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I’ll be the first one to admit it. I’m cheap! I prefer the term frugal, but let’s just call a spade a spade. 🙂 When Andrew proposed back in 2013, I knew we were going to have to get creative to pull off our wedding. Yes, we could have taken out loans or gone with a much smaller wedding – but we wanted to have quite a few people there to celebrate the day with us and we wanted to enjoy a nice honeymoon.
The problem? We were trying to do this on two teachers’ salaries. Teachers in the lowest-paying state in the nation – South Dakota. How could we make it work?
First, I should mention that by this time we both had all of our student loans paid off, as well as our vehicles. However, we still had two apartments and the day-to-day expenses that most 20-somethings have to deal with. There wasn’t much extra money left over each month.
I literally sat down almost immediately and figured out our budget. Here’s a rough idea of what it looked like.
- Church – $100
- Reception Hall – $500
- Food – $1,000
- Dress – $250
- Suit – $150
- Bridesmaids/Groomsmen – $500
- Invites – $250
- DJ – $500
- Photographer – $250
- Flowers – $200
- Reception Decor – $250
- Gifts – $200
- Misc. – $500
I was quite sure there were things I was forgetting, so we left that miscellaneous tab open and were ok with going a bit over budget if needed. Ultimately, we wanted to have a nice, simple wedding. Our goals? Get married (duh!), enjoy plenty of good food, and have a great time dancing the night away.
Church & Reception Hall
We immediately met with our priest and got the date set. Thankfully the reception hall also happened to be open. We paid about $500 for the two of them combined because Andrew’s mom was a member of the church we got married in.
Here’s a picture of us in front of the church on our wedding day –>
I realize we live in a small state where costs are not as high as other places. However, get creative and look around. I’m sure you’ll find something that is reasonably priced!
Next I started looking around for DJ’s. I had it narrowed down to about five of them. One was a college friend, but his pricing started at $1,200. I knew we couldn’t go that high. A few of them charged outrageous mileage. Yes, I knew they were coming from an hour away, but that’s pretty typical in South Dakota.
Finally, we found a guy who was going to be $600. When I called him he informed me that May weddings are considered “spring” and we got a $50 discount. Score! $550 it was! He had good reviews and that was close enough to our budgeted amount. (We ended up getting lucky… In December he reached out via e-mail and offered us a $50 discount if we paid him in full by the end of the year. We had the money, so paid. His total bill – mileage and all – ended up being just $500.)
Oh how some women can spend hours trying on dresses, ooh-ing and ahh-ing. Sorry if that’s you, but it is soo not me! Since I’d already been a bridesmaid in a few different weddings, I knew an A-line dress was the only way to go. I also knew I could find dresses for way less than the pricetags at most of the chain bridal stores or boutiques.
I began looking around online and found a few dresses from companies via Ebay that make them to fit your measurements. My mom had a friend who’s a pretty good seamstress. She measured me with my cowboy boots on (yes, that’s what I wore!) and we mailed off the measurements. Worst case? They take my money and run, and I have to go somewhere local to get a dress. Not great case? I have to have the dress altered in some way.
The dress arrived just as stated. It did end up being a touch too short, so we had to get a little creative. We added some extra tulle in the front, but it was seriously just a 30 minute job by my grandma and one of Andrew’s aunts. I also had to purchase a different petticoat because the one that came with it wasn’t full enough. And I also bought a separate jacket on Ebay as well.
My total dress and accessories bill came to about $350. I had it cleaned afterward for about $50. A few months later, I sold it for $220. My logic? I’m not going to wear it again. I don’t want to store is for 20+ years until I have (maybe?) have a daughter to wear it. Shipping and all, my dress and everything that went with it cost me about $180 for the one day. I’ll take it! :)
Next up was Andrew’s tux. We were going to rent one. However, we knew he was going to be looking at getting a school administrator position in the near future. When we found suits on sale for less than $150, we knew that was the way to go! And he’s worn it at least a dozen times since that day, so I figure that it’s money well spent!
Our Bridal Party
One thing I despise about weddings? How much it costs me to attend! Typically you’re driving there, giving a nice gift, often spending money when they sell the garter or for the dollar dance, getting a hotel room for the night, and then – if you’re in the wedding – you’re shelling out even more money to dress the part. We did not want that financial burden on our wedding party. We kept it small. Two bridesmaids, two groomsmen, two ushers, and two personal attendants.
