No Daddy Warbucks, no problem: How to pay for a wedding yourself without going into debt

January 13 | Guest post by Lola
Thanks to vegan.chef.steph. for uploading this to our Flickr pool.
Thanks to vegan.chef.steph. for uploading this to our Flickr pool.

When I first got engaged I was stoked as visions of the perfect wedding floated through my mind. However, I quickly realized that my "perfect wedding" could put us in debt before our journey even started. We are long past the times of the brides' parents paying for the wedding, especially if you are both coming from middle-class families as most of us are.

If you do have a Daddy Warbucks more power to you. For those of us who don't, who pays for these lavish soirees? How can people afford these things without breaking the bank? Here are a few tips to help you plan a wedding with a budget…

The Talk

They say you shouldn't talk about politics, religion, or money… unless you're getting married. If you and your partner haven't had The Talk yet, this may be a good time. Lets face it when you're dating you may over spend on dates and gifts to woo your love interest. Sometimes overspending gives your partner the impression that there is more money in your bank account than there really is. I disclosed my debt to my fiancé from the big and scary student loans, to the small but-still-owed credit card balance. While this can be a scary topic, it's important to be honest about what each of you is bringing to the table.

Set an honest budget

If you and your partner are primarily funding your wedding, be honest with each other about what you can afford. This is why having "the talk" is crucial. Once you come up with a number you are comfortable with try your best to stick to it. Downloading a wedding budget template is a great place to start.

Then divide and conquer who is paying for what and the amount they are contributing. Start by making a list of your wedding costs. There are plenty of templates available online. Remember there are no rules here, mix and match until you find something that works for you.

Don't just invite people because someone else wants you to

Keep it small and intimate. We have chosen to keep our guest list at a rounded 150. You may be thinking "that's a lot!" But, when you come from a huge Hispanic family where a guest list of 300 is the norm, 150 is considered tiny. Be ready to sit your abuela down and let her know that her cousins-daughter's-niece's-boyfriend won't be making the guest list.

When dealing with a large extended family my guest list rule is: If they haven't met the groom and I haven't seen them in years they won't be making the cut. I don't mean to be harsh but I've noticed all too often guest lists multiply like fruit flies.

Reach out to people you know with specific skill sets

I cannot stress this enough. If your uncle is a baker, ask him to make your wedding cake. Not only will this cut the cost, but your cake will be made with love and dedication. Our wedding venue does not provide catering, so I reached out to the catering company where I worked in high school. I had a great relationship with my boss and he was more than happy to help, while allowing us to personalize our menu without breaking the bank. Everyone needs help at some point in their lives so don't be afraid to ask for it.

Three simple letters: DIY

While it may be a more time consuming opting, making your own paper flowers, spray painting old vintage frames, and crafting your own centerpieces will go a long way. If you have a wedding party or crafty friend this is the time pull out the friend card and ask for some help. After all what are friends for if not to help you create the wedding of your dreams? Just be sure to return the favor and offer to do the same when it's their turn.

What are your budgeting tips for paying for your own wedding?

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  1. My fiance and I are paying for our wedding. What we ended up doing is putting together a guest list, then estimating a per person cost. After that was done, we had a final cost, we figured out what each of us could contribute per month, and calculated out when the date could be.

    Also, this talk involved a lot of honesty. Especially with the per month contribution. Expect some uncomfortable times if each of you tries to decide what the other should give up to have a wedding.

    10 agree
      • Thanks! I had already kind of picked out the day I wanted. (I REQUIRED peonies in my bouquet, so we are getting married at the end of May when they are in season and I can maybe steal them from my mom's and/or grandma's garden.) We were just lucky to be able to save the necessary amount on the right timeline. I'm hoping to have all my credit cards paid off soon so I can contribute more and have a bit larger of a slush fund.

  2. Consider going for "off-peak" weddings: my partner and I had a brunch wedding, which kept food and alcohol costs low. My brother-in-law is getting married on a Monday. Other friends have opted for simple pub receptions or winter weddings as a means to lower costs.

    1 agrees
    • I'd love to hear more about choosing these off-peak times! We almost did a weekday wedding but were worrying about inconveniencing our guests too much. It turned out my mom randomly made friends with one of our dream venue owners through something else, and he agreed to give us the same price for a weekend as a not as nice place would have been for the weekday- but we were considering it as well!

