How we saved money on our wedding

When I first started thinking about the wedding, we had what seemed to me like a gigantic (incredibly generous) amount of money from my parents to pay for it.

It turns out, weddings are insane. And though I definitely think they are less expensive in France than the States—a number of times I’ve seen an American wedding photographer called “reasonable” for services costing over $2000—a French wedding was still expensive.

So we did a few sensible easy things to make things cheaper.

1) Wedding invitations online at vistaprint and planet-ecards. The American ones I had delivered to my parents’ home in Texas where my lovely mother addressed them and sent them off. The French ones came to our house.

2) A photographer whose full-time job wasn’t photography. This was a stroke of luck, because I really did love his pictures, and I expected him to be more expensive, quite possibly out of budget for us.

3) Vin d’honneur invitations printed on our home printer. I found a website with printables that allowed you to modify them and save them as an image to your computer. We shelled out to get a new color cartridge for our printer and some card quality paper and then printed four to a sheet. We cut them with scissors—very high-tech, I know. This also allowed us to e-mail them to people we were worried we might not have seen before the wedding.

4) Table centerpieces with water and candles instead of a million flowers. Though these were done professionally by our florist (turns out flowers burn or sink if you don’t have fancy bits of wood and twine helping them out), this plan reduced our flower budget enormously. Also there was just one bouquet (mine), one boutonniere (his), and one flower crown (also for me, don’t forget, it was all about me).

5) No DJ.

6) Wedding dress off Zalando. Here’s a tip if you’re looking for a little white dress for your wedding: wait till May to look for it. I started looking in October and there was nothing, I mean nothing in stores because it was just out of season. So I went to Zalando where white dresses are always available and found something I loved. But come May, there were white dresses everywhere in the stores and I did feel a bit dumb for having stressed out about it.

7) Renting the village hall. Stroke of budget- and stress-reducing genius. We could afford to rent it for Friday + the weekend and so had lots of time to set up and break down.

8) No bridal party. Not entirely true, because I did have my handy helpful witness Laurel, and J’s witness also helped out, but we didn’t have to get multiple bouquets and multiple hair-dos and make-ups.

To be fair though, if any of these things really had mattered to me or J, we would have found a way to make it work. But we really did not feel any desire to get married in a castle an hour away from the civil ceremony, or have five witnesses each, or hire someone expensive to design our invitations. What we did want was a fabulous five-course meal, and that did take up almost half our budget.

“Keeping” Your Name (in France)

So that was a lot of punctuation for a title, wasn’t it?

When J and I got married last summer, I kept my last name (and he kept his). I always meant to keep my name if I got married, and though it was tempting to change to something French-sounding just to simplify my life, I knew I could never really give up my good old Irish last name.

I definitely get the impression that keeping your name is a much more recent phenomenon in France (perhaps like women’s suffrage?). But I may be biased, because my mom kept her name, and I knew other women who did so as well, so I grew up just thinking that was the normal state of things. In France, among my colleagues I know women who have hyphenated, but no one who has just kept their name. Lots of people asked me at the rentrée what I was changing it to, and when I said it was staying the same, a few said, “Tu as raison!” But it does feel pretty rare. Friends who were at our wedding invited me to their wedding website as Eileen J’slastname, which I found odd considering a visit to facebook can show you that that’s not my name. But I remember now when I was addressing envelopes for our wedding invitations, J was very nonchalant about our invitee’s women partner’s last names, and I wish I’d forced him to be more careful.

We’re very purposefully not telling our bank that we got married, so that they can’t screw up my last name. I will remain “Mlle” there for the foreseeable future, though J pointed out that Mlle is no longer an official thing and shouldn’t even be an option at the bank. And since I got my nationality through naturalisation and not through marriage, and it came through before the wedding, there shouldn’t be any hiccups there (though I guess I should cross my fingers until I actually get my French birth certificate).

So I guess in the spirit of this discussion, I’m wondering what everyone else’s experience is out there. Did you keep yours? Would you keep yours? What about hyphenation or Zoe Saldana-style name changing in the other direction? What are everyone’s attitudes around you? I’m not sure J’s family is aware I’ve kept mine (though I did tell his mom before the wedding that I was going to), and I am slightly worried someone might buy me a plane ticket in the wrong name some day (not kidding, this happened to my mother on a family trip).

The Wedding

Here we are, finally back from our trips and with all the urgent responsibilities out of the way, and we’ve finally gotten our professional wedding pictures too. I say “finally” because they were actually ready two days after the wedding, but since we were leaving town and J didn’t want to pick them up over the internet, we waited until we got back from vacation… by which point he was much more impatient than I was.

