How DIY Saved Our Wedding Budget

Post cards for our guestbook

Shortly after we started planning our wedding, we were bombarded with the message that no matter how much money we decide to spend on the big day, we would inevitably go over budget. Well, last week we ordered our thank you cards, the last of our wedding-related expenditures, and I am happy to report that we actually came in under budget!

I admit that coming in under budget was one of my goals, but it was no small feat to get it done. It took a lot of careful planning and decision making over the year of wedding planning. But before any cost-cutting measures could be implemented, we first had to set our wedding budget.

Setting the Wedding Budget

After we got engaged, one of the first questions we asked ourselves was how do we decide what the wedding budget would be? Should we get some quotes from vendors in our area first, and then use them as a ballpark estimate to create our budget? But that sounded like a disaster waiting to happen – the quotes would range all over the place and wouldn’t bring us any closer to determining our budget. Then, we considered coming up with a number that we were comfortable spending and sticking with it. But looking at the budget as a single number, without having any clue as to what the money would actually be spent on, left me uncomfortable with any number we could come up with. No matter how many thousands of dollars it was, in my head I couldn’t justify spending that much money in one day.

Finally, we decided to look at our monthly income and expenditures, and calculate how much money we could both put aside for the wedding each month without modifying our lifestyle too much or derailing our long term goals. We then multiplied that amount by the number of months left until our wedding date (at that point, we had the month picked out, but we were flexible), and that would be our budget. We were both comfortable with setting the budget this way, and the number we came up with seemed reasonable to us (although it was astronomically higher than any other expenditure in our life, and significantly lower than the national average wedding budget).

After we set our number, it was time to take a stab at the budget breakdown by categories. Having little clue as to how much wedding "things" cost, I sought advice online. For what it's worth, The Knot was actually helpful in getting us started. Despite its amusing articles and wedding advice that seemed far removed from (my) reality, the website has a decent budget tool. We put in our total budget and the estimated number of guests, and out came a budget breakdown complete with an estimate of how much we could spend on each category.

You Don't Need All The Things

Some wedding "essentials" we eliminated right away. For example, we didn't need to worry about a wedding night hotel room because we were getting married in Boston and planned to stay at our own place. We also were not interested in videography or cake (and the accompanying cutting fee). (We had delicious cupcakes for dessert instead.) I wasn't going to wear a veil, and we drove my car to the wedding. From our numerous experiences with other people's weddings, we realized that favors are completely unnecessary, and so we removed them from our budget as well.

Our wedding day "limo"

Plated Wedding Dinners Are Expensive

We felt quite smug about removing entire categories from our budget, thus automatically saving money. That did not last long. The smugness evaporated when we discovered that some of the remaining wedding items that were quite important to us came with a steep price tag, and we had no means of dealing with those budget categories other than "throwing money at the problem". For example, we were adamant about serving our guests delicious food in the form of a plated dinner, and I would not even consider having anything other than an open bar. I am also completely inept at doing my hair and makeup, and I knew that trying to do this on my own would lead to lots of tears and expletives.

Understanding that we would have to shell out the money for some big-ticket items, we realized that we would have to save money elsewhere. You'd be surprised how small savings here and there add up to several thousands of dollars in savings. The first thing we did was a find a beautiful venue that we loved with a rental price that was within our budget and way below most quotes we obtained elsewhere. We were also lucky enough to personally know a photographer who was willing to give us a discount. I bought my wedding dress at a deep discount at Betsey Johnson, opting out of expensive bridal salons and numerous rounds of fittings. We did not include my shoes or D's attire in the budget, our reasoning being that we could wear all those items many times after the wedding. We saved money on alcohol by buying it on our own instead of going through the caterer, thus avoiding the 50% markup fee. (Note that we did NOT save money by buying too little alcohol. In fact, we overestimated by so much that we are still drinking our wedding beer and wine three months later.) To save money beyond that, we turned to DIY.

Our reception venue

How DIY Saved Our Wedding Budget

Decorations - The Knot budget allocated over $1,000 to decorations, not including flowers. We spent less than $200. I made the centerpieces, for less than $40 total, from yarn and mason jars. For our guestbook, I bought a box at Goodwill for $3, popped photos of us and instructions onto the sides of the box, and we provided New Yorker (our favorite magazine) post cards for people to sign and drop into the box. The wooden box that held the post cards, pens, and flowers (featured in the first photo) was actually a shelf that I trashpicked and turned on its side (after cleaning it, of course). Free decor, for the win! We also had a table with photos of our grandparents and parents on their wedding days - I got the frames from IKEA. While at the big Swedish store, I also picked up double-sided frames that held our table numbers, which I designed and printed at home. We decided to skip any decorations for the ceremony as it was held in an already beautiful outdoor setting.

Our guestbook box

Music - Having good music at our wedding was important to us. But having a DJ or a band was definitely not in our budget. So we put a lot of work into creating our playlists and then had a cousin "DJ" from our iPod. Creating the playlists took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth all the hard work. We split our music into five playlists: cocktail hour, dinner, first dance, dance party, and last dance. Instead of leaving the playlists at the mercy of the somewhat shoddy iTunes shuffle feature, we set the order ourselves. In reality, we had to do some adjustments in real time when the dinner went a little longer than expected and the dance party had to be cut short. But all the prep work made it easy to adapt on the fly. We did not have music at the ceremony because it was held outdoors in a public park, and no amplified music was allowed. (Contrary to my original concerns, this was not at all weird, and in that moment I did not even think about the music or lack thereof.)

Flowers - Because our centerpieces were non-floral, the only flowers I purchased were for the bouquets and a few stems for the guestbook table. D's grandmother also made us two flower arrangements for the guestbook table and the photos table. I spent $90 on the flowers and DIY'ed the bouquets with the help of our sisters.

Our DIY'ed bouquets, awaiting departure

Stationary - We spent less than $240 on all the wedding related stationary, including save-the-dates, invitations, wedding announcements, thank you cards, table cards, and escort cards. While we ordered our wedding announcements and thank you cards online from Wedding Paper Divas, we DIY'ed the rest. The costs involved mostly the purchase of supplies (paper and printer ink) and the hours we put into creating our stationary. I designed and printed our bookmark save-the-dates and did the same with our invitations. Instead of escort cards, I designed and printed a seating chart, and popped into an IKEA frame on the guestbook table. To make the table cards (aka place cards) for our seated dinner reception, I bought colorful place cards at the Paper Source, along with printable oval labels - no handwriting required! I even color-coded the cards by meal preference, matching them to the purple and yellow in our centerpieces.

Saving money on all the little things, like stationary, by doing them ourselves allowed us to have the seated dinner and the open bar that were so important to us. By adding up the small savings in the various budget category, we were able to come in under budget by a couple of thousand dollars. And that's no small change!


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