Four things: Lots of research, careful planning, friends and family who love us dearly, and a teeny tiny bit of luck
When my husband proposed on February 2013, we got into planning our wedding right away. We had a theme, a budget in mind, and 8 months to get everything in place. Sounds like a challenge, doesn’t it? But truth be told, wedding planning isn’t as bad and excruciating as some people might think. It was actually a breeze for the both of us. (I didn’t turn into a bridezilla at any point in the planning and even on the wedding day!)
With a husband who gets a kick out of planning along with friends and family who were ever so supportive, we got what we always wanted. A very classy (if I may say so myself) and intimate wedding with just our closest family and friends where we were able to talk, laugh, and mingle with everyone which made everything just oh-so special.
Plus, we were also able to go on a honeymoon in Singapore and Bali within the wedding budget! How much did everything cost? Php 250,000 (Conversion rates: MYR1=Php11.04, EUR1=Php51.92, USD1=Php45.69)! Which is basically unheard of in the Manila wedding circuit these days.
In fact, someone who writes for a wedding magazine found out about our wedding, saw the photos, and was eager to write about it for a feature on intimate weddings. However, when I told him how we did everything by ourselves and how much money we saved by not going through planners and all the people in the wedding business, he told me he couldn’t write about it anymore. Why? Because the magazine will lose advertisers. 😛
So I won’t go into detail about everything as this is not a timely wedding guide anymore since it was two years ago. But I hope what you read here will be great advice to anyone who’s in the planning stage! 🙂
Discuss with your partner your dream wedding.
Big or small? Church or city hall? You have to talk and agree on a lot of things. Communication is important in marriage so you better start practicing now. 😉
One thing about my husband and I is that we both wanted an intimate ceremony with just immediate family and friends who know and were very supportive of our love story (which deserves another post as it is definitely one for the books). We’re not into the whole ‘hundreds of guests’ thing as we don’t like big crowds to begin with. Also, we just want to have the wedding as a way to celebrate our love with a few, important people in our lives and not really put on a big spectacle for it. Because – really – that will just exhaust the hell out of us.
If you’re like us, get ready to do some serious name-slashing off guest lists and prepare to get “why didn’t I get invited?!” messages from distant family members and friends you haven’t spoken to in years. You’ll just have to explain why – very nicely.
We only had 24 guests in our wedding and you might say I’m biased but I think it’s the best number. We knew every single one of them and we were able to spend time with everyone and make awesome memories!
2. Know your financial capabilities
Be honest with your partner. Don’t go – “Oh, I want an intimate wedding but I demand a Tiffany ring since you’re scrimping on wedding expenses!” If you really want a small wedding, you wouldn’t be using that as a bargaining chip to get other expensive stuff. And seriously, I don’t get it why some girls would do this even when you’re both trying to work on a budget and make sure you’re able to have an awesome wedding without making crazy lifestyle sacrifices during your first few months as husband and wife. 😉 Know what you can both afford and know which ones to prioritise.
Also, who’s paying? Remember, the wedding is only the beginning of everything. You wouldn’t want a 2-million peso wedding only to enter your marriage in debt. If you can afford it easily, why not? But if it means starting out your marriage scrimping on everything you need for the house and for your daily expenses – do you think it’s worth it?
In our case, my husband shouldered most of the expenses while I and our families also gave a bit of help here and there. Draw up a budget and see how you can make it work into your dream wedding. Being both realistic and honest will also take off a lot of pressure during the planning.
3. Think of a theme
Picking something that’s quite general will give you more room to be flexible with the arrangements. My husband and I love to travel and were set for a lifetime of travelling cos of his job. Plus, we’re also lovers of history so it was natural for us to have travel and Filipino-vintage elements in our wedding celebration. As for colours, I picked autumn colours – Blood Red and Sunset Orange – along with white to balance everything out.
Let’s say you decide to have an ‘Under the Sea’ type of wedding (sorry for the lame theme, I’m in a hurry to finish this post!). Don’t get too hell bent on getting everything in theme and actually making your reception venue look like King Triton’s palace. If you’re on a budget and can’t afford to blow off your hard-earned cash on a big seashell as your ‘presidential table’, then just stick with the details. The souvenirs, a bit of decor, the colours, and the centre pieces. The theme doesn’t have to be too out there to be noticed! Most of the time, it’s the little things that stand out.
