Real weddings for people who have “zero money” for their wedding budget

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Dollar Ring Origami from Etsy seller ToTheGardenByFreedaS
Dollar Ring Origami from Etsy seller ToTheGardenByFreedaS

First, I love love love love your site. Thank you! For the first time since the person who is truly the-love-of-my-life proposed to me I find I am actually daydreaming a little about our wedding day.

I could go on and on about us and how awesome your site is for people like us but here’s the real deal: we really have zero money for this. I just bought a house and we will have the wedding there — venue is covered — but the rest? The sites I can find for “budget” or “DIY” wedding don’t share my definition of “budget” or “DIY.” The “Broke-ass Bride” had an $8,000 budget. On my scale, that is not “broke-ass.”

Can you point me to an example of something from actually nothing? Please help!


Hiya, Jeanette! You have come to the right place. Over the years, Offbeat Bride has featured hundreds of lower budget weddings, which live in our massive low-budget wedding archives. Seriously, 52 pages of economical weddings ranging from micro-budgets to more generally tighter budgets — it's a huge archive full of LOTS of ideas for saving money.

Here's where things get complex, though: “lower budget” is a relative term. We all know this. Lower budget in New York means something pretty different from Omaha. You say you have “zero money” your wedding, but if that was actually true, you would go to a courthouse and pay the government fee and call it good. Since we all know that “zero money” doesn't actually mean $0.00, here are a few real dollar examples of “not actually zero, but still pretty still pretty small budget” weddings we've featured:

$2000 wedding

$1000 wedding

$700 wedding

$500 wedding

$100 wedding

Making things even more complex with these “real budget” posts is that the exact dollar amounts can be a little wobbly, depending on how the couple defines their expenses… the $100 wedding didn't include their clothes, which they already had. When you get down to micro-budgets, things get a little grey… and really, I'm super NOT into playing the “one lowsmanship” game, where we all stand around and thump our chests about how little we spent on our weddings.

“…Oh yeah? You think your $1000 budget was small? We got married for 35 cents and a handjob for the county judge! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT POVERTY IS.” C'mon, you guys. This isn't a contest. You're not going to win anything around here that way.

Money is weird, and how people choose to spend their money isn't really our business. We're not big fans of going into debt for your wedding, but even that is your financial decision. At Offbeat Bride, we trust you to do your research and make choices for yourself. We're not into budget shaming.

In closing, we'll share this statistic about the current state of wedding budgets:

Data courtesy of Splendid Insights. This is one page from a massive 2015 research document they did. Pretty awesome, really.
Data courtesy of Splendid Insights. This is one page from a massive 2015 research document they did. Pretty awesome, really.

Fully a third of surveyed couples are working with budgets under $10,000… and that's a lot of us. We can do this.

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Comments on Real weddings for people who have “zero money” for their wedding budget

  1. I’m currently planning a city hall wedding. In Chicago, they do civil ceremonies once a month at the cultural center, which is awesome, and beautiful, so we’re hoping to get that. All we’re really paying for is our clothes (got my dress for around 85 dollars and it’s fantastic) “flowers” (I decided on a book bouquet and a sheet music boutonniere) and some photography. 15-20 of our nearest and dearest can show up for free. I’d guestimate around 400-500 dollars total.

  2. My little sister got married last weekend. She had a micro budget, but wanted to share the day with our huge family. 200$ for the license, 35$ to rent a park, a friend officiated, 75$ for chairs, potluck gluten free food (coordinated on Facebook ), homemade cake (plus 2 18$ Costco sheet cakes for non-gf people ) table decor was 50$, arch was 40$. Much of that was actually gifted but those are the figures. It was a fantastic day 🙂

    • While someone I know did almost the same thing (food truck instead of potluck; and mostly standing with few chairs); and even the park ended up expensive. Many now require both a rental fee, insurance, and at times, security. While parks can be a cheap option; in some areas there can be a lot of hidden or unexpected add on costs. So I do recommend people investigate before getting their heart set on a location (or a price point).

  3. Got married for about $1500 total.
    It really comes down to figuring out what matters most to you and putting your money there. Our venue was a public park: Free We went with a photographer who was just getting started with weddings and charged us only $150
    Forget centerpieces and favors, forget that 200 person guest list, forget the full buffet (we had a buffet of mostly homemade finger foods and a popcorn bar, fed 35 guests for about $250, with plenty of leftovers).
    Basically, forget everything you know about weddings and do what works for you.

