Budget, Resources + Tools

How We Planned a Classy Wedding for $2,800

I promise, I’m not going to sit here and go on about mason jars and burlap. Unless that was what you were expecting, in which case I’m sorry for your loss. Except not really because I hate burlap. And pallets. What about all the pallets?? Splinters for dayyyys. Maybe the shanty-chic (yes, this is a real term) life isn’t for me.

BUT, what I am going to talk about today is our wedding on April Fool’s Day 2016 and how it was our most successful financial endeavor to date. This is because the average American wedding costs anywhere between $25-32,000. The accuracy of this can be debated since these numbers come from a variety of sources, but regardless, I think we can all agree that is a HELLA lot of money!

If you’re planning a wedding and someone else is footing the bill, then naturally none of this will apply to you. In which case, I’m sorry for your loss. Again. Except not really, because someone else is paying for your wedding.

But if you’re financing your own nuptuals, I will gladly share a few secrets of how we made sure our wedding day was amazing, but didn’t completely break the bank! Although there are many components to a wedding, I truly believe there is one common denominator that affects all the others…

The guest list–28 

In my experience, the biggest wedding expenses generally come from having a massive guest list. All of these people must fit into the ceremony and reception venue(s) and be fed overpriced food in the process. Not to mention cake, because you GOTTA have cake!

Seriously, limiting our guest list was one of the best decisions we made. If you’re footing the bill, it’s your financial decision and if anyone gives you grief, they can fork over the dough or forfeit their invitation to your great aunt’s second cousin, twice removed. If you can be selective with your guest list, you’ll not only decrease your bill, but also be able to more intimately share your day with the people closest to you.

The dress and the suit–$249 

Full disclosure–this isn’t our first rodeo. Both of us have been married before. We both had the traditional weddings with the white dress and the suit with flowers. Both of us are also completely different people now. The thought of planning a large, traditional wedding again was enough to make us want to elope and hide out somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

So we did something completely different.

We did what suited us as a couple. I found a swanky blue and white lace dress on ModCloth for $99 and Stu found a navy blue three-piece suit in an awesome pattern at Men’s Wearhouse for $150. And by the way, my shoes were on clearance at DSW for $15. Whaaaaat?

The ceremony and reception venue(s)–$65 

We paid $65 for a marriage license from Franklin County, Ohio. After that, it took calling in a couple of favors, but we were able to make an appointment with a judge at 1PM on April 1st. That was our wedding ceremony in a nutshell (you can catch the re-cap here).

If you’re a member of a church, your venue fee may be zero or at least deeply discounted. Or are you the type of person who wants to throw a classy barbecue at the family farm (barns are SO in right now)? Regardless of your style, there are ways to avoid shelling out an arm, leg, and your future first born just for the venue.

We love craft beer. After scoping out a few restaurants for our reception, we decided on Elevator Brewing Co., a swanky brewery in downtown Columbus. Not only was the food and beer amazing, but they did not charge a room fee, which can get pretty pricey. All they charged us for was the cost of our food and beverages. And since our guest list was capped at 30 people, they had no trouble accommodating our party.

The food–$1,395 

The food! Ask yourself–what do you like to eat? It’s your wedding day, you should only be eating your favorite foods. Again, depending on the size of your guest list, you could potentially eat wherever you want and stay under budget. Many upscale restaurants regularly host formal events and likely have appropriate space to accommodate large groups. Like I mentioned, some have room fees and some don’t, so this is something to keep in mind.

With a guest list of 30 people, we were able to pick an awesome brewery for our reception venue, which represented us as a couple perfectly. In our case, our group was small enough that we didn’t even have to fool with a fixed menu. We decided to cover beer and wine for our guests, which turned out to be really inexpensive.

Due to the timing of our early afternoon wedding ceremony, we scheduled the reception for 4PM and were able to take advantage of Happy Hour drink prices! Who knew? At the end of the evening, they brought us a regular, albeit long, dinner bill and we paid as if it were any other meal. When it was all said and done, everyone ate and drank what they wanted, had a blast, and we made out like bandits for $1,395.

The cake–$92

Let’s be honest, cake is what makes weddings go ’round. My backup plan for if everything logistically fell apart on our wedding day was to kick back, initiate an X-Files marathon, and stuff our faces with the delectable cupcakes we’d ordered from the Suisse Shoppe. Because by then, all that would matter is that we were married and had cake.

But if everything did logistically work out, how many cupcakes would we need? I per person? 2? 3? 4?? I mean, I like some cake.

After meeting at the Suisse Shoppe for a tasting (because that’s really the best part), we decided on 36 cupcakes divided into three flavors, which ended up being perfect. However, we ended up needing to coordinate with a friend to pick them up the day of the wedding and take them to the reception venue. Due to our low order volume with a price of just $92, delivery would have been almost as much as the cupcakes themselves! Everything was worth it, though, because we have awesome friends and these cupcakes were to die for.

The photographer–$1,000 

There are many things you should scrimp and pinch on to create a cost-effective wedding. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

I say this with all the passion in the world because, in the decades to come, some memories will fade and you won’t remember what kind of beer you drank with what kind of meat. However, the photos will stay with you forever and be a constant reminder of that special day. The LAST thing you want is some incompetent fool ruining your memories because he/she doesn’t know how to operate a DSLR. This was an expense I was not willing to compromise on.

Fortunately, due to the fact that our shindig was so small (as opposed to an all-day event), we were able to secure an AMAZING photographer for a very reasonable fee of $1,000. Your photos will become the most important product from that day, aside from your marriage, so why not invest in those memories? We found Seth & Beth Wedding Photography, based in Grove City. Seth took our photos and I can’t sing his praises enough. He attended our ceremony at the courthouse and even stayed longer at our reception than we had initially planned just so he could capture the shots he wanted. You truly do get what you pay for, and we got photos that will remind us what an amazing day it was.

So there it is–when it was all said and done, we pulled off the most special day of our relationship with 30 of our closest friends and family members for $2,801! I didn’t include our honeymoon cruise in that total since honeymoons are so variable. Depending on where you want to go and what you want to do, you could spend a few hundred dollars to travel domestically or more to travel internationally, not to mention the activities you might want to include. But as far as weddings are concerned, if you’re worried that you don’t have enough money to create the perfect day, don’t be. All it takes is some creativity and consideration about what is important to you. What kind of event represents you and the life you’re beginning together?

It’s true what they say–the best things in life are free…or at least affordable!

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