One Budget, Two Weddings


a pair of wedding ringsOur original outline and budget for the wedding put us at $15k-$18k.

We decided to elope first.

We assumed it would remove pressure off the bigger event and encourage us to keep it affordable. Because we were already married. Right? And how could I say “No” to two weddings? Twice the love, twice the party, twice the bliss!

But at what cost? (literally)


Our elopement cost us less than $350, not counting the rings or the modest dinner that followed. It was an intimate ceremony, with just a handful of family and friends as witnesses, and the town clerk as officiant. Our money went to the marriage license, a nice white dress, navy slacks, and some assorted decor & paint. That’s all we spent. My coworker built the wooden arch we stood beneath as a gift, the flowers were gifts from family (wildflowers from the side of the road!), and the music was played on my dad’s Bluetooth speaker. The resulting wedding was quaint, simple, sentimental, unique, and affordable.

An affordable wedding – it’s possible!


line art of two hearts

Cut to: Wedding No. 2

We planned to stick tightly to the original budget, thinking that things would work out neatly. We knew we could save money by picking an all-inclusive type of venue – we visited a full dozen before finding the right fit – that had the bar, catering, table settings, chairs, and outdoor ceremony all on site. Many venues will not provide any of those. Likewise, keeping costs low, we planned DIYs and pulled favors from friends and family. The remaining budget was going to the usual stuff: rings, suits, dresses, travel, hotels, DJ, printed media and mailings. We were on the right track.

Our first surprise came with the fine print. When you pick a venue, they’ll often do this, so assume it will happen to you:

"Written or quoted prices are subject to change. Prices cannot be guaranteed until January of the year of the function."  - actual contract-

Our meal had increased by $12 per person. Considering our guest list included 100 adult invitations, this $12 price bump meant we needed to carve an additional $1,200 into our budget.

To add insult to injury: (1) our original budget was missing several basic expenses, (2) we waited until too late to nail down our wedding vendors (who either canceled or bumped their prices up since our first discussions), and (3) several Pinterest-y DIY ideas drove our more affordable plans to complicated expensive ones.


Our unexpected expenses

We clearly missed the mark on having an “affordable” wedding. Other than the year-to-year price hikes, here’s the full list of what we didn’t expect:

line art of bride

  • Little children that you overlooked a year ago, they’re suddenly the perfect age to be ring bearers and flower girls.

  • Family values (and mother’s opinions) cause you to expand your guest list: “How could you invite your uncle Lou, but ignore your cousin Sasha?!”

  • Fickle friends leave the bridal party, and other loyal companions prove important enough to add to the bridal party (and they better get a “plus one”)

  • Outfits need accessories & grooming:
    • For him: new watch, tie clip, & pocket square
    • For her: assorted jewelry, veil, dress alterations, manicure & pedicure, three hair appointments (cut, then color, then styling), and makeup (plus a sample session)

  • The bridal party deserves to be spoiled, too:
    • Gift baskets
    • Pampering, excursions
    • Matching accessories and hairpieces
    • Huge shared Airbnb downtown, stocked with food, coffee, and wine

  • Officiants might book events elsewhere, or move to a new city - or both! Your new officiant comes with a new price for the new year.

  • Hotels sometimes cancel their shuttle services for staffing or technical reasons.

  • Vendors and venues expect to be tipped:
    • Many do not build the gratuity into their price estimates, but they will often build it into their final bill at 18-20% as a “surcharge,” which also gets taxed!!!

  • The age of Pinterest requires DIYs:
    • We decided to embellish the basic décor and centerpieces provided by the venue, which – thanks to my wife’s creative imagination – evolved into a time-consuming 60-piece art project
    • When you start a DIY project, remember that they take time and consider the opportunity cost of spending hours (or days) on your handcrafted goodies

  • Even if guests have the best intentions, their plans may change. These were offered as “gifts” from friends but turned into unexpected expenses from third party vendors:
    • Floral arrangements (bouquets, boutonnieres, etc.)
    • Live music during dinner
    • Bride’s hair & makeup

  • Many couples will often consider these additional items, too:
    • Personal trainer or fitness classes
    • Skin specialist for flawless complexion in those close-up photos
    • Subscriptions at a tanning salon
    • Dance lessons to conquer ballroom or salsa
    • Private music lessons for gifting a special performance
    • Limousine or limo-bus rental for a photo tour with the bridal party
    • Expenses after the wedding: honeymoon, photography prints or albums, thank you cards/gifts and postage.

  • Sometimes family members or the bridal party will cover the cost of these events - but not always!
    • Bridal shower
    • Rehearsal dinner
    • Send-off brunch
    • Hotel rooms and afterparties

Over Plan & Over Budget 

vintage car with "just married" sign on the back surrounded by white and pink flowersThings will come up. Do NOT discredit the extra expenses that will come your way. That suuuper fun list of things we didn’t plan, it added another $5,000 on top of our budget. Celebrate a wedding within your means that won’t lead to a financial headache later. Instead, consider the perks of saving that $20k in a share certificate while having a micro-wedding for under $1000.

Because aside from the wedding, your dogs will still need visits to the vet (like mine did) and who knows, maybe your car will break down on your way to renew the registration (like mine did).

In all seriousness, seeing that money in the bank right now sounds pretty nice. Just imagine, I could use it to replace my busted sedan with a brand spankin’ new SUV, and I’d still have plenty to spare!


-JMS