The Ultimate Affordable Wedding Guide

The Ultimate Affordable Wedding Guide

Congratulations, you are engaged!  You found the one you will spend the rest of your life with, your other half.  Your partner in all things.  This is a joyous time.  But… now it’s time to get to work on your wedding planning.  Unfortunately, as soon as you announce that you are engaged people will start asking about your plans for the wedding.  It’s ideal to start you planning before all of your family and friends render their opinions on what your wedding should be.  This gives you a head start on what you envision the day to be.  I know some people have been thinking about their wedding day for a long time before the engagement happens, I was not one of those people.  I had no clue what I wanted!

2016 was an amazing year for my family, my husband and I announced our engagement in the beginning of the year and we were married in September of 2016.  It was a beautiful wedding and most of our family were able to attend.  Planning and executing the wedding was an incredible feat, it admittedly got the best of me at times.  There are a lot of tiny details to keep track of and sometimes something slips through the cracks.  Would you believe that I forgot to pick a song to walk out to!!  Thankfully we had friends and family helping us and our friend swooped in and picked a song for me to walk out to.  And I actually don’t remember hearing the song, I was so emotionally full from seeing the full room of family and friends and my loving fiancé waiting for me.

According to the, the average wedding costs for 2016 was $32,627$32,627.  That’s an INSANE amount of money to spend on one event.  You could buy a Volvo S60 for $32,795, which could last 15 to 20 years if you hold on to it like I discuss here.  If you invested this amount you would have $219,498 after 20 years (if it gains 10% interest)!  Or if you prefer, $32,647 buys 1,020 pairs of Old Navy Rock Star jeans (my absolute favorite).  That’s an insane amount of jeans, but you get my point, this is wayyy too much money to be spending on one day.

We spent about $10,000 on our wedding, which is 30% of the average amount spent.  While we would have loved to have spent less, and trust me we tried.  We ultimately decided that we wanted to invite all of our family and some of our friends to the wedding, this caused the invite list to be 140 people, with 108 attending.

The Ultimate Affordable Wedding Guide is a guide for you, I would to share my insight so you can have an affordable wedding and start your marriage off.  We did a few things out of the ordinary in order to save money and add our own mark to the event.  I’m sure people thought we were strange, (one person in fact told us we were doing it wrong J) but we saved a lot of money and are happy with the results.  Some of the things we did break with tradition, but as long as you have your fiancé and God, and someone to perform the ceremony, it will be right.  The rest is just fluff!  So let’s save some money!

1 – Guest List, Location and Budget

These three items are tied together, the guest list, location and budget.  These are big questions that need to be answered at the beginning of your wedding planning.  Do you want to have a big or a small wedding?  Where do you want to have your wedding?  And, most importantly, what is your budget for the wedding?

These questions tend to be answered around the same time, so it can be a bit overwhelming.  They are directly tied together.  If you decide to have a small local wedding you may spend A, if you have a small destination wedding you may spend B, if you decide to have a big local wedding you may spend C, but if you decide to have a big destination wedding you may spend all of the alphabet!!!  So, take your time with this decision, it will drive the rest of your experience.

Big wedding or small wedding?  Take some time making a list of all the people you could possibly ever want to come to the wedding (this will be a long list).  Is your list at 50, 100, 200 or more?  Once you have this list you can start breaking it up into different scenarios, such as small, medium and large.  Hold on to these scenarios, you will use these as you look at venues and establish the budget.  I suggest to delay making your decision on the size as long as you can, this gives you time to research and evaluate the other areas below, the right answer will show itself.

This can be a very tough choice, it was for my husband and I.  We had two choices; a small wedding with about 15 attendees (just our immediate family) or a big wedding with 140 attendees.  There was unfortunately no medium wedding option for us.  We have large extended families which we are close to, my husband was 42 and I was 34 therefore most of our cousins are married with families of their own by now and we both have close-knit friend groups.  It was all of our list or just the immediate family.

Local or destination?  Where do you want to have the wedding? On a mountain top in Oregon, on a beach in Key West, in your home church or in your friend’s backyard?  Take some time to vision you wedding and talk it over with your fiancé.  What do you each picture the day being?  Do you want to stay local for your wedding and then travel for your honeymoon?  Or combine both and travel to your destination for the wedding and stay longer for the honeymoon?  These are questions only you and your fiancé can answer.

We decided to stay local in central Florida for the wedding and travel within the U.S. (Oregon) for our honeymoon.  We chose local for the wedding so we would not have to travel for the wedding, I think it’s easier to plan a wedding in the city you live in.  Also, we wanted to invite our family to check out the town we love.  We have family all the way up the east coast but we were confident they would travel for the wedding (and they did!).

Budget? I know I listed this third but this is actually the most important choice you will make.  What is a comfortable amount for you to spend on this?  Be honest with yourself.  Will your parents be contributing?   Don’t rely on what you think guest will be gifting you at the wedding, these are gifts and shouldn’t be used to increase your budget.  If you are doing a destination wedding, people may not gift money since just getting to the wedding is very costly (time off of work, plane or drive, hotel, meals, etc.)