    • Yup, redefine “wedding”. The lion’s share of many wedding budgets often isn’t the wedding itself, but the reception – venue, catering, DJ, decorations, etc. Most of the weddings I’ve been to in the last 15 years have all been decently-sized formal affairs, but wasn’t that long ago that the tradition was “cake and punch” – which OBB has an nice post about:

      I went to a wedding that was in a small historic building where the bride’s mother worked (free) and we set up some of their folding chairs for the ceremony. The only decor including bride’s bouquet was lilacs cut from the bushes outside (free – and smelled amazing!). The reception was cupcakes and a party sub (pretty cheap) and a boombox playing some Rat Pack CDs (free). Guests grabbed a snack and found spots to sit wherever including on the stairs and just chatted while watching the rain outside – there were no formal speeches, dances, throwing of things. They did buy/rent a dress/suit, so there was that expense. The whole things was so laid back and truly one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended.

    • Hi Nikki, We are a second marriage couple planning for an intimate romantic wedding on a broke budget!. 35 guest, our kids, immediate family and 5 friends! I like your budget to feed your guests. How did you do that exactly? Was it held at a venue?

  4. Ask your family to contribute food and decorations instead of gifts! I saw a wedding where they bought 20 pie pans, sent them to their relatives, and had everyone bring a homemade pie to the wedding instead of having a cake. If you’ve got a friend who’s a seamstress, ask them to make your dress. A friend who’s really good at photography, ask them to be your wedding photographer. If you’ve got friends or cousins who work at a crafts store, find out if you can use their discount for decorations. And delegate, delagate, delagate. You do not need to make everything yourself.

    • As a persson that sews and does photography, i have to add that its important to not make someone feel pressured and be willing to take no for an answer. Im making my wedding dress and its nothing super fancy but its taking forever to make because, dresses can take a long time plus i work and have other things to. On top of that it takes even longerwhen u have to wait for the person to be able to come over so yiu can fit them, which needs to be done a few times. If you have a aunt or gma who sews and doesnt have work or anything else on their plate then id say ask them if they feel comfortable making a dress, but if its a friend that still has a life of their own to deal with then i think a better option would be asking them to go thrift shopping with you to look for dresses that they can alter/embelish for you. (you can even make a day of it and road trip to a bigger city that has more thrift shops) Ive seen amazing dresses at thrift stores and its going to be less time consuming and cheaper (everyone always forgets how expensive fabric is) and u still end up with a fabulous one of a kind dress.

      The photographer thing can be tricky too. First, as a photographer there’s a lot if pressure to get perfect photos. Weddings are different from taking other kinds of pics, you have to be quick and capture a lot of emotion, and remember that if they’re the photographer, they’re not going to be in any of the pics. My dad had me do pics for his wedding and as a result i couldn’t give a speech or be part of the ceremony because i had to basicly be working the whole time. Im not saying its not an option, just something to consider, and from my experience, if you start spreading the word that you’re looking for a photographer, ppl will that are willing to do it, will offer.

  5. This is such an eye opening and awesome post. I definitely consider our wedding a “DIY budget wedding” with it costing just under 16,000 total. In our area the “normal” wedding budget is usually 25k-35k (at least according to google and other married couples we know) so we felt like major champions coming in so far under that. But now I’m seeing that’s what “budget” to us may seem super extravagant to others so maybe I should cool it with bragging about how little our wedding cost. Money is such a weird thing. Anyways, thanks OBB for once again opening my eyes a little wider. 🙂

  6. We had our wedding for about 4000 Euro (almost the same in dollars), and I am really not saying, it was the cheapest we could do, actually for us this was already quite a decadent adventure.
    Most expensive part was the food and drinks. After we spent about 350 EUR on wedding location and app. 400 for the licenses (yes, it’s THAT fucking expensive here) and had secured the food for app 900 EUR for 50 people, we figured, all the rest is actually optional and we got a little lavish on everything else.
    Shoes were tailormade chucks for 80 EUR, we spent about 200 EUR on decoration items (I did all decoration and even my bouquet myself), app 30 bucks on the drinks at the wedding venue (we made 15 l of homemade ice tea the day before which costs almost nothing and is delicious on a hot summer day! and had some olives, crackers and parmesan), after the dinner we had homemade cake which I asked some dear friends and relatives to bring with them, because homemade cake is the best anyways. The rings were a steal at 120 EUR for simple steel-rings with engraving. My wedding dress was a large part of the rest, since I had it made for me, but thrifted would have been an option as well here and my husband just bought a shirt, a vest and some shorts. Hair and makeup I did myself. The fotographer was about 400 EUR. The invitations were homemade as well and together with stamps and thank you cards were app 50 EUR. We paied all drinks from the rest and threw out a daring sum of 80 EUR on a fancy hotel room for the night after. We asked the wedding party to not give us any gifts but instead to bring a little sum for our honeymoon which we collected in a jar and people were so generous, we could even pay a little of the wedding costs from it as well.
    You can really do a LOT of things yourself for no or little money, but I recommend starting early and asking friends and relatives for help, it can get quite stressfull around the last days before the wedding.

