Why My £1,200 Wedding Pissed Off My Friends & Family

Illustrated by ASSA ARIYOSHI.
My husband, Ken, proposed to me on an empty tract of land.
It’s more romantic than it sounds. Ken is a professor at UC Santa Barbara, and the lot was where the university would be building new housing for professors. When we got engaged, we thought this was where we’d make our future home and raise our family. Santa Barbara is an expensive town, and in 2008, the housing market was bursting at the seams. For a professor and a grad student (me), university housing was our best bet.
But when the real estate bubble burst in 2009, we had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — a chance to buy a house, however modest, in downtown Santa Barbara, rather than live in university housing. Our options were still pretty limited: We’d have to find a tiny fixer-upper, and even then, we’d have to do most of the work ourselves. But Ken had been a woodworker and contractor before going to grad school, and he was game. We also knew the house would be a great investment, quickly gaining in value as the economy rebounded. (After all, the Santa Barbara housing market never stays that low.)
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Even so, there was no way we’d be able to afford that little house in addition to a full-scale wedding — even one that was fairly modest. My parents offered to contribute up to £1,500 — so an under-£1,500 wedding it would be, we decided, allowing all of our savings to go toward the house. That meant that corners would have to be cut for the event. A lot of corners.
We didn’t want the wedding to feel frugal, though, or like an elopement. And I wanted to get married in Laguna Beach, the famously ritzy resort town where I’d grown up. The only answer was to keep it small. Really small.
Illustrated by ASSA ARIYOSHI.
These days, the “micro-wedding” is a recognisable trend. In 2009, people thought we were nuts. I spent a lot of time telling offended friends and extended family that it wasn’t personal: There would only be 12 people there in total, including the ones getting married.
Even with a guest list I could have written on my hand, keeping expenses down required some creative manoeuvring.
Anything with the label “wedding” attached to it packed an unnecessary premium. When we asked a florist how much a wedding bouquet would cost, she quoted us £105. We called back and asked the same question, without mentioning the word “wedding.” The new cost? £55.
Learning to work on the (relative) cheap is addictive. When my mother called a local hotel to discuss hosting a wedding reception for 12, they insisted that we’d have to book through their wedding service, which meant an expensive venue as well as the cost of food. There were minimum charges, which were in the four figures. But a lunch for 12 on one of the hotel's private beachfront patios — including Champagne — ended up being £550 total.
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Anything with the label “wedding” attached to it packed an unnecessary premium.

Avoiding wedding boutiques, I found a designer ivory cocktail dress with bead trimming on clearance at a department store. It looked exactly like a wedding dress (which was probably why no one was buying it), and it was perfect for a casual beachside wedding. Cost? £75. My shoes were a simple pair of high-heeled silver sandals, for £50. Ken, always low-maintenance, just used his existing suit. And we decided to do without most of the extras, like gifts for the wedding party, RSVP cards, and floral centrepieces. (For the record, no one seemed to notice.)
We wanted a traditional Jewish ceremony — not cheap either, as it happens. The first rabbi we met with announced his fee for the ceremony would be £1,250. When I asked another candidate about less-expensive options, he explained that the premium fees were for personalised weddings, so we wouldn’t have a “cookie-cutter” service.
Cookie-cutter was just fine, we decided — after all, we’d end up married either way. But then a lucky option appeared: A distant cousin, a fully ordained rabbi, was willing to marry us. She refused to take any money, though we insisted on putting her up in a nice hotel and giving a gift. A good friend coming to the wedding was an amateur photographer, and we pressed him into service, too. Finally, we rented a space in a small park on a cliff, just above the beach, for £125, where we could hold the ceremony.
Illustrated by ASSA ARIYOSHI.
I hadn’t anticipated the biggest side benefit of a miniature wedding: It was nearly stress-free. I can angst out with the best of them, but there was nothing about planning or carrying out this affair to bring out my latent bridezilla potential.
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On the big morning, my mother fastened tiny ribbon flowers and pearls into my curls with hair glue ($5 total). It took forever to get everyone ready, and we were late getting out the door. (At that point, Ken texted to ask if I’d fled the country.) But I genuinely didn’t mind — there weren’t hundreds of attendees waiting for me.

I hadn’t anticipated the biggest side benefit of a miniature wedding: It was nearly stress-free. I can angst out with the best of them, but there was nothing about planning or carrying out this affair to bring out my latent bridezilla potential.

We stood under a homemade chuppah (a Jewish marriage canopy) in a rose-filled park overlooking the ocean. It was a radiant June day, with the sound of waves crashing all around us and sea lions barking on the rock just offshore. Our small circle of family and friends stood close around us so that every guest felt like part of the ceremony. Strangers out for a morning stroll watched as we exchanged vows. And I suddenly felt enormously grateful for our pint-sized wedding.
There were other advantages. Our guests could order whatever they wanted from the restaurant menu, rather than the ubiquitous wedding chicken or fish. The bouquet, standing in a vase, became the floral centrepiece. As a wedding gift to us, my photographer friend took unobtrusive shots throughout.
Later that evening, we gathered onto the hedge-enclosed patio of the little bed and breakfast where the whole wedding party was staying. We’d ordered a basic, non-wedding cake from the local deli and brought Champagne.
The wedding was elegant and homey at the same time — everything I could have wanted. And at a total cost of less than £1,200, our savings were intact. A house was in our future, although it would take us nearly a year to find the perfect place.
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The first time we walked into our future house, I almost walked back out again. Filthy and cramped, with blackout curtains on the windows and junk everywhere, it wasn’t a place I could even imagine living.
Underneath the mess, Ken insisted, was a beautiful Craftsman bungalow, complete with original hardwood floors. And because it showed so badly, we knew we'd be able to get it for a good price. We had enough in our savings — still untouched after our wedding — to cover the down payment and fix up the house.
Ken’s talented hands turned the grungy disaster into an adorable cottage. Under the worn linoleum and stained carpets were beautiful hardwood floors, ready to be sanded and finished. Wainscoting and built-in bookshelves went up along the walls, and the kitchen became crisply clean and light-filled, with a butcher-block countertop. Over time and a lot of hard work, the tangle of foxtails and weeds outside became an English-style cottage garden, where we now spend as much of our time as possible.
Micro-weddings make eminent sense in this day and age: They’re the perfect antidote to excess and overwork. More and more people are deciding that the effort and expense of a full-scale wedding aren’t for them. In the end, I had an intimate, elegant wedding day. When things went wrong — like the dirty water from my bouquet that dripped onto my dress — it didn’t matter. Even more important, my family had a home in which to begin our new life — with just enough space for the redheaded new addition who now occupies the second bedroom.
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