Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Navy Girlfriend Guide: The Affordable, Quickie, but Classy Navy Wedding

If you find this post useful, you may also enjoy my other Navy Girlfriend Guide articles!

By Stephanie Carroll

I spent $8,500 on my wedding, and it was gorgeous, everything I had felt a wedding should be, except for one thing. I didn't really have any fun. I had planned and organized the entire thing while my Sailor was deployed and we lived far from our families so I had no help. I spent the two day event running around like a decapitated chicken and all I heard were the complaints. The food isn’t good, they waited too long to cut the cake, no one’s dancing, somebody dropped the f-bomb in the toast, and I better complain too since the hotel had terrible service.

by joymayphoto via Flickr cc
What’s weird is that if you looked at my wedding from the outside, you’d be like, wow, because it really was amazing. Even weirder, if you asked anyone who was there, they’d all say it was amazing too.

I think the complaining actually came from a place of love and a desire to be helpful, but in the end, I just felt pretty down about all of it. We spent a lot of money, and believe me, I am a cheap person, so I budgeted the crap out of that wedding, but we still went over budget and didn’t have enough left for a honeymoon. The ceremony part of it was awesome but the reality is, we were already married three years prior in the courthouse.

So why have a wedding? Because when we eloped I told everyone we would and I thought it was important for some reason, childhood dreams and traditions and whatnot. 

It’s not that I regret my wedding or am not thankful for those who came and for the beautiful album I will show my children someday even though someone somehow managed to get food on it despite its hidden location. LOL!

It’s that I wonder if I would have had more fun and less stress if we just did a quick, cheap wedding and then rushed off for a honeymoon three years prior instead of eloping in the courthouse. Would my and his family's complaints really bothered me as much if I hadn't put a year's worth of planning and nearly ten grand into the event?

A huge portion of Navy Wives will tell you that they eloped, married in a courthouse and skipped the wedding. Others made their big dream weddings happen without or without the courthouse bit, and they enjoyed those weddings, never to regret it, but not everyone can do that, but, at the same time, not everyone wants to elope in a courthouse.

by badjonni via Flickr cc
I know I didn’t, but I had six months before our first deployment and really didn't think there was enough time or money. Now I realize I could have done it and done it well, but I didn’t know what I know now. The good news is, you can! So . . .

Top Tips for the Affordable, Quickie, but Classy Wedding:

1.       Pick a location that is free and already beautiful without decoration. Outdoor areas are generally the best for this. So do it in a garden, on a beach, or a mountain, by a stream, in the forest. If you really want to decorate, keep it simple. Some homemade lanterns or guests holding little candles can make an outdoor scene magical. Don't worry about seating because you don't want a long ceremony anyways. Standing makes people active and it can actually create a more intimate feeling among you and the people you invited to witness this.

Finding cheap or free locations

Psst. Veteran Wedding Secret: the location is one of the most expensive parts. 

2.       Consider alternative or even themed wedding outfits that reflect who you are because let’s face it Navy Girlfriends and Navy Wives are tough chicks, and we’re not all dress people. Besides, you want your wedding to be about you and if dresses and tuxes aren’t your style, don’t force it. Not to mention, Navy whites, always classy and hot! 

Jason Pier in DC via Flickr cc
3.       Still, I understand if the dress is a must because it was for me and I'm not a girly girl. If it's a must, do the dress but do it on a budget. Shop online or on eBay. Don’t be afraid of used. Seriously, it’s only been worn once. Don't be afraid it won't fit right either because all wedding dresses are made so that you have to have it tailored. Don’t worry about bridesmaid gear or having ushers and everyone in matching outfits either. Just ask them to wear the same colors and maybe even the same type of dress or pants or something. I did that with my pricey wedding and it looked great. 

4.       Skip the big catered meal. Everyone hates catered food anyways. Hors d’oeuvres are classy and cheap to make yourself. Look up some fancy recipes and have your girls over the night before the wedding to put it all together with either a bachelorette thing or the combined bachelor and bachelorette party. If you do really want to do the meal, figure out something you can do yourself. I knew someone who did shish kebabs and steak on their BBQ, and it was some of the best wedding food I’ve had. Or don't even have food. Just make sure you let people know so they'll eat beforehand.

by flip.and.serena via Flickr cc
Psst. Veteran Wedding Secret: The Venue plus the catering accounted for more than half of my wedding budget. Catering for 100 people (only 70 RSVPs showed) was 
by far the most expensive part at $4,000.

5.       As for the cake, this is easy. Get a pretty topper piece to
do the ceremonious cut, but serve sheet cake from a hidden spot so people don’t see it all laid out. Or do the sheet cake without shame and have it decorated silly. Get creative and do something different like a tower of cupcakes, ice cream, fondue, or even candy bars in the shape of a heart will satisfy. The original tradition
involved breaking bread atop the bride's head and she got covered in crumbs, so . . . yeah, anything is better than that.

Psst. Veteran Wedding Secret: You know you can make one of those tiered cakes yourself right? All you need is some round pans to make your cake and a tower cake set. Check out the kit! Or Mini tiered cakes! So cute! Get creative with these ideas!

6.       Weddings require a lot of little things that you just don’t have to get like flowers, centerpieces, a unity candle, a flower girl basket, tables, chairs, a ring bearer pillow, elaborate invitations, boutonnieres, bouquets, special engraved cake serving tools and champagne glasses, expensive champagne, an open bar, a fancy hotel room, a limo, a videographer.  If you really want stuff like that, go for it, but don't buy the expensive cheap looking crap that wedding stores sell. Get out there and find something unique and affordable. It will look nice too because it won't look like the stuff everyone else gets.

