How to Plan Your Dream Wedding (That Fits Your Budget)

How to Plan Your Dream Wedding (That Fits Your Budget)

Here’s something the wedding industry doesn’t want you to know… your dream wedding doesn’t have to cost a fortune! My wedding was the most amazing day and it wasn’t because how much we paid, it was all the personal touches we included. According to, couples in the US paid $19,323 and $32,205 on average in 2017… our final cost was around $16,000. Want to know how to have your dream wedding AND stay sane throughout your wedding planning? Keep reading!

My dream… my husband, family, and friends in the magical redwoods. Nothing else really mattered! Photography:  Allison Andres

My dream… my husband, family, and friends in the magical redwoods. Nothing else really mattered! Photography: Allison Andres

1) Get your priorities straight! Every couple is different. Prioritize your spending (and the time you invest in planning) based on what is important to you. How do you envision your wedding? I dreamed of getting married in the redwoods. Even though it wasn’t the most cost effective location, we made it a priority in our planning and spending. Finding the venue, Mendocino Woodlands, was the first major task we accomplished. And although that venue meant extra costs for us included flights, a rental car, several nights in an Airbnb, travel fees for vendors, and rentals to bring in all the wedding supplies, we made it work. We cut costs in other areas that were less important to me. My hair and makeup, wedding flowers, and serving a steak dinner were not really important to me— especially the steak since Kolby and I don’t eat meat! So I did my own hair and makeup, bought bulk flowers from the flower market in San Francisco for my bridesmaids to arrange into bouquets, and we hired a crowd-pleasing wood-fire pizza truck to cater. And the results are in! I like my hair and make-up in the photos we’ve seen so far; it’s natural and I look like ME, which is how I wanted to look on my wedding day. The bouquets were perfect and in season, which is a really awesome bonus. And the pizza was delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy seeing the magical wood fire oven appear in the forest to pop out each crispy, tasty pizza with high-end toppings like squash, arugula, feta cheese, and… oh yeah, there were some meats for those who enjoy that kind of thing :) I’m not saying your priorities are the same as mine. just do some reflection to come up with your own! Do you love live music? Spring for a band! Don’t care for hard liqour? Keep it simple with wine and beer. No vision for your ceremony? Then find your dream reception space and ask the staff if they have any options for the ceremony that are convenient and cheap (or free)!

Here’s a tip if you’re struggling to figure out your priorities: If you’re having a hard time deciding on something, that might be because you don’t have strong opinions on that aspect of your wedding. I couldn’t find a hairstyle or bouquet that I really LOVED, which was a sign to me that maybe I just didn’t care about those things. I loved my hair and bouquet as much as any of the Pinterest ideas I came across. If you feel uninspired about any aspect of your wedding, make it lower on your priorities! Don’t stress out about it!

Whoa. Ok I promise that the following pointers won’t be as long as #1! It just happens to be my biggest piece of advice so I might have gone overboard in explaining it.

2) Tap into your creative side and add some personal touches! If you’ve ever dipped a toe into the raging ocean of wedding planning, chances are you’ve been hit with the tidal wave of personalized items available for purchase. From beer koozies to paper napkins, M&Ms with your initials printed on them to a monogrammed aisle runner, you can pay to have any item customized to add a “personal touch” to your special day. Here’s the thing though… do you really need ANY of those things?! There are lots of ways to personalize your wedding decor without all of that. I used Adobe Capture to create designs for a pre-wedding email to the guests, the tags on the favors, and signage for the wedding. It cost about $5 to print at FedEx Office and the final product was way more personal and special than the aforementioned M&Ms. Afraid you’re not creative? See my post on creativity because I thought the exact same thing about myself. I promise you have it in you!

The header design I made for the newsletter type email I sent to the wedding guests.

3) Here’s a real money saver that isn’t always an option but I highly recommend it if possible! Find a reception venue that allows you to bring your own alcohol. All of our beer cost around $350. For all the beer! And there were cases leftover! The wine was graciously gifted to us from Kolby’s parents, who were able to order it at a discounted price. There was more than enough champagne, wine, and beer to go around and I don’t even want to imagine what it all would have cost with a price mark-up and service costs.

4) Friend-source as much as possible. There’s an added bonus to this one: you get to have more friends at the wedding! We hired friends for the day-of coordination, photography, videography, officiating, and sound. It meant a lot to us to have friends play a special part in the wedding and we felt comfortable knowing that these people had a vested interest in making sure the wedding was perfect for Kolby and me. I enjoyed being surrounded by people we love and trust on our wedding day. Considering how much time you spend with your vendors during the day, it was really nice to not have strangers there in the big moments. And my friends all did such an incredible job!

