How We Saved Money on Our Wedding

by Lindy on August 1, 2011

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My mother’s address book is ten single-spaced spreadsheet pages long.

Needless to say, having a small wedding was never in my cards. So when it came time for A-Rob and I to tie the knot, the challenge was on to host a stunning event for 300 people without breaking the bank. Large sums of money make me uncomfortable anyways, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to find ways to save.

Here’s how we shaved costs on our wedding without sacrificing the elements we truly wanted.

The dress.

Luckily, there are several great options for a girl on a budget. Cheaper wedding dresses can be found at thrift shops, online, and many other places but you have to have some luck. Unluckily, I’m picky as hell.

I’d tromped my little tail to pretty much every wedding shop in town and found nothing. It wasn’t until I took a deep breath and stepped into a high end wedding boutique that I found the dress of my dreams.

Ironic, right?

But dream dress wasn’t on the rack of $4000 Vera Wang gowns (though there were several of those I could have called my own), it was in the bridesmaid section where I found exactly what I wanted.

Empire waist, chiffon, pale yellow, and $350.

The accessories.

Shells were in that year. I found my necklace pendant attached to a hideous piece of jewelry on clearance at Macy’s for $15. I took the flower shell pendant off it’s original chain and secured it to my neck with sheer ribbon.

The beads in my hair were $2.00 from the craft store.

Shoes on clearance for $25.

Earrings were knockoff pearls that I’d worn to my high school prom.

The invitations.

We made our own. Though looking back, these make me laugh a little. We found a (probably copyrighted) image of a dandelion on the internet and doctored it with our limited 2002 Photoshop skills, then printed them onto blank cards from the paper store using our pixelated 2002 printer.

Some of my mom’s friends didn’t understand the dandelion and thought it was a golf ball.

Budget wedding invitations

The invites got all ripped up in the mail because I’d asked the post office to hand cancel them. I’d read on some wedding site that this would ensure they wouldn’t get eaten by the postal machines. Apparently though, post September 11, hand canceling means they get sent through a shredder.

But everyone showed up to the right place at the right time, so at least they served their purpose.

The photographs.

A dear friend of mine was starting his career in photography and generously offered to take our wedding pictures for free (though we slipped him a gift certificate to REI against his will to thank him afterwards).

For the reception, we asked a few camera happy friends to work the crowd and get pictures of the guests. In the end I ended up with 20 rolls of great photographs (yes, rolls of photographs, we’re old).

The flowers.

One of my best friends has talented parents. They’d made the flower bouquets for my friend’s wedding, so I asked them if they’d make ours as a wedding gift.

For the table centerpieces we had single potted flowering plants, which were pretty reasonably priced.

The venue.

Do you remember that scene in Father of the Bride, when Steve Martin suggests they hold the wedding at their favorite restaurant, the Steak Pit? Of course his idea was dismissed by his movie family, but I thought getting married at a restaurant was genius.

Thankfully, one of the oldest and best Mexican food restaurants in town has a rustic brick patio perfect for weddings. It was covered in a canopy of rope lights. That’s all I really wanted anyways, rope lights. I may have partially been influenced by Ross and Emily’s wedding on Friends – you remember, the run down church made chic by strings of light?

We held the wedding and reception on that patio. Even with an open bar, it was half the price of many of the other wedding venues in town. And the best part, it was different.

As I write this, I realize something funny about weddings.  No matter how perfect your dress, or the photographs, or any of the details, in ten, fifteen, twenty years, you’ll still look back and laugh at how corny you were.

So now it’s your turn, tell me about your wedding.  Did you do anything to save on the cost?  If you’re planning one, how’s it going? Is Ross and Emily’s your secret dream wedding too?

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  • Nansuelee

    We were married in 1985 and you think you’re are old. I made skirts for my 3 bridesmaids and the candle lighter for about $55 and purchased blouses for $7 each. My maid of honor worked at a clothing store and as the blouses were marked down on the floor for clearance so were the ones I had on lay-a-way. We were able to purchase the cake, buns, cinnamon bread and the cake topper for about $200. Things were not as expensive way back then but I owe this big savings to the local bakery recommending a small decorated cake and sheet cakes avoiding the cost a the massive cakes that were coming into style. We did not have a dance either, it was not the norm just yet either.

