Real weddings for people who have “zero money” for their wedding budget

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Dollar Ring Origami from Etsy seller ToTheGardenByFreedaS
Dollar Ring Origami from Etsy seller ToTheGardenByFreedaS

First, I love love love love your site. Thank you! For the first time since the person who is truly the-love-of-my-life proposed to me I find I am actually daydreaming a little about our wedding day.

I could go on and on about us and how awesome your site is for people like us but here’s the real deal: we really have zero money for this. I just bought a house and we will have the wedding there — venue is covered — but the rest? The sites I can find for “budget” or “DIY” wedding don’t share my definition of “budget” or “DIY.” The “Broke-ass Bride” had an $8,000 budget. On my scale, that is not “broke-ass.”

Can you point me to an example of something from actually nothing? Please help!

-Jeanette

Hiya, Jeanette! You have come to the right place. Over the years, Offbeat Bride has featured hundreds of lower budget weddings, which live in our massive low-budget wedding archives. Seriously, 52 pages of economical weddings ranging from micro-budgets to more generally tighter budgets — it's a huge archive full of LOTS of ideas for saving money.

Here's where things get complex, though: “lower budget” is a relative term. We all know this. Lower budget in New York means something pretty different from Omaha. You say you have “zero money” your wedding, but if that was actually true, you would go to a courthouse and pay the government fee and call it good. Since we all know that “zero money” doesn't actually mean $0.00, here are a few real dollar examples of “not actually zero, but still pretty still pretty small budget” weddings we've featured:

$2000 wedding

$1000 wedding

$700 wedding

$500 wedding

$100 wedding

Making things even more complex with these “real budget” posts is that the exact dollar amounts can be a little wobbly, depending on how the couple defines their expenses… the $100 wedding didn't include their clothes, which they already had. When you get down to micro-budgets, things get a little grey… and really, I'm super NOT into playing the “one lowsmanship” game, where we all stand around and thump our chests about how little we spent on our weddings.

“…Oh yeah? You think your $1000 budget was small? We got married for 35 cents and a handjob for the county judge! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT POVERTY IS.” C'mon, you guys. This isn't a contest. You're not going to win anything around here that way.

Money is weird, and how people choose to spend their money isn't really our business. We're not big fans of going into debt for your wedding, but even that is your financial decision. At Offbeat Bride, we trust you to do your research and make choices for yourself. We're not into budget shaming.

In closing, we'll share this statistic about the current state of wedding budgets:

Data courtesy of Splendid Insights. This is one page from a massive 2015 research document they did. Pretty awesome, really.
Data courtesy of Splendid Insights. This is one page from a massive 2015 research document they did. Pretty awesome, really.

Fully a third of surveyed couples are working with budgets under $10,000… and that's a lot of us. We can do this.

Comments on Real weddings for people who have “zero money” for their wedding budget

  1. I’m currently planning a city hall wedding. In Chicago, they do civil ceremonies once a month at the cultural center, which is awesome, and beautiful, so we’re hoping to get that. All we’re really paying for is our clothes (got my dress for around 85 dollars and it’s fantastic) “flowers” (I decided on a book bouquet and a sheet music boutonniere) and some photography. 15-20 of our nearest and dearest can show up for free. I’d guestimate around 400-500 dollars total.

  2. My little sister got married last weekend. She had a micro budget, but wanted to share the day with our huge family. 200$ for the license, 35$ to rent a park, a friend officiated, 75$ for chairs, potluck gluten free food (coordinated on Facebook ), homemade cake (plus 2 18$ Costco sheet cakes for non-gf people ) table decor was 50$, arch was 40$. Much of that was actually gifted but those are the figures. It was a fantastic day 🙂

    • While someone I know did almost the same thing (food truck instead of potluck; and mostly standing with few chairs); and even the park ended up expensive. Many now require both a rental fee, insurance, and at times, security. While parks can be a cheap option; in some areas there can be a lot of hidden or unexpected add on costs. So I do recommend people investigate before getting their heart set on a location (or a price point).

  3. Got married for about $1500 total.
    It really comes down to figuring out what matters most to you and putting your money there. Our venue was a public park: Free We went with a photographer who was just getting started with weddings and charged us only $150
    Forget centerpieces and favors, forget that 200 person guest list, forget the full buffet (we had a buffet of mostly homemade finger foods and a popcorn bar, fed 35 guests for about $250, with plenty of leftovers).
    Basically, forget everything you know about weddings and do what works for you.

