How to get married for $239

It only costs $239 to get married.

I squawk you not.

To get hitched (legally) you generally only need to pay for a marriage license and the services of a marriage commissioner. In British Columbia, Canada, a marriage license plus commissioner cost just $239.

That’s it.

Everything else is just pomp and circumstance.

Did you hear me?

wedding vows

The flowers, the dress, the guests, the food, the bubble machine, and the horse drawn carriage won’t do a thing to get you hitched. Sorry to burst your wedded blissdom bubble, but it’s true. Getting married is pretty cheap. It’s all the other $hit the wedding industry sells that’ll cost ya.

Did you hear me?

The wedding industry — a massive money machine looking to part you from your cash by tying emotional strings around every purchase — will pitch wedding products you don’t actually need to tie the knot. Family and friends may also stick their noses into your wedding plans, and do their bit to inflate the cost, intentionally or not.

I should know. I just got married (to Carl). And I (well, we) managed to get hitched without a whole lotta hoopla, cost, and emotional downtime.

How did we do it?

We started with the premise that it only costs $239 to get married — everything else is extra. Yes, we threw in a bit of pomp and circumstance for fun. Here’s where we spent the biggest bucks, cut the biggest costs, and got hitched for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars.

1. The Wedding Attire.

Some women go wonky over the wedding dress. I don’t get it. But the number of reality TV programs documenting brides who scour the Earth in search of the ‘perfect wedding dress’ shows there is a market for white dress insanity. It’s JUST a white dress, people. Get over it.

wedding dresses

My take? Skip the insanity, bridal stores, and fancy shops — there’s no such thing as perfect. Get real with your budget and check out the HUGE underground market of used wedding gowns online — perfect for those with the sense to save some big bucks.

Since many brides are desperate to sell their ‘worn only once’ wedding gowns to recoup some of the cost, it’s possible to score a designer gown for cheap. Sites like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com, RecycledBride.com, and eBay.com boast bargain dresses in all sizes for all bust lines.

I bought my used Nicole Miller wedding dress for $100 on eBay (price included shipping and dry cleaning). Retail price for this 100% silk, fully lined, ivory dress is around $750 new. Silly.

What about tuxes, cummerbunds, and bow ties? Nope. Carl wore the one suit that’s been hanging in his closet for the last ten years. I’m not adding his suit cost to our wedding tab since it’s reused, and I’ve long lost the receipt.

Carl did buy a teal silk tie though for $50.40. He needed the tie, badly.

And that funky handmade silk flower on my head? That’s a fascinator. For $31.32 I stuck a fun hat on my noggin, covered a thinning hair spot (hair loss happens), and saved a bundle of bucks by opting out of the expensive veil action. Later in the day I wore a little teal bolero jacket that cost $10 on sale.

wedding shoes

We wore the shoes sitting in our closets. Both the bride and groom wore Fluevogs, of course. 😉

Bottom Line: By reusing our clothing and buying a second hand dress, we managed to spend just $191.72 on our wedding attire.

2. Cut the guest list. Be ruthless.

Nothing inflates your wedding costs more than guests. The venue, food, and decorations all need to grow bigger to accommodate a larger audience. Inviting more people also spawns the strange phenomenon of growing the size (and cost) of ‘The Wedding Dress’ — apparently, a big audience and venue require a bigger, showier gown.

Few couples can downsize a wedding guest list without worry and heartache. I hear ya. But we (Carl and I) did it without batting an eyelash. We had two simple rules for building our wedding guest list. You probably won’t like them.

Wedding Guest List Rules:

  1. Guests must be local.
  2. Guests must have invited us for dinner over the last year.

Do you hate me? Are we arguing?

The rationale for these rules is simple. Carl and I wanted a simple, afternoon wedding on the family farm. Inviting out-of-town guests meant we couldn’t fit everyone together at the kitchen table.

Also, inviting out-of-town guests requires accommodations, travel, and time. Your out-of-towners will likely have to take time off work and spend some cash to get to your nuptials. An inflated out-of-town guest list also spawns the strange phenomenon of growing the size (and cost) of your wedding — apparently, you may feel obligated to give your distant guests a bigger, showier wedding.

