How we had a wedding under $5k — complete with our REAL budget breakdown!

January 25 | Guest post by Ms. Frugal Rock
Photos by Carolyn Barry Photography
Photos by Carolyn Barry Photography

My partner and I are an "old married couple" now — having been married since 2012, we are officially past the three years wedding anniversary mark. You may remember us from our barn wedding featured back in 2012! So why are we talking about our wedding now?

When I mentioned recently online that we had a wedding under $5k, it generated some great conversation about how we pulled that off…

You would think that with all that planning, there's some talk between the couple about how much it's going cost. But, according to a 2014 study, almost a quarter of couples getting married didn't have a budget or overarching financial plan for their wedding.

How many of us have gone on a run to the store, to pick up a "few things" only to be shocked when we reach the checkout that our few things are not under $20 like we planned, and are actually over $50? Imagine the same feeling, but on a much grander scale. In fact, according the same study, even couples that had budgets, almost half (43%) went over-budget. If most of us at work went over-budget 43% of the time, just imagine where we would be. Fired, most likely.

So what to do about this out of control wedding spending? There are concrete (and fairly easy ways) to keep your costs low. While they may not be for everyone, I have faith in my offbeat folk, and it can really make a big difference financially in the long run!

1. Cut the guest list

This is a toughie but a biggie. Coming from a large family, our guest list could have been well over 200 people without even trying. For many people who don't enjoy being the center of attention, that number of people can sound really overwhelming (and expensive!). We limited our list to immediate and close family, our godparents, and our dearest friends.

I will totally admit that feelings were hurt. Overall though, no one brought this to our attention or made us feel guilty about not inviting people (well maybe one thinly veiled attempt at teasing about not being invited, but oh well!). We tried to explain why we needed to keep the guest list low and overall, people respected that.

It was much easier to keep our guest list to 50 people, than it would have been to have 100. If you are keeping things very small, it helps take away some of that pressure about which extended family members to invite.

2. Choose an alternative venue

There are so many cool places that are not "typical" wedding venues. As a result, they don't have those typical wedding prices, and may be waaaay more accommodating than the average hotel or country club. We used a local barn that accommodated all of our guests, and had additional historical and farm items that we could use. They even supplied the hay bales for our guests to use as seating, which was another cost saver.

Other friends have done rental through the county parks systems — there are some great venues. Local, small museums or theatres often have rentals or events that are much lower than the larger venues.

3. Choose an alternative time

We also got married on a Sunday, which meant our catering costs and venue prices were much lower. We also got married at noon, so we had a large brunch to follow with mimosas, bloody marys, and all the breakfast food you could eat!

Fix-in's

3. BYOB

If your venues allows you to choose your own caterer or food options, this can be a major way to save some green. The biggest savings for us was bringing in our own alcohol. Beer, cases of champagne, and vodka for bloody mary's stretches a lot farther when you are ordering cases from a liquor store, as opposed to from a bar/venue.

4. DIY, y'all

If you (or your friends) have DIY skills, try to to use them. We made/upcycled a lot of items (boutonnieres, centerpieces, signs) but it took an army to get it done in time. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Upcycled doesn't end up looking as cookie cutter as purchased items though, so be prepared to let go and go with the flow if your DIYed signs just don't look AS great as the ones you could have purchased.

Wedding Sign

5. Consider wedding photography alternatives

There I said it. Feel free to send me your hate mail. I KNOW weddings are important and we want to capture those perfect moments. You should definitely have a wedding photographer, but… maybe find someone who doesn't do it full-time. Many photography students, aspiring photographers and hobbyists do a wonderful job shooting weddings in their spare time, and charge much less. Maybe there is someone in your family that fits this bill and can make this their wedding gift?

After getting really discouraged about professional photography rates, I began to feel desperate. And desperation led me to posting a Craigslist ad asking for a photographer to shoot our wedding. I was absolutely blown away by the response. I got 15+ responses, several who contacted us with their websites, online portfolios and asking for us to choose them. In the end, chose a PhD student who was looking to make extra money. She met us for coffee, took notes, showed us her work, toured our venue (a two hour roundtrip for her), showed up on time, and got us our pictures within a week. She was AMAZING, and while I'm sure luck had something to do with it, doing our research totally helped us save money.

6. Ditch the guilt

So that may not be strictly a financial/cost saving one but it's still important. This is your wedding, not anybody else's. I don't care if you are the only child or one of six. I don't care what your mother-in-law wants. Make decisions based on what you and your partner want, and don't let anyone else pressure you. You don't like dancing — don't hire a DJ. You don't understand why anyone would want a coaster with your and your partner's initials? Me neither! If you are catching yourself wondering why these things are "a must," they probably aren't.

Set 1 1569

Put your money where your mouth is and show us the budget breakdown!