    • Yup, redefine “wedding”. The lion’s share of many wedding budgets often isn’t the wedding itself, but the reception – venue, catering, DJ, decorations, etc. Most of the weddings I’ve been to in the last 15 years have all been decently-sized formal affairs, but wasn’t that long ago that the tradition was “cake and punch” – which OBB has an nice post about:

      http://offbeatbride.com/cake-and-punch

      I went to a wedding that was in a small historic building where the bride’s mother worked (free) and we set up some of their folding chairs for the ceremony. The only decor including bride’s bouquet was lilacs cut from the bushes outside (free – and smelled amazing!). The reception was cupcakes and a party sub (pretty cheap) and a boombox playing some Rat Pack CDs (free). Guests grabbed a snack and found spots to sit wherever including on the stairs and just chatted while watching the rain outside – there were no formal speeches, dances, throwing of things. They did buy/rent a dress/suit, so there was that expense. The whole things was so laid back and truly one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended.

    • Hi Nikki, We are a second marriage couple planning for an intimate romantic wedding on a broke budget!. 35 guest, our kids, immediate family and 5 friends! I like your budget to feed your guests. How did you do that exactly? Was it held at a venue?

  4. Ask your family to contribute food and decorations instead of gifts! I saw a wedding where they bought 20 pie pans, sent them to their relatives, and had everyone bring a homemade pie to the wedding instead of having a cake. If you’ve got a friend who’s a seamstress, ask them to make your dress. A friend who’s really good at photography, ask them to be your wedding photographer. If you’ve got friends or cousins who work at a crafts store, find out if you can use their discount for decorations. And delegate, delagate, delagate. You do not need to make everything yourself.

    • As a persson that sews and does photography, i have to add that its important to not make someone feel pressured and be willing to take no for an answer. Im making my wedding dress and its nothing super fancy but its taking forever to make because, dresses can take a long time plus i work and have other things to. On top of that it takes even longerwhen u have to wait for the person to be able to come over so yiu can fit them, which needs to be done a few times. If you have a aunt or gma who sews and doesnt have work or anything else on their plate then id say ask them if they feel comfortable making a dress, but if its a friend that still has a life of their own to deal with then i think a better option would be asking them to go thrift shopping with you to look for dresses that they can alter/embelish for you. (you can even make a day of it and road trip to a bigger city that has more thrift shops) Ive seen amazing dresses at thrift stores and its going to be less time consuming and cheaper (everyone always forgets how expensive fabric is) and u still end up with a fabulous one of a kind dress.

      The photographer thing can be tricky too. First, as a photographer there’s a lot if pressure to get perfect photos. Weddings are different from taking other kinds of pics, you have to be quick and capture a lot of emotion, and remember that if they’re the photographer, they’re not going to be in any of the pics. My dad had me do pics for his wedding and as a result i couldn’t give a speech or be part of the ceremony because i had to basicly be working the whole time. Im not saying its not an option, just something to consider, and from my experience, if you start spreading the word that you’re looking for a photographer, ppl will that are willing to do it, will offer.

  5. This is such an eye opening and awesome post. I definitely consider our wedding a “DIY budget wedding” with it costing just under 16,000 total. In our area the “normal” wedding budget is usually 25k-35k (at least according to google and other married couples we know) so we felt like major champions coming in so far under that. But now I’m seeing that’s what “budget” to us may seem super extravagant to others so maybe I should cool it with bragging about how little our wedding cost. Money is such a weird thing. Anyways, thanks OBB for once again opening my eyes a little wider. 🙂

  6. We had our wedding for about 4000 Euro (almost the same in dollars), and I am really not saying, it was the cheapest we could do, actually for us this was already quite a decadent adventure.
    Most expensive part was the food and drinks. After we spent about 350 EUR on wedding location and app. 400 for the licenses (yes, it’s THAT fucking expensive here) and had secured the food for app 900 EUR for 50 people, we figured, all the rest is actually optional and we got a little lavish on everything else.
    Shoes were tailormade chucks for 80 EUR, we spent about 200 EUR on decoration items (I did all decoration and even my bouquet myself), app 30 bucks on the drinks at the wedding venue (we made 15 l of homemade ice tea the day before which costs almost nothing and is delicious on a hot summer day! and had some olives, crackers and parmesan), after the dinner we had homemade cake which I asked some dear friends and relatives to bring with them, because homemade cake is the best anyways. The rings were a steal at 120 EUR for simple steel-rings with engraving. My wedding dress was a large part of the rest, since I had it made for me, but thrifted would have been an option as well here and my husband just bought a shirt, a vest and some shorts. Hair and makeup I did myself. The fotographer was about 400 EUR. The invitations were homemade as well and together with stamps and thank you cards were app 50 EUR. We paied all drinks from the rest and threw out a daring sum of 80 EUR on a fancy hotel room for the night after. We asked the wedding party to not give us any gifts but instead to bring a little sum for our honeymoon which we collected in a jar and people were so generous, we could even pay a little of the wedding costs from it as well.
    You can really do a LOT of things yourself for no or little money, but I recommend starting early and asking friends and relatives for help, it can get quite stressfull around the last days before the wedding.