The second rule is fun, ’cause really, why would you invite someone to your wedding dinner if you haven’t dined with them over the course of a year?

Download my Free Wedding Budget Planner Spreadsheet — it’s an all-in-one guest list worksheet and budgeting tool.

Bottom Line: We invited four friends and four family members to our wedding. Everyone was local and had invited us over for a nosh in the previous 12 months.

3. Say ‘I Do’ with Digital Invitations.

We didn’t hire a printer, pay for acid-free paper, or write an elaborate scripty message using romantic tear-based ink. Formal invitations and postage can be pretty darn expensive, and it’s not really my style. I mean, who wants to spend the time, effort, and cost to write, proof, and edit freaking wedding invitations? I don’t.

So I invited the guests to our wedding on Facebook.

wedding invitations

Bottom Line: A digital invitation is free on Facebook. Responses can be immediate. Just be sure invitees don’t forward the invite to everyone on the planet.

4. Get hitched at home.

Venues can cost big cash. Time of year, location, and room size absolutely play a role in price too. Plus, you may need to rent tables, chairs, linens, china, and other stuff.

I wanted to get married in front of the family barn.

Our barn is a great back-drop for photos, a warm place for a gathering, and a happy spot where I normally hang out with family and friends. Besides, getting hitched at home is free.

Bottom Line: By hosting the nuptials in our backyard we spent zero bucks on the venue. We also used our everyday tables, chairs, table cloths, and china to save money.

5. Skip the florist.

I bought all my flowers at Costco. A mixed bouquet of seasonal flowers costs between $9.99 and $15.99 at my favorite club store, so I picked up four bunches to arrange my own fall wedding centerpieces.

wedding flowers

But that’s not all. I snipped a sunflower from one arrangement and fashioned myself a homemade bridal bouquet.

bridal bouquets

Finish the stem with a little ribbon and a clear hair elastic and you’ve got a flower bouquet that costs pennies.

Just be sure to make the bouquet the night before your wedding. Refrigerate the bouquet in water over night. The milk is optional.

wedding ideas

Bottom Line: We shopped and Costco and spent just $51.96 on four mixed bouquets of fresh seasonal flowers. This cost includes my bridal bouquet.

But wait, there’s more! Check out Part Two: How to get married for $239 for the final wedding tab.

Your two cents:

  1. Annette June 30th, 2012

    How/why all of this wedding insanity started, I have no clue. My(now husband) and I knew we didn’t want any part of that either, so we stayed within our pretty frugal means also. Fortunately for us, we have some pretty incredible friends who gave us their time/talent/business venue for gifts, so we didn’t have to spend much to have an INCREDIBLY memorable wedding with approximately 100 guests! People are still talking about it almost 9 years later!

    My mom bought the material and made my dress. (Hubby rented a tux.) Hubby’s best-friend/chef owned a great nightclub on wheels which is/was a 4 car train that cruised up and down the country tracks over a 4 hour period for our reception. (He wouldn’t let us pay a penny for using it.) We stopped at a great track-side pavilion about half way up for a fabulous buffet dinner, which my husbands friend catered, for free. I made and decorated my own wedding cakes. (Approx. $25) Decorations on tables were potted flowers, which guests took with them. (Paid for by my parents.) Bridal bouquet and other flowers were less than $100, done by our local grocery store. And a band that we know and are very fond of did our music for the evening for only $150.) Video was taken by professionals who are friends of my husband. Photography was taken by several gifted friends who volunteered and gave us either the negatives and/or digital copies of the pictures.

    I’m pretty sure that when all was said and done, we paid out less than $400 for the event. And a great time was had by all!

  2. Suzanne August 2nd, 2012

    Nice to see people being realistic on weddings. We believe the wedding is only the first day of a lifetime together rather than the only day that matters. We eloped in Jamaica. I wore a $60 white dress (clearance rack). He wore the suit he was wearing the day we met. The rest was included in our resort stay. So, our honeymoon and wedding was wrapped into one. My parents threw us a dinner party for extended family when we returned but that was a surprise and held on Sunday (cheaper time) at a local golf club.