    My father had a heart attack a week after we were engaged so the wedding was our expense for the most part. We did not spend a lot of money and over 26 years later we are still going strong!

    • Lindy

      Congratulations on 26 years! I had a friend who scouted out her bridesmaids dresses at markdown too.

  • Vicki

    Loved reading your post. We had our wedding in our backyard. We had a total of six guests.. no guilt. We just wanted to keep it small. Photos were taken by my son and his classmates who were enrolled in a media arts high school program. They also did our video. Total cost — 300 bucks. My dress was from a boutique in a nearby town – 250. Invitations — none– word of mouth to six people. We splurged on the honeymoon which was a 10day trip to Cancun for about 4500. Oh… and we did a rent a limo the day of the wedding for a few hours. I think that ran us about 500 bucks.

    • Lindy

      Nothing wrong with a small wedding in my book, especially since it led to a nice honeymoon.

  • Andra

    I found a designer dress in a bridal magazine that I loved and could not live without until I realized it was in the $5000 range. I took the picture to a local dress making shop and she made it for $150.

    • Lindy

      Alright, you guys are all outdoing me with the cost of dresses here. $150 is fantastic.

  • A friend of mine is getting married in a few weeks, and she saved money by making her own wedding dress! She’s not a designer, but she just found a simple pattern, bought the material and bam. And it looks gorgeous. She probably paid less than $200 for all the materials, too. Not too shabby.

    • Lindy

      Do you think I could make an entire wedding dress with iron-on hem tape? Hmmm. It might be possible. That’s so great that your friend sewed a whole wedding dress!

  • You guys are so cute!

    We eloped and saved quite a bit of money. But now that you mention it I wanted to get married in some ruins with Christmas lights after I saw that episode of Friends. I did think it looked beautiful, but we got married under a tiki hut at the clerk of courts where people were paying their speeding tickets. How romantic, right? It actually was wonderful.

    • Lindy

      Stories of eloping always are romantic, no matter what the setting.

  • We got married at the Old Orange County courthouse, which is actually used as a courthouse in several movies, then we had the reception in my parent’s backyard. We had live entertainment, there was a ton of food, both catered and homemade, and we had several cheesecakes for dessert rather than a wedding cake. I bought my dress at Macy’s for $60, I think the total cost for the wedding was like $2500, and my parents paid for it all.

    • Lindy

      Nice score on the $60 wedding dress! Backyard weddings are a great way to go.

  • Dawn

    I was married in 1993 and tried many different things to save. I made my own favors – plastic canvas boxes with potpourri inside. I made my bridesmaids headpieces so that wouldn’t be an extra expense on their part. I bought plain satin shoes from Payless and added shoe clips to bling them up. I made my own table centerpieces of brandy snifters with floating candles and a floral ring around it. I had a craft store make the bouquets (instead of using real flowers) which I still have today. If you’re crafty, and have the time, you can go to town with all the things you can save on.

    • Lindy

      Crafty can certainly save – if you have the time and enjoy doing it of course. Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Margie

    I got married earlier this year. It probably wasn’t the cheapest of all weddings, but we did manage to cut quite a few costs…

    I bought my dress off the rack. It was still $800 (Aussie dollars), but its original price was $1800.

    My sister made the bridesmaid dresses. My brother bought his sons their suits (we had 2 pageboys) on eBay I think.

    We hired the suits for the guys (they paid) and bought their ties (we paid).

    I made all of the invitations myself and hand delivered many of them to save on postage. I also made our wedding booklets myself.

    My shoes were $30 and I swapped the ugly elastic for some ribbon to match my dress. Total price, about $37.

    We didn’t have to pay for the church or the priest as I’ve been involved in the music there for years.

    We did have to pay for the reception venue, but we kept costs down by having a buffet rather than a set menu, and doing most of the decorations ourselves.

    I made the table centrepieces with vases, candles and artificial flowers bought at a discount store, and pebbles bought from a landscaping supplies place. For 12 tables the total cost was about $170. I had been quoted $60 per table at a wedding hire place!

