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On Wedding Budgets (or How I Threw a $6K Wedding in the Bay Area)

With all of the wedding talk going on lately, I figured I'd share my experience as someone who recently planned and paid for her own wedding. I'd love to hear other folks' experiences in the comments.

When I started planning my own wedding, the most frustrating part was working on the budget. No matter what website I visited, I had some common frustrations:

  1. A lack of transparency about what stuff really cost. The $/$$/$$$ was no help, especially when I'd email $ companies and find out their "lowest tier" cost several thousand dollars.
  2. No clarity around what stuff should cost. Wedding budget calculators can be helpful, but telling me to spend 1% of my budget on X when my 1% was $60 wasn't going to work.
  3. "Low-budget" wedding stories that didn't account for all of the free stuff and connections. How wonderful for those people, but I think your $2000 wedding needs a pretty big asterisk when your parents just happen to own a coastal winery with room for 300.

I was lucky enough to have a month off work to do my research, but what I really wanted was some real talk about how I could afford a wedding on my budget, hence this post. :-)

Real Talk: Something's gotta give

If I were to make one generalization about planning a wedding on a small budget, it would be this: you have to choose between having every guest you could want or the venue of your dreams. There are certainly exceptions (like if your dream wedding is 3 people on a public beach), but if, like me, you want a traditional affair, one of those has to be compromised. The main rationale is math—the cost of feeding a large number of guests eats up a lot of the budget (imagine 300 people at $10/plate), and that's before taxes and service fees. Similarly, an awesome venue can include room rental fees on top of food and entertainment.

My husband and I chose the venue. Since we got married where we currently live (which is neither of our hometowns), we were able to limit the guest list without hurt feelings, and we liked the idea of one-stop shopping, which brings me to my next point…


Real Talk: Embrace the reception hall


Reception halls, golf courses, country clubs and the like have a reputation for being stuffy, outdated locations for weddings. All the cool kids are getting married in museums, converted warehouses, and lofts, plus reception halls are hallmarks of the pre-recession, Daddy's Princess, Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC) era. While some of that may be true, lots of traditional venues have the benefit of including everything you need for one price. I initially looked into some non-traditional locations, but the costs of furniture, silverware, linens, and outside catering (three of which would have little to no effect on my guests' enjoyment) put me off of the idea. I was also averse to investing time and labor into corralling all of the different vendors, filling out permits, making decorations, etc. Obviously I'm not saying you can't have a low-budget wedding in a creative space; just think about time costs and don't rule out the traditional.

Real Talk: DIY with caution


This one speaks for itself, but I certainly had to learn that just because I could make it didn't mean I should to make it. Fortunately, the things I changed my mind about didn't cost very much, but I still roll my eyes when I think about how I had my friend come over and help me draw and cut all of these bon-bon favor boxes, then ended up just using tissue paper when they wouldn't close. I also forced myself to be OK with things "looking" homemade. I made the invitations to save money, so when my mom pointed out that I left off the ceremony time, I laughed it off and counted it as a win, budget-wise. Same with one of my shoe flowers being slightly bigger than the other—sometimes we crafty types need a gentle reminder that it's a wedding, not a Pinterest competition.

I think if you talk to 100 different people, you'll get 100 different opinions on the "best" way to pay for a wedding. I can only speak from my own experience, but I'm not embarrassed to say that we spent what we could afford on my wedding, and we were fortunate enough to have the people we loved celebrating with us in a way that felt special. Now I want your stories! [If you feel comfortable], what did you spend on your wedding? Any other "real talk" advice you need if you're wedding-ing on a small budget?

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