  3. Heather August 2nd, 2012

    I never really got the whole spending extravaganza that weddings seem to become. I understand wanting a special day to be special, wanting to celebrate with all your family and friends etc… I just don’t get why that means you have to blow an amount of money equivalent to a down payment on a house (or MORE!) on it. It’s insane.

    That said, I have no desire to tell other people what to do on their wedding day, but if they are going to go into debt? I just don’t get it at all. My first wedding was a $400 potluck on a mountaintop. My dress was about $45 and very cute. There was no alcohol and no dj or dancing. It was very simple. That marriage turned out to be a mistake but the wedding was nice. My current husband and I spent $3,000 on our wedding, again potluck, a family memer DJ-ed, we bought lots of wine and beer, held the wedding in a church, the actual separate reception in a wonderful event space, our decorations and center pieces were simple, (white Christmas lights and candles) the guest-contributed food was Wonderful, our cake was lovely, 3 tiers and delicious from a local bakery for 100 guests for about $135. The day was magical and we didn’t go into debt we saved the money before and paid for everything with cash.

  4. Kenny August 10th, 2012

    That’s my style, I would use this article as a reference for my wedding in the future(I don’t know when,lol). Do what really matters!

  5. Janique August 17th, 2012

    I must join in on this!

    First of all, you can find the perfect dress on ebay. My dress was 150.00$ plus shipping and it looked and felt like a designer dress. My ring cost 40$ on etsy. Simple, cute and perfect. My husband bought black pants and a black shirt for 50$ and a tie for 40$. Didn’t need the suit and he looked as handsome and formal as ever. Go to ‘Micheals’ craft store and buy your own silk flowers and your bouquet/bridesmaid bouquets/boutonnieres can be highly affordable.

    Check out a small town venue. Ours was a hall with space for people to camp over night, with a full kitchen. It cost 300$ for the entire weekend. Compared to in the City for 1000$ for two days.

    There are so many ways to save money! My husband and I paid 3000.00 total. With family support, we only paid 400$. Check out this book if you want to find out more about what the wedding industry does NOT want you to find out: “Bridal Bargains” by Denise & Alan Fields.

    The sections on the Bride’s apparel just might shock you!

  6. Catherine August 19th, 2012

    We did a very similar wedding for my son and his 8 month pregnant wife. I always wanted a backyard wedding at our house but thought it wouldn’t happen because the size of weddings. I catered the luncheon after the Palais de Justicw morning wedding a beautiful hot May Saturday. 27 people attended…friends and neighbours…all family were out of town and were not invited . You are right out of towners would make it a big deal. Lucky for me I have china for 30 but did buy paper napkins. We borrowed tables and chairs from neighbours and covered in similar cloths. flower arrangements I make from local costco flowers and decorations were netting boughs and ribbon…super cheap, gorgeous , classy and sustainable as Iwill reuse the decorations. I bought 5 bottles of champaign (120$) pop, punch and our homemade wines. II made 6 quiches and two big salades, couscous and green. My joy was the wedding cake I made 5 layered carrot with fondant icing with cascading roses . My first time Using fondant and wondered why I thought it was so hard. I also made a chocolate grooms cake which was a farmyard (my son wants to own a farm) . A friend brought his guitar and played and another friend was the official photographer. It was so relaxed and everyone said it was the best wedding they have ever been to…..by the way the bride bought a beautiful stretchy long ivory lace summer dress that she can wear post pregnancy for summer date nights. The best is we now have a beautiful 8 week old grandson too! Such a great wedding and I spent approximately $300.

  7. Connie August 23rd, 2012

    Wow! There’s nothing like wedding talk to get people all wound up. It is totally amazing the amount of money couples are willing to blow on the ‘big day’ when they usually haven’t even begun to make a dent in their house debt. Sadly, statistics show that 50% of all marriages end up in divorce due to financial pressure.

