Our Wedding Story
This is how we planned a wedding on a $5000 budget. My husband, Tad, and I are college sweethearts from George Mason University. We got engaged our senior year in college. I was so excited to think about wedding plans. We were 21 years old and hadn’t moved out of our parents house yet and needed to figure that out first. We enjoyed being engaged and focused on graduating college.
In the meantime, I would drool over the wedding websites and magazines. What can I say, I’m an American Girl. 🙂 We agreed then we wanted to have a simple and inexpensive wedding so we budgeted $5000.
To prepare for my wedding I started creating my wedding planner. The book with pictures and magazine cut outs of what I wanted our day to be like.
My dream wedding.
Here is the thing though: Even though I had just gotten engaged, I already had my wedding dress.
(No, it wasn’t my mother’s dress.)
My $300 Wedding Dress
Earlier that year my Mom had gone to a department store and when she went up the escalator she saw the dress on display. It was beautiful.
Taking a step back in time to several years before I got engaged, while I was looking for prom dresses I had tried on the same beautiful dress but it was of all colors…peach.
It was a beautifully made dress and looked amazing on.
My Mom and I both joked when I tried it on that it would be a perfect wedding dress.
Back to my Mom’s trip to the department store: there it was in off-white, right at the top of the escalator! She called me immediately to tell me.
The conversation went something like this:
“Holly, you won’t believe what I just found! It is the dress just like you tried on and it is off-white.”
I’m on the other end, “Mom, what are you talking about?”
In the most sweet and excited voice she replied, “The peach dress. It’s off-white. It would be a perfect wedding dress.”
My eyes lit up and I replied, ”No way! How much is it?”
She replied, “$300, and they have several sizes.”
I said, “I will be right there!”
For background, my father had passed away just a month before due to a heart attack. This was a very difficult time for my Mom and me. In December, he had a heart attack and then had gone through multiple surgeries and ups and downs during that time and just never recovered. Then on top of that, my Mom and I had been going through the finances and trying to figure out what we were doing.
Buying a wedding dress was not a priority of mine. Nor should it have been.
I think find the dress was a sign. I had savings and I knew I could afford the dress. I thought that who knows maybe when I try it on, it might not be the right one.
I remember going to the store and thinking this is crazy.
- Tad hasn’t even proposed.
- I’m only 20.
- It’s $300. I don’t need a $300 dress.
I had to try on this dress. So, I did. I fell in love with it. I knew it was the one. I mean I knew Tad was the one, but this was the dress that I would get married to him in 🙂
I bought my dress for $300 + tax.
I called Tad and said, “Sweetheart, no pressure or anything but I just want to let you know I bought my wedding dress.”
His reaction was, “Okay.” and a pause. “Can I see it?” (He’s always playing it cool)
I immediately said, “No, that’s bad luck.”
It’s true, and he was very patient. He didn’t see the dress until our wedding day in 2002.
Graduated College, Bought a House and Planned a Wedding
We graduated college and looked for a place to live. We realized that renting is very similar in cost to buying a house at the time so we decided to buy a house. Besides having school loans and a car loans that added up to about $30,000 we put a small down payment on a townhouse and we became proud new homeowners. We were thrilled!
Proud new homeowners with debt and a mortgage. That was scary.
We were blessed at the same time to have each other. Everyone wanted to know when we would get married. We did too.
This is when it gets entertaining.
We decided at a family gathering for Father’s day to get married in early October.
Father’s day is in June. Early October is 3 months away!
Planning a Wedding in Under 3 Months
Yup! We planned a wedding in under 3 months. It was the best decision we ever made, except of course picking each other.
I had a dress. He had a tux that he bought years ago thanks to several sorority events I had him go to.
We just needed everything else. It can’t be that hard, right?.
The best part we had the location for free: Tad’s grandmother’s house. That was a huge plus!
Based on info from all my friends and co-workers, planning a wedding was going to take a year and cost $20,000. I didn’t want to spend anything close to that. We didn’t have that like of money. We had debt and a mortgage now. We had starter jobs. We didn’t want to go into any more debt.
First, we got married on the water. I mean the ceremony was on the lawn about 100 feet from the river at Tad’s grandmother’s house. Well, a boat in the water saw the ceremony and honked and shouted! That was so funny.
Then the wonderful local judge, a friend of the family, who married us forgot to tell the audience to sit down. So they didn’t. In the wedding video that we recorded, everyone standing so you couldn’t see the ceremony.
Then when the judge said the vows for me to repeat, he gave me the vows so fast, I was so tired and fuzzy brained that I needed him to repeat them. Hahha!
You know what!? It was perfect, flaws and all.
We had Tad’s grandmother and Tad’s Aunt each do a reading. The vows were just beautiful.
It was a very short ceremony. So no one was bothered that they were standing.
Setting a Wedding Budget
First thing we did was set a budget, a very tight budget this is how come we had a simple and inexpensive wedding. We talked to our families to find out what they could do to help as a gift for us.
We had a beautiful outdoor wedding with 55 people.
Based on my records here is approximately what we spent on our wedding in 2002:
- Officiant Fee/Gift $50.00
- Marriage License $55.00 – We got married in a small town that was out of state. After talking to the county officials, their license was really easy to obtain and it was valid for a long time compared to our local county.
- Cake $150 – My mom’s friend’s daughter happened to get married in June near the same location. We asked her for the list of vendors she used. We went to the same cake maker and florist. I loved the cake that the cake maker had made for this friend’s wedding and asked for a smaller version for our wedding. It was so easy to say exactly what we liked. We didn’t even need to make a visit for a tasting!
