A few weeks ago, Libby and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. It's a little hard to believe its been five years already. At the time, we had just finished paying off a lot of student loan debt, and we were certainly feeling like we had a lot to celebrate. We started the wedding planning process1 and I was determined to stay on a tight budget. The average2 cost of a wedding at the time was ~$30,000.003; our goal was $10,000.00.
Spoilers: we came close, but it was expensive in other ways4.
Ever since, I've always wanted to ~brag~ share about what we did and hopefully inspire some other bargain-minded newlyweds.
There are three major costs that go into a wedding:
Venues will bundle these together at exorbitant rates. On the plus side, the work you need to do is greatly diminished - maybe just picking the menu and some flowers - but it's a surefire way to blow your budget. So, as a rule, avoid places that bundle.
A friend's house or your backyard is a great budget-friendly option, but sometimes that space isn't available. After combing through wedding venues traditional6 and non-7, public parks were the clear winner. They have a variety of facilities with bathrooms, electicity, are in a very pretty green space, and are heinously inexpensive. We spent $350.00 a day for the Activities Building in Riverview Park, including an alcohol permit.
For an encore we took everyone bowling at Arsenal Bowl, which was another $700.00 to rent ~20 or so lanes, and we put up a $X00.00 bar tab. The pictures alone made bowling 100% worth it.
Rather than a traditional caterer, get yourself a food truck. Unlike catering, the food is made to order on-site and is served hot and tasty. We ended up paying around $1,400.00 for Earth, Wheel and Fire and the pizza was GOOD.
We supplemented the truck with a big order from the very best Pittsburgh Ethiopian restaurant, Tana. We picked Ethiopian because it is 1) delicious and 2) inexpensive, and 3) designed to be served family style, perfect for our needs. It also features a lot of great vegetarian options - think spiced lentils!
We worked directly with the owner Seifu and bought about $700.00 worth of food from them. Not only was it extremely good, Seifu hand-delivered it the day of the wedding!
For alcohol, buy kegs and cheap wine. You can't do better than a keg for value. We got two nice craft kegs and a keg of Miller, and boxes of wine and spirits from Costco8. Easy peasy! A huge thank you to Theo for lending us a portable draft system to tap the kegs. We spent about $800.00 in the booze, and way overbought9. We also paid two bartenders for the night, which was another $800.00.
String lights and paper lanterns go a long way towards gussying up a space. We also had centerpieces made by my father-in-law and filled with flowers and succulents. I can't account for these items, either because they were a gift from family or I lost track of the receipts.
We also needed some additional equipment - chairs for the ceremony, a scaffolding-on-wheels for setup, a U-Haul for moving all of the stuff in and out, hot coffee, and all the plates, utensils, and tablecloths to complete the look. These added another $750.00 to the expenses.
If you're doing the math, we've only accounted for about $6,500 of our budget. The rest was spent on invitations, my suit, Libby's dress, flowers, stationary, wedding rings, hair and makeup, and of course the photographer. If my contemporaneaus spreadsheet can be trusted, we ring in at $11,500.00 - not too far off that $10,000.00 target! But as previously mentioned, some receipts weren't kept. I also didn't account for some extras - extravagant tips, booking a hotel for our wedding night, that sort of thing.
One important cost that we didn't account for was sweat equity. Our families spent a lot of time planning, preparing, and executing our wedding. It was joyful work, but nonetheless, it was work. When you DIY a wedding, you're going to need a lot of help; just like with other expenses, you're going to underestimate. I was resistant to hiring day-of help, but looking back it would have made things a lot easier and let our family enjoy more of the day.
And that's it! Best of luck on your frugal wedding planning journey.
A.k.a. the "let's rank all of our friends on a spreadsheet" process. ↩︎
grumbling about mean as a measure of average ↩︎
Foreshadowing intensifies. ↩︎
Dedicated event spaces, bars, etc. ↩︎
This is technically illegal in Pennsylvania, although the law is more targeted at restauranteurs. ↩︎
Even the pandemic wasn't enough to clear our stash - there's still Kirkland Signature floating around our liquor cabinet. ↩︎