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October 25, 2011


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Borrow someone else's back yard and then you don't have to renovate yours.

First of all, congratulations! My husband and I got married in Austin in December 2003. :) We had 30 guests and all told probably spent in the neighborhood of $4,000 for the wedding - not including the power surge that killed our appliances the day after we got back from our honeymoon. Oh well, what are emergency funds for, after all?

I think that you are asking all the right questions, however, what does your fiancee think? It does sound like he is also interested in the backyard wedding. The fact that you will be investing in your home should make the yardwork have some value beyond the pleasure it would give you to have your wedding there. Would you be paying for the improvements via his savings and not accruing more debt?

My advice would be to slowly do the yardwork and pay it off as you go - which given that you are planning a spring of 2013 wedding sounds like it would be quite doable. I was engaged for almost 2 years because that's how long it took us to save up to pay for our wedding. Just the route we decided to take, and one that we don't regret. Good luck!

Interesting post. Well you have lots of time to either fix up the backyard or find another venue, at least 8 months I'd say. So use your time wisely.

For feeding 100 people you would at least need to spend $20 a person I'd think so that's $2K so your 1.5k estimate is not too far off, but you should get more than that back in the form of cash and gifts... 100 people is a big number of people... By spending less it means you have to have more planning and preparation by friends, family and you.

Sounds like you are asking the right questions and hope my rambling comment can give you some more things to think about when making your decision.

Definitely put some milestones on a calendar and use the time you have to your benefit... if you wait a while then doing something interesting on a budget gets much harder.


Congratulations! My wedding is coming up in two months, but as apartment dwellers we didn´t have the option of a backyard wedding. I would have loved it! When I was researching wedding ideas I came across the blog Young House Love and was very inspired by their backyard wedding (there´s a link to it from the home page). They did some major upgrades to their yard as well to get it wedding-ready, but they definitely seemed to thing it was worth it. Good luck!

I think having the wedding reception in the back yard is a great idea to keep costs under control. Making some landscaping improvements makes sense as you plan to live in the house long term.

I would be concerned about the weather- what if it rains or is too hot? You might want to hold the ceremony in your church- then do the reception in the yard. That way you and your guests could change before the reception and bad weather wouldn’t be as much of a concern. I would still rent some tents so that you don’t end up with everyone trying to squeeze in the house if there is rain.

-Rick Francis

Sounds like a no-brainer to me. I'd go with the backyard. Plus, when you are done, every time you'll look at your backyard you'll remember your wedding.

A wedding at home also frees you up from any catering contracts a venue may have. We did all our wedding food from Costco...and it worked out really well.

First off, Congratulations! for your upcoming marriage but for also wanting to start your new life together finanically sound! Since you do have a little time and are willing to do the work yourselves, I would absolutely encourage you to start working on your backyard! While it will be nice for the wedding, it will also be a great upgrade to your home and one that you (and your future kids) can enjoy for many years to come beyond the wedding day. Like someone else asked, how do you intend to pay for the changes? I would look into the reimbursements provided by the city to determine how it works, and how much you can receive. I would not take on extra debt, but do what you can, when can (set yourself saving and completing goals). As a side note, I've gone to a number of backyard weddings, and not all had picture perfect yards. They cleaned up, made sure the landscaping was neat, but in general were normal backyards. As a guest I didn't notice much else, because I was more focused on enjoying the day with my friends and I suspect your guests will feel the same way!

Also, you will want to figure into your costs a "Plan B" in case of bad weather - a large tent (30 ft x 40 ft)will typically cost around $500-800. Food and beverages can be minimized especially if you're doing snack style foods and no alcohol. Best of luck and follow up to let us all know how it goes!

Regarding the wedding, I say definitely spend the $6k to fix up the backyard - if you're staying in the house long term, it only makes sense to have a nice yard to enjoy, especially since you love gardening. The wedding is a secondary, but important, benefit.

Moreover - where is all your money going? By my estimation, you should have about $1,000 a month after taxes, 401k, rent, car, and allowing $600/mo for student loans. Your fiance makes twice what you do and should at a minimum (based on what you listed for him) have $2k in discretionary monthly income after his fixed expenses. So why does an $8k wedding in 18 months seem like such an impossible vision? My wife and I have a similar household income in a high-cost of living area and save nearly $5,000 per month without ever feeling like we're depriving ourselves.

Thanks for the comments everyone! It's so great to get honest opinions of people we don't know.

My fiance (still not used to calling him that!) is completely on board. He was skeptical at first until I did some cost comparison analysis for him. :) But, he's really excited about fixing up the yard now.