So what to say about the wedding? It went swimmingly, in spite of a little rain the morning of. We spent all of Friday setting up the hall, including tables, table cloths, decoration, escort cards and our DIY lazy girl photo booth.


Setting up the “photo booth” (photo by me)


Putting silly decoration bits on tables (photo by me)


photo by ? (on my phone)

The lazy girl photo booth involved a lamp with a powerful light bulb, bunches of props bought at the party store, a tri-pod, a camera, and a white wall. We spray-painted a styrofoam packing frame gold to serve as a frame. We weren’t willing to put any more money or time into this, but we did want it, and the guests had a great time with it.

Escort card photos

Escort card photos (photo by me)

Our escort cards were all pictures of the guests, with J and/or me when possible. I got this idea from this website.

The flowers arrived Friday night and I think that’s when I started to feel like we were really getting married.

Our table flower arrangement + the menu in French

Our table flower arrangement + the menu in French (photo by me)

Both my pre-wedding appointments went faster than expected, and we were ready earlier than expected, so we filled the time with a game of Ticket to Ride (Les Aventuriers du rail), USA edition, on our patio.

Getting my hair did

Getting my hair did (photo by Laurel)


I was clearly going to win. (photo by R Bernus)


(photo by R Bernus)

My mom’s hair appointment went well as well, since my sister-in-law and brother accompanied her and she took in pictures of what she hoped for.


(photo by R Bernus)


We did set up the vin d’honneur inside rather than outside because of a late downpour, and J and I did arrive under an umbrella, but after that, there was no more rain.

Umbrellas made for adorable pictures like this (we are still confirming whose little girl that is):


(photo by R Bernus)

Our officiant was the adjunct mayor of culture. I estimate about ten years on those dreads. He was great, though we assume it was his first wedding because he was quite emotional and had prepared lots of notes about the laws and acts to read.


(photo by R Bernus)

I didn’t eat anything during the vin d’honneur (I had eaten a sandwich around noon) though I did have a cocktail (a pineaujito) and J did make me taste the miget aux fraises at one point.

Juicing the limes Thursday evening

Juicing the limes Thursday evening (photo by me)

Two coolers of bitters and pineau, ready for lime juice

Two coolers of bitters and pineau, ready for lime juice (photo by me)

The finished product

The finished product (photo by R Bernus)

Melons from Poitou

Melon from Poitou (photo by R Bernus)

Miget aux fraises

Miget aux fraises (photo by R Bernus)

Tasting the miget aux fraises

Tasting the miget aux fraises (photo by R Bernus)

As J had predicted, no one went home between the vin d’honneur and dinner, except the American guests who needed a rest in order to make it past midnight. So there were games of pétanque and shellfish gathering down by the river as well as a slack-line.

Slack-line (photo by J's sister)

Slack-line (photo by J’s sister)

I was not stressed out the day of the wedding, but in the days prior I had been worried about the service and the timing of the French wedding games. But everything went well. J’s friends had translated the games into English and his witness read in both languages, and the American guests actually loved it.

Elle ou lui? (Newlyweds game) (photo by Laurel)

Elle ou lui? (Newlyweds game) (photo by Laurel)

As a “prize” for the first game we got a couple of aprons and a betta fish. Yay?


(photo by R Bernus)

Actually, I was pretty happy about the aprons, but the fish? We were leaving on a twenty-day vacation afterwards… somehow he miraculously survived two full weeks without food and with very little sunlight.

The cake appeared around midnight, and the first dance happened around 1 am. (Thanks to my dad for sticking it out till then, because the father-daughter dance followed.)

mariage julien eileen (48)

Cutting the cake as the younger cousins look on eagerly (“C’est pour qui ce morceau?”) (photo by J’s sister)

mariage julien eileen (51)

Our Franco-American themed wedding cake (photo by J’s sister)

The dance party was fun, but most of J’s friends actually don’t really dance, something I discovered at our wedding. So once the Americans left the party at around 2/2:30 am, the dance party consisted of about four or five people at a time (including me, almost always). We did managed to have a few good moments toward the end of the night when we put on Manau (La Tribu de Dana), Axelle Red (Parce que c’est toi), and Louise Attaque (Léa, Je t’emmene au vent).

