Not Your Typical Frugal Wedding Ideas

by Sandy L on August 5, 2010

It’s wedding season, so I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane so that we can share our frugal wedding stories.

I’ll go out on a limb and say I know a thing or two about weddings. NO, it’s not because I’ve been married multiple times, but because I worked 2-4 weddings a week for several years in college.  To this day, hearing The Electric Slide makes me want to vomit.

So what happens to you when you’ve witnessed a couple hundred people share the “most important day of their life?” Well, you realize how cookie cutter and totally lame most weddings really are. People think their weddings are personalized, but I’ll tell you that only a handful I saw seemed really unique. In fact, when hydrangeas were trendy, every wedding had them for months. BORING!

Til Death Due Us Part

I decided I knew the things I could save money on without the guests really caring.  My mother in law is awesome, so I shared all the itty bitty details with her.  Unlike my own mother, she is also very polite. It wasn’t until the day of the wedding that I realized I probably shared a few too many details of my frugalness.  She was visibly relieved to see that everything came together just fine.

So here’s where we saved:

  1. Wedding Dress – My mom made my dress, much of it by hand. I think it cost about $250 in materials + quite a few screaming matches. It was matte satin with a silk organza outer layer. There was also beading on the front. You can’t tell from the picture but the fabrics were really airy and  lovely.  All my family was shocked at how nice the dress was. You see, by the wedding day, everyone knew about my home made dress and people were  imagining raggedy Ann or a dress gone wrong from an episode of project runway. My mom  is quite talented even though she was self taught..and legally blind at the time.
  2. Venue – We got married in a castle with gorgeous grounds and had the whole facility to ourselves. Cost $400. The place was donated to my university by an alum and I received an alumni discount.  You’re getting married where? On a university campus?
  3. Attendees – we had 33 people at our ceremony and reception for family. We then had a rockin house party 2 weeks later for about 60 of our friends. It was catered so I didn’t have to run around and do stuff. The funnest weddings I’d ever been to were held in people’s homes because they were relaxed and unstructured. We definitely wanted that feel.
  4. Music – We hired out a string quartet from the jazz club at my university. They were 1/3 the price of professional musicians and were really fantastic.    Again, I think people were picturing young kids missing notes and playing like they were in a 2nd grade recital. We did not have a DJ or band at the reception because a) the groom hates dancing and b) it was held in a hip steakhouse that had it’s own jazz music playing in the background.
  5. Centerpieces – We ate at a restaurant and they had a single fresh flower at each table so we didn’t need them.
  6. Invitations – I bought the cheapest ones out there. One of my friends bought these fancy ones with gold leaf and I couldn’t even read them. As long as they were legible, they were good in my book.
  7. Photographer – I have a photographer friend who took our photos and was also our solemnizer. (He loved calling himself that.) Our photos are amazing. He is unbelievably talented.
  8. Videographer – We asked another friend (not professional) for help there and well. Something happened with the video camera and we have very little wedding video.  That was the one thing that didn’t go according to plan.
  9. Limo – My cousin had a white CRV, so we used that.
  10. Accessories – I borrowed my hoop slip and headpiece.
  11. Cake – It was like $30. It was a one tier carrot cake with dots on it as a decoration. It tasted better than a wedding cake and it wasn’t priced like one.

Where we splurged

  1. Food – Nothing’s more memorable than a dry chicken ball topped with wallpaper paste gravy. I’ve had a lot of bad chicken balls in my day.  We ate at an upscale restaurant and people were able to choose from about 9 entrees off the menu.
  2. Drinks – It was open bar.
  3. Honeymoon – We went to Africa on Safari and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
  4. Music – I hired a 5 piece big band for our house party, plus the quartet for the procession and cocktail hour. I wanted to give some dough to local artists so it was all good.

So our wedding and house party cost us about $5K, but our honeymoon was $9K! I’ll admit the honeymoon was more than we’d ever spent and I don’t think I’ll go that posh ever again. Safari was a lifel0ng dream, so we figured that would be a good time to do it.

We already owned a fixer upper home so it was easy to say “do I want to spend $1000 on flowers or use that to remodel my avocado bathroom?”

My biggest advice is the following. You’ll get a lot of pressure to invite Aunt Nellie’s long time neighbor and other random people.  Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Do what you want.

And don’t be afraid to completely remove things that you don’t care about.

I’d love to hear the reader’s creative money savings tips for weddings.  Are there any items you regretted either splurging or skimping on?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole August 5, 2010 at 9:37 AM

We were completely broke at age 22. My parents paid. It cost about 2K.

