A Thank You to My Daughter for Her Untraditional Wedding

When I gave birth to boy-girl twins over 27 years ago, I didn’t think about the double cost of the miraculous event. My immediate feelings as I held these two beautiful beings were of complete joy and all-encompassing love. It was the kind of love that would persuade a mother to do anything for her kids—step in front of a moving vehicle, run into a burning building, donate a kidney, or spend lots of hard-earned money to keep them happy and healthy. The twins challenged our family economically because they required double the amount of diapers, clothes, and toys, and then as they grew older, double the cell phones, laptops, college tuition, and cars. Having these now grown-up children in my life was—and still is—worth every penny we spent on them. Being a mother and friend to my children has been priceless.

When my grown daughter announced she was engaged, I immediately pictured her in a beautiful white gown smiling at her new husband. I imagined her dancing with her dad during the traditional father-daughter dance. My vision included all our extended families dancing and sending congratulatory proclamations to my daughter and her new husband, and we were prepared to help make her wedding dreams come true. Teary-eyed, I put the thought aside, and waited to hear what the newly engaged couple wanted for their wedding day.

Soon after her announcement, I received an e-mail invitation to a “Barbecue Wedding.” What? No official wedding invitations? The dress is casual, the invitation said. Casual? I read on. Please bring a dish? No filet mignon, or stuffed chicken? I don’t get to stress over shopping for a mother of the bride dress, or my hair? There would be no bridesmaids, no maid of honor, no walk down an aisle, and no father-daughter dance. I was stunned. Why was my sweet baby girl breaking all the traditions? I became teary-eyed with the realization that I would never go shopping with my daughter to find “the dress,” and I wouldn’t see her dance with her father in that dress before she took off for her honeymoon with her new husband.

Just to give you some background, my husband and I have a history of being fiscally conservative. We know the importance of keeping enough money in a savings account in case of a sudden illness or job loss. Our family experienced the challenge of both, and gratefully got through them without too many scars. We pay off our credit cards every month, have been on just a few vacations and are dedicated hard working employees. Simply, we are not filthy rich but we are not poor. We were prepared to make our daughter’s wedding day dreams come true.

As our conversations continued over the next few months, I learned that the goal of the barbecue would be to focus the day on food, family and friends, and to hang out and enjoy each other’s company, while the ceremony would be secondary. I learned that my daughter and her future husband would be returning to the old-fashioned way of simply letting everyone know that they decided to commit themselves to each other. The party would be held in her fiancé’s small city backyard, and there would not be enough room to invite all of our extended family. My daughter and son-in-law said that they didn’t want anyone to stress out, or for anyone to spend a lot of money to travel from a distance for “just a backyard barbecue.” I came to the conclusion that my child’s mind was taken over by an alien force.

The barbecue wedding day came, and it was sunny and beautiful. Since guests were all volunteering to bring food, drinks and supplies, I signed up for paper plates, napkins, cups and silverware (plastic of course). I made chocolate cupcakes stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough, which was topped with vanilla icing and decorated with a beautiful pink handmade flower. There was brisket that had been cooking for hours and hours, lots of gorgeous salads, side dishes, and specialty drinks made with champagne and liquor. A homemade wedding cake was decorated with yellow icing and the words of the couple’s favorite activities. My daughter dressed in her favorite brown and blue flowered sundress, which was a previous gift from her fiancé. Her husband-to-be was decked out in jeans and his favorite faded college t-shirt. There were no special clothes. The guests were dressed in everything from T-shirts and shorts to short fancy dresses. Several male guests wore Hawaiian shirts with jackets over them.

I’d like to thank my daughter for her nontraditional wedding. Once I let go of my expectation of a traditional wedding experience, my daughter’s wedding day turned out to be one of the most fun days I’ve had. My daughter’s and her husband’s friends are some of the most incredibly wonderful and fun people I have ever met. The whole laid back attitude of the day was incredible—there was bocce, planking, great conversations and lots of amazing food and drinks. The homemade brisket, salads, specialty drinks and fabulous desserts would have easily cost $100 a person at a restaurant. The ceremony was heartwarming and funny. It was a good learning experience for people like me who are accustomed to traditional weddings—it showed that two people who love each other and decide to get married don’t have to throw a big, expensive party. They can do it in the comfort of their own backyard without breaking their—or their parents’!—bank.