We went home at 5 am, were in bed by 6 am (after fifteen minutes of pin-pulling in my hair), and 25 guests showed up at our house at 6:15 am with the onion soup that is a regional wedding tradition. We didn’t know they had soup, we just heard them yelling to let them in, which were not going to do because my brother and his wife were staying with us and they had to get up at 9 am to catch a train (also we had to get up at 10:30 to set up the Sunday brunch for these same people and our families). So we cursed some in French and yelled and when one of J’s friends finally climbed in through the bathroom window, he basically just turned around to spread the message that this was not going to fly. So the 25 guests went back to the village hall and ate the soup amongst themselves. We have loads of it in our freezer.

The Sunday brunch went well, though we were exhausted and there was a lot of cleaning to do. J’s friends hung out playing pétanque and palets, his family and mine and my American friends all made a massive effort to clean up the hall. By around 6 pm people started leaving, and we went to dinner with my parents and my American friends that night in the Poitiers city center.

Tired. (photo by Ed)

Tired. (photo by Ed)


Palets (photo by J’s sister)

The days following we managed to see a few guests that were hanging around longer. The last guests left Tuesday and we headed out to our mini-moon on Wednesday morning.

I had spent a lot of time dreaming about a day-of-coordinator, but they are pretty expensive and I would have wanted one for two full days almost. In the end we didn’t hire one, and everything went fine. I also didn’t regret the 100-euro wedding dress instead of the 700-euro one, or the lack of a DJ (since J’s friends don’t dance anyway). J looked fab and I felt pretty great.

Coming out of the mairie, getting whacked with petals (photo by J's sister)

Coming out of the mairie, getting whacked with petals (photo by J’s sister)

Les Complexités d’un mariage à l’étranger

Techniquement parlant, ce n’est plus un mariage à l’étranger, car je suis française depuis le 10 juin! Même si je me sens chez moi en France depuis quelques années maintenant, ce fait n’est pas négligeable—je suis réellement chez moi selon le gouvernement français !

Et pourtant pour ma famille, et quelques uns de mes amis, la France est bel et bien un pays étranger. Un pays qu’ils aiment—nous avons toujours été francophiles—mais un pays étranger tout de même.

Pourquoi est-ce que ça complique les choses? Je vais tenter de l’expliquer…

1) Les préparatifs. Comme je l’ai déjà dit, j’ai pris plaisir à mélanger des traditions en préparant le mariage, mais ça n’a pas forcément été facile. Les blogs de mariage, tellement utiles et rassurants lors des préparatifs, sont forcément dirigés vers une culture ou une autre. Il y a beaucoup de tendances “américaines” qui commencent à apparaître en France, et qui ont l’air très modernes ici même si elles sont déjà devenues quasi-obligatoires aux USA : la cérémonie laïque, la cabine photo, le livre d’or original, le DIY partout… et j’en passe. Mais ce que j’aurais aimé lire, c’est un blog “Comment faire un mariage franco-américain,” avec des articles du genre “Comment faire un vin d’honneur DIY avec des spécialités de la région,” “Comment ne pas choquer tes invités américains avec des jeux ringards pendant le repas,” “Comment mettre de la musique hip-hop pendant ta soirée dansante sans faire peur aux invités français,” ou encore “Comment convaincre tes invités américains de rester jusqu’au bout de la nuit à ton mariage français.” Eh bien vous avez bien deviné, ce blog, il n’existe pas. Il faut tout faire à l’ancien, et prendre ses décisions comme un grand.

2) Les préparatifs et la famille. Avant de me rendre compte des réalités budgétaires d’un mariage (et oui c’est VRAIMENT TRES CHER UN MARIAGE), je me suis toujours dit que j’en ferais deux, avec un mariage civil en France et une fête après au Texas. Quand, plus jeune, j’imaginais mon éventuel mariage, j’imaginais quelque chose au milieu du “Hill Country” texan au mois d’avril, au milieu des fleurs. Le printemps texan est réellement époustouflant. Tu vois les champs de lavande de Provence et les mariés chinois qui traversent le monde pour prendre des photos là-bas? Ils ont tort, car le Texas est encore plus beau que ça au mois d’avril. Et quand ma mère a compris que nous n’allions pas pouvoir faire quelque chose au Texas, elle a été réellement triste. Le mariage de sa fille peut être aussi un rêve pour la mère, et ça a été dur pour la mienne de ne pas pouvoir être avec nous pour choisir la robe, les fleurs (surtout qu’elle s’y connait beaucoup mieux que moi), même si j’ai essayé de l’impliquer comme j’ai pu.

