Weddings are expensive, but my total wedding cost was $3,000 or less. The average price tag for a wedding in my county is between $23,987 and $39,978, so I think I did pretty well. Here is how I cut costs, in what I like to call “The frugal bride’s guide to planning a beautiful and budget-friendly wedding.”
When you have a child before the wedding, all the priorities change. Your perspective broadens and you see a much bigger picture than wedding favors and a big cake. I do not believe in going into debt for a party. BRIDES BEWARE: it is so easy for everything to spiral out of control. First you have to have this super expensive special dress, then you have to have this fairy tale venue, and soon the whole event becomes a snow ball, building and building until you realize you’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars.
1. Guest List
I learned quickly that the number of guests you have will multiply your costs more than anything else. With every person/couple you add, you have to send another invitation, rent another chair, and feed another mouth. Your wedding is a very important day, so make sure every person will really matter to your marriage.
My guest list was 34. I invited one friend–my maid of honor. Clay had a couple groomsmen friends, but everyone else was immediate family and grandparents. YES, there were a lot of friends who wished they could be there, and even people who were upset. But ultimately, your wedding is about what is best for you. It was best for Clay and I to save the money, and most people graciously understood our situation.
I think if we hadn’t had savings in mind, if we weren’t planning on living on a single income, we would have spent twice as much and invited more people. However, in the years since the wedding, I’ve realized that the people who were at my wedding will always be in our lives, not like friends who might come and go.
The venue is often the most expensive thing about a wedding. Where you choose to have your celebration can profoundly change your wedding grand total.
I opted for a ceremony and reception at my parents’ home, because it was zero dollars.
It was November 29th, so the question I kept hearing is “What if it rains?!” I had no Plan B. Do I recommend that? No. I think people need a plan B for weather, especially if you are planning an outdoor ceremony. As it turns out, our wedding day was 57 degrees and sunny, so we really lucked out.
Maybe you know a friend with a barn or a field. Maybe there is a really pretty park near your home. Take advantage of it and save the money. Plan for times of year that will be really beautiful. Don’t stress out about weather, find a way to work with it (for example, start collecting eclectic thrift store umbrellas for chance of rain).
3. Learn how to say “No”
This one is crucial for a budget wedding (and also a good practice in every day life). You are going to have to learn how to say “no” really well, and to a lot of people. I said no to my mom (hard), to my fiance (harder), and to myself (hardest).
There is a lot of pressure surrounding weddings. Pressure to look better than you’ve ever looked in your entire life. Pressure to have a wedding that would be on a blog, of which your friends would be envious. But in the grand scheme of things, that stuff doesn’t matter.
At every decision you make, or every time you start to buy something for the Big Day, ask yourself “Is this really necessary?” Remind yourself to look at the bigger picture, that your wedding is not the most important thing, but that your MARRIAGE is. Make decisions, financial and otherwise, that will benefit your marriage in the long run.
4. THE DRESS
Forget “Say Yes to the Dress.” Put everything you’ve ever seen on that show behind you. Set a budget and stick to it. Mine was $300, not including alterations. I found my dress at Nordstrom, tried it on in the store, and found it cheaper on Amazon. It was about $280 and arrived in 2 days.
Here are some places to look for inexpensive dresses:
- Craigslist. Be prepared to sift through a lot of dated options. Be prepared to get a little depressed wondering how many people broke their engagement or got left at the altar. Also, to do this option you have to be ok wearing a second-hand dress.
- Tradesy or Poshmark. Another second hand option, except it’s a lot easier to find what might interest you.
- Ruche. I love Ruche for clothing in general, and they had some cool vintagey options I was very fond of.
- Modcloth. Modcloth is the same, inexpensive, beautiful, and with classically retro flair.
- Department Stores. I found mine at Nordstrom, but a few department stores have good white or off white options, in both long and short dresses. I have another friend who found her awesome budget wedding dress at jcp.
- Etsy. Occasionally you can find a bargain on a handmade dress, veil, or headpiece.
Looking like a princess is a lot of fun, but to me it wasn’t worth $1000 or more. My wedding dress was special because I wore it on my wedding day, not because it was expensive or designer. I added little details like a rented vintage fur stole (from Rent My Dust) and a flower crown made by my photographer.