In 2011, the average wedding cost $26,501. This price can creep up to $40,000 to $100,000 depending on the venue, food, flowers, music, number of guests and the dress! Here are some of the typical costs of a wedding: $2,000 on flowers, $250 to $5,000 on a dress, $100 to $1,000 on hair and makeup, $5,000 to $10,000 for food ($50 to $150 a plate per person), $1,000 to $2,000 for a band, $1,000 for limousines, $2,500 ($25 a person) for alcohol, $1,000 for a cake, an extra $2,000 for fees, gratuity and add-ons—not to mention what that guests spend on travel, accommodations and gifts.

My daughter and her husband introduced me to a simple, economical way of getting married with their backyard wedding. They showed me that a wedding day doesn’t need to be what society has made us think it needs to be. They still committed to a life full of love, and they saved a bundle of money they’ll be able to use to enjoy their future.

If you want to support the wedding business and all those that work in the industry, go for the big expensive soup to nuts wedding with all the fixings. Everyone loves a big classy party. All those vendors and employees will thank you. But I believe my daughter and husband are still thankful to this day for the surprise check they received from my husband and me (plasticware and cupcakes were just not enough of a wedding gift!).

So, if you get an e-mail invitation to a backyard barbecue wedding, jump with joy—your loved ones are fiscally brilliant. Love and commitment doesn’t change whether or not you have a $1,000 party, or a $100,000 party.


Marguerite Bowker is a wife, mother, and nurse, who was raised in Syosset, N.Y. with four sisters to be fiscally conservative. She has made her home in North Attleboro for the past 31 years. Photo: Unlisted Sightings


44 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#22)

The only way to tear down the wedding industrial complex is to have as many non-“traditional” weddings as possible, and to be happy about it.

Tuna Surprise (#118)

Yes!! Support your friends and family who do this! Do not make snide comments. Go and enjoy yourself!!!

This is basically exactly what I want for my wedding, although I anticipate still living in an apartment when I get married so the location is a bit up in the air. And I also have a huge family/friend contingent I would want to invite. So we’ll see what happens.

I know this is a sensitive topic, but honestly, the idea of spending over $20k on ONE DAY makes me want to cry. If you can afford that and want to do that – go for it – but it makes me want to run off to City Hall.

@polka dots vs stripes Yeah this is pretty much my dream wedding.

@polka dots vs stripes Here’s to City Hall!

I’ve been worrying about this lately, because my S.O. and I will likely need to have a City Hall wedding sooner than later for immigration reasons. I know my mom is upset she never got to experience a lot of my traditional milestones like prom, HS graduation, college graduation, grad school graduation… But then I remember that when she and my dad got married they basically had a keg party in their backyard. And my girlfriend’s mom only had a civil partnership with her dad despite being a hugely devout Catholic. So I hope our parents will react the way this lady did! (And I’m not talking about the surprise check either.)

Blondsak (#2,299)

@polka dots vs stripes You should rent a section of a public park! My cousins chose a Saturday in June and rented out a “recreation venue” – literally, a one room place with a few tables and chairs, and a “porch” with an overhang if the day is nice enough to spend outside – at a public park, and it was perfect! It cost them maybe $300 to have the place for 6 hours. There was a playground right next door for kids, and they had games set up outside too. It was a really fun, happy, casual wedding celebration. Also, you’re giving back to your city’s Parks and Rec department!

@LO I have actually thought about that, and my current city (and home for the foreseeable future) has some GREAT parks. Since I am not actually engaged, I haven’t done a ton of research, but I do have that idea in the back of my mind!

mishaps (#65)

@LO friends of mine got married in a park in Durham, NC. The ceremony was right by a lake, and the wedding party walked in down a small hill. We moved to a covered area for a buffet dinner (picnic food, both vegan for the happy couple and non-vegan for their family) and then dancing. This was YEARS ago now, but you can tell what a great wedding it was by how vividly I remember it. A+++ would attend again.

@stuffisthings I had a city hall wedding for immigration reasons! (It seems like every time the topic of weddings comes up, I have to jump in with this piece of information.) And you know what, a city hall wedding can be FUN. If you have friends who can make it, bring them along. If you want to go out for a delicious meal afterwards, go have a delicious meal. Take a bunch of pictures. And at the end of the day, it almost feels more glamorous than any formal wedding because you get to say you ELOPED.

@werewolfbarmitzvah That’s reassuring to hear. It’s been kind of depressing especially because with family in Paris, Florida, and the Caribbean we could organize a pretty sweet wedding (given adequate time and resources)… But that actually sounds not bad!

Can I ask if you ended up hiring an attorney to handle the paperwork? It’s pretty fucking confusing/depressing looking at the government websites ourselves.