Wedding dress was a prom dress from JC Penny. Venue was an outdoor park owned by a church. Food was the main expense, catered bbq (porkchops and chicken legs with fixings). Veggie subs for the vegetarians. Small traditional wedding cake with large sheet cake. My father splurged on cases and cases of champagne. We made wedding invitations that turned out pretty well, I think. In addition, we had an open invite– posted on my high school blackboard page for people in the area and friends from our college and downstate came up too. Out of town 20 somethings crashed all over the floors of my parents’ house. No centerpieces, no flowers (other than the bouquets, picked up at the grocery store that morning), music was mix cds a guest had made as her present.

Very casual. But a good time was had by all. Well, except the one guy who drank too much and started crying about a girlfriend who had dumped him.

Years later some of our friends copied the basic plan, though with prettier locales (since all of our friends have moved to the bay area) and more upscale food (ditto to previous parenthetical).

My rule for weddings: Either have someone else do it or it doesn’t need to be done.
All that’s important is that there’s good food, a nice location, and that the bride and groom are happy. That’s all anybody is going to remember.
Don’t take a break between the ceremony and the reception for two hours to take pictures because it is obnoxious to the guests, especially if said break is over a meal time.

Btw, since I’m Episcopalian, our wedding was literally by the book (of common prayer). When given a choice I picked the shortest option.


Ted A. August 5, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Re-purposed religious centers can make for great wedding venues. The venue for our wedding was a large chapel at an assisted living/retirement community that used to be a Jesuit Seminary. Beautiful place with art deco stained glass and stone carvings. It only cost us $250. Their only caveat is that their residents be allowed to come to watch the wedding if they like…

Since our wedding was in fall, for the reception we stuck with standard autumn decor that we could get at a discount store… We bought a bunch of autumn leaf garlands (normally used for around doors), some small baskets shaped like mini-pumpkins that we put Hershey’s kisses inside, bird-cage style candle holders, and tea candles, all for around $150… (we planned for 150 guests… 9-11 happening the month before made the final count 100).

Only regret was that our frugal reception location (the clubhouse of a 9-hole golf course/sports complex) was a 25-30 min drive from the wedding venue. Our photograper also took too long after the ceremony (… and we did not schedule a ‘break’. Agree with Nicole that those suck). We did have our reception dinner start without us… but getting to the reception late made us feel that much more rushed once we finally got there .

All-in-all though, it was a great day spent with great friends and family.


Little House August 5, 2010 at 12:25 PM

You made some awesome choices for your wedding. I married my husband 10 years ago and we spent around $5,00 – $6,000 on the whole thing. We found a hotel (Holiday Inn Express at the time) that had a beautiful outdoor courtyard with fountains and a terrific reception hall that faced the courtyard with french doors leading out to the patio. Since we didn’t have a huge wedding, the $25 a person charge was very affordable. Everything else was done either at cost (my dress was actually a bridesmaid’s dress in white – very similar style to the photos above) or we were able to snag a terrific deal.

I’ve attended many weddings over the years and the most recent a couple of years ago was my cousins. She got married at her house (it was brand new at the time) and it was very relaxed and informal. It was really quite fun. My sister is getting married next fall, however she is quite a drama queen so I’m a little concerned about how stressed she’ll be as she formulates a plan!


Molly On Money August 5, 2010 at 1:07 PM

Both my weddings were fun and cheap. We did many of the things you did.
I think the big changes I see in weddings in the last 10 years are that couples are getting more creative. I love participating in things like making the decorations (currently I’m working on centerpieces for a friend) or cooking or altering the wedding dress. To me its better than giving a crystal vase to the new couple!


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 5, 2010 at 2:17 PM

We got married a week after I graduated from college so it was cheap…about $3000 total and a $1200 honeymoon. It actually seemed a little like your wedding:

– Wedding Dress – $150 gorgeous special from David’s Bridal and my mother made a fantastic veil for less than $50.
– Venue – University chapel…3 story windows and very pretty for $150 with the organist.
– Attendees – About 45 people (all family and friends)
– Music – CDs
– Centerpieces – simply flower and lace that my in-laws made for less than $100 total. They also made little treasue chests filled with Hershey’s kisses…
– Invitations – my mom made them for $50-$75 off of her printer.
– Photographer – $450 and he was worth it!
– Videographer – we should have hired one…I can’t remember the vows we wrote…
– No limo – reception hall was within walking distance
– Reception hall – about $250 for the hall and tables and linens.
– Cake – $125 3-tier from Kroger and a $25 groom’s cake that my MIL made to look like a sports official…it was cool.
– Food – $200-$300 for trays from Sam’s Club
– No alcohol
– Honeymoon – $600 plane tickets and hotel room in Vegas from my in-laws and we spent another $600 while we were there.

If I could do it all over again, the only thing I’d change is hiring a videographer…I wish the ceremony and a little of our reception was taped.

