How we hacked our budget, how much it cost us in the end, and a budget template for you to use for your wedding.
I love to operationalize things, as you can tell from the website you're currently reading this content from. Budget was something I was really laser-focused on ‘hacking’ for our wedding (as much as I hate that term). It was so disheartening starting our planning process and learning the reality of wedding industry price inflation. Across the board, every detail can get out of hand and really blow your budget if you don’t keep on top of it. You’ve got to have the mindset of trimming every single expense where you can.
I started the budgeting process by finding a template online, and then immediately nixed a bunch of stuff from it (like ceremony programs, videographer, officiant fee, ring pillow, limo rental and a planning binder). Anything that wasn’t important to us was gone. I then did a bit of research and started to estimate what I think each expense should/would cost. From this, we could look over the first draft together and agree on a budget for our wedding.
We landed on “$25,000-$30,000,” which I immediately changed to “$30,000” in my head, because I knew we’d push to the top of our range. Without the nauseating reality check of planning a wedding, this may seem like a lot of money. It is a lot of money! But in wedding standards, this is actually below average (the national average for a wedding in 2016 was around $36,000). I had started the process self-assuredly thinking I could do it for under $20,000 because I’d planned a million events in the past and could piece it together without using wedding-specific vendors who’d overcharge. That thinking saved us a lot of money, but I was wrong about how easy it’d be.
As we started shopping around for vendors, I updated the budget with what we were willing to spend based on the reality of what things cost. If something went over the estimate we’d penciled in, I usually tried to trim back on something else. The wedding budget always stayed between $28,000 and $32,000 as we added and edited things because I stayed on it like a hawk.
Here’s a snippet of how I tracked estimates and purchases:
The first column is where we originally had estimates (gray). As we made purchases, I update the estimate field (this is important!!) and changed the text to black so I could keep a clean running total of money spent at the bottom. I also created columns for everyone that was financially contributing to the wedding and dropped every purchase into the purchaser’s column as well.
Every day leading up to our wedding, I knew exactly how much we had spent or were going to spend. It was never a mystery or a surprise. My parents wanted to help pay for things, but didn’t want to just write a check. I was able to give them a real time number of how much they’d spent at any time, and stay respectful of their contribution budget.
Alright, now that we’ve got the overview — the method to my madness — let’s look at some juicy details.
Where we really saved
There are a few very unique details that allowed us to save money. While they can’t always be replicated for other situations, the way we thought about saving money can be!
1. Free design skillz
First, I’m a designer, so we didn’t have to pay for anything visual. I designed our invites, our website, all our print materials, and had a vision for the style and theme of the wedding. I would recommend taking a look at your skillset, your future spouse’s skillset, and those closest to you, and see where you can ask for favors or do it yourself.
2. No venue fee
Second, we got married on the roof of our apartment. There wasn’t a venue fee, which saved us at least a couple thousand dollars (or $20,000+ if we’re comparing to NYC venues), but that also meant there weren’t tables, chairs or really any equipment. We had to replant all the planter boxes, do some repairs and small construction projects, install poles and strung lights, and rent every single piece of equipment/furniture (and pay the fee to have it lugged up to the roof). I’d say that overall we saved money here, but there was a lot of hard work and some expenses involved.
3. No day-of coordinator fee
Third, we didn’t have to budget for a day-of planner. My aunt really wanted to do it for us, and we are so lucky and grateful that she did!
4. We hacked the food and beverage budget
Finally, I grew up in restaurants and my parents (and brother) are food and beverage wizards. They have also run so many high-volume events and ended up being the real MVPs of our wedding day. So, this amazing resource was always in my back pocket as we were making plans. It’s unique to us, so some of the shortcuts below would likely be harder for others to pull off.
Since we were getting married on our roof and had so many folks traveling to our neighborhood from out of town, we decided to go hyper-local with all our vendors; a taste of the East Village. We didn’t speak to any other food vendors after meeting with Supper, an Italian restaurant a couple doors down from us. We just knew it’d work out so well because they have a takeout/catering kitchen and we wouldn’t have to setup any food prep on the roof or in the apartment. We wanted 4 courses family style, but when I realized the first two courses were made up of foods like simple arugula salad, caprese, and charcuterie, I felt we could save a lot of money doing this ourselves. So, my parents bought all the ingredients at Costco and prepped the platters before the wedding. Our 4-course dinner (First: white bean dip and bread. Second: salad, charcuterie, caprese, olives. Third: bolognese fettucine and lemon spaghetti. Fourth: so many roasted veggies and chicken parmesan) came out to $3345, or $54 per person. Additional to saving on food, we bought our own liquor (outside the city) and made our own mixers (homemade berry syrup, simple syrup, sour mix). Even with two expensive kegs of local craft beer, $12–18/bottle wines, premiums cocktails, and super fancy 2" hand-carved square ice cubes that I had to have ($150 on those alone) we spent about $20/person on booze. $74/person for 4 courses and a premium bar is crazy good; it’d cost double at a venue.
5. No formal cake
Another place we saved money is dessert. We bought an assortment of literally incredible cupcakes of all different flavors and sizes, chocolate chip cookies, and cinnamon rolls. In total we spent $260 on dessert and half of it was leftover at the end. I didn’t even touch the idea of a cake because I know how expensive they can be and it was not important to us. The assorted dessert table was perfect!
6. No wedding planner
We also saved money by not having a full-on planner. We consulted with a planner for a few hours early on, which I highly recommend. We had tons of questions about what to expect or how others usually handle certain things. Once we got comfortable and needed to just execute on decisions and put in the work, it wasn’t clear where a planner would fit in since I enjoy organizing things and wanted to be part of each decision.
