How We Had Our Dream Wedding on a Budget
Did you know that the average wedding these days costs about $35,000?
I’ll be honest - seeing that number during the first month of our engagement FREAKED ME OUT. Between the never ending to-do list necessary to plan a wedding, and the cost of actually doing it, I remember asking Sam one day, “how does anyone plan a wedding, work a full-time job (and build their own business), and pay for the expenses on top of their normal bills without losing their mind?”
I contemplated many times whether we should have a wedding at all. The discussion of eloping, or simply going to the courthouse was brought up and then dropped on more occasions than I can remember over those 14 months.
Although I have yet to answer the question of “how”, millions of us each year pull it off some way or another. My thought is that it must be similar to those cases you hear about when a Mom somehow gains the abilities of the Hulk in a split second and lifts a small car off of their child to save their life (or, what I like to call the “Superhuman strength phenomena”). Call it magic or straight up adrenaline, when it comes down to it, you just do it.
Unlike some TLC show where the parents of the bride and groom hand over a blank check and tell them that they have an unlimited budget for the most glamorous wedding anyone has ever seen, our journey played out a little differently. To be totally honest, I’m glad it did. We appreciated every little detail of our wedding day because we were aware of the sacrifices that went into the making of it all.
Sam and I were grateful to have the support of both of our families throughout the wedding planning journey. We also had saved up a little chunk of change in the few years leading up to our engagement to be used. We did not want to get ourselves or our families into debt over the wedding, so there were a few tools that we used throughout the planning process to get the best of both worlds.
In the end, I felt like a true princess on our wedding day. I made my grand entrance out of a Chateau that was reminiscent of a castle, and Sam and I said our vows to each other in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world. We were able to vacation with our closest family and friends outside of the US for a whole week. It was an absolute fairy-tale, and if you had told us that was how our wedding day would go down 1 year prior, we would have chuckled to each other in disbelief.
Now… let me back up and tell you how we got there.
Decide on your top 3
The first thing that we did was set our priorities. Possibly the only thing I had found totally useful in my wedding planning book was to circle the items most important to us before any of the planning actually began.
After much thought and discussion, we landed on 3 priorities for the big day: location, food, and photography. These items would take up the bulk of our budget and the remaining items would be compromised on (or ditched) if necessary.
Location was our #1 priority. Getting married in Canada was important to both of us from the very beginning, and we were determined to make it work. Once we discovered Lake Louise through a Google search, we knew we would do anything in our power to get married there (even if that meant tossing out some traditions along the way). We wanted our wedding to be a once in a lifetime experience for us and our guests.
Even though I felt like a princess on our wedding day, the crazy expensive dress wasn’t among my top 3 priorities. Before we went shopping, I set my budget of $1,500 for a wedding dress. Being in the fashion industry, of course there were temptations to try on the designer ones upward of $8,000. However, I refused because I didn’t want to fall in love with something I couldn’t afford and risk putting us in a tough position with the overall budget.
At the second bridal shop we visited, I ended up torn between 3 totally different dresses from BHLDN, ranging from $600 to $1,450, one of which I took home and was more than thrilled with. Read “What I Learned about Shopping for a Wedding Dress”.
Use a budget calculator and stick to it
One of the most useful tools throughout our engagement journey was a budget calculator that our wedding planner had given me access to. It was online (Aisle Planner), itemized by every detail and vendor, and could be updated extremely easily in order to manipulate our overall cost. We set a budget goal in the beginning based on what our families had gifted us and what we had available/could save over the year to be used.
With our priorities in mind, I went through the budget calculator in the first few months and added a rough estimate for each item. When we would receive quotes, I would increase/decrease in order to keep our budget steady. For example, hair and makeup costed more than I thought it would initially, so when we got a quote for it, I ended up decreasing the amount allotted for entertainment (we originally wanted a live band, and went with a DJ instead).
Over the course of 1 year, I was consistently updating and manipulating our budget calculator even up until 2 weeks before the big day (due to inevitable last minute fees/changes).
Get creative with timing
The most important thing I want you to remember is that if you are planning your dream wedding on a budget, flexibility and compromise are not optional. The only reason that Sam and I were able to get married at Lake Louise at the Fairmont Chateau was because we had our wedding on a Tuesday morning with brunch food (as opposed to a Saturday evening and dinner menu).