    The white dress, of course, is an absolute must as it signifies the purity and virginity of the bride. As the groom’s family has paid the bride’s parents a large sum by way of a dowry for the loss of a pair of hands to help out at home, they want to be assured they are getting untainted goods. Nothing wonky here. White dress absolutely necessary!! (Heavy sarcasm)

    The big reception is paid for by the bride’s parents. It is the indicator of what social status they command in the community. Again, another indicator of the desirability and value of the bride. Also, In earlier times, a wedding provided an important social gathering of people who otherwise would be working their behinds off from daylight to dark. Excluding anyone from this gathering would be a huge social faux pas in an era when all were dependant on each other for survival. As well, before the time of modern communication, the best way to notify everyone that you were now a married couple and therefore off-limits to others, was to make sure they were there to witness the event.

    Finally, It seems to me that more and more the wedding day has become about the bride and groom. We are being trained from an early age to focus on what is best for ourselves, not for the people around us. Therefore, now, we focus on our appearance and making the day memorable for ourselves instead of focusing on our guests which is what all good hosts do. Of course, our selfishness results in our money being spent on ourselves leaving us with no funds to focus on the people around us.

  8. Christine October 25th, 2012

    Kerry,
    When I consult with brides I always ask them to tell me what they value most at their wedding and ask what their dream invitations would look like if money wasn’t an object. Then I tell them how much that would cost; some are surprised it’s “so little” or some run away screaming.
    I think the beauty of the wedding industry today is that there are people out there that will cater to either bride, the elaborate “fairytale” bride or the frugalista who just wants to get married!
    I think that how you were able to save money is extremely inspiring and is a really, REALLY great reminder to anyone getting married that the most important part of the day is that you’re committing to someone for the rest of your life–not just having a big ole’ party.

  9. Erin November 18th, 2012

    This is what we did and it was wonderful! It cost us $250.00 to get married. License, Justic of the Peace and suit/dress from Value Village! We knew it was not about the day, but the commitment we were making to each other. We didn’t have the money for anything more grand and I only look back on that day with fond and beautiful memories. :))

  10. Carmen April 21st, 2013

    Wow – I’m so glad to read such a thoughtful article on saving costs for a weddling. My husband and I threw a wedding together with 10 days to plan it and execute it. (23 years ago) We had an evening service. I wore a street length dress. We hosted the 20 or so people at a local steak house afterwards. It cost more than what your wedding did (which is what I would do today), but we were just as married. It isn’t the most important day of your life. It is the start of the most important journey.

  11. Chelsey June 11th, 2013

    I wish we can cut costs from our wedding. We are getting married in August and we’ve reached the $10K mark. I’m trying to convince the fiancee and his family to cut down on stuff (do we really need a giant party limo? which is cool mind you), but they seem to want it. My thoughts, if they want it that bad go ahead, as long as it’s not coming out of my pocket (we don’t combine income and have seperate accounts).

  12. Chanell July 31st, 2013

    Congrats! I have a better idea. I got married for 150 dollars! My marriage license was 34 dollars and the Justice of the Peace was 100 dollars. I wore a dress out of my closet, but my husband had to buy a shirt and tie. We got marriage under the gaesbo in the park by the ducks.

  13. Nat August 1st, 2013

    I think it is great to keep costs down for your wedding. We often forget it is only one day! Preparing for a life time together seems like a much better thing to spend thousands of dollars on. Having said that, everyone is different and have unique situations. If you want to spend $50 and get married at town hall, I say “good for you!”. If you want to spend $100,000 I say “good for you”.
    Try not to judge others by the choices they make, they are theirs to make and for them it may be exactly what they want.
    Share the love people! 🙂

  14. Cidalia October 22nd, 2013

    Prices vary by province, etc.

    Quote: “Well, if all you paid for was a marriage license and a minister, you got ripped off.

    My marriage license was $80. My priest was free because I go to church.”

    In Ontario, at last check, a marriage licence is now $100. I was also a regular church goer when I first got married, and a member of the church I married in. They still charged us $200.

    At the moment, for my second marriage, I’m trying to keep things way down in cost (not that I went crazy on the first one, thank goodness), but I can’t even find an officiant to marry us for less than $250. But I’ll keep looking…

  15. Earle Heckenberg December 22nd, 2013

    I’m so glad I found your article! I’m going to apply your teachings to my search for a dress.

