Heather and Mark have been dating for five years, and on July 4, 2014, they tied the knot-- but not before strategically planning out their big day on a reasonable and comfortable budget. I've asked Heather to put together a guide on how she put together her dream wedding without breaking the bank. The best part is that if you follow her lead, you can do the same!
Before you start// Determine your budget.
You can quickly find yourself going into debt if you don’t factor in the cost of everything beforehand.
Next// Set your priorities.
Most brides can’t have it all so determine which is more important:
Inviting everyone you’ve known since grade school
Throwing your relatives and closest friends a party they will never forget
Is it essential that you find the dress of your dreams at any cost?
Are you more into finding the perfect venue?Finally// Start planning early.
You may be tempted to jump to the alter the moment he pops the question, but a budget-conscious bride will tell you otherwise. The way to save the most money is to do your research and “D.I.Y” where you can.
So here is how I celebrated my Wedding on a budget of just over $15,000.
((Pssstttt... I know many of you may be thinking "How is $15,000 a budget-friendly figure?" Well, be sure to not confuse the word frugal and the term budget. A budget is a way of keeping expenses and costs to a certain amount. Often times, parents give their children a gift of money towards their wedding. That amouont along with whatever amount the bridge and groom want to spend is how they come up with a budget. I never said this post would be about a CHEAP wedding, it's just about having the wedding of your dreams on a more reasonable budget that you decide on. For some people that may be $20,000 and for others that could be $5,000. Remember, Heather and Mark chose to splurge on certain things and that's absolutely fine. Others have decided to cut the cost of food all together by having friends and family cook.))
Engagement Photos// My Cost - $100
While many budget-minded brides might see this as an unnecessary expense, it doesn’t have to be. Many photographers will throw an engagement photo session on for just a little bit extra (mine was $100) if you are using them for the big day. This also gives you an idea of what you can expect your wedding photos to look like.
When shopping for a photographer, make sure they give you rights to your pictures. One photographer might seem less expensive than another but by the time you pay for every picture, you could end up spending much more than you bargained for.
Invitations// My Cost - $20
You could easily spend hundreds of dollars to have someone make your invitations.
Or, you could buy kits for $40 a box (you will need 2 or 3) and make your own.
For my invitations I purchased 2 boxes on sale for $10 each. Look for deals and invitation kits that are the last of their kind because that's when they usually get marked down.
I purchased two different styles of invitations and guess what? No one knew that! And the free online templates made them easier to put together!
Some other ways to save money on invitations are:
(Consider the cost of postage)
While ribbons and other embellishments can look nice, it can cost you $2 per invitation to mail. I handed these invitations out to family members that I knew would want to keep it and mailed the more basic ones to everyone else.
Don’t feel obligated to follow stupid etiquette rules. I read somewhere that if you are having your reception at a different location than the ceremony that you should provide a separate invitation for each. The problem was, the box I purchased didn’t include extra invitations for this. Don’t stress over little things like this because most people probably won’t know you “should” do this or care if you forgo a separate invitation.
Rehearsal Dinner// My Cost - $350
There are many ways in which you can save big here.
Rather than opting for a catered affair, I held my rehearsal dinner at a B.Y.O.B sushi/hibachi restaurant. It ended up being a perfect place since we had our own private room where guests were seated in a circle and everyone was entertained. The big advantage to this option was that we were able to bring our own wine so we could control the bill. I even used a 10% coupon! Since I had a small wedding party, the bill was only $350.
Ceremony Venue// My Cost - $200
While I always dreamed of having an outdoor wedding, I opted for indoors.... and saved HUNDREDS of dollars.
Unless your venue comes with a back-up plan in case of inclement weather, you have to pay to reserve an indoor location (even if you don’t use it).
For $200, I got married in the Capitol Building in Harrisburg. The venue was gorgeous so I didn’t even need to decorate the place with flowers. Another plus was that I rented chairs through them at $1 per chair and they were already at the location ready to be set up. I priced out rental companies that wanted $2 per chair plus a delivery fee, set up and break down fee.
