*Although this post contains affiliate links, I was not paid for this post and all opinions expressed are my own. For questions, check out my Disclosure Statement.*
Updated August 2017
It can be done, I know I’ve done it! When my husband proposed we didn’t have much. I was about to start my first year as a teacher and he was still looking for a job in the computer field. My dad, a small business owner, gave me a budget of only $3000! Which I was grateful for as I had no savings, basically just a hefty student loan hanging over my head! What little money we could scrape together between the two of us, we knew we would want to spend on the honeymoon.
We didn’t want to wait years either. My husband proposed in July and we married in November that same year. So, when people tell you it can’t be done in less than a year, don’t listen! I always wanted to marry in the Fall, my favorite time of year. Which meant it was either plan a wedding in four months or wait over a year and I was not going to wait that long! So, if you just got engaged on Valentine’s Day and you want a June wedding, it can be done!
With a budget of only $3000 I was worried I wouldn’t be able to afford the wedding of my dreams. I looked into destination wedding packages in Gatlinburg and Pidgen Forge, Tennessee. These were definitely within the budget, but then I wouldn’t have the church wedding I always dreamed of and the guest list would have to be small to fit into the package we could afford. I was also worried that having a destination wedding, even one in the south, meant not as many people would be able to attend.
So, knowing I wanted to marry in my home town and with my friends and family surrounding me, I dove head first into the planning of the wedding I’d been dreaming of since I was a little girl.
Bride’s Tip #1: Keep the bridal party small! I ended up with my sister for my maid of honor, my cousin as my only bridesmaid and a sweet girl that I mentored as my flower girl.
There are 6 main areas that will usually take the biggest chunk out of your wedding budget. They are the venue, photography, music, flowers, cake/catering and the dress. Other extras take up the rest like a videographer, hair and makeup, a limo, bubbles, printed invitations/programs, wedding favors, etc.
I’ll break down these areas into their expected cost and tips.
Bride’s Tip #2: Don’t use a wedding planner, unless it’s a friend doing it for free!
The Venue – $500 or less
I highly recommend locating a venue that will allow you to have access Friday night and all day Saturday. This way you can have your rehearsal the night before, the wedding and the reception all at the same venue. The venue we chose charged us $500 for Friday night and all day Saturday. It included access to the entire church building, including the kitchen and reception area and a facilitator for the day of the wedding. She wasn’t a wedding planner, but she was present Friday night for the rehearsal and Saturday to orchestrate the timing of the ceremony.
You will have to shop around. I wanted to get married in a church, but at the time the church we were attending was meeting in a school cafeteria. My absolute dream was to be married in the chapel where my parents were married, but for non-members the church was going to charge me an arm and a leg to be married there!
There are many venues that are in-expensive and churches are among them. The more historic downtown area churches will have a hefty price tag, so reach out to smaller or country churches. These churches aren’t going to be called about venue rentals that often and may charge next to nothing. I called some churches that were only going to charge me $50! Call in favors or use the word of friend that attends a church you are looking at. This way when you call you can say, my cousin or my aunt told me how beautiful your church is and I’m interested in getting married there. Make it personal and they may quote you less. But, you will also want to make sure that you look at the sanctuary and reception space first as some may leave much to be desired! It will also depend on whether you want a more traditional or contemporary setting. The church we chose ended up being half way being traditional and contemporary, which I loved. It was beautiful in it’s simplicity and easy to add simple decorations to.
Bride’s Tip #3: Make sure you check their contract first! One Baptist church had in their contract that I wasn’t allowed to play any music at my wedding other than hymns, even classical music was out. Also, many churches may have rules about alcohol and even dancing, so definitely check the fine print first!
You can also check into other non-traditional venues like community centers, a friend’s country home or a park. Some parks will allow you to marry without a reservation or fees as long as you are willing to use the natural setting as your backdrop and your guests are willing to stand during the ceremony. Stay away from advertised “wedding venues” as these will get quite pricey.
Another less expensive option is to get married on a weekday in the morning or afternoon. I’ve known a few couples who have chosen this option, but the trade off is that not as many of your guests may be able to attend due to work schedules.
Photography – $500 or less
Photography can easily end up costing you thousands of dollars depending on who you use. To get the cost down for photography there are a three options:
- The “New to the Field” Photographer: Find someone either still in or fresh out of school who is trying to add to their portfolio. They will be willing to work for cheap to gain much needed experience.
- The “Part-time” Photographer: This is the option we went with. We knew of our photographer through other couples who had used him for their weddings. He and his wife did the photography business on the side. He had a full time job and did the photography business as a paid hobby part-time. Because photography wasn’t his sole business and way to get bread on the table, his fees were much lower. We got a package for $500 that included CD’s with all of our proofs and the master disk. So, we owned the rights to all of our pictures.
