonstrated you don’t have to go into debt to have a beautiful, memorable wedding day.
Your own back yard
Laura Moore and her husband Jason realized their back yard was a beautiful setting for a wedding. By having the wedding at home, the Moores not only saved money, but also retained the control to have exactly the kind of wedding they had hoped to have, without compromising on any of their ideas.
When Laura Moore first started to look around for wedding venues in 2016, she quickly noticed many of the spaces designated which vendors she and her fiance could use.
“A lot of the places want you to enter into a contract with their caterers, hire their bartenders, hire security, take out insurance — those were a lot of costs we weren’t interested in getting involved in,” Moore said. “We wanted to retain control over it and make our own choices. Every time I called a new place, the rate might be nice, but there were all these additional costs tacked on to it.”
Moore said her husband, Jason, was the first to suggest getting married in their own backyard. Renting a venue is often the largest expense incurred in a wedding, and by eliminating it, the couple would quickly be on their way to keeping their wedding costs way down.
“At first I said, ‘No,’ but we have a really nice garden back there — we really take a lot of pride in our yard,” she said. “There are lots of big trees. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded, and I said, ‘Let’s do it! We’re going to do it right here.’ We planned it in right about two-and-a-half months. My husband was a huge help. He made sure the yard was looking beautiful.”
Their backyard wedding was in October of 2016. A close friend who is an ordained minister performed the ceremony. Moore said asking family and friends for help with the reception was key to cost-cutting — something the other brides we spoke to noted, as well.
“My best friend and honorary maid of honor was there every step of the way — she did my hair and makeup, and did my daughter’s, too. Some people brought food. One friend brought Mexican wedding cookies,” Moore said. “I bought things like cheese and crackers and asked a girlfriend to platter it for me. I have good friends who didn’t have a problem making and bringing some things. When you say, ‘I’m buying all the beer!’ most people are more than willing to bring a dish or two.” The couple chose cupcakes and a smaller wedding cake for dessert, rather than spending hundreds of dollars on a large, four- or five-tier cake.
Moore saved more money by arranging all of her flowers herself.
“I ordered 125 long-stem white roses from Sam’s, and it was roughly around $100,” Moore said. “That was more than enough flowers. A buddy had collected a bunch of jars — Mason, pickles, spaghetti — and he let me pick the ones I wanted. I found some rolls of lace on clearance, and cut that up and glued it to the jars.” Other crafty touches included the tulle and organza garland and the wine bottles she spray painted metallic silver and used for candle holders.
“It’s a lot of diligence — you really have to go out and look for the cheap stuff,” Moore said. “But if you’re planning a wedding, you’re out shopping anyway. If you look around, there’s always going to be something on sale somewhere.” Moore’s habit of scouring the thrift stores for supplies paid off when she found two huge boxes of votive candles and holders at the Compassion Center in Springdale for a dollar a box. “You just have to let go of the feeling that you have to spend money — there are ways to get around that if you have a little bit of time and creativity.”
Moore said, by having the wedding at home, she and her husband not only saved money, but they retained the control to have exactly the kind of wedding they had hoped to have, without compromising on any of their ideas.
“When I turned around and looked at what I had done, it looked like a million bucks,” she said. “I think everyone felt at home and welcome. It wasn’t so fancy that you were uncomfortable, but it was still beautiful.”
A walk in the park
Lauren Ethridge said the rustic Lake Wedington lodge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was a perfect fit for her “out-of-the-box” wedding.
When Lauren Ethridge started planning her October 2016 wedding to husband, Anthony, the first thing she started researching was the cost of photographers. It was her first indication of the expensive of the wedding industry.
“I was totally blown away by those costs,” Ethridge admitted. “I knew it was expensive, but I had no idea how expensive.”
Then she willingly took on the challenge of planning a unique, low-cost wedding.
“I already knew I wasn’t going to have a typical wedding,” she said. “I don’t do anything ‘typically.’ I’m an out-of-the-box type of person. I wasn’t going to rent a church or go to the big, glass chapel.”
Instead, Ethridge and her husband-to-be started searching for more unusual wedding venues.
“Someone at my husband’s work mentioned Lake Wedington and how cheap it was,” she said. The recreation center managed by the U.S. Forest Service on the outskirts of Fayetteville includes a lodge that can hold up to 200 people.
“I said, ‘Fine, let’s go look at it.’ It’s not the cutest on the outside, but it’s really cute on the inside. It was really about finding the pretty in the not-pretty. I’m not very good at going into an empty space and seeing the potential, but Anthony really is. He would say, ‘Oh, we could do this or this,’ and then I would see it.”
The lodge at Lake Fayetteville rents for $150 a day, and includes the use of some benches and chairs. (Larger weddings might require additional chair rental, depending on number of guests attending.)
Once Ethridge decided on the venue, she moved on to determine what kind of food she could serve that would be as unique, charming and rustic — as well as economical — as the surroundings. When a friend mentioned a peanut butter and jelly buffet served at another recent wedding, Ethridge was hooked on the idea.
“A light bulb went off, and I took that idea and ran with it,” she said. “It was so fun. We had Nutella, peanut butter, cookie butter, almond butter — and all kinds of homemade jam. That’s something we do together, and people know that, so that was kind of a nice touch, too. And then we had strawberries, bananas and marshmallow fluff.” All of the ingredients were placed on a long buffet table, and guests were free to create their own peanut butter and jelly masterpieces.
The peanut butter and jelly buffet Lauren Ethridge and her husband Anthony served at their wedding reception was a huge hit — and the perfect companion to the rustic beauty of the lodge at Lake Wedington Recreational Area in Fayetteville, managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
When Etheridge realized how expensive bridal flowers could be, she did a little research and realized dried flowers were just as beautiful and much more affordable.
“I ordered some dried flowers and lavender from Etsy, and then I ended up getting fresh baby’s breath from Sam’s,” she said. “I also dried a few of the flowers I bought at the Fayetteville Farmers Market to put into my and my girls’ bouquets, just to have some bigger pops of colors. We used small milk-glass vases for the center pieces.”
Like Moore, Ethridge used thrift shops for low-cost bridal alternatives.
“You see pictures of brides and their girls getting ready, and they’re wearing these robes that match,” she said. “Those robes are $50 a piece! I went to Plato’s Closet and Goodwill and found the cutest button-down shirts and made a stencil out of freezer paper and put ‘Team’ on the backs of the shirts. I think I spent $20, total.”
Her wedding dress was custom made — created for her by Gayla Napier of Clothes by Gigi — and Anthony’s suit was purchased off the rack and tailored to his exact size.
Like the other brides, Ethridge said having friends help was key to her wedding’s success. Her friends brought stew and salad to make the meal a bit more hearty, helped transform the room between the ceremony and the reception and made their wedding cake.
“If I had to give you one overall answer of how I made it happen, it was mostly my group of friends,” she said. “My church girls helped with food the day of. I didn’t have to hire anyone. It was all of my friends coming together.”
Ethridge planned her entire wedding in a little more than two months.
“I would truly recommend just getting it done,” she said. “Because the longer you have to stress out, the longer you have to spend money on it.”
Ethridge said she has zero regrets about her wedding choices.
“I loved our wedding,” she said. “People still come up to me and say, ‘Your wedding was the most fun wedding I’ve ever gone to.’ Isn’t that what you want people to say?”