After 6 years, a house, and a dog together, the other half and I tied the knot in July of this year. Our plan had always been to buy a house first. A roof over our heads building equity was more important than throwing a party. Once we were moved into the house and began building a nest egg again, we decided it was time to get married.
Even though we wanted to be practical and not blow $50,000 on a wedding, we also still wanted a fairly traditional ceremony and reception. While town hall weddings or small gatherings are a perfect fit for some couples, we both have a large group of family and friends. We saw the day as a celebration for everyone to partake in, not just us.
As we got deeper into planning, we learned more and more about how much can be thrown at you as what you “need to have” and we had to take the time to review what was most important to us. We wanted to strike a balance between budget friendly and practical, but not overboard on doing every little detail ourselves just to save a few pennies. Saving a dollar is important, but our time is too.
One of the first options we canceled out for this reason was renting a space and doing all the planning ourselves. There is a beautiful public garden with a cottage on the property that is available for weddings. The scenery is absolutely stunning but as we looked into it we learned all the planning was our responsibility. You basically get the roof and backdrop. We would’ve had to rent chairs, tables, silverware, napkins, arrange a caterer, hire a bartender, etc. This may have saved us a grand or two but in the end our time spent planning wasn’t worth it to us.
Since we decided to take the route of using a more standard reception venue that does it all for you, we cut corners in other areas to still make it reasonable. At some points some friends and family had opinions that we shouldn’t do things a certain way but we didn’t give into pressure to spend more. We were more in this for the end game and having a fun day with friends and family than obsessing over having the perfect wedding.
We don’t regret a single thing, the day was perfect the way it was.
Here are the big hitters that saved thousands.
1. Affordable Ceremony
I had my heart set on a garden wedding. Luckily, we live a mile from a beautiful city owned rose garden. When I contacted the city, it was only $50 to reserve the garden for the ceremony and take pictures. DONE!
2. Have a day wedding
In my mind, this was a given. If we wanted a wedding in a garden, why would we ever have it at night?
Can’t exactly take great pictures outside at night…
The fees for a night wedding (after 5pm) came to almost 30% more than if we planned for the reception to start between 11 and 3. So we planned the ceremony for 11 and the reception started next door at 12.
When we spoke to the reception venue at the start of planning in January 2017, they were booked out into 2019 for the night, yet they had many dates open to choose from this summer. The rose garden peaks between mid June and mid July so we decided on July 1st at noon. I was over the moon excited they were available at the prime garden time. Not only that, we didn’t want a long engagement either. We planned the wedding in six months and are so happy we didn’t drag it out.
3. No Limo or Car Service
As I mentioned before, we were lucky the venue was a mile away from our house. The plan was for the men to get ready at my husband’s parents’ house about 20 minutes away and for the girls to get ready at our house. In total, between parents and wedding party, we had about 15 people to transport.
When I first started planning I really just assumed it would make more sense to hire a limo, until I started calling around. The minimum time was 4 hours and our choices were either to rent two limos or get a party bus. Realistically, all we would need transport for was to get us there. I didn’t see the point in then having the service hang out for 6 hours while we do pictures, ceremony, and reception just to drive us back.
Even at 4 hours, the lowest quote I found was $2,400.
What!? When we really only needed 20 minutes of that time?
The drive from my house for the girls was 1 mile. I couldn’t fathom spending that much for a 5 minute ride. Instead, the guys all carpooled over, which made it more convenient for them than having to pick up their cars later. For the girls, we took two cars over and my mother in law had an SUV I rode in to fit my dress.
4. Consignment Wedding Dress
Of course, within maybe two weeks of getting engaged, my mom and I couldn’t hold in the excitement to start dress shopping. We visited a couple regular boutiques at first but there really wasn’t much of a selection. Then, for the couple dresses I tried on, my eyes practically popped out of my head at the price tags.
No way was I spending thousands on this dress. Not only that, the sales people said it would take months for it to come in and there were no exchanges. I didn’t want to commit and then wait forever. Yes, it will be special to me and be in pictures forever. But, I have phenomenal success with consignment clothes anyway, why not this too?
I found a consignment wedding dress store a town over and we took a ride there. Immediately I was blown away at the selection. There were HUNDREDS to choose from and, with the exception of only a few, they were all under $1,000.
I fell in love with a dress that day for about $800. When I googled the style that night, I found it retails for about $3,000. Yep, I definitely got a little high on that deal I found!
5. Consignment Shoes
Like the dress, chances are I would wear these shoes once. Bridal shoes are, well, bridal. They aren’t exactly versatile. At the same place I got my dress, I picked up shoes there for $18. The dress was long and poofy anyway, no one could even see the shoes. I cared about comfort over looks.
The funniest part about it? Our dog chewed them up on our wedding night anyway. Good thing I wasn’t sentimental.