    • Related to off peak days is off peak seasons. This will vary from place to place, and doing weddings in off peak seasons may mean fewer people being willing/able to attend. Even though July in Florida is not for the faint of heart, my husband and I did it. Aside from the fact that we got sentimental and decided to get married on the exact day we met in person for the first time (which was in July), summer venue prices actually ran lower. While there are a good amount of weddings in Florida during the summer, we found that venues had a lot more flexibility schedule wise when the tourists had left. Likewise, winter weddings are less expensive in Minnesota, and yet I still see a decent amount of weddings between January and March in the area. I even attended one. 😀

  3. We are paying for our own wedding.
    With that in mind we gave ourselves a wedding date that was 2 1/2 years away when we set the date. That has given us plenty of time so save.
    Our guest list (including us!) is 40 people. We invited pretty much only family apart from the best man and a friend of the family that has been like a grandmother to our kids.
    We also thought outside the box. We chose a modern restaurant that hasn't ever done a wedding reception, but does cater for large parties a lot so has the experience. We get married just around the corner at the registry office.
    We've roped in family friends who are hairdressers and photographers respectively.
    I have taken up cake decorating so I can make our cake. My dress is not a traditional colour (though it was a ball gown) which makes it cheaper than a white dress.
    I have made my bouquet, the button holes, all the centrepieces, the cake topper, even my veil is handmade. If it's DIY-able ill give it a good try! And I'm finding myself putting lots more time and love into things because they are important.

    Unfortunately my family are less artistically inclined, my only bridesmaid is my sister who to be fair hasn't been any help lol, I've been asking her for 3 months to try on shoes! Thankfully it was my Mum who hooked up the hairdresser and photographer.

    Our biggest costs (high to low) are –
    Venue (that includes a two course meal (from an extensive menu) for 40 plus bellinis on arrival)
    Car hire
    Registry office
    My Dress
    His Suit

    Everything else has been under £100 per thing thanks to shopping around/sales.
    My bridal party (5 dresses) cost me less than £100 for all of them thanks to some bargain hunting!

    We agreed on the £3000 mark and we'll probably be at that maybe under it from my calculations. We don't even own a credit card so everything is literally out of pocket. We set up a savings account with the bank that takes money every Friday automatically and puts it aside. We should have the money to pay the venue and registry office in full without a big lump sum out of our accounts all at once.

  4. We did a winter wedding on a Thursday evening. That cut our costs by a third! We also went with a restaurant we liked for the catering, instead of a traditional caterer. The food was great and not typical wedding food.

  5. This is great! Just being happy with whatever you can afford and limiting your guest list so you can affordably take great care of your guests. We only had 80 guests. I kept my nose in my budget constantly and did not overspend. I also DIYd my flowers bc I have a background in flower design. That saved thousands.

    1 agrees
  6. A lot of people don't think to ask their vendors for cost-saving ideas, or they think that everything is set in stone. You can sometimes save money by asking the chef to get creative with the menu, or by doing breakfast food for dinner (a huge hit at my wedding!), or by asking the florist what is in season. If you have a good vendor, they will have all kinds of tricks in their back pocket.

    A lot of the trinkets don't matter in the end. No one takes the favors unless they're really incredible. Few people notice fancy escort cards. You can save hundreds of dollars just by resisting the urge to buy all the pretty little things. You can order invitations online for a fraction of the cost, and use coupon codes.

    Finally, actually having a budget document where everything is accounted for is huge. You might not realize what expenses are coming up or what you've already spent if it isn't all written down in one place.

    3 agree
  7. FH and I are probably going to have a microbudget wedding. We're doing it at his work, which will hopefully bring down the cost a lot. We're really close with the event coordinator (Close in that she actually gifted us my engagement ring because she loves us so much). I'm making all of our flowers our of printer paper and old books that friends are giving me, and vases and things from the dollar store (which will hopefully keep our decor budget under $300 total for absolutely everything). Our cake will probably be made by one of FH's close family friends. Another friend has a brother who is a DJ and offered to talk to him and get us a discounted price, so if it's in the budget we might take her up on it, although I'm okay with just making a playlist off of an ipod and asking someone to keep an eye on it for the night. We might have a hookup for a discount photographer. FH's boss has offered to officiate it for free, and because he works in the media industry and has some major hookups it might wind up being videoed for us by a news crew (We're making a huge production out of it. Pretty sure no one has had a stuntshow wedding around here before. FH is going to jump off a roof. I get to shoot a shotgun. There will be terrible puns about both). I'm a fairly accomplished seamstress, so I'm debating making my dress out of things I have or can get for fairly cheap, but I'm super afraid it won't turn out how I want and I'll be stuck with it because I don't have enough to get a new one or try again. Buying secondhand might be in the works, or there's a shop near me that also has dresses that are discontinued and sold at a discount that I'm going to check out sometime in the near future.

    Neither of our parents are going to help out. His mom just couldn't afford it, and even if my parents could it would be a cold day in hell before my dad offered me money to get married. He's been telling me since I was a toddler to never do it, and that getting married and having kids completely ruins your life. A lot of the money will probably come from little side jobs that FH and I take on, and maybe a little bit of my student loans if I have excess that doesn't need to go to anything actually important (I know, it's terrible to even consider doing it that way).

