Elegance on a dime

A guide to budget-friendly weddings

CENTRE WELLINGTON – For some couples, the glitz and glamour of a storybook wedding is a must, regardless of the expense, but some of the most beautiful weddings are often not about how much a couple spends, but who they spend their big day with. 

The average cost of a wedding in Ontario is around $35,000 to $40,000. This total includes expenses like venue rental, catering, photography, attire, and various other services. It’s a significant expense, especially for couples saving for a home or considering starting a family. 

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce wedding costs without compromising on the experience. 

From carefully planning the guest list, to DIY projects and selecting off-peak wedding dates, there are several factors that can contribute to unique, cost-effective weddings. Through thoughtful choices and careful prioritization, these two Wellington County couples procured unforgettable ceremonies without breaking the bank.

Neutral, natural newlyweds

Mackenzie and Jason Bray dated for seven years before saying “I do” in the summer of 2023. 

Not unlike many brides-to-be, Mackenzie had a clear vision of the beautiful wedding she wanted, but also had a budget in mind. The theme she wanted was based around herself, her home and her life and she loved everything neutral and natural.

“My life is vanilla,” she said. 

“Everything in my house is white and beige with a little bit of black, so I knew that was kind of what I wanted for the wedding.”

Couples will often spend many hours meticulously going over all aspects of their big day. For the Brays, however, planning came relatively easily. To put it into perspective, ensuring there was enough alcohol and pizza was among their biggest concerns for the day. 

“Overall, planning the wedding wasn’t stressful. I already knew everything I wanted, and Jason was on board with all the decisions. We pretty much agreed on everything and were very good at making sure we were both happy with the decisions made,” she said. 

Jason proposed six months before the June wedding by creating a video montage of photos from their years together. 

“[The proposal] was just low-key at home,” Mackenzie said. 

“At the end of the video it said, will you marry me? Then he pulled the ring out from under the couch, beside where we were sitting. It was very nice.”

Mackenzie’s advice to brides is simply to “sit down and decide what actually matters to you and your future partner. Not what mom, mother-in-law, or grandparents want, and stick to that.

“Focus on what’s important and not all the silly things that don’t matter. Write it out or keep a note running in your phone of ideas when you’re busy. If you’re at work and you have an idea, quickly jot it down so you don’t forget,” she said. 

She also recommends keeping a separate calendar with important deposit dates as it’s easy to get carried away in spending money on unnecessary expenses.  

Most importantly she reiterated, “enjoy the process, and remember that it’s about you.”

Jason and Mackenzie wanted a short ceremony and a party with the people closest to them.  

“It’s very easy to get carried away with things that don’t matter. We just wanted to make sure that we were surrounded by the people we love and that love us – and that we all had a good time.”

Mackenzie dove into do-it-yourself projects, sourcing glassware and other decorations from various local sources. Between the décor she already had available and centrepiece vases her grandmother had around the house, she was able to curate beautiful table settings for their guests. 

For just about everything else the couple needed, they turned to Instagram and other social media sites. 

“I scrolled through a lot of photographer pages and messaged a bunch until I found a style I liked that matched the budget and the vibe,” she said. 

As for other vendors, supporting local while maintaining affordability was important. They used a local hall for the bridal shower, Burkes Tent Rentals for their tent and linens, and shuttled guests using Fergus-Elora Taxi. 

The day of the wedding was sunny, and the soon to be newlyweds began their day at The Badley in Elora, which boasts garden and patio suites.

Mackenzie credits her father for finding the perfect venue. There had been a few options in mind even before their engagement, including aunts’ and uncles’ properties, but nothing quite fit for various reasons.

“My mom and dad searched a few different venues even going to see two or three on our behalf. Then finally, my dad said he’d found the perfect venue. He had reached out to one of his co-workers who owned the property,” she said.

“The day was perfect. It was like 26 degrees, sunny, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. There was a slight breeze, not too hot and not too cold.”

