My husband and I got married and had a full reception for 300 guests for under $15,000. And no, it did not look like a budget wedding.
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. It’s the day you commit, in front of your family and friends, to walk through life with one single person. I believe that your wedding day should be so beautiful and fun for you and your guests that you and your husband get tired of hearing about how perfect it was (if that’s even possible). I’ve heard people say things like, “Your wedding is only for you and your spouse. If no one else has a good time, it wasn’t a day meant for them”, but come on people. Deep down, we all want our guests to feel like that day was as perfect and special as it was to us.
All of this can be accomplished, even for weddings with a huge guest list, on a budget. These are the strategies I used to plan my perfect wedding (on a budget)
1. Identify and use your resources
Family is a huge resource in planning your wedding. Your family loves you and wants to be a part of your special day. We had family help with parking (the lot at our reception venue was a field and didn’t have spaces), light candles, set out appetizer trays, and we borrowed lots of things from the family.
Don’t think you’re limited to businesses that you can find online. Especially if you live in a small town or around small towns, most likely some of the local businesses won’t have websites. The best way to find these businesses is through word of mouth. Ask around, especially to older generations, and see if they know of any wedding businesses. This is how we found both our decorator and rental company. They had both been around for years, but weren’t searchable on google. Hiring the decorator saved us a ton of effort and a ton of money. She was able to provide all the supplies and muscle to add beautiful, pinterest worthy details to our wedding. She also happened to be a florist and did our bouquets, boutonnieres, and corsages for a fraction of the price of floral shops. She was wonderful and truly helped us save thousands of dollars on decor and flowers.
2. Take suggestions from people who have gotten married
I know that as soon as you get engaged everyone you know will give you suggestions on which cake decorator to use, photographers they know, things they’ve seen at weddings, etc. While this can be a bit overwhelming, take advantage of all of these suggestions. Odds are, you won’t use all of them, but you may find a diamond in the rough this way. I had budgeted over $2000 for a bride’s cake and groom’s cake, but someone suggested a lady who had been making wedding cakes from a pastry kitchen built onto the back of her home for 40 years. I was really impressed by her work so we booked her. We ended up paying less than $800 total for both cakes! On top of that, the cakes were gorgeous and we had upwards of 50 people come up and tell us it was the best cake they had ever eaten in their life!
The trick with suggestions is to do your research. Know in your mind what your standards are (have high standards) and stick to that.
3. HAVE A PLAN!
I cannot emphasize this point enough. If you don’t have a plan you will waste money on things you don’t need and end up needing other things at the last minute which could leave you spending a ton of money or having to sacrifice quality. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Spend some time on Pinterest, decide what you want, make a schedule, and put your plan into action.
Plan your budget just as much as you plan the details. Break your wedding down into categories like flowers, food, dress and attire, venue, etc. Figure how how much is reasonable to spend in each category and keep track of your spending as you go.
Planning will not only help you save money, it will also make the entire wedding process less stressful. The week of our wedding I had nothing to do. Really. We spent the week doing things like mani/pedi’s and spray tans instead of stressing. It was lovely, you should do that too!
4. Be creative
When people talk about how to save money on weddings I feel like the overall look of the wedding sometimes suffers. Instead of pulling of a shabby chic look, the wedding ends up looking more like it was put together in an arts and crafts class. If you love that homemade look, then you should definitely go for it! Your wedding should be to your taste after all! Personally, that is not the look I was going for. Our wedding reception took place in a Texas dancehall built in the 1800’s so the venue was naturally very rustic. We dressed it up with lace, lots and lots of flowers, candles ,and chandeliers. No burlap in site. When picking what types of things I would dress it up with, I spent a lot of time thinking about what would be feasible for us and what wouldn’t look like we threw it together. I ended up ordering a ton of blue and white hydrangeas, ivory and peach roses, and white stock. We put these flowers into purposely rustic arrangements in undecorated mason jars. My family had about 80 Mason jars of different shapes and sizes and we filled them all. It was beautiful and fit into my look perfectly. It also made a huge impact on the overall look of the reception. I spent around $350 total for these 80 centerpieces. The only additional floral centerpiece cost came from the tall baby’s breath arrangements my florist made. I needed 14 of these and since she was only using baby’s breath they were only about $10 a piece.
