How we got married for less than $6,000

Some friends of ours recently got engaged, and last night the groom-to-be phoned Stan to find out — well, I’m not sure exactly, but from the half of the conversation I could hear he seemed to be asking for tips and tricks for a frugal wedding. Stan and I got married for less than $6,000 — I think that our final cost was $5,600 or thereabouts, and we were able to pay for it in cash. Here are some of the things we kept in mind when we got married on a budget:

Don’t say the ‘W’ word! The wedding industry is full of insaaaaane markups, and as soon as you let your vendor know that you want something for a wedding, you’ll be hit with all sorts of extra costs. Best bet is to tell people that you’re pricing things out for a party (which: you are).

You don’t need a $3,000 dress. I bought my dress online and the final cost — after paying for custom tailoring, international shipping, and a small alteration once it arrived — was barely over $300. The dress was lovely and it fit like a dream.

Use the services of friends and family. We were very blessed by many of our friends and family who gave their services to us as their wedding gifts. A couple from our church did our catering (final cost: about $7/head). Another friend of ours rented a van and chauffeured the wedding party around, which saved us quite a few headaches. A friend of mine who is just starting her photography business did our pictures for about half-price. My uncle did the lights and music at our reception, and the list goes on.

We did our flowers by hand, too. My Mater worked for many years in a flower shop, and so she offered to do the bouquets. I ordered two extra-large bouquets of loose flowers from a florist, and she transformed them into five bouquets, six boutonnierres, and two corsages. We got all of that for about $160. (Bridal and wedding party bouquets from the same florist started at $50 and went as high as $430 for ONE bouquet. See what I mean about insane markups?)

Skip some of the decorations. Our church has a lovely mostly-wood interior, so we decided not to do any decorations at the church itself. The interior pictures were still beautiful.

Keep an eye out for deals. Stan found a menswear shop offering a deal where if the wedding party rented at least five tuxes from them, the groom’s rental would be free and he would get a coupon for a free suit (up to $400). We had enough people to swing it, and so Stan got a free tux rental, and a month or two after the wedding we went and bought him a $500 suit for only $100 cash down. Score!

Forget the frou-frou wedding favours. Let’s be honest: all of those personalized shot glasses, picture frames, and candle holders go into a drawer and are never looked at again. For our favours I got a bunch of little paper boxes and we filled them with candy from Bulk Barn. People had something to eat before dinner and the favour cost was kept to about $1.25/head.

Determine your priorities. One of the hardest parts of planning a wedding is managing other people’s expectations — but what other people want isn’t necessarily what’s important to the two of you. If you figure out what your priorities are, you can concentrate (and spend) the most on those things, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may. Stan and I both think that the whole cutting-the-cake-together-and-feeding-it-to-each-other thing is cheesy, so we skipped the expensive wedding cake and served pie for dessert.

Having a beautiful, frugal wedding is totally doable. I wouldn’t have traded ours for the world.

We are getting out of debt, and it is doable

When Stan and I got married we realised that we were facing a combined debt load of nearly $50,000. It had multiple sources; some was student loans, some was credit cards, some was personal debt and a string of questionable decisions. But however it got there, there it was: $47,000 in owed money, give or take a few hundreds here and there.

That’s a lot of debt for anyone. That’s especially a lot of debt for a young couple just starting out. And it would be easy to look at a number like that and become paralysed. Despair is easy! Big numbers are scary! Et cetera!

But instead, we are getting out of debt. We are getting out of debt and it is doable. It takes hard work and discipline, but it is totally doable. I calculated yesterday that in the nine or so months since we got married, we’ve paid down over $23,000 of that debt. That’s not really halfway because of interest (dang you, interest!) but it’s incredible progress!

Not only that, but we’re saving $500-625 a month while paying that debt down.

Here are things that are working for us:

1. We treat debt repayment as a fixed expense. It’s awfully hard to get out of debt if you wait until the end of the month to see if there’s any money left to put toward it. We treat debt repayment the same way we treat paying the rent and giving our tithe: no matter what, that money is going to be used for its intended purpose. Every month we repay about $1150 on our loans. If we have to wait on other purchases, so be it. If we skip eating out, so be it. Debt repayment is a fixed expense.

2. We negotiated with our bank for lower interest rates. This is something that you can just do! We’ve done it for credit cards and we’ve done it for the line of credit. It never hurts to call your bank and ask for a lower rate. And if you’re paying less interest, you’re taking bigger chunks out of your principal. Hooray!

3. We repay as much as we can afford over the minimum amount. Our bank automatically debits our chequing account for the minimum amount due on the line of credit each month. Once that happens, we top it up with an extra payment, so that our monthly payment amount on the line is $900. That extra payment is applied directly to the principal, and it really helps us whittle down the amount we owe.

