Last October, I decided to take the plunge and ask my girlfriend to marry me. She said yes, and just two weeks ago, we threw a lavish (at least that’s how I would describe it) wedding in New Jersey.
As if the day wasn’t already filled with joy, PT and his lovely wife were able to attend! For those who haven’t been married before, there’s a lot that goes into planning a wedding.
There’s even more that goes into planning a wedding 1,300 miles from where you live and I thought it would be cool to have everyone take a look at every penny we spent; to better prepare you for what you can expect.
Keep in mind this budget (spend report) was for 75 adult guests that included an open bar.
A Breakdown of My Wedding Costs
Allow me to break down a few wedding costs you may think are unnecessary or are just confused about.
- Grooms Attire – I bought the ties, shirts, pocket silks and cufflinks for all three of my groomsmen. Originally I allowed Mens Warehouse to sell me on $60 ties and $50 shirts but I later returned them to find much more reasonable prices elsewhere. A purple tie is a purple tie, I really don’t care what it’s made of and neither did the bride.
- Cake Topper – Yea yea, a $122 cake topper is ridiculous but you should have seen this thing. We had it custom made as a bobblehead and was designed to look like a caricature my wife and I had done at Navy Pier while attending FinCon. It’s one of the few keepsakes we have of the wedding and we love it, so definitely worth the added cost.
- Friends Travel – An expense we decided to take on was helping with the cost of travel for some of the wedding party. Many of our friends live in Miami and really couldn’t afford to take a trip to New Jersey. Very understandable, so we decided to give three couples $350 each. Only five of the six ended up attending, that’s why you see one of the costs at $175.
- Flower Girl and Ring Bearer Gifts – Didn’t know this was part of the costs but I bought our five-year-old ring bearer (my cousin) a rapid-fire Nerf gun fully loaded with refills. My Aunt and Uncle probably hate me now.
- Our Travel – Since we drove from Miami, our expenses consisted of gas, gas and more gas. I tracked our mileage to the T and found our Kia Forte got 31 miles to the gallon (very thrilled with that). When we arrived in NJ, we had a lot of driving around to do in terms of meeting vendors so there was some added expense.
The decision was made the day we were engaged to have a fairly expensive wedding and do it in New Jersey rather than Miami. Both of our families live in the northeast and while we’re inconvenienced slightly, it really wasn’t too bad.
Our expenses increased as a result of our “destination wedding” but our initial $20,000 budget only ended up being 25% off the mark, which as far as wedding budgets go isn’t too bad.
So for those planning to get married soon, I advise you to take a hard long look at your budget and compare to our budget above. My wife and I saved for years to throw this wedding and even though I would say this event was 100% anti-frugal, we had an absolute blast.
Yes, saving money is important however I would argue that the biggest priority when it comes to your wedding is having a good time because if you’re lucky, you’ll only get to do it once.
Download My Wedding Budget Spreadsheet
Up Next: How to Do a Wedding for Less than $25,000
Note: This section was written by our founder and chief editor, Philip Taylor.
Allow me first to share my general thoughts on weddings and then to share some of the things my wife and I did to avoid spending too much on our wedding.
The Crazy Frugal Things We Did for Our Wedding
Honestly, we didn’t have the most frugal wedding, but we did find ways to cut some costs and still enjoy a beautiful day. We had very little help from our parents though.
I’d say we paid for 95% of our engagement, wedding, and honeymoon costs with either savings or (gulp!) a credit card.
Before any credit card haters start throwing stones, let me say that the card’s interest was at a 0% intro rate and we paid it off completely in three months with no interest incurred.
A Frugal Wedding in Dallas, TX?
Yep, we got married in Big D. If there were ever a “big wedding” town, it’s Dallas. It’s very hard not to spend some cash when you are marrying a girl here.
The expectations are really high. It’s got to be BIG. I’m talking ice sculpture and carriage-ride big (not that we had those things).
So, I guess my first piece of advice is to consider a destination wedding. Get out of town and get it done quick and cheap. You don’t have to go to Hawaii, but at least get away from the major metro areas, where demand and prices for services are tripled.
Face It: the Wedding Industry is a Racket
Let’s say you’re not into the destination wedding thing. Which most aren’t, I suppose. If you’re going to pay for a “traditional” in-town wedding, you’re going to pay a premium.
The wedding industry is the only industry where 90% of the customers don’t care what it costs…because Daddy is paying for it.
Where does that leave you “little Miss Frugal paying for everything herself”? 🙂 Either in need of some savings or in need of a credit card (not recommended).
I say this not to discourage you but as sort of a reality check.
In my opinion, weddings aren’t cheap by nature. They’re a celebration of a special moment. A moment that should be honored, I think, by involving all your close friends and family and spending the money to treat them as honored guests and to have a great time.
I’m sure most of us believe that “experience” is the best thing one can spend “extra” money on, right?
Decide where the balance is for you between an over-the-top party and a simple ceremony. You’ll know it when you see it. Besides, you only get one shot (hopefully) at this thing so you need to do it right.