We bought the dresses and shawls for the two bridesmaids. It was about $150 each. They each already had black shoes, so that’s what they went with. Both of our groomsmen had black suits, so we bought them red shirts and black ties for about $40 each. (The shirts came off of Amazon and the ties were from Tiecoon.) We asked our ushers to wear black pants and long sleeve white shirts. We provided them with red ties (from Tiecoon). The personal attendants were able to wear whatever they wanted to.
This one was a biggie. It took me awhile, but I found a gal from my grandparent’s town about 90 miles away from our reception site. She was willing to prepare all the food, bake our cake, deliver it, and serve it. We originally told her to plan on 400 guests, but then found ourselves cutting the list down to 250. (The day of we ended up having just under 200.) Her total bill? $300. I was shocked! Yes, we had provided all the food, but we wrote her a check for $450. She deserved every penny of that tip!
We had gone to Sam’s Club and bought all the fixin’s for pulled pork sandwiches, cheesy “crack” potatoes, and green beans with bacon. We also had a cheese platter, which we got at a discount because Andrew’s dad used to work at the factory. We wanted a candy bouquet. Since our colors were red, black, and white – I had spent $100 on discounted candy on February 15. The buns for the sandwiches came from a local bakery/deli. It worked out perfectly! No one was hungry, and I know a few of the guys had three sandwiches.
Now some people like to do an open bar, but we opted not to. Andrew and I did give out about $50 worth of drink tickets to our family and friends as a thank you for coming. Someone also paid for us to have an open bar for a little bit, but that was not part of our original plan. (I still think it was his mom, but she denies it to this day.)
Our total cost for food and drinks? About $1,350 for about 200 guests. We honestly ended up with too much food, but that’s so much better than the alternative. This is one area where we went over budget the most, but I was ok with that! Everyone was happy and full!
This one took some doing. We finally decided to not do much of anything at the church because it was gorgeous enough on it’s own. The only decorations there were four half ribbon pomanders to designate the reserved seating.
For the reception hall, we again went with ribbon pomanders. You can see the entire process at this blog post. Those were the main decorations on all of the tables. We also went to Dollar Tree and bought black 5×7 picture frames. These each held an engagement photo. Between the pomanders and the photos, we sprinkled Hershey kisses with a sticker on the bottom that had our name and the date. Our gift to the guests was to take a frame home if they wanted to. While we know many people like to do traditional gifts for all the guests, we also knew these tend to end up in the trash. This was a great in between, and we got many compliments on them.
We had a few other tables with random decorations that we either made, bought, or borrowed from someone. This giant letter F that I spent eight hours creating may not have been worth my time, but it’s been a gorgeous decoration in our home for the last couple years as well. (It does not photograph well, but it’s seriously beyond gorgeous!)
Here’s another table where we highlighted our parents and grandparents who had been married up to 50 years. It was a great way to showcase some of the people who were not able to be at our wedding in person, but rather just in spirit.
The entryway had more randomness – from lights to the guestbook to the surprise message bench we received that everyone signed. It was great, and many of these picture frames and other items still decorate our home a few years later.
All in all, I think we spent about $400 on decorations. The ribbon pomanders ate up much of this budget, but considering how many family took one home as a keepsake, I’d say they were worth it. (And we still have a couple in our home as well.)
Many people want fresh flowers on their wedding day, but I knew that wasn’t the case for me. They are just too easy to scrunch, some people have allergies, and they cost a LOT more. We ended up spending about $150 on flowers for everyone – my bouquet, the two bridesmaids bouquets, all the mothers/grandmothers flowers (we had 6 of them), all the guys, the priest, the hosts/hostesses, the readers, and a couple extra because I was paranoid about forgetting someone. It was hard finding fake tulips that looked real, but I finally did. We had to order them from somewhere in China off a random website, but they arrived exactly as described.
This was an area where we went much cheaper than the average. My mom had two coworkers who both love photography. One has since started a small studio, and the other had taken pictures at a couple weddings before. We knew we weren’t going to get top of the line photos, but how often do you really look at them? We have a few nice ones framed or on canvas around our home, and I also made a gorgeous photo album. I have no complaints, although I know a few other people thought we could have done more.
Anyway, we gave the ladies each $100 for their time. We also gave them another $100 to cover their gas. Finally, we paid for their hotel room and meals for the two nights they were there – which was another $200. Yes, some may say we got what we paid for, but if I hadn’t told you we only paid $400 for our photographer, I’m not sure you would have known.
This is one part of our wedding that we were bad at budgeting for. We bought gifts for our bridesmaids, groomsmen, ushers, personal attendants, readers, parents, and hosts & hostesses. The younger guys all got a personalized mug with a bottle of their favorite liquor. That was Andrew’s request. The ladies all got some lotions and a bag or tote. I gave our parents some handkerchiefs I found on Etsy that seemed fitting for the occasion. Everyone else, including our grandparents, received a set of playing cards with our picture on them. Both Andrew and I have fond memories of playing cards with our families, so this was a fitting gift. This area probably cost us $300.
