How I Did It: ‘My Wedding Cost Less Than $1,000′

steve and sally city hall

Steve and Sally tied the knot at City Hall—for $200.

Something Borrowed, Something New—Within Budget

When we started planning, we knew that we wanted an intimate affair because most of Sally’s family wouldn’t be able to travel to the U.S. from South Korea. We also wanted to keep it as inexpensive as possible.

I remember sitting at our dining room table, looking up wedding venues in San Francisco, when we had our first discussion about what we were willing to spend.

I told Sally that I didn’t want our wedding to turn into a big, stressful event—or for it to drain our savings, which we’d earmarked for a down payment on a house. From the get-go, Sally was in complete agreement.

RELATED: Getting Hitched? The $30K Wedding Day

Once we’d defined our terms, planning the wedding became relatively easy. We began by asking friends and colleagues about inexpensive places to get married in the Bay Area, and after some online research, landed on San Francisco City Hall, which was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It was perfect for photos and very inexpensive—we paid less than $200 for the marriage license and booking the space. We also decided to skip an expensive engagement ring and chose simple wedding bands.

I was hesitant about buying a secondhand dress, but after seeing Sally in it, there was no way we could leave the store without it.

As a bonus, some expenses ended up being free, thanks to family and friends who offered to chip in. My aunt baked a two-tiered, chocolate-and-cheesecake wedding dessert; my uncle bought beautiful flowers; my cousin made the bouquet and corsages; and my fraternity brother generously offered to handle our photography.

But of all our frugal decisions, I am most proud of the deals we found for our wedding attire. For Sally’s dress, we researched gowns online and went to stores, but on a weekend trip to Sacramento, we came across a beautiful gown in a thrift store that was just $50.

I was hesitant about buying a secondhand dress, as I didn’t want to be perceived as cheap, but after seeing Sally in it, there was no way we could leave the store without it. To truly make it the dress of her dreams, my mother created a sweetheart neckline and made a beautiful veil. And my grandmother gave Sally her “something old”—a vintage necklace and earrings.

As for my own duds, I found an awesome Brooks Brothers tuxedo on eBay for about $250. I also purchased a slim-fit Boss tuxedo shirt on eBay for $50, a handmade bow tie for $12 on Etsy, and onyx cufflinks from a garage sale for $1. My father gave me his old cummerbund for the finishing touch.

RELATED: With This Ring, I Thee Save: How Men Buy Wedding Bands

  • Elaine

    I really like the way that you made your relationship and your future the priorities, not a large, glamorous wedding that would be a setback to your future plans. I think that people focus too much sometimes on impressing others without a lot of thought towards the important parts, the reasons you get married, and sometimes that can create money problems, which may lead to stress in the marriage, etc. But truly, there’s no way that you could have done this wedding at that low cost without the very generous support of your friends and family! Not a problem, or a fault, just a recognition that this wedding was definitely a group effort. The things that you received help with can be very pricey elements, and their generosity is incredible! And, it sounds like, much appreciated. You have very kind friends!

    • mostlywentzel

      I agree with pretty much everything you say here. It’s great to prioritize and focus on the important things. But the reality of what really is the big expense of a wedding is the reception. Everything the bride a groom did (the cost of attire, the wedding venue, rings, photography, etc) didn’t really have anything to do with the number of guests. And the one thing that does vary in cost, based in large part on the guest list, is the reception. His parents hosted a dinner, which isn’t even factored into the wedding costs, as far as I can see. So really, if your parents are paying for the food, anyone can say they got married for $1000 and still have 100 guests. Really not trying to put down anything they did, but it’s a different perspective.

      • steve

        Dinner was not that expensive so for a dozen people that wouldn’t have altered our budget very much.


        • mostlywentzel

          I think you’re missing my point. We had a very inexpensive wedding as well. My dress, a silk Calvin Klein, was $50 at a discount store. My husband bought a linen suit for $150. My shoes were $20, and the suits/dresses we bought for our children amounted to maybe $150. My MIL bought the flowers (which were just 4 bouquets and 4 boutonnieres) and we had simple cakes from a bakery, for about $50. We had a guerrilla beach wedding, meaning we found a pretty spot and just had everyone show up there. My SIL officiated. My brother played guitar. When you just look at those costs, we did it pretty cheap. Of course the dinner for a couple dozen people was about $1500 and we did opt for a more expensive honeymoon. I’m just saying that the things you are counting (other than the honeymoon, which most people will spend more on, but you are also well-traveled people who may not have felt the need to go anywhere exotic), the items you mention are not what end up costing budget-conscious people a lot of money. A reception, which was not even part of your budget, is where money really comes into play. While you are saying it wouldn’t have changed your budget much, I’m assuming (yes, assuming) that dinner and drinks for 12 people at a nice French restaurant was easily around $600 – which comes close to doubling your budget. You could have done everything exactly the same, but had your parents host a dinner for 50 people, and your personal budget would not have changed. I’m not discounting what you did, but I am saying that your $1000 cost was not the true cost of the entire event.

