I thought a lot about how/when to write this post. Mainly, I had a hard time writing it without including any of our lovely photos. Beyond the fact that showing pictures would require attribution to our photographer, we agreed that sharing pictures unless I would Facebook friend a reader would go against our anonymity preferences. On the other hand, when I read wedding recap posts that are mostly pictures, this post is what I actually would have preferred to read! We didn’t have an incredibly frugal wedding reception, however, I feel like people who do have this kind of wedding don’t talk about or acknowledge the costs and to me, the first step in financial awareness is understanding where your money went.
We eloped last fall. While we hadn’t strongly intended to get married, we also planned to have a “big” party (by big, I mean more than parents and a small handful of close friends) when we did get married. Eloping is the perfect option for many people and I really don’t want to rail on that. Our elopement was an incredible, joyous day that we wouldn’t change for the world, despite it not being what our original plan was.
Pretty quickly after we eloped, we started planning our big wedding. We knew that if we didn’t do it this year, we would never do it. Our initial “budget” was that it would be great if we could have a 100 person party in the city with delicious food and drink for $10,000 to $15,000. A generous wedding gift from one set of parents would have paid for a significant portion of that sum. I laugh at that figure now, but it was not a terrible starting point.
A Practical Wedding, the blog, the book, and the planner, were all very helpful in us figuring things out. We built our budget consciously by choosing whether a line item was important to us or not and if not, eliminating it. That really helped us ignore items that we didn’t care about.
On rings: when we got married, we bought plain bands for each of us. My spouse is really happy with his still, but it was quickly clear to us that I wasn’t. I tried on some fancier rings at a jewelry store in person, before we bought an engagement ring and matching wedding ring from a reputable online jewelry store. I absolutely love them and am so glad that we splurged on them. I struggled for a while with how expensive and unnecessary they felt for a time before buying them and then for months after buying them. A year later, I love looking at them many times every day and am really glad we picked this particular set.
We spent just shy of $23,000 on our big wedding reception weekend. The Venue & Catering portion worked out to $140 per person, which is about in line with what you would pay at this level of restaurant for appetizers, soup, salad, dinner, and drinks. If you add in the costs of our elopement, our post-nuptial agreement, my fancy rings, and our 2016 marriage tax penalty less our 2017 marriage tax bonus, we spent between $36,000 and $37,000 in the end on “getting married”. We used wedding gift money to fund our three week European honeymoon. That said, we are both really excited for a more frugal 2018.
We spent a pretty solid month late in the fall touring wedding venues. We looked at three in person before we settled on the one we picked. We picked it for its space, food, and many of the features of their event planning. I would really recommend going the restaurant route if you can find one with a space that works really well for your goals! They only required a $500 deposit and then we were set. We sent out email save the dates soon after that.
Eight months out, we realized we needed to nail down some more details. We picked a photographer after a quick consult with one ($480 deposit or about 30%), went to a local wedding event to look for other vendors (about $35 for both of us), booked two cake tastings ($45-50 each), and went to another cake open house.
Seven months out, we booked our DJ (50% deposit = $1,100), had the two cake tastings, booked the cake (50% deposit of estimate = $490), and I bought my dress! I went to two stores and found this one dress I really liked. A friend directed me at a consignment store, which turned out to have that exact dress in my correct size! I paid $380 for the dress, plus taxes and a sash.
Six months out, I had a consult with someone about doing hair and makeup and we paid a $200 deposit. I don’t typically wear much makeup or do much styling with my hair, so this felt like a splurge. It was really delightful though as we ended up paying for both of our moms, our sisters, and my MOH to have their hair and makeup done at our apartment with me. The person was really great with the scheduling and even finished ahead of schedule!