A HUGE goal for us throughout this process is not to pay for anything with credit. Pay as you go, cash only please! Just last week we finished making a calendar for the next 14 months with all of the things we need to get done for a pretty yard by wedding time. I'm definitely learning how to stretch the dollar with free landscaping stuff from Craigslist and free compost and mulch from the city. I just love working in the yard....and he just loves to save money. :)

One reason why the wedding estimate is so low ($1,500.00) is because my parents have offered to pay for the catering. So, we just have to cover the tent, table, chairs rental, alcohol, decorations, and any other misc. items. And, after getting realistic about toilets, and parking, we whittled the guest list down to 70.

We are concerned it might rain...if it does, then we'll just crowd under the tent and get married in the rain. I wouldn't mind that so much, we need rain. Sometimes, I feel like it's never going to rain again!

I LOVE the Young House Love blog! Their backyard wedding is what really inspired me!

Thanks again!

Fixing up the backyard for your wedding sounds reasonable to me.

Although I wouldn't do it indoor repairs, extensive landscape replacement/repair around your house is not a simple or easy thing to do unless you are already an experienced landscaper. Putting the wrong plants in the wrong areas with respect to soil, drainage, light levels will just get you dead or poorly-growing plants and you will have to replace them. Also landscapers can help you correct drainage, soil, and other problems. Finally, you want the design of your new back yard to be well done. Do it right and you will improve the resale value of your house as well as the enjoyment you get out of it in the future.

I'm honestly a little perplexed by your question. You indicate that you would place a lot of value on a nice wedding and that you would also highly value a nice backyard where you could garden. Seems like spending money on a combo wedding and backyard upgrade is a very efficient use of your money. In addition to that you are making 120k gross in a low cost of living area and only considering spending 6k on this wedding. Those numbers are entirely reasonable. Don't confuse frugality with spending as little as possible. Frugal people spend their money as efficiently as possible, that often means buying less costly items or saving more but not necessarily so. If you really love gardening you should probably be spending a lot more than the average person does on that hobby.

The reason my initial reaction was confusion is that I am in a very similar situation to you financially. I make twice what my wife does, we make a bit more than you gross, our mortgage is a bit more than yours, and we live in an area with a bit higher cost of living. We also got married 3 years ago in a backyard! If I had the option to pay 6k for a significant home upgrade and to have a wedding in the style we wanted I would have jumped at the chance. That strikes me as a very good deal.

One thing I am also a bit confused by is your cashflow situation. You list all your assets and liabilities but leave out some of the cashflow information. 60k in student loans, a 170k mortgage, and two large car payments isn't great but they certainly aren't unmanageable. Especially for a couple with no kids living in Texas making 120k a year. My intuition says that you should be generating significant amounts of excess cash each month to save or paydown debt.

Interesting to see so many questions on cash flow...I can't speak too much about my fiance, but I know he max'ed out his 401k contributions. Additional things he pays for are: semi-major remodeling on the house done about 6 months ago on the porch area, all of the utilities (in summer months electricity alone can be 300+), surprise trip to Vegas where he proposed a few months ago, and my engagement ring (it's a doozey of a ring, but he picked it out :). Also, he makes nearly double mortgage payments and taxes are higher in our suburban area...don't know exactly how much though. The house is worth $170,000.00, but I'm not sure what the balance is. Lastly, there's the washer and dryer be bought. That's where my rent goes, but December is the last month of that.

Me? Well, I bring home about $2,200.00/month after taxes and 401k contributions. Monthly, I pay the following: $400 for rent; $350 for car; $100 for car insurance, $80 for cell phone, $20 for gym, $20 for Netflix, $250 for student loans, that's about $1,200.00. I also make about $300/mo credit card payments. Lastly, I buy all of the groceries which is about $450/mo. So, I've got about $300 left over for gas, savings, and fun. One really important thing for me is to try to get an emergency fund. In the last three months, I've had to charge over $1,000 to pay for wisdom teeth removal and some car repairs... :(

Saving money and being frugal are things I constantly think about friends are sick of hearing about it! lol! Probably because they're all in debt. Anyway, when people look at my budget, they ask two things: "do you really use your gym membership?" and "why do you spend so much on groceries?!" I go to the gym everyday 5 days a week and I think it's a great investment in long-term health. Also, I cook everyday and I always prepare our lunches, and we don't eat junk food. I don't buy organic, but I buy good food; to me that's a valid expenditure.

As far as my car is concerned, in retrospect, I shouldn't have bought such an expensive car ($10,000), but I did, and I have it now and the only thing I can really do is try to pay it off ASAP. The good thing is neither of us are into cars, and we agreed we'd keep our cars and put off buying A new car until we had to.

My fiance does like to go out a lot. He's got the "let's have fun before we have kids" mentality. While I agree to a certain extent, I'm slowly trying to bring him over from the dark side.