4. The dress and the suit
Almost three months ago. I don't think I ever mentioned how in love I am with the intricate detail of my wedding gown? I was very specific with the design of my gown and how it would look like — even down to how the fabric is supposed fall to the floor and how regal the cut should be. I was so glad it turned out just the way I wanted it to. I guess there's nothing wrong with being like that over your wedding #gown. A #bride is supposed to be at her prettiest state on her #wedding day after all. My ever reliable husband also made sure I didn't turn into bridezilla at any point from the day we started planning the wedding. #throwback
My dress is something that I drew myself and that is something I am very proud of because I wore something that I practically dreamed into reality when I married Alvin. While I respect the talent of fashion designers and all the work they have to go through when it comes to designing and making a dress, I knew that for this occasion, it has to be a dress from me.
When we went to a wedding expo and I discussed with a fashion designer there the dress that I wanted, she practically drew what I just told her – down to the smallest details. Not her fault, of course, since that was what I wanted. But what’s the point of going to a designer if you won’t use her creativity? So, in reality, she was going to charge me just for making the dress and with no creative input from her involved. She quoted me with Php40,000 because she says she plans to use Italian lace.
Nope, that won’t do. I know I can get it at a lower price!
I went to a seamstress we’ve known since I was a kid. She made several dresses for me before and a couple of gowns so I know that she’s skilled. I asked her if she can do my wedding gown as long as I give her my design. I gave her my drawing and she told me how much cloth I will need. So I went to divisoria – the best shopping district in Manila, if you ask me – and bought yards and yards of cloth.
I bought several yards of creamy-white Duchess for Php80 a yard and lace for Php400 per yard. Though my lace is not Italian, I made sure to get really good quality. 🙂 I also bought tulle where my seamstress will sew the lace patterns by hand and turn it into a better pattern that will run through my arms and chest according to my design.
In the end, she charged me only Php6,000 (she did a lot of hand-stitching) for the labour and my dress ended up being only Php8,000! And I am very proud of that. To this day, I often ask people to guess the worth of my dress. The lowest estimate? Php50,000. 😀 And when I finally tell them how much my dress and our whole wedding actually cost – jaws drop. Every single time!
After all, it’s not about how much the dress is but how you carry it! 😉
As for my husband’s suit, he got it in Toppers Tailoring, a small shop in Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City. The shop is small and not fancy at all. It doesn’t have air-conditioning, even! But Toppers boasts of tailors who have been making suits for decades. Alvin paid Php9,000 pesos for his three-piece suit and his white shirt. He still uses it to special events to this day!
The lesson? We all know seamstresses and tailors from our childhood. You can always go to them with a design in your head and save yourself a ton of money! And this goes not just for weddings but for any special event! You think all my Filipiniana dresses that I wear to diplomatic events are designer? Of course, not! 😉
Would I have wanted a Vera Wang gown? Maybe? Only if I was the daughter of a multi-millionaire and had a lot of cash to spare! But my husband and I come from middle-income families and I’m just too proud of my taste in clothes and how I’m not a brand conscious person to throw a tantrum for not getting a designer dress. I guess it all comes down to what our priorities and preferences were at the time.
What makes my dress special is – like I what said earlier – I dreamed it into reality. And I didn’t even have to spend an arm and a leg for it.
5. The church and the flowers
Small wedding means you need a small a church. A big one will just cost more and will look too empty.
We got married inside the beautiful, domed chapel inside Paco Park dedicated to St. Pancratius. The park surrounding it has a beautiful fountain and the grounds are just lovely and historical. It cost us around Php17,800 at the time to get married there which included the use of the venue, a carpet, basic flowers for the pews and altar, the priest and his sacristans, and a pianist.
However, the church’s ‘basic’ flowers just won’t do. They were white and they weren’t going to provide enough to make the church pretty, to be honest. See, I’m a thrifty person but I know which things I should splurge a bit on. 😉
So we went to Dangwa to ask around for prices. The thing about Dangwa is you have to be good with bargaining and you should be patient with talking to people over and over. There were some good stalls offering great prices here and there. But, we ended up with the chapel’s flower supplier in the end because he had the best deal.
If you’re getting married in Paco Park, do ask the people at the parish office for their flower supplier – I already forgot his name, sorry – they’ll give you his number and he usually hangs out there in the parish office! So finding him is easy enough.
He gave me my bouquet plus several flower arrangements in the church (aisle flowers, two at the main altar, two at the sides of the altar, and two more by the sides of the bride and groom) at Php10,000. For that amount, we would have gotten less in Dangwa, so I was very happy with that!
