Dream Beauty Photography

Photos by Christina

How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget Series

Step One: Know Your Budget and Stay Married to It

Marriage is hard—I know. Budget marriages are difficult too. To plan a wedding on a budget though, you must figure out your finances with your fiancé (and maybe your family). Where can you have the ceremony? How much have you saved? What type of wedding do you want? What type of wedding can you afford?

Fun fact: according to Business Insider, the average wedding cost in America is over $33,000!


When I started planning my own wedding, back in that mystical, mysterious B.C. time period (Before Children), I almost had a coronary embolism when I started calculating and seeing how expensive everything was (and still is). <Insert initial cost of our wedding>? I hadn’t even spent that much to Harvard accredited degree or my car. I’m used to shopping at Aldi. How could I ever justify spending $$$ cost of wedding plate per wedding guest for one day of my life?

Now, before you run off to your county courthouse, just know I didn’t spend anywhere near that much on my wedding, and you don’t have to either! My wedding was the most beautiful day in (Christina) history and I spent under $4,000.

The cost of a wedding really comes down to where you location (where you want to exchange vows) and desire (what kind of wedding you want). Before I help you plan though, let’s itemize the average cost of weddings so as to reduce sticker shock. I’ll season the list with a few cost saving tips to make the bill more palatable.

Pre-Postage Invitations: $150 - $1,300

o Easy way to save money is to just DIY, especially if you have a nice printer.

o Using Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, or Vista Print are also frugal options.

Rehearsal Dinners: $1,300

o After the actual wedding rehearsal, have the rehearsal dinner at the house of a friend or family member.

o Save the fancy food for the wedding. For the rehearsal dinner, just serve something cheap, yet filling, like pasta, potatoes, beans, rice, dog food, etc. K maybe not dog food. Canned cat food is where it’s at.

Dresses & Suits: $400 - $1,700

o Groom & Groomsmen: Yeah, you can save some by renting, but if you’re shelling out a few hundred to rent a tux from a formal wear place, consider going around the corner to your local or chain suit store and have a custom suit made for you. Then, you can just run into your closet and change into it like Darkwing Duck the next time you happily attend / get dragged to another wedding.

o Bride: I’ll cover how to shop for your dress in step three.

o Bridesmaids: Try something simple, like dresses from Amazon or even LuLaRoe. Aim to have the same style, but with enough room for individual uniqueness.

• Venues: $400 - $20,000

o In case you couldn’t tell from the price range, how much you’ll pay for a venue varies dramatically.

o The key is to simply shop around. It can seem like heresy to keep looking after finding the perfect place (with an imperfect price tag), but there’s beauty all around you.

Cake: $0.12 – $1.50 a slice.

o I promise I’m not being paid or blackmailed by the Walton family to say this, but Sam’s Club has a beautiful assortment of cakes in elegant styles for over 150 people that cost about $60. Just saying.

o Don’t be afraid to be different with the desserts either. I’ve been to weddings where the newlyweds serve cookies, donuts, peanut butter cups, or candy instead of cake. Wedding traditions inform, but you don’t have to let them run how you want your special day to be.

• Catering: $20 - $41 PER person

o The price of food for all your wedding guests can easily eat up a huge part of your wedding budget. Plain and simple.

o If you go with a traditional venue (like a hotel, banquet hall, country club), most require you to hire a caterer. To save money, opt to have the food served buffet style.

o If you pick an off-the-beaten-path for a venue, have your food brought in from a restaurant, or even have a BBQ. The last wedding I went to was BBQ style, complete with a potato bar, and guests had the freedom to bring food to share.

Step Two: Venue Vision

Because venue choice can be a huge factor in your wedding budget, here are a few questions you and your fiancé need to discuss:

• Do we want the ceremony and reception in the same place?

• Do we want the photos taken inside or out?

• Do we want a traditional or less than traditional wedding?

Keep in mind: price does not perfectly translate into quality. In other words, a beautiful venue can still be had at a venue with a cheap price tag. You would be amazed at what some table cloths and candles can do to a community room at a local church, for example.

Park weddings are inexpensive too if it’s the right season. You can always rent a tent and have the ceremony right in there! I went to a wedding once where the couple rented an entire camp grounds, complete with little cabins, and the reception was held in an area with lakes and mountain views. Very beautiful for very cheap.

