How I Did It: Held a 100-Person Wedding for Under $4,000

Posted

When my husband and I got engaged back in 2010, I felt simultaneously thrilled … and like I needed to brace myself for an oncoming wave, whose only purpose was to sweep over me and pull all of my money out to sea.

The engagement wasn’t a surprise—being mature, rational adults, my then-fiancé and I had discussed marriage, finances, child-rearing and any number of important topics we thought we should cover before agreeing to be legally bound for life—and I had already been poking around the internet, looking at wedding-themed websites and blogs.

I‘d therefore had plenty of time to feel my heart drop into my stomach as I looked at people’s budgets. From lovely outdoor weddings where tent rentals ran up to $20,000, to charming hotel affairs that cost $175 per person, I knew that a conventional (and expensive!) wedding wasn’t for us. We’re in our mid-twenties and have savings, but we certainly didn’t want to spend them on a one-day event.

While I would have been happy to run off to City Hall and cover dinner for a few close family members, my husband had other ideas. He has a big family that expected a wedding … so we gave them one, on our budget.

The Surprising Thing We Booked Sight-Unseen …

After examining our finances, and considering our spending priorities, we thought about what kind of wedding we could agree on—and came up with relaxed and simple. That is, lacking tiny, expensive details that would stress me, and by extension, him, out.

The venue needed to be somewhere we could hold both the ceremony and the reception. Once we realized that a full meal was out of our budget (given that we would likely host about 100 guests!) we decided on a dessert reception. We also considered flowers and photography, as well as necessities like an officiant and invitations, and decided on a budget of $4,000.

A lot of crafty wedding blogs feature weddings where everyone involved seems to have some kind of incredible talent—

“My graphic designer brother designed all of our invitations!”

“My best friend is a professional florist and put together all of the flowers!”

I know my limitations. I am not even a little bit crafty. I can repair buttons and socks, poorly, and that’s about it, and I felt uncomfortable outsourcing details to my friends and acquaintances.

But we found our perfect (and fantastically inexpensive) venue in Southern Virgina, where my husband is from. My mother-in-law had suggested looking at local parks for venues, and one option had a beautiful lakeside gazebo for a ceremony, and an indoor facility with a wraparound porch that would be a great location for the reception. We booked it sight-unseen (minus a largely ineffective Google search for “Claytor Lake State Park”) for $1,000.

(Getting married away from home? Keep this in mind.)

Flowers, Food and More

After receiving another excellent recommendation, we met with a local florist who very kindly took the few magazine photos I’d torn out and put together 12 beautiful mason-jar centerpieces with hydrangea and delphinium, and a bouquet and boutonnière for $400. She also very politely listened to me say “No” to just about everything—“No, we wouldn’t be having a bridal party”; “No, we don’t need flowers for the gazebo”; etc.

I found our photographer during a late-night Craigslist search. Her photos looked lovely, and she was just starting her business in the area, so when I asked her if she could photograph our wedding day for $600, she agreed. After seeing constant reminders that wedding photography can start at $2,000, I was incredibly happy to have found someone willing to work with our budget (and the photographs turned out beautifully).

Especially since our reception was dessert-only, our most important expense was the cake and pie we’d be serving, as well as the drinks (an open bar was a non-negotiable). We found a local baker who makes wedding cakes as a hobby; she created a delicious three-tier confection for $200. We picked up a dozen pies the night before the wedding, and we bought beer and wine from a wholesale liquor store, bringing our total food and drink cost to $650.

A wonderful friend made pennant flag bunting for the reception venue as her wedding gift to us, and it was the perfect (and only) decorative detail, in addition to the flowers. My mother bought my wedding dress, which came in at $750, because she knew I would buy something cheap rather than something I loved, and wanted me to be happy with what I was wearing.

My mother-in-law anticipated we’d need extra hands on our wedding day, and found a few local students who served drinks and cake (and kept it all replenished) for $100 each. We rented the cheapest chairs available for $316 (even though they were a less-than-attractive brown) because I reasoned that people wouldn’t be paying much attention to what they were sitting on. They didn’t.

When we started planning, I kept things simple because I didn’t want to add stressful detail after stressful detail to my plate. In the end, the simplicity made our wedding lovely, and kept us under budget.

