How We Threw A Chic, 200-Person Wedding On An $8,000 Budget

The average age for a woman to get married in the U.S. is nearly 28. I just got married in May of 2019 at the age of 21, just three weeks after my college graduation. And according to The Knot, the average U.S. wedding now costs around $30,000.

My husband (a 22-year-old, also below the average marrying age) and I planned our wedding and related festivities on a budget of just $8,000, which we were privileged enough to receive from our parents — a luxury many do not have. Regardless, we were working with a small budget when compared to today’s standards.

Big weddings are not for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay. For the cost of a marriage license, we could have gone to the courthouse with a witness, and that would have been just as much of a wedding. However, it was really important to us to threw a celebration that all of our friends and family could take part in. For a guest list of 200, that meant some serious money-saving moves.

Here are six ways we made our wedding budget work for us, and made the day as sustainably chic as possible as well:

1. Actually Budget Out Your Budget

It may seem like common sense that your budget should actually look like a budget, but I am completely serious: do not decide how much you are willing to spend on your venue or dress in the moment. Not doing your research and dividing your wedding budget into categories ahead of time could end up costing you thousands more than you plan on spending.

Once we knew how much money we were working with for our celebration, we made a spreadsheet budget where we listed each different vendor or category (e.g. venue, decorations), the total amount we estimated each line item would cost us after getting quotes, how much we had already paid toward that item, how much we had left to pay and how much we planned on giving out in tips. Knowing where exactly we planned on spending each penny allowed us to decide where to cut costs and what needed to stay. This also provided for a stress-free honeymoon, not spent worrying about overdraft fees on our checking accounts from all of the wedding-related expenses.

We also learned some financial lessons. Since our parents helped us with wedding costs by giving a lump sum of money soon after our engagement, we were in control of how we used our funds. If we ran out of money, the burden would be on us. While stressful at times, that experience was incredibly beneficial to us in the long run, providing us an opportunity to start talking about money with each other and practice living with merged finances.

2. Ditch the Saturday Night Fever

The venue you end up with can make or break the rest of your budget and has a huge role in determining the look and feel of your wedding. Knowing others who had spent thousands of dollars on their venue alone, we feared at first that our options were slim. However, there are many venues that don’t have a markup, if you are just willing to think outside the box of a traditional wedding venue. By finding a venue that wasn’t marketed as a “wedding venue,” but still had all of the major amenities we were looking for, we saved thousands of dollars.

Additionally, many venues will offer a discount for non-Saturday events. By having our wedding on a Sunday, we saved an additional $500.

Of course, before you commit to an alternative venue and/or day of the ceremony, there are a few things you should keep in mind in order to make sure that you are actually going to save money. While an alternative venue is a great option for many, you need to make sure that additional costs of a venue, such as chairs, tables, and catering, don’t add up to more than the all-inclusive wedding packages that many traditional venues offer. If you are going to go all DIY, make sure the amount you are saving is worth your time and energy.

Additionally, when considering a day other than a Saturday, think about how it will impact the guests you have invited. Some may need to travel for a couple of days just to make it to your ceremony and back. Luckily for us, most of our guests lived within a few hours, and we were able to score the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend so that most of them also had the next day off of work and school. Once we researched additional costs and double-checked our calendar, we were set to have our Sunday evening wedding at a beautiful campground complete with a wooden lodge in the green forests of Oregon.

3. Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

While you still want to give your talented friends the option of being “just” guests at your wedding, many may be honored to be included in your nuptials in a special way. The photographers, videographer, baker, DJ, day-of coordinator, hair stylist, officiant, and ceremony musicians were all friends and family of ours. Including so many people we love in our list of vendors made our day even more special because it felt like a true community celebration. And because only so many people can be in your wedding party, this is a great way to include other friends and celebrate their talents.

While you should never assume that your friends are going to photograph or coordinate your wedding for free, they may end up offering you a discount on their services. However, you should be careful never to assume or ask for this, as doing so could guilt them into missing out on a large chunk of their main source of income.

If you want to ask your friend to be one of your vendors, offer and be prepared to pay them full price for their services. If they choose to offer you a discount, great! If they don’t, then you are still winning, because you know that your friend will be genuinely invested in how your wedding turns out. We were lucky enough to have some of our friends offer their professional services as wedding gifts. If your friends do the same, just be sure to thank them profusely!

