How I Had a Wedding for 150 Guests on a $5,000 Budget That Wasn't in a Backyard
The average wedding cost in Phoenix is $29,948.
Literally everyone told me it was impossible when I said I wanted to have a low-budget wedding. Well, they said it was impossible based on the number of attendees, the fact that I didn’t want a backyard wedding, and Alex wanted a beer donkey (sadly, Alex didn’t get his beer donkey, but he got to marry me still, so I think it’s still a success?)
We got engaged back in February of 2018. Here’s proof:
About two months after getting engaged, we started thinking about the wedding. We planned to buy a house, so the idea of spending our down payment on a wedding just seemed insane. Neither of us wanted an elopement or a super small backyard wedding, though, so some budgeting was necessary. We decided on a $5,000 budget. Next, we needed to make our guest list. We started big- about 300 people. I fought a lot for a smaller group- not just because of cost, but also because I didn’t want to be overwhelmed on our day. If I was going to spend so much time planning this thing, I wanted to have plenty of time to enjoy it with my closest friends. So, we made some cuts.
The guest list = one of the hardest parts of planning.
Perfecting the guest list is your first, and possibly most important step towards a low-budget wedding.
Here are some rules for making your perfect guest list:
When making your initial list, group people by category. For example, make a list of work friends, childhood friends, BFFLs, close family, family you only see on holidays, your parents’ friends, the people who would be mad if they weren’t invited (I’ll get to this.), etc. When it comes time to make cuts, it’s a lot easier to cut an entire category than it is to cut specific people. If you don’t invite ANY work friends, they can’t all hate you.
If you find yourself thinking about the negative views someone on your guest list would have about any of your plans, nix them from the list. It’s your day. You shouldn’t be concerned about impressing your cousins, outdoing your friend’s wedding decor, or serving cake that is sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or whole-30 approved just because you’re worried about what people will think. It’s your effin' day. If the anxiety about what someone would think starts creeping in, I found that it was worth it to just take them off the guest list.
Be strict with your parents about who they are allowed to invite. Your parents (and grandparents, in our case) will be excited for you. Don’t forget that this is YOUR wedding and they’ve already had their own weddings. This is harsh, but they don’t DESERVE to invite anyone to your day. They will want to. They will want to invite all of their friends. You have two options. 1. If a small guest list is a concern mainly because of money, tell your parents to pay for whoever they invite. 2. If a small guest list is a concern because of intimacy, give your parents a set number of invites.
*BIG MOOD: If people are mad about your guest list, ignore it. Nobody should feel entitled to an invitation (except maybe your mother). The best people are the ones who don’t expect an invite but are thrilled to receive one.
After settling on a budget and a guest list, it was time to find a venue. I did A TON of research about venues in Phoenix and found nothing helpful. Every traditional wedding venue was more expensive than we could afford, didn’t let you personalize things, and required that you use their catering and bar services.
Here’s a secret: Make sure you can bring in your own food and drinks. That allows you to control the amount, the cost, and things like dietary choice.
I knew I wanted to get married outdoors, so I started examining non-traditional venues such as parks and national forests. If you want to go the super affordable route, a permit to get married in a public park is like $15 and a permit to get married in a national forest is minimal and SOMETIMES FREE. These weren’t great options for us since we had a large guest list and the cost to rent tables, chairs, and possible tents would be a lot, but for a small ceremony it’s a pretty d. good option.
We ended up finding our venue at Encanto Park by accident. I was at the park just walking around one day and noticed a beautiful, old brick building. I googled it and found out it’s rentable! We ended up booking it a few days later.
We loved a lot of things about Encanto, but most of all we loved that it was under $2,000 AND they let us bring in our own alcohol and food.
Honestly, the venue and the food are two huge expenses that are hard to cut. Unless you’re lucky and know someone with a good space or you have a pal willing to donate an S-ton of food, just expect to pay for these things, but is still V possible to get a good deal like we did, so shop around.
I will say though, it feels really good to get these expenses out of the way first because I found the other wedding expenses to be a lot more flexible.
Here’s a list of the ways we continued to save money…
-We got tons of wine and beer at Costco for about $350 and we had a lot leftover.
-My mom made our cake. We got our cake toppers on Amazon for a few dollars.
-I collected mismatched vases and pots at Goodwill for months to use as centerpiece decor. I got flowers at the wholesale market and stole chunks of my MOH’s succulent plants to fill the vases and pots.
-My ceremony space decor was done by my good friend Cristen. She’s new to the wedding scene but trying to break into it, so she offered to design our space for free in return for some experience and photos. Seriously, she was a lifesaver.
-Our venue provided tables and chairs.
-We hired a wedding noob photographer. Yes, I know this was risky. Everyone says spend good money on photographers because you don’t want shitty photos. I get it. Here’s the thing though, when you’re on a budget, sometimes you just can’t afford to spend $1500 on a photographer so you have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. I lucked out and found Gabi Marie Photography. Sure, she’s new to weddings, but she did an amazing job and I would recommend her 1000x. She wasn’t free. She wasn’t cheap. She was a lot more real and a lot more affordable than a bunch of the photography companies I met at bridal fairs and she cared a lot about capturing our wedding the way WE wanted it captured. That speaks volumes. (Also, you can see the photos are wonderful. She did such a good job.)
-I did my make-up myself. My BFF did my hair.
-I found my dress at a thrift store. OG tags still on it, already been altered. $4,000ish dress for $50. (That was pure luck. I don’t really know what else to say about that. Look at thrift stores. Look often. Pray.)
-I got my shoes at Nordstrom Rack for $27
-I got my veil at a thrift store for $10. (These are super easy to find at thrift stores. Or, make your own! It’s literally just fabric pinned to your head.)
-Alex bought a suit that he can wear for work, so we didn’t really consider it 100% part of the wedding expenses.
-Plates, utensils, cups, linens, etc… I ordered all of this stuff on Amazon. We used palm leaf plates, compostable utensils, and reusable wine goblets for drinks. The drink cups doubled as wedding favors.
-I asked one of my DJ friends to work our wedding instead of hiring a wedding DJ and only hired him to cue music during the ceremony and mix during the reception. I made a playlist for cocktail hour and dinner.
-I picked out my own flowers for bouquets and had a friend put them together for me.
-My grandma was our officiant instead of hiring somebody.
-We bought heaters, work lights, string lights, microphones, and extension cords and then we may have possibly returned them the next day. * shrug *
-We didn’t have live music. This one was hard for us, but we made up for it when Alex sang me down the aisle.
-I designed and printed our Save The Date and Invitations myself. I used Canva.com and it was under $100 for everything.
-I went commando under my dress so I didn’t have to buy a corset or bra or even underwear.
-We didn’t do ceremony programs, we just made a big sign. Save paper, save the world.
All in all, we spent $5,553.
We would have been right on the money if I hadn’t lost a bunch of weight and had to get last-minute alterations on my dress the week before the wedding. Some things just can’t be avoided. So, my perfect $50 dress ended up being a $500 dress after alterations. I loved my dress though, so no huge complaints.