The End Result

I did my own hair, a friend did my makeup and I felt perfect.

Once we threw in the incidentals—the official’s fee of $150, the invitations I found at an online press for $275, the $40 guestbook, the $30 marriage license, and the quirky $70 cake-toppers that sit on our mantle now—we came in a few hundred dollars under budget.

Most importantly, the things we’d said “no” to didn’t matter. Guests commented on how much they’d enjoyed the wedding, and no one seemed to notice that we didn’t have a DJ (we used an iPod and speaker system), or that a professional hadn’t done my hair, or that my husband wore a navy blue suit he’d owned for years.

We even ended up in the DC/Maryland/Virginia edition of The Knot, and our photographer threw in a CD of our photographs to thank us (for which some photographers charge extra).

The wedding industry constantly attempts to up-sell brides and grooms on so many items, and it was reassuring to realize that none of those (expensive) superfluities mattered.

At the end of the day, we have photographs we love, memories of delicious cake and happy friends, and the relief that we could throw a party without drowning ourselves in debt or liquidating our savings.

Image Credit: Lauren D. Rogers

  • Inkandflowers

    I’m glad to see that you enjoyed your special day. Much to the misconception of some of the other posters to this thread, the wedding is a day for the couples, not the guests. The need to go over the top and feed everyone with steak and seafood and a 4 course meal is just ridiculous. Getting married is an intimate ceremony that those 100 people were lucky enough to have this couple want to share with them.  There is no rule that says, “If I go to your wedding, you better feed me dinner.” I’m glad to see your friends are gracious enough to just have been happy to share in your day and were not worried about the unnecessary things.

  • Kime

    I am not sure if anyone has said this yet but I think that our wedding expectations have to do with our cultural values. I come from a background that when you get married, everyone hears about it and everyone wants to come to your wedding whether they know you or not. I have been to a few weddings and other special events where guests that did not know the celebrants were complaining about the event (food, decoration, hosts, music, etc…). It is incredibly appaling that people will invite others to share in their special day and their guests care more about the decor than the couple. And in this country weddings have become events rather than a symbol of love and devotion. Rich and affluent families display their wealth and influence in their wedding cweremonies. Well to do and even poor families put themselves in more debt trying to achieve something that is often out of their budget.
    All I know is that when I get married as long as my spouse and officiant is there, it will be the best day of my life.

  • Guest

    This is such a refreshing post to read. I think it can serve as real inspiration for all the other couples who don’t want to put themselves into debt over one day, but still want to celebrate with all their family and friends.
    Can’t believe some of the negative comments here… true, you do need to keep your guests in mind, but who doesnt love dessert for dinner? ;) and, just as the couple decides how the wedding is run, and what is served, the guest makes the decision whether or not he/she attends. No one is forcing you to RSVP yes.

  • Julie

    I love this post! Reminds me so much of my own wedding. Although I didn’t have to pay much out of pocket (my parents are insanely traditional and thought it was their duty as the bride’s parents), I strove to stick to a budget. We found a resort offering a great wedding package including the food, a nice room for the reception, and its decoration. They recommended us a decorator who worked at the hotel but did jobs on the side, and she made beautiful centerpieces at a great price. A friend of one of my best friends did my hair and makeup for only $40; one of my friends was in charge of photographs (which was pointless because now everyone takes their cameras to events!); and the best man, who sold floral arrangements, made my bouquet for free. As for the cake, we looked for a local lady who charged us only $100 (and trust me, it was big and delicious!). 

    For the music, my husband and I merely chose those songs we liked best and that we thought our guests would enjoy, then rented a big speaker and plugged our iPod. The dress was probably the more costly thing; it was a gift from my mom and even then I got it at David’s Bridal, where it was way cheaper at any of the other places I checked (I thought of renting, but in the end the price wasn’t that far from what my dress cost, and those were too traditional for my taste). We held the ceremony at a terrace near the hotel’s pool then we headed to the reception. And my family, which is very picky, still talks about my wedding as the best they went to! (The food did the trick). 

  • Mea

    Wow! A wedding for under $4k? Great job!