3) L’installation du mariage. La semaine prochaine commencera pour nous la vraie mise en place du mariage. La veille, il y aura trente milles trucs à aller chercher (d’accord, ok, pas trente milles mais au moins cinq en plus de la déco : fût de bière, sono, plats du retour dimanche, nappes, cadeaux pour les invités…). Et devine quoi? Pour aller les chercher il faut 1) conduire une voiture manuelle et 2) parler français! Alors je ne peux pas attribuer n’importe quelle tâche à n’importe qui juste parce que cette personne (indispensablement gentille) peut aider!

4) La préparation de la famille du jour-j. Je vais encore parler de ma pauvre maman. Ma mère voudrait se faire coiffer le jour de mon mariage, une demande que je trouve tout à fait raisonnable—après tout, j’espère ne me marier qu’une fois, et je suis sa seule fille. Et pourtant ma coiffeuse est toute seule le jour du mariage, et je n’ai pas envie de laisser ma mère toute seule chez la coiffeuse, ni d’y aller perdre une heure à regarder et interpréter ! On va trouver une solution, comme toute la famille s’est mise à apprendre le français, mais je pense que vous comprenez, ce n’est quand même pas simple.

Bien sûr, en fin de compte, comme dans ma vie quotidienne, le mélange de français et d’américain est plus une joie qu’un casse-tête, sinon, je ne serais pas restée en France ! Et je ne veux pas me plaindre d’avoir trouvé la personne avec qui je veux passer ma vie et qui a accepté de le faire et de le fêter devant tous nos proches. Mais il y a peut-être un article “comment faire un vin d’honneur DIY” à venir très prochainement, du moins, si on le réussit…

(Pourquoi j’ai écrit cet article en français? Je ne sais pas, ça m’est venu comme ça… et puis je suis française maintenant, donc j’ai sûrement le droit?)

A Wedding Preparation Update

This. THIS is what's left. Lots of this.

This. THIS is what’s left. Lots of this.

Now that the trip with the kiddos is over, I can finally put more energy into the wedding planning. Over these past few weeks—the weeks between the vacances d’hiver and the vacances de printemps—everything has been trip, trip, trip, with some much-needed but barely-there time for my 9th grade homeroom class parents who have made it to that FREAK THE F*CK OUT time of year. (Ninth grade students in France have to choose and apply for the school track they want the following year.)

So now I can go back to wedding planning. This conversation has happened a few times over the past few weeks:

Friend: So what else is left in the wedding planning?

Me: Oh my God, I don’t even know how to say.

When people ask that question I suspect they’re expecting big-ticket items, like the caterer (booked in October), the photographer (ditto), or the dress (bought on Zalando in February). But really what’s left is a million little things that no one really thinks about. Except maybe for the dance lessons and the flowers.

For example…

1) Planning for Sunday brunch. We bought the plastic-ware and napkins this week as well as a paper table cloth. Later we’ll order some salads from the grocery store and some croissants from the local bakery.

2) Vin d’honneur. We need to buy the (secret) ingredients for our (secret) cocktail and then won’t mix them up until the week before the wedding. We also need to hire someone to serve all this stuff.

3) Ordering beer kegs for the dance party to finish out the night. As well as plastic cups to drink it in.

4) Finishing up paperwork for the marriage application. My US birth certificate took almost two months to arrive, so fortunately foreigners can give a birth certificate up to 6 months old rather than the 3 months for a French citizen. The translation though isn’t quite done yet.

5) Random decoration stuff. Guest book. Gift urn. Pens. Escort cards. Menus. Table numbers.

6) Final wedding week organization stuff, like who’s going to deliver the wine to the salle des fêtes? Who speaks French and/or can drive a stick shift to go get things?

But when most people ask the question about what’s left to do, I have a feeling they aren’t really thinking about plastic forks, birth certificates, and pens.

Wedding Decisions

Wedding planning has slowed down significantly since I went back to work three weeks ago, as I predicted, but we’ve managed to make a lot of decisions and reserve a lot of things already. The choices are interesting when it’s a Franco-American wedding.

1) Wedding website: During my sick leave I set up two wedding websites, one in English on Weddingwire and another in French on Zankyou. Zankyou has a registry function that is basically just a common pot for a specific gift, so after learning that Weddingwire no longer lets you put in your own html code in order to do a Paypal donation button, we’re just directing people from the Weddingwire website to the Zankyou website for any gift-giving that will happen. You can switch Zankyou websites from French to English on a front page drop-down menu. Of course, it won’t translate anything you’ve written in yourself.

