How I Had the Wedding of My Dreams for Less than $5,000 : Part 1

09 September 2013

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm really excited to share a bit about my wedding.  Even though it was a year ago, it was still a really amazing important memory that I'll always hold with me and I treasure every little detail about it.

I thought maybe I would just be really bold and start by talking about money & budget .  Money is a hard thing to talk about, it's something we kind of all try to keep to ourselves and I know that there is a lot of complications around the subject related to socioeconomic class structures and just even around individual morals.  I am not trying to minimize those things, but a good budget is just a key to any event.  And really I think it's something most brides struggle with.  I genuinely believe you don't need a lot of money to have an amazing wedding...or an amazing life for that matter.

Budget Wedding Tips!
The average wedding in the US costs over $25,000. That just was not a reality that I could afford nor feel that I wanted.  I'm frugal and I have a lot of other priorities to consider.  Instead, after a lot of hard work, I was able to have the wedding of my dreams, give my guests an awesome time, AND spend only a fraction of that. Sure, we probably could have spent more or we could have spent a lot less, but that budget is what worked for us.

The most wonderful thing that I learned in our budget wedding planning process was how important clearly defining our goals and priorities for our wedding was. There are so many sources of inspiration, so many things to buy, so much pushing you in many different directions when you are planning a wedding, but by having our priorities written out I was able to avoid those traps and keeping myself sane. It was sort of like writing a mission statement of the wedding. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, had trouble deciding on something, or just felt a little stuck - I referred back to our priorities and asked myself if my choices were aligning with them and if not, then I didn't need it.

I also learned that you should use what you have!  Let your amazing and talented friends and family do what they are good at!  Let go of the control and just realize how special it is to have their participation - in doing so, we got some amazing invitations, thoughtful handmade favors, beautiful decor, gorgeous hair and makeup, and an rad one of a kind manatee cake topper as a gift from my friends!

Here is the basic breakdown and where our costs were and how I saved money:

The venue is the biggest challenge, it will set the mood for the event and also set your budget in many ways.  We wanted to find a venue that was outdoors, had space for both ceremony & reception (to save $ and stress over having two spaces), had a flexible policy on food and didn't require certain caterers, and also didn't break the bank.  Not a very easy task, but this is the thing I probably put the most time into researching and it really paid off for us.

We found an amazing venue that was just a bit outside of the city, so it was much more affordable than most of the other venues we looked at & it also had a special amount of charm that I really wanted. I also loved that it was a B&B so our families and friends could spend the night and celebrate our first day as a married couple the next day.   As an added bonus, it came with all the tables and chairs we would need for the reception which probably saved me hundreds in rental costs.

As an added bonus: there were llamas.

My husband is an artist, so I asked him to design our save the dates.  He made these amazing little cards and I scored a groupon for vistaprint, so we decided to just turn them into magnets so our friends could just toss them on the fridge and really save the date.  With the groupon, we got 100 of these for $20.

Save the Date Magnets!

I learned a very important lesson - if you have a friend who is amazing at something, let them help!  For our invitations, I enlisted the help of one of my talented friends.  I told her that instead of a gift, all I wanted was for her awesome creativity to be part of our day.  She designed our invites and printed them onto simple and inexpensive cardstock and they were lovely.  We skipped the RSVP cards in favor of an RSVP on our wedding website which saved some postage and some sanity.

For the ceremony, we kept it really simple.  I lined the isles with cute little pinwheels to add color and a bit of playfulness.  At each seat, was a "goodie bag" - complete with a hand drawn comic/program, candy, bubbles, and a drink ticket.

Pinwheels for the isle

We aren't religious, so instead of paying a few hundred dollars to hire a stranger to be our officiant, we asked a friend to get ordained online and do it for free.  It was more special that way because I felt so surrounded with people I adored when I said "I do."

This is a huge part of any party budget and it was important to us.  We knew we didn't want to pay $30 per person for a boring plate of chicken and we wanted the food to be really special to us.
Wedding food truck!

We live in Portland, a city known for the food cart scene and that is something we both really love, so the answer was pretty obvious to us.  We choose one of my favorite food carts, Koi Fusion, to serve dinner.  It was a really fun treat for our guests to be able to customize and order whatever they wanted and it also took care of all the special food needs (vegan, gluten-free, my picky eater of sister, etc) & gave the guests an activity and allowed them to serve themselves.  The best part was that we got our costs down from the traditional catering cost of $30+ per person down to less than $7 per person while still having an amazing meal.
DIY cheese plate with cute little banners!