    • It always surprises me how cheap weddings have the potential to be in the US. In the UK your bare minimum for a basic legal ceremony in the middle of a week day at the city hall comes in at around £200 – £35 a head for announcing the marriage, £4 for the certificate, £135 for the physical space and the presence of the registrar. And our area is super cheap compared with most, where the midweek fee is around £300 and weekend weddings start around £500 (as my sister has discovered – she’s having a midweek marriaging and a weekend wedding so she can put the savings towards food). And people wonder why the marriage rates are dropping in Europe!

      • Well, the license *is* pretty cheap in Germany. We paid 111 € (funny sum!) and could have been even cheaper. We decided to buy a “family register” for 20 €, which was optional, and if both of us would’ve lived in the city in which we got married, it would have been 6 Euro less. So, all in all you can get married in Germany for 85 € and have all the legal stuff covered.

        • That’s insane how expensive the license and legal fees are in Europe compared to the US. Our marriage license was actually one of the cheapest parts at a wedding. Took 15 minutes to fill out a form, wrote a check for $60, and away we went! Is there any particular reason it costs more in Europe? I’m trying to think of reasons and I just can’t!

          • I can’t speak for the rest of Europe but in the UK there are many limiting factors as to where you can marry and who can conduct your legal ceremony. This means that there’s a captive market, unlike in the US where I believe it’s much more flexible.

      • In the UK you can actually get married a little bit cheaper than this, if you opt for no more than 4 guests. That way, we pay £46 just to register the marriage with no ceremony at all. Still have to pay £35 per head to notify and £4 per certificate though.

    • In Sweden it’s free to get married in the cityhall 🙂 If you want to get married somewhere else you pay an travelingfee that I don’t think is high. I don’t know the cost for getting married in curch thou.

  7. THANK YOU! Thank you for the point at the end of the article, I’ve gotten some judgement from friends at the cost of my wedding (I’m also the first to get married, so a lot of them don’t know how EXPENSIVE weddings are, even with keeping it simple, DIY, and skipping “necessary” things). Not that my wedding was cheap compared to the links above, but a plated dinner for 120 people at a beautiful venue, yeah that’s going to be a pretty penny. I read some advice somewhere to choose 3 things to focus on, then find cheaper options/scraping all together everything else. This really helped me stay focused, because when you’re in the thick of things EVERYTHING seems SUPER important and worth a splurge. Good luck!

  8. My wedding budget was about $3000, but half of that was on the venue(we were lucky with ours). Since you already have that covered, the next thing that usually costs a lot is food. We had a potluck and asked our guests to bring a dish from each family. It worked well because people felt good about contributing and there was plenty of variety. We splurged on the cake and spent about $300, but we could have avoided it if we wanted. We rented his tux for cheap, my dress was bought in a huge sale, and instead of buying shoes, I made barefoot sandals to wear. Made them for the bridesmaids too. The only other stuff that cost much was vanity stuff like special table linens and centerpieces, although we did make the centerpieces ourselves(which was harder than I thought). A family member did the photography so there really wasn’t much else to spend money on. Hope this helps.

  9. I looove this post! We have been struggling with all of these issues & then a lot of comments from family & friends as we try to stay on budget, staying true to ourselves & to our budget.

    Anyone have any tips for saving on tables, chairs, cutlery & tableware for the wedding? We’re having 60 people & we’re struggling to find an affordable way to do that. We would love to do it picnic style, but with the number of older relatives coming, it’s just not possible for us to do it.

    And tips for photographers? We’re still getting quotes for $1500++ (and that’s cheap compared to 95% of what we’ve seen). We contacted local art colleges & only had one reply…she still wanted $1700 & the photos weren’t great. We’ve even tried getting people just to come for 2-3 hrs for a portrait session (we don’t need a full day) & have been turned down. Sadly, we don’t have any friends who are hobby photographers.

    • It depends on what you’re looking for from photographs. In a lot of cultures, it’s traditional to go and get portrait photos done some time after the wedding, which could be a cheaper way of approaching it because you’re not hiring the photographer to come out for the day. If you’re not having an unplugged wedding you can encourage guests to take photos on the day and upload them to a shared drive, where you can pick out your favourites.