    And I thought I did well by having mine under $9k! To each her own, definitely, but we had our wedding at a beach in MD and since guest were coming from out of town, (NYC, MA, WV, TX), we had to make it worth it by turning it into a 3-day affair. Luckily, we had a lot of friends with talent and I got a lot of great ideas from online and executed them perfectly thanks to Michael’s craft store and ample time (I was a SAHM at the time). Our friends who provided their professional services (2 photographers, a band, hair/make-up artist, a dj), we paid for their hotel rooms in exchange (a mere fraction of what they charge most clients), I made our own message in a bottle invitations, bought a beautiful Vera Wang BRIDESMAID gown and the only thing we really paid for was the reception space ($800) and the catering/open bar. So for a friday/saturday/sunday affair, I think my $10k budget and coming in at $9k was impressive (and so did my 100 guests).

    • JLee91082

      Did you have your wedding in Ocean City? I am from Perry Hall.

      • Mea

         Yep! In mid-September and it was perfect timing.

  • Stacy

    I would love to see more photos from your wedding and reception.  

  • Ellen

    Good for you! We did similarly well–between some talented friends, a ice cream sundae party for the reception, and making my own dress, we came out around $3500. And we created a day that we loved and our guests seemed to enjoy. 

  • Karen

    I married my husband in 1981 on Valentine’s Day in my church’s chapel with family and a few friends in attendance.  My bouquet was silk because it was cheaper than fresh.  The stained glass windows were all the decorations we needed.  We didn’t have music and the reception was at my sister’s house.  She made a heart-shaped red velvet cake (with butter icing not the cream cheese stuff they pass off on red velvet these days).  We were married until cancer took my sweetheart in June of 2009.  I don’t need a book or cd of professional shots to remember the love in his eyes that day.  You should all be so lucky as I was.

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    I hope that my wedding would be this cheap. Spending more than $20,000 for a wedding is just insane! But I would have a full reception with dinner and desert. I don’t do alcohol so that is not an expense for me! 

  • JT

    This is so reassuring! My significant other keeps hinting about a proposal and I can’t get happy for all my future wedding planning anxiety! 

  • Yourchaircover

     good attempt …got loads of inspiration…


    Satin
    Chair Covers

  • Morgan

    Thank you so much for this article. My fiancé are trying to craft a wedding under 4000, and reading this really made my day. Thanks for documenting how you did it and how much you spent!

  • Emmy

    I love it! May I inquire about your photographer and baker? I’m from Roanoke, VA so I’m familiar with Claytor lake. I’m actually planning a backyard wedding at a family house on smith mountain lake and I’ve got a $3500 budget.

  • http://www.macncheeseproductions.com/ Saya

    Really what it all comes down to is “I felt perfect.” So glad you got your fairytale, in sensible ways.

    I’m getting hitched Sept 1st and we’re having an almost 100% bartered wedding. Average Chicago wedding is $53K! No thanks!!!

    The barters|freebies for my wedding: http://macncheeseproductions.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/how-i-went-from-pig-roast-at-abandoned-convent-to-my-wedding/

    How I saved HUGE on a ring: http://macncheeseproductions.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/how-i-ended-up-with-3-engagement-rings-and-an-engagement-mac-book-air/

  • Mare Mazur

    In December of 1983 my husband and I spent $3000 on our wedding, (including my dress and veil) for 150 people. We were gifted with a full choir that agreed to rehearse for Midnight Mass and the solo Ava Maria at our mass. We used over 50 poinsettia plants on the alter that were on their way to be distributed as Christmas gifts, and my best friend’s parents opened their home to us for the reception of o’dourves, beer wine and champagne. This year we will celebrate our 30th anniversary. I loved our wedding day but more importantly I love our life together — our children and our family. There is no need to go into debt for a day when you are building a life.

  • Kaite

    Our wedding is 115 and it’s only costing us just under $2000. I really like the vintage look and I’m sure just about everyone knows someone who has old lacy linens and oil lamps and such. I bought a bunch of silk flowers from various places for cheap, in my colors, and made several randomly sized flower arrangements in baskets to set around. The most expensive thing is our photographer for $300. We know a girl who’s doing it for us and she’s been doing student photography for a few years, she’s really good. Other than that, I think if you look hard enough, deals are out there. It doesn’t have to be expensive :)

  • Jessica M Cole

    When my fiance and I are getting married, totally doing the dessert reception; awesome idea!