    • It always surprises me how cheap weddings have the potential to be in the US. In the UK your bare minimum for a basic legal ceremony in the middle of a week day at the city hall comes in at around £200 – £35 a head for announcing the marriage, £4 for the certificate, £135 for the physical space and the presence of the registrar. And our area is super cheap compared with most, where the midweek fee is around £300 and weekend weddings start around £500 (as my sister has discovered – she’s having a midweek marriaging and a weekend wedding so she can put the savings towards food). And people wonder why the marriage rates are dropping in Europe!

      • Well, the license *is* pretty cheap in Germany. We paid 111 € (funny sum!) and could have been even cheaper. We decided to buy a “family register” for 20 €, which was optional, and if both of us would’ve lived in the city in which we got married, it would have been 6 Euro less. So, all in all you can get married in Germany for 85 € and have all the legal stuff covered.

        • That’s insane how expensive the license and legal fees are in Europe compared to the US. Our marriage license was actually one of the cheapest parts at a wedding. Took 15 minutes to fill out a form, wrote a check for $60, and away we went! Is there any particular reason it costs more in Europe? I’m trying to think of reasons and I just can’t!

          • I can’t speak for the rest of Europe but in the UK there are many limiting factors as to where you can marry and who can conduct your legal ceremony. This means that there’s a captive market, unlike in the US where I believe it’s much more flexible.

      • In the UK you can actually get married a little bit cheaper than this, if you opt for no more than 4 guests. That way, we pay £46 just to register the marriage with no ceremony at all. Still have to pay £35 per head to notify and £4 per certificate though.

    • In Sweden it’s free to get married in the cityhall 🙂 If you want to get married somewhere else you pay an travelingfee that I don’t think is high. I don’t know the cost for getting married in curch thou.

  7. THANK YOU! Thank you for the point at the end of the article, I’ve gotten some judgement from friends at the cost of my wedding (I’m also the first to get married, so a lot of them don’t know how EXPENSIVE weddings are, even with keeping it simple, DIY, and skipping “necessary” things). Not that my wedding was cheap compared to the links above, but a plated dinner for 120 people at a beautiful venue, yeah that’s going to be a pretty penny. I read some advice somewhere to choose 3 things to focus on, then find cheaper options/scraping all together everything else. This really helped me stay focused, because when you’re in the thick of things EVERYTHING seems SUPER important and worth a splurge. Good luck!

  8. My wedding budget was about $3000, but half of that was on the venue(we were lucky with ours). Since you already have that covered, the next thing that usually costs a lot is food. We had a potluck and asked our guests to bring a dish from each family. It worked well because people felt good about contributing and there was plenty of variety. We splurged on the cake and spent about $300, but we could have avoided it if we wanted. We rented his tux for cheap, my dress was bought in a huge sale, and instead of buying shoes, I made barefoot sandals to wear. Made them for the bridesmaids too. The only other stuff that cost much was vanity stuff like special table linens and centerpieces, although we did make the centerpieces ourselves(which was harder than I thought). A family member did the photography so there really wasn’t much else to spend money on. Hope this helps.

  9. I looove this post! We have been struggling with all of these issues & then a lot of comments from family & friends as we try to stay on budget, staying true to ourselves & to our budget.

    Anyone have any tips for saving on tables, chairs, cutlery & tableware for the wedding? We’re having 60 people & we’re struggling to find an affordable way to do that. We would love to do it picnic style, but with the number of older relatives coming, it’s just not possible for us to do it.

    And tips for photographers? We’re still getting quotes for $1500++ (and that’s cheap compared to 95% of what we’ve seen). We contacted local art colleges & only had one reply…she still wanted $1700 & the photos weren’t great. We’ve even tried getting people just to come for 2-3 hrs for a portrait session (we don’t need a full day) & have been turned down. Sadly, we don’t have any friends who are hobby photographers.

    • It depends on what you’re looking for from photographs. In a lot of cultures, it’s traditional to go and get portrait photos done some time after the wedding, which could be a cheaper way of approaching it because you’re not hiring the photographer to come out for the day. If you’re not having an unplugged wedding you can encourage guests to take photos on the day and upload them to a shared drive, where you can pick out your favourites.