      Cutlery and tableware – if you don’t mind things not matching, hit up local charity shops on a semiregular basis. People often donate sets because they’ve broken a single side plate, so you can get a fair amount of crockery very cheaply. And after the wedding, you can donate it all back again! Or get your guests to sign their plates with ceramic pens (you’ll want to at least give them a rinse first after dinner! Then bake them after they’re signed) and keep them as a wedding guest book / wedding china combo.

      Can’t help with furniture, sadly. Unless you’ve got friends who are willing to bring it with them, you’ll probably have to hire it.

      • Thanks! We actually don’t mind about things not matching. Unfortunately for us, we’re getting married out of State from where my parents live (near where my grandparents grew up and where I spent every summer) & we live in Europe, so we won’t be able to scour charity shops leading up to it.

        Right now, between what I put in storage & my parents are ransacking their cutlery stores to see if between us we can come up with enough cutlery for everyone. A couple of my grandparents’ friends are moving out of their homes & have donated really cool vintage teacups to me, so we’ve got tea/coffee/hot chocolate covered. Now it’s on to glasses, plates. I was thinking Ikea & then donating/selling them on afterwards for glasses? And then for plates, maybe those biodegradable wood ones? We saw a pack of 100 for $67. Has anyone used those? We’re serving a meal that really needs cutting so plastic/paper plates just won’t hold up (we tried) 🙁

        We’re trying to find picnic tables/beer garden tables for the reception (I just have a random dislike of table cloths), but no luck!

        We’re already carting my dress, his suit, rings, bunch of miscellaneous stuff & normal clothes over for the wedding. Plus we’re buying a marquee over here because it’s waaaay cheaper than renting.

        Anyone done anything fun & funky (& budget) for outdoor lighting?

        • One thing that could help with the plates is buying some of those wicker paper plate holders (like this). It pushes up the cost a bit relative to regular paper plates, but they make paper plates much more functional (with the support underneath you can actually cut stuff) and they remain super useful for parties and barbeques afterwards.

        • Some things are better to buy and resell then rent. But it can be cheaper to rent. For me, I used to buy the nice quality disposable plates for parties where we were serving a full dinner, but then I discovered one of our local party rental places they rent for $0.35 per plate which was less expensive than buying the nice “like china” plastic plates. It’s worth exploring the rental option

          • Ours are $0.55/plate + tax (need two different sizes one for main, one for dessert) & then they only come in sets of 25 from our rental place. So we’ll be renting an extra 15 per place setting. We actually spent hours last night looking & may have found some nice plates that we can buy that work out to $4 more than the rental in total.

            Our glasses will be waaaay cheaper to buy than to rent (also renting at 0.55/glass with a certain amount per pack, which means we’ll be about 30 over our guest number that we’re paying for). Again buying works out to about $2 under but we can always sell on/give to charity afterwards/give to friends to use for their own weddings.

    • You could try placing an ad on a notice board at a local art school? I’m sure you’d get lots of students who’d love to build their portfolio and do wedding photography! 🙂

      • Thanks for this! We actually did this. We emailed the director of a local photography school at an arts college & he circulated our ad. We only got one reply. The person still wanted $1700. They directed us to their fb page and the photos were terrible. Now I would never say that anyone in my family is a great photographer, but casual photos taken by my parents, siblings or relatives were nicer. The photographs shown were also not really to our taste (one had the groom’s head up the dress and looked like he was going down on her, another had her dress flipped up and looked like they were going at it doggy style. Fine if that’s your thing, but maybe not the best example?) & had no editing or filters or anything. Angles weren’t nice/flattering, lighting (even natural) wasn’t chosen at the right angle. And the posed portraits were really 1980s-ish. We were really disappointed.

        In our ad, we said we’d be willing to do anything the photographer wanted to help build their wedding portfolio (despite having a non-traditional wedding, I’ll be in a traditional white dress & he’ll be in a suit for the church part). We’d do any poses/locations/whatever they wanted because they’d be helping us out & we wanted to return the favour in any way we could. But no other nibbles! Very disappointing. 🙁

        • Is Craigslist an option? You may get some interest from amateurs testing the waters of going pro. I lucked out with a recommendation from a friend that was half the price of anything I’ve seen advertised, but that had been my original plan.

    • We used disposable dishware at our wedding. We had 130 guests and got two sizes of plates, two sizes of napkins, cutlery, and solo cups. We got a BOGO deal at Party City and are still using what we had left over!

    • You may have already done this, but asking around may uncover free solutions to the furniture problem. I discovered that some people have a lot of folding chairs and tables just in their garages that they bought for big family reunions and such. It would be a pain to organize, but if you’re lucky, you may not need to rent furniture at all! My aunt had enough folding chairs tucked away that we were able to seat everyone at my shower (which was nearly 30 people).

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