I think small and inexpensive weddings usually lead to a fun atmosphere. Our friends followed us back from the reception to our apartment and we hung out until 3am, laughing, opening gifts (and noting who they were from), and drinking a little. It was awesome!


Sandy L August 5, 2010 at 6:01 PM

I love the stories. Keep em coming.

House receptions are fun. I do have a more rednecky kegstanding photo from the house party that I chose not to put into the post.

Ted, we actually had alot of fun at that mini -golf course. Gave us something to do for those 2 hours we waited for your pictures to get done. And who could forget Reeder’s strip tease in front of your grandmother at the end of the night.
Sandy L recently posted..What’s the Window Into your Soul


Melinda August 5, 2010 at 7:13 PM

My mother made my dress, too. It was beautiful. How many people get their own custom wedding dress? My mother also made most of the food for the reception. No band, just good friends hanging out in the church reception hall. Had it been “my” wedding and not my “mother’s version”, I would have had music and dancing. I’m glad it was a cheap wedding. Years later (19yrs) those details don’t matter to you. You were smart to spend it on an enjoyable honeymoon trip and went somewhere adventurous that is hard to do once you have kids.


Christine August 6, 2010 at 9:14 AM

Sandy- Love this post (and the pics – ha!) My favorite bargain from our wedding was my $100 David’s Bridal Dress. When my mom suggested we go there, “just to browse” I was admittedly slightly troubled at the thought of buying “off-the-rack.” Oh the horror! I quickly came to my senses after realizing that a) I would be wearing the dress for less than 8 hours and b) they had exactly what I was looking for – simple, strapless, no train! BINGO. I encourage all brides to avoid the uppity boutiques and at least stop in for a peek… you might be surprised!


Everyday Tips August 6, 2010 at 1:28 PM

We had the traditional ‘lame’ wedding and invited more people than we should have. We also went into debt for it. Keep in mind, it was a wonderful day, and we had a great time. But it was too ‘cookie cutter’. We were 23 and did what we thought was expected, instead of what we wanted to do. (Bridesmaid dresses were aqua, I am surprised they are still my friends.)

If I were older and smarter, I would have done more like you and some of the other commenters. Oh well! We are still married 19 years later, so something went right!


s.i.l. August 6, 2010 at 2:05 PM

We had a big traditional wedding 15 yrs ago and loved every minute of it. There was nothing lame about it – because it was what my husband and I wanted, enjoyed and was important to us. We still look forward to watching the video and/ or going through photos every year on our anniversary and reminiscing about the whole experience. I’ve been to weddings big & small, elaborate & frugal – and the best weddings are always the ones that are an accurate representation/ reflection of the couple being married and husband and wife are truly happy to be there with each other & their guests.


Sandy L August 6, 2010 at 5:41 PM

Melinda. You’re right about the kid’s comment. Africa required 3 months of malaria pills and all kinds of nasty shots. We won’t be able to do that again for a long time.

SIL, Bummed I missed your wedding by 6 months. I’m sure it wasn’t lame as people still talk about it today. There were some traditional weddings that did stand out and it was more about the crowd than the venue. You’re absolutely right about doing what’s important to you. I think I didn’t want a traditional wedding just because I had to work 8 billion of them, but I’m not against them. I’m more against the planners trying to pedal their products as “must have’s” and “unique.”

Everyday tips – we were older when we got married (29 and 36) and had been to a bunch of weddings by that time. When I asked my ex-bride friends for advice, many wished they had more time to spend with their guests. I figured it’d be easier to do that with a smaller crowd. LOL about the aqua bridesmaid dresses. I also wore an aqua bridesmaids dress in the 80’s. Must have been all the rage back then.


eemusings March 29, 2011 at 5:39 PM


Ours will probably end up being somewhere like a golf clubhouse. I’d love to have it at an amazing, beautiful place but a) I don’t know of any (although we may come across one in travel / research in the next year or two) and b) I’m sure it would wreck our budget.

You’ve just reminded me of something… T is definitely going to want to find a classic Impala or something for us to arrive in on the day. Sigh.


Sandy L March 29, 2011 at 7:18 PM

eemusings – yeah, that was probably my biggest bargain is getting a castle venue for $400…talk about student discounts, but there were plenty of other parks and things that were equally affordable and/or cheaper..I think some of the parks were like $50 for a permit and that was it. We wanted to get married on top of a mountain in town, but there was a ham radio convention there the same day, so we opted for something a little more traditional. You can have a great and cool wedding without spending a lot of dough..really you can.


Paula @ Afford Anything November 14, 2011 at 10:56 PM

Splurging on a honeymoon is a GREAT splurge. You’ll remember that honeymoon in Africa long after you’ll forget the restaurant-provided flowers at the wedding.


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