    I made our 12 table numbers out of Lego (we had a slight theme going on), and covered them with upturned fishbowl vases and tealight candles borrowed from my matron of honour.

    Another recently married friend donated her artifical ivy, which we placed around the reception room on window sills and the bridal table.

    I also made our wedding cake topper out of Lego, and a friend of a friend did our cake for $300.

    We made our chocolate bonbonieres ourselves, using Lego brick and minifigure moulds. :P We put them in inexpensive organza bags I bought online.

    My brother is a wedding photographer, so we got his services as our wedding gift. :)

    Another friend gifted us a choir at the church. The pianist/organist was a friend so we got him for a discount. My brother in law played the flute.

    I did the music for the reception myself by putting several playlists on my iPod, and asked a friend to be our iPod caretaker. We had to hire the speakers, but our reception venue ended up paying because they owed us for some stuff-ups (long story).

    My mum and dad pre-recorded our wedding dance music (violin and piano) and I put that on the iPod too. That way they didn’t have to stress out about performing on the night, and we didn’t have to pay for piano hire!

    We got our flowers from a wholesale place for about $200, and picked some from around the place too. A couple of friends did the arrangements for the church and the reception venue. We did have the bouquets done at a florist though, so that was a slight splurge.

    We also had things like hair and makeup, but they were fairly reasonable and didn’t break the bank.

    My parents couldn’t afford to contribute much financially so we paid most of it ourselves. My in-laws covered the tab at the reception.

    I haven’t actually worked out what our total costs were in the end, but I know we managed to save a fair bit of money. I also had fun doing it (despite a few stressful times!), and I think it made it all the more memorable. Everyone enjoyed the wedding too, including us, so objective achieved! :)

    • Margie

      Oh wow, that was longer than I thought! Sorry!

    • Lindy

      Haha. That’s okay, the longer the better.

      So you had a Lego theme? That’s awesome! Like you said, everyone had a good time, and that’s all that matters.

    • I want to see pictures with the Legos, it sounds so cool.

    • Margie

      Haha ok, I’ll try and get some photos up on Flickr soon (which I’ve been meaning to do anyway) and post the link. :)

    • Lindy

      I can’t wait!

    • I’ve added some photos of my wedding on Flickr – the handmade/semi-handmade things anyway, including the Lego! Click on my name to get to them. :)

    • Lindy

      Those table numbers are ADORABLE!!!! My kids would go crazy. Thanks for sharing!

  • I love this post…and can’t wait to see more How-tos, Lindy

    • Lindy

      Thanks Dmarie!

  • Did you get married at Tia Rosas? When I hear old mexican restaurant it has to be Tia Rosa.

    And yes… Ross and Emily’s wedding was amazing. What Monica can do on short notice, huh? haha.

    • Lindy

      It was Aunt Chilada’s. And yes, that Monica was exceptionally creative. :)

  • I love the sentiment that looking back in 10 or 15 years, we’ll all just laugh at how corny we were! Hmmm, gotta dig out that wedding album of our beach elopement!

  • After only being married for less than a year I can still remember things adding up although trying to keep the cost as low as possible. I sewed my own dress which was around $200 for fabric. Bridesmaid dresses were on clearance post christmas for $60. We bought my husbands suit instead of renting. The wedding party made the cake and put together the flowers. We used a church for both the ceremony and reception which greatly helped keep down the cost. My husbands side of the family took care of preparing all the food most of which was grown in my mother in law’s garden. We still ended up spending close to $10,000; goes to show everything just added up!

    • Lindy

      Wedding expenses have a way of doing that for sure. I like the idea of having the groom buy his suit, I have friends who did that too.

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  • On the flip side of the coin, you know how much the Prince William – Kate Middleton wedding cost? $16 million. (In fairness, $5 million of that was for security.) Yes, this is the useless trivia I keep in my head.

    • Lindy

      Well, there is that. :)

      I don’t know, if I was a future princess, I think I could handle spending $11 mil of someone else’s money. Maaayybe.

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