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Marriage on a Student Budget

Photo: BB Photography.

It’s not every day a couple gets married in an unusual, out-of-the-box way, but it also happens more than we think. Laura Brookes talks to two Kiwi couples who chose the unconventional route, including one student couple on a tight budget.

I find weddings fascinating, to be honest. I arrive wondering what order the ceremony will be in, whether I’ll know the songs or whether the speeches will be in comprehensible English.

I wonder what the catering will be like, and how the groom will react to seeing his bride. I wonder whether the vows will be handwritten or traditional, and whether the strangers on my row will keep a strict distance of one seat between us, or lean over and introduce themselves.

Admittedly, every wedding I’ve attended has been rather standard. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not calling them boring. I’m merely pointing out the fact that every wedding I’ve ever attended has been consistent with expected social norms.

But I reserve a special form of admiration for couples who venture into out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to weddings, and the stories that result – like the couple who formed an unhealthy attachment to the way shopping at Kmart makes them feel, so they get married in the aisle – quite literally. I’ve heard of couples exchanging vows in zero gravity, and couples who have cycled laps around the city with their guests in celebration (or pain, depending on which you associate with cycling). I’ve even heard of a couple who got married in their birthday suits. Let’s just say I’m glad I wasn’t an attendee at that wedding.

But there’s also a few Kiwis I know personally who have enjoyed wonderfully unconventional weddings. Here’s a glimpse into their stories, and why they made their big day a little different.

How to spend like a saver

We all know weddings have the potential to cost a small fortune. That’s no secret. In fact, according to my dear friend Google, the average cost of a wedding in New Zealand is a whopping $35,000. For all you math nerds, if we talk about the median instead of the average and call it a better indicator of true cost, we’re still talking between $18,900 and $24,500.

I’ve never wished so much for Google to be wrong.

Because when you add up venue, outfits, photography, makeup, and catering for 100 people, it seems an impossible feat to accomplish with less than $2,000. And yet, that’s exactly what Erin and Giles Graham did.

If you’re planning on getting married one day, I hope this inspires you, because life is too darn long to spend $35,000 in one night.

For eight years of her childhood, Erin’s family worked for a Christian missions organisation, which meant lots of travelling around in a house bus. When she was 12, they arrived in the town of Waipiata, a couple of hours inland from Dunedin, and it was there at the En Hakkore retreat centre that Erin’s family met Giles’ family. Years on, the two families remained good friends, and when Erin began studying nutrition at Otago University in 2014, the pair decided to start dating. Erin was a student the entire way through their relationship, including first year of marriage – a balance that helped her learn how to master the art of prioritisation.

It was at En Hakkore, with the most spectacular cliff views, that Erin, 21, and Giles, 24, got married on 11 February 2017, hiring the centre for around $800 – the biggest spend of their entire wedding budget. Even better, En Hakkore had a piano, which became their saving grace when one week before the wedding, they realised they had no music. The solution was simple. They would play, and everyone else would sing. It went down an absolute treat, and didn’t cost a thing.

It’s amazing what people will contribute when you let go and give them space to be involved, said Erin. Their cards were handwritten, a friend from church did the flowers, and her wonderful mum did her hair and the cake.

“Some people want their weddings to be all fancy, so they buy everything,” she said. “Our style is very much – well – I’ve never had a Pinterest account, if that says anything. We just wanted to do something we could do, and we weren’t super controlling about it.

“Us letting go released people to be involved, because people want to be involved in weddings, and people want to help. But not when they’re being told what to do in a strict or controlling way.”

Erin was 15 years old when she saw a beautiful white wedding dress displayed in a boutique vintage store that was unfortunately about to close its doors for the last time. With no plans to get married anytime soon, but a newfound love for this particular dress, Erin spontaneously decided she would purchase it anyway. She walked away with this stunning dress for a mere $20, and it was only when she got engaged that she remembered she said yes to the dress half a decade ago.

“When I got engaged, I tried it on and I couldn’t believe this – but it still fit me perfectly. So I decided that would be my wedding dress. It was perfect.” Final thoughts on spending like a saver

“I recognise that we were in a rare position to have so many key items virtually free,” said Giles.

“Not many people can have their mother cater the wedding and unless it's a central part of your relationship and personality you won't be doing your own music, so I know our price range isn't reachable for many couples.

“But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. You're not getting married to have a wedding. The end goal is having a lifelong intimate relationship with your partner. The most should be going into that, not the wedding day.”

36 hours in the outdoors

For those of you who love time in the outdoors, you’re going to adore this camping-style wedding idea.

Meet Andrew and Alicia Meek. The pair first met in Christchurch when Alicia returned home from living in America, and when they wed on February 17 this year, they took the concept of an outdoor summer wedding to a whole new level. Located about 40 minutes outside of Christchurch near Banks Peninsula, the quaint, serene Little River Campground proved to be the perfect set up for what Alicia and Andrew had planned – not an afternoon, or even a day, but an entire weekend.

Why rent a campground for three days when the wedding is only a few hours long? Because at the heart of it, this was about more than just a wedding, said Andrew. It was about community.

“Really early on when we were discussing the wedding, it was very obvious we didn’t want the traditional wedding. We didn’t want to host something that would come and go in a few hours time. We were quite intentional about wanting the weekend to feel like a community. That’s what our values line up with, and that’s what we’re all about.” Location, location, location

With family coming from the USA, Germany and Australia, it was important to the couple that overseas visitors would be given the opportunity to stay somewhere that accommodated them well.

“People told us we would be doing everything for everyone if we chose to host it like this, and that it wouldn’t be enjoyable,” said Andrew. “But everyone got stuck in, everyone helped out, so it was much more of an ‘all hands on deck’ feel.”

Around 50-60 guests arrived on the Friday night, enjoying a potluck BBQ evening after setting up their tents. The next morning, campers were treated to a pancake breakfast, and with the ceremony scheduled for four o’clock in the afternoon, guests had ample time to explore the surrounding nature tracks and forest. Some even took a day trip to Akaroa, and others helped to set up.

It was in and around the campground that people formed friendships with strangers, had the chance to catch up with old acquaintances and to relax over a wine as they turned their attention toward one another. That’s exactly what she and Andrew hoped for, said Alicia.“We’re not really attention-seeking and didn’t want it to be all about us, so we designed the weekend so there was plenty of time to spend with people. It took the attention off us and felt much more like a community,” she said.

Keeping it local

Not only did they bolster the community spirit at their wedding, but the couple also found ways to engage with supporting local business in the process. The wine, for example, was sourced from 27seconds, a local social enterprise founded on the shocking statistic that somewhere in the world, a person is sold or trafficked into slavery every 27 seconds. All profits from wine sales go to an anti-trafficking organisation that provides trauma care, education and economic employment to survivors of slavery.

The beer was hand brewed by Andrew and a friend in a garage; the photographers were friends of the bride and groom; and locally-made food was catered by The Laboratory, a Christchurch-based food truck serving salmon, striploin steak, chipotle chicken, salad and bread.Moral of the story? There’s more than one way to host a wedding.If you want a traditional wedding, do that. If you want an unconventional wedding, do that. If you want a romantic beach wedding on some tropical island, do that. If you want to spend like a saver and simply recreate the island in your own backyard, do that.When it comes to your wedding, do whatever the heck you want. Like anything in life, there will be people who will tell you it’s impossible. Like anything in life, weddings can be full of pressure, expectations and stress, or they can be carefree, beautiful occasions where community band together for one purpose: to celebrate two people saying ‘I do’ for the rest of their lives.

Because at the end of the day, that’s the story that matters most.

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