WASHINGTON — My husband's wedding vows included sweet devotions of love, but also showed his appreciation for the practical side of making a life with me.
"I love you," Eric said, "because you are frugal."
It was an appropriate thing to say at our wedding, which I had planned using the same budget-conscious tool that I use to find everyday bargains: the Internet.
Every aspect of our Big Day — from the Mexican venue to the raised ink invitations to my bargain gown — was discovered and comparison priced online to make sure we could have the wedding of our dreams at the best price.
The effort granted us some reprieve from the out-of-control spending on weddings that seems so ridiculous and self-indulgent in the current economy.
When my husband and I sought out quotes from vendors in our adopted hometown of Washington, D.C., we were stunned. Even a simple ceremony and reception would mean further delaying a new home, spending the kind of money that could send our future children to college and beginning our marriage in debt.
I suggested we elope. Eric was OK with running off, but he wanted to bring our loved ones along and make it a destination wedding.
We immediately focused on Mexico, where we two journalists had met while covering a presidential summit in Cancun. Along with its romantic significance, Mexico had financial significance, too: We figured it wouldn't cost a fortune for guests to reach, and might mean bargains on everything from flowers to margaritas.
Facebook survival guide for awkward adultsThat is, if we ventured away from the wedding-factory hotels in resort towns like Cancun. Their prices were as high as in Washington.
I turned to TripAdvisor.com, where travelers write frank hotel reviews. I looked through the top-ranked accommodations in Mexico and discovered Casa Schuck, a 10-room bed and breakfast in the heart of picturesque San Miguel de Allende, a place neither my husband nor I had ever been.
I fell in love at first online sight with this colorful hacienda in a romantic mountain town with narrow cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Eric worried it might be too remote, but signed off after my Internet research found that San Miguel had a golf course where he could unwind with his buddies ($130 for 18 holes, including clubs, cart and caddy).
Many of San Miguel's centuries-old haciendas are now renovated boutique hotels, and I scoured their Web sites to compare pricing and accommodations. Casa Schuck won out, largely because owner Susan Cordelli was so responsive to my e-mail requests for detailed budgeting and information, and offered to act as our wedding coordinator for free if we reserved her entire property (rooms ranged from $179-$259/night).
She suggested budget-friendly local traditions that would make our wedding a bona fide fiesta: a parade through the streets ($20 permit) with a mariachi band ($400) and a donkey pulling a tequila cart ($250); 14-foot-tall, papier-mache puppets called mojigangas to dance at our reception ($250); and of course the margaritas in multiple flavors ($28.75/person for four hours).
Within 48 hours, I had booked our wedding for Thanksgiving weekend, just four months away. Next, I filled out forms at the American and Continental Web sites and got a discount code for my guests. Eric and I cashed in miles on Northwest's Web site.
Instead of pricey, unnecessary "Save the Date" cards, we sent an e-mail to friends and family. But I coveted a bright orange and turquoise hand-drawn invitation that reminded me of the decor inside Casa Schuck, with raised thermography print and heavy two-layer paper but a non-frugal $817 price tag.
I brought the price down two ways: I purchased smaller but identical save-the-date cards, which were $111 cheaper, and changed the wording to match the invitations. After using Google to search for discounts on my chosen brand, I bought my selection for $458.90 from an online retailer called "Let's Party."
For all other details, I worked with Cordelli's recommended San Miguel vendors, who offered services at a fraction of the prices quoted back home.
My foodie husband discussed dinner menu options ($46/person) with the caterer in a lengthy e-mail exchange. I selected floral centerpieces ($35/table), chairs ($3.60 each) and linens ($15/table) from Picasa Web Albums. And we chose a band ($1,200) after listening to MP3 files.
Having the wedding in Mexico took a leap of faith — we sent deposit checks to bank accounts in Texas border towns like Loredo and McAllen, without any signed contracts. But the Internet gave us confidence: I'd read a host of reviews and solicited e-mailed suggestions from others who had married in San Miguel.
Facebook survival guide for awkward adultsMy dress was the last detail, and it was my biggest bargain.
With one month to go, I still hadn't been able to find a simple and affordable design in bridal boutiques. So I ordered 10 dresses from Nordstrom.com, which offers dozens of stylish designs, most under $500, and no hassle returns.
When the big boxes arrived, I chose one that cost $248 and coordinated beautifully with borrowed shoes and my grandmother's colorful 70-year-old jewelry.
With all the money we saved, we were able to splurge on some extras, including travel costs for relatives who otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford the trip.
We also had fireworks ($350) and salsa lessons ($350) at the rehearsal dinner; I hired a personal trainer to get in shape ($65/hour); and we published a "wedding yearbook" ($466.20) through Blub.com with photos and short bios of our 63 guests.
We worried the most about our decision not to hire a photographer. We didn't like the work of available local photographers, and flying in a U.S. professional would have cost thousands.
Instead, we took a chance on our friends — and the Internet.
We signed up for a pro account at Flickr.com ($24.95) and asked our guest to upload all their pictures. We collected more than 3,000 shots, many of them exceptional. Later, I used Blurb.com to design our album ($64.95).
In the end, we spent nearly $30,000 but were happy to write the checks. Instead of feeling ripped off with overpriced flowers and booze, we had an unforgettable, four-day celebration in a magical place, and didn't feel that we were skimping on a thing.
Besides, I know that what some people call cheap, my husband calls frugal. And he loves me for it.
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