Programs//My Cost - $4
This is one thing you could skip entirely and not miss.
If you absolutely must have a program you can save money by having a sign that lists the wedding party, or do what I did and save big. I made my own.
I priced custom programs and they started at $2.60 per program. You can buy printable programs and make your own but they still run about $30 a pack and you will need a few packs.
So I made 100 programs for the cost of a pack of cardstock ($4 with a coupon), some leftover ribbon I had from making favors, and some gold glitter tape.
Place Cards// My Cost - $4
I would absolutely advise some sort of seating chart. Allowing guests seat themselves could easily backfire.
At first, I thought about doing one big framed seating chart but my venue required that I indicate each person’s meal. I would have had to do guest menus which would end up costing more in the long run.
So I chose to go with traditional place cards. I would recommend tent cards since they are the least expensive and they are very easy. You can buy simple ones that are already perforated. I ended up making my own so I could decorate them. I searched the internet for free templates, printed them out on cardstock ($3.99 and I had some left over). I gave each one a personal touch by adding some fancy paper and colored rhinestones to differentiate meals.
Reception Venue// My Cost - $10,000
This was the biggest expense of the wedding ($10,000 for 100 people). While there are many more affordable options, we decided this was where we wanted to splurge. It may seem like a lot of money, but for the Crowne Plaza, it was actually relatively inexpensive.
Right off the bat, we saved 10% by getting married on a Friday. We could have pocketed that money, but we ended up using it to upgrade to a premium bar and filet migon. Again, this is why it is important to set your priorities. Our package also included a wedding coordinator, floral centerpieces, a Champaign toast, and two nights in a honeymoon suite.
DJ// My Cost - $2,500
The DJ- Again, we splurged here since quality entertainment was really important to us (we used Klock Entertainment). I’ve been to great weddings where the “DJ” was an iPod. While this can save thousands, the DJ actually is really important for making your night run smoothly. After all, you don’t want to spend tons of money on a wedding for people to leave after dinner.
Photographer// My Cost - $1,500
This is another area that you don’t want to be cheap on. If you really must save, recruit two college seniors majoring in photography.
Many photographers will have an assistant so they can capture pictures from different spots but you may be able to get away with just one person. My photographer charged $1500 which was not the cheapest but also not the most expensive either. Just remember, make sure you are given the photo rights.
Don’t waste your money on disposable cameras…who doesn’t have a smartphone these days? Also, while videography can be nice, it will run about $3000. Just have a friend tape the important moments in the ceremony and special dances.
Guest Book// My Cost - $40
One perk I received by registering with Macy’s was a free customizable photo guestbook from Shutterfly (valued at $40). By the way, I highly suggest registering at multiple locations even if you don’t end up telling your guests to purchase gifts from each of those places. Many stores will give you free gifts even if no one buys anything. Plus, you will get store coupons to use to buy any remaining gifts on the registry (hello 15% off at Target!).
Cake// My Cost - $450
When you are planning a wedding on a budget, be prepared for something to go wrong. I tried to save on my cake by hiring a new bakery. Since they were not well established, they charged $3 per slice as opposed to some bakeries wanting $7 a slice. Due to their inexperience, my cake began falling apart. The lesson to be learned is that if you really care about something, don’t be cheap! Fortunately, I really didn’t care too much about the cake.
If I had known it would have turned out the way it did, I would have gone with one of these options:
1. Have a small cake to display and have sheet cakes in the back.
2. Go with the cupcake trend.
3. Don’t add a top layer. I choose to add a top layer that I could save for my anniversary. After the fact, I realized that I would rather spend the $100 on a nice dinner date than eating year-old cake from the freezer.
4. Pick a simple looking cake. All of those pretty details are time-consuming and are costly. I also went with real flowers as opposed to sugar flowers.