Questions to Ask the Venue

1. Utilities—are they included in the price? (Definitely something to know during the summer, or else you might show up to your venue—like this one couple I knew—and find the place hotter than Hades because the manager never turned it on!)

2. Catering—can you hire your own or do you have to use the venue’s caterer? If so, what’s the price?

3. Cake—can an outside baker make it? (Believe it or not, some halls restrict this by contract, so if you want a certain baker or caterer, you might have to select different location)

Step Three: THE Dress

The main attraction. Whatever everyone comes to see. THE dress is going to be what you, the bride, wears for your red-carpet-esque event where everyone stands up for and you get to be the center of attention. You want to look memorably good, but at the same time, you don’t want to have to sell your kidney on the black market to be able to afford such a fine dress.

Therefore, find out when your local bridal shops are having sales. Then, find out when the not so local, smaller cities and town shops are having sales. SHOP AROUND. Some shops let you reserve the dress until the next day. Do it. Go back the next day and try on the dress again to ensure you love your look from all angles. Never buy a wedding dress at full price.

Second-hand stores are worth a browse too. Yes, you read me right. Thrift store dresses might just suit your needs, and no one will be the wiser! I can’t tell you how many brides have walked into a thrift store and come out with one (in a bag, not on their body…).

Step Four: Entertainment Entourage (aka Band or DJ)

Now, a DJ is a cheaper option for sure. A dude selecting music of a playlist is always a simple way to go. However, as a bride who had a DJ instead of live music, I can tell you I would have done things differently. Of course, some DJs are better than others. If you go the DJ route, ask him or her to see videos of their work to see how they interact with the reception audience.

Just saying though: don’t discount the value of live music on your special day. A good band can be perfect for your wedding, especially if you’re wanting to surprise your guests with something different. Make sure though, if you go the band route, that they are seasoned musicians with some degree of talent and experience and not just some dude with a guitar and a case to collect quarters in.

Let me pause a moment here to shamelessly promote my child’s godparents: Fun DMC is a game change if you are shopping around for a band and live in the Illinois region. https://www.fundmc.net/

Step Five: Discount Décor

Good places to hit up and check out for inexpensive décor for your wedding day would be: Dollar Tree, any thrift store, and your local Facebook marketplace.

The former two are great choices for the frugal. You can find vases, picture frames, and flowers at these places. Dollar Tree alone can be a one stop shop for brides. Again, I’m not being paid to say this, but Dollar Tree can even let you online order specialty items in bulk that they can ship directly to your local store. Also, if you live in a small or mid-size town, might be worth it to check out the Dollar Tree stores and thrift stores in the bigger cities since they tend to have a larger selection of more luxurious options.

I also recommend the vlog on YouTube @Doitonadime.

FACEBOOK Market place is a wonderful way to find thing quickly and for a bargain. Once, I assisted a bride in getting peacock feathers by simply making an ISO (in search of) post and connecting with a local farmer selling more than enough for her tables for much less than expected.

Step Six: The Photo Finish

As someone who owns <insert photography equipment jargon>, I might be just a tad bias, but with that said: hire a professional photographer for your wedding day. Here are five reasons why you want to hire a pro for the job:

1. Photography is more than just having a camera or a phone that can snap photos.

a. If you were a queen and wanted an epic painting of your coronation, you wouldn’t just entrust the task to anyone who can hold a brush. Like a pen to a writer or a hammer to a builder, the camera is just a tool. Photography is how one uses a camera to produce amazing shots you want to display and show off.

b. For your extraordinary day, in which you are surrounded by friends, family, and the love of your life, wouldn’t it be wiser to entrust someone with years of experience and scores of satisfied clients to capture the magical wedding moments instead of someone who just knows how to open their camera app?

c. This article, “I Regret Not Hiring a Professional Wedding Photographer,”

https://www.yourperfectweddingphotographer.co.uk/article/regret-not-hiring-professional-wedding-photographer/ is a good testimony to why depending on inexperienced family members or friend is something you want to think twice about.

d. Just as you probably prefer a licensed and experienced surgeon to take out your appendix instead of someone who just watched a Youtube video called DIY appendix removal, you’ll want someone who knows how to work a camera, especially on an important day like your wedding. You need someone who has the skillset to take photos in different light and dissimilar conditions, as well as someone who can compose a variety of shots that are executed perfectly. A camera alone doesn’t do this; a professional photographer with years of experience does.