- The “Friend” Photographer: This can often be a free option if the friend considers it their gift to you for your wedding. Be careful with this option as you don’t just want to put all your wedding photos in the hands of a friend who “just likes to take pictures”. Make sure you’ve seen and liked pictures they’ve taken in the past.
Bride’s Tip #4: With all of these options, be sure to look at work they’ve done in the past. You can always have them take your engagement photos as an audition of sorts to see if you really like their work.
Bride’s Tip #5: It’s okay to have ideas or suggestions of your own for shots that you want. My sister had a shot of her from above at her wedding and I always loved it and wanted one for myself. It’s your wedding, don’t be afraid to tell them what you want!
Music – Close to FREE
This is an easy one to do inexpensively. The most expensive option for music is to have a live band, next most expensive (and probably the most popular) is a DJ and third is to DIY it. Basically, you can create your own playlists and have them played through a sound system. In our case, it was a borrowed Karaoke Machine. The Karaoke Machine also has a microphone, so we were able to use it for the MC (my brother-in-law) to announce the bridal party and wedding couple. You can have a pre-arranged playlist with the reception entrance song, couple’s first dance and father-daughter dance pre-set.
For the ceremony music, also have pre-set songs played through the sound system. Another option, is to have friends of the family or relatives who play instruments to play as part of your ceremony. My cousins played piano and violin during the guest arrival time and a close friend played “All I Ask Of You” from Phantom of the Opera, during the wedding.
In case your curious, the songs I chose for my wedding were:
Bridal Procession: Pachelbel – Canon In D (I waited for the strings to walk in)
During the Ceremony Prayer: Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “All I Ask Of You” from the Phantom of the Opera – Piano Only (This version is by another friend of mine, Jeff Williams. He’s an amazing musician, so check out his Youtube channel for more!)
Bridal Party Recessional: Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty Waltz
Couple’s First Dance: Norah Jones’ cover of Elvis Prestley’s “Love Me Tender”
Father-Daugher Dance: John Mayer’s “Daughters”
Flowers – Under $300
This is another one that can be easier to spend less money on than you think! But, you can also easily spend way too much too! We only used a florist for my bouquet and my brides maids bouquets. We also kept the flowers simple, used in season flowers and kept the scale size of the bouquets smaller. As I only had two bridal attendants, this also kept the over all cost down. For my bouquet and two smaller bridesmaid bouquets at the time only cost about $200.
For the boutonnieres and decorative flowers, we used silk options. I purchased silk gerbera daisies and carnations at craft stores. I used the carnations for the boutonnieres and the gerbera daisies for my decorative arrangements. I also had bows made by a craft store, although with youtube these days, I could have made them myself for even less money. Check out this tutorial on how to make silk pew bows.
My bows that I had the craft store make were about $2 a piece. You can purchase silk gerbera daisies for about 89 cents each. Roses can run up to $5 a piece. I wrapped the silk bows around a small bunch of daisies and attached the arrangements to every other row of seats in the sanctuary. I loved the natural beauty of the church building I chose and kept it simple by adding few decorations.
Another great option if you really want real flowers is to buy wholesale online! When purchasing from a company like VivaRoses, you’ll get 100 roses for only $140!! I really wish I knew about companies like this when I was planning my wedding! You can easily create your own bouquets, decorations and centerpieces for far less than the $300 budget for flowers!
You can also find wedding bows for seats or pews inexpensively on Etsy.
Cake/Catering – $500 or less
This like photography can get pricey, but can also be done inexpensively if you choose the right options. Firstly, do finger foods instead of a full meal. If you want to serve a full meal, choose a buffet style over a sit down waiter served meal. Also, keep your guest list smaller. We ended up paying for enough food for 125 people, but really only fed about 75 people.
To go super inexpensive, you can do finger foods that you prepare or buy on your own.
Brides Tip #6: Schedule an afternoon wedding so that you are in between lunch and dinner and your guests will not expect a full meal to be served.
Bride’s Tip #7: Remember that only about two-thirds of the people you invite will actually come. We invited 125 and only about 75 came. Make sure you use some way to have your guests RSVP. But, remember some of your guests will RSVP, but won’t actually make it and some will forget to RSVP but will still show up anyway.
You can use the same options as with photography by picking a “newbie”, a “part-timer” or a “friend of the family” to cater your wedding. We had a friend of the family who gave us a discount even though it was her business. She pretty much ran the show for us at our reception too. She charged us $500 for the cake and food. This also included her reception area decorations. Make sure again, that you’ve tasted and seen their creations before you let them take control of your reception!
Bride’s Tip #8: Make sure you have a picture to illustrate what your dream cake looks like. I tried to describe what I was wanting and my cake didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined it would. It was still beautiful and a one of a kind creation, but just not quite my vision.
