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How We Saved $40,000 Celebrating Our Wedding Day

My dear aunt recently confided that her favorite weddings are the kind where the groom is in his Sunday best, bride in her favorite hat, photos by the family fireplace, reception in the backyard – and you can’t shut the honeymoon suitcases because they’re stuffed so full with the money everyone saved by having a pragmatic little wedding. And yes, a beautiful city hall wedding runs you $50. And yes, that leaves an enormous gap to arrive at the median US wedding cost of $20,000 – and an even larger one to hit the $30,000 national average. Throw in a 150 person guest list and having your big day in a big city on a Saturday in September, and you may start to see why this time last year, wedding estimates closer to six figures than four were totally. freaking. me. out.

A LITTLE PRE-PLANNING

Then I did three really important things. First, I got my hands on this wedding planning bible. A Practical Wedding will reframe how you think about your engagement and celebrating your big day. It has such awesome advice and ideas, from setting a budget, to DIYs, to being present on the day you say “I do”. So after devouring the entire book, I sat down with CPR to decide what was most (and least!) important to us for our big day. Then, we set up a budget before contacting a single wedding vendor.

This led to a very clear picture of what we wanted to share with friends and family: A big beautiful weekend in Atlanta with a verdant ceremony in a garden, a generous southern dinner, an open bar and plenty of dancing to a live band – one big party, joined by every nearest and dearest that we could afford to invite. And boy, do I plan to stretch a cava budget deep into Champagne territory. Here’s how.

VENUE, CATERING, & GUEST LIST // $23,000 SAVED

Shopping for wedding dresses online, I noticed a funny pattern. Lots of ladies were selling their brand new wedding dresses for the same reason – “changed the venue”. And really, it sounded crazy at first, but it makes sense. Your wedding venue makes up the biggest slice of your budget and underpins the whole personality of your big day, and so you want to pick this before you commit to anything else!

Out biking one day, CPR found a gorgeous spot a few miles from our house that we knew would be the one. A non-profit estate with a ceremony garden and reception atrium, Cator Woolford‘s rental fee came in at $3,000 less than similar venues, and includes furniture and lots of beautiful greenery. That’s another $300 we won’t be spending on outdoor ceremony decorations and florals. Then we’re saving another $1,500 in ceremony and transportation fees by holding both the ceremony and wedding in one place.

Another huge plus is hosting at a venue that’s BYOB: We’re saving $5,000 by purchasing alcohol in bulk and hiring a flat-fee bartender. Being patient to find the right venue is worth it! Our wonderful caterers at Zest walked us through different serving and menu options that will also save us around $3,000 on the cost of a typical formal dinner (tip: a well-presented buffet is your best bet!). We are also very lucky to have caterers who build gorgeous tablescapes – that lets us put the $200 we’d planned on reception decor props towards some special sweet treats – leaning towards a cart of locally made bourbon-infused poptails instead of wedding cake!

And while it certainly wasn’t easy, we also whittled a 350+ person invite list to 220. Expecting around 150 of those folks to come, that’s saving over $10,000 in catering, table arrangements, stationery and stamps, and wedding favors. And speaking of wedding favors, there’s another great place to salvage your budget. It’s popular to skip them altogether or go for double-duty favors, like a late night take-along dessert, or potted succulents with table cards tucked in the soil. I’m extra keen on the idea of monogrammed glasses that double as barware.

DIYS: INVITATIONS, WEBSITE, EASY FLORALS // $3,200 SAVED

Commit this to thy Pinterest-loving self: Thou shalt pick a single DIY project to tackle in the seven nights leading up to thine wedding, lest thou become a crumpled, teary-eyed mess in thine final hours as a single woman, sobbing desperately over failed paper pouf chandeliers and wilty peony wreaths. Verily, verily, I say unto thee: Trust thine blogger. Thine blogger art a certified lurker of wedding-fail forums, all right?

That said, DIY to your heart’s content in the months leading up to the wedding! I decided to DIY Save the Dates and the invitation suite on my own by watercoloring and handlettering a few templates, scanning everything into Photoshop, then printing and hand-trimming lovely French Paper Company Speckletone sheets at home. Even after including the cost of watercolor supplies and Kuretake pens, this cost $600 less than invitation sites and local printers had quoted for the printing, alone! A calligrapher would have cost another $400.

