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obsessed over my wedding before I even got engaged—but not in a fanciful, Pinterest-y way. I was more concerned about the price, and figuring out how to pull off my dream day without going morally or fiscally bankrupt. According to The Knot’s 2017 Real Weddings Study, the average wedding costs $33,391. That sounds like more than enough, right? I thought so, too—until I did some exploratory research, and realized my concept of cost was completely skewed.

Hair and makeup for the bride: $600

Five hours of photography: $4,200

Venue: $12,000

Me: Verging on moral and fiscal bankruptcy

Even though my soon-to-be fiancé and I didn’t want an elaborate affair, I became convinced that my parent’s generous budget would barely cover the reception. We wanted to throw a party where our family and friends dressed up, and we happened to tie the knot. How could that cost more than my student loan debt?

When I started to visualize what our perfect wedding day looked and felt like, I realized it bore little semblance to a traditional one. So I started thinking creatively about how to bring that vision to life—realistically. By the time my fiancé proposed, I’d not only figured out how to maximize our budget, but how to make it have a lasting impact. Let me help you nav. your big day with these tips.

Don’t Spend Less, Necessarily—Just Spend Smarter

Instead of paying thousands of dollars to rent a venue we have no emotional connection to—then spending even more on catering, alcohol, chairs, and linens—we decided to host the ceremony in our backyard. We love our home, so getting married there is very authentic to us. Plus, we’ll be reminded of our special day every time we look outside.

We’re making a few upgrades—like adding stone stairs to the lower part of our yard, building a fence, and re-landscaping—but they’re projects we’d already planned on doing in the future. For that reason, we’re paying for most of it out of pocket instead of through the official wedding budget. Even though that means money will be tight for a few months, being able to enjoy the space for more than a few whirlwind hours makes it completely worth it.

Follow in the Footsteps of Sitcoms

In movies and on tv, having someone get ordained online is always a comical solution to a bind. But officiants can cost anywhere between $284 to $491, whereas the American Fellowship Church—one of the most popular online ministries—charges $30 for a one-year certification. We had planned on having my fiancé’s brother perform the ceremony, but it was a done deal when I found out how cost-effective online ordination can be. (It was also an important reminder to analyze every detail—you never know where you can save a few dollars.)

Take Spaces At Face Value

The reception can make or break your budget, so I went out on a limb when I discovered that one of our favorite local stores hosts events. And the price ended up being just right. Why? Many traditional venues are just an empty space, requiring you to bring in your own caterer, bartender, coordinator, fixtures, decorations, and more. But the store we picked—which is part nursery, part garden cafe—offers onsite coordination, has its own kitchen and bar, and uses its own staff for events. This means we don’t have to outsource each vendor separately (hallelujah!). Plus, the aesthetic is exactly what we wanted, so we won’t have to devote a large portion of the budget to transforming the space.

Living near the location of the reception also makes the planning process that much more affordable. Instead of taking multiple weekend trips to plan the menu, meet with the coordinator, and map out logistics, we can drive there in 15 minutes—or less, if there’s no traffic.

…But Know When to Be Flexible

The number I budgeted for photography was completely arbitrary. I had no concept of what it realistically costs, but it was one of the things my fiancé and I knew we couldn’t skimp on. And we ended up doubling that initial number (with zero regrets).

I was upfront with our photographer about numbers, and he was happy to meet us halfway if it meant working with us. Wedding photographers want to have an emotional connection with their subjects, which is why they’re oftentimes willing to work within your budget. If they vibe with you and your betrothed, and are genuinely excited about your plans for the day, a few hundred bucks might not matter to them—especially if it means they’ll get great photos for their portfolio, lots of love on Instagram, and rave reviews.