    • I was just looking at Tradesy for super cheap wedding dresses- not sure what your budget is, but they seem to have a wide range and a lot of stock on there. I read a couple of reviews where people had a good experience buying their dress off there so checked it out and they have some really nice gowns. Sounds like you have some great strategies to keep the budget down!

    • We did the iPod playlist thing! It worked ok, but it would've been much more fun (and involved) to have someone announce certain dances and events during the reception! Just my opinion!

  8. We are proudly self-funding. There are so many ways of cutting costs, but what really helps is knowing your maximum budget from the start, and then working out what is vitally important to you for your wedding day and allocating your budget where it really matters. first before getting caught up in expensive details. We have sold stuff on eBay to generate funds, made things to sell on eBay to recoup some of the costs, asked for skills donations from talented friends, we're saving every bottle of wine we've been given in a 'wedding stash', our guests will bring a bottle, a side dish or a dessert instead of a present while we provide the basics and the main course. All the bridesmaids will be in second-hand dresses and cardigans. Having taken one look at the price of wedding dresses , I'd rather spend that money on feeding our guests and learn how to sew a dress myself, which is what I am doing right now. With a longer engagement you have more time to save money and make things yourself, but you do have to me more disciplined about not getting carried away. Keep a spreadsheet of costs right from the beginning and religiously update it every time you spend money on something wedding-related. That would be my top tip, whatever your budget is.

  9. Love this article! It was encouraging to me as I am doing a DIY wedding…and when I say "I"…I mean my close circle of friends as the groom is not as crafty as we. We are even doing a potluck with the food in lieu of gifts as we need nothing and have lived together for the last 10 years.

    1 agrees
  10. My biggest concerns for our low budget DIY wedding are our photographer, and our food … we want an afternoon-tea sort of thing, so not a LOT of food, but our initial idea of doing a potluck got shot down when my fiancee was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. We want everyone to be able to come and enjoy themselves, but … I also come from an Italian family with strong opinions about Food And Guests. Any tips or advice?

    • Have you thought about checking out any local culinary schools? They might be able to help you out for relatively cheap. Or you can ask about hiring a few students to tend to the food (serving, making sure it's at safe temperatures, etc) and then go buy/make your own food. You can buy tons of stuff in bulk from places like Costco or restaurant supply stores. You could get meat and veggie based stuff in bulk for pretty cheap and with the rise if GF foods, they should have lots of options for that too!

      1 agrees
      • Thank you, Bri! I'm afraid we don't live in an area with many culinary schools, but it's a great idea for folks who come across this and have it as an option. 🙂
        We're aiming for a Mad Tea Party, so tea sandwiches and such wouldn't be too difficult. It's mostly a matter of time to assemble everything… on top of everything else. Oh, for a time machine! 😉

        • Did you come up with a solution for your photographer? We're also having that problem. And most of the photographers we've spoken to are over half our entire budget!

    • There are some really solid options for gluten free pastas and what not. Pasta and salad isn't too expensive.

      1 agrees
    • Pot luck barbecue? Oooh, or pot luck ice cream sundae and hot chocolate bar? Get everyone to bring a topping – sprinkles, fruit, syrups, cookies, marshmallows – and provide some baseline ice cream flavours for people to customise.

      Assuming the weather is warm, anyway. Winter food is tougher with gluten sensitivities. You can get a lot of good gluten free cakes these days (brownies are always a good bet) but you can't guarantee your guests will remember what they can and can't bring.

      1 agrees
    • What about for food – since you were thinking an afternoon tea kinda thing, would you be open more to a glamorous all day brunch? This way you could have omelettes & lots of other yummy brunch foods that would accommodate any allergies?

      Or as other people have suggested a big bbq idea? Friends of mine had a lamb & pork roast on spits with lots of different salads & then cake. It was buffet-style and it was really amazing! Then any allergies are accommodated & people will feel like it's a "real" meal (I have those family members too! lol)

  11. We're paying for ourselves also.

    We've got $5000 allocated for our whole wedding. We'll have between 60-80 people depending on who can afford to fly in (90% of our family lives outside North America). Our venue is the most expensive at $2k, but we've rented it for four days – we're having a cottage wedding & so we can accommodate our wedding party since they're flying in from other countries. Our way of saying thank you & trying to keep costs low for them. And so we can do our wedding meal prep…

    We're lucky in that fiance is a chef so we are doing all our own food & just hiring someone to help set things out & serve anyone with mobility issues. And our cake is being made by a friend in the business.

