Weddings are expensive, but these three thrifty brides had the day of their dreams while continuing to save for happily ever after.

When Kayleigh and Nick Smarrelli got engaged in June 2011, they were “borderline broke-ass poor.” At least, that’s how the bride describes it. They were preparing to purchase their first home, and knew that family wouldn’t be able to cover wedding costs.

“I knew that [neither] my mom nor my dad had a wedding savings fund set aside for me,” Kayleigh said. “They had sent me to school my entire life and stuff like that.”

The unromantic side of wedding planning

Kayleigh isn’t alone. While a 2015 survey from The Knot placed the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. at more than $32,000, many couples can’t fathom rounding up that kind of cash in the span of a typical engagement period. So they delay their weddings in order to save up, or put wedding expenses on credit cards, only to deal with the fallout later.

Even those whose families contribute to their wedding funds face limits to that generosity. And how much family help are they willing to put toward their big days, versus funds for buying homes, starting families, and paying off student loan debt?

But there are ways to save money without having a 10-year engagement. Creative almost-marrieds around the country are coming up with smart approaches to stay within their wedding budgets and maintain long-term financial security.

Kayleigh and Nick

During the course of their two-year engagement, Kayleigh and Nick bought their first house and invested in improvements. Kayleigh says she felt no rush to get married because she and Nick already lived together and being traditional wasn’t important to them. But smart financial behavior was.

Kayleigh says she did indulge in some bridal traditions, but mostly kept perspective.

“Of course, I did go into planning mode, and I bought the bridal magazines and the big planner binder that you don’t end up using—which is $40 I wish until this day I had back,” she said, laughing.

For Kayleigh, more helpful tools were Facebook wedding groups and the site Smarty Had a Party to source table linens and other miscellaneous necessities. Rather than spend up to $20 per rental tablecloth, she bought them at lower prices so she could reuse or sell them after the wedding.

The Smarrellis also negotiated with their caterers to get the meal they wanted at an affordable price. Knowing that plated dinners cost more, but unwilling to do a buffet, they compromised by serving dishes family-style at each table.

Emily & Kyle

Emily Heerema-Smith and her husband, Kyle Smith, refused to take on wedding debt when they got engaged. Instead of pricier local vendors, they bought stationery through Vistaprint and purchased Kyle’s ring off Amazon.

They also opted for a Friday wedding because it was less expensive than getting married on a Saturday and didn’t tempt themselves by touring venues they knew were out of their price range.

“When we were looking at [venues], I really didn’t want to look at places where the numbers didn’t work,” Emily said.

They even divided up money they received as wedding gifts — joint gifts went into a house fund, individual gifts to Kyle went toward his school expenses, and individual gifts to Emily were used to pay off credit card charges associated with the wedding.

Even still, the weeks immediately following the wedding proved challenging as they paid off credit cards and tied up other loose ends. Nine months later, the lack of wedding debt is paying off. In 2017, the couple plans to move back to their native Brick, New Jersey, where they hope to buy their first house and start a family.

Dominique & Mitch

Dominique Bonessi and her fiancé, Mitch Scarbrough, aren’t getting married until 2018, but they’re already looking for ways to cut costs for their Connecticut affair. Dominique is currently in Turkey on a journalism fellowship, and she’s considering buying her dress there, where custom-tailored clothing is much cheaper. She hopes to spend less than $300 on a dress, leaving more money for other priorities, including saving for a house down payment.

Her parents will help the couple pay for the wedding, but they’re also focused on the long-term.

“My mom said, ‘I’d like to pay for parts of the wedding, but I’d also like to help you guys save up for a house or whatever you guys need in the future,’” Dominique said. “It’s great to put money into the wedding, but the most important part is we just want to have people there to enjoy themselves.”

Keeping big-picture goals in mind and recognizing that you have an entire life to live together, and more milestones you want to reach, can provide a sense of balance when you’re caught up in the desire to throw a massive event.

Saving for happily ever after

“We loved our wedding,” Kayleigh said. “At the same time, we have had those conversations where we sit back and are like, ‘Hmm, what would we have been able to do with the money we spent on it?’ It’s not worth breaking your back, your bank, or going into debt over, in my opinion.”

Emily, who strategically deposited cash gifts, said, “It’s a flip—if we didn’t have the wedding, we wouldn’t have money from gifts. [But] the money that we spent on the wedding, we would have put toward a house.” She also confessed, “If I didn’t pay for the wedding, I would have paid more on my loans, that’s for sure.”

Wedding planning is deeply personal, and many couples see the event as a reflection of their love, their family, and their community. Still, perspective helps.

“It’s one day,” Kayleigh said. “You’ve got to take it all in stride. Then you wake up [the next day], and it’s all over, and you’re like, ‘Wow, OK. That’s it.’”

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