Jul 162008

There’s an interesting thread on the Weddingbee boards at the moment discussing what it means to have a “budget wedding.” Some say the term means sticking strictly within a defined wedding budget. Others believe it’s a synonym for “inexpensive,” especially if you are able to pull off something that looks more expensive than its actual cost.

In our case, I’m not sure how well we did with #1. We spent what we spent, and I made some unwise and even wasteful purchases. But I’d like to think #2 came out well. Everyone has different definitions of “inexpensive.” But Mr. T and I were married in an extremely expensive area, with a celebration that included everything we cared about … for $8,800.

Here’s the breakdown of how we spent that sum, along with some tips for other would-be “budget” brides. (And some last favorites from Punam Bean’s wonderful photos!):


Ceremony Venue = 6%

The Athenaeum cost $150/hour, plus $100 to become a member of the nonprofit arts group that owns the property.

Tip:  Charity-owned venues can be relatively inexpensive. And your fees support a charity, so it’s win-win!


(The big entrance. Mr T and the bridal party came through a side door, so these enormous double doors were thrown open just for me. Dramatic! And so glad I was wearing a slip!)

Officiant and Wedding License < 1%

Just $30 for the wedding license. My father officiated.

Tip:  If you know a licensed officiant, or if your state grants temporary licenses or allows the Internet-ordained, consider having someone you know officiate. You won’t have to pay a stranger, and the ceremony can be even more touching when the officiant knows you personally.


Bride’s Dress and Accessories = 4%

Bought a $240 dress off eBay. Shoes, parasol, shawl, veil, undergarments, and bag also came from eBay. Already owned my earrings.

Tip:  Ebay, secondhand stores, sample sales … work every discount source you can think of! Borrowed items are good too — they save you the purchase money and bring a special bit of luck and good cheer from the lender.

Bride’s Beauty = 0

Thanks to a kind stranger who covered my wedding-day beauty expenses. And the fact that I ran out of time for a mani/pedi the day before!

Tip:  Consider a beauty school for hair and/or makeup, or a retail cosmetics counter for your makeup. They don’t charge the exorbitant fees of official “wedding” beauticians.


(Poor Mr. T served as de facto wedding coordinator in the hours before our ceremony. Here, he’s working the cell while reserving parking for an usher.)

Wedding Planner / Day of Coordinator = 0

Sure, it would have been nice to have a knowledgeable person take on part of the load. But we didn’t want it enough to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for the service. A number of family and friends pitched in to help with decorating and day-of details. Their help meant the world to us, and they said it meant a lot to them to help create a special day.

Tip:  Friends and family are happy to pitch in. Really! Also, if you want someone to handle the day-of details but can’t afford to pay, consider trading services with another bride-to-be.

Groom’s Attire = 2%

We bought a tux-like Theory jacket at a local designer discounter, a BCBG tux shirt off eBay, and a TJ Maxx tie that coordinated with the groomsmen’s (Donald Trump Collection, baby!). He wore pants and shoes that he already owned.


Transportation = 0

Sure, a classic car would have been fantastic. But we just didn’t care enough to pay for it. The “Getaway Scion” got us from place to place just as well!

Favors = 1.5%

Our lavender sachets, vintage handkerchiefs, and Gocco’d cookie bags were technically unnecessary. But they were memorable touches, and we wanted to offer a useful keepsake to the guests.


(SIL has a booooyfriennnnnd! It was sweet to see them so crazy for each other.)

Bridesmaids, Groomsmen, etc. = 5%

We bought our bridesmaids’ dresses (eBay) and also gave them World Food Programme bags as gifts. The groomsmen wore their own suits; our gifts were matching shirts and ties, which also helped pull together the overall look. And I paid for a night’s lodging and beauty preparations for my mother. Overall, we spent more on this group than on my own wedding dress and accessories, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We greatly appreciated all they did for us.

Tip:  Don’t forget the bridal party in your money-saving plans! Consider inexpensive bridesmaids’ gowns from eBay, Internet sales, or mall stores. And do your groomsmen really need to rent a tux, or would same-color suits do just as well?

Ditto for the costs your guests will pay. Is that block of rooms a good deal for people on every budget? Or would you do better sharing Travelzoo deals on your wedding Website?


(Filling out our detailed guestbook, which asked for a drawing, a favorite memory, and the name of our first child and/or next pet. And “someone” collected anniversary cards for our first anniversary…MOH? Care to take credit?)

Invites, Paper Goods, and Crafts = 9%

We overspent in this category, thanks to my obsession with paper goods, my purchase of mucho craft supplies we never used, and my long-time determination to own a Gocco. An inexpensive store-purchased invitfation and regular stamps would have saved time, money, and energy. But this was another category that I really cared about. (And now I have a Gocco!)