@stuffisthings I’d say that if you can, get an attorney to help you out, because it IS confusing. Or also if you have other friends or family who’ve been through this process, they might be able to help, too. I was clueless about everything because I was the American half of the couple, but my husband’s sister had recently gone through this same process and she was able to help out a little, and an immigration attorney helped out with some of the more complicated parts, too.

r&rkd (#1,657)

Also, PLEASE be careful about which attorney you get. Immigration law is full of bad attorneys and, if your attorney misses a deadline, you can be SOL forever! I’ve seen people lose their chance to ever get a visa again because of paperwork foul-ups. To a large extent, you get what you pay for.

LolaLaBalc (#707)

@stuffisthings, @werewolfbarmitzvah, I had a city hall wedding for immigration purposes too! Except, I was the immigrant abroad. The city hall thing was just fine and it does cut out so much of the hassle of figuring out who to invite. I think the entire process would have been so much nicer if my impending visa application process hadn’t been such a drag and a huge expense (the visa cost more than the wedding and my mom’s airfare from California to England, combined). We popped some champagne down on the beach after the ceremony, and just went out for a nice dinner, and it was great and so not stressful. Granted, we do want to have a bigger celebration for more family and friends down the road, but then we can do it at our own pace.

As for the immigration and gov’t websites being a nightmare, brother, I feel ya. I did not get a lawyer, but I did talk to as many people as I could find about my situation, and it’s amazing how helpful people can come out of the woodwork with recommendations and their own experiences. I ended up just being as meticulously and insanely pedantic and thorough as possible on my application and found a website for expats in my country and situation to be hugely helpful. I know web forums don’t seem like the most reliable sources of information, but that site was amazing with the help the offered, so they definitely do exist. Could you and your SO possibly do a cheap or free consultation with a lawyer? Do you have any lawyer friends (or friends of friends) who could give you ideas?

eagerber (#1,958)

I really enjoyed reading a piece about a wedding experience as told through a parent’s point of view. The Billfold does not disappoint!

As a mid-20s woman who attended and participated in traditional weddings for the first 20 or so years of my life, I’ve found it really inspiring as of late to attend weddings that have broken the traditional mold.

ifwecantaloupe (#2,654)

Not only did I love this story, but I also love that this involved chocolate cupcakes stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough. That sounds like one of the best cupcake combos EVER.

kellyography (#250)

@ifwecantaloupe My version of this is brownies with cookie dough in the middle. You can either layer it with the brownie batter or just stick in big lumps as the brownie batter gets poured. Seriously, people’s minds are blown EVERY TIME.

This post was great. The wedding sounded like a super-fun, stress-free day. If and when my day comes, I’d like something closer to this than to those crazy fancy/expensive affairs.

darklingplain (#938)

@kellyography My friend makes “Inception brownies”–you wrap cookie dough around Oreos, then pour brownie batter over them.

ifwecantaloupe (#2,654)


Migs57 (#2,675)

The recipe for the chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes is

Chocolate Cookie Dough Cupcakes
Make these tomorrow and thank me later. They are TO DIE FOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you want to make them quick you can buy premade cookie dough and freeze it into little balls…
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
1 (18.25 ounce) box chocolate cake mix
1 1/3 cups water
1/3 cup canola oil
3 eggs

vanilla frosting for top- I use the food networks vanilla icing recipe

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and sea salt; set aside. Beat the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until smooth. Add 1 egg and the vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Mix in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips; mixing just enough to evenly combine. Form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls; place onto a baking sheet, and freeze until solid, about 2 hours. (I froze mine for 6 hours)
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
Beat 3 eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer to break up. Add the cake mix, water, and canola oil; continue beating for 2 minutes on medium speed. Spoon into the prepared cupcake liners, filling each 2/3 full. Place a frozen cookie dough ball on the top center of each cupcake.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the cake portion of the cupcake (not the cookie dough ball) comes clean, about 16 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE! The cookie dough should remain dough. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.
This recipe is from the Food Blog by The Heaviland Family 5 Stars, Dessert

This was great — I think this is likely the route that we will go, just as my parents did for their wedding. Thank you Billfold for continuing to find these stories from such a diverse cross-section of people!

