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    My Wedding Cost $8,700 And Had 125 Guests; Here Are 14 Tips And Tricks I Used To Plan It

    Classy, not trashy.

    Editor's note: This wedding occurred in 2015, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While big weddings may be on hold for now, we hope this serves as inspiration for the future.

    When my husband proposed, I had no idea how involved planning a wedding could get.

    This is how I planned mine for less than $10,000:

    Breakdown of wedding costs by category
    Charis Barg

    I should probably mention that I was never someone who dreamed about their wedding. Don't get me wrong, I love Say Yes to the Dress as much as the next person. I just didn't think about my own wedding until I was engaged.

    So keep in mind all these choices worked for me because of the life stage I was in at the time, but that doesn't mean they'll be right for everyone.

    1. First thing's first: I started by writing the guest list so I could estimate how big a venue I'd need.

    Vanderpump Rules / Via Giphy /

    All my friends and family together in one room? The next time that would happen would be at my funeral — and I wouldn't even be there to enjoy it. That's why it was important to me to include as many people as I could.

    I started with the guest list so I could figure out how much space I'd need. After all, some venues might only have space for 50 people while some can fit 500.

    For us, we planned to invite around 200 people. More than half were friends and family from other states, so 125 people ended up attending.

    2. I dedicated most of my planning time to finding the right venue and caterer.

    Blank potential vendor template
    Charis Barg

    I knew location and food would be my biggest expenses, so I spent months researching the options around me. Here's what was important to me:

    The location had to be inside. Planning a Midwest wedding meant I had to prepare for the possibility it could be perfectly sunny one day and hail-storming the next. I didn't want to deal with the stress of a backup for bad weather, so I decided no parks or outdoor venues for me.

    The venue had to look nice without decorations. I found venues that were just $100–$200 to rent, but they'd require a ton of decorations on my end to make them look nice. I’m not a big DIY person, so I knew I didn’t want to invest the resources or time in that.

    Finding caterers with reasonable food minimums. Some caterer requirements were way too expensive for me. One venue that offered their own food service had a $15,000 food minimum. Another caterer was $100/plate.

    Ideally I wanted to have the ceremony and reception at the same place. This was more out of convenience, so guests didn't have to drive to different locations. I also figured it'd be cheaper to have everything in the same area.

    Here's what I ended up picking:

    Amie Kieffer

    The ceremony venue cost $900 for four hours. I loved that I could use the space without having to put up decorations. That was a huge plus. I also knew this would be one of my biggest expenses anyway.

    The reception location also looked nice without requiring decorations on my part. Their in-house catering service cost $20/plate, which I felt was reasonable. An added plus was that the venue also had a nice lobby and a separate room, specifically for the wedding party to get ready in. The reception venue and catering cost $4,300, which was half of what I spent on the rest of the wedding.

    I ended up going with two separate venues for the ceremony and reception, even though I would have preferred them to be in the same place. The reception venue actually offered to do the ceremony at the same location for less than $900. However, it would have meant the guests would be sitting at the dining tables during the ceremony, which I wasn't into. Plus, I just thought the ceremony venue was gorgeous!

    3. We had our wedding on a Sunday.

    Confession / Via Giphy /

    Since we had two different venues for the ceremony and reception, I had to make sure they had the same date available. The venues ended up being free on a Friday and Sunday, and both were cheaper options than having it on a Saturday. We went with Sunday because we figured more people would be at work on Fridays and might not be able to make it.

    4. Sadly, we had a cash bar.

    Not getting married until I can afford an open bar.... I’m not disrespecting my friends like that

    Twitter: @twbell96

    The cost of alcohol would've tipped me way over $10,000 for the entire wedding. Since we didn't want to cut out guests, we ended up just doing a cash bar. But I'll admit it: If we're talking about wedding regret, I regret this decision. I wish I had at least supplied some wine and beer or something. Luckily, since we got married at 21, an open bar definitely wasn't expected.

    If you decide to go the cash bar route, just make sure to tell your guests ahead of time.

    5. I bought my wedding dress online.

    My bridesmaids helping me put on my wedding dress
    Amie Kieffer

    Who doesn't like trying on dresses at the store?! I loved trying on dresses but I didn't love the price tag. A dress at a normal wedding store would've cost me hundreds and hundreds of dollars, PLUS alterations on top of that.

    I ended up browsing AliExpress just to check it out...and I ended up finding my dress for just $100! Alterations cost an additional $75–$100 (I added a bustle and shortened the length).

    Some notes about doing it this way:
    • I got my measurements taken prior to ordering.

    • I read a LOT of customer reviews before I decided which dress to buy.

    • I allowed plenty of time for shipping. I knew it would take over a month for the dress to ship. Plus I needed time for alterations.

    • I chose a dress that tied up with ribbon as opposed to a zipper fastening so I wouldn't have to worry about it not fitting if my weight fluctuated.