7.      A professional photographer is the one thing I’ll say is worth the expense because in the end, it's the only proof you've got, but just have them do a short hour during the ceremony or after with family then let the guests cover the rest with their smart phones. Tell guests beforehand, you want them to forward all photos to a special Facebook page or email address. Then, print what you like.

8.       You shouldn’t have to pay whoever is marrying you. Ask your pastor who should be free or have a friend initiate online.

Jason Pier in DC via Flickr cc
Psst. Veteran Wedding Secret: 
The most important thing of all is to not listen to anyone else unless you really want their advice, and even then, with a grain of salt, and yes that includes my advice too. Whenever people have a wedding, everyone wants to bust in and tell you what you have to do or what isn't right before, during, and after the wedding. Commit beforehand that you won't let people get to you and you won't let anything that goes wrong get to you. It's not an event for them. It's for you, so make having fun your priority.

Don't stop now! There's even more great tips after the resources below!

Weddings on a Budget

What about tradition?
As a history major I can tell you right now that tradition is bull. White wedding dresses aren't even technically the original tradition. Women used to wear the best dress they owned, that’s it, whatever color. It was Queen Victoria, who the Victorian Era was named for, who started the white wedding dress fashion trend. Oh and BTW, you’re not even wearing a white dress anymore. Modern dresses are ivory, candlelight, champagne or some other off white color. But if you want it, you get it girl! It's kind of one of the main features of most of our childhood wedding fantasies. ;-)

 Steve Woolf via Flickr cc
Father walking the bride down the isle? That’s left over from the days of when daughters were actually “given away” in a marriage to improve economic standing. Historically, love was something of fables, stories, and cheating spouses. Back in the day, people did not marry for love. They married up to improve their status in the world.

According to Mental Floss, which has many more of these little insights on the origins of wedding traditions, the best man was titled such because he was the best man at sword fighting. He was there to guard the couple in case of disapproving parents or guests. Not only did he guard them during the ceremony but also outside their room during the consummation. Note that would be before Victorian times so going back a ways. Victorians had guns.

Mental Floss also explains that garters and bouquets started to be thrown out at guests to prevent them from tearing off pieces of the bride's dress to acquire some of her good luck. The guarder might seem racy for historical people, but it’s far better than the original tradition, which involved guests standing around the wedding bed to witness the consummation of the wedding while they ripped her dress off. Did anyone watch The Tudors episode where something like that went down? Yeah, that's where that comes from. 

More on Traditions that Don’t Matter

I don’t think my family will accept this. It'll be easier to elope and tell them later.
If you’re going to hide it from them, but will wish they were there later, then I have a dare for you. You know how boys get to get everyone together for some seemingly innocent family event like a Christmas or birthday and then pop the question so everyone can witness it? It’s very rare that in that moment of glee and shock anyone would step up to object or cause a scene, right? They go with the moment because it’s such a powerful and emotional moment. So what would happen if you did that with a wedding?

Imagine your friends and family all coming together for some event. You’ve decorated because it is an event. Got your wedding necessities there without anyone knowing. As soon as everyone is there (insist people come on time), you announce that you gathered them together for a surprise. They’ll never see it coming.

 kristaguenin via Flickr cc
Suddenly, your pastor or friend steps up and marries you right then and there. Surprise! It’s a wedding! Even more dramatic, someone shuts off the music and the wedding march comes on . . . everyone is looking around like what the? Then you walk out from a back room in a dress and he appears in a tux and everyone will be speechless. Imagine if the proposal was in there too? They’d think that was it and then you shout, let’s do it now!  

It could be the most memorable wedding ever or if you have a dramatic family, it could be a dramatic occasion, but let’s face it, every wedding has one dramatic person, and if your family is already dramatic, it’s going to happen regardless.

How to do a Surprise Wedding! Yep People Really Do This.

Psst. One Last Veteran Wedding Secret:
You Get a License for a Wedding, Not a Marriage

by JPott via Flickr cc
You have to take a test to get a license for a car and you have to wait a month to get a license to marry, but you get that license so you can get the legal wedding. That doesn't mean you guys are qualified to take care of a marriage. You might not even know what it takes to have a healthy and happy one.

It's sad that so many marriages in the Navy are broken, ended, or just full of hate because this fact went unnoticed. Don't just worry about the wedding. The marriage is what will be there after everyone else goes home and you want to make sure that is perfect. So educate yourself. Read books, go to classes, go to counseling, whatever you need to do to make sure you have thoroughly planned, not just for your wedding, but for your marriage.

Veteran Wedding Tip: He won't want to learn about how to make a healthy marriage at first, but don't worry about that. Educate yourself and throw out a tidbit here and there, but don't nag. He'll come around and if not, you got the knowledge and can still put it to use. Also, check out How to Improve Your Marriage without Talking About It by Dr. Steven Stosney.

Priorities: Marriage #1, Wedding #2 

If you find this post useful, you may also enjoy our other Navy Girlfriend Guide articles!

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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  1. Hi
    great post. I love all of her dresses, very unique! My bridesmaids and I are actually going to look at wedding dresses in Burlington this weekend in hopes of finding that perfect dress

  2. Hi
    wish I could wear my dress at least once a month! :))) I think the online thing works great when you have your kind of attitude. I'm happy you got the look you wanted. I love weddings LOL.


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