One small quibble: “fiscal” usually refers to government finances or other e.g. corporate contexts where you would use words like treasury/treasurer (from the Latin “fiscus” for “treasury”). In the family budgeting context “financial” is the correct word. Which, interestingly enough, Wiktionary informs me comes from the Latin for “end” by way of the Middle French verb “finer” — “to pay ransom” (!) /end pedant mode

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@stuffisthings Go to A Practical Wedding. It is a wonderful website for people who are anti Wedding Industrial Complex (although if you want that sort of a wedding they will not judge you for it) and it has a bajillion examples of non-traditional, do it yourself weddings. http://www.apracticalwedding.com. Love. It.

@TheDilettantista Hey why spend $1,000 on a dress when we can have this lovely I-485 form instead!

Seriously, spend 10 minutes on the USCIS website and you will wonder how there are any legal immigrants in this country at all.

Migs57 (#2,675)

I guess one could say a family is like a mini-government, LOL, we have used the phrase fiscally conservative because it sounds so much better than financially conservative…thanks for the comment!!

@stuffisthings Most informative quibble ever.

jfruh (#161)

This is lovely but I’m commenting specifically on:

I made chocolate cupcakes stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough, which was topped with vanilla icing


Migs57 (#2,675)

see above!!!

Bill Fostex (#573)

Top 5 alt texts ever alt-texted on the Billfolds.

Harriet Welch (#127)

This is the BEST! We had a traditional-ish wedding. I had a fancy dress, but we also had a keg and a case of Kentucky Deluxe, a wedding fudge, tiki-torches, christmas lights and tablecloths made out of thrift store sheets and curtains. It was beautiful and wonderful and everyone had the most fun ever (we even forgot to get officially married because we were busy having fun). It was in a rented museum and a borrowed back yard and cost less than $2000.

@Harriet Welch Rented museum? Wedding fudge? This nontraditional thing sounds better all the time.

readyornot (#816)

Would that every couple planning a wedding had families this reasonable and accepting! I can’t tell you how many friends I have who wanted something small and simple in their weddings were derailed by money-is-no-object parents. I think everyone should get a copy of this post.

Mistress Sparrow (#2,660)

@readyornot Oh gosh, that is my situation exactly. I’m debating whether to send this to my mom, lest it spark another excuse to fight about why she thinks a small wedding is an indication that I don’t take marriage seriously, as well as a suggestion that my fiance and I are hiding something. From, I don’t know, my second cousins and parent’s co-workers, apparently.

Perfect timing, really needed to read this today. Every since we got engaged my fiance and I have been so stressed about the very idea of wedding planning that we’ve been avoiding it like the plague. Starting to realize that the wedding our parents want is not only not what I want, it’s not even feasible with out current budget restraints. Hope they come around!

fennel (#2,494)

City Hall weddings are the best!! We did it and loved it. We are lucky enough to live in a city with a gorgeous 200+ year old building that was a beautiful space for it — but you can travel to any city hall you want — know that you don’t have to do it in your own municipality. It’s way more jazzy than a mediocre-but-affordable hotel, AND cheaper.

Public parks are lovely, too — you have to get a park permit for your wedding, which is awesome. A friend got married in the park next to the Cloisters in New York, and it was gorgeous — it felt like a piece of public art every time a random city dweller walked by or peeked at us, in addition to being a romantic, beautiful setting. She just defined the space by setting down a small Persian carpet under the trees where the ceremony was.

FlufferNutter (#2,661)

This is beautiful and brought a tear to my eye! My husband and I had a non-traditional wedding almost three years ago. We decided early on that a wedding is nothing more than a good party and that we didn’t want to spend too much. I wore a $100 dress (intended for a bridesmaid) and my husband wore a $100 suit. It was catered by a cheap and delicious Italian cafe. A family friend was able to get us use of tables and chairs from an organization where she volunteers for free. A few of my sisters’ friends in the service industry helped serve and clean-up and tended bar. I think the biggest expenses were booze (which we purchased at Costco and we had a LOT of leftovers for future parties) and the cake – I love desserts, so I didn’t want to scrimp there and it was worth every penny. It took a bit of time for our parents to all get on-board with the idea, but in the end I think they were thankful for not having to go broke for a huge, lavish wedding. I loved seeing the mother-of-the-bride’s perspective in this article. Well done!

Keck (#2,466)

My fiancee and I are in our mid-thirties and are tying the knot after 10 years of co-habitation. We decided to bill the wedding as a “tenth anniversary party (with a little document-signing thrown in)”. You wouldn’t believe the difference a change of wording makes. All of the sudden it’s the party we want (and want to pay for ALL BY OURSELVES, because we are GROWNUPS with a modicum of self-pride, thank you!) rather than the overly formal, overpriced ceremony that was expected. And I PROMISE it will be a blast. Everybody wins (except the wedding industry) – yeah!!