And St. Pancratius’ Chapel needs a lot of flowers. I think it looks bare with lesser arrangements than what we had. They were also able to give me the blood red and sunset orange roses that I wanted. The colours were spot on! To be honest, I am very particular with flowers. 😀
7. The food
This is the probably the only thing in your wedding which you should NEVER scrimp on. Ok, really. It’s non-negotiable. You want to feed your guests well, after all. And bad food = grumpy guests. Oh, and weddings with bad food are talked about – for years! And not in a good way!
We had our reception in Ilustrado – one of Manila’s oldest restaurants. We just fell in love with the vintage-Filipino (read: antique) feel of the place. For Php54,000, they took care of the whole reception. The excellent food in the buffet, which we chose from an extensive menu, the sound system, the cake (which I loved!), the flowers, table arrangements, and the decor. We were just so happy with their service!
Everybody left full, happy, and some were even a bit tipsy. 😉
As for the wine, we bought our own wine outside and paid just a small corkage for each bottle. We got Chilean reds and whites which everybody (including myself) enjoyed. 😀
The food is the most expensive thing we had to pay for in the wedding and I must say that we were right in choosing this restaurant!
8. Miscellaneous stuff you need
Invitations, souvenirs, etc – we went to several wedding fairs and asked for price quotations from several suppliers, cross-checking them with the quality of their products. For invitations, we decided to go for something that looked like a passport – due to the nature of my husband’s job once again.
I highly recommend the service of Global Invitations. They’re affordable too. If you want to save more, you can always make your invites on your own. But the husband and I are not skilled with Photoshop so we decided to just get them made and we weren’t disappointed.
As for souvenirs, we got luggage tags (sticking with the travel theme!) from a supplier we met at a fair (forgot her name, sorry!). We also got notebooks with an Old Manila print on them (a lot of our guests were journalists), and abaniko fans that the guests can use during the ceremony (also with an Old Manila print).
Look for items that can be useful to your guests and won’t end up accumulating dust in their shelves. They should be cheaper than the usual figurine souvenirs too! 😉
9. Luck struck a couple of times
Months leading into the wedding, my belief that Alvin and I are just meant to be kept getting stronger due to the several things that happened. One of which was a crazy storm that was scheduled to arrive the week of our wedding. Arrive it did but luckily, skies cleared up hours before the ceremony started! In the Philippines, we also believe that rain during your wedding day brings good luck! Obama was also scheduled to visit the Philippines then but his visit was postponed! If he arrived, most of our guest won’t be able to make it as practically half of them are from our Foreign Ministry and reporters who are covering the Foreign Ministry.
Another thing is our wedding car. My husband already booked a Hyundai Sonata for around Php7,000 (the whole day). Booking a wedding car is actually easy in Manila and there are a lot of really affordable options.
However, we ended up bumping into Mr. Soong who’s a luxury car distributor in the Philippines, at a party just a few weeks before the wedding.
I’ve met Mr Soong a couple of times before that and interviewed him as well. As usual, he was very cordial and was asking me how I was. So I told him I’m about to get married and I introduced Alvin to him who was with me at the time. Suddenly, he called his assistant and told her to arrange a Jaguar that we can use for our wedding. A JAGUAR.
While I was trying to stop him and telling him that we already booked a car, he told us that he usually does this for people he knows who will be having special events. Turns out there are still really nice people out there. My family ended up riding in the Sonata. This part, I charge to being lucky and for always being nice to the people I interview. 🙂
And the last part of my lucky streak which I will share with you guys has something to do with the hotel.
We booked a room in Sofitel, one of my favourite hotels in Manila, through Agoda.com. The key to getting a good price is by booking months and months ahead. It also helps that October means we get a lot of rain in Manila so I guess the prices aren’t too high then since it’s considered ‘low-season’.
I got lucky again the day before my wedding. It was raining quite hard and I think there was some commotion with a couple of guests as there were totally lots of people at the counter and the people at the reception looked like they were having a hard time dealing with them that day so I had to wait for a bit longer to get a room. I remained calm and collected even though I was so tired and I just wanted to crash into a bed. I just told the woman at the reception that I’ll be on the couch, reading.
Later on, she called me up and told me that my room is ready and that she upgraded me to a better room with a view of the Manila Bay and the hotel’s pool! A CEO of some foreign company booked the room as he was attending a conference in Manila that weekend but he decided not to push through at the last minute due to the inclement weather. I ended up getting his room which cost way more than what we paid for and I even had fruits and wine as a welcome gift! Well, that was a nice touch! 😀
10. Friends to the rescue
While I will never ever demand my friends to give me any of their services for free, I got extremely lucky to have friends who offered them anyways – and even insisted. We’re so lucky to be surrounded by talented people who wanted to help us out on our big day.