I then used my scanned watercolors and lettering throughout our wedding website, which I designed and developed on my own, using Green Geek’s shared hosting to install the website onto the Rose & Fig server – saving $100 in website hosting fees. I also included a digital RSVP form on the site, so we won’t need to spend around $100 on stamps and envelopes for our younger guests’ RSVPs.

My week-of DIY will be easy formal florals. Bridesmaids have volunteered to help get these pre-made wedding-in-a-box flowers all set up into containers, one and done! At first I was nervous about skipping on a florist, but with a little research I found that Sam’s Club uses the same suppliers as local florists, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. The individual flowers are shipped from private Central American farms to regional wholesale distributors, then ours will be bouqueted in a shop just outside of Atlanta and quickly shipped right into town. I also plan to use bridesmaids’ bouquets as centerpieces after the ceremony. This lazy little DIY is saving $2,000 in florist costs.

Update: I found a phenomenal local florist, Allison Song who put together the most beautiful bouquets from the local farmer’s market for the same price as the Sam’s Club package. She even picked herbs from our yard and made rosemary crowns for the bridal party. My friend Andy and I made the corsages a few days in advance with garden rosemary, dried lavender, camellia leaves, and gold-dipped feathers – seal them in compressed Zip-Loc bags and pop them in a refrigerator and they’ll stay nice and fresh.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW: THE WARDROBE // $14,000+ SAVED

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rose & Fig wedding without some wardrobe love! How the whole bridal party is shopping smarter:

  • CPR and I picked out a century-old estate engagement ring, which is worlds better for the environment and $2,000 less than the same ring if it had been newly-manufactured.
  • Hopping on Tradesy for the special dress (for a whopping $7,000 off retail) and a lovely pair of worn-once Louboutins, my dream wedding shoes (for another $500 off retail).
  • Having the dashing groom pull out his own tux, after finding a fresh black bowtie and cummerbund at a local charity shop.
  • Tallying up the groomsmen’s suit sizes and taking advantage of a major Saks Off 5th suits sale that racked up $4,500 in savings. All in, they’re getting $700 suits for just over the cost of a tux rental.
  • Asking the bridesmaids to pick their own floor-length dresses in a blush or metallic palette. It’s up to them to buy new or used, or borrow a dress – and I am happy to know they’ll be getting dresses they feel good in and will wear again!

BE LOVELY TO EVERYONE

I’ll admit, after all of this, that wedding budgeting still sort of terrifies me. Our parents are very generously helping us with the budget – which makes me all the more nervous to be a good steward of their gifts, and to make sure we’ll be able to throw a party they’ll really enjoy, too. And for all of my strong opinions, I’ve found it exceedingly difficult for me to say no to people I really like – which can be awfully problematic when well-wishing friends and family have a lot of ideas about how a wedding should be, and who should be able to attend.

As a former freelancer, I also know just how frustrating (annoying!) a client with Champagne taste on a cava budget (yep!) can be, and I absolutely refused to be “that person” to any vendor. The people you’ll contact to help with your wedding will have all sorts of different styles and pricing structures. If you figure out your budget in advance, you’ll start to approach a vendor search like a big puzzle, trying to find the perfect piece to complement the rest of the parts of your big day.

Here’s a secret about that: A good vendor is looking for the same thing – that bride who will be as delighted with them as they are to be part of one of the most special days of a couple’s life. Finding all our vendors took lots of time, and for some services, we talked to a whole bunch of folks before getting that just-right feeling. When it’s there, you can’t miss it – you’ll know it, and you’ll feel absolutely comfortable making your decision. We were extremely fortunate to find the most wonderful photographers (with a special rate for destination weddings and Atlanta on their travel list!), and a few of the nicest videographers right down the road from us.

So! All of this adds up to treating everyone helping you like the wonderful people they are – and that includes yourself and your partner, especially. Be lovely to everyone you meet on your wedding adventure, whether it’s a quick and quiet elopement getaway, or a huge fancy dance party. Because, at the end of the day, a wedding’s not about anyone. It’s about everyone, coming together to celebrate two people’s discovery of one another. xx

More photos from our big day, right this way.

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