The term “wedding hack” first made its way into my vernacular a few months after I started blogging, when a reader sent me her wedding dress hack. She’d fallen in love with a wedding dress she couldn’t possibly afford. Instead of buying it, she ordered a $71 dress with the same shape and took it to her local tailor to, well, hack into. Her final dress cost $471 and ended up way cuter than the original, expensive dress. Bam. Welcome to the wedding hack.
The tricky thing about the wedding industry is that a ton of marketing muscle has been devoted to making sure that you think that the super expensive options are the only options that work. (In the past year or so I’ve had some up close and personal interactions with wedding media that made me realize that this is a far more deliberate plan than you’d like to think.)
My first rule of wedding spending is that you should never spend money in ways that make you feel financially uncomfortable. Ever. You know you need a wedding hack when you’re thinking about something (catering, your wedding dress, the D.J.) and you start hyperventilating. You don’t think, “Man, that dress is expensive, but it’s super cute, so who cares,” but instead start panicking and think, “It’s all a trap! They’ve got me, and now I have to spend this money.”
So let’s discuss some of my favorite wedding hacks.
Etsy: Not to be super obvious here, but Etsy is pretty much the first place to go when you feel like the wedding industry wants all your cash. We got our wedding rings here, but there are also the world’s best invitations, wedding dresses, decorations, and just about anything else you need. The prices tend to be great, but more to the point, there is nothing like supporting independent artists to calm wedding panic.
The Wedding Dress: Ok. So. They actually kind of are out to get you with wedding dresses. During my planning, when my mom figured out that even department stores hiked up the prices of white formals $100-$300 dollars from the non-white formal price, I lost it. Some of my very favorite wedding dress hacks are handmade dresses, vintage wedding dresses, prom dresses in white, and possibly the very best — the white bridesmaid dress. (And of course, the non-white dress option is always good! Or pants! Who’s up for wearing wedding pants? Hot.)
Catering: It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that there was a happy middle ground between self-catering your meal (full instructions here) and traditional catering, which you can still hack a bit by doing a non-traditional menu. But a good middle ground hack is ordering a huge meal from a local restaurant, picking it up or having it delivered, and then re-plating and serving it at your venue. Good food, minimal work, and huge cost savings. And that’s not even getting into the food truck option. In the Bay Area you can cater with a taco truck for around $1,000 for 100 people. That’s unmatchable for catering where the kitchen is not on wheels.
The Venue: If you can wrap your head around the fact that you don’t need a dance floor and a bunch of round tables, you can get a awesome venue hack going. I did not pull this off for our wedding, and there are days I still kick myself. Last week, for example, I realized the adorable coffee house with the amazing back garden in my neighborhood hosts weddings. Of course they do! So do bars, local restaurants and public parks, not to mention your parents’ backyard and your local YMCA rec room. Once you realize that you can host a wedding literally anywhere you can throw a party, you’ll be in much better shape. (And seriously, one of the most stylish women I know threw her wedding in a public social hall, and it it was damn pretty).
The DJ: I mean, we all know about the iTunes playlist option, but there are so many scary stories out there about how an iTunes playlist will ruin your wedding. Short answer: these stories are totally false. To do this hack properly, I suggest getting a good amplification system, cross fading your songs, and not letting anyone screw around with the playlist during the party. We did this for our wedding, and the proof is in the pudding. There was a throw-down dance party (and a ton of money saved).
Do you always need to hack your wedding? No way. Sometimes simple solutions are the best ones and you’re willing to throw some money at a problem to make it go away. But the second you find yourself feeling trapped by a wedding decision is the second you should tell yourself, “Self, we can totally hack this.” And then trust that your hacked solution will probably be way cooler than the option you felt you couldn’t afford. I’ve logged more hacks in APW’s how-to section and in my book, but honestly, sometimes the best solution is the one you dream up yourself. Trust your instincts.