Every dollar we spent
Below is a breakdown of every dollar we spent on our wedding. Our total spend of $32,000 includes everything — my dress, beauty treatments, our wedding bands, a marriage prep course, and the money we spent on our bachelor(ette) weekends. If you only count expenses for the day of the wedding, we are right at $30,000.
Wedding planner consultation: $250
Marriage prep course: $650
Invites, postage, envelopes: $180
Squarespace year membership, domain name: $110
Place name cards and menus: $35
Escort card display: $20
Photo frames: $50
Gold sharpies: $15
Table number holders and table numbers: $32
Votives and tealights: $80
Marquee letters and tracks: $182
Strung lights: $252
Corkboard and thumbtacks: $16
Wedding photographer: $6000 (including travel expenses)
Fujifilm instant camera and film: $165
Bridal skirt: $2265
Custom bridal top: $800
Hair styling: $250
Hair/makeup trials: $635
Lash extensions: $200
Brow and facial threading: $40
Wedding band: $195
Bridesmaids dresses: $150
Hair for 2 bridesmaids: $250
Flower girl dresses: $82
Suit, tie and shoes: $179
Wedding band: $645
Groom and groomsmen ties: $170
Bridal and bridesmaids bouquets, groom and groomsmen boutonnieres, arbor florals, reception table arrangements, flower girl petals and baskets, flower girl crowns, rosemary place setting sprigs: $2500
Food & booze
Self-purchased food for salad and antipasti courses: $1000
Catered dinner: $2345
Beer, wine, cocktails: $1300
Bartender & food service: $1420
Fancy ice cubes for cocktails: $150
Non-alcoholic beverages: $100
Farewell brunch room fee: $600
Disposable napkins, cups and plates: $110
Next day task rabbits for cleanup: $300
Venue and improvements
Roof repairs: $190
Extension cords: $200
Hardware and small purchases: $200
That one uncategorized Amazon order (😅 you caught me) with a bunch of roof and decor stuff: $375
Tables, chairs, linens, glassware, plates, flatware, serving stuff, bar stuff, heaters, etc: $4,000
Liability insurance: $100
Marriage license: $60
DJ and equipment: $775
Projector rental: $93
Wedding party gifts
Bridesmaid gifts: $300
Groomsmen gifts: $200
Flights: $166 (used miles)
Bachelorette/bachelor parties: $690
My recommendations: where to spend more or less
1. Spend the money on the DJ or a live band
When we first budgeted, I was factoring in a few thousand dollars just for the venue. So the budget was a little tighter. One thing I remember not wanting to spend money on (as a tradeoff) was a DJ. Many were in the $1500–2000 range and since we wanted to pick our own music, that seemed ridiculous. Once we ended up deciding to do it on our roof, that freed up some budget. So I went on GigSalad and found a DJ for a few hundred dollars that I envisioned bringing equipment and operating our playlist. Since he offered to setup the ceremony mic and speakers, he ended up playing a big role in the wedding. However, he wasn’t experienced in doing all of this and there were so many errors. For instance, people couldn’t hear our vows. As it ended up going over the original bid and actually cost $775, I would have happily paid another couple hundred dollars for a professional wedding DJ, even though we made our own playlists and had our own emcee.
2. Spend the money on day-of help
I was stingy about hired help up until the week of the wedding. I felt like with enough organization, I could efficiently use the servers’ time for setup, the wedding, and cleanup. In reality, a million things were going on and it’s hard to give good direction in that setting. My documentation wasn’t enough, and I wasn’t available to clarify. Setup is a bigger task than I budgeted for. Thankfully, my family is incredible and did so much to get it all set up! Also, the next day we had a 2 hour window between the farewell brunch and watching the Seahawks game with everyone. All we wanted to do was sleep, but we had to get the roof clean. Some of the easiest money we spent was hiring 2 Task Rabbits for those 2 hours to work side by side with us. It made it go so much faster. All in all, spend the extra ≈$50/hr to rest assured you’ve got enough hands to pull everything off smoothly.
My amazing family all jumped in to do whatever needed to be done.
3. Spend the money on a marriage prep course
We loved our marriage prep course with Hope Mirlis. It was so nice to focus on us for each of the sessions. The course really reinforced the “why” behind the wedding (when the “what” — decisions, plans, hard work — can be so overwhelming) and got us really excited to be married. She took us through all the things you should talk about before getting married. It sort of felt like we knocked this part out of the park, that we’d thought through so much already and were on the same page with everything. That felt really good. Most of our sessions were us all laughing, playing games, telling stories, and enjoying our love. How amazing is that?
4. If you can help it, don’t spend money on officiant, live music or emcee
Tap your village! We never even considered hiring someone to marry us, for instance. We always knew we wanted it to be super personal, so we asked one of Jim’s (and my) best friends to do it. As we were planning the ceremony, we thought of one of our best friends who plays guitar and he generously accepted our request for him to play the processional. Every moment that you can make more personal will make such a difference. This point isn’t about saving money, just about making the day as “you” as possible!
🚨 5. Spend the money on your photographer. Do not think twice. 🚨
I will never, ever regret spending so much money on our photographer. We are in love with our photos and our photographer brought so much humor and joy to our day. It’s as simple as that.
Thaaaat pretty much sums it up from a budget perspective. Feel free to reach out by email or in the comments with thoughts and questions.