How We Pulled off an Indian Wedding for Under $25,000

2011 Sep 14 - by Preeti

  • 250 Guests
  • 55 Friends from 8 Countries
  • 4 Wedding Events
  • 2 Days Shopping
  • 5 Bridal Outfits
  • 1 Public Bus
  • 1 Swedish Husband
  • = $25,000

    Yep, an Indian wedding for under $25,000 bucks. It was madness. The planning, the hotel tetris, the planning, the lack of planning by vendors. But we really wanted to have a wedding that was us; to celebrate with friends and family.

    We cheated. We used our brains. We ran our wedding like a project. Shit happens, find an alternate route. I wrote before about general wedding tips.  Now I'm going to write about keeping your mind from exploding like your budget.


    Tip 1: Use Friendors

    A friendor is a friend who is a vendor. It's an awesome idea to incorporate your friends into your wedding. This is not an excuse to cheap out the deal and not pay squat either. Decide how you will 'pay' or barter services with your friend.

    Chris, a photographer, agreed to do the wedding since it provided an unique experience of an Asian wedding in Asia for him. I covered his hotel and flight ticket to India. In return he took photos all week and processed the best photos for us.

    Another friend kinda haphazardly became our second photographer because he had best glass (lens) and was having a ball taking photos. I owe him Indian food and beer forever.

    My mom's best friend did my bridal mehndi. Even better, when my parents got married 30 years ago, she did my mom's mehndi. There's no beating sentimental value like that.


    Tip 2: Use Your Family Memberships

    We held the wedding at a popular sports club and hotel called the Chembur Gymkhana. Our guests stayed there and the Bombay Presidency Golf Club. Because we have member rates at both clubs, we had significant discounts and our guests enjoyed significant discounts. Hey, beer for $3 on the course? Why yes. Plus, both locations were within 10 minutes by rickshaw which friends eventually bartered for an incredible 50 cents (Rs20).


    Tip 3: Jewelry - Diamonds Last Forever But So Does an Atomic Sized Credit Card Bill

    I included all our wedding costs except for jewelry since that's a personal decision by the family. Because the price of gold is skyrocketing (at $1480 a troy ounce), our dollar did not go a long way. Instead we bought a few pieces and both my grandmothers gave me,  what I consider far more valuable keepsakes, necklaces they received after their weddings.


    Tip 4: BYOC - Buy Your Own Clothes

    My in-laws are Swedish. Part of being Swedish is taking care of yourself and not burdening others.   Since my in-laws were uncomfortable with us paying for everything; we agreed that our family would take of the hotel, food, transportation bill and they would do the rest.

    We're wholesome middle class people.   Our friends are wholesome middle class people.  We're not about the 4laks, that's $8000+ for those counting, lenghas.  We're about being smart.

    So where did we take everyone shopping?  Not Seasons or Satya Paul (which are great stores when you wanna spend the money).  We went to the local stores.  Places where you get awesome pieces for awesome prices.

    Hole in the wall shops rock.


    Tip 5: Use the Destination Wedding Location to Your Advantage

    The largest cost saver was having wedding in Mumbai, India compared to Stockholm or San Francisco. But let's just say weddings in Mumbai are expensive today. Gone are the days when weddings in India are cheap and easy and 100 rupees a plate of food.

    We made the "destination" costs of India come down because we held the wedding at hotel that did not cost $100 a person to stuff with food, beer, and dessert.   We used local flowers in every ceremony.  We brought in hard liquor that could be used for small events.   We used the caterer that came with the venue instead of getting someone else; good money and timesaver.

    Why would friends come to a wedding across the world only to be served western food and see petunias?

    They don't. Guests want to eat, drink, and be merry.


    Tip 6: Give an Authentic Experience for Cheap + Go Shopping!

    The wedding itself it is a culture shock and  confetti blowup of colors but what's really crazy? Rent a public bus and stuff 40 foreigners on it.   We took our friends shopping in Girgaon, Bhuleshwar, and Dadar and traveled all over Mumbai.