4. Say “Yes” to a Consigned Dress

One of the ways I was able to rack up some serious savings was by choosing an alternate route to purchasing my wedding dress. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something *used*. Isn’t that how the saying goes? If so, I think I found the perfect solution: consigned wedding dresses.

There are a myriad of shops across the U.S. and internationally that sell floor model or once-worn gowns at a steep discount. Many shops even support a charitable cause, such as reducing exploitation of women, providing relief to single mothers, or promoting opportunities for women’s education and women in the workforce. I chose to go shopping at Blue Sky Bridal, where brides can place their own used wedding dress in the shop and earn a sizable commission if it is sold. The Portland, Oregon shop had so many dresses to choose from in all sizes and styles, and almost all of them were tagged at under $1,000. The consultants were fun, professional, and super helpful in the process. The shop also had a beautiful aesthetic, complete with chandeliers, which made me feel as if I was at any other high-end bridal boutique.

Additionally, by purchasing a consigned dress, we were able to not participate in the impact on the environment and potential unfair labor that would have gone into the creation of a new one.

5. Go Green

While we did aim to make our wedding as environmentally-friendly as possible, with things like compostable plates and bamboo cutlery, what I mean here is actual greens. You’ll see bouquets full of leafy eucalyptus and ferns all over Instagram and Pinterest, and they are the perfect way to make your floral budget go far without sacrificing on the size and impressiveness of your arrangements. We were able to save hundreds of dollars by selecting mostly a mixture of frosty greens for our bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, arbor display, and table arrangements. To add some vibrancy to the minimalist look, we added in some large garden roses as well as hanging ribbons on the bouquets to match our wedding color scheme, candles in jars to the greens on the tables, and a drapery to the arbor display. These minimalist bouquets looked classy and saved us money for other things, like local hard ciders and IPAs to drink!

6. Dig for the Right Diamond

In 1947, an ad agency debuted the slogan “A Diamond is Forever” with their De Beers account. The slogan made once-unpopular diamonds into an emblem of enduring love, eventually showing up in popular books, films, and songs. Today, diamond engagement rings are viewed as a long-standing tradition. However, the popular gem has only been a symbol of love for a little over 70 years. This may seem like a small shift in symbolism, only relevant to advertising folks on Madison Avenue. However, this slogan triggered the boom of an entire industry. As of 2014, the global diamond industry is an $81.4 billion industry, employing nearly 10 million people.

Not only can the purchase of diamond engagement rings and wedding bands force you to shell out several months’ worth of income, but there is also a dark side to the diamond industry. “Blood diamonds,” or conflict diamonds, are diamonds mined in war zones, sold to fund military action. In addition to mined diamonds funding military action, the practice also exploits workers and leads to environmental damage.

So if couples still want to go the route of traditional engagement rings or wedding bands, but are concerned about the harm that their purchase could bring to others, the environment or their own savings, what are their options?

Buying diamond jewelry with a fair-trade company or with diamonds mined in conflict-free countries, like Canada, can ease your burden of wondering who was harmed in the mining of your gem  —  but you will pay a hefty price for your clear conscience. Another option for ring-searching couples is to go with an alternative stone. Though a diamond is forever, it doesn’t mean that a different stone can’t be a symbol of your enduring love. Besides, alternative stones such as sapphires, pearls, and rubies can be more unique, just like the unique love the two of you share.

A great alternative for those who still want a diamond, but can’t afford to shell out thousands for a conflict-free stone, are lab-grown diamonds. These stones have the exact same chemical make-up as mined diamonds at a fraction of the price. While your wedding rings should financially be considered investment pieces, it doesn’t mean you have to spend several months’ worth of income on them.

Reagan Wiltfong is a 20-something writer and content creator living and working in the Seattle area. As a recent college grad and newlywed, she is figuring out all things adulting while she explores the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When she isn’t typing away on her latest project at reaganmckenzie.com, she can be found traveling, drinking great coffee, hunting for deals at local thrift shops and playing tennis.

Image via Unsplash

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