In 2015, I tied the knot without breaking the bank.
If you’re getting married, you shouldn’t overpay!
Here’s how I had a $2,000 wedding
for 70 guests without cutting back on any of the magic.
Note: Since I am referring to my husband in pre-and-post marriage, I’m just going to refer to him as husbae in this article.
Weddings are ridiculously expensive.
The average wedding cost in the United States is $26,645. Most weddings last about 4-6 hours, and average guest count across the nation ranges from the low average of 66 to the high of 208 (Nevada and Hawaii, respectively).
Guest count aside, if your wedding and reception lasts six hours, and you are an AVERAGE AMERICAN, you are paying $4,440.83 per hour to host your party. Want some perspective? Somebody who earns 9 million dollars per year gets paid $4.4k per hour. #Goals
Aint nobody got time for a 26k wedding.
Since I don’t earn 9 million dollars per year (yet), something had to give, and I had to set some ground rules:
#1 – Fairy tales are annoying. I had been with husbae for 4 years (6 years as of right now). We owned a house, cars, and had joint accounts. Our wedding wasn’t going make anything “official” because our relationship was already strong. That being said, our wedding was going to be a reflection of our personalities and interests, nothing that felt insincere or fake.
#2 – A breezy day in September. No matter what pressures I found to make it a big deal, I was going to keep things in perspective by reminding myself that our wedding is literally one. single. day of our entire relationship.
#3 – Friends before flowers. I have been to weddings where I didn’t speak to the couple because they spent so much time taking photos, cutting cakes, throwing bouquets, and doing other rituals… that they didn’t have time to spend with guests. I was lucky to get a faint smile from one person, and they had been at my house just a couple of weeks earlier. Moral of this story… I wasn’t doing that. My loved ones came to spend this moment with us, and I was going to do the same with them.
#4 – I pay the bills. We are both adults. It’s our relationship, money, and marriage. We agreed to listen to other’s opinions, but would NEVER feel obligated to do (or not do) certain things just because somebody told us to. That includes influence from websites, magazines, television, movies, and years of societal conditioning that the day must follow a certain order of events to be “magical”. Like #2 said, it’s just one day of my life. It’s not the most important day either, because I can think of a dozen other days that are equally (or more) important.
#5 – First comes love, then comes DEBT. I work in lending. I’ve seen numerous people get loans for engagement rings, wedding costs, or honeymoons. Likewise, I know people who have had great weddings because one of their parents got a loan against their childhood home to pay for it. I did not want to start my marriage in debt, or put my loved ones into debt, so we made a rule to pay cash for the entire event. It was time to act our wage.
Mission: Meet him at the altar.
I looked at our budget and mapped out, per paycheck for an entire YEAR, how much money we could save without resorting to ramen and tuna 7 days a week. Remember how average wedding costs are $26,000?
Our wage allowed a $2,000 wedding. And I was determined to make it happen!
I’ll cut out all the true headache that goes into event planning (trust me…it’s 97% headache, 3% actual wedding) and highlight how we stayed in budget.
Here’s how we did it.
VENUE – Wedding venues are crazy expensive! They start at $1,500 for about four hours (including setup/break down time) and can eclipse $10,000 without even getting too extravagant. At the end of the day, we simply needed a space. It didn’t have to be a “wedding venue”.
I started looking for non-traditional venues such as event rooms in restaurants, art museums, and even bars. Lucky for me, my best friend gave me the number to a community center that used to be an old church.
This place was downtown, had a private parking lot, and was primarily used for folk-dancing lessons. Our booking got us a 3,500sq building, 10 folding tables, and over 100 folding chairs to use…for 36 hours. That meant we had plenty of time to decorate and cleanup. As an added bonus, this venue used to welcome same-sex unity ceremonies in the 1970’s. Score!
Venue Booking: $500
Total Wedding Cost: $500
MUSIC – Immediately after booking the venue, I opened iTunes and decided that I had enough great music to skip getting a DJ. Did you know that iTunes lets you mix and edit songs, as well as crossfade, so your music can skip long intros and fade from one song into the next? That’s exactly what I did. One laptop, two speakers, and somebody to push pause/play at crucial moments was all I needed!
Speaker Rental: $100
Total Wedding Cost: $600
CLOTHES – We needed wedding-worthy outfits, on the cheap! After searching and a few returns, we nailed the look we wanted: Dress slacks, white shirts, and ties.
Shirt: $30 for two white dress shirts.
Tie: $9 for his bow tie, $12 for my tie.
Pants: $0 for his pants (he wore one we already owned). $20 for my slacks.
Shoes: $2 for a can of shoe polish on our already-owned shoes.
Accessories: $5 for suspenders for husbae. I wore jewelry that I already owned.
We were going to wear these outfits for just a couple of hours, so why spend hundreds of dollars renting tuxedos or buying new threads? The best part is that we still wear every single one of these items to this day.