    For the price of renting a BEST bus and going shopping, the experience was priceless.   Do you think a conductor would ever see a bus full of white people buying saris and be on HIS bus?  No.  Would you ever people waving at you on the streets?  We did.  We even had people take photos of us.  Smile!


    Tip 7: Pull More Strings and Take Private Tours

    Some of my dad's good friends and business partners offered up their companies for touring. As a result, a wonderful professor friend hosted a dinner for our entourage of guests from abroad at IIT - Mumbai.  One, good publicity for the university and two, it's just awesomeness.

    Second, business associates at Reliance Telecom allowed us to a take a tour at their NOC facility and enjoy lunch with them.  We were able to show our guests how India is globalizing and is home to the world's largest companies and do it in a personal way.

    Double win.


    Tip 8: Don't Give a Shit about Accessory Crap

    Accessory crap is 80% of the wedding vendor industry.   Honestly, who wants to eat those nasty chocolate covered almonds in pastel pink and green? Okay, they're delicious after having 5 glasses of champagne.

    If you like those stupid mint thingies that you buy online from a nameless "manufacture," clearly you should not be deciding between serving chocolate cake and M&Ms for dessert.

    Ewww, gross.

    They're made in a monstrous warehouse and are tasteless. Equally tasteless are disposable cameras.  Disposable cameras work in outdoor lighting only, and if that. They shoot at ISO 400-1200 which makes photos grainy and nasty, and they're used at every wedding possible.

    I'm going to be a bigger B and say, most people will not care about the real doves released, the $25 garter belt, the $100 cake cutter, or worst, really lame wedding favors (a box with your name on it and with snickers inside? - lame).   Forget that stuff.

    If you must give a wedding favor, give something local and unique to you and your culture. Perhaps a local, favorite jam (homemade gets three thumbs up), or shawls, or homemade candles. Those are cool gifts.

    Most important, spend time with all your guests. Those friends who spend $10,000 to come to your wedding?  They don't care about a wedding favor; they want to hang out with YOU!!!

    Give them respect, hang with your peeps.


    Tip 9: Get Family Involved

    Alright, everyone hates their family at one point or another, but this isn't time to be hating.

    Start loving.

    Get your aunts and uncles involved. Maybe someone knows a great makeup artist or another knows a good place for shopping.  Whatever big or small, let your family be involved and use their strengths to your advantage.

    A caveat; the worst you can do is force a family member to do something they don't want to.   If they're not interested in the wedding, don't force them.  They have to want to do it with love, not spite.


    Tip 10: Buy Wedding Clothes You'll Wear Again

    You know the reason why Indian brides are awesome?

    We can wear our wedding dress again...

    and again...

    and again.

    There isn't a law against wearing your wedding clothes again in your lifetime.   Why? Because wedding clothes are colorful and in five years you may want to show it off at the next grand wedding event.

    Buy wedding outfits that you can wear at least twice in your lifetime.   Once for your wedding and once at another wedding or function (Sangeet, party, your uncle's 80 birthday, whatever).  The depreciation cost against a white wedding gown is 100%. You wear it once, you save it, and maybe in 30 years your daughter will tear it to pieces and use the laces as the waistband à la 27 Dresses.

    You don't want your beloved lengha to end up as a waistband.

    I bought a simple but gorgeous sari for the wedding (I had to follow strict rules of wearing a mango-orange color).   For the reception, I went gung-ho and bought a beautiful chenia choli and became my own light source.

    My light source lengha is NOT going to be a waistband in 30 years.


    I can go on an on about how we did our wedding on a budget.  Really though, our goal was to put on a wonderful event for families and friends.  Our wedding rocked because of our families and the friends who flew in.

    Dude, have you seen this many white people dressed up in saris before?

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    Attached is the list with our wedding costs. If you have questions about our spending, just post a comment. And if you have an idea on saving money, definitely share that.