“There was an open field with beautiful scenery behind it with tree lines, and a large pond. There was lots of space for parking, and it was still very close to town so guests could arrive by taxi. The property was spacious, beautiful, and affordable.”

Her dress also ended up both beautiful and affordable. Mackenzie knew the style of dress she wanted but didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg for something she would wear once. It turned out to be the right decision because by the end of the day, it ended up filthy.

 “Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen, whether you’re anticipating it or not,” Mackenzie said. 

“You kind of just have to go with the flow. Our music playlist for the ceremony didn’t end up being timed right, so the groomsmen and my husband walked out to Justin Timberlake’s ‘SexyBack.’”

In all, the budget friendly wedding which included attire, venue, food, and rings was less than $15,000. 

“I got my ring at Michaels and Jason got his from a very sketchy online store. We weren’t even sure if the ring would show up at all, but it did and it’s wonderful,” Mackenzie said. 

The couple chose not to write their own vows but opted to take pointers and suggestions from their officiant, adding personal touches and jokes to personalize them. They also included their dog Arthur in the ceremony.

Mackenzie and Jason are looking forward to spending their eight-day honeymoon in Greece in the spring of 2024 – somewhere they’ve both always wanted to see. 

“The wedding itself was great. I have no regrets. It couldn’t have been more perfect.” 

Tying the knot: literally and figuratively

Holly Ferguson and Scott MacDonald share a Scottish heritage, so it seemed fitting to have a Scottish themed wedding complete with bagpipes, tartan, and highland traditions. On a sunny afternoon in August last year, 65 guests gathered to celebrate their marriage.

Of course, managing stress and coping with the demands of planning for a wedding is a huge undertaking for most, but for Ferguson and MacDonald it was a breeze.

“Any suggestion I had, Scott was absolutely on board, and vice versa. It was wonderful and really easy,” Ferguson said.

“I have five sisters [including three new sisters-in-law] and two mothers who are amazing at everything. They helped immensely with the planning process.”

Beyond family, Ferguson’s friend Tanya Pringle played a critical role in orchestrating the event. As a “one-woman-show” according to Ferguson, Tanya was the wedding planner, coordinator, florist, and photographer.

“She did everything, it was amazing. Picking the right people really makes a huge difference,” she said.

“For me, it was people I already knew. Tanya has been my friend since high school, and I’ve seen her work. It was a no brainer. It was the same with my caterer, I went with a chef I’ve known since I was about 18 years old.”

MacDonald couldn’t agree more, adding that it’s a good idea not to take things too seriously.

“People go into a wedding with huge expectations and big plans. You just have to have fun with it and not make it all about all the grandeur,” he explained.

“If you go overboard with the details, you’re going to set yourself up for disappointment. When you spend tens of thousands of dollars and one little thing doesn’t quite work out, it just ruins the day.”

While careful, detailed budgeting is top of mind for many couples, MacDonald and Ferguson focused on the big picture and trusted things would work out.

“We just played it by ear, put it together and I don’t think it cost even ten grand. Our parents helped and anything Holly and I paid for was paid for upfront. When the wedding was over, we didn’t owe anybody anything, and we didn’t have any credit card bills,” MacDonald said.

The newlyweds exchanged vows in his parent’s backyard and because of the savings on the venue, they were able to spend a bit more on food and entertainment.

“Things like flowers and décor don’t have to be expensive to be beautiful,” Ferguson said.

“A lot of simple things can be stunning. Guests aren’t going to remember the table settings, the teacups, or the napkin colours – so don’t get too bogged down in the details.”

“I wasn’t stressed, but Holly was a bit, having to plan everything. I was only stressed vicariously through her,” MacDonald said half joking.

“I knew the things that mattered were going to be looked after and that everything would work out fine. She wanted it perfect, and it was. I think our day went off seamlessly because we didn’t go crazy planning it.”