To keep the line in check, we had them make up a bunch of tacos & a bowl of kimchi, so that our guests could grab and eat right away (which ended up being inadvertently great for the budget because the tacos were so much cheaper than other menu items and many guests just got hooked on those). We also DIY-ed some appetizers and snacks. We got an amazing cheese selection from Trader Joes for less than $20. Also from Trader Joes, we got a few packages of broccoli slaw mix and just added their peanut sauce dressing and some raisins & peanuts to make a fresh side dish for $10. Chips & salsa are an easy super cheap addition.

Dessert buffet
For dessert, we didn't get a fancy $500 cake, instead we opted for cupcakes from my favorite cupcake shop because a) they are amazing and I'm really into cupcakes and b) they don't require any cake cutting service or extra plates.   We did have the cupcake shop make a small cake just so we could show off our cute manatee cake topper made for us by a talented friend and get the whole "cutting the cake experience".  I like dessert a lot, so in addition to the cupcakes, we added some variety to create more of a dessert buffet.  We ordered several dozen of Portland's famous Voodoo Doughnuts in all of their amazing & weird varieties.  They even let us special order a bride and groom and custom heart doughnut.  A little outside the box perhaps, but every one of our guests loved, it felt like us, it and it saved us a bunch over traditional wedding cake.

OMG! Manatee + Robomantee cake topper!

We struggled with the bar a little. I wanted our guests to feel treated and like they were able to party down, but I also wanted to stick the my budget. In the end, we decided to do drink tickets, but to make them really special and cute. We got tiny key charms and attached a note about it being the "key to your first drink on us" & then got a little nerdy by putting a T.A.R.D.I.S. on the bar for our guests to put their key into. We also went with beer & wine only because it was less expensive for set up.  I worried a lot about this, but in the end everyone had a good time and my friends ponied up a few bucks (or did some pre-gaming in the parking lot, who am I to judge?) to get drunk and understood that we had a budget and we all had a good time.

For non-booze, we had 3 kinds of beverages (cucumber water, lavender lemonade, and iced tea) in big self serve pitchers and had some metal ice buckets full of water and cute sodas to match our wedding colors.


I really thought this would not be an area I would splurge on.  I really like cute clothes, but I am really frugal - pretty much all of my clothes come from thrift stores and I generally hate to spend more than $20 on any one thing.  I looked and looked for used dress and I did not find the perfect one, so in the end I spent $500 + some altering on a new dress that I fell in love with that really fit my style and the feel of the wedding.  I know $500 is on the low end of the world of wedding dresses, but it seemed insane to me.  I am really glad I went a bit out of my comfort zone on this one though because as a plus sized woman with some body issues, it was really amazing to find the exact right thing that made me feel beautiful and I never once worried about the way I looked or posing for photos.  Money well spent.

We didn't pay for much of our wedding party attire, instead we kept an open mind and let go of the need to have the matchy matchy styles...or even the even wedding parties for that matter (I had 5, he had 3) and we were really supported with that choice. We asked his groomsmen to wear grey parts with a white button-down (figuring they all had at least one of both of those things anyway) and we bought matching ties and suspenders online for all of them.  I wanted my bridesmaids to feel comfortable and to be themselves, so I let them pick whatever they wanted to wear.  I told them to pick something teal and they all choose things that fit their style and their budget.

Along the same lines, I had two of my gorgeous friends take care of hair and makeup.  They both did amazing things with their own style, so I asked them if they might consider doing the same for my big day.  I had a pre-wedding wine and hang out session with each of them to test some things out so we were ready and then on my wedding day I felt so lucky to be so absolutely surrounded with people I loved and trusted so much.

...stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow! <3


  1. Wow! This was so much fun to read through, Sarah! I really like the choices you made for your wedding and I am taking notes! You were a beautiful bride, your husband is a wonderful artist, and I like the idea of drink tickets! I never heard of that before but it's SUCH a good, budget-friendly option! :)

  2. I love this! I got engaged to my fiance back in July and we haven't started planning our wedding because we have no idea what our budget will be like (low, hopefully) and when exactly we'll be able to get married. These are great tips and I have favorited this post and will come back to it as we begin planning. Thank you soooooooooooo much for sharing and you are such a beautiful bride! :)


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