  • Rebecca Jones Imre

    Great article! As the mother of a young lady who will probably be announcing wedding plans within the year, I was happy to run across it.
    I have said all along that the “big wedding” mentality is something relatively new, although most brides today do not realize it, thanks to the “wedding industrial complex.” I had a church wedding in 1986 for very little money, complete with bridesmaids, beautiful dress and finger-food buffet. Today, that same wedding would be “tricked out” to cost tens of thousands. My grandmother was married at home with immediate family only during the Depression. It hasn’t always been the way it is today with “Platinum Weddings.” Maybe it’s time we get back to basics!

  • Kalynn

    i forgot my friends mom is doing pictures, she does all of our pictures and my other best friend’s mom is a cosmetologist so their is hair and make up

  • jessica make

    Getting my Ex back my name is Heather Mcpherson Mildred. I’ve known Johnson for years, When we finally got together things were kind of weird so we broke up which was in February of 2011 In June of 2012 he and I recently got back together and we were together until march of 2013 which he told me he was not interested in relationship again During that time I changed completely, I wasn’t eating,I was sleeping a lot, I wasn’t talking to anybody, I cried a lot,I’m so depressed and stressed out that I’m scared I’m going to end up in the hospital because of all the stress and depression until one day i search online on getting love tips because I Love & care about him deeply and I just want us to be together as a couple again and I want us to last forever Google recommend me Olorunoduduwaspiritualtemple@gmail.com that he will solve my relationship problem then Dr James told me he will come back to me between 48hrs after he cast spell on him never believe it until my fiance called me on the phone and told me he want us to come back and live happy together forever , Am so happy now that DR James, help me bring Johnson back to me. Thanks so much( Dr James) his email: Olorunoduduwaspiritualtemple@gmail.com

  • http://www.verbalmelange.blogspot.com/ Emma Frankart

    I hate to pry, but did you get any flak from family or friends for not serving dinner? My soon-to-be fiancé (squee!) and I are in a similar boat as you–in our mid-20s and on a tight budget, but huge families put our guest list at 250-300. Non-negotiable. I thought about doing a twilight ceremony and skipping dinner (light apps, and cake, perhaps) and my mom told me that people would complain. Did you experience any negativity?

  • CLUXE MORREV

    Hello i am Melony from Sweden,I am out here to spreed this good news to the entire world on how i got my ex lover back.I was going crazy when my love left me for another man,l in a couple of months ago,But when i meet a friend that introduce me to Dr IRABOR the great spell-caster,I narrated my problem to Dr IRABOR about how my ex love left me and also how i needed to get a job in a very big company.He only said to me that i have come to the right place were i will be getting my heart desire without any side effect.He told me what i need to do,After it was been done,In the next 2 days,My love called me on the phone and was apologizing for living me before now and also in the next one week after my love called me to plead for forgiveness,I was called for interview in my desired company were i apply for to work as a manager,I am so happy and overwhelmed that i have to tell this to the entire world to contact Dr IRABOR at the following email address and get all your problems solved..No problem is too big for him to solve.Email him on:iraborspelltemple@gmail.com,and all your problems will be solved and you will be glad at last.

  • Harusi Yetu

    Keeping it low on the flowers, decor, gown and instead concentrate on the catering, it is a nice way to cut down costs. The guests may not remember the decor, colors but will definitely remember if food ran out.

  • nj

    You didn’t feed anyone… so what? I can do a cupcake party for under $4k in my sleep. big deal.

  • http://www.wholeblossoms.com/flowers/lavender-wedding-roses-|-colombian-ecuadoran-flower-887.html Wholesale wedding flowers

    Really i am impressed from this post…

  • Lex Demos

    Do you think hiring a student photographer and then using a pro photo editing site like Pictricks to edit your photos is a good idea? I mean it would totally cut down on costs, but would you trust a student photographer?

    Or maybe photographer could just take the photos and then you can out source the editing?

  • johnhex

    Congratulations for such a nice and innovative thought. And great work had done by the organizing team.
    Theproductionagency.co.nz had organized such a nice event for me during my wedding within a small budget too.