  16. Deb December 30th, 2013

    I realize the comment of the $80K wedding and annulment were comments way up the way, but that is how much we BOUGHT our house for (plus a few extra K’s). I LOVE how down to earth and blunt you are. Your wedding pictures were beautiful, the bride and groom were beautiful, and the locale was awesome. My husband (who isn’t actually my husband, but my boyfriend/baby daddy/partner in crime; whatever you want to call him) has always said, WHY spend so much money on ONE DAY?? My sister is getting married next September and I am her Maid/Matron of Honor and am trying to keep her flighty notions of excessively spending money on frivolous things that people couldn’t give a rat’s crap about. I have always said I would go to David’s Bridal (do they have those in Canada (US here :)) and shop at their $99 sale and make/grow/do as much DIY as it will cost to keep the total as close to $1-2K as possible (which is affordable for us) where as my sister’s dress is already my whole wedding budget!!! Making something look classy with super expensive things to impress a whole lot of people you aren’t close to is ridiculous in my book. You totally have a new follower in me! 🙂

  17. Libby December 31st, 2013

    My first wedding which was 32 years ago and it cost me under $250, $60 for my dress (which my friend sewed for me from a Gunne Sax pattern) and a beautiful cake that cost $150. We had a formal wedding in our place of worship (no charge), then a reception at a local Eagles hall for which we got back the deposit since my friends cleaned it up when it was over. We had REAL food at the reception because all of my friends wanted to help. We planned a menu and asked them to bring the food which they were glad to do. That marriage lasted only seven years.

    Fast forward 25 years to my second wedding which cost us a whopping $50 for the marriage license and nothing for the judge. We wore our own street clothes and went out to eat afterwards with our “witnesses” (friends). No formal wedding, no guests, no FUSS! My mother was happy even though she didn’t get to attend. The rest of my family was offended but I had told them for years that if I ever married again that I was eloping….so I did.

    Advice to all future brides: skip the expense, use it for something REAL later on in your life.

  18. Rebecca January 4th, 2014

    Had a $460 wedding 13 years ago. Stood on the porch where my parents were married and found the perfect dress at Cato for $30!! We had barbecue cooked overnight by my dad and his friends, his mom made our cake, and we all ate every bit of it because it was good and not covered in nasty crap, I mean fondant, and it was a byob (such a bad idea, the byob, in the end, you’ll see) and I’m a florist so I made my bouquet, halo, and his boutonnière, put a few flowers on my cake and that was it. We did the local only invite among friends, family did come from out of town but they were coming to visit anyway, and stayed at my parents house. Here’s what went all wrong….. Hubby’s family, some I’d never met in the 4 years we dated, nor have seen after the wedding, decided they wanted to come. They heard from the family that was invited it was a casual event and byob. They ate all the BBQ we had DURING our ceremony and my groom and I were left eating hotdogs my dad ran to the corner store and bought since the food was now gone. Before our night could end we had to wake and/or drag passed out drunks to their cars, drive them home, we took turns who drove the drunks and who followed to drive the driver back, and we did this until the sun came up. My point here….. Cutting costs on a wedding is one of the best decisions a new couple can make for their future. One thing that we might have spent money on though should have been a light form of security of some sorts. Maybe keep the uninvited away, and stop the binge drinkers before the pass out in the yard and destroy the wedding night plans for the bride and groom who want them all to be gone, but also to be safely driven back to the woodwork they crawled out of.

  19. Amelia Kartgen February 6th, 2014

    These are good ideas, but if I want a nicer dress to cherish and pass on to my kids, I will spend that extra $500 for the dress and have it altered later for my daughter/daughter-in-law.

    Same goes for the flowers. If I want a 2 dozen rose bouquet. I’m BUYING IT. Weddings are special and some nicer things are needed for special occasions.

    I know these are meant for people who just want to be minimal, but this is just plain ridiculous. At least go to your local church and ask to use the un-used sanctuary on a Saturday! Or go to Wal-Mart and buy white cake mix and buttercream icing for your wedding cake (or just have the Wally World bakery make a sheet cake).