Must-Have Wedding / Marriage Tips and Tools
- The # Budgeting App for Couples (Zeta Review)
- The Complete Guide to Budgeting for Couples
- Tips from Couple Money Expert, Elle Martinez
Do-It-Yourself Wedding Tips
In general, the biggest tip I can give you is to do some of the preparations yourself. Not everything…just some of the little things.
Not only will you spend less, but the day will feel that much more special because of all the time and little touches you put into it.
As you are going through your budget and talking with vendors, ask yourself “is this something I could do just as good and for less money?” If so, go for it. Just don’t get over your head and end up doing something you aren’t proud of.
My Big, Fun, Frugal Wedding Tips
With all of that said, here are some specific ways to have a more frugal wedding:
1. Make your own save-the-date cards
Use postcard-sized card stock (less postage) for save-the-date cards. We did this and they turned out great.
2. Skip the Wedding Planner.
Since we were paying for it all we did all of the planning ourselves, as it should be. However, I’d recommend letting go of the reigns a bit to allow some of your family and friends to help out.
Don’t put everyone to work though. Remember, they’re your guests too.
3. Do your own ceremony programs, favors, and out-of-towners care package.
For our favors, I took generic matchboxes and covered them with card stock which had been “laser” printed with our own custom-designed logo. They were a huge hit. Thank you office laser color printer at my old job!
4. Utilize friends in the business.
At the time I had a good friend that was just getting into the videography business. He only charged me half his normal rate.
5. Pay for the rights to the digital photo negatives.
If you use a professional photographer, (which I highly recommend) do your best to negotiate the rights to your photo negatives.
This may cost more upfront, but it will save you from all those high-priced orders and re-orders. We’ve got 1,700 wedding photos on two CDs that we can print or share at any time.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my wedding experience. I know my methods aren’t the answer for everyone, but it worked great for us and I’m super proud of my wedding day and the choices we made. Best of luck.
Related: Read Our Piece on the New Personal Finance App for Couples
More Tips: 5 More Tips for Keeping Crazy Wedding Costs Down
This next section comes from Jon Bufkin, co-owner of FocalPoint Cinematic Weddings (that’s his video below).
Jon sees a ton of weddings each year (both cheap weddings and extravagant weddings). We were excited when he agreed to share his thoughts on smart ways of keeping wedding costs down. Here’s Jon…
There is no getting around the fact that a wedding can be a big financial decision.
At the end of that glorious day, someone foots the potentially large bill. No one wants to have a truly cheap wedding. But here are a few ideas that can help you make smart decisions about wedding costs:
1. Decide on an overall budget.
First, you need a firm grasp on your overall wedding budget. Are you doing a $500 or a $25,000 wedding? To see what different budgets might be able to get you, check out the Budget Savvy Bride’s list of real weddings – filter by budget amount from $1k to $35k.
Next, you’ll need to set a priority list and assign a dollar amount for each item. There is an almost infinite amount of possibilities for the smallest to the largest details of your wedding.
Everything from invitations to the Uber/limo ride to the airport for the honeymoon should be accounted for.
Divide everything into “must haves” and “maybes”. It’s okay to make a large list because you might spend a little less on one item and as a result free yourself up financially to afford another priority item.
2. Do-It-Yourself when possible.
With the exception of the minister, every line item on the budget could be replaced by a DIY version.
Here’s an idea – make creative centerpieces or decorative frames by visiting your local hobby and craft stores. For our wedding, my wife’s mom was able to find half-price candles and fabrics, which provides savings that can certainly add up over time!
3. Start early!
Most costly decisions in life come from a place of last-minute desperation. We’ve all been there before. You wait till the last minute and you don’t see any options besides spending the big bucks. So you give in and pay the premium.
Not cool when it comes to weddings. This can be costly. As soon as you know you’re getting married (and after you’ve taken some time to enjoy the engagement and get your finances aligned), get crackin’ on wedding planning.
Starting early allows you to wait for a sale and/or haggle. If they say no to your haggling, no worries. You’re not in a spot where you need to panic. You’ll be able to take your time and consider all of your options.
4. Think used.
There are so many websites for brides that include forums for brides to talk and plan. In many forums, there are typically classified sections where good deals can be found.
I know what you are thinking, “I’m not wearing a used wedding dress!” Maybe not, but what about “used” set of vases that could save you $100? That’s what I’m talking about peeps!
5. Look for wedding vendors on the cusp.
Last but not least, try to find quality wedding vendors that aren’t charging premium fees yet.
You don’t have to pick the vendor that has the most expensive marketing campaign. Look for vendors who don’t know how good they are yet. Let the products themselves determine how you perceive their value!
Good ways to find vendors like this: use your social network (ask/search on Facebook), put a gig request out on Craigslist, or ask folks at your local churches and banquet halls if they know of any newbies.
If you or someone you know is planning a wedding soon, be sure and send them these tips.