“The only thing I was really concerned about was the weather. When we decided in April that we would have a late August wedding, we knew it could be very hot and very dry. Last August was the complete opposite. It literally rained for four days leading up to the day, but it didn’t rain the day of, and then rained for the next three days. So, it was a miracle, and I was very grateful for that,” Ferguson said.

Albeit a small addition to the décor, something that stood out for Ferguson were the dried thistles she added to their floral arch in honour of her late father and grandparents.

“I picked a few thistles from the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, thistles being the Scottish national flower,” she recalled.

Another way the couple kept their costs down was by supporting local. This included bartenders, wait staff, catering by GSC based in Orangeville, and their officiant, Sandra Whyte who is also a friend and former co-worker of Ferguson.   

Officiating weddings since 2018, Whyte understands the importance of personalizing ceremonies and ensuring they are special and meaningful to both the couple and guests. She is a

firm believer in the bride and groom having the final say.

“I give them access to a website where they can go as formal as they want, or as casual. They can choose their vows or write their own. I leave it completely up to them because it’s their special day. The site has a lot of options for readings, verses, vows, and they can go through and select what works best for them.”

Two years before their wedding, a local band called The Campfire Poets played at MacDonald’s parents 50th wedding anniversary on the same property. A year after that, the couple met for the first time at the Erin Fall Fair during a performance by the band. It wasn’t a question for either of them when deciding on booking music for their reception.

“Her and I both like The Campfire Poets. They have some original songs, but they also do a lot of cover stuff. Country and rock for the most part,” MacDonald said.

“We thought it was very nice that his parent’s got to 50 years and maybe it’s good luck to have the same band. Plus, it was the same band that was playing the night we met,” Ferguson added.

The couple said the wedding day itself was perfect and the way the two clans and friends worked together filled the day with thoughtful sentiment and joy.

Ferguson had purchased her dress online, but when it arrived, it didn’t fit.

“My mom ended up saving the day,” she said.

“She knows a seamstress in Hillsburgh, so we took the dress to her, and she said, ‘I can’t really make this one work, but what I can do is recreate it.’ She did and it was perfect. It was very simple, but I think it turned out fabulous.”

In keeping with the Scottish theme, a piper in full Scottish garb led Ferguson to the altar along with her 14-year-old Jack Russell Shih Tzu, Steve.

“I’ve been married before and both my dad and my stepdad walked me down the aisle together. This time I’m a little older, a little more mature and didn’t feel like being given away was the right option. I wanted to walk myself and choose what I was doing. Since my dad’s no longer with us, it felt a little different having only a stepdad.”

Ferguson recalled, “My fantastic mother-in-law ordered the official MacDonald and Ferguson tartans. Not only did she make the drapery that we used on an arch, but she made a MacDonald bow tie for her dog Charlie, and Scott’s cat Bear, and a Ferguson bow tie for my dog, Steve. They all looked absolutely dapper and perfect. It was great.”

Whyte recalled an endearing moment during the exchanging of vows, having a unique perspective being so close to the couple.

“When it came time for Scott to put the ring on her finger and say his vows, Holly seemed unsure of which hand to extend. She kept putting one hand out, then the other. Finally, Scott grabbed her left hand and said, ‘give this to me’. He put the ring on her finger, and I kind of smirked. It was really cute,” she said.

“It was an absolutely beautiful wedding and I think they’re going to have a long and happy marriage.”

After the ceremony, the couple wove their family traditions into their ceremony by literally tying their tartans in a knot, signifying the combining of the clans. MacDonald said it was the little details of the day that he loved most.

Ferguson’s advice for couples planning a wedding is not to get too stressed over things you can’t control.

“There’s a lot that people want for weddings, but at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is that you’re married. Remember at the end of the day it’s the start of a marriage. It’s not just a one-day celebration.”

Both Jason and Mackenzie and Holly and Scott had very different visions for their weddings, but both offer useful advice. Their stories are a testament that a small fortune isn’t required to create beautiful, lifelong memories. A little creativity and a lot of love from family and friends is more than enough to create the perfect wedding.

Advertorial Writer