      Cutlery and tableware – if you don’t mind things not matching, hit up local charity shops on a semiregular basis. People often donate sets because they’ve broken a single side plate, so you can get a fair amount of crockery very cheaply. And after the wedding, you can donate it all back again! Or get your guests to sign their plates with ceramic pens (you’ll want to at least give them a rinse first after dinner! Then bake them after they’re signed) and keep them as a wedding guest book / wedding china combo.

      Can’t help with furniture, sadly. Unless you’ve got friends who are willing to bring it with them, you’ll probably have to hire it.

      • Thanks! We actually don’t mind about things not matching. Unfortunately for us, we’re getting married out of State from where my parents live (near where my grandparents grew up and where I spent every summer) & we live in Europe, so we won’t be able to scour charity shops leading up to it.

        Right now, between what I put in storage & my parents are ransacking their cutlery stores to see if between us we can come up with enough cutlery for everyone. A couple of my grandparents’ friends are moving out of their homes & have donated really cool vintage teacups to me, so we’ve got tea/coffee/hot chocolate covered. Now it’s on to glasses, plates. I was thinking Ikea & then donating/selling them on afterwards for glasses? And then for plates, maybe those biodegradable wood ones? We saw a pack of 100 for $67. Has anyone used those? We’re serving a meal that really needs cutting so plastic/paper plates just won’t hold up (we tried) 🙁

        We’re trying to find picnic tables/beer garden tables for the reception (I just have a random dislike of table cloths), but no luck!

        We’re already carting my dress, his suit, rings, bunch of miscellaneous stuff & normal clothes over for the wedding. Plus we’re buying a marquee over here because it’s waaaay cheaper than renting.

        Anyone done anything fun & funky (& budget) for outdoor lighting?

        • One thing that could help with the plates is buying some of those wicker paper plate holders (like this). It pushes up the cost a bit relative to regular paper plates, but they make paper plates much more functional (with the support underneath you can actually cut stuff) and they remain super useful for parties and barbeques afterwards.

        • Some things are better to buy and resell then rent. But it can be cheaper to rent. For me, I used to buy the nice quality disposable plates for parties where we were serving a full dinner, but then I discovered one of our local party rental places they rent for $0.35 per plate which was less expensive than buying the nice “like china” plastic plates. It’s worth exploring the rental option

          • Ours are $0.55/plate + tax (need two different sizes one for main, one for dessert) & then they only come in sets of 25 from our rental place. So we’ll be renting an extra 15 per place setting. We actually spent hours last night looking & may have found some nice plates that we can buy that work out to $4 more than the rental in total.

            Our glasses will be waaaay cheaper to buy than to rent (also renting at 0.55/glass with a certain amount per pack, which means we’ll be about 30 over our guest number that we’re paying for). Again buying works out to about $2 under but we can always sell on/give to charity afterwards/give to friends to use for their own weddings.

    • You could try placing an ad on a notice board at a local art school? I’m sure you’d get lots of students who’d love to build their portfolio and do wedding photography! 🙂

      • Thanks for this! We actually did this. We emailed the director of a local photography school at an arts college & he circulated our ad. We only got one reply. The person still wanted $1700. They directed us to their fb page and the photos were terrible. Now I would never say that anyone in my family is a great photographer, but casual photos taken by my parents, siblings or relatives were nicer. The photographs shown were also not really to our taste (one had the groom’s head up the dress and looked like he was going down on her, another had her dress flipped up and looked like they were going at it doggy style. Fine if that’s your thing, but maybe not the best example?) & had no editing or filters or anything. Angles weren’t nice/flattering, lighting (even natural) wasn’t chosen at the right angle. And the posed portraits were really 1980s-ish. We were really disappointed.

        In our ad, we said we’d be willing to do anything the photographer wanted to help build their wedding portfolio (despite having a non-traditional wedding, I’ll be in a traditional white dress & he’ll be in a suit for the church part). We’d do any poses/locations/whatever they wanted because they’d be helping us out & we wanted to return the favour in any way we could. But no other nibbles! Very disappointing. 🙁

        • Is Craigslist an option? You may get some interest from amateurs testing the waters of going pro. I lucked out with a recommendation from a friend that was half the price of anything I’ve seen advertised, but that had been my original plan.

    • We used disposable dishware at our wedding. We had 130 guests and got two sizes of plates, two sizes of napkins, cutlery, and solo cups. We got a BOGO deal at Party City and are still using what we had left over!