          • steve

            You have some great points. I’m not much of a bean counter. We didn’t have a specific budget of $1000 just tried to do things as reasonably as possible.

            We are well traveled and that was one of the reasons we didn’t go abroad. That and working full time we didn’t want to use all of our vacation days.

            Your beach wedding sounds pretty awesome btw! Hopefully budget weddings become more common!


          • robin

            I disagree with your point and your counter-point. And, I understood both. You, like Steve and Sally, opted for inexpensive dresses, venues, flowers and such. BUT, the reception is not, always, the only thing that makes a wedding a big-budget affair. Venues can easily start at $500.00 just for the space, not to mention decorations and sometimes having to hire the venue’s wedding planner. Additionally, wedding attire can start somewhere in the 1000′s (and that can just be for the bride’s dress). To imply that you have some newfound perspective that the rest of us missed because you believe the “reality of what really is the big expense of a wedding is the reception”, is inaccurate and misses the point of this great article.

          • mostlywentzel

            You are certainly welcome to disagree. But I don’t think I missed any point nor do I in any way think I have some “new found perspective.” What I said was that all of the items they mentioned had nothing to do with the size of the wedding guest list. You can have 1 guest or 100 and the attire cost, etc, is pretty much the same for the wedding they described. In their case, and in mine, the big budget item was the reception. For that matter, if you are having 10 people at your wedding, you likely don’t need to spend as much on the venue either. They made some great decisions to cut costs. But depending on what you count as your wedding (and many people would factor in the cost of the reception as part of that cost) this article, by the title and the claim of a $1000 wedding, is also a bit misleading.

          • robin

            Steve’s story never said that the cost of their wedding had anything to do with “the size of the wedding guest list.” That was just one aspect of the MANY things they listed as frugal and budget-friendly choices. I disagree that the big budget item for that, or for any wedding, has to be the reception. That is what you are choosing to focus on, which is why you felt the “the title and the claim of a $1000 wedding, is also a bit misleading.”

          • MG

            I agree with you. I think this is misleading – especially as someone who wants an affordable wedding herself. The reception is a huge part of the wedding. It’s the celebratory part. The ceremony really can cost less than $1000 dollars easily. My ceremony could easily be less than that for a wedding, but the reception? Even if I had to go to the trouble to make the food and dessert myself and find a place to host it (I don’t have the luxury of a big family home) it would still end up costing more than what they claim to pay on their ‘wedding’. This was a nice article though, not putting down their ceremony, but it was disappointing to me as a reader who wants to finally have her inexpensive wedding.

          • mostlywentzel

            Consider a morning wedding with a brunch or an evening wedding with a dessert buffet. The food for both would be much cheaper than the usual dinner and focusing on mimosas and bloody Marys or Champagne and coffee drinks keeps the alcohol cost way down. You can make either one seem very luxurious without spending a ton. There are also other fun, casual style wedding reception ideas like hiring a food truck or go all out with an old school cookout. You can pick up lots of cheap tablecloths, even china and glassware and accessories at yard sales or Goodwill.

          • knut

            14 Years ago, we married for <1K, and I was excited, too, to see that someone else had done so. The big difference, as you have noted, MG, is that the reception was included in our costs. We were married at the local public library (beautiful old stone building with colored glass windows) and had the reception at a roadhouse restaurant that would have otherwise been closed for the day (Sunday–oh, yes, we also had the ceremony on the Sunday of a holiday weekend so guests didn't have to take time off and could fly home on the Monday holiday…). They opened the restaurant just for us, put out big platters of shrimp and salad on the tables, took orders for one of three entrees (fish, beef, and veggie) and offered fresh-made pies and a cake for dessert. Coffee, tea, wine, water, and soft drinks were included, and there was a cash bar for everything else. It was a steal! You might want to see if a nearby place (roadhouse or family-run old-style steakhouse would be good choices) would do up something similar. Best!

          • supremedinosaur

            I’m in the same boat. This wasn’t an article about a wedding. They paid 1000 for a marriage. If I wanted to just get married I’d go downtown and drop 100 on the license and be done with it.

          • Tania

            I read it differently. One of the reasons their wedding was low cost was because they made the choice not to have a reception. But rather to have a very small guest list and a casual dinner. Had they decided to do a full blown reception, perhaps the parents wouldn’t have covered the cost for that. The choice not to do have a reception with a larger guest list is definitely relevant for couples getting married and wanting to prioritize their money toward other endeavors. It may not be the choice of all readers but it is definitely an option worth considering. I could see someone reading this and being grateful that others have chosed not to succumb to family or society pressure to have a large wedding.

