5 Tips for a Wedding under $5,000

Like most thirty-something brides, I’ve had plenty of time to think about my dream wedding. From little girl fantasies while playing dress up to catty remarks at some friend-of-a-friend’s wedding, I’ve run through tons of ideas about how to make my wedding perfect. But when the right guy came into the picture at the right time, I suddenly realized that this is much more about the two of us and our beginning than it is about a perfect, fairly tale ending. I had a few wedding fantasies that I’ve let fade because, when it came down to it, an “average” wedding of $20,000 to $30,000 is not in my family’s budget. Besides, even if we had that kind of money sitting around, would we want to spend it on limousine rentals and engraved champagne toasting glasses? That’s not really what our lives are all about, day-to-day. So it wouldn’t be a wedding that really reflected us. I completely understand that some women love the whole “special day” fantasy and that some families throw weddings to celebrate their familial and social networks. Clearly, this post isn’t for the folks who can actually afford a $30,000 wedding. If you can, go for it! Enjoy it! If you can’t, and you don’t want to be paying credit card debt or personal loan for the next ten years, keep reading.

Tip #1: Decide What a Wedding Really Means to You
All the advice manuals are right on this one. Really stop and think about what you and your fiancé really want in a wedding. If you want some ideas to help get the ball rolling, flip through a few bridal magazines, read a couple of planners, and definitely read Kathleen Kennedy’s Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 and Anti-Bride Guide: Tying the Knot Outside of the Box. When I imagined my wedding day, what always got me the most excited was the fact that it will be one of the few times in my life that many of the people I love will be in one place at the same time. My friends and family are scattered across the country. Some dear friends from one “phase” in my life have never met my parents or friends from another “phase.” Yet, I think that they will all have a lot of fun together. So, for me, one of the coolest things about a wedding is that it’s a time for all these people to spend time together. Once I had that in mind, other things started to fall into place. So, think through what’s really important to you. Is it a big church ceremony with your whole congregation? Is the joining of two families? Is the royal treatment for a day?  Is it just about the two of you and a few close friends? Deciding your fundamentals will help shape the whole wedding.

Tip #2: Let the Theme Develop from the Location
Don’t try to transform that tired church basement into Cinderella’s castle on a budget. And don’t think you can redecorate a hotel conference room into something personal and intimate without a lot of money. If you’re trying to save money, pick a meaningful location and work with it. For us, that’s a local state park where we love to go hiking. In fact, one of our first, perfect dates was there. I love that for the rest of our lives, this park will also be where we got married. And, since it’s a state park lodge, that’s the theme we’re going with. We’ll use flowers from the local farmer’s market, give wildflower packets for favors, and host a scrumptious picnic reception after an 11:00 am ceremony. We have the lodge for the whole day, so we’ll have games for the kids and plenty of time to catch up with family and friends. I’m planning for a hike down to the river in my wedding dress!

Tip #3: Ditch the “It Only Happens Once” Thinking
Sure, this may be your only wedding day, but it will not be the only special day in your life. I think one of the ways the wedding industry highjacks us brides is with the whole “it’s your special day, you deserve it” mentality. Of course, you deserve it, but can you afford it? As I know from experience, credit doesn’t spend like real money. The second assistant for the videographer may seem perfectly reasonable for a once-in-a-lifetime event, but is it perfectly reasonable for your budget? When the realities of budgeting came into my planning, I had to give up the very elegant cocktail reception at our local art gallery, complete with a jazz trio and designer shoes. But you know what’s great? I can have that reception for our ten-year anniversary or my stepdaughter’s college graduation or any old reason I want. This is not the only time in my life that I can throw a party. Once that really sank in, a lot of the pressure came off too. I’m excited about our wedding, but I’m not stressed. I think that’s because this will be a really terrific day, but it won’t be the only terrific day in my life!