There are several beautiful gardens in Silicon Valley that, for a fee, allow you to hold a wedding and/or a reception in their facilities. We held our daughter's wedding reception in one garden called "Hakone Gardens" that is your quintessential gorgeous Japanese garden complete with a nice tea house, waterfalls, bridges, ponds and Koi. I don't remember the cost but it was very reasonable otherwise we wouldn't have chosen it. The settings for wedding photos were absolutely beautiful, as their website shows.

We attended another such wedding and reception in another beautiful setting, on 175 acres, called "Villa Montalvo", built in 1912 by a man that went on to become California's first popularly elected senator.

We have also attended receptions at facilities owned by fraternal organizations where you just pay for the use of the facilities and organize your own reception.

Any of these facilities need to be reserved well in advance because of their popular demand. Maybe you have something similar in Austin, Texas.

I would reduce the double payments just in case you need more money by 2013 to make those wedding payment in cash only. Also, use it to build emergency savings and to fund the honeymoon, and then return to double payments.

Spend more money on the wedding, you can afford it and you only get married once! Invite all 200 people and make real plans in case of rain! You have to be great hosters, and this is not just for making your backyard look nice. You might end up looking selfish to all your guests. Invite all 200 guests and save on food by providing hors d'ouvres only. You can have decorated tables with 200 chairs but no place setting. Get the caterer to run waiters with all types of different pickings of food and glasses of wine and beer! I've been to one last month and trust me it is high class.

If you are going to do it, do it right!

Kind of off-topic, but you're paying extra on your car instead of your credit cards? Surely the CC's have a higher interest rate... and likely a lower balance, if you're a "debt snowball" fan.

I consolidated my credit cards with my credit union for 1.9% for 12 months at the same time I refinanced my car for 12%. So, since my previous car payment was $350 I just stuck with that. I'm not a finance wiz, but because my car loan interest rate is so high and my credit card debt at a relatively low balance, I prioritize my car loan.

If you value a nice wedding and fixing up the backyard then spending the money to do that is perfectly fine and reasonable.

I'm wondering if you'd be able to keep the new drought-resistant grass an attractive green for the wedding. Would it take a lot of water to keep it green if there is more drought? And how would it take being walked on for hours? Would it be ruined or would it be tough enough to take it?

I like the idea of serving just appetizers and wine. You could have some small cocktail tables at standing height scattered about the yard for people to set their drinks. A simple potted plant could be enough on each table. Provide chairs here and there in groupings for older people. White lights in the trees, shrubs, flowers look nice. Recently I saw white flowers with white lights on the ground through the area. Very pretty. White or light colored blooms show up better in the evening/night also.

I love the idea of fixing up the backyard for a beautiful wedding back there. Sounds like a good use of your wedding money. I don't think you will regret this purchase. It's not money spent on "just one day" but something you will enjoy for years to come.

I say go for it! And congrats!!!

You might want to discuss with your fiance if there is a more efficient way for you to handle your debts as a couple. Just a quick calculation with your supplied numbers make it seem like there is considerable progress you could make in debt reduction if you both want to do it.

If your fiance makes 80k I would conservatively estimate his taxes as 16k (that's my average net tax rate on a higher income) take out another 16k for his 401k contribution. That leaves 48k per year in take home pay or 4k per month. If he spends the same amounts you do he has $220 on Netflix, insurance, cellphone, gym etc. Assume $50 for his student loan payment (20% of yours). $400 for his car. I assumed his mortgage was 140k on your 170k house at 5% (just a guess but probably reasonable), that's only $350 ($750- your $400 rent). His food is paid for by you. Add those up and he's only paying $1020 a month in expenses and taking in $4000, a $3000 gap.

Of course some of my assumptions might not be right or you have other unlisted expenses but there seems to be a large buffer of discretionary cash in your budget. Double mortgage payments is probably not the most efficient method of debt reduction when you have a 12% car loan and he has a $400 car payment himself. I think with some planning and determination you could quite easily pay off both cars and your credit cards in under a year given the amount of discretionary cash you two have. That alone would free up an additional $1050 a month to put toward those student loans, emergency fund, savings etc.

We attended a wedding at a local park. They had a pig roast, cup cakes as the wedding cake and JP for the ceremony. You can spend as little or as much on your wedding as you like and invite who ever you want.

I would spend the time on the wedding, money on paying down your bills and effort on the back yard on your time frame not the weddings.

Combined, you have $60,000 in student loans, 2 car loans and $2K in credit card bills. On top of that, you do not have enough in an emergency account (if you consider the $15K in CD's as your emergency account). I hate to say it, but you do not have enough money for fixing up the backyard.

I would go with Old Limey's suggestion. You should be able to find a venue at a very low cost.


