Almost two years ago, my husband I were married in beautiful Honolulu, HI. (I know, be jealous) If you didn’t already know this, I actually moved with him to Hawaii WITHOUT A RING. I know, I know. What was I thinking?!
At that time I knew this was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with, regardless if we were married or not. It didn’t matter to me if I was able to shop at the commissary. (Although we were in expensive Hawaii, so it definitely could have helped… I’m not bitter…ok, maybe a little bit).
After 3 and a half years of dating, he finally proposed!. I’m from California. He’s from Michigan. We have family all over these United States. Where the heck were we going to have the wedding? Well as the bride, I thought we should have it in Hawaii. We were going to pay for the majority of it ourselves so I knew we had to save money. By having it while we were in Hawaii, we knew we were going to keep the guest list small which saved us a ton! Luckily, I also worked on a military base so I knew what programs were available to us to help with costs.
Should I tell you how much we spent?…
For a guest list of about 70 people…
We spent around $12,000.
Considering the average cost of a normal wedding is $30,000 (and even more in Hawaii). We saved a LOT of money.
We could have done it for cheaper, but there were two things that I refused to skimp on: Reception food and ambiance (because we had about 20 people flying in, I wasn’t just going to feed them McDonald’s or have them eat at a picnic table), and Photography and Videography services.
Ok, so you obviously want to know how I saved money. Well, here are some tips to save money on a military wedding that you may not have heard of:
Photos courtesy of Grace at Grace-Marie Photography
1) Rehearsal Dinner. If you have a small wedding party, and/or both of your families already know each other and/or you don’t care. Skip the rehearsal dinner. Since the majority of our families haven’t met, we chose to have the rehearsal dinner. We then chose to have it at a restaurant on base. Instead of renting out a big room, we just chose to have it along with their dinner hour with other patrons. Restaurants on base are jam-packed at lunch time but generally don’t get a lot of action for dinner. So we wound up having the whole section to ourselves.
2) Rings. You can buy rings at the NEX/Exchange/MCX. You save money because you don’t pay tax, and they can offer your further discounts if you have a Military StarCard.
3) Ceremony Location. Check out locations and churches on base. We got married on base! On the Hickam side of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, overlooking the harbors of Honolulu and the Waikiki Skyline. For a whopping $100 for 7 hours rental. Other beachfront property in Hawaii would easily cost you over $1,000. By having your military wedding on base, we saved money and had more privacy.
4) Officiant. We didn’t go with a chaplain because I wanted a semi-traditional ceremony with Hawaiian touches. But if you’re in a bind, contact the base chaplain for your military wedding. Services are generally free but you have to book way in advance and you may have to go to some pre-marital counseling sessions. A small donation ($50 or so) to the church will give you some good karma.
5) Outfits. The service member and wedding party can wear their uniforms. It makes for great pictures and it puts the “military” in your military wedding. For the brides, check out Brides Across America. They donate wedding dresses to deserving military brides based on eligibility. I didn’t want my husband to wear his uniform because he’s in the Navy and no one wears white but the BRIDE!! …just kidding, but seriously, I didn’t want to be upstaged. He looks good in his dress whites… too good. 🙂
6) Decorations. Since we got married at a picnic area, we had liberty to decorate however we wanted BUT I didn’t. With such a beautiful view, I felt like I didn’t need to mess with it. If you get married in the base church, you have to ask the chaplain on what decorations are allowed. To save money on decorations as a whole, craigslist and ebay were my friend. After I was done, I sold them online and got some money back.
7) Reception venue. Since the island of Oahu has a large military population, some places offer a military discount or perks for military members. Always ask if the venue has a military discount (but don’t expect it). Our reception hall let us book for an extra hour at no charge. You can also look into having the reception on base at the Officer/Enlisted clubs or catering areas. These prices are generally more affordable.
8) Photography/Videography. There are a lot of talented military-affiliated photographers so do your research. Look at their portfolio and reviews if you can. More specifically, look at their WEDDING photos. Just because they take great photos of newborns or landscapes, doesn’t mean they know nuances of taking photos for a military wedding. Our photographer wasn’t military affiliated but again, gave us a military discount. Military-affiliated photographers might be better if you’re looking to incorporate more military themed elements since they will know what to expect (and they can get on base!). Check out Grace-Marie Photography, for example.
9) Props. Army Family and MWR in Hawaii has an arts and crafts center that we utilized for our guestbook. We had them mount one of our engagement photos for guests to sign. you can also utilize them for centerpieces or wedding party gifts or wedding favors. Another way to save for a military wedding!
10) Dessert. The commissary can do a wedding cake or cupcakes or any other desserts for your wedding. You may not be able to do the traditional cake testing but if you’re looking for the usual: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, utilize the commissary. One caveat is that you may have to have someone pick it up the day of the wedding.
11) Furniture and Entertainment. I didn’t do this for my wedding but I’ve seen it done. Check out what rentals MWR offers. Some can provide chairs, tables, linens, etc. all for a much cheaper cost than what’s offered to civilians. I’ve seen a bouncehouse at a reception before, so if that’s your style, check out MWR for your military wedding.
12) Honeymoon. Speaking of MWR, go to your ticket office and see if they can either a) help you plan your itinerary b) save you money by getting all of your tickets for you. MWR tickets employees actually get to test out excursions and hotels (what a great job, btw) so they can recommend any activities for you to do.
Screw it. Go to the courthouse! Some couples don’t need a fancy wedding and that’s ok too.
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