    6. And my husband bought cheap groom attire.

    My husband in his suit during our first look
    Amie Kieffer

    My husband didn’t get his suit jacket and shoes until the day of the wedding. I must've forgotten to ask him about what he was gonna wear and just assumed he'd handle it himself 'cause I can't imagine ever being cool with that.

    He told me he just stopped by some random department store first thing in the morning. I didn't even know about this until after the wedding 🙄. But if I thought nothing of it during the wedding, I'm sure no one else did either.

    7. In the name of efficiency, I opted to do a first look.

    Me and my husband during our first look
    Amie Kieffer

    A first look is when you see your spouse before the actual wedding ceremony. I chose this option for two reasons:

    I thought it'd be more cost-efficient. Doing a first look meant we could take a lot of the photos before the ceremony. This meant we wouldn't have to spend a chunk of time doing photos between the ceremony and reception. And we'd eliminate the need for a cocktail hour (aka additional cost for extra food and drink!).

    I thought it'd be more time-efficient. I didn't want guests to have to spend their whole day at the wedding, so I figured I'd just plan it so guests could jump from the ceremony to reception immediately. That decision was more personal preference as opposed to anything related to money.

    8. For each purchase, asked myself, Will this be noticed?

    White chair covers with blue ribbon and flowers
    John Keeble / Getty Images

    During wedding planning, a lot of things came up that I wondered if I "should have." I spent time debating whether I should rent chair covers to cover ugly chairs, have an aisle runner, get more decorations, create bigger centerpieces, buy plate chargers, make seat assignments, give out custom favors with our wedding date on them — and all sorts of little things that people just seem to have at weddings.

    But I decided against having, like, all of that cause people I felt like generally don't notice those things. When I think back to the weddings I've been to, I can't for the life of me remember what their chairs looked like.

    9. I decided not to include wedding traditions I didn't care about.

    Kelsea Ballerini / Via Giphy /

    There were a lot of wedding "traditions” my husband and I didn't care about: cake cutting, bouquet toss, garter toss, etc. That's not to say there's anything wrong with any of these things — if they're important to you, then great (no shame!) — but they just weren't a priority for me. So instead of planning for all those extras, I straight up didn’t have them. Besides saving money, it kept the wedding simple since I didn't have to think about timing logistics.

    10. I used a fake cake for ~the look~ but served Costco cake.

    Fake wedding cake
    Amie Kieffer

    I didn't want pictures of a ceremonial cake cutting so I figured why spend all that money on a real "wedding" cake? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    As a wedding gift, my friend made me a fake cake out of Styrofoam and *magic*. I then bought two Costco cakes, which cost a total of $40, and kept them hidden in the back until it was time to serve the cake.

    11. When possible, I borrowed things instead of buying things.

    Centerpiece with flowers and candles
    Amie Kieffer

    You'd be surprised how many people know other people who can help you out for your wedding. Just through everyday conversation, generous friends and family offered up their talents or connections once they found out I was planning a wedding.

    For instance, my mother-in-law's friend's daughter had leftover fake flowers and candles from her wedding that they let me borrow for free. And I'd never even met this person before. How nice!

    I used her flowers for me and my bridesmaids' bouquets, as well as the table centerpieces: flowers in a vase on a mirror plate for ~elegance~, candles, and some petals. Easy peasy.

    12. We hired a photographer from Craigslist and the videographer was a friend's coworker.

    Vintage camera and a wedding photo book
    Limpido / Getty Images

    I know they say that photos and videos will cost a ton and you'll regret it if you don't spend thousands on it. I get it but that just wasn't the case for me. TBH, I'm glad I didn't spend a huge amount on photography (ours cost around $800) because I barely look back at my wedding pics.

    Our videographer was my friend's coworker, who was just starting out, so we spent around $500 on that.

    13. I sent online invitations instead of mailing them out.

    Simple wedding invitation made on Paperless Post
    Charis Barg / Paperless Post / Via

    Everything is online now so what’s another thing? Instead of printing out paper invites that most people would just throw away anyway, I made simple online invitations using Paperless Post, which were sent via email. RVSP-ing was done through WeddingWire. Not only did this make it easier for me to actually get a response, but it was also better for the environment too. So, win-win.

    I only printed a few of the invites for family members who I thought would actually want them. And for myself to keep, of course.

    14. Ultimately, I focused on the most important things I wanted to remember.

    Me and my husband standing in front of a trellis
    Charis Barg

    I definitely don’t think, Wow I wish I had gotten an aisle runner. I just wanted to get married while celebrating with friends and family. I wanted my guests to be comfortable and not have to stress about outside weather. I didn't think much more than that.

    Do have any tips for planning a wedding on a budget? Let us know in the comments below! And don't forget to check out more of our personal finance posts.