I'm surprised that it costs $6500 to rent an outdoor venue for 100 in Austin. I know of a beautiful outdoor site that accommodates 200+ in the suburbs of a major East Coast city for under $1000 a day.

Regardless, if the backyard wedding is what you want, I think you should do it. The two of you can easily generate $7500 in excess cash flow by the end of next year, and the portion spent on landscaping lasts well beyond your wedding.

One bit of unsolicited advice: You might be able to save a chunk of money on 2011 and 2012 taxes by getting legally married at city hall now. This would shift some of your fiance's income from the 25% to the 15% bracket. I wouldn't hazard to guess how much, since I don't know all your deductions and credits, but it's at least worth running the calculation.

Have you looked into renting a house to have the wedding at? I went to an outdoor wedding in San Antonio where the bride and groom rented a huge, very nice house on 20-30 acres with a pond and a covered patio. They stayed in the house, got married in the shade next to the pond, then had the reception under the patio, all on the same property. It was gorgeous. I just looked up the price for that particular house, and it rents for $250 a night or $1700 a week.

If you rent a house and have Bill Miller's do the catering, or better yet, make the food yourself, you should be able to do something similar for less than $4,000.

Also, have you considered parking for guests at your house? Even if people carpool, I don't think your neighbors will appreciate 25+ cars up and down the street.

To answer your question on "When is it worth it to save the money and when should I spend it?" don't walk but run to your nearest public library and check out Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez. Excellent Book, one of the best personal finance books out there.

Congratulations! It sounds like you've already made your decision. Both of you want a wedding with photos to show to your children and grandchildren. The backyard wedding sounds doable considering you have a year and a half to fix it up. I don't have much advice, though, because large backyards are rare where I live and hotel/restaurant receptions often cost the least because outside catering is so expensive.

@08graduate-I'm guessing you're not married. Getting married may not help them on taxes. Yes, it'll shift some of his income to the 15% tax bracket, but it'll shift ALL of her income to the 25% tax bracket. DH and I ended up owing $3K in taxes last year (our first full year as a married couple) because "married" withholding is so much lower than "single" withholding (I think the withholding calculations are based on an antiquated assumption that the worker's spouse doesn't also work). I've had to drop both our exemptions to zero and I'm still not sure it'll be enough (and we itemize deductions every year).


Actually, I am. My wife and I save about $2000/year on taxes as a result of being married.

I think you're confused about how tax brackets work. Let's say that Sophie's MAGI is $30k, and her fiance's is $65k. (There is a lot of uncertainty in these numbers because I don't know their deductions and credits - hence the caveat in the original post.) If they are single, Sophie will have $0 in the 25% bracket, and her fiance will have $30.5k in the 25% bracket. If they are married, they will have a MAGI of $95k, with $26k in the 25% bracket. Thus, they've moved $4.5k down from the 25% bracket to the 15% bracket, saving $450.

As for withholding, it's the taxpayer's responsibility to withhold adequately. It sounds like you and your husband under-withheld dramatically last year - perhaps due to uncertainty about how to complete your W-4s correctly as a married couple - and were slapped with a penalty as a result. That stinks, but it's not a structural tax increase for getting married; the same thing happens to single people who under-withhold.

With regard to your situation this year, most taxpayers cannot possibly be under-withholding while claiming zero exemptions on the W-4. If your situation is exceptional for some reason, such as substantial income from interest, capital gains, foreign employers, gambling, independent contracting, scholarships and fellowships, etc, the IRS expects you to pay estimated taxes using 1040-ES. For your own sake, please do so!

Finally, you are quite right about one thing. This whole phenomenon derives from the outdated assumption that a married household has only one income, and the tax benefit I'm describing is biggest for such a household. Congress should change this, but they haven't, and in my opinion aren't likely to do so.

I am not a lawyer, or a tax professional, just a geek who enjoys figuring these things out. If you really think you're at risk for IRS penalties this year, and don't have a plan for averting that outcome, you should hire a pro to advise you.

Dude, Go for the venue and let your neighbors be able to park.

You risk a few things by trying to fix up the yard for your wedding:
1) that it won't be fixed up in time
2) that it gets fixed up, but weather happens where it is not pretty anymore
3) Weather happens on the wedding day.

A dedicated venue helps all your guests with good parking, good food, and good happiness that your yard will not be destroyed by 100 guests. (okay, probably not a large probability, but something to think about).

Saving just 10% of your income will help pay for all of this, and more. Stop double-paying the mortgage until after the wedding. Lower the fiance's 401(k) by a few percentage points - by basically investing in the happiness for both of you.

This day is about the both of you and enjoy every minute of it! You do NOT want to think about "oh my how expensive was THAT centerpiece?" during your wedding.

Or just elope. :D

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