  • Mabel Steven

    i have good news to share with the world today, i made a vow to my self that i will tell the world about Doctor Zaza after he helped me with his spell that made my wife and i settled our difference. We where both married for years without issue, we visited different hospitals but nor could help us. i loved my wife so much and never intended to drive her out for a second woman. One day as we where both deliberating on how to solve our bareness we got a new from a radio station that Doctor Zaza can put a stop to all problem with his spell so we called his mobile number and then emailed him for a solution and after all was done i and very glade to announce to the world that my wife had a set of twine 9 month later. Do you have problem of any kind and you think all hope is lost then you have a chance to met Doctor Zaza today for help his email is: indiaspellcaster@hotmail.com

  • Suzy Doozy

    What about your dress?

  • KathyinSC

    Love your idea for desert and drinks. Great ideas and looks like you got it all covered. Also wanted to agree with the idea of using an ipod rather than a DJ. We did this for our last wedding and it worked out perfectly. The only thing I would strongly caution is using Craigs list for a photographer. You got lucky – many others don’t.
    I’m so glad it all worked out for you and sounds like it was a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing.

  • Olivia Ken

    HOW I SAVE MY MARRIAGE FROM A REAL SPELL CASTER
    My Name is Gregory. I will love to share my testimony to all the people in the forum cos i never thought i will have my girlfriend back and she means so much to me..The girl i want to get marry to left me 4 weeks to our wedding for another man..,When i called her she never picked my calls,She deleted me on her facebook and she changed her facebook status from married to Single…when i went to her to her place of work she told her boss she never want to see me..I lost my job as a result of this cos i cant get myself anymore,my life was upside down and everything did not go smooth with my life…I tried all i could do to have her back to all did not work out until i met a Man when i Travel to Africa to execute some business have been developing some years back..I told him my problem and all have passed through in getting her back and how i lost my job…he told me he gonna help me…i don’t believe that in the first place.but he swore he will help me out and he told me the reason why my girlfriend left me and also told me some hidden secrets.i was amazed when i heard that from him..he said he will cast a spell for me and i will see the results in the next couple of days..then i travel back to Us the following day and i called him when i got home and he said he’s busy casting those spells and he has bought all the materials needed for the spells,he said am gonna see positive results in the next 2 days that is Thursday…My girlfriend called me at exactly 1:35pm on Thursday and apologies for all she had done ..she said,she never knew what she’s doing and her sudden behavior was not intentional and she promised not to do that again.it was like am dreaming when i heard that from her and when we ended the call,i called the man and told him my wife called and he said i haven’t seen anything yet… he said i will also get my job back in 3 days time..and when its Sunday,they called me at my place of work that i should resume working on Monday and they gonna compensate me for the time limit have spent at home without working..My life is back into shape,i have my girlfriend back and we are happily married now with kids and i have my job back too.This man is really powerful..if we have up to 20 people like him in the world,the world would have been a better place..he has also helped many of my friends to solve many problems and they are all happy now..Am posting this to the forum for anybody that is interested in meeting the man for help.you can mail him to goodluck05spellcaster@gmail.com I cant give out his number cos he told me he don’t want to be disturbed by many people across the world..he said his email is okay and he’ will replied to any emails asap..hope he helped u out too..good luck:goodluck05spellcaster@gmail.com.Once Again His Email Address Is: goodluck05spellcaster@gmail.com

  • Williams Garrett

    I want to use this medium to tell the world about Doctor Ezeko who helped me in getting my lover back with his powerful spell, my ex and i where having misunderstanding which led to our breakup though i went to beg her several times to please forgive and accept me back because i know i offended her but each time i went i always feel more deeply in pain and agony because she always walk out on me and would not want to listen to what i have to tell but on i faithful day as i was browsing i came across a testimony of a woman whose problem was more than mine and yet Doctor Ezeko helped her with his spell so i was happy and also contacted Doctor Ezeko for help via email and then told him my story but the only thing he said was that i will wipe you tear with my spell so lucky for me everything want well just as he promised and right now i have got my fiance back and we are both living happily. there is nothing Doctor Ezeko can not do with is spell and just as promise my self i will keep testifying on the internet of how Doctor Ezeko helped me.Are your problem greater that mine or less i give you 100% guarantee that Doctor Ezeko will put an end to it with his powerful spell, contact Doctor Ezeko for help Via email trulygifted1@hotmail.com