My beautiful officiant and close friend, Ashley, who happened to be already invited to the wedding <3 Photography:  Allison Andres

My beautiful officiant and close friend, Ashley, who happened to be already invited to the wedding <3 Photography: Allison Andres

5) This one is related to the first tip— it’s all about priorities! Here’s the best advice I can give to someone planning a wedding: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Only you can decide what qualifies as “big stuff” and “small stuff” but this is important!! Once you figure out which details you’re willing to compromise on, stop stressing out about those things. If you’re under some insane pressure to have every aspect be perfectly planned and executed, you will rob yourself of the ability to enjoy the day. And you’ll probably end up spending way more money than you need. Imagine the feeling you want your guests to walk away with and what will create that experience. For me, I wanted people to spend a magical time together in my favorite place on earth, Mendocino, CA. I focused on that. Could I have more carefully crafted a high-end space with fancy linens and crystal draped centerpieces? Sure. But it would have been way more expensive and wouldn’t have added to the experience of being in the woods. So what did add to that experience? A greeting table with bug spray and warm mulled wine for guests to enjoy before the ceremony and a fire pit with supplies for s’mores at the end of the night.

Signage created by your’s truly!

Signage created by your’s truly!

6) Resist inviting everyone you know. Trust me, I feel the pain that comes with this one. But the most sure-fire way to reduce costs is by having fewer people at your wedding. It can be really difficult to chose who you invite but honestly, the heartache is worth it. We only had about 70 people attend our wedding and it was still a challenge to spend time with everyone! If we had 100+ people, there is no way I would have been able to enjoy the company of everyone there. So while I understand you don’t want to hurt feelings or leave anyone out, I recommend keeping your guest list to close family and your closest friends. Make sure you have a conversation with others who you can’t invite and explain that you can only invite a small number of people to the wedding and invite them to celebrate with you in some other way. We chose a reception space with a maximum occupancy of 80 people (and had to allow space for a dance floor), so that really forced us to minimize our guest list. Most people were really understanding and happy that we thought of them enough to reach out and talk about our size limitations.

7) Lastly, here are some specific things that will lower your stress level while wedding planning and save you some money!

  • Use compost-able, disposable plates, napkins, and forks for the cake/desserts. By the time everyone has had dinner, they won’t care that the desserts aren’t served on fine china. We had a dessert bar (which I was originally opposed to but I compromised on because I didn’t care that much about it), which made it really easy for people to load their bamboo plates with desserts without needing forks.

  • Table assignments. This was one of the areas where I put my infantile design skills to use. I hand-drew the table numbers then put together the seating chart using google drive, which has a huge selection of unique fonts. Then I printed them on cardstock at FedEx Office and cut the sheets so they looked like custom-sized stationary. I had several copies set out on the tables during the cocktail hour so that by the time everyone went inside for the reception, they knew where they would be sitting. You could easily do the same thing using Canva or the Microsoft Office Suite. Don’t kill yourself by trying to figure out some big scheme for people to find their table assignments! It’s just a seating chart.

  • Skip the DJ. Remember how I said we paid a friend to do the sound for the wedding? He was someone who was invited to the wedding anyway but also has all the speakers and equipment needed to play music at the venue. My wedding venue had the added challenge of not having wifi or cell service, so we brought my old iPod mini back to life and made playlists for different parts of the wedding. It took a lot of work (probably about 10 hours altogether to select, purchase, and organize all the music) and some money (probably about $80 for all the music we downloaded) but I was happy with the outcome. Our music was super personal and in good taste— there were no cheesy songs that I hate. Plus, one perk of marrying a musician is having amazing, original live music. And my mom’s partner has a great personality, so he MC’d the wedding to make sure the big things like cake cutting and special dances were announced.

  • Use whatever is included with your venue. My venue came with tables and benches in the dining hall, so for our wedding, we kept the tables in the dining hall and used the benches for the ceremony. We only had to rent banquet tables and chairs to put at the venue’s tables for the reception. My mom also suggesting renting tables for the cocktail hour but I opted to use the picnic tables that were already on site and set up a couple of yard games for people to enjoy.

  • Provide one specialty drink that fits your wedding vibe. I purchased mulled wine spices from a local Tampa company and asked my day-of coordinators to heat the mulled wine on a stove and put it out in a hot beverage dispenser before the ceremony. It was such a hit! It was delicious, warm (since it’s always a bit chilly on the northern coast of California), and added a special touch to the event. This is one of those things that your guests will remember and doesn’t take a ton of effort or money. Doing one specialty drink (it could be mulled wine, a specialty cocktail, sangria, shot of tequila or sake, or spiked punch) can add to your wedding vibe and get you off the hook for providing a full bar. Do one special drink and focus the rest of your funds on champagne, beer, and wine.

  • Think outside the box for your wedding decor. I don’t even know how much money I saved by picking out decor on my own rather than renting everything from a high-end event company. My decor ranged from handmade, friendsourced/borrowed, Amazon, Wayfair, Etsy shops, craigslist, and local small businesses. It takes a little bit of vision for it to all come together but the outcome is something personal, unique, and full of amazing details.

That’s all for now! I’ll be sure to do an entire post of photos and videos when we get them from the professionals but until then, I hope this post helps you find some magic in your wedding planning! Feel free to ask for more pointers or help if you want to learn how to do any of this! For now, I’ll just leave you with this final thought…

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.  Photography:  Allison Andres


Photography: Allison Andres

Breakthrough + Balance: In the Workplace

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