Planning a wedding on an actual budget

On August 20th, 2017 I married my forever boyfriend surrounded by 100 of my closest friends and family (and a few strangers, but that's another story). We spent exactly 9 months and $25,000 (inclusive of EVERYTHING) to create a day that was reflective of us and memorable for our guests. And we served awesome wine, local beer, fresh caught salmon, and late night pizza. 

Don't get me wrong, that's a lot of money. A LOT. Money that was scraped together with a lot of love and sacrafice by both families and our own savings accounts. My now-husband and I are starting to look at homes now and trying to figure out how to come up with money for a down payment, which often has me kicking myself for spending that much money in a day when I could have invested it in my future. But it was a choice we made with a lot of love and ultimately I have no regrets.  

To be fair, I'd seen my fair share of weddings before I planned my own. One might say too many weddings. Years ago in Seattle I managed a crazy cool, hip, modern art gallery that suddenly became THE SPOT to host your wedding or party. Over the course of two years, we hosted nearly 200 weddings, booking year round and sometimes even on Thursdays when the weekends were full. It was a blast. I learned that I loved a good dance party and will almost always cry at personal vows. I learned that I didn't care about how napkins were folded or matching bridesmaids dresses. Though I was never the girl who dreamed of her wedding as a child, I started forming wedding-related opinions. Secret ideas. I wanted wild flowers and outdoors. Most importantly, I wanted the right person, which is why I didn't get married until after a lot of trial and error, at the age of 34.

But who cares about any of that. I want to share a few tips on how to get the most bang for your buck on what will inevitably be an expensive day. 

  1. I went to bhldn and tried on dresses, then I went and bought the exact same one that I'd fallen in love with in the store, which was worn once and immediately dry cleaned, in my size, for 75% less on oncewed. I also purchased shoes that were practical and that I'd wear again (and I got them at the half-yearly sale at Nordstrom). Total savings: around $1,000

  2. I've never wanted a diamond ring, a fact I made known, so instead of spending a ton of money on something I don't value, my engagement ring featured a moonstone. Total savings: between $3-10,000

  3. We found a venue that allowed us to bring in our own vendors.  We spent 9 months stocking up on wine and liquor (I also didn't care if all the wine was the same), saving what we received as gifts or leftovers. We hired newbies in their industries (makeup artist, florist, graphic designers) that I'd found on Instagram and Etsy who had enough experience that I completely trusted them but were green enough to have reasonable prices as they were growing their businesses. Total savings: around $5,000

  4. Friends and family helped with virtually everything. If someone offered to do something, I said a very enthusiastic and thankful "yes." 

  5. We made a lot of stuff, but only what we felt comfortable making. I had dreams of doing my own flowers but once I thought about how many times I would mess up and have to redo something - plus getting them to the venue - it was ultimately cheaper to hire someone. 

  6. When we bought a cake, we didn't tell them it was for a wedding. From witnessing a million weddings, one of the ultimate truisms is that there is ALWAYS leftover cake. We had a small, simple cake and had our florist put a few flowers on it. It looked like a million bucks. We also had a friend pick it up on the way to the wedding to avoid delivery fees. Total savings: around $400

  7. Any extra "events" like a welcome party or rehearsal dinner we did extremely casually. Our welcome party was a day at the beach. Since we had a lot of out of town guests, we knew many of them would be headed there anyway. We got a few games, beach chairs and a cooler of beer and snacks and spent the day getting tan and laughing with friends and family. Total savings: around $5,000

  8. We didn't spend a lot of time or money making decisions. We booked the second venue we looked at, I didn't do a trial run on makeup or hair, we didn't spend money on tastings. The time savings alone on that was incredible. We knew what we wanted and went with our gut. 

  9. I was shameless in asking for discounts. Offering to pay in cash (if that's an option for you) will almost always get you 5-10% off. We also held our wedding on a Sunday, which is a less in-demand day than Friday or Saturday. Instead of competing for someone's business, we were increasing their revenue on a day they might not be working otherwise. Total savings: around $3,000

  10. We made a damn budget and stuck to it. We looked at it at least every week to see how we were doing. If we overspent somewhere, we took money from someplace else. We were relentless. It made all the difference in the world. 

Obviously these suggestions are reflective of our values and priorities and are not universally applicable. My biggest piece of advice that I think everyone can use is this: make a list of everything you want at your wedding (and I mean EVERYTHING! - rings, dress, welcome party, etc.) and then allocate your money based on your priorities and putting a large chunk of your budget in the top 3-5 line items. If you've been dreaming your whole life about a big diamond and expensive dress, then you should spend more money on those things (and less money on your bar, for example). Our wedding was always much less important than the act of getting married. There was nothing more important to either of us than being fully present with each other every moment. While some details and traditions mattered to me leading up to the wedding, on August 20th the only things I thought about were how lucky I was, how happy I was, and how in love I was (and still am!).