2. Amateurs mean more work for you.

a. A real, proficient photographer has a history capturing weddings. They know the shots to take and where to be when the important moments happen.

b. An amateur might be able to do this, sure, but do you really want to be looking around to make sure your friend is there to snap the shot of you shoving the cake in your new spouse’s face, or is present to photograph the first dance? It’s better to leave the photography in the hands of a pro rather than babysitting an adult to take your pictures.

c. A professional photographer can anticipate what will happen next. He or she will know the flow of the wedding day and will have already found the perfect place for flattering bride & groom shots; he or she will know the location(s) for the best back drops.

3. Feeling at ease.

a. Your wedding day isn’t just one big photo shoot that you can simply pause, redo, or repose for; it’s a dynamic event that sometimes only has one chance to capture moment on camera. When you’re walking down the aisle, who would you trust more to be there: the friend of a friend off to the side, or a skilled someone being paid to pay attention and make you look good?

b. Even if you’re taking the posed shots, you want to be relaxed and not stressing out about the photos. A professional photographer can help you feel comfortable and natural, not stiff and awkward. Making the group shots fun and enjoyable is a skill that stems from experience. And when you feel at ease, it will show in your photos.

c. Read the article, “5 Ways to Know You’ve Found the Perfect Wedding Photographer (https://www.yourperfectweddingphotographer.co.uk/article/5-simple-ways-perfect-wedding-photographer/) to help you in your quest.

4. Plan B

a. Plain and simple: a person whose reputation and livelihood is on the line has more incentive to ensure that you get photos of your wedding day, come hell or high water.

b. I know a couple who decided that for their wedding day, they were going to save a few bucks by having a friend of a relative take amateur photos for free because she happened to already own a nice camera. Low and behold though, the day of the wedding arrives, and literally the hour before everything starts, the free photographer friend gets a headache and decides not to come.

c. No big deal, right? I mean, if you’re working for free, then that means you’re free to quit at a moment’s notice, correct? There was certainly no harm for the camera owner. To them, photography was a hobby and not anything with any sort of financial stake in their life. If that couple wanted to demand a refund or write a bad review, they would have wasted their time.

d. Thankfully, there was a happy ending to their wedding story. A beautifully talent and amazed photographer, who shall not be named, but whose name contains the same letters as the Lord and Savior of the world, Christ Jesus, fortunately was in attendance already and simply had to enjoy the wedding behind a camera lens instead of from a spectator seat.

e. But what if that adept photographer wasn’t in attendance? What if that second-hand friend was all that the couple had and they had to go start their wedding without anyone to photograph the bridal party, the ring exchange, or the altar kiss? Yes, emergencies can happen for professional photographers, but you can bet photographers—if they’re worth anything—will have a plan B in place to make sure your wedding photos are not only taken, but securely stored.

5. One Shot

a. Unless you plan on getting remarried (which is not a recommended mindset to have going into your marriage), your wedding day is it. The one hurrah and grand shebang; the one monumental day that you’ll probably ever live to see all your friends, family, and other loved ones gathered together in one location. A special day like any other deserves to be captured as much and as well as possible to preserve the magical moments and memories from that day. So make sure you entrust such a precious task to the right professional and person.

b. When your wedding day is over, the only tangible things to show that your wedding ceremony and reception actually happened will be the photos (and videos too I guess). I say this, not because you’ll have to probably deal with people challenging the history or legitimacy of your marriage, but to remind you that the photos will be your visual legacy and the only things that remain after all the wedding participants pass away.

c. Photos, especially those of your wedding, are things to cherish, talk about, and show to your friends, children, and grandchildren. Make sure your photo album is a treasure trove of positive memories and not an unflattering testament to how you should have hired a professional.

d. “If you reduced the budget on your cake and cut a few corners to make some

savings, hardly anyone would know and they certainly won’t remember, after

a week your cake will be gone. After your wedding you will have wedding

photos telling a beautiful story holding lots of amazing memories, you will

have this forever… Make sure you hire a professional wedding photographer.”