4. We don’t treat dividends as spending money. Any time that extra money comes in — wedding gifts, bonuses from work, tax returns, etc. — that money is put directly onto the line of credit. As above, these extra payments get applied directly to the principal. Yay!

5. Savings: we set ’em and forget ’em. For a while we were trying to remember to set aside money for savings every month, and some months we’d remember, while other months… not so much. While we were trying to treat savings as another “fixed expense”, it wasn’t really working. Then Stan hit on the (brilliant) idea of setting up an automated savings plan with our savings bank. Now every Wednesday $125 gets automatically moved from our chequing account to our savings account — that means we’re putting away $5-600 dollars depending how many Wednesdays there are in the month. It’s really encouraging to see our savings growing so steadily, and amazingly we’ve found that we don’t really miss that extra money. (We save with ING; if you’re considering opening an account, consider using our referral key — 15769833S1 — and we’ll both get a bonus!)

Now, obviously this isn’t always a walk in the park. Stan and I are fortunate in that we’re both working full time right now, and so there’s enough money coming in that we can make some pretty big strides here. This can be harder if you’re a couple with one income, or you’re in school, or what have you… but take heart. Getting out of debt is doable. And when it finally happens, it’s going to feel amazing.

Why I Love Second-Hand Books

Recently I was given a thank-you note for a service I’d performed for my choir, and inside that note was a gift card for Chapters of some certain value. When I thanked T, the purchaser, she said this:

Now you don’t have to go to the used bookstores. You can buy new books, that look nice on the shelf.

And I didn’t say anything to her then, but I was a little bit flabbergasted by this statement. Sure, new books are okay, I guess — but I love second-hand books. I don’t shop for used books because they’re all I can afford (well… sometimes they are, but it’s still not the primary reason). I shop for used books because I genuinely prefer them.

Why do I like you better, second-hand books? Let’s count:

1) You are cheap, cheap as all get-out. I love that I can go to a used bookstore and get my school reading for $20 instead of $100. I love being able to buy ten books at a time … at a buck apiece. And being able to get a book for a small cash outlay means that I’m more likely to try out new authors, whose books I may afterwards buy at full price — if they’re good enough!

2) You are used. It might seem strange, but I don’t like reading new books. I don’t like new books as objects: too shiny, too crinkly, too bright. I like my books to have some character: some dents, maybe some tears, yellowed pages. It’s a character thing, and also a mark that a book has been well-read, if not necessarily well-loved. I feel more connected to other readers, somehow, when I know I’m reading something that’s been in other hands before.

3) You are found in charming places. I’ll go to the big shiny bookstores when I have a gift card or something, but mostly I like the shopping experience at used/discount stores better. One of my favourites has tiny aisles and giant piles everywhere and styles itself the “world’s messiest bookstore,” an epithet which is probably deserved. Finding a book there is like treasure-hunting.

4) I can treat you badly and not worry about it. I bend corners and use things like mugs and table edges instead of bookmarks, and I throw my books around a lot when they’re being moved between my bag and the shelves, or rather from my bag to the floor and eventually possibly onto a bookshelf. Used books are already a little dingy, so hey, what does it matter if I accidentally break the spine?

5) Marginalia, mementos, and other things are enclosed. Sometimes used books come with surprises inside. Old receipts. Photographs. Cartoons. Grocery lists. I found a copy of Alias Grace with a very sweet dedication in it. And my $2 copy of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India has this to say on the inside back cover:

I don’t understand — I still don’t really understand why he wants to see other people. Why does he need to kiss them? Yuk. it must be that he needs to put himself in a situation where something could happen and see if he could allow it to. almost as thought he’s testing his feelings/love for me. Perhaps he wants to see if he could kiss someone else too. if he feels something when he kisses them then… to me this seems a bit naive. i’m sure if i put myself in a situation where i was with someone i’d always found attractive i’d be able to kiss them. if I put myself in that situation with brooke actually i don’t know. has about danielle? I have this feeling if i did it would be disappointing. I’m not sure — the thought of him kissing someone else makes me want to throw up. I can talk about this forever with everyone and still I feel nauseous when I think about it.

Gee, I’m sorry to hear that! Maybe he wants to kiss other people because he’s a big jerk. You know, just my two cents.

6) Did I mention the “cheap” thing?

Getting Rich Quick (a follow-up)

After much stomping around and desk-clearing, I’ve finally tracked down all of my receipts in order to see exactly how much I’ve spent on textbooks this year. There’s a lot to keep track of; since writing my initial post, I visited three more bookstores as well as the original ones another two or three times.