When I contacted the Fairmont Chateau with a request for a quote to get married there, I knew that we would never be able to afford a weekend wedding with a traditional menu. Of course they didn’t advertise or automatically offer up the alternative, less expensive option. But, after a few emails back and forth discussing our realistic budget, having patience, and desperately trying to make it work at this venue, we arrived at a compromise.
The thing about having an intimate, destination wedding is that it really doesn’t matter what day of the week it’s on. All of your guests are essentially already in “vacation mode”. To us, it felt the same as having it on a Saturday, except that it was WAY cheaper and the hotel was even more accommodating because they weren’t as busy.
Secondly, having a brunch menu was kind of a dream come true for us because we were able to have all of the tasty food we love eating anyway. We worked in truffle fries, French toast, Alberta sirloin, eggs benedict, peach bellinis, whiskey sours, and even a poutine bar! It was heaven on earth (and also much cheaper than a stuffy dinner menu that we wouldn’t enjoy half as much).
Ask for discounts or substitutes
For anything in life, a great skill to utilize is being your own advocate. No one is going to hand you a free ticket, or in this case, a discount you didn't ask for. Throughout our planning process, I contacted several different vendors for every job to compare quality, pricing, hidden fees, etc. There were many cases when our favorites came in above what we had allotted for the cost. In this case, rather than throwing in the towel and moving to the next down the list, I would kindly request information on discounts or where we could get creative in order to shave off some of the cost. Not all vendors are receptive to these requests, but there is a 100% chance you won’t get it if you don’t ask at all.
For example, in the case of our florals, this meant substituting in more greenery than roses. It also meant utilizing our ceremony decor in our reception room. Our wedding planner and florist literally took the floral garlands from our chairs at the ceremony to drape over the fireplaces in our reception room. It took a bit of creativity, but it was better than paying double the cost.
Obviously I would have loved a Pinterest-worthy blooming arch with hundreds of roses. But, you know what was more important to us on our wedding day? Exploring a city for the first time ever with our best friends by our side AND not being in debt for the months that followed for flowers that were already dead. When you are feeling hung up on a little detail like this, jump back to tip #1 and remind yourself of your top 3 priorities.
For our group activity on the day following the wedding, I was able to get us a large group discount for booking all together, and ended up getting Sam and my passes totally free, which I would have never known if I didn’t ask directly.
When we were ordering items for our wedding, like my bridal party robes, thank you cards, rehearsal dinner dress, etc. I spent time researching discounts and would wait until sales were happening to purchase (Cyber Monday was a big win for us - especially on Etsy).
Even our rental car we got creative with and used the Turo app (aka car sharing, aka Airbnb for cars) instead of a traditional rental car service to save on costs while getting our dream car to drive across Canada. We took this convertible BMW from Lake Louise to Vancouver and back, and it was cheaper than renting a 4-door Toyota!
Ditch unnecessary traditions
One of the biggest things we did to cut down on costs was to ditch some wedding traditions that we either didn’t care about or didn’t think were totally necessary for the enjoyment of our guests. We opted out of a large wedding (we invited about 50 people total), cake, favors, a garter, ring pillow, groomsmen gifts, family florals, custom champagne flutes, etc.
“Wait, you didn’t have cake at your wedding at all!?!” You heard that right, girl. We didn’t have a cake at our reception because, to be quite honest, the ones that looked pretty were expensive as hell and we don’t even freaking LIKE cake. Guess what though? None of our guests even noticed. Instead of cutting cake and doing favors for our guests (which are usually left behind at the reception anyway), we decided to hand out homemade maple ice cream and toffee brittle at the end of our reception and added on a cute, little sticker that said “Thank You” on it. Our guests were still raving about how good it was the next day.
One of the toughest decisions that we made was to not to hire a videographer for our wedding day which I was honestly torn on for a while (especially considering the industry I’m in). However, it simply did not fit in with our budget and we were unwilling to go over. Instead, we had asked one of our good friends to take videos throughout the day on his camera and Go Pro for our personal use, and to share with our family and friends who were unable to attend.
The bottom line here is that you CAN have your dream wedding within your budget. You might just have to get a little crafty, a lot patient, and willing to be flexible throughout the process. Happy planning, soon-to-be-brides!
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Photography by Jade Nikkole Photography
Hopefully these 5 tips helped boost your confidence in planning your own dream wedding on a budget! I would love to hear how your wedding planning is going; tag me in your favorite engagement photo on Instagram or Facebook!
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xo Anna Elizabeth