    That said, we're definitely the "allergy" wedding. Our allergy count to accommodate right now is 8 different ones including – celiac, nuts, peanuts, shellfish, mustard, citrus (except lemons), kiwi & lactose. And 3 different religious requirements – Jewish, Hindu & Muslim. So, we are providing gluten-free nut-free pizzas for those who are celiac & have nut allergies, along with all our different salads. We have dairy-free main options & vegetarian options. We are having no pork or beef products to ensure our religious friends are accommodated. And we have gluten-free, nut-free & dairy-free dessert options. Oh and food for the kids' party (thankfully & weirdly they have no allergies!). And because we are doing it ourselves with our whole budget, including servers, we think it will cost us $300-500.

    We're having an open bar with just beer, wine & bit of bubbly, no hard liquor and we can supply that ourselves with a liquor license (license $25 & our liquor stores allow you to buy in bulk for discount prices & return any unopened bottles for a full refund). It also helps that a friend's present will be a custom microbrew bride & groom beer of approx. 60-80 bottles (30-40 of each).

    We're not having a DJ, just a spotify playlist for two reasons – our budget & no one could/would accommodate our date & location.

    We just can't find a photographer who fits into our price. A friend recommended one – apparently a bargain – at $3500 as a basic price!!! I know that it's definitely an art form and I respect that. But it is just too much.

    The rest of our budget is going to dress, suit & rentals – tableware, servingware, tables, etc. But if it turns out to be too expensive, we may throw around some pillows & do a picnic for everyone except for older guests who would find that too awkward!

    Oh and childcare services! Lots of friends and family have very very small children (all under 3) & being so close to the water, we don't want any accidents. So we will have childcare & a kids party onsite, but indoors. The little ones are welcome to be around for the church, up until we sit down for dinner & party. Then it's adults only (except babes in arms).

    • I'm curious as to where you are that the starting price for a photographer is $3500. Depending on where you're located, that might be something you can negotiate.

  12. We're self-funding- mom gifted me my ($775) bridal gown, but everything else is on us. We're doing things pretty cheaply anyway (no flowers, small guest list, DIY photo booth, bring our own beer/wine) but had no idea how expensive things were when we set our original budget- I was thinking photogs would be like, $1-2K, but in our area they run 3-4 times that, which we were not expecting and we had to double our budget to accommodate. We set aside $ every week for the last year to fund everything so are in reasonable financial shape (1 week before the wedding), but still had to borrow $4K from ourselves (our rainy day savings) which we'll now pay back slowly.

  13. We just got married October 2016, and we paid for 90% of the wedding. We had all intentions of paying for everything, but a couple of guests (My aunt, my Boss, a friend, my new SIL) offered to pay for/help with specific parts as our wedding gift — we happily accepted. The biggest thing I found for saving is networking and negotiating. Ask everyone you know who they know in the DJ/catering/photography/hair/makeup business and go from there. Always ask if you can get a discount for paying cash.

    Most importantly (IMO), pick your "thing". The one thing you want to splurge on/don't want to have a wedding without. For me, that was the photographer. For my Husband, that was the honeymoon. Over half of our budget was spent on those two things. It made it completely rational for us to DIY, cut costs, eliminate extras if we were getting our "thing".

    Where we saved:
    Venue — we prettied up a Legion event hall. It was awesome as my FIL is a member and it cost us $300 total.
    My dress — bought off the rack and saved
    Food — luckily we had a couple of local caterers in mind and what we wanted for food was cheap (BBQ). We paid the caterers to bring the hot food and drop it off, no servers. I hired three local girls through FaceBook to man the buffet/clear dishes etc. I made coleslaw and bought my desserts at costco.
    DJ — Though my aunt paid for mos of this as our gift, but I negotiated a good price after finding an amazing DJ though friends. Finding vendors through friends can get you a decent discount! I saved the tax plus $100 off of her services because we had a mutual friend.
    Flowers — Bought through a connection of mine, I opted for high quality fake flowers, did all of my flowers for about 25% of what it would have cost me
    Decor — Husband made our ceremony backdrop (which doubled as a head table backdrop), I made our centrepieces. Minimal decor otherwise
    Hair and Makeup — my SIL did our hair (as our gift) and a co-worker's wife did out makeup for a discounted rate.
    Cake — was done by a friend as our gift.

    Other little things (they add up!):
    – I made my headpiece (cost: $15, Savings, probably $75 or more…)
    – Wore blue shoes from Walmart
    – My bridesmaids wore black dresses they already owned
    – I used my credit card rewards points to buy anything and everything I could
    – We kept the guest list under 100
    – Home made favours
    – Free guest book (got a freebie code from shutterfly by signing up for their email list)
    – Linens off of Amazon
    – We set a budget and bought our rings in February on sale (mine was more than $300 off!)

    Hope these tips can help another Bride! <3

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