Tip:  DIY does not always mean less expensive. DIY if you enjoy it; but if you’re most interested in saving money, the cost comparisons may surprise you. Also, consider “non-wedding” items for objects like your guestbook and thank-you cards. Anything made specifically for weddings can come with a substantial markup.

(You’re never too young to appreciate tasty crabcakes!)

Reception Venue, Bar, Catering, Cakes, and Service = 40%

Our venue had a $2,500 minimum for the rental, which our final total didn’t quite meet. We kicked in an extra $200 or so to reach that amount, but figured that wasn’t bad for a “site fee.” Service fees and 10% taxes added almost $1,000 to the total above and beyond the food minimum.

Tip:  Consider a restaurant venue. You won’t have to pay a site fee or rent seating, linens, glassware, etc. Rather than a pricey multi-tier wedding cake, try a number of smaller cakes or a dessert buffet. Don’t feel you need to serve an unlimited bar — beer, wine, and a signature drink or two (plus yummy nonalcoholic options, of course!) leave guests just as happy.


(Our “videographer” — MIL with a digital camera that shoots video. We wouldn’t have paid for a pro, but it WAS nice to see the moving version in addition to photographs.)

Photography = 20%

In the grand scheme of things, this was our biggest elective splurge. It’s about twice the average percentage that people allocate to photography. But it was worth it in the long run because now we have stunning memories of every aspect of our day. Punam’s photos turned our budget shindig into something extraordinary!

Tip:  Look for someone who is talented but just starting out. (Punam Bean is well-known now, but we were the second or third wedding she’d ever booked.) If your locale is unusually expensive, consider flying someone in from elsewhere; we actually imported an NYC photographer for less than the cost of established DC locals. The WPJA website is one excellent resource for finding photographers all over the country.


Flowers = 5%

We used silk flowers from Save-on-Crafts for bouquets, corsages, and boutennieres, and Peruvian lilies and garden roses from FiftyFlowers.com to decorate the ceremony and reception spaces. Of course it would have been easier to work with a florist, and I don’t have any experience with florists to know how much money we saved. But I suspect we saved a lot.

Tip:  This is an area where it’s easy to put things together yourself. It’s hard to go wrong with flowers — they look pretty no matter what you do to them! Silk flowers are sometimes less expensive than real (depending on flower type), can be put together far ahead of time, and can be re-used or re-sold after the event.


Decor = 5%

Because restaurant venues have decor of their own, we could have gotten by with very little. But I was attached to the idea of hanging lanterns, and couldn’t resist certain other purchases as the months went by.

Tip:  Make full use of decor elements that are already at your venue. Avoid “wedding markup” by re-purposing everyday materials (for example, we used sari fabric as an aisle runner). Resist the urge to make impulse purchases. Buy second-hand decorations from other brides. And if all else fails, look for double-duty items that you can re-sell, donate to charity, or use in your home after the wedding.


Music = 0

Free, thanks to the wonder of the iPod. In our case, we “got what we paid for.” But I still believe iPod weddings can be ideal under the right circumstances.


Lodging = 2.5%

Two nights at the Hotel Monaco in Alexandria, at a great rate thanks to a grand-opening special on Travelzoo. Spending the night before and the wedding night in relative luxury, utterly pampered by the staff, made this expense totally worthwhile.

Tip:  If you’re on a budget, there’s never any reason to pay full price for a hotel. Commit to finding a certain class of hotel (say, four-star) rather than a specific property, and then check out Travelzoo, Expedia Special Deals, Priceline, and Hotwire to see what’s on offer.

Other / Not Included

We did not “go budget” on our rings, on the theory that we will have them forever and wear them daily. For my engagement ring, Mr T did work with a jeweler to copy something we loved at Bulgari, without the designer price tag. But my wedding band is from Bulgari itself (had to compensate them somehow!) and Mr. T’s is from Cartier.


Mr T’s parents threw a lovely rehearsal dinner — a traditional 10-course Chinese banquet. This helped make up for the fact that we refused a Chinese banquet for the actual reception. And my Midwestern family LOVED it!

We were broke by the time our California honeymoon rolled around, so that was on a strict budget. (Travelzoo hotel deals, yet again….) But it was nice just to have a lovely spot to relax a bit after all the activity. And now we have Bali/Greece/Insert-Exotic-Destination-Here to look forward to on a future anniversary!


What are your favorite “budget” wedding tips?  Anyone else clocking in below $10K, and how will you do it?


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