6. No videographer
This is a newer trend I honestly don’t understand. Most of our friends “just had to have” a videographer. When I polled around to see the price it was typically around $3,000. $3,000 for a 15 minute video that you’ll watch a few times the day you get it back, and probably once to show the kids.
No thanks. That was an easy one for us.
7. No champagne toast
The person we worked with at the reception venue was so, so great. She didn’t try to oversell us on anything (you can’t anyway) and was actually quite honest about what is overkill.
When we were reviewing the options, a champagne toast for each person was $4. This would’ve come to just over $400 in total for us. She spoke up and told us, “If you want me to be honest, we pour 80% of champagne flutes down the drain. Not many people drink it.”
Another easy decision, check.
8. Print your own place cards
Ordering place cards from a local store or online was about $200. I purchased these at Michael’s, found a pretty font, and printed my own. I needed 3 packs for the guest list. The total?
A whopping $15.
Full disclosure, I will admit fitting the template to my printer was a bit of a pain. But an hour spent toying with the printer alignment to save $185 was worth it to me. My tip would be to have some extra sheets to play with and adjust the margins. They provide a link to an online template but it was off and still needed changes. It took a few attempts to center everything perfectly so I had a few sheets I tossed.
9. Use jewelry I’ll wear again
My dress was on the elaborate side to begin with and I wanted to wear my hair up so the only jewelry I wore was long earrings. I found a handmade pair at a local store that didn’t scream wedding and are classic enough to wear to work or anywhere else.
10. No wedding favors
This is one people had opinions on. We had no wedding favors.
To be honest, favors usually annoy me. Congratulations on your wedding but I don’t really care to have an anchor bottle opener with your monogram. I already have a bottle opener, I don’t need another one. I usually see favors as just extra chintzy knick knacks that are a waste of money. A good portion of people tend to leave theirs anyway so they end up being thrown out.
If you still want to treat your guests to something, other options are donating to a charity or having a food item. Little desserts tend to be eaten and, if they aren’t, other guests can take extras. No one needs extra knick knacks.
11. Up and coming photographer
The photographer I chose had mostly family and child portraits on her site. There were one or two wedding albums and when I read more, I learned she was trying to expand her business into weddings.
Even though she didn’t have a ton of wedding experience, she was already an established photographer so it didn’t feel as risky. Because she was trying to add more weddings to her portfolio she threw in so many deals and had the lowest price to start with.
We originally didn’t want engagement pictures because I saw it as a waste of money. She offered to do them for free after I chose the basic package. Score! On top of that, other photographers I looked at had an hour limit or charged hourly. She said she’d be there from dawn to dusk, as long as we wanted. It showed she really cared about doing a great job and getting all the shots.
12. Paid engagement ring (and wedding bands) in cash
Not quite wedding day related but another score we had. We looked for engagement rings together. After 6 years and a house, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
When we began looking and decided on the stone, the store offered if we paid in full they would throw in any band for free. I chose a band that was selling for $1,200 and they didn’t charge us. Another chunk saved.
13. Free Snapfish Guestbook
While I intentionally minimize “stuff”, certain things still have sentimental value. I wanted to have a guest book that people could write in that we could always remember who we shared our day with.
Snapfish and Shutterfly are always sending promotions and free gifts. I knew I had previously seen them both offer a free photo book so I patiently waited until that promo came again from one of them. Wahoo! It did. I chose pictures throughout our time dating and paid only for shipping.
$5 for a memento I’ll cherish.
14. Venue Decor
The reception room was already decorated beautifully by the restaurant but I did want to add a few personal touches. I bought a few frames from Target that fit our home decor and I could continue to use and put childhood and family pictures in them.
What We Didn’t Skimp On
At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide what you both value and it’ll vary for everyone. We wanted a traditional wedding with a guest list around 100 and found ways to still stay practical. But there were still aspects we refused to cut out.
In my own opinion, if you are inviting a large group of people to travel from all over to celebrate YOU and give YOU a gift to begin your married life, you should be a proper host. Choosing a venue with quality food and having an open bar was not up for debate. The idea of having our guests opening tabs and paying for their own drinks to celebrate our marriage was ludicrous. We don’t throw a party celebrating ourselves and expect people to pay their own way. Making everything easy and inviting for our guests was imperative and open bar was a part of that.
After all of this, our wedding totaled just under $18,000 for everything. Heading into this, I knew we could save and carefully budget in order to pay everything up front. I refused to finance any part of this. Our goal was to have everything paid up front so when we returned from our honeymoon and began our married life, there was zero wedding debt hanging over us.
We could have spent more and we could have spent less but now that all is said and done we don’t regret anything. For our lifestyle and budget, we planned accordingly and didn’t go overboard.
Getting married soon or already have? How are you keeping the budget under control?