We were lucky that our parents contributed to our wedding.  This enabled us to be able to have the big wedding and invite all of our family and some of our friends.  If they had not been able to contribute, we would have done a small wedding with just our immediate family.  It was important for us to start our married life on the right foot financially.  We did not want to go into debt on our first day as husband and wife.

Once you have established your total budget amount, you can start estimating the various costs; venue, meal, dress, suit, bouquet and boutonnieres, center pieces, favors, DJ, photographer, transportation, hotel room, etc.  Try to over-estimate each cost and don’t forget to include taxes.    I used a simple excel sheet to keep track of all of the expense, but if you like apps there are a ton out there you could use.

Venue.  Now that you have your general location established, your framework budget and your guest list scenarios, it is time to start looking at venues.  Be sure to ask around for venue suggestions.  I had researched, researched and researched some more, but our final wedding venue came from the recommendation of a friend.

Some questions/thoughts to keep in mind as you look at venues.

  • Does the venue have a restaurant that you will use?
  • Is there a limited list of caters you can use? What are their prices?
  • Do you need to rent tables, chairs, linens and dinnerware?
  • Is it outside or inside? What will is the weather forecast?
  • Will you have to decorate the venue a lot or only a little? In other words, does it look like a recreation center and you need to turn it into a banquet hall?
  • Is the wedding and the reception in the same location?
  • How will your guests get to (each of) the venue(s)?

It’s important to think about all of these questions before you decide on a venue. You don’t want to be surprised but a budget busting catering cost after you put down your deposit on the venue!  Take your time with this decision.   We looked at a lot venues, a lot of venues.  I may have looked at all of the venues in central Florida!  I enlisted my fiancé when I found a place worth looking at, he was great at seeing all the little details I miss trying to take in the whole scope of a place.  One venue he nixed by the time we made it to the front door!

My recommendation is to find a venue where you can have the wedding and reception.  This will cut down on your venue rental costs as well as time/costs for your guests trying to get to two different locations.  Find a venue that already has tables, chairs, linens and food, such as a restaurant, this is where you will find the most savings.

We were able to find an amazing restaurant that had a banquet area, it was set up for a reception and we did the wedding and photographs in the same room.  This was the best option for us because the catering companies I looked at were very expensive.  Catering tends to cost more money because of the travel/set up/clean up involved.

2 – Food and Time of Day

The food cost and time of day are linked.  Dinner weddings have the most expensive menus, lunch is second and breakfast is the most affordable.  If you are truly looking to have an affordable wedding, I would challenge you to think of a brunch or lunch time wedding.

We chose to do a lunch time wedding.  I admit, I was nervous about this, the start time was 11:30 am.  But it ended up being perfect!  We woke up, got ready, did our reveal photos by ourselves, then off to the ceremony, followed by pictures with family and friends (in the same room) and then flowed into lunch (in the same room).  Following the reception we walked to a different location to unwind with some family and friends who stuck around.  And by 6 we were back at the hotel, relaxing and digging into the food the venue packed up for us!  We then had the whole evening to relax and just be with each other and celebrate being married.

3 – Attire

This is a tough tough category.   First, check out the local bridal shops and try on all the dresses you may think you like.   You need to find the style and fit you love.  Once you find it you will want to buy it and take it home, but don’t!!  Take your time, now that you found your style and fit you need to do some comparison shopping and check out the sales racks.  This is true for the guys too.   My husband was able to score a buy one get one deal for his wedding suit.  This enabled him to have a new suit for the day prior to the wedding too when we did a rehearsal lunch of sorts.  As for my wedding dress, my friend found it on the sale rack at David’s Bridal.  And since it was the last one, they cleaned it and made minor fixes free of charge!

4 – Invites

DIY of course!  There are amazing templates available online as well as in stores.  We opted to purchase our invites from Joanne Fabrics (with a coupon of course) and I created the insert myself.  The insert contained the wedding venue, hotel and area attractions information.  We printed these off at home and mailed them ourselves.  Total cost was $85.

A lot of people are going all digital with the invitations but since our guest list was so diverse we opted to mail hard copy invites.

5 – Center pieces

Center piece from our wedding

Center pieces are so important for a wedding, it will be right in front of your guest for a lot of their time at your wedding.  The first step for affordable center pieces was to stay far away from florist shops, this could blow your whole wedding budget on one item!  I do love florist shops, we used one for our boutonnieres, corsages and the flowers for my bouquet (discussed later), but we did not want to use them for the center pieces because of the cost.

We toyed around with the idea of using live plant which the guest could take home, such as lavender of basil.  But we ditched that idea because we could not guarantee that there wouldn’t be any bugs in the dirt.  And you don’t want bugs to start walking around on the table while your guests are eating, that would make your wedding memorable for the wrong reason!

For inspiration on the center pieces looked outside, what is your local plant life like?  I would challenge to think about center pieces as a show piece of the local plants that you have.  This is not only affordable but interesting to your guests.

Gift Table

We live in central Florida, which can feel like a greenhouse sometimes because of the humidity.  There are so many plants and flowers that grow naturally we searched for what could work well as a center piece.  We decided used split leaf philodendron leaves and do tall minimalist center pieces.