    • You may have already done this, but asking around may uncover free solutions to the furniture problem. I discovered that some people have a lot of folding chairs and tables just in their garages that they bought for big family reunions and such. It would be a pain to organize, but if you’re lucky, you may not need to rent furniture at all! My aunt had enough folding chairs tucked away that we were able to seat everyone at my shower (which was nearly 30 people).

  10. one way to lower costs (in the US-dunno about other countries) is to go for a park or other public space. they’re usually a very low fee or free, and often come with things like chairs. also check for places in your area run by charities that can be rented for events-they’re typically much more affordable, plus you know your money, like with the parks, is going to a good cause.

    in terms of other expenses-there are more and more wedding consignment stores and charities that help those with little money get wedding dresses donated by brides. search places that aren’t wedding shops; i got my dress off modcloth for like $150. decorations can be done super cheaply too thanks to places like ross, tj maxx, and tuesday morning. not a single decoration in my ceremony was bought at full price. you can also avoid purchasing at all by using things you already own or borrowing from friends, from nature, etc.

    food, for me, was the hard one to cut any costs. if you have a friend who happens to be a chef/baker/etc, see if they’ll work with you for an at cost arrangement or something else. otherwise, it comes down to how much things like quality and presentation matter to you, and whether there are serious dietary restrictions to consider for you and your spouse-to-be or among your guests. that will unfortunately necessitate higher costs. skipping out on an entire catered meal will help though, and having a potluck wedding would do tremendous things to lower cost, if you feel comfortable doing that. not doing the big cake but instead doing a single layer or cupcakes can lower cost.

    photos is the other one that’s hard to skimp on, in terms of money. i don’t have a ton of advice here. if you’re lucky enough to have a willing shutterbug friend who can be bribed with wedding leftovers or something, that’s the cheapest route of course and can be fun. there’s also the idea of getting a ton of disposable cameras and letting guests take all the pictures for you, then you develop them later to see what you got.

    good luck!

  11. Anyone have success renting a marquee/big tent for a reasonable price? We’re trying to buy one and cart it over to the US (we live in EU). We just got a quote in for $1500, which is more than our venue cost! It only needs to fit 60 people with no dance floor or anything crazy. Or do we just gamble and hope there’s no random summer storm (we’re doing it on the Atlantic Ocean in August)?

    • unfortunately renting tents is almost always crazy expensive. the only way i’ve seen them cheaper is if you can find them for rent/sale on Craigslist.

      • Thanks, we’ve been looking. Right now we’re considering buying & then selling on afterwards. Buying is almost the same price as renting & if we even got 1/4 back, we’d still be better off!

  12. I got married at the local park that we paid 40 to rent the shelter and it was on top of a hill with a beautiful view of the city area.

    I could have gotten married in the court house for only 25 dollars and the license cost us 40 so it depends on the area you are in.

    My red wedding dress ( got off of ebay) and his dressy shirt was under 100. The cake was ordered at wal-mart for 25 because I got a 8 inch double layer cake with like 24 cup cakes to match. we also got a few party trays and some soda, other drinks for under 100 as well.

    I also got two rose bouquets from a local food store and they had a sale buy one and get one free that day of the wedding and that was like 13 dollars. I used one for me and took some flowers for my daughter and the rest I put in cups on each tables that was in the shelter.

    I had fabrics to cover the tables and a few decorations that I got during the four months that I planned the wedding so the total cost was less than 400 and invited 30 but only 10 showed up so I ended up taking food home before going to the local amusement park for a couple of days.

    I almost forgot a co worker of mine took pictures and a short video of the wedding for free as long as I paid for the pictures and feed her lol which turned out great and the photos was beautiful. She does photography in her spare time so I lucked out.

    So the whole point is you can have a nice wedding without so many fancy details and on a low or no budget. You just have to decide what is most important and then work the rest with it. I know it can be hard and stressful but it can be done.

    And my wedding took place in 2009 so the cost has not changed much since. I hope this gives someone some ideas of how to have a nice wedding for almost nothing…

  13. My parents did a brilliant thing to lower the cost of their wedding – they had a potluck! Everyone brought food to feed a crowd. It was a huge success and everyone had a blast. My mom still fondly remembers the double-dipped mints my grandmother supplied. It required a bit of planning; they instructed guests to bring an appetizer, entree, vegetarian option, or dessert but it worked.

    If you couple that with having your wedding at your house, you’re probably going to have an easier time spending very little money.

