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Rich bride, poor bride

Guest Post: I write a blog over at which chronicles our adventures in wedding planning. Essentially, we are trying to coordinate 6 bridesmaids, 5 groomsmen, 3 families, and 110 guests who are scattered all over the country, stay within budget, and plan a wedding (and honeymoon!) that we will never forget. I’ve been interested in personal finance for several years, after grad school left me with a huge chunk of student loans. When I got engaged, I knew it was going to be an expensive 11 months. How on earth were we going to be able to afford a wedding without breaking our budget?

Have You Ever Heard of the Television Show Rich Bride, Poor Bride?

It is a wedding show that follows couples to see if they can keep their wedding within budget. The tagline of the show is “No matter how big the budget, is it ever enough?” Some of you may have a heart attack reading this next sentence: couples on this show typically go over their budget by at least 20% and I’ve seen some episodes where couples go 80% over budget.

It’s Rare for a Couple to Actually Come in Under Budget

Normally, couples will be creative with some “Do It Yourself” projects to help them save money. I got a “C” in art class in Middle School. A lot of couples have connections with people who are photographers, caterers, etc. We don’t have connections, We have about 6 months to go before our wedding, and all of our vendors are booked. We are slightly UNDER budget at this point and I’m going to share with you all how we’ve managed to do that.

How to Maintain Your Expenses When Planning Your Wedding

1. Set Your Budget (and Guest List!) Early

The first thing we did was to figure out what we could afford to put toward the wedding. Our parents offered us a certain amount of money, and that’s how we figured out the amount of money we had to work with. After all of this money is gone, NOTHING else will be spent. We price-quoted vendors (venues, caterers, photographers, etc), to figure out what an “average” price was for these services before we booked anything.

2. Make a Tentative Guest List

We discussed the guest list with our parents to make sure we accounted for everyone who needed to be invited—we are having a small wedding, so the list was limited to family and close friends.

The worst mistake you could make is thinking you want a 100-person wedding and then having the guest list climb to 300 after you booked a venue. that charges $150/person. Since we had our guest list determined, we were able to get proper pricing for the venue, food, booze, etc.

3. Have One Person Manage the Wedding Cash

I control ALL of the wedding money—all the cash goes to me, and then I distribute it as needed. I track who gave what money, on what date, and what we’ve paid our vendors, and track our expenses in a Google spreadsheet, so I can update it anywhere.

4. Look at Wedding Dates on the Cusp of “High Season”

We are getting married at a popular, somewhat expensive venue in Austin, TX.  Surprisingly, this is where we saved the most money. In Texas, the wedding season starts March 1st and runs until November 1st. We decided to look at the latest date we could in February, and picked February 19, 2011. By going with a date considered “off-season”, we ended up with a 25% discount on our venue (ceremony and reception), and catering.

5. Shop Around and Always Negotiate

I found a wedding ring that I liked at a local jeweler. It was priced at $1240 and was able to get the price knocked down to $1120. I asked the jeweler to write down the name and number of the ring, and then I went home and checked online to see if I could find it any cheaper. I found the same ring on the designers’ website for $740!

Another example is when I was shopping for my wedding dress.  Ladies, don’t buy a dress without checking the price online! My dress shop took $100 off of the price of my dress because I showed them that I had found the dress online for cheaper (they price-matched).

Price matching and negotiating should also be done with photographers, rehearsal dinner spaces, live music, etc. Since we are getting married in the “off-season”, vendors have been very willing to negotiate.

6. Don’t Buy Stuff Too Early

Let me emphasize this—don’t buy ANYTHING until you are 100% sure you will use it. Just because there is a sale at Michael’s doesn’t mean you should buy a bunch of glass bowls because “it’s a great deal and you might be able to use them in the centerpieces”.

Currently, I have 250 crappy gray envelopes sitting in my closet because I thought they were “cool” and I could use them for “something”. They are ugly, small, and I can’t return them (I didn’t read the policies close enough) –$30 down the drain. Those “little things” that you don’t end up using can really add up.

7. Be Careful Not to Fall Into the “I have to have that!” Mindset

Do you need a photo booth? No. Do you need a chocolate fountain? No. Are both of these things pretty cool? Yes. Please remember that buying all the “extras” does not make your wedding great. Before we add any “extra” to our wedding, we discuss “will this really make or break our guests’ enjoyment of our wedding?”
Usually, the answer is “No”, and we cut it. Our crowd is a “party crowd”, so we decided to splurge on the venue & food, booze, and a live band.  We are a happy and fun couple. we hope that our marital bliss is contagious and people will remember how happy and fun our wedding was. I don’t think anybody is going to miss napkins with our names on them.