  • Bride's outfit: $200 (dress was remade out of fabric from my mother's wedding dress)
  • Groom's outfit: $200 (a new dress shirt, suspenders and a bow tie)
  • Flowers/hanging baskets: $250 (some flowers, but mainly reusable hanging baskets that we took home with us)
  • Venue rental: $1,000
  • Photographer: $900
  • Caterer: $1100
  • Table/chair rental: $350
  • Booze/drinks: $200 (I WAAAAY over-ordered on the champagne. I was drinking champagne for months…)
  • Wedding dishes: $50 (we went to St. Vinnies/Goodwill for all our dinnerware — at 10 cents a spoon, it was a cost-effective option, and the mismatched china was fun. After a run through the dishwasher, we re-donated most of them back. Though if you come over for dinner you will see 10 of our favorites!)
  • Decor: $300
  • Games: Free
  • Officiant/musicians: Free (Friends and family made this their gift to us)
  • PA System: Purchased for $150, sold two years after our wedding when no longer needed for $60
    Total: $4700

How did you keep YOUR budget down? Share your secrets in the comments…

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  1. I'm planning a very low-cost wedding as well. It's not either of our first weddings, so we're able to rid ourselves of a lot of "it has to be done" guilt. We're having it at the zoo! While the zoo is open (so, half-price on the venue!) The really only expensive thing is the zoo requires a formal caterer and bartender (it's really to cover their own behinds. I get it!!), so that's where the majority of our cost will be. It's going to be family-friendly. (It's at the zoo! If kids get restless… they can go look at the zoo animals!!) And exactly right for us: low-key, fun.

    6 agree
    • Terry- love the idea of the zoo! That sounds like a lot of fun. I wish we all could easily shed the 'guilt' and stick with the things we LOVE. Life would be simpler (and less expensive 😉 that way!

      1 agrees
      • My first wedding was filled with "we have to do"s. It's one of my regrets — I wish I had been stronger back then. Oddly, I don't regret I married him. He's a good man, we just weren't ready, or right, or a lot of other "r" words. 🙂

        This time, we're planning the wedding we want, the way we want. I'm sure my ideas aren't right for everyone. Just like not every idea is right for me. But I'm looking forward to a fun day with friends, family and the man I love. 🙂

        1 agrees
  2. When my sister got married in a small, rural community, there were no rental houses for seating – my mother borrowed chairs from a local funeral home. They didn't charge for it because they're part of the community. I made the cake as a gift and the bridesmaids dresses were off-the-rack at a local department store. My sister loves daisies and they were in season which saved on the flowers. The food was ordered from a local deli. Saving elsewhere helped my sister have the dress she really wanted and no one missed anything as they had a lovely ceremony and there was plenty of food, booze, and cake

    1 agrees
  3. As an almost-bride-to-be discussing engagement and wedding planning with my almost-fiancé, I am very gratified to find that most of our wishes match this list! It really doesn't have to be expensive if you cut the crap out. We are aiming to invite 60 people, have only two on each side of the bridal party, use an iPod instead of a DJ, and do at least some self catering, and other small things like that. I'm really excited, your wedding sounds so fun just like I want mine to be 🙂

    1 agrees
    • Stephy-
      All your ideas sound great- having had a small wedding, I am a solid convert to keeping it under 100 people- but I know that's not always feasible so kudos to you guys for sticking to smaller numbers and doing things your way. Hope your day is crazy-stupid-fun!

  4. My biggest cost saver: order pizza! No really, there are some really excellent gourmet pizza places out there where you can get fancy pants pizza delivered to your venue for a fraction of the cost per head of a traditional caterer or even a food truc

    1 agrees
    • Claire-

      What a fantastic idea! Who doesn't love pizza- plus even the more 'fancy' gourmet places will often deliver for the fraction of what you would pay a caterer.

      • I'm working with a $4500 budget so we had to get creative. Pizza for 60 people is going to be about $450, but I'm thinking about asking for a discount since I am ordering in bulk. We found this great place that uses local ingredients, fresh vegetables and surprising combinations (curry pizza anyone?) so it won't feel like just cheese and pepperoni. With the money we're saving on the food we can do a dessert buffet and rent a bounce house.

        • Man, you had me at Curry Pizza! How can I get an invite? ? It never hurts to ask for a discount- especially since it will likely be great marketing for the local pizza place. If you frame it for them that they also get good exposure to a new group of potential customers they may be more likely to pass some savings along for you!

          Sent from Surface

  5. Find out prior to purchasing if the store will take back unopened bottles of wine. A friend was able to return hers (at original sell amount) and get that part of her budget back. And it'll save having to drink champagne for months on end, unless you're looking forward to the leftovers!