I’m going to give all of the stores initials so that we can  keep track:

  • BMBR — Campus store. Loathe.
  • BMV — Discounted & used books. Usually my first choice.
  • DB — Local used books. Self-proclaimed “world’s messiest bookstore” for 7th year running.
  • TBE — Right next door to DB. Neurotically neat and a bit pricier; a mix of used and new texts.
  • PDB — The least local of the three local places; lots of CDs as well as books.

Here’s the damage, starting with the most un-loved BMBR:

  1. Three Late Medieal Morality Plays, ed. G. A. Lester. $18
  2. What Maisie Knew, by Henry James. $16
  3. Statements, by Athol Fugard. $15
  4. Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih. $30
  5. Death and the King’s Horseman, by Wole Soyinka. $17
  6. The Palm-wine Drinkard and My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, by Amos Tutuola. $19
  7. Anna of the Five Towns, by Arnold Bennett. $20
  8. Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga. $24

Total: $159
Average price: $20


  1. Arrow of God, by Chinua Achebe. $7
  2. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. $8

Total: $15
Average price: $7.50


  1. Waiting for the Barbarians, by J. M. Coetzee. $5
  2. Midaq Alley, The Thief and the Dogs, and Miramar, by Nagib Mahfouz. $11

Total: $16
Average price: $8


  1. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.
  2. Ulysses, by James Joyce.
  3. Othello, by William Shakespeare.
  4. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie.

Total: $20 (books were not individually priced)
Average price: $5


  1. Under Western Eyes, by Joseph Conrad. $7
  2. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai. $9

Total: $16
Average price: $8

Now, in all of these calculations I have rounded to the nearest dollar (usually rounding up from .95 or .99) and I have left out books purchased for pleasure rather than school… of which there have been a goodly number as well. Probably I’d have to add about another $40 or $50 to these numbers. (Because when you’re spending $80 or $100 or $120 already, what’s another book or three?). Oh, plus another $70 for two french textbooks in a private sale. I forgot about those. So let’s call it $350 on books this month, all told.

But you can see the difference, can’t you? At the used bookstores, the average price per book is just over $7. At the campus store, the average price per book is a solid $20. That adds up really, really fast. It’s an incredible racket.

The most outrageous was Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North. It’s 169 pages long, has a large and kinda crummy print, and it cost $30. That’s 18 cents per page (yes… I actually bothered to figure this out). By contrast, a typical new mass-market paperback should cost something like $0.03/page (assuming a $12 cost and 400 pages, which is typical for a thickish mystery or suchlike). So ridiculous.

In conclusion, blah blah blah I hate the campus bookstores.

You other students — how has this season been for your pocketbooks thus far?

How to Get Rich Quick

I figure it must go something like this:

  1. Open a bookstore on campus.
  2. Wait until September.
  3. Get rich.

Seriously — textbooks are a huge racket. Especially if you go to the campus bookstores (doom! doom!)

Allow me a practical demonstration. Yesterday I went to two bookstores. The first: a used/bargain bookstore within walking distance of campus. Here’s what I bought:

  • A Jest of God, by Margaret Laurence (mass market paperback, $2.99)
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (mass market paperback, $0.50)
  • Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood (hardcover, $8.99)
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller (trade paperback, $6.99)
  • Four Major Plays, by Henrick Ibsen (mass market paperback, $0.50)
  • Jacob Two-Two’s First Spy Case, by Mordecai Richler (paperback, $1.00)
  • Ten Days’ Wonder, by Ellery Queen (pulp paperback, $3.00)
  • The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, by Beatrix Potter (hardcover, $3.99)
  • The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner (trade paperback, $7.99)
  • Stones, by Timothy Findley (mass market paperback, $0.50)
  • Total damage (w/o tax): $36.45
  • Average price: $3.65

Then, I had to go to the actual bookstore where my prof had ordered our books, having only been able to find a few at the cheap place. Here’s what I got there:

  • Anna of the Five Towns, by Arnold Bennett (trade paperback, $20.00)
  • In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honoré (trade paperback, $22.00)
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie (trade paperback, $22.00)
  • Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (trade paperback, $14.95)
  • Nervous Conditions, by Tsitsi Dangarembga (trade paperback, $23.95)
  • The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (trade paperback, $18.00)
  • Under Western Eyes, by Joseph Conrad (trade paperback, $11.95)
  • What Maisie Knew, by Henry James (trade paperback, $16.00)
  • Total damage (w/o tax): 148.85
  • Average price: $18.60

Is that not completely ridiculous? $150 for eight books? First there is the indignity of having to shop there (or at least being expected to do so — sometimes things are easier to find other places, but not always) and then there is the unavilability of anything but “trade” paperbacks. And if those aren’t just about the biggest book industry scam out there, I don’t know what is. It’s absurd!

Yesterday the guy checking out ahead of me at the second store asked if they had any sort of student discount. The cashier just looked at him like “Are you stupid?”.

How do you get around prices like these?