Four months out, we ordered paper invites once we had finalized the start time with the venue. We were doing mostly online invites, so we didn’t need very many. We originally search for five, but eventually ended up buying twenty, so we could give some to people as an option. VistaPrint has some great designs. For $57.82, we got several sheets of return address labels (so useful for thank you cards!), 20 invitations, 10 invitation envelopes, 10 RSVP cards and envelopes, and some envelope seals. One lesson we learned was that anyone who gets an invite wants an envelope, so we ended up buying some more envelopes later… oops! Another lesson: send paper invites to anyone 65+. Even if they can send and receive email, they don’t prefer to manage email. Your parents also like paper invites. And sometimes a sister will too.
Three months out, we bought a cake topper with our initials that we found on Etsy for $37.50. I really struggled at finding one that allowed for the concept of the couple having two last names – we ended up with one with just our initials on it.
Two months out, we paid the final balance for our photographer (a bit over $1,000).
One month out, the charges started piling in. We bought a guestbook for $69 on Etsy. We went back on forth on this a lot. I’m glad we have it in the end, but it could have easily been scrapped. I did a hair & makeup trial for $205 which really helped me to feel comfortable with how things would go on the day. The stylist wasn’t sure this was necessary since we were just doing a reception this year, but I’m so glad I did it! We bought another 10 envelopes for $5.45. We paid $7.53 for coffee while interviewing a potential photographer. I paid for the alterations on my dress which came in at almost the pre-tax cost of the dress itself at $362. We paid the balance of the wedding cake cost which turned out to be $490.
Month of, was the most expensive month. Once we’d finalized our seating chart, we bought place cards from Minted for $115 because it seemed very worthwhile to not have to write everyone’s names and table numbers on them ourselves. We bought some stickers for the cards for $2 and some pens for the guestbook for $14. We paid the balance of the DJ cost ($1,100). We paid the full price for our new photographer of $3,325 all at once. That stung a bit to do the month of! We spent $66 copying and printing family wedding photos (we displayed parent & grandparent wedding photos, which was a surprisingly time consuming project to do the month of the wedding) and $48 buying six frames for them. We ordered appetizers ($145) for our cash bar pre-wedding drinks with out of town friends at a local bar with a separated area that we could reserve and spent $50 on our drinks that night (other people bought us drinks though). I do not recommend booking your Saturday night rehearsal dinner two weeks before your wedding. Our previous photographer refunded our last payment ($1,100). We paid $128 for one sister, my MOH, and the tips on mine and my mom’s to have all of our nails done the weekend of the wedding. We hosted a family dinner at our house one night which involved some unknown quantity of money out of the grocery budget. We spent $98 on transportation that weekend, which wasn’t the full retail cost as I got some Lyft credits from referring wedding guests. We paid the balance of the hair & makeup cost ($808) and the actual final DJ invoice ($450). My spouse got his hair cut the day of (~$45), but he paid for that out of his personal money. Lastly, we paid the balance cost to the venue of $11,300, which covered all of the food and drinks.
Month after, we bought photo thank you cards from Minted for $124 and printed guest photos for $7. This was again worthwhile because they address the envelopes for you! We successfully mailed them all within 2.5 months of the wedding.
We ordered wedding albums for each set of our parents as Christmas gifts this year and then used some wedding gift money to order one for ourselves. We can’t wait to get the one for ourselves after seeing the first parent album!
Some non-money thoughts:
After a lot of thought, we included non-teenage children with all invites. (Part of the logic there was that age 12 and below, it was cheaper to order them food.) It worked out to five children under five in attendance, which was fine. This worked out for our crowd. Had we been having a ceremony or had more potential children on the invite list, this could have gone very differently.
We hired our original photographer based on word of mouth, a quick meet, and enjoying her photos. When we realized it was a bad fit, we then had consultations with three potential candidates. That really helped us to make a better decision the second time around and we are really happy with the photos that we have now! The original one elected to reimburse us for our final payment and so we decided to not write a review at all.
It was really, really awesome to have many of our friends and family in one place at one time. Our siblings all met for the first time. I doubt that we will get that assortment of people together ever again and it was very fun.
We both thought it was atrocious for bridesmaids to endure so much costs, which is part of why we paid for all of the women to have hair and makeup done. We each only had one wedding party type person and we didn’t require them to wear anything in particular.