    3 agree
    • Sharon-
      Good thought on returning the unopened bottles. I didn't even think of that and would totally have saved some additional funds… it was fun though to treat every gathering like a celebration worth opening champagne for! 😉

  6. My biggest piece of advice for sticking to a budget is STOP PLANNING. Once you're done, be done. Don't reevaluate your choices, don't keep looking at pictures of dresses, don't keep pinning stuff to your wedding board. You know how stores want to keep you inside for as long as possible because they know that the longer you're in the store, the more you'll buy? Same thing. If you keep shopping, you'll keep justifying your purchases. "It's only $50." "Why didn't I think of personalized M&Ms? We definitely need those!" "This is the only wedding we're going to have, so who cares if we go a little over budget?"

    8 agree
    • A lot of folks are getting away from the Pinterest phenomenon of wedding plan and with good reason- it leads to feeling like all sorts of 'additionals' are needed! My own version of 'personalized m&m's' was a pin that was forwarded to me (a week before my wedding) by a friend. The pin was wedding color themed umbrellas (with ideas to personalize them) for guests so that in case or rain/sun, guests did not need to worry about getting wet… or apparently sunburned, if they forgot their own umbrellas. I remember having this moment of actually considering purchasing them, before realizing how actually unnecessary it was to provide each guest with an umbrella. Sometimes it's hard not to get sucked in! Thanks for the comment!

  7. We're setting a $3,000 budget and throughout the planning are actually managing to stick closely to it. We rented a lodge at a local state park for $125. They only allow beer and wine so that actually ended up being a money saver for us over liquor. The men are going to be wearing suits that were on a $99 sale. I hate the look of tuxes anyway. We're skipping the dance to do games (hello bridal party sand volleyball!) and will use spotify for the ceremony. A local gal we found is doing 200 gourmet cupcakes and a small decorated 8" cake for $200 total. The one thing I'm concerned about is that we're self catering a taco bar with the help of family. I think we will be okay though because a lot of it can be made ahead of time or doesn't require a lot of prep. The other downside to our small budget is that we're only hiring a photographer for 4 hours and that's taking 1/3 of our budget. We could have gone with a cheaper photographer for more hours but decided a few great pictures were worth more to us than a bunch of okay ones. I think it'll also let us enjoy the day more and live in the moment, appreciating things as they happen without the worry of catching the photo. We're also having a Sunday wedding which has saved us money as well. It might not be a glamorous wedding, but it will reflect us. I've accepted the fact that not everyone will like it, but honestly I don't care.

  8. I am doing a ton of things to save money and are also working with about $5000. I only say about because we have budgeted at $6000 but I am working toward $5k…lol. Here is what we are doing: I am a huge DIYer, and have sewing experience along with contacts with folks who are very talented sewists. I got super lucky to have a friend that is a thrift shop junkie and she found a designer wedding dress in my size ( I'm a plus size ) "bones" ! We are serving a BBq buffet catered by a family friend so got a good rate. The venue is at a state park so we were able to book for 2 days for set up, rehearsal, and wedding day for $575 and that gives us nearly 12 hours each day. We are doing a cupcake and cookie buffet for dessert and a small cutting cake, my step mother, matron and myself are making it all but the cutting cake. I am making bridesmaid dresses, neckties and suspenders, as well as all of the decor excpet for a few pieces that I was gifted for Christmas. Dj is a friend and cheap, as well as the photographer.
    I have found that since I interact with people daily in my job and have the opportunity to talk socially with a wide variety of backgrounds. I have mentioned my planning to many and have made contacts there as well. One of my customers has even gifted me a dove release ceremony. I am also not using real flowers which is a huge savings. If you are on this site, you are already thinking outside of the box, go further and exit the room and you will be surprised what you come up with for your unique day!!

  9. I just had a wonderful 100 person wedding and reception for around $4700 as well! Everyone had a great time and the vibe was super relaxed. First off, ditch the wedding party. It puts people in a weird position and is expensive. I am, like others above me, a DIY person and this saved me money and the consumerist waste that a lot of weddings produce. I gathered cool vintage glassware from estate sales (on Sundays, when everything under $50 is half price) and Goodwill and made unique terrariums in them. I made my own soy candles for gifts. I bought my dress off of modcloth.com for only $105, and I found a budding amateur but amazing photographer on Craigslist for cheap! My wedding ring was a hand me down from my mom and my husband bought his on Etsy for only $100. There are a lot of workarounds for weddings and I think the most important thing to remember is… what are you going to do with this crap after the one day that you are going to use it? Reuse, recycle! Go offbeat brides!

    2 agree
  10. A tip that I have is to drop the bridesmaids and groomsmen. They are not a needed and will save you money on goodie bags, doing their hair and makeup, taking them to dinner before the big day and you will not have to purchase their attire. If needed have one best man and one maid of honor and be done with it.

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