When my husband and I got married in 2008, we decided we wanted a traditional wedding without the traditional price tag. According to CNN.com, the average wedding in 2012 costs $28,427 with around 140 guests in attendance. We didn’t have that kind of money, and even if we did, we would never have spent that much on our wedding. We managed to have our classic, traditional wedding for under $10,000 and I’m going to show you how we did it. The calculations below were generated by using the budgeting tool on theknot.com.
Our engagement was a year and half long and we booked everything we could as early as possible. This allowed us to choose the venues we wanted and not get stuck with something that was out of our price range. It also allowed me to shop for awhile before deciding on a gown and my attendants’ dresses and accessories. I was able to find some great deals on both!
Get an Accurate Guest Count!
Most venues will charge based on your final guest count, not the number of guests who actually attend. If you submit a count of 200 guests and only 150 show, you still pay for 200. Make sure everyone RSVP’s. Call or email those that don’t to be sure they are not coming. While you don’t want to pay extra for people who don’t attend, you also don’t want to be short on food.
The Dress, Veil and Alterations
No matter how many budgets you create or how much planning you do, this is the category most brides usually end up blowing. Wedding dresses are, in a word, expensive. But its your day and you deserve to feel like a princess, right? Right! Believe it or not, there are several ways you can achieve the look you are going for without breaking the bank. By starting my dress shopping almost immediately, I was able to find the perfect dress, off the rack and half off. I have fairly simple tastes, so the dress wasn’t as extravagant as some, but it suited me and was within my budget.
If your dream dress isn’t within your budget, negotiate with the manager/owner for a discount. Some will throw in free alterations or a percentage off if you buy your attendants’ gowns from them as well. And if you’ve planned ahead, you can shop around for a similar style that you can afford that doesn’t have the designer price tag.
Budget: $1989.00 Actual Cost: $600 Savings: $1389.00
As I said before, my tastes are fairly simple, although I do love shoes! Believe me, you are going to want to spend a little money in this area since you will be on your feet, lugging around a heavy dress, for about twelve hours. Again, since I started shopping early, I found the perfect pair for 75% off. I chose a simple fashion jewelry set (no real pearls for me) and borrowed a small white purse from my mother-in-law.
Budget: $250.00 Actual Cost: $125.00 Savings: $125.00
Instead of traditional tuxes, the guys wore black suits with yellow shirts. Since most men own a black suit, all they had to pay for was the yellow shirt and tie. I found them on sale at a local department store, along with the ties, and snatched them up. The guys just paid us back later and thanked us!
Budget: $225.00 Actual Cost: $50.00 Savings: $175.00
This was the one area we actually went over our budget. It was important to me to be married in the church my parents and grandparents belonged to, but since my husband and I live in a different town, we aren’t members. It cost $500 to rent the church and $100 to use the basement as dressing rooms. I cut costs in this area by borrowing isle decorations from a friend of my mother-in-law and made the alter decorations myself. We had to buy the unity candle and ring bearer pillow, but didn’t hand out rice or birdseed to our guests to throw. The church didn’t allow the flower girl to throw petals, so I made a “wand” out of artificial flowers and attached bells to the end. It cost about $5.00 and my flower girl felt like a fairy princess. Instead of paying an organist, members of my husband’s family played a CD with the wedding music we picked out.
Budget: $454.00 Actual Cost: $700.00 Overage: $196.00
Flowers and Décor
This is another area that can get pretty out of control. Bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, reception decorations, ceremony decorations…it can make your head spin. Our solution was to use faux flowers everywhere except the bouquets for myself and my bridesmaids. The bouquets are the flowers that are photographed the most so I wanted the real deal. I kept the cost down by using flowers that were in season and an arrangement that was simple. The guys were perfectly okay with not wearing boutonnieres. I made my mother and mother-in-law faux bouquets to carry down the aisle. I kept the table decorations simple yet timeless with inexpensive vases (you guess it, I got them on sale).
Budget: $1,876.00 Actual Cost: $800.00 Savings: $1076.00
I lucked out in this category. My cousin and her husband ran a DJ business and provided their services to us at a huge discount. If you don’t have access to this luxury or want live music, consider hiring an emerging band (be sure to audition first) or possibly bartering with a DJ for a discount. For example, offer to print flyers for them or do their taxes if you happen to be an accountant.
