Congratulations! You’re engaged! Unfortunately, you’re a graduate student. People get married in all kinds of circumstances, but the graduate experience is unique, and you probably find yourself strapped for cash, time, and energy. I’m here to show you that it is possible to have a beautiful wedding despite all the obstacles we face as graduate students.
I met my husband Seth the summer before grad school. We were engaged by October and married the following June. We couldn’t be happier to have sealed the deal but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have challenges along the way.
The weeks leading up to my wedding were a total whirlwind. I packed my bags for three separate trips: the wedding, the honeymoon, and the summer internship. Since the wedding was in June, I also had finals to worry about. This chaos was avoidable since we could have married at the end of summer, and we could have postponed the honeymoon. There are countless trade-offs to consider, and your decision will have to be personal. Here are the tips I have for you as you craft your special day.
The very first thing to set is your budget, even before you set a date! Believe it or not, some dates are more expensive than others. If you’re like me, you want to get married in the summer while you don’t have classes and can enjoy your newlywed life for a few months before the fall semester. Another option is to get married during IAP since venues are cheaper in January and you might convince your advisor that you need the month off.
If we were funding our wedding by ourselves, we would have had a homemade cake in my grandparents’ backyard. Instead, each family chipped in so we could have a formal venue, a catered meal, and a DJ. Just remember when you plan your budget that the only must-have is the wedding license and an officiant. Everything else is optional, so don’t bankrupt yourself on day one of your marriage. Keep in mind, people will probably give you money and gifts at your wedding! Don’t count on it as a budgeting tool, but you may be surprised by people’s generosity.
The number one way to lower your costs is to slash the guest list. A single guest can cost a chair, a plate of food, several glasses of wine, and an extra square foot of venue space. For us, that meant we invited family, but limited friends. In total, we had about 100 people. It’s very difficult to un-invite somebody so budget for the guest list before mailing those save-the-dates!
How are you supposed to cram cake-tasting, playlist-making, and dress-fitting into your busy schedule? I suggest you delegate. After all, there’s more than one person at this wedding! Make sure to include your fiancé(e) in the planning since they probably want a say in how their wedding day unfolds. Parents are good resources too. Just set your boundaries early and be tactful with your veto-power.
Again, here is a good place to consider what’s most important to you. Neither Seth nor I are very musical. So we hired a pianist and asked her to pick all the songs for our ceremony. That’s one less decision to make! On the other hand, picking a dress was very important to me, so I took time on the weekends to shop the outlets and see the seamstress.
To some, romantic entanglements are an entirely personal matter never to be discussed with colleagues. But for others, disclosing personal information is essential to the social aspect of work. Perhaps your significant other is an honorary member of your lab, regularly joining in on Friday night drinks! For most of us, it can be a more thorny situation. In fact, when I talked to my advisor during admissions, it randomly came up that I’d be moving to Boston on my own, since I was single. A few months later, I was practically engaged so it was awkward to let my advisor know I was moving full steam ahead in a relatively new relationship. I decided to keep my wedding planning on the down-low so as not to worry my advisor about my studies. Seth and I both sent our advisors a postcard from our honeymoon in the Caribbean. We saw it as an opportunity to thank them for their support during our first year of grad school, through our wedding, and for the years ahead.
As a graduate student, you may find yourself engaged in research and engaged to the love of your life. It is possible to have both! While it’s fine to put off your wedding until after graduation, don’t believe that you have to. Grad school is a time of surprising flexibility that you may never have again. Your time and finances will always feel too low so eventually you just have to spring for what you want and let the pieces fall into place. And for those of you wondering how we could afford a Caribbean honeymoon, check out the vacation packages at Costco!
Wedding photo by Hannah Zappa Photography