Yesterday, I was reading Kali Hawlk’s guest post on Your Personal Finance Pro, where she talks about the costly mistakes that drove up the price of her wedding. In the comments, I mentioned that Crystal and I spent about $500 on our wedding. A comment there asked if I would explain how we managed it. Since that explanation is a little too long for a blog comment, I thought it’d make a great topic for today’s blog post.
Weddings are tough. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how much you should or shouldn’t spend on them, and it’s not uncommon for the final price tag to end up in the five or six digit range. The typical wedding in the US averages about $25,000, so some people feel like they’re getting a steal if they can keep it under ten grand — a number that still seems exorbitant to me.
When we got engaged, we wanted to marry sooner rather than later, and we knew we wanted our wedding to be very simple, comfortable, and affordable. Crystal and I were married in August 2013, about a month after we’d moved to the small town where Crystal grew up. Moving was expensive on its own, and we didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on a wedding.
We decided that $500 was the most we could reasonable commit to our wedding (although we had a little wiggle room if we went over). I’m proud to say we had a lovely wedding for only a little over our budget mark. In this post, I’ll show you how we did it, point out some things we’d have done differently, and offer some advice to help you have a nice wedding even if you don’t have much money to spend on it.
How To Have A Nice Wedding For $500
The License and Officiant: $40
I am personally nonreligious, and did not want a religious figure presiding over our wedding, so one of our close friends volunteered to officiate our wedding for free. That had the added benefit of saving us an officiant fee, which can sometimes run hundreds of dollars.
The Rings: $160
I knew immediately what I wanted in a wedding band. I wanted something durable, handsome and comfortable — and I didn’t want to spend much money on it. I settled on a titanium wedding band, for which we paid $20, including the shipping.
We spent more on Crystal’s rings. For her, we found a wedding band and engagement ring, set with a single tiny diamond. She loves her rings, and they look lovely. We paid $140 for the set.
The Clothes: $40
We decided that we wanted our wedding to be very casual. Neither of us are particularly comfortable in formal clothing, and it was important to us that our wedding was not one where the clothes on our backs would make us feel out of place.
I wore nice jeans and polished boots, plus a nice new shirt — since I needed a new shirt at the time anyway, we chose not to consider that purchase part of our wedding budget. Crystal bought a new summer dress for about $40. We got simple haircuts a few days before the wedding, and Crystal’s mother and best friend helped her with her makeup and jewelry.
The Venue: $14
Deciding where to hold the wedding was a bit tricky. An outdoor wedding was the easiest option, although we were a bit concerned that it might get rained out. We looked into a few venues, including some local parks, but in the end, we decided to get married in Crystal’s parents’ front yard, in front of a pretty flower bush. Off to the side were a handful of trees that provided shade for the tables on what turned out to be a warm, sunny August morning.
Getting married at the home of Crystal’s parents had a certain sentimental value to me — my own parents were married in my grandparent’s living room.
We were able to borrow the tables from a friend of Crystal’s brother, so we didn’t have to pay anything for those. We did rent some extra chairs from a local rental place. Since we only needed them for one day, it cost us about $14 for seating.
The Decorations: $41
This was one of the aspects of our wedding that Crystal and I debated. Crystal fell in love with a decorative arch that we could have been married beneath, but it was an expensive item that would have pushed us out of our budget. I briefly considered trying to build a similar arch, but the materials were costly, it would have been complicated, and there was a real risk that it would end up looking tacky instead of nice. We finally decided to go without the arch.
For the tables, we spent about $23 on some affordable glass vases and disposable tablecloths, and another $18 on some artificial flowers (which Crystal found on sale at the local hobby store). Crystal made her own bouquet, which now sits in one of the vases as a decoration in our bedroom.
The Food: $73
Since we were having a casual summer wedding outside in the sun, we decided to do a cookout reception. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and similar items made up our menu. Our fathers cooked most of the food, and seemed to bond a bit over the grill. I would have liked to have been able to offer some nice steaks, but they were outside our limited price range. This portion of our reception cost about $50.
Neither of us (and most of our family members) drink much alcohol, so we chose not to offer any at our wedding.
We aren’t particularly big fans of cake, either, so instead of a traditional wedding cake, we decided to pick up some donuts from a local donut shop. After all, who doesn’t like donuts? The donuts cost $23.
The Photographer: $75
This is one area we probably should have budgeted a little more. With a tight wedding budget, we decided to have some engagement photos taken, but to rely on photos taken by our guests for the wedding itself.
We paid $75 to a photographer recommended to us by some friends for the engagement photos. She showed up late to our appointment, which happened to fall on a ridiculously humid day. While the photos turned out well, we’re noticeably sweaty in them, and our photographer’s editing processes weren’t particularly impressive. When we received the disc with our digital copies, we had to do a fair amount of our own photo editing tweaks to make them presentable.
We put one of our friends in charge of videoing our wedding, and she did a great job capturing the whole ceremony.