8. Put “Buffer Money” in Your Budget

If you or your kids are planning a wedding, there is no doubt that SOMETHING will go over budget. Take your original budget and add at least 10% to it—we added 15%. My dress was substantially more expensive than I had planned (I thought I could find something I loved for under $1k. DID NOT HAPPEN), but we used some of the “buffer money” to cover the difference because well, that’s what it’s there for. Our honeymoon and “extra” decorations like the guestbook are other areas where we have gone slightly over budget.

The Takeaway

I could go and on about what we’ve done to stick within budget.

But these techniques are what helped us save the most. Bottom line, you CAN have the wedding you both want and not completely blow your budget. Our wedding is far from a “low budget” event, but that doesn’t mean we can spend whatever we want on this wonderful occasion. We made a plan, and have done a great job at sticking with it. I will not owe the credit card companies thousands of dollars after the wedding.



  1. Love Love Love this post. I too was very creative with our wedding. We decided to do a small intimate ceremony overlooking a nice large lake because we both love water. Talk about beautiful wedding photos! Because it was a public venue we decide to go with an “off time” (during the day which also results in no costs (they only charge for rentals in the evenings) and during an “off season” (less people at the lake).

    A friend of mine’s sister made her wedding decorations. So my friend offered (without me asking) to let us use them since they were collecting dust in her attic. So we went with that color theme and didn’t have to make/pay for any decorations.

    Because we chose to only invite immediate family (due to how large our families are), we video taped our ceremony (family member does videos). We then sent a copy of the video which included cute-sy favors (think reception type take-aways) for family that could not be there.

    Our reception was at our favorite restaurant which by the way, is already decorated nicely so we didn’t have to pay for a “banquet” room. We used the restaurant’s “large party (as in parties over 8) room” without the cost of decorations. We only paid for food and actually our parents covered that as a wedding gift. But even if we did have to, the cost would have been $1K-$2K. My Mom made our favorite cake (and yes the $1-2K includes the price of the cake).

    At first we were bummed about not being able to do the big wedding but we also knew we didn’t want any debt. We both love the location of both the wedding and reception and still to this day go and take our children there. It was the best decision we’ve made. It also showed a lot of our friends who were not yet married that you don’t have to go broke for your wedding.

    We still get asked for planning tips from our friends getting married because our day was just so inexpensive and creatively organized.

  2. That should say parties over 8. I see the cool guy with the sunglasses replaced the rest of my statement. 🙂

  3. Ditto on the don’t buy anything too early! We got engaged in March and are getting married in October, so I don’t have a ton of time to collect arbitrary stuff, but I’ve done a good amount of damage already thanks to the lure of Etsy and eBay. Maybe we can take your gray envelopes and my stacks of dahlia stickers in red, orange and yellow and make some sort of great craft together!

  4. Great post! Congratulations on your wedding. One of the best things we did for ours was post our needs to Craiglist. We hired our photographer and our DJ from there, saving a couple thousand dollars and got everything we wanted and more! We got over 50 responses for each post which allowed us to find the best photographer and DJ for our needs.

  5. I’d suggest David’s Bridal for any bride to be. I found and wore an awesome strapless gown with a train (it was gorgeous) for $125. My mom made a fantabulous veil with beadwork that overlaid the back of the gown for less than $50.

    Our whole wedding cost $3000-$4000 (including my dress and his rented tux with tails) and we had 55 guests (I have the whole breakdown on my blog – just seach “wedding”). It turned out great and we still smile when we think of it (5 years later). Almost nothing will end of mattering other than how happy you two are. 🙂

  6. THough already married – great advice! I got married “Veterans’ Day” weekend in Austin for that very reason you mention – off season rates and an extra travel day available for many of my out of town guests. You have to decide what is important to y’all as a couple, I love flowers, but went with lush greenery (rented, not purchased! from the landscaping company that does my office building) that brought me aobut $750 savings so we could get the best band rather than a DJ or a lounge singer…

  7. […] herd who recently got engaged? There are tips for planning a wedding without breaking the bank at Punch Debt, via Every Little […]

  8. These are great tips. So far the best thing I’ve gotten is when my photographer brought last year’s contract instead of this year’s and I got another $200 off because that’s what it said in the document. Heh.

  9. […] best links, which led me to some awesome tips for planning a wedding without breaking the bank at Punch Debt, via Every Little […]

  10. Hey!

    I’m glad so many people enjoyed this post and found it helpful. It was fun writing it! Planning a wedding can be super stressful, no matter what your budget is (well, I suppose if I had $2 million, I could PAY someone to stress for me!). 🙂

    Thought I’d share another tip: We are currently working on planning our honeymoon and I asked several resorts if they would give us the 2010 pricing if we booked ASAP. Two of the three said YES, which would have saved us several hundred dollars, since their pricing would increas on January 1, 2011. Unfortunately, the resort we decided to go with in the end wouldn’t let us do that, but at least I asked!

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