  14. I love the idea of having a wedding that’s more of a house party. Maybe get married in the living room, set up some finger foods in the kitchen, and create a great playlist. There are a lot of opportunities for DIY and it would be perfect because you bought a house. A cookout wedding would be cool also.

  15. I got injured just 3 weeks after we got engaged and all planning came to a screeching halt. With surgeries and uncertain recovery and future treatments, we just couldn’t plan something big and far off in the future. I did, however, buy a dress knowing that would take the longest to get and have altered. A year and a half after getting engaged, we ended up pulling it all together in just 3 weeks.

    License was $25, we got married in our church by our pastor for $500, a local smokehouse catered excellent BBQ for 35 people at $320. We got flowers from a local florist, all deep red roses because they have meaning to us. Just so happens they’re very budget friendly – brides bouquet, mom’s corsages & guy’s boutineers total $240. Hubs bought a suit, shirt & tie. We had a best man and MAN of honor. They both had black suits in their closets, we bought them matching ties.

    My stepdaughter, a very talented photography student, took our pictures. Our neighborhood has a clubhouse. We used that for the reception at no cost. It included tables, chairs and a full kitchen. We put together our own playlist & tapped my tablet into the clubhouse’s sound system – no DJ. We bought random white tablecloths at thrift stores. For centerpieces, we bought random clear glass vases, jars & bottles at thrift stores and filled them with gorgeous fresh flowers from the grocery store. Our cake was 3 tier, beautiful and tasty for $65 at Sam’s Club.

    Total budget about $2,200. The biggest expenses being my dress ($800, bought and paid for a year before the wedding) and the church/pastor ($500). People still tell me it was the most beautiful wedding they’ve ever attended. I sang and a friend who plays with one of the big symphony orchestras, played violin. It was perfect!

  16. I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet in the replies but an important thing to remember is that the cost can be spread out over time – you don’t necessarily have to pay for everything up front. You don’t mention how far away your wedding date is? I got married 6 months ago and our wedding finally totalled €9000 ($10K) of which €3500 was covered by our Mums and the remaining €5500 we covered ourselves. (I certainly have never referred to our wedding as ‘no budget’ but it would be relatively low by Irish standards (average wedding cost in Ireland is €29K/$33K)). We cut out a lot of things that we didn’t feel *we* needed like a professional DJ, flowers, printed invitations or an expensive dress (just some examples), we called in a lot of favours – talented friends are a very valuable resource. We didn’t have €5500 in one lump sum as soon as we got engaged but we only had to cover deposits to begin with (i.e. photog = €100, restaurant = €100). So that’s €5500 between two of us spread over a year (depends on the length of your engagement of course!) As a lot of posters mentioned, the most expensive thing is often the food and drink (30 people cost us €1900/$2150 to feed and water) so a pot luck sounds like an excellent idea for your wedding.

    • I love the potluck idea, but I think it’s only an option if you’re getting married locally & most of your guests are local. I think if your family or your partner’s family are from abroad or way out of state/province, it’s almost impossible to ask them to spend the $$ traveling & then make it a potluck. I think when your parents & siblings & their partners are spending $8k between them to get there (flights, hotels, car rentals, etc.), you really cannot ask them to contribute anymore. And if one family is from away, no matter where you put it, a large group has to travel. So potlucks aren’t really an option.

      • That’s a good point, I suppose it also depends on the number of guests and how many people you have to feed, too. If there were *enough* local people willing to bring food it may cover out-of-towners as well… At our reception (a week later than the wedding) we fed 200 people for less than €2000 by hiring a festival caterer (bbq food: chicken legs/wings, vegetable skewers, little roast potatoes that sort of thing) I’m not sure that it’s possible to do it cheaper that without calling in favours! 🙂

        • So true! And that is absolutely amazing! I think we’re doing ours for $350-400 (hoped for budget, anyway) for 65 people & this includes main meal, salads, appetizers & edible favours, etc. My fiance is a chef & baker so essentially all food will be at cost + salary for someone to just lay everything out & do some running for us. My MIL-to-be is making the cake & bringing it on the plane! (We offered oven space, but she wants to do it at home LOL. She pretty much insisted, she does beautiful cakes & has done them for all her children’s weddings) But it will be enough to feed all the guests & that will be dessert instead. And since it’s a private venue we rented, we get to bring in our own wine, beer & bubbly (we’re not doing hard alcohol because we have a few guests who really like to do over do it, haha) and the liquor license is only $25 for the day (and I don’t even know if we need it because it’s a private place, have to call & find out). So we’re hoping the whole total will be well under $1000. But we also lucked out because a friend is a brewer for a craft brewery and he’s providing some custom beers for us. And another is a purchaser for a wine company so he’s getting us a discount & also doing our wine & food pairing for us.