    I like the idea of staying “local,” but SOME people, whether they were invited for dinner or not, NEED to come or you may have a lifetime war on your hands as to why you didn’t invite them to the wedding – case in point: your parents live in England, but you live in Germany, and you’re extremely close to each other. That wouldn’t be too good…

    I also like the idea of the digital invites. Heck, I’ve used FaceBook invitations before and those are really nice to have! Not only are they always readily available to you in case you lose the hard copy, but you can also edit the invitation if necessary.

  20. Heather March 27th, 2014

    I got married in Colorado Springs, Colorado ten years ago for only $70. That was the price of the marriage license and judge who married us. I wore a dress I already owned and my mom gave me so flowers as a gift. My husband also wore what he already had. My mother wasn’t local, but she vowed to disown me if I didn’t let her come. We also had two local friends join us. It was so small, it was perfect for us. No fuss, no hassle.

    We’ve been happily married for ten years now, and we can’t wait for the next ten. I know some couples who spent thousands of dollars on their wedding only to divorce a few years later. People need to spend more time planning for the marriage and less time planning the wedding that only lasts one day.

  21. Sue Snow April 6th, 2014

    Forty-eight years ago, my husband and I married while still in college. My mother made my dress out of some gorgeous drapery fabric in the “Jackie Kennedy” style. She also made the 3 bridesmaids’ simple sheath dresses. My husband bought a new suit since he would need one for interviews. My brother purchased two boxes of long stemmed mums for the altar. My father, who cut Christmas trees every fall and winter, found two beautifully matched fir trees for the front of the church. Back then, a wedding was simply the sacrament with punch and cake afterwards. The entire wedding cost my parents a total of $175.00. It was perfect- just what we wanted- and we are still together after many years.

  22. Stacey October 25th, 2014

    Yes I’ll agree we pay way too much for weddings but most girls have dreamed about this day their whole lives. I’m currently planning remarry my first husband passed over four years ago. You have good ideas on how to cut expenses but your rule about the guest list does not work for me. If I did that it would eliminate my parents and one set of grandparents on my fiance’s side both live in other states. Plus I went with rule two we may as well get married at the courthouse because their wouldn’t be a guest list. Except for two family reunions each year I never see my relatives and my friends have their own lives. We’re also a very unconventional couple and getting married at home seems rather boring to me. Okay so you cut expenses good for you but in the end did you have a day to remember. My first wedding didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to so I’m trying to not only have a very cheap wedding but something for people to talk about. We want to may an impression. One of these days we plan to have a renewal at Disney World. It maybe expensive but we’ll cherish it.

  23. Olivia B November 11th, 2014

    In BC, we had milk in a bag back in the late 80’s early 90’s, haven’t seen it since. I appreciate your cutting of the list, last week my fiancee and I went from 180 to 40 (I have 7 siblings so…) but the in-laws and my mom are squawking about you have to invite so and so. I say, Its my wedding I can invite whomever I please, kindly butt-out.” I admit I splurged on my dress, I tried on one waaay over budget $3300 and of course I fell in love with it, I bought it used from the UK for 1400. Other than that, we are getting married at my mom’s vacation house in the Okanagan and we are doing the food ourselves (by ourselves I mean my 7 siblings and my aunts have been volunteered muhahaha). We aren’t having a cake and we are using the china my grandmother bought for her monster 80th birthday bash. I am all about the savings! It is just one day, yes a very very special day, but just one day, I’m not spending more than $5500 total!

  24. Lisa February 18th, 2015

    Thanks for the great article 🙂
    It is a great guideline which others can then tweak or change to suit their own sensibilities (as some readers said, they would spend less but invite out of town guests that mean a lot to them; or one might not and put a little more effort toward food and entertaining)
    Either way, even though being thrifty can mean slightly different things to different people, the premise is there. I think it is great to trade ideas and create that awareness…so thanks!
    ps. for my husband and I, thrift meant inviting only our immediate family (moms, sisters and their spouses, and my step children)-we spent about $3000 on the day..most of it went to some décor on our table and the food!
    pss-although I loved my dress and it wasn’t second hand-I think that’s a great idea! I will be selling my wedding dress and hopefully helping someone else to make their wedding more ‘thrifty’ 🙂

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