          • SFguest

            The French restaurants near City Hall in SF cost upwards of $100 a person. I would estimate the reception was between $1000 – $1500 for 12 guests.

    • steve

      Thanks for the support! My family has always been very resourceful so I was grateful that they could help. I was also surprised my friend did my photos for free. I initially offered to pay but he was happy to help since it was his hobby, not his profession.


  • Gars

    It is not in the wedding planners interest to produce low cost weddings. It is the responsibility of the people being wed and their parent to strike a rational compromise between the two extremes that meets with everyone’s approval.

    Congrats to your decision to be frugal.

    When I was 18 my friends were usually married in a small church with a “Cake & Ice Cream” reception immediately afterward in the church basement.

    Yet I’ve seen friends do an even less expensive wedding.

    I don’t know the cost, but they and their friends met at the Justice of the Peace over their lunch hour, were wed, and went back to work that afternoon.

    They were in their late 30′s and had been married before so each knew what a fancier ceremony was like.

    They decided to put the money into a honeymoon and a house.

    The friends then held a house warming party for them to help furnish the house.

    I enjoyed this much more than the long ceremonies and lavish dinners from some other friends.

    • flours

      I did basically the same thing for my first marriage…we each had the day off, but picked up our two witnesses at their offices, went to the magistrate and took them to lunch afterwards. My grandfather paid for the ‘reception’ dinner as his wedding gift. We spent less than $200 and most of that was the rings and license. My second husband & I splurged a little more…we spent about $6000 for the wedding & honeymoon, but we went to Las Vegas & bought an all-inclusive package. We certainly could have done it cheaper, but we wanted a ‘premium’ date (11.12.13) and that cost more. I also wanted a professional photographer (since I had no pictures of my first marriage) and we were being married in the desert. We also paid for two nights in the hotel for our guests (3 rooms x 2 nights) and paid for two meals for all of us (7 total). I felt it was the least I could do after asking them to purchase cross-country flights, even though they all agreed to come without knowing this & didn’t find out until they got to Vegas that part of their hotel had already been paid. Finally, we debated a long time, but ultimately decided to upgrade to first class flights. My husband hates flying and it was a five-hour flight for us. The price difference was well worth his comfort. All-in-all I don’t regret a penny we spent and even though it depleted our savings, we didn’t go into debt and by our first anniversary we will have re-paid our savings account. I love seeing a couple realize that there are more important things about getting married than how much you spend on one day.

      • steve

        That’s a great story, thanks for sharing!


  • Julie Reuter

    Everyone has different priorities. As the author states, although going this inexpensive route on a wedding might not be what everyone else would do, it worked just fine for this couple. Good for them!

    • steve

      Thanks for the support Julie!


      • Lafiesta

        Great story! Here is how we saved tons of money on our wedding. We bought my wife’s gown at David’s bridal for $99. Much like that “little black dress” that fashionable have, I have a little black suit. For $20 you can get a tuxedo shirt, tie and cummerbund most department stores, either as a set or separately. Have a black suit was a prerequisite to being a groomsman and I bought matching ties and cummerbunds. We live in the rural south. Not to many caterers in our neck of the woods, so we bought the meat and had a couple of my wife’s friends do the cooking. The house of worship for the ceremony was free and the community center where the reception was held was at a state park so the rental fee was less than $50 (there was a $25 fee to use their sound system. I’m a DJ and wouldn’t know my amp blew the morning of the wedding.) Decorations for the reception were less than $100 most of which my mother paid for and my FIL gave us $500 as wedding gift, $400 of which we spent on 5 day cruise. H-O-T-W-I-R-E Her wedding ring was CZ at a cost of $50 which she never knew the difference until she tried to replace it after having lost it. I don’t know if all of that comes in at or under $1000 but we cash flowed the entire thing and brought home memories and photos from the honeymoon and not debt.

  • kgal1298

    Awesome. I totally agree with making weddings small. I feel like people put on weddings to show off to other people, but then what you’re in debt? You’re stressed? No thank you. I’m personally all about the elopement and saving money for something we could do together like traveling after all it’s you two that have to be married not you and the 400 some guests that come to the wedding. Do things to make memories together not to show off to a bunch of people.

  • Anna B.

    Thanks for sharing your story! My fiance and I are planning our wedding for next year and working to keep it low cost. We’re using a longer engagement to pay down our personal debt and save to pay for the wedding and honeymoon. Thankfully there are many ways we’re keeping costs low such as getting married in the church I belong to is free as is the use of the social hall (and pre-marital counseling! ) My aunt bakes wedding cakes as a side hobby and we have a large network to rely on to source many things. I’m looking forward to our wedding but even more so to our marriage.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Just wondering, were the aunt, uncle and cousin your whole extended family, or were there some you excluded? I have a huge family and barely know some of them, but it seems weird not to invite them all…

  • Megan

    I wish the headline was more accurate. This wedding did not cost $1000, that is what the couple spent. To me, this is a great story about a couple with great friends and family that could help them out, not about a $1000 wedding. Photography, cake, dinner, flowers, all of these things were gifts. They still cost money, just not out of the couple’s pocket.