We limited our guest list to immediate families — my parents, Crystal’s parents, our siblings, and a couple of close friends. In total, we only invited about 12 or 13 guests.
I think this was probably one of our biggest source of savings. A larger guest list would have required more of almost everything else — more food, more seating, more decorations, a larger venue.
The Announcements: $24
Since we were keeping our guest list so small, we didn’t want to send out traditional invitations. We also wanted something we could send to friends and family we hadn’t invited to the wedding, so we decided to release a single wedding announcement a few days after the wedding. Crystal designed our announcements herself using some of our photos. We were able to print enough copies to send to all our friends and family for $24.
The Honeymoon: $35
Since we were married around lunch time, we wanted to go out for a nice quiet meal that evening, just the two of us. We considering a few options, especially some of the local higher-end restaurants, but after a bad experience at one earlier in the year, we decided to just go to Red Lobster. We’d eaten there a few times to celebrate some birthdays and had always had great food and good service. We decided we’d rather go someplace we knew we’d have a nice meal, instead of risking some place unfamiliar on our wedding day.
Some people might feel like this choice wasn’t “good enough” for a wedding day, and for some people, it might not be. But in the end, I was able to have a wonderful dinner with my new wife, and that was what was important to me in that moment. The fact that it wasn’t at an expensive four-star restaurant didn’t diminish the happiness we felt that evening, nor did it make us feel like we weren’t doing something special for ourselves.
Beyond that, our budget was pretty tapped out, and we didn’t expect to be able to do anything else after our wedding. My parents gifted us a night in a suite at a local hotel, though, which was a pleasant surprise.
I had really wanted to take some sort of trip for our honeymoon, but in the end we simply didn’t have the budget. We did take a trip down to the beach a few months later, though, and I consider that a kind of belated honeymoon for us.
With a few miscellaneous expenses thrown in, the total cost of our wedding tallied up to about $540. We’d set a goal of $500, so we were technically a little over budget, but I’d honestly expected our actual expenses to balloon quite a bit beyond our budget, so being so close to the mark felt really good.
What Decisions Helped Us Stick To Our Budget?
Weddings are incredibly diverse, and the “must-have” elements of any wedding will depend on the values of the people getting married (and the guests they decide to invite.) Some people can’t imagine a wedding that doesn’t involve lots of alcohol, music, and dancing. Others want something quiet and reserved. Some people feel a need to invite everyone they know — even guests with obscure, tenuous connections, like that one person you call “cousin” because you can’t otherwise figure out how exactly you’re related. Others feel a bit creeped out by the idea of being surrounded by a horde of people on their wedding day and prefer something with a very small list of guests.
As a general rule, though, the more elements you add to your wedding, the more it will cost you. Simplicity equals affordability, in this case.
Crystal and I knew we wanted our wedding to be something simple and minimalist. We wanted a quiet ceremony, surrounded by only our closest family and friends. Our limited budget forced us to think carefully about what elements of our wedding were really important — would the day be ruined for us if we didn’t have music, for example? The answer was no, so we decided to pass on the music entirely.
What We’d Have Done Differently
While I was working on this post, I asked Crystal what she would have liked to do differently if we’d had a larger budget for our wedding. We agreed that we would have liked to have included the decorative arch she liked so much, to help provide some structure and shape to our wedding location, and we probably would have traded out the artificial flowers for fresh flowers. We’d definitely have hired a more professional photographer, and probably had one at the wedding itself, just to provide some higher quality records of our wedding day (although I’m pleased with the photos and video we do have.)
We’d still have done our cookout reception, but I probably would have stepped up the food a notch, maybe by replacing the hot dogs and hamburgers with some high-quality steak and grilled chicken.
With a larger budget, say $1000 or $1500, we’d probably also have spent a reasonable portion of it on a fun honeymoon — maybe a few nights in a cabin somewhere gorgeous.
What we wouldn’t have done is add extra elements to our wedding that we hadn’t already covered in some way, because many of those elements weren’t things we valued. We probably still wouldn’t have had any music or alcohol, even if we had the budget to cover them. We probably wouldn’t have added a large wedding party full of bridesmaids and groomsmen, or rented a flashy luxury car to drive away in. Instead, we would have simply used the extra budget to improve the elements that we’d already incorporated on our minimalist budget.
How To Minimize Your Wedding Costs
Sticking to a microbudget (a few hundred to a thousand dollars) for a wedding can be tough. Here’s a few guiding ideas to help:
- The new life you’re embarking on with your spouse is more important than the trappings of one day.
- Stick to a small guest list of your closest people.
- Try to find a free venue: a family home or a public nature spot.
- Ask yourself “Will my wedding be ruined if I don’t include this element?”
- This is your wedding; it does not belong to anyone else.
- Imperfect is okay.
How much did you spend on your wedding (or plan to spend, if you haven’t gotten married yet)? Do you wish you’d spent more? Less?