Tip #4: Know When to Scrimp and When to Splurge
Most bridal magazines and planners have a wedding budget section where they tell you what percentage of your budget to set for each category. Run the calculations with their rules once and then decide what really matters to you. Usually you can dump some categories completely and trim others; then you’ll have more money for the categories that matter to you. I paid a little more for my dress than I might have, but I wanted to go shopping for it when my mom was in town. I could have spent hours on eBay or craigslist tracking down a great deal, but it was important for me to have her there when I tried on the dress. On the other hand, I found really cool save-the-date cards in InStyle Weddings that you could order for a mere $1,300. I know! I found a similar image on Google and went to iPrint.com. I designed the cards myself for $49.95. If you think through what really matters, you won’t throw away money on things that you don’t really care about.

Tip #5: Involve Your Friends and Family
This is actually the coolest thing about the whole wedding process for me. Once we started asking people to donate their talents rather than gifts, the whole wedding has turned into something really special. First off, after reading Kennedy’s chapter “If You are Crazy Enough to Cater Your Own Wedding,” I decided, yes I am that kind of crazy. Of course, I love to cook and it’s been an important bond with my fiancé and his daughters. I also love to eat fresh, local food and knew I could turn out something lovely. I also knew I couldn’t do it myself, so I called my mom and my maid of honor. They were totally on board! Mom had her wedding at her parents’ home, and they did the food themselves. I love that we’ll have this continuity and that everyone will be rolling up their sleeves and jumping in. I’ve been really touched by how everyone has reacted when we asked them to help us. It’s a testament to all the talent and energy of the people I care about. I know our wedding will be much more meaningful to me because I have all of their help. Personally, I can’t imagine it any other way!


13 responses to “5 Tips for a Wedding under $5,000

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  3. Once you figure out the one or two things that really will make your day (or impress your guests!), it will be easier to take on the frugal alternatives for the other budget items.

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  7. I used to work as a wedding planner and I told my clients that people don’t remember details, they remember the overall impression. The flowers don’t have to be PERFECT, but close enough works just as well. People are here to celebrate you, not how much you spent.

    Also, if there’s one area I would emphasize compared to others… it’s the photographer. It’s the one item you walk away with from your wedding (besides a spouse) and you’ll be looking at those photos forever, make sure that you’ll be happy with them!

  8. mydailydollars

    Good advice Nikki. I agree, it’s the big impression that will stick with people. Thanks!

  9. Hi Amy,

    I wholeheartedly agree that a wonderful wedding does not have to put you into debt. Your #1 tip is very good. Our wedding was an outdoor gathering at a local county park. Our wedding reception was a large picnic-like gathering with many family and friends. Just what we wanted our wedding to be.

    I also agree with Nikki. Over half of our wedding cost was for a great photographer. We got an engagement photo shoot with several enlargements, some large wedding prints, an album of wedding prints, and all negatives as a package deal for $1600. We actually just had a family shoot with him a few weekends ago, 8 years since our wedding.

  10. mydailydollars

    Thanks Bryce! It sounds like we have similar ideas about weddings. I’m glad to hear that you had a lovely outdoor ceremony. We’re really looking forward to ours.

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  12. My wife and I budgeted exactly $5000 for our wedding and we made our budget (this was nearly 8 years ago so it might cost a little more in current dollars). It was a relatively small wedding (around 80 -100 close family and friends, I believe). Through personal contacts, we found a photographer for $700 and a DJ for $400. The photographer was not a “pro”–just a recreational photographer–but she did a great job. We had the reception in my mother in law’s back yard. My mother in law catered (we paid her $1000 for the food and she donated her labor). We bought a bunch of liquor at a club store for around $200. Chair and table rentals were around $300. My wife’s good friend handled decorations (we spent a few hundred dollars on materials). My sister in law handled planning and coordination issues. We went without the expensive flowers–I really don’t think anyone even noticed (we still had tasteful but affordable decorations).

    The best part was that everyone had a great time! People stayed as late as 3 am dancing and talking because there was no particular reason to leave (if you spend big bucks to rent a hall, you will need to vacate at a certain time)! The DJ stayed late, we had plenty of drinks and everyone was having fun dancing! Many people told me later that it was the most fun wedding they had ever attended. The bottom line is that no matter how much you spend (or don’t spend) you will always have great memories. Don’t try to impress people with your wedding–just make it fun!

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