    • Lauren

      Agreed. This is no different than if you said that your aunt bought a cake. your parents paid for a reception etc etc. Sure it may have been DIY (which personally i prefer) but it wasnt inexpensive. The costs were just spread out amongst the village.

      While frugal decisions were made- Doesn’t seem to different from me from having “Daddy” pick up the check.

  • Anastasia Shirai

    nd and I spent about $500 give or take on our wedding. Luckily though
    we have Hawaii as our back yard so finding a place to get married wasn’t
    hard. The most we spent on was our officiant but they pretty much
    planned everything for our ceremony so it was a good deal. We picked a
    spot on the beach in Ko’olina (highly recommend you stay there sometime
    hehe) it was $200. My cousin grabbed her Nikon and was the
    “photographer” of the event hehe we paid her in infinite amount of hugs
    and kisses! I actually wore a hand me down dress. I was 6 months
    pregnant and my mom had this gorgeous white dress that she never wore in
    life because it was too big, and she has this thing where she doesn’t
    return like anything. haha. I used makeup I already owned and went with
    slippers cause I mean our ceremony was on the beach, I wasn’t gna be
    wearing shoes neways. lol So on myself I spent $5 total because I bought
    ribbon to act as a sash so I could match my husband. My husband
    actually spent more on his outfit $100. The best Aloha shirt Tommy
    Bahama could offer and new shoes! the rest of our budget was of course
    We had our “reception” in our backyard. I spend about $30 on decor and what not, you know fancy it up a bit.
    in all our wedding was small, because we’re young and don’t have the
    fanciest job/careers. The money my mom and (rip) father was going to
    donate we put in a savings account. The money HIS parents were going to
    donate we opened a 529 for our unborn baby.
    I always wanted the big
    grand wedding, only because I love to throw and put together a good
    party hehe and im a sucker for gorgeous gowns but when it came to it,
    Hawaii as AMAZING as it is, isn’t the EASIEST place to live financially.
    Cost of living is so high but it’s home. We wanted to set up a better
    financial future for ourselves and for our children.
    We plan that our
    10 year anniversary we’ll have that “big party!” If our plans go
    accordingly, we’ll have our own home (owned! hehe) a CAREER not just a
    job and it’ll be 10 years married and a total of 18 years being a
    couple. now THATS something to celebrate right? hehe
    if anyone wants
    a look, I could show you pics of our wedding! I truly believe
    everyones special day is gorgeous regardless of how much was spent on
    it! <3 =)

    sorry for the novel ^_^

  • Tiggy

    Great! I wish more people would realise that marriage is about the 2 of you and your relationship. I have seen demanding women on their second marriage, wanting the whole big white wedding thing again. My own brother married a demanding woman, we could not tell him that she was in love with the day, did not care about him getting into debt or him. The relationship was non existent once that day passed and he ended up losing out financially and with a lot of heartbreak :(

  • heaven

    This article is ridiculous and demeaning. Basically, it reads, I bought a marriage license, second-hand outfits, held my “wedding ceremony” in a public space and saved money by having other people in my family pay for everything else, from flowers, cake and reception. Sure! I could save money by having my parents pay for it all, but wait, that is not actually saving money, is it. I have self-respect and a budget something the author lacks. So, this article has no relevance to any actual wedding or financial plans.

  • Valencia

    Your wedding didn’t cost $1000. It cost YOU $1000.

  • Mimi Schmaltz

    Such a tizzy. The point ought to be, that you really don’t need a $30,000 wedding to start your married life right…..

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  • Kimberly Llorada

    My husband and I paid about $8000 at the end if the day for all of our expenses for our wedding. We did have 80 people attending, so I think we did pretty well considering the average couple spends upwards of $20k!!

  • cerenatee

    I understand the premise of your article – keep costs low by not making expensive selections, not having a big wedding, and getting friends and family to pay for your stuff or give it to you free. Got it. But let’s assume you didn’t have friends and family to help out. What would your wedding have cost then? That two-tiered chocolate and cheesecake cake? $250. That amateur photographer? $400. Those flowers? $200. Someone to make your bouquet and corsages? $50. That french dinner? $60 per person, easy. Some people, like myself, don’t have friends and family to help pay for our wedding so a real cost estimate of your wedding for someone like me is $2500.

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    You got lucky she didn’t want her relatives on site.