5. Spend your money wisely
Make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck. If you’re going to spend money on it, make sure it’s actually going to make an impact. For example, candles make a huge impact and can be bought online for really cheap. Focus on things like that. I spent a little over $100 on candles and we had over 300 candles spread around on tables of all different shapes and sizes.
Take note though, if you are going to be buying things online, be cautious. I have friends who have ordered things like table cloths online that came and were not as advertised (i.e. too short, wrong color, etc). Make sure you know what you’re buying.
6. Look at the big picture when choosing your venue
The venue is where many people spend a good portion of their budgets, so choose wisely. Right now, the all inclusive venue is really popular. If you go this route, do the math and make sure the venue you book is actually going to save you money. Also, make sure you are happy with the look of venue without having to do much decorating cover up. Your venue should enhance the style of your wedding, you shouldn’t have to force that style upon it. You may end up spending a ton more in decoration than you originally planned if you pick a venue with the wrong style.
If you are choosing an alternative venue like a friend’s backyard (or an old dancehall like we did), will it really save you money? What other expenses will you have as a result? Think about things like table rentals, tent rentals, police officers, etc. Don’t assume that just because the rental price is very little or free that it will actually save you money in the long run.
7. Have a functional backup plan
This tip isn’t really a budget idea, but it’s something that’s really really important so I felt I had to include it. You need to have a plan in place if the weather is terrible. We planned our wedding for mid April. In Texas, April is one of the prettiest months usually. The bluebonnets are out, we don’t usually get much rain, and most days the temperature is in the mid 70’s. I still had a backup plan just in case the weather turned sour. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to scramble at the last minute. This can be really expensive or leave you with no good options. Help give yourself peace of mind and create a bad weather plan.
8. Make alcohol and drink selections with your guests in mind
Having a fully stocked bar is really expensive. Not having alcohol at all is a big money saver, but we have a family that enjoys to drink so we definitely wanted to provide alcohol. Instead of stocking the bar fully, we provided four different types of beers, one mixed drink (sweet tea vodka mixed with lemonade- a very Texas choice), and 1 white and 2 red wines from our engagement winery in the Texas Hill Country. Our guests really appreciated the choices and the busy bar made for an extra fun night and a full dance floor. When making this choice for your wedding, think about your guests and what they would like. Have a few options, but make them options people will really appreciate. Also make them reflective of you and/or your wedding theme.
9. Don’t blow your budget on catering
Serving a meal if you choose to do so, will be one of the most expensive parts of the wedding. For me, serving a meal was a non-negotiable. We had 300 people come to our wedding and we served a very Texas meal of chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and mac and cheese. For our crowd, this was a huge hit and everyone thought the food was just delicious. We even heard from multiple people that it was the best chicken fried chicken they had ever had! I feel that having a meal makes the wedding more enjoyable for everyone. The trick to saving money in this area is being selective with your caterer. Again, ask around and don’t necessarily choose the caterers you find on google. The caterer we chose came from a small town next to our town and they had been catering for years, but charged much less than wedding caterers from Austin. We had eaten their food at events before and knew it was great!
Serve from a buffet. I know some people will be appalled by this statement, but if you are trying to save some serious cash, this is the way to go. It would have been well over $25,000 to serve our chicken fried chicken meal with table service using this same, inexpensive company. That was simply out of the question for us. Buffet service can be beautiful, classy, and if done properly, everyone should get their food faster this way. Our crowd of 300 all made it through and were eating in less than 20 minutes. With the help of our DJ calling sections and 4 serving lines, the whole process was speedy.
10. Decide on your priorities
At the very beginning of your planning and budgeting process you need to decide on your priorities. Pick your non-negotiables. One of the things we decided was very important to us was photography. We chose to hire a great photographer and not hire a videographer. Instead we had a friend video the ceremony for us from the balcony of the church. Choose the things that mean the most to you and spend your money in these places.
11. Budget for unexpected expenses
No matter how well you plan, there will be expenses at the end that you just didn’t foresee. Things like gifts that you end up needing to purchase for everyone who was involved with your wedding in any way and tips for your vendors a lot of times get left out of the budget. Know that there will be expenses like this and leave some wiggle room in your budget for them.
While the budget is a really helpful tool, don’t let it overwhelm you or ruin the planning process for you. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you and your husband get married. Enjoy the process, and soak in this special time in your life. Focus on the successes in your planning process and let yourself get really excited for your beautiful wedding day!
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