Total Wedding Cost: $678
DECOR – Things took a turn for creative here. The two of us visited a recycling center and cleaned them out on wine glasses. Bleach inside for sanitization, spray paint with twine on the outside…and we had center pieces!
Because floral arrangements are extremely expensive, we bought some plastic spoons and melted them over our stove into flowers. Check it out!
Our neighbor gave us a ton of jars, and my best friend let me borrow some LED candles, too. I also made the programs on the cheap using ribbon, cardstock, and Microsoft Word.
My sister scored us 50% off rentals at an event center, so we nabbed some cocktail tables for the dance floor, linens, a podium, and some other items.
We also made boutonnieres for everybody using plastic flowers and leftover twine. Check out photos of the wedding party at the bottom and you’ll find these!
Total Wedding Cost: $778
RINGS – Our engagement rings were $100 and $130 each. After Husbae’s fell off a boat (and is currently at the bottom of a lake), we mutually decided that a nice ring is important, but we weren’t going to spend much on them because they take on a LOT of abuse and could completely disappear via theft, loss, or apparently…lake.
Both rings are identical, come with warranties, and haven’t been near any lakes.
Total Wedding Cost: $1,378
CAKE – I’m not bourgeois about where the cake comes from, so long as it’s delicious! We ended up getting a strawberry cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese icing from Publix. Rather than getting an elaborate cake, we went thrifty and practical.
Cupcakes are easier to serve and don’t require additional plates/napkins or somebody to serve them, plus cupcakes ended up cheaper than a sheetcake.
A small fee got them delivered and set up. By the end of the night, they were all gone!
Total Wedding Cost: $1,528
PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEOGRAPHY – We used our network on this one. One of our good friends runs a photography business and cut us a deal on her rates, and my father does wedding videography that he filmed, edited, and provided for free.
By the way, if you want to cut corners for your wedding…don’t skip photos and videos. The nice outfits and pretty venue become grainy memories. The photos and videos is what keeps your memory vivid.
To respect my friend’s very fair photography rates, I won’t be listing what we paid. But trust me… this omission doesn’t make my 2k wedding jump to 26k. 😉
Total Wedding Cost: $1,528
BOOZE – The venue doesn’t have an alcohol serving permit, so we were given two options by management…
1. No alcohol at all.
2. Supply all alcohol ourselves.
Because I don’t hate my friends, and none of our guests had any opposition to alcohol, we picked Door #2 and paid the beer tabs for everybody.
We bought higher-end boxed red and white wine (5 bottles-worth per box for the cost of 2), and mixed a Limearita in a punch bowl: Cheap vodka, corona beer, and lime concentrate. If you’re making this…literally buy the cheapest vodka on the shelf. The lime concentrate masks any bite.
I tasked two friends to keep an eye on the punch bowl and refill it if it ran dry, and didn’t need to hire a bartender. The Limearita was gone right before the night ended, and we got “stuck” with two boxes of wine. Oh well!
Total Wedding Cost: $1,678
FOOD – Originally a friend was going to cater the event, but when marriage equality suddenly graced the nation (88 days before the wedding) and we needed a legal officiate for our wedding, he graciously and honorably stepped up to the plate.
However, that meant we needed to pony up for catering last-minute.
We did some shopping around and went the unconventional route by booking a reputable barbecue place that provided chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, beans, potato chips, sweet tea, unsweet tea, water, setup, takedown, silverware/plates/cups, and cleanup… all for $8 per person!
As a reference point, for a wedding, that’s VERY CHEAP. Most catering company rates are comfortably $15 per person, or more.
The food was excellent and the server even participated in the wedding games.
Food + Tip: $700
Total Wedding Cost: $2,378
When you add in the photography expense and deduct some cash gifts that our loved ones offered to pay towards our wedding, our out of pocket cost was approximately…
Here’s some general tips you should be using:
-Avoid peak hours: We got married on a Friday night to avoid paying weekend rates for venues, catering, DJ’s, or bartenders. If you book on slower weekdays, you’ll save $$$ and can negotiate better rates.
-Skip the word “Wedding” as you plan. If you’re calling for quotes or bookings, just say you’re having an event. Weddings are notoriously hard to deal with (people suck) so nearly everybody in the industry gives weddings a 15%+ surcharge.
-Rely on family and friends who are willing to help. Money, manpower, time, cleanup, panic patrol…any help is valuable help! Be sure to thank them accordingly!
-Tip anybody you hire. And tip them well.
-Laugh it off. A mistake is only an issue of others can tell it’s a mistake. If you play through it or don’t make a big deal, nobody will be any wiser. For example, our first dance was to the completely wrong song! We muscled through it until my sister-in-law intercepted and turned it into a group dance…but nobody knew it was a mistake!
-Weddings are ridiculously annoying and stressful to plan. More so than anything I’ve ever done in my life. Remember to have fun, respect your loved ones, make time for hobbies and friends.
-Check out THIS BOOK for cheap wedding tricks!
-Eloping is cheaper than 26k, cheaper than 2k, and your marriage is just as valid. 😉
Here’s the end result!