The split leaf philodendron were placed in tall glass vases, two each, with river rocks on the bottom to weigh it down.  We were able to cut the leaves ourselves a few days before the wedding from a friend of a friend’s lawn (an example of how you need to use all of your connections to have an affordable wedding!).  Our house did look like a jungle for a few days, but I thought it was beautiful.  We purchased the vases from a discount store and the river stones were from Hobby Lobby.  We also picked some ferns (at the same location) for two vases to go at the guest table.   Total cost $166.

I love love love how the center pieces came out.  They were unique and authentic to the location of our central Florida wedding.  We had people traveling from other regions of the U.S and they were able to be immersed in examples of Florida landscaping, while being comfortable inside.  We opted to have our wedding inside because of the unpredictable September weather (it’s hurricane season).  These tall showpiece center pieces allowed us to bring some of the outdoors inside.

I have also started using the split leaf philodendron leaf in the house as decoration, it lasts for months and is a beautiful display of a bold green leaf.  I kept the short vases and three of the tall vases to use in the house.  The remaining tall vases I gave away to friends to use.

6- Bouquet, Boutonnieres and Corsages

Find a florist shop that is close to the location of the wedding, or on the route of who you designated to pick these items up.  Have the florist shops make the boutonnieres (for your fiancé and fathers) and corsages (for your mothers).  Then, purchase loose flowers for your bouquet.  Enlist someone to make your bouquet on the day of.  Spend some time searching Pinterest to see what you like, don’t chose anything too complicated.

You should pick up the loose flowers about 3 days prior to the wedding.  This will allow them time to open up.  The boutonnieres and corsages have to be picked up the day of the wedding.  Total cost $120.

7 – Favors

It is tempting to skip favors in order to accomplish an affordable wedding, but don’t do that.  Your guests have traveled to celebrate with you, are most likely giving you a gift, it’s nice to give them a memento of the day.  Try to find something that is personal to you and your fiancé that is also affordable.

We decided to do photo coaster, using photos that we had taken.  One of our hobbies is exploring nature and taking pictures, we wanted to share that with our family and friends.  This was by far the most labor intensive, but the total cost was only $150.

8 – Photography

This is one area I recommend not skimping on!  The photographs will be your record and memories of the event for the rest of your life.  I have heard so many horror stories about photographers losing all of the pictures or they all come out horrible.  Don’t hire a friend with a camera to do this, hire a professional.  Or if you are going to ask a friend to do it, enlist a couple friends so you can be sure one of their photos would be okay!

The photographer will try to sell you on a full day package including items like pictures of you getting ready and being your planner for the day.  You don’t need all of this.  What you do need is pictures of the ceremony, pictures of you and your new husband (such as first look pictures) and pictures with your guests.

We opted to have our photographer for only three hours.  We took our first look pictures at the hotel prior to the wedding (it was only 0.5 miles away from the venue).  Then the photographer took the ceremony pictures and pictures with our family and guests immediately following.  The photographer had some extra time to take photographs of the details (rings, gift table, etc.) and that was it.  If you feel like you will miss the other pictures, ask friends to take certain shots so you have them.  We ended up with so many pictures, we don’t regret our decision at all.

9 – Honeymoon

Everyone seems to be doing extravagant honeymoons, overseas and at all-inclusive resorts.   There are a lot of options for honeymoons, it does not need to be at a sandy beach (unless you want to) and you don’t need to go into debt doing it.  Check out local options staying in your state or country.

We opted to stay in the continental U.S. and honeymoon in Oregon!  We love being out in nature, surrounded by trees so it was the perfect option for us.  We took a week and half and explored three different areas of the state.  I think this was a great trip for us because it bonded us closer together.

10 – Wedding album

An affordable way to create your wedding album is to do it yourself.  There are so many great online tools that you can use.  I love Shutterfly, which is what we used for our album.  There are templates that you can use that make the process very easy.  And Shutterfly has amazing discounts, since I ordered our album around Christmas time, I was able to take advantage of their holiday discount.  I even ordered an album for each of our parents as a holiday gift.

If you choose to only have the photographer for a limited time, be sure to ask family and friends for additional pictures to add to your album.  Some of my favorite candid shots came from photographs my family took.

Wrap Up

Wow, that was a lot of information!

I know the budget is never big enough to do all the things you want to do, but staying in the budget and compromising is great practice for married life!  Maybe you wanted to do a destination wedding in Turks and Caicos (my cousin’s favorite destination), but you just can’t make it work with the budget.  If you live near a beach or a lake, you could do it there and have a beach themed wedding, heading to Turks and Caicos for your honeymoon.

Just remember, your wedding is just that, your wedding.  Don’t let good meaning friends and family talk you into doing something you don’t want to do.  I hope you enjoy The Ultimate Affordable Wedding Guide, I had a lot of fun putting it together for you!

What techniques have you used to decide on your budget, location, guest list size centerpieces, etc.?  Are you struggling with this decision now?  I would love to hear from you.



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