5. Don’t overlook grocery store bakeries. They are reasonably priced and simple flavors are liked by almost everyone.
6. Don’t overestimate how much cake you will need. I made the mistake of choosing a cake that could feed more than the number of guests I had. The truth is, not everyone will eat the cake and you can get away with smaller slices if need be.
7. Go non-traditional- There’s no rule that says you MUST have a cake. A dessert table or ice cream bar are two popular ways to get around a cake.
Decorations, Flowers, + Centerpieces// My Cost - $500
In the beginning, I decided that I wasn’t going to put much of my budget toward these things. After all, most guests won’t remember what your centerpieces looked like.
By choosing beautiful ceremony and reception venues, you don’t need to go crazy on the decorations. I spent $500 on bouquets and boutonnieres since they would be in most of the pictures, but I selected hydrangea arrangements for my centerpieces.
My package included flowers but only gave me $30 per table. When I met with the florist, I made it very clear that I could not go over the allocated $30 per table. I also negotiated and was able to get a few pricier flowers in the arrangements by agreeing to provide all of the vases. My mom collected vases from Goodwill (4 for .75) and I got some metallic gold spray paint and ribbon to jazz them up. I used $2 gold chargers and tea lights to make up for the lack of flowers. I also made my own table numbers by choosing a pretty font on the computer and adding some embellishments.
Here are some tips on saving on flowers and decorations:
1. Go with bulkier flowers that are in season.
2. Add personal touches to the centerpiece to take away from not having tons of flowers.
3. Check out thrift stores and Craigslist. People often use these things once and if you buy can actually end up being cheaper than renting. Plus you get to resell them.
4. Don’t waste hundreds on having your bouquet preserved. I looked into it and one florist told me that even with preservation, it won’t look the same. Not all flowers can be preserved either. She advised that I just take a lot of pictures or get silk flowers arranged to replicate the bouquet.
Favors// My Cost - $250
There are so many different types of wedding favors that there is something for everyone’s budget. I prefer favors that do double-duty. Offering a photo booth gives guests something to do plus you get a copy of everyone’s pictures so you won’t need to buy a guest book.
Everyone that knows me knows I LOVE candy so it was only fitting that I had a candy buffet. Many venues want to try to get more money out of you by telling you that they will do your candy buffet for about $6.50 per person.
I knew that I could do it for a lot less and get exactly what I wanted. I spent $250 on 20 varieties of pink candy and made some of my own pink chocolate-dipped sweets. The containers could have easily cost more than the candy but I collected one novelty container each week as I found a coupon (and I plan to resell them).
I also wasn’t afraid to search second-hand. I made all of the labels and decorations and even made customized bags for guests to take. Unlike shot glasses or bottle openers, using a candy buffet as a favor serves as a decoration to enhance the room. Just remember, very few guests want a keychain with a picture of you.
Dresses// My Cost - $300
Unlike every other bride, I went to a bridal shop, tried on several dresses, and found the dress of my dreams. Only, it was $2200 plus tax and $250 for each alteration.
I knew it was a gamble, but I found a very similar dress online for $150. Sites like kissdresses (where I purchased mine) will take your measurements and make you a dress that will fit you perfectly as long as you measure correctly. When I got the dress a little over a month later, it fit so well that I decided to buy another dress to wear to the reception (again, $150).
My bridesmaids bought their dresses the same way but through Etsy. They spent about $100 on their dress including shipping. The biggest advantage to this is that they will make it to fit your unique body and it will look like it was made for you (which it was).
By the way, don’t waste money on having your dress preserved. You are never going to wear it again and chances are, your daughter won’t either. Again, just get lots of pictures. I am actually going to sell mine and I might even make some money on it seeing as I got them so cheap.
Grand Total of My Wedding - $16,218
Remember, it is YOUR day. Don’t sacrifice your budget just to please people. If they don’t like it, they can leave, you can’t. I know I am not the world’s most frugal bride, but for me, it was all about saving here so I could splurge there. In the end, I had the best day of my life and I came out debt free!