          Every single guest is traveling (closest traveling time is 2 hrs), so we had to be creative with where we could save. Most people are a 7 hr flight or 20 hr drive away.

  17. This is such a great resource! While the reception will be larger (and the cost offset by our parents), FI and I are having the ceremony in a cave, as suggested. The cost is only $100 for the space and it includes a free tour of the caverns afterwards. Because it’s such a small space you can only invite the very few people who are most important to you and your fiancé, which cuts down on guest costs. In addition, I have to look for a tea-length or shorter dress since a full-length will get all scummy on the cave floor–also much cheaper than normal.

  18. A colleague jokingly made a suggestion, but I wonder whether it’s not actually a practical idea… If one rents a restaurant and ask a “cover charge” in lieu of a gift that basically covers the meal and venue costs, you effectively deal with two issues at once: (1) the guest list can be rather open and (2) the gifts. The couple doesn’t have to deal with a registry, the guests don’t have to awkwardly guestimate how much money to place in a little envelope (cf. that silly ‘cover your plate’ rule). What do you peeps think? As a ruthlessly pragmatic person I find this quite appealing.

    • I would be totally cool with attending a wedding like this and it makes a lot of sense. I just wonder how one would make it clear to the guests that the cover charge IS their gift. Because I could see people getting bent out of shape if they thought they had to bring a gift in addition to the cover charge. I also think some people would balk at the phrase “cover charge” so I think it would have to be made really clear that the contribution is covering the cost of the dinner and the venue or else some people might take it as being charged admission to attend a wedding and might think that it’s going into the couples’ pockets.

  19. 75% of weddings being 30K and under makes *way* more sense than the “average wedding is 30-40K” statistic I’ve been hearing for years. (I always wondered about selection bias — maybe a lot of the lower budget weddings weren’t interacting with the WIC in a way that would get them to answer a survey.)

    • I’ve read a bit about this, and the selection bias that you’ve posited absolutely exists. In addition, this is one of those things where the mean is not the most useful/representative of numbers; a small number of very large budget weddings really drive up the average. The median wedding cost is significantly lower.

  20. Hi Jeannette! I just got married two weeks ago in a similar boat. We got married for about $2,100 TOTAL–including rings, clothes, and honeymoon. By the way most people seem to count their budgets (i.e., not counting costs of rings and honeymoon), it was closer to $200. The key, I think, is to realize how much you DON’T need to buy. You’ll still be just as married at the end of the day.

    Some of my tricks/tips:
    – We scheduled time with a court-provided officiant–in my county you can make appointments and the people aren’t technically at the courthouse but in offices near it. These same court-provided people could also offered to meet you at a location. Officiant fee + wedding license = $80
    – We purchased rings from Etsy and I skipped the engagement ring–I wear only a beautiful band that resembles a wedding band, which I noticed a lot of women around me seem to switch to anyway a few years after their weddings. Rings = $1,100
    – I bought an adorable tea-length dress on Modcloth–and it just opened a new wedding shop! Though if I lived in a city with better vintage stores, I would have bought my dress there. Dress = $80
    – We wanted a very low-key honeymoon with time to reflect on our new status anyway, so we rented an upscale cabin on Airbnb within driving distance. Honeymoon = $800
    – I bought one bunch of daffodils at the grocery store the morning of my wedding. I wrapped three of them in floral tape (that the floral manager gave me for free from his stash when I asked if the store sold any) to make a mini-bouquet. We snipped a fourth one short and pinned it to my husband as a matching boutonniere. The rest went into a vase on my table to greet us when we got home from the ceremony.
    – Our “reception” was inviting about a dozen people to meet us for dinner at our favorite restaurant. Everyone paid for their own meal. Done. A potluck would also be a great idea.
    – I have an old, used DSLR that I bought months ago at a local camera store to play with. I handed it to my (non-photographer) friend and invited her to the ceremony. Instant pictures, and free, too. Incidentally, the camera only cost about $250, which is still less than hiring a photographer, so I would still consider it a deal even if I hadn’t already owned the camera. Or just find a friend with an iPhone.