- Reception Food $350.00 – One way to reduce cost was to create a buffet ourselves. Tad’s Mom helped coordinate this part of the wedding and discussed different foods that could easily be served.
- Liquor/Bar $450.00 – We did hire a bartender, but we were able to provide our own alcohol. We definitely underestimated the cost for the bar and we had to have a family member make a run for more drinks during the reception (We had a generous bartender)
- Renting a Tent, chairs, linens and dance floor $1,600 – My Mom and soon to be step Dad contributed to this part of the wedding and it was beautiful. We didn’t know if we were going to have an outdoor wedding or have it in the tent. We were prepared. We learned about the company through the friend of the family who had gotten married in the same area.
- Harpist – As a wedding gift, my Mom also paid for a harpist to play for the wedding ceremony. It was magical.
- Ice $50.00
- Kitchen Help/Bartender $300.00 – We asked via friends of the family around for people that lived in the area who could help
- Candles $12.00 – We bought a couple candles and holders for the centerpieces from Ikea. We still have them.
- Champagne Glasses $35.55 – Unlike the other glasses and plates, we couldn’t rent the champagne glasses. I’m guessing since they are so fragile. I still can’t believe they cost this little. We had to purchase 50 champagne glasses. You can still buy them at Ikea. We kept some of them and gave a lot away.
- Plastic Drinking Glasses $15.00
- Guest Book $0.00 – I made our guest book out of fabric and cardboard that I had on hand and had the signatures so I could make a homemade quilt. You can see it to the right of the cake. That is on my to do list still. It will happen. My daughter and I were talking about this and we will start working on it soon.
- Headpiece/Veil $7.25 – I made my veil. It was very simple and I found the supplies at Joann fabrics.
- Hairdresser $50
- Flowers & Decorations $425 – A dear family friend of the family offered to pay for the flowers. I had beautiful cream roses with lemon leaves attached as bouquets. The bouquets were used as centerpieces during the reception.
- Tulle for Chairs $10.00
- Photographer $750.00 – We had the best photographer. We wanted someone who could do digital photography. We knew we couldn’t afford the big formal photo books. He offered to take photos all day PLUS gave us full access to all of the photos so we could make our own photo books and order prints. They are beautiful! He later took the photos at my Mom and step-Dad’s wedding.
- Cameras $50.00
- Stationery Invitations $117.00 – I ordered my invitations online which for the time was still unusual. Then would be printed and shipped to me and I could do hand calligraphy. They turned out really well. I did try to be fancy and use wax seal but the seals didn’t last in the mail. Lesson learned.
- Thank you notes $40.00
- Cover Stock and Envelopes $14.65
- Stamps for Invitations $38.80
- Wedding Rings: $400 – We purchased our rings online and saved a lot by doing so. We wanted simple platinum bands. They turned out beautiful.
- Gifts Bridesmaids $80.00
- Groomsmen $40.00
- Total for Wedding Expenses $5095.02 – There were probably a few other things, but that’s it.
Bridesmaid dresses and Tuxes
I was not a fan of making my bridesmaids spend a lot on a dress they would wear once. We were all young either still in college or just starting out so money was tight for us all. My colors for the wedding were a light sky blue and cream. So I had them look for a light sky blue dress that was long. I didn’t care if they didn’t all match. Two bridesmaids bought each one on sale, one found one in her closet that was a former prom dress, and one borrowed one from a friend. They were beautiful! So simple and inexpensive.
Tad and I knew since we were on a budget we had to think outside the box. Like reusing the bouquets as centerpieces. We also decided to do our own music. We weren’t fond of bands and DJs so we set up a laptop and played MP3s that we enjoyed. We had a nice selection including big band music. It was perfect!
Dance lessons thanks to a video from the library
Instead of taking dance lessons we checked out a dance video from the library and practiced the waltz in our family room. It was so much fun and free!
Due to the cost of renting the chairs we used the same rented chairs for the ceremony and reception. While we were getting our pictures taken after the ceremony, some people helped move the chairs to the reception tent.
We had a wonderful day but it came with a few hiccups. What wedding doesn’t?
Our wedding was at noon which seems to be unusual nowadays most weddings are in the afternoon or evening. We decided we didn’t want to wait all day. That meant we had to do all of the prep that morning, and fast. Well unknown to me that morning (I was getting my hair done) was that the company that was bringing the linens didn’t come until after 11. My family was not sure if they were going to show up in time. They did show up though!
About that same time, Tad was walking near the garden with his dad and mentioned that an old telephone pole should be taken down because it would be in the photos. So he fired up a chainsaw and cut the pole down just about an hour before the ceremony!
The Best Story
Tad’s best friend was in the army and was being deployed. He was told he had to report to base that day and couldn’t make the wedding. So we had to rearrange and Tad’s dad take on best man role. Apparently, when Tad’s best friend showed up on base and told his superior officers about the wedding they said he could go so he rushed to the wedding. Tad had him surprise me. It was fantastic to have him in the front row!
It was a beautiful ceremony. I do chuckle that a couple fun things happened.
Can you do a wedding on a tight budget?
Of course. We could have made it cheaper in many ways but you know what it was so special to be with all of our family and friends and it was exactly what we wanted. We have the same memories as if we had splurged on any of the items above, and the photos are the same.
For your wedding, do what you want to do.
If you want to spend more or less then plan for it. I suggest you don’t go overboard since a wedding is one day and a marriage is a lifetime and we were so thankful that we didn’t go into more debt because of our wedding, we did it for around $5000.
What is your wedding story? What was your budget? What hiccups happened on your special day?