2) Caterer: Like I’ve said, the five-course meal was pretty important to J, and we’ve found some pretty yummy stuff to eat. We met with two caterers, one down the road that was way too expensive, and one about a 45-minute drive north of here. We went with the cheaper one, obviously, but it’s also a family operation. The owner’s dog sat at our feet during the appointment. We were won over.

3) Venue: I guess there are many French people who find the idea of getting married in the village hall sort of sad. But the price can’t be beat (280 euros for the weekend because we’re village residents). And ours was renovated in 2010 so it’s completely modern. Interestingly, this also means that the kitchen is almost empty except for metal counters and a sink, but it seems most caterers are used to that these days and come with their own fridge trucks and reheaters. We’ll be doing our own decoration, though the caterer said they can set the tables and do the centerpieces if we leave them instructions. But since we’re planning to do something different on each table, we’ll just do it ourselves. We get the keys to the building the Friday before (though we don’t know what time), and it’s literally right next to the town hall so there’s no need for transport between the two.

4) Photographer: We’ve found our photographer (fingers crossed—he still hasn’t sent me a contract to sign) who is exceptionally inexpensive because his main job is making websites and not taking photos. But we really liked his photos and again, the price can’t be beat.

5) Ceremony: We’re only doing the legal ceremony at the town hall. I didn’t know that “cérémonies laïques” were coming into fashion in France till we met with a photographer who told us about them. But I can’t be arsed with the extra planning that entails. We already have a vin d’honneur to plan, and it’s looking like we may be taking on a lot of that work ourselves. So renting white chairs, finding an “officiant”… laisse tomber.

6) Cake: American-style wedding cakes (called “wedding cake”) are also trendy in France nowadays, in addition to or replacing the traditional “pièce montée” of cream puffs that I find so unattractive. Both caterers told us that a wedding cake was very expensive to make, and the first was willing to make us one for almost 1000 euros (for 100 people). Fortunately we found a pâtissière from south of Poitiers who specializes in cakes and wedding cakes, and we met with her twice to decide on flavors and decorations. It’s only going to cost 400 euros plus 25 for delivery. So, I don’t know what the deal was with the caterers.

7) Music: We don’t have room in our budget for a DJ, and I’ve heard that DJs can really be hit or miss. So I’ve made Spotify play-lists for both the meal and the dancing (over 10 hours of music). This was really fun to do, and I’ve also made an “extra music” list in case we want to mix things up that evening. It’s been fun to make a mix of French and American songs. We’re planning our first dance to a song in French and my dance with my dad to a song in English. We’re going to put a password on the computer because J does have friends who are capable of messing with the play-list to put on their own French electro that no one else wants to hear.

So yeah… that’s all the wedding talk for now.

Wedding Shopping in Paris

When J’s vacation plans this week fell through, he decided he wanted to go to Paris and Fontainebleau with me. Although I was nervous about walking so much with my foot, we drove up to Paris Tuesday morning and parked at Antony, where we would spend the night at a friend’s place. Navigating the RER and the metro with a fragile foot that no one seemed to notice was a little stressful, and very tiring for my calf muscles. But all in all I think it was worth it. Once we were finally in Paris we headed to the Marais where I had decided we would go to Danyberd’s shop after poking around on the internet. Turns out this area of the Marais is almost entirely men’s shops (Parisians are probably already aware of this) but I was pretty confident with the choice of Danyberd, where J got fit for his suit including pants, jacket, and shirt. He got the tie across the street and got the pants hemmed in the same neighborhood. All we have left to find are the shoes, which, if he weren’t so picky, he could have gotten at Danyberd as well.

Wedding dress shopping was not the goal of the trip as I already have a prêt-a-porter dress that I’d be perfectly happy wearing for the wedding. Unfortunately we did walk past “Une fille à marier” in the Marais with the absolutely perfect short, lacy, stylish “made in France” dress for… 780 euros, or about twice my budget. Sigh.

Picture from

Picture from

But I did make one purchase for myself, since I had been eyeing some rings on Knowing they had a boutique in Paris, we went over to Place de la Madeleine to find it. It is well hidden, through a little archway and behind glass doors that you buzz to get in. We were gauche enough to wander in without an appointment at 6 pm (they close at 7) but I don’t think the saleswoman regretted helping us since we did order my ring, which I should be able to pick up when I go back to Paris for my certificat de coutume probably in February. Though of course I won’t be able to wear it till July! So things are coming together for the wedding, since we also booked our “traiteur” Thursday night. I’ll go back to work on November 3rd at which point I imagine the planning will slow down significantly, since I’ll be doing other things than sitting on the couch thinking about it.