    Things we didn’t have/do:
    – wedding cake
    – fancy dress I’d never wear again
    – florist-made bouquet
    – rent out some space for a reception
    – provide food for anyone
    – engagement ring
    – host any guests in our home (a tiny apartment anyway)
    – hire a photographer
    – hire a professional officiant
    – rehearsal dinner
    – book a ceremony venue
    – hire a wedding planner
    – buy a suit or tux (my husband just wore one he already had)

    Yes, our wedding was simple. But I remember it as perfect, and still one of the happiest days of my life. All the traditional events and trappings would have just been a distraction for me. I would have ended up worrying about pulling all that off smoothly and would have been disappointed if something hadn’t been right. I would have been exhausted and too stressed out to enjoy the day. Instead, I focused on myself, my husband, and our life change. My memories are of his giant smile, the beautiful spring day, the butterflies in my stomach, and all the warmth and love from our friends. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  21. I think it’s risky thinking of a wedding being zero budget, because there is no way not to spend some money on it, even if you’re doing everything at home. Cooking takes ingredients, crafting takes materials, having a bunch of people over takes heating and lighting and cleaning and man hours. If you start with zero, you end up spending negative money, and negative money is very easy to spend.

    In my line of work, I’ve seen so many people end up in wedding debt because once they’ve over spent by £10, it feels like a licence to overspend by £100, or £1000. They treat the wedding as a wholly separate thing to the rest of their lives, and then get thrown when it impacts on their household budgets. You’ve already overspent as soon as you pick up a couple of extra bags of snacks while grocery shopping, so why not get the premium ones, and the wine you actually wanted? You’ve already spent this month’s petrol money on running to the shops twice as often, so why not drive all the way out to the airport and pick up Uncle Vanya rather than tell him to get a taxi?

    If you have literally zero money, if your household bills eat your entire wage every month, then you’re going to need to plan really, really hard. You’re going to need to think about things like putting £20 aside to help with the higher fuel bills that month, spending £5 extra each grocery shop to build up a good supply of snacks, paying £30 for getting the suits you already own drycleaned. If you put what you can on credit, you’re going to need to factor those repayments into your monthly budget. Something may have to give, and perhaps you’ll sacrifice Netflix for six months to save up, or get off two stops earlier on the bus to save 50p in travel costs per day, or sit around the house wearing two sweaters so you don’t have to turn the heating up as often. If you budget for the invisible expenses, you can save for them.

    (frankly, even if you don’t have zero money, you don’t want to be staring at a massive bill in shock, because your fourteen bridesmaids used every socket in the house to dry and straighten and curl their hair, your washing machine and dryer have been running without a break for a fortnight, your grandmother had three electric heaters running in her room, and grandpa made breakfast for the entire wedding party using nothing but the toaster and electric kettle. No matter who’s paying for the wedding, that bill is all your own.)

  22. It is possible to have wedding with very little, it just depends what your aspirations are. We decided on a budget of £5000, which includes everything. We could do it more cheaply if we did even more things ourselves, but then with both of us being self-employed, time spent on preparing for the wedding is time not spent at work, so this makes little financial sense to us. We decided to do the bits we enjoy doing and have help with the rest. Some of the ways we cut corners are having a wedding at home, using compostable palm leaf plates, bring-and share food instead of presents, making our own wedding dresses, using what we already have (we dug up lots of vintage glass bottles in the garden, and we had a lot of old stuff just lying about), collecting gifted wine for the entire year prior to our wedding to form part of our wedding stash, using supermarket vouchers for buying the alcohol, sowing our own flowers, not having a honeymoon, buying everything used on ebay and selling it on afterwards to make money back. We decided to save up for having a Tipi just in case it rains, we could risk a wedding without this which would bring the costs down to just over £2000. Our wedding will definitely not be pinterest-ready, but it will very much reflect us and our rather eclectic lifestyle. If you literally have zero money, I suppose you will have to decide if you just want to be married regardless or if you want to have a wedding which you might need to save up for.

  23. It sounds like you’re trying to spend “as little as possible”. That’s admirable but the wrong approach. You need to set an actual money amount because then you have set an actual budget, which is easier to keep track of.
    You then need to allocate money from that total to different things, in order of importance.

    • That’s not necessarily true. My husband and I did not set an actual amount of money for our wedding and we also tried to spend as little as possible as that related to our own personal finances. We set up a joint account and made contributions to it from the day we got engaged. We did not charge anything wedding related to a credit card. We had clear ideas of how much we felt was “too much” to pay for a particular item or service.
      For example, we knew we were not willing to pay more than $500 for a DJ and if we couldn’t find one to fit that we were prepared to just do the music ourselves. So I don’t think that it’s totally necessary to say “We will only spend X on our wedding as a whole.”

  24. You can search by budget in the budget savvy bride. That’s the most useful site imo as they have real breakdowns of costs.

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