Hair and makeup is another expensive part of the wedding. Especially if you have an entourage. While I can actually do it on my own, my best friend Jade who studied makeup artistry in Makeup Forever Hong Kong offered her services. So my maid of honour actually doubled as my makeup artist on that day. And I’m not complaining. <3
My best friend made me look really pretty on that day. And my makeup actually stayed in place despite all the crying that I did during the ceremony! Yes, I cried. I bawled, to be quite accurate about it.
Another way to scrimp on the hair and makeup is by learning how to do it yourself. There are tons of Youtube videos that can teach you how! All it takes is practice!
My husband and I didn’t have the time to do pre-nup photos which are all the rage nowadays. We were both so busy with work even just a few days leading up to the wedding! We didn’t even file a leave from work the day before we got married! To be honest, we’re not into it as well. I modelled for years so getting dolled up and posing for photos felt like work and Alvin is quite shy.
So yes, the lack of a pre-nup shoot turned into big savings – have you seen how much such a thing goes for these days?
We’re not into getting a wedding videographer as well since based on my experience, it’s only my grandma who will keep re-watching it anyways. All we needed was a photographer. My only requirement was that I wanted a photojournalist to take the shots. I don’t want anything posed and too cheesy and photojournalists take the best candids ever!
Luckily, I knew several photo journalists as I was working as a reporter back then. And then we got even luckier. Francis who works for the European Pressphoto Agency was someone I’ve been working with on the field. We’ve met several times and I found out later on that he’s Alvin’s distant relative. What are the odds, right?! 😉 He insisted that he did this for us as his gift and we were just so honoured to have him as our photographer! He did so well! And the photos on this blog post are actually raw copies from him!
Two more of my best friends also helped out tremendously. Michaela, who helped us out with planning since day 1, also did the coordination on that day (I would have died without her) while Carla sang the church hymns. Darell, who’s Alvin’s best friend and is really close to me as well, hosted the reception and got everybody laughing cos of her witty remarks throughout the night.
11. Ditch the entourage
I guess the beauty of having a small wedding is that we didn’t have to have an entourage and a lot of things became flexible cos of that. No bridesmaids were forced into dresses of my choosing and there were no screaming and tantrum-throwing kids who are not in the mood to walk down the aisle and throw flowers.
Also, it was only I who got to walk down the aisle! Haha! Talk about feeling like THE star of the ceremony. 😉
But of course, due to the closeness of our relationships with our guests, we had unofficial bridesmaids and groomsmen who pinned the veil, and did all the other rituals required.
We also had only one pair of Principal Sponsors. Our godmother, my boss and mentor in Solar News – Ms Pia – gave us great advice that we’ll be thinking of for the years to come and our god father, my husband’s boss and the person who introduced us – Amb Raul – made us reminisce about how we met. Of course, everybody was laughing afterwards. 😉
It was indeed an intimate affair with everyone’s participation freely and spontaneously given (some of them only found out they’re helping out in the ceremony on the day itself!) and made for great memories.
12. The Wedding Library is your BFF
No, this is not a sponsored post. The Wedding Library is every bride’s one stop shop. They also have a list of suppliers there where you can get your shoes ‘blinged-up’ for your special day, couturiers, caterers, etc.
But if I find that most of the businesses on their list are kinda pricey. I go to the Wedding Library for the littlest things you’ll need during the ceremony which you might end up forgetting. I got all the candles needed for the wedding, the veil, the cord, the pillows for the rings, and all the other little things there.
They will also give you a checklist of everything you need which makes it a lot easier. They also have choices for each item ranging from high end to the affordable!
That weird question!
“Aren’t you afraid that people might think you scrimped way too much on your wedding?”
Someone asked this once and of course, I was dumbfounded! The amount of money we spent on the wedding isn’t something we will earn in a day, definitely! 😉
But the fact that we were able to pull this off in a short amount of time, making our guests happy in the process, and being able to share this special day with them in the best way we know how and spending only a quarter of what people in Manila would normally spend for a wedding – makes me so happy!
In fact, it’s a story I’d gladly tell people and my future grand kids over and over again! 😀
But before anyone get’s offended, let me just say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a big wedding. It’s the choice of the couple anyways! 😀
But this is our preference and I’m so happy everything fell into place on that day! And that the guests were so participative and that all my friends were
willing insistent on helping us out! I just want to share with you guys how we were able to pull it off!
Alvin and I are also firm believers that it’s not about how much money you spend but it’s how you make the most out of it! 😀 Like what I said on the blog description – we’re really all about the good life on a budget. 😉