Waterbears (#2,663)

My husband and I got married about a year and a half ago. We set out to have a relatively casual, low-key wedding with only immediate family and close friends. Somehow (mostly via family drama and social influence) it turned into a giant $35,000 event. Everyone told us that it was one of the most beautiful weddings they’d ever been to, and that you could tell we had focused on bringing friends and family together, and it really was the best day of my life… but if I could go back in time I would have a BBQ wedding.

matt (#2,039)

A good way to cut down on costs at weddings is to never tip any of the servants.

wearitcounts (#772)

@matt it can just be a little secret between you and your catering company!

tenya (#833)

I like talking about wedding budgeting, when my partner and I decided to get married almost a year ago, we had no idea what anything cost related to a wedding.

I got married 4 months ago, and was in-between this kind of laid-back event and large event. We live in a small apartment and even though my mother has a backyard it can’t fit more than about 10 people. We rented an art gallery room as a venue, self-catered, I wore my grandmother’s wedding dress, an iPod for music and had the ceremony at the same place. We had a southern-style bbq and some other family dishes, and I made the 3-tier wedding cake. Still cost us around $8k (half of that for the venue and rentals there, like tables and linens, about another third for food/alcohol/supplies for serving those/last third for everything else). The public park was a nice option, but where we live you cannot serve alcohol at a park and that was important to us, plus we had elderly guests with mobility issues. Plus weather, what if it rained? Almost all of the other facilities we looked at, like the VFW, required a caterer, which threatened to increase costs.
Over all I still really loved the wedding we put on (except I would have been more insistent about what can/cannot be handled when self-catering) but still, even at our reduced price, am gobsmacked. The only thing I’ve paid more for is college tuition! And it could have been so much expensive!

Cavendish (#494)

This sounds kind of like my wedding! We wanted a simple wedding like people had in the 70s. We did it I my husband’s parents’ backyard, and I made my dress and the cake. The music was my iPod. The only things I wish we had differently are I wish we had a photographer, and I wish we had spent more time and/or money on the food. My MIL didn’t want catering, even the barbecue catering I wanted, so we had food from Costco. Everything else was perfect. We had a lovely afternoon with our family and friends, everyone had a great time, and no one went broke. It was great!

pizzatourist (#2,449)

We had a non-traditional wedding that had some similar themes as those mentioned in previous posts. Since there seems to be a side conversation about dessert I thought I’d chime in with one of the things we did. We provided the food but had a voluntary dessert potluck. We didn’t really need gifts and had alternatives to giving a gift – such as taking pictures or helping with set up. One of the options was to bring a dessert. A family member made a small wedding cake for us and we had a table piled with yummy desserts made by friends and family. It was a hit with everyone – especially the kids.

My husband & I got married very young (21 & 19 respectively). We were broke, our parents were unprepared for us to get married so soon (less than two years after we met) and I never felt the desire to have a huge wedding. We got married in his aunt’s backyard (which was a gorgeous garden on an acre in the middle of Dallas). His aunt bought sandwich platters from Costco, my mom made my sister’s bridesmaid dress, our mothers decorated, his uncle performed the ceremony and my uncle did the photography. Our one big cost was my dress, about $700. Almost eight years later, I can look back knowing it was a wonderful day that best of all, put us in almost no debt starting out our lives together.

Cheechu100 (#2,717)

The day is supposed to be special for the two people and families involved. However a couple decides to tie the knot is up to them. Personally I’d like my future wife to want more of a traditional wedding because to be honest a backyard,BBQ, casual dress, potluck wedding would not be special to me AT ALL.
As a guy who was raised rather old school, I believe it is awful etiquette to request guests for your wedding to bring food. IF you cannot provide a meal for your guests to your wedding you may as well just get married at city hall.

Migs57 (#2,675)

For this BBQ wedding all the guests that chose to bring a side dish were thrilled to be able to. There was a tremendous amount of food and drinks provided by my daughter and son-in-law!!! As the Mom, I can say that I loved every moment of baking and making side dishes and being a part of preparing for this day. In my opinion just going to City Hall would have been no fun at all! I think that people who love and care for each want to do anything they can to make a party fun. I am seeing that life is becoming more about community and how we can all come together to support each other. Guests usually want to know what a bride and groom would like as a gift to start their married life, I believe that is what registries were developed for. This couple only shared that they would love if their guests brought something to share at the BBQ, they did not want wedding presents.

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