It was June of 2018 when I told a group of my friends that I would much rather skip all the wedding stuff, save myself the possible $20k (or more), and just have a small wedding.

My unmarried friends looked at me with such understanding because many of them felt the same. But the married friends, they looked at me like, ya, good luck with that.

Fast forward to June of 2019 and my wedding is just over a month away. We’ve spent approximately $22k on our big day. And that doesn’t even include the honeymoon. Some might look at that number and think, wow, that’s not bad at all! Others might choke as they take a sip of water.

Here’s the thing about money and weddings—it really is true what they say—things add up fast and everything is more expensive than you probably think.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning—July of 2018 when my fiancé and I got engaged.

Yes, it was just one short month after I got done telling my friends I’d rather skip the wedding. Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.

Right after we got engaged, I turned to my now fiancé and said, “So what are we going to do about a wedding?” I could feel myself going back to that time I told my friends I’d rather skip all the wedding shenanigans because I didn’t want to spend the money.

But then feelings of doubt crept in, and I knew if I didn’t have some kind of party or special day surrounded by friends and family, I would regret it.

Despite his similar feelings about the cost of a wedding, luckily my fiancé felt the same. So we were having a wedding! 

This is where the story gets a little hairy.

We thought we’d be able to put together our day for approximately ten thousand dollars (looking back on that now, I can’t help but laugh). Remember earlier when I said we’re at about twenty-two thousand?

Well, I wasn’t able to cut things back to the point where we are only spending ten, but I did make some tweaks that I think made all the difference in keeping things…manageable?

Decide if you even want a traditional wedding.

After I got engaged, a good friend told me to forget everything society or tradition tells us we’re supposed to do for our wedding, and instead just dream up the ideal day for my fiancé and I. We envisioned a small ceremony and reception in the mountains of Colorado.

I think sometimes we forget we have options because having a big wedding is just what you do, right? 

Moral of the story, do what truly feels like YOU—it could end up costing way less than the big party you only had to please others.

Set a realistic budget.

This was my first and biggest mistake. I wasn’t sure what we were going to spend, so I threw a number out there—approximately ten to twelve thousand. 

Why was it the biggest mistake? Because it set an unrealistic expectation.

When numbers started creeping far past this amount, I had to sit down my fiancé and break the news. Neither of us were happy, but we knew we weren’t going overboard or being extravagant.

We had no idea what things were going to cost and we were unprepared.

Don’t be like us. Research the state/city you plan to get married in so you can set a realistic budget. Getting married in San Francisco, for example, is probably going to be more expensive than getting married in Wisconsin because vendors in SF will likely be charging more than those in Wisconsin. 

We didn’t consider this when we decided to get married in Colorado versus our home state of Nebraska, which would have been cheaper.

Choose three things that are most important to you.

Unless you’re not on a budget, you’re going to have to compromise somewhere.

So before you have to start picking and choosing, decide right away what three things you’re willing to spend a little bit more on while keeping in mind everything else you’ll have to spend less on.

At first, this challenge seemed impossible. I wanted beautiful invitations, memorable florals, amazing food, an open bar, the best photographer and videographer—oh, and don’t forget an incredible live band! Well, that’s more than three things.

Ultimately I decided on food, flowers, and photo/video (yes, I’m lumping these two together because they’re the same category).

I chose flowers because whenever I pictured our wedding day, I always imagined lots of beautiful greenery and florals. Food, because it was important to both of us, and my fiancé has to have a say somewhere (wink wink).

And lastly, photo and video because as someone who works in the creative space, I wanted to be sure our day was captured with a certain aesthetic in mind.

Leverage your friends and family (without taking advantage of them).

We’re getting married at a family friend’s home, so that helped offset the expenses we would have incurred renting a venue. I asked a family friend to build the wood arch we’re getting married in front of. We offered to pay for the materials, but he insisted he could manage and is doing it completely for free!

One of the best things you can do to stay under budget (or get back on track if you’re like me) is to reach out to your network of family and friends. If you know a really talented baker, ask them if instead of buying you a gift, they might be willing to make your wedding cake.

My sister is really good at makeup, so I asked her to do mine as well as the wedding party’s makeup. She not only said yes, but was SO excited to offer her services.

Most of these people would love to contribute in some way, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Keep it small.

The less people who come to your wedding, the less money you’re going to spend. For example, we’re expecting 85 people total on our day. This is slightly more than we originally intended.

If we were to have only 50, that’s 35 less chairs to rent, fewer tables needed for seating, less people to feed and provide drinks for, etc.

So even though we’re extremely grateful and excited to host our guests, keeping things more intimate would have saved us a decent chunk of change.

Find DIYs even if you’re not a DIY bride.

Trust me, I am not a DIY bride. You will not find me at my dining room table crafting for hours and making our centerpieces. But when you’re over budget and you need to find a few places to cut expenses, you get creative.

I decided to design our wedding invites myself and only paid to have them printed, which cost me about $100 including envelopes. I’m also making food labels for the buffet myself. Small tasks often feel inconvenient to do yourself, but end up saving you hundreds in the long run.

If you want to take things a step further on saving with your invites, skip the snail mail and send your invitations via email using a service like Paperless Post. This way you don’t have to pay for postage, which was our biggest invitation expense.

I know the process might feel a bit annoying, but here I am, just a month out from the big day and feeling… better… about our budget situation.

More importantly, though, I can’t wait to marry my best friend surrounded by the people who love us most!

Chloe is a Nebraska-based content creator who loves to cook, be outdoors and cuddle up with her two cats, Harry and Susan. When she’s not writing or taking photos, you can usually find her in the kitchen or watching Law and Order: SVU reruns.

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