I'm at that age where I get invited to 20 weddings a year. Before I even got engaged, I heard so many friends complain about the difficulties of throwing a wedding — the stress of planning, but also the regret of spending so much money on a party that they couldn't afford to move out of their studio apartment afterward. My now-husband and I heard this kind of thing a lot, and we didn't want it to happen to us. The cost of living in Los Angeles is so high. We were paying $2,000-a-month for a one-bedroom apartment, and I knew that was nearly the same as what a mortgage would be. But, at the same time, we wanted both — to get married and buy a house. So when we got engaged, we resolved to 1) keep the engagement short, 2) keep stress to a minimum, and 3) plan our wedding on a budget.
Honestly, our first thought was, How do we eliminate some people who we don’t want to come to the wedding without actually saying, We don't want you to come to our wedding? This might have been a little mean of us, but we were trying to keep costs down! Our solution was to have a destination wedding in Hawaii, which we figured would cut down our guest list a little bit. And it did, but at the same time, the cost still really shocked me.
I mean, having a wedding anywhere is expensive. My husband is from Minnesota, and we dabbled with the idea of having it there, but even that wasn't cheap. In Minnesota, it would have been about $80 to $125 per guest; in California, where we live, it would probably have been about $100 to $200 per person, and the prices in Hawaii were pretty much the same as California. So that was tough, but we decided on Hawaii because we thought fewer people would travel to Hawaii. We found the venue first, and then we got a wedding planner because we figured we needed one since we didn’t know the island that well.
We ended up with 100 people on our guest list. And it was looking like the whole thing was going to cost about $40,000. It was a lot. I feel like there are expectations associated with a wedding, and people are used to nice receptions with four- or five-course meals. Trying to live up to these expectations was really hard. But it wasn't until we had to make a deposit for the catering that it really hit us: This is so much money — nearly the cost of a down payment. But of course we had to feed our guests, so it's not like we could skip that expense.
That's where we took a pause. We had already put down deposits for our wedding planner, photographer, and videographer. But when the caterer said we had to pay 50% of the cost up front — something like $10,000 of the total — we finally said, “Wait, maybe we should think about the house that we want to buy. What are we going to do after this wedding?”
We knew we didn't have the money to buy a house if we had a $40,000 wedding, but we figured if we transferred the money we were going to use for a big wedding into a mortgage fund, then we could celebrate our marriage and come home to a house. Life isn't like the 1950s anymore, where you get married, buy a house, and live happily ever after. Today, it’s harder to balance all that with the cost of weddings being so insanely high.
So we put the big wedding plans on hold and started searching for a house. We were living in the city of Los Angeles, but we knew that we wanted to move more into the suburbs, where we could get more space for our budget. I worked in Malibu, so we were looking at homes in the surrounding area, because in Malibu, our price range of $400,000 won’t even get you a mobile home.
I did the typical search on Zillow and Realtor.com and all those other sites that you normally hear about. And then I saw this Facebook ad for Open Listings, which must have popped up because I’d been looking on other home-buying sites. It’s funny, I usually just ignore Facebook ads and find them to be a nuisance. But this Open Listings ad said I could get money back if I bought a house. I’m not gonna lie, I thought it was kind of a scam at first. But then I dug deeper, and I asked my parents and their friends, and they reassured me that it was legit. So I started using the website. Suddenly it felt like buying a house was doable.
Open Listings has a calculator you can play with to see how much the down payment and monthly mortgage payments will be. Seeing those numbers made everything seem much more realistic for us. And that's when we officially decided that we had to cancel our wedding and have a small elopement ceremony with our immediate family in Hawaii instead. Luckily, we didn't lose money on the deposits, as we used everything we had already booked (venue, wedding planner, photographer, and videographer) for the elopement.
We decided to buy the house before we eloped because the market was so hot. We lost out on bids for two houses, but we ended up getting the third house. We wrote an awesome offer letter, and we even gave the owner a gift card because we really wanted the place — we were willing to do anything we could to get it because the real estate market is crazy. And when we closed, we basically used the money we got back from purchasing on Open Listings for our closing costs, which was so helpful. The mortgage for our two-bedroom condo is $2,800 — only $800 more than our monthly rent was.
When we finally eloped a month after we bought the condo (and two years after we got engaged — so much for the short engagement!), we ended up spending about $15,000 on the wedding, using money from our savings. (In the time leading up to wedding, my husband and I both worked multiple jobs in order to save up.) The elopement saved us a lot of money that we ended up using for our down payment and our first month’s mortgage. It was great. Of course, not having the big wedding we envisioned had downsides. The biggest thing I regret was not being able to have our bridesmaids and groomsmen by our side at the wedding, which was hard and sad for me, but we just had to cut it somewhere. We were really happy to have our immediate family with us, the people who raised us and love us. It was a tough decision to forego the big wedding, but honestly, now that I have a home, I feel so much better. It’s more stable than a single day of insanity that you pay so much for.