I had a Thanksgiving wedding, and decided it would be potluck. With budget weddings, its important to think outside the box and not be afraid to ask for help. I asked for help in the form of food, and people were happy to pitch in (it helped that all my guests were family).
If you want a spring wedding, you could have everyone bring quilts and picnic lunches. Spend a little bit of money to give your guests a sweet spread of fresh fruits, desserts, and a few handmade savory items, but let them do the rest! Those closest to you will be happy to oblige.
I got all my flowers from Fort Worth’s wholesale florist: The Flower Market on 7th. They were really delightful to work with, and I spent about $280 on all the flowers for my wedding, including bouquets and table arrangements.
My bridesmaids and I arranged our own bouquets, despite the fact we had no idea what we were doing, and Clay made the boutonnieres for him and his groomsmen. We had a lot of fun working on this project and it looked great.
During my wedding planning, I discovered my love for tablescapes. Because my reception revolved around what is arguably the most important meal in the American calendar, the tables were the one place where I ended up spending a fair bit of money.
I wanted them to be very special. I bought gold chargers (at Michael’s) and used coupons whenever I could. I rented the vintage plates, antlers, and sewing drawers from Rent My Dust, as well as about 18 chairs. My mom and grandmother had a bunch of gorgeous antique silverware, so we gathered together what we could and mixed and matched.
The most important thing for tables is to have a vision. I got many ideas from Pinterest, but a lot of it was my own brainchild, too. I saw some fake birch branch votives at Pottery Barn, and thought “I bet we could make those!” So my dad and Clay did it for me (my heroes!).
8. Bridal Party
It was not only important that we were saving money, but that we weren’t putting anyone else out, either. It makes me sad when brides mandate that their bridesmaids have to get their hair and makeup done, and buy a certain expensive dress. We didn’t want people to stress out over involvement in our wedding, and we wanted to be respectful of our maids and groomsmen’s wallets as well as our own.
We let them choose their own attire, keeping with a theme or color scheme. We love the unique and eclectic vibe, so this worked to our advantage.
9. And finally, invitations
I make invitations, so I had the upper hand here. I think I only had to send about 15 invitations, because of my teeny tiny guest list. However, I went all out: envelope liners, chocolate brown backing that had the appearance of woodgrain, a burlap and ribbon wrap, insert card, and feather. My 15 invitations cost me about $50, including postage, to create.
When I work with budget brides on invitation design, I recommend printing yourself. Find a designer (like myself) who will sell you the digital design file, and take it to a printer.
What were our favorite things about having a small wedding?
- Our photographer summed it up perfectly: “The things that should be important, were. The things that didn’t need to be important, weren’t.” We kept it simple, focusing on family, worship and love
- Having a little wedding meant I have a deeper connection to my family home: I walked “down the aisle” in the same back yard where we take our family photos every reunion, between the same trees where we lay in the hammock in the spring.
- It was low stress. Throughout the planning process, I kept telling myself that I refused to be stressed out on my wedding day. Shouldn’t you enjoy it? Don’t you want to savor the precious moments, instead of freaking out about things that don’t truly matter? Cutting out the riff raff meant there was less to focus on, and less to worry about.
- It meant we got to be really personal with our guests. With our wedding being the day after Thanksgiving, we wrote each couple/guest a personal letter saying why we were thankful for their involvement both in our wedding and in our lives as a whole.
Is it the wedding I dreamed about as a girl and young woman?
No, absolutely not. I thought I would have a couple hundred guests, a giant white gown, and all the trimmings. But when push came to shove, that stuff didn’t matter. There was definitely a point at the beginning of the wedding planning, when I had to say goodbye to the long-standing idea I had in my head of what my wedding would be like. I had to be flexible and create a whole new idea, or else I’d be disappointed at every step along the way.
I did get to fulfill some girlhood dreams, like walking down the aisle to ‘Songbird’ by Fleetwood Mac.
I would not trade my simple, budget wedding for the world. It was perfect.
But, of course, the best thing about my wedding was marrying the one I love and beginning the rest of our lives together. Mr and Mrs Golden.
And I love you, I love you, I love you,
Like never before.
Our wedding photographer, Lauren Apel, is extremely talented and wondrously kind. The photographs are more than we could ever have hoped for. Thank you, Lauren and Mark, for being part of our day. Her selection of our wedding photos are featured on Lauren’s photography blog.