Budget: $1,705.00 Actual Cost: $300.00 Savings: $1405.00
Photographer and Videographer
Professionals will charge an arm and a leg for their services. The cheapest package that I found while shopping was $1000 for three hours of their time. I wanted professional shots of the entire day, so this was not an option. Spending $2000 for pictures also was not an option, so I posted an ad on craigslist.com for an amateur photographer who needed prints for their portfolio. I was very nervous about this, but I got a ton of responses and a lot of the work I viewed was actually very good. I finally selected a sports photographer who was trying to break into wedding photography. In exchange for permission to use our pictures in his portfolio and on his website, we not only got him for the entire day, but he agreed to give a CD with all of our pictures so we could print as many as we wanted. That meant we didn’t have to pay for extra pictures for the parents’ albums. We chose not to have our wedding on video, mostly because I’m very camera shy, but if this is something that is non negotiable for you, hire an amateur or have a relative do the honors. With the video editing software available, you can have a professional looking production at a fraction of the cost.
Budget: $1700.00 Actual Cost: $300.00 Savings: $1405.00
In order for your guests to show up to your wedding, you have to invite them. There are a multitude of places that will print, address and mail your invitations for you – and charge you a mint to do it. My husband and I both think “If I can do it myself, why pay someone else?” So, I searched online and finally found the perfect invitations. They fit our wedding colors and the theme flawlessly. And they were the kind that you print yourself, so they were cheap. A couple of hours of designing and formatting and an ink cartridge later, we were done.
Budget: $$852.00 Actual Cost $250.00 Savings: $602.00
Your wedding cake is like the centerpiece of your reception. They range from simple to extravagant and come in a wide range of flavors. Keep in mind, the more simple the cake, the lower the cost. The number of guests you’ve invited will also influence the price as most bakers price their cakes by the slice. We went with a traditional three tiered vanilla wedding cake and skipped the groom’s cake. We had the florist make a cake topper that matched the bouquets. All together our cake cost about $350.
Budget: $710.00 Actual: $350.00 Savings: $360.00
Transportation and Lodging
We got married out of town, so we knew we were going to have a tough time in this category. Our solution was to cut out the limo. We drove ourselves from the church to the different locations where we were having pictures taken, then to the reception (of course, we had a family member drive us from the reception back to our hotel room). I got a deal at the hotel by booking all of the rooms in advance, then had guests who were using them pay us back. We didn’t have to pay for parking at the ceremony or reception sites. If you want to have a chauffeur for the day, consider a young family member in need of an extra $100 or so, or rent a car or SUV and have an adult family member or friend drive you and your wedding party around.
Budget: $750.00 Actual Cost: $400 Savings: $350.00
Here is where the number of attendants you will have is going to matter. You have to get everyone, including both sets of parents, a gift. By only having six attendants, a ring bearer and a flower girl, we were able to save some money. Not to beat a dead horse, but if you start shopping early, you can find everyone something personal and not go over your budget. Instead of individual favors that most guests will just leave behind anyway, we set out bowls of trail mixes and chocolate candies.
Budget: $750.00 Actual Cost: $300.00 Savings: $450.00
Food and Drink
The main event is also where the biggest chunk of your money is going to go. If you are going with the traditional dinner option as my husband and I did, you could easily pay $50 per person, and that’s before your poor guests even get anything to drink. And speaking of the bar – open or cash? My husband and I argued over this for hours. I was completely against having our guests pay for their own drinks, but my husband didn’t want to get stuck with an outrageous bar tab. We eventually compromised and decided we would have an open bar until the tab reached a certain limit, then we would close it and anyone who wanted more to drink would pay themselves. We decided to hold the reception at the local VFW. Not the most exclusive of places, but it cleans up nicely and those VFW ladies can cook! Five years later, my husbands’ family still talks about the meal they served. They offered to provide paper plates, cups and metal flatware, but we wanted something a little more upscale than that so we bought clear acrylic plates and cups to use. Unfortunately, only about half of the guests who RSVP’d to the wedding actually attended, so we had to pay for 140 people to eat when only 75 showed up. On a positive note, everyone who went to bingo at the VFW the following night got a free meal! So, to break down the costs, we had to put down a $100 deposit to hold our date and we paid $7 per person for a home style buffet that included two entrees, three side items, bread and use of paper plates, cups and flatware. We did have to set everything up and tear it down. My family doesn’t drink a lot of alcohol so our bar tab ended up being about $250. Instead of using linen on the tables, we bought very thick linen like paper table covers so we just rolled everything up and threw it in the trash. Clean up took about twenty minutes.
Budget: $10,802.00 Actual Cost: $1430.00 Savings: $9,372.00
In the end, its all about your taste!
It is your day, after all, and should reflect who you and your fiancé are, as a couple. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on a single day. Remember, this is just the beginning of many more days to celebrate your love.
Total Budget: $28,427.00 Actual Cost: $5,605.00 Savings: $22,822.00