For the rehearsal dinner, there are so many options if the groom’s family is unable to help out. You can have it at a restaurant where everyone is expected to pay for their own food. You can have it at a friend’s house and do a pot luck type of set up. In our case, a friend of the family offered to cater as her gift to us. We had the rehearsal dinner at the church that we were already paying for Friday night and we kept it small with just friends and family involved in the wedding.
The Dress – $500 or less
Bride’s Tip #9: Watch out for the big name stores like David’s Bridal as they will draw you into their $99 sale and then make you fall in love with a more expensive dress. They also like to nickel and dime you with the under garments, accessories and shoes. It is also hard to feel like you are special when you are surrounded by a hundred other brides trying on dresses.
I found a cute little bridal boutique called Brides Atlanta in Douglasville, Georgia. It was small enough that I felt like I had all of their attention during my appointment.
Bride’s Tip #10: Be open to trying new things! I thought I would never in a million years want a strapless dress, but in the end it was the perfect style for me! You never know what will end up being the “one”.
What greatly helped was that I was willing to look at sale dresses from last season. It helped that I was getting married in the Fall as bridal season is in the spring. I purchased an absolutely gorgeous gown at a deep discount. It’s nice to find a place that you can walk into and say that your budget is only $500 and they don’t look at you like you are insane!
Bride’s Tip #11: You are allowed to purchase only your dress at the bridal boutique. You can pay to have it altered for less elsewhere. You can also purchase all accessories, under garments and shoes elsewhere. Do NOT feel obligated to spend more money than you need to at the boutique!
For instance, I didn’t wear a veil, but purchased a tiara at Claire’s.
Extras – Keep as close to FREE as possible
All the little extras could add up if you let them!
- Rings: I didn’t include our rings in the over all budget. Kevin purchased my engagement ring of course with his own money and my band was less than $100. His band cost me closer to $300, but I used a no-interest payment plan at Jared. Our bands cost less because we kept them simple and got them in white gold and not platinum.
- Bubbles: You can purchase bubbles super cheap from the Dollar Tree or Oriental Trading Company depending on the style. Simple Dollar Tree wedding bubble containers go for as little as 12 cents a bottle. For personalized bubbles from Oriental Trading they can run you about 54 cents a bottle. You could go really cheap like me and take passed down bubble containers from a friend’s wedding. Then you can just purchased Dollar Tree bubble solution and re-fill the bottles.
- Videographer: Have a friend or family member be the videographer!
- Invitations & Programs: Many people today are choosing to not send out invitations and programs at all. This would definitely be the cheapest option, but I liked having the memento. Using a printing service, like Vistaprint, will cost you the most and can run a few hundred dollars depending on who you use and how fancy you make them. The average cost on Vistaprint right now is about 70 cents an invite, which would be about $100 for 150 invitations. You can also print them yourself at home on nice paper or purchase a kit at a craft store. I just saw printable wedding invitations in the clearance section at Michaels! So, always give the clearance aisle a look! You can check out Etsy too!
- Officiant: Ask your current or childhood pastor to officiate the ceremony. They often will do it inexpensively or free as a gift to the bride and groom. Don’t forget to tip them though!
- Tips: Speaking of, here’s a Guide to Tipping you can check out. I’m actually not sure how much our vendors were tipped, as this is something my father handled, but you may want to include it in your overall budget just in case.
- Bride and Groom Slideshow: Often these are done to be played at the rehearsal dinner and in the background without music at the reception. I made my own using Power Point and made one for my brother and sister-in-law using Prezi. Check out my post 11 Tips to Create a Memorable Bride & Groom Slideshow!
- Hair and makeup: Skip the salon and have a friend do your hair and makeup! It’s much easier, more relaxed and can be done onsite and free!
- Attire rentals: It is customary for the bridesmaids and groomsmen to pay for their own dresses and tux rentals. But, you may need to budget in for the tux rental for your groom. There are less expensive tux rental options out there. Usually a suit costs less to rent than a full tux. We used Goody’s for our tux/suit rentals and they cost less than $100! They will also sometimes have a deal where you can get the groom’s tux for free when you rent a certain amount of groomsmen tuxes.
- Attendant Gifts: This is considered a nice gesture, but it doesn’t have to be pricey! You can find personalized gifts on Etsy that are unique and inexpensive. Check out these for bridesmaids and these for groomsmen!
- Limo: Nix it! Use your own car!
12. Wedding Favors: Either don’t do this at all, purchase inexpensive ones on Oriental Trading or make your own. In the 00’s the “in” thing was to make a couple mixed CD. So, this is what we did. It only cost what 100 blank CD’s cost then, but it took a lot of work to burn all those CD’s!
So, that’s how I planned a wedding for less than $3000! What do you think? Do you agree it can be done inexpensively and still be classy? Share in the comments section below and happy wedding planning!
*Although this post contains affiliate links, I was not paid for this post and all opinions expressed are my own.*