We also ended up paying two different priests for their time (the one who actually did the service and the one who did our marriage prep classes). We also paid our sponsor couple a little bit, and we gave a gift to our teaching couple hosted through CCLI. These accounted for another $200.
Paying our pianist was a bit of a pain. She did a miraculous job, but she wouldn’t give us a quote. She said, “Give me whatever you think is fair.” AHH! What does that mean!? We ended up giving her $75, and I think she gave us a $50 wedding gift – so I still sometimes wonder if we did the “right” thing or not…
We ended up spending about $150 on our invitations, before postage with was another $100+. We also did Save the Dates, but those doubled as our Christmas cards for the year. (Cheating? Perhaps, but I like to think of it as two birds with one store. 😉 )
There were also a lot of little things along the way that we didn’t anticipate. Budget for those! There’s no doubt in my mind that some of our extra costs were due to things that we didn’t realize we had to take care of. Even simply forgetting the postage is something that eats into your budget very quickly!
If you’ve been totaling up the amounts above, you’re going to say that our total didn’t get to the $7,000 I originally stated. But that’s not entirely true. I literally wrote down every penny – down to the postage – that we spent, and our total was $7,116.47. (Ridiculous that I tracked each penny? Perhaps… That’s also our total cost before I started selling items after the big day.) The thing is that I never actually went and broke it down into nice little categories. Much like life, the cost of our wedding doesn’t fit into a nice little category. Instead, there are areas that overlap. We spent more in some places than in others. In a few areas we saved more than we thought we would. And then there were a few things that sprung up on us out of the blue, and we were glad we had a little extra money to help pay for them.
Regardless, we know that if we can do a $7,000 wedding while planning for 250 guests – you can do your wedding on a budget as well! Here are my tips for your budget wedding.
Tips for Your Budget Wedding
- Shop around. Find a reasonably priced reception hall. Look at the prices of music. Find a caterer within your budget. If your reception hall only allows food from them, you may want to look elsewhere. The hall we originally looked at had plates starting at $9 per person, going up to $20 per plate. We ended up spending less than $7 per person on our supper, cake, and snacks.
- Give yourself time. Hopefully you have some time to shop around, go the DIY route, and enjoy your engagement. Having a year from engagement to wedding made things less stressful for us.
- Make it yourself or ask for help. Most of our wedding decorations were either things I made, things we already had around the house, or a few clearance items we picked up along the way. I designed our invitations. It was a lot cheaper (like $0.50 or less each) than having them done by some wedding specific company.
- Decide what you really need. The wedding industry is full of stuff. But – let me tell you a little secret – you don’t need it all! You don’t need to get a sweatshirt that says “bride” on it. Will you really wear it again after that day? You may not need a headcount for the meal. That saves you the postage of rsvp’s that people often don’t return anyway. You don’t need expensive wedding favors for everyone to take home. Many times these just end up in the trash.
- Talk to other brides. Find out what costs they had that were unexpected. This is especially helpful if it’s someone who has gotten married in the last year. We didn’t realize we needed to give a gift to both pastors, our sponsor couple, and some other people. It wasn’t a big deal, but we didn’t budget for them.
- Barter gifts. Do you have a friend who is an amazing photographer? Ask if she’ll do some photos instead of a gift. Maybe your family is “famous” for their mints. Have a girls day and ask everyone for help. Or perhaps you want a great scrapbook to showcase the day, but you have no idea where to start. Ask that scrapbook-a-holic friend to make you one in lieu of a regular gift. Many people are happy to help you out, and – if they’re like me – they’ll appreciate not having to stress about what type of gift to get you!
- Roll with it. If you’re doing things on your own, there’s a good chance something will go wrong. I accidentally had a typo on the wedding invite. It wasn’t anything major, but a few people noticed. My dress needed a few little fixings. I could have freaked out, but I just rolled with it. Our DJ got into a fight with my uncle and almost ended the dance. (Needless to say, he did not send us a follow-up notice asking for our opinion of him.) And the music for the ceremony didn’t end up going the way I had hoped. In the grand scheme of things, did any of these matter? Nope! Not one little bit! I am married to my best friend, and all of those things were out of my control or complete “oops” moments.
There’s our $7,000 wedding and our tips for those of you who are trying to plan a wedding on a budget. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have, and I’ll do my best to answer them!