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When John and I first started dating I knew that he was the one. There was never a doubt in my mind that he truly was the man I was meant to spend the rest of my life with – who I was always meant to spend the rest of my life with. So it wasn’t long before in the back of my mind, I was picturing us together, and me in a white dress …

We started dating in March 2012  and by October 2012 after only 7 months, I had the exact concept of what our wedding day would look like in my mind – not because I was planning a wedding before we’d even gotten engaged, but because I saw myself spending the rest of my life with him. And with that dream of spending a life together, I was envisioning the day that he and I officially became “we”.

It still as clear as day in my mind – that vision of the day that we commit our lives to one another. Romantic, quiet, surrounded by our immediate friends and family, him in a simple casual and relaxed outfit of pants and white button up shirt with suspenders and tie … and me … walking down an aisle in a strapless drop waist ivory tulle ballgown with a romantic belt made of rhinestones about the waist. We’re in a private setting, it’s just us and a handful of people, we exchange our vows, our rings, and it happens … the kiss. The romance of the day and me in that dress … brings me to tears of joy whenever I think about it.



Now I know (believe me, I KNOW) that the dress is not what makes or breaks a wedding day. I’ve done this before – I’ve been here. I know that it’s not about a wedding day or blowing the budget on your wedding. No. It’s about the marriage. And not starting a marriage so far in debt because of this “dream wedding.”

So when I set out to look for my dress, I knew that it was next to impossible that I would find THE dress I was dreaming of. I even told my mom about this dress … and my sister … and several of my friends. I knew that finding a tulle ballgown was going to be next to impossible with my budget of sticking to under $500. Second dilemma – our wedding being less than 3 months away it needed to be off the rack with need for minimal alterations so it would be available by our wedding in August 2013.



The first store we went to, the first dress I tried on I was glowing! I was beaming ear to ear! It was NOT a ballgown at all … but it was very pretty and it fit me very well. It was over my budget at $699 and needed alterations in the bust to bring it in (not usually a problem for me). I tried on four more dresses and none of them came close … I thought that I had found the dress I would get married in. It was beautiful and made me feel like a bride … and so I had the store hold it for me while I continued shopping at my next appointment that day.

My second appointment of the day was at Memories Bridal in downtown Kalamazoo. I had made the appointment because at the very least, I wanted to try on some really pretty dresses, even if there wasn’t one in the store under my tiny budget. So I walked in without expectation of finding my dress – none. I sat down with Lindsay, my consultant, and started telling her about our wedding, where it was, about my fiancé and then about the dress. I was hesitant to tell her exactly what I wanted … because I knew it was impossible. But I told her anyway, preceded with me proclaiming “I know, it’s impossible to find such a dress in my budget…” Lindsay didn’t miss a beat in confirming “I have exactly what you want in that price range.”

Skeptical, I followed her upstairs. This is a gorgeous boutique with dresses upwards of over $4k hanging on their racks … how would they ever have a dress in my price range. … in my size???

She pulled it off the rack. A drop waist strapless ivory tulle ballgown with a rhinestone belt … it was a size 10 (my size) and it was on their discontinued sales rack … for only $399. My jaw literally dropped to the ground. We picked out 4 more dresses and went to the dressing room. MY gown was the first one I put on. And as Lindsay zipped me up and I looked up and saw myself in the mirror, I felt the waterworks starting … Not a doubt existed in my mind that I’d found it.

I walked out of the room, already teary-eyed, and walked up to the pedestal in front of the mirror … my mom and sister were silent. I turned to look at them and saw my sister’s mouth and eyes both wide open (which in sister language means OH MY GOSH THAT’S THE FRIGGIN BEST THING ON THIS PLANET). My mom was just shaking her head back and forth ever so slowly with her mouth slightly open … finally saying, “Oh my gosh … I have goosebumps …”

We tried on the other dresses … none of them were the dress I was looking for. After the third dress I quickly requested, “Can we put MY dress back on now?” And it was official. It was MY dress.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have done this – to have come in not only under budget but to have found it. The exact dress that I would marry the man of my dreams in. It was exactly as I had envisioned it … as though I knew it was there waiting for me!

While we were there, I was hit with a SECOND deal that I couldn't pass up. With every bridal gown purchase, brides are given a $50 coupon for any accessories. We tried on a few different necklace and earring pieces and found the set that just “made” the look. Retail $56. With coupon $6. Now that's a win!

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About Jennifer

Jennifer is a 30-year old Professional Photographer & Federal Employee living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Aside from planning a wedding, she spends time with her fiance racing autocross and running her own business and traveling. Jennifer is engaged to John, the "boy from church youth group" who, after 13 years apart, found one another again and are now planning their intimate and budget savvy wedding for 8/31/13 at her mother's log home in the woods.

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  • It’s a great feeling, right? Seeing all these gown shows on TV where everything is in the thousands of dollars makes you wonder if you’ll ever find your gown!

    I got mine while vacationing, for the equivelant of $88; it looked much more expensive but the quality was clearly something to be worn only a handful of times.

  • Amy Jo

    My story is similar…I had my “dream dress” in mind, but like you, had a very small budget. The first store I went into, I knew right away that one of the two had to give. It was either my dream or the budget. As the responsible adult that I am…I stuck to the budget and purchased a dress that I loved, but one that didn’t make me all giddy inside. A few months later I was shopping with some girlfriends on New Years Eve and we casually walked into a bridal store to check out some bridesmaid dresses for the girls. It was in that store that I found my “dream” dress and it was EXACTLY MY BUDGET and EXACTLY MY SIZE!!!

    Sometimes I just think if it is meant to be…it will!!

    So happy for you Jenn!

  • Michelle at Making Sense of Cents

    Love this post! I really want to find mine at a low price.

  • Missy June

    Score! Congrats on the beautiful gown and the great deal!

  • Mrs. To Be

    I just came along all of your articles! They are so helpful & inspiring to me! I have an itsy bitsy budget so I’m doing TONS of DIY too! I know you’ve already had your wedding months ago, I’m sure it went beautifully! Congrats! I’m also a Michigan bride, but on the other side of the mitten! I found my dress at a sweet little shop in Dearborn during a sample sale! A $950 dress for $99!! And I never would have found it if 2 of my dearest friends hadn’t made me try things that I thought were out of my comfort zone.

  • Heather

    Wonderful story! I recently purchased my dress off the rack, at a store that only carries stock dresses purchased from stores going out of business. I paid about $700 (under my budget) for a dress that retails for about $2600 and then got a veil, headpiece and sash as well…all well under my budget. I also felt great supporting a smaller local business. Traditional bridal shoppes can have wonderful bargains – I was told December is a great time to shop if you are willing to buy off the rack samples since they’re looking to clear out the prior year’s inventory. I also suggest trying on dresses in stores and then searching online for the style–pre-owned wedding dress sites often have dresses people are selling because they’ve decided to go with a different dress and you can get the dress brand new for a discounted price. The area I think traditional shops really get you is on the accessories – there is no reason a veil with no decor/detail should cost $150+!!

    • The veils are what killed me, too! They are so expensive just for a little tulle!

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