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Budget wedding ideas: how we got married for under $2000

Updated on January 12, 2016
Our single tier cake decorated with roses from a friend's garden and a cake topper bought off a website similar to Craig's List.
Our single tier cake decorated with roses from a friend's garden and a cake topper bought off a website similar to Craig's List.

A low-cost wedding

Weddings are not the simple affair they used to be. The average cost of a wedding in the United States today is over $26,000 while in the UK couples spend on average 20,000 GB pounds (about US $30,000). However, while it can be fun to celebrate in style if you can afford it, research has shown that big weddings don’t guarantee a happily-ever-after. In fact, a study by two economists at Emory University found that the less couples spent on their wedding, the more likely they were to be happy in their marriage later.

This is good news for people like my husband and I, because we recently got married as graduate students on a very limited budget! This article shares some of the ways we were able to save on our spending and keep stress levels low as we prepared to make the most important commitment in our lives. This doesn’t mean we cut so many corners that it didn’t feel like a special day – rather, we spent on the things that would really make it feel like a wedding for us, and didn’t waste money on anything that wasn’t really going to add to our enjoyment of the event.

The most important thing, we found, is to know what is really important to you about your wedding day. If you focus on that and don’t get distracted by fashions or social expectations, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost the earth. For us, our guiding words were ‘simple’ and ‘sincere’. We focussed on crafting a personalised ceremony that we will remember for the rest of our lives, and contented ourselves with small, low-budget celebrations.

In general we found we could negotiate best with small-scale businesses and suppliers – people who wanted to expand their business and were willing to offer us an option within our budget range. As we are both students currently, we really had to stick to our budget and shop around or negotiate a price we could live with. In the end it was worth it because we had a lovely sincere ceremony, and simple, fun celebrations that didn’t break the bank – or cause us months of planning-related stress.

Ceremony and Venue

One way you can keep your wedding low-cost is to keep it small, but there can also be ways to invite a larger guest list to a low-cost celebration such as a barbecue or picnic.

We got married in front of just twelve guests, in the upstairs room of a restaurant which had amazing views. We got to use the room for free because we were treating everyone to dinner afterwards.The next day we invited a much wider group of people to join us for a barbecue in the public park near our house. We did the cooking ourselves, making a range of burgers and salads to suit all tastes.

My husband and I are both graduate students in a foreign country and it was very difficult for friends and family back home to travel out to be with us. So instead we found ways for our nearest and dearest to be involved by sending us cards with messages of support and by incorporating words from our parents into the ceremony. This can help you feel connected to loved ones back home, if you decide to go for a small and private wedding overseas.

If you are getting married close to home you can still think about keeping the guest list small for the ceremony and any meal afterwards, and invite more people to a low-cost celebration the next day. For example in our case, our only costs for the barbecue were the food which we cooked ourselves. Around 50 people joined us, many of them brought wine which got shared around and we ended up with a core group of people coming back to our house for a fun party.

We invited our guests with an electronic invite that my partner designed using free stock images off the internet – saving trees as well as money.

We also saved money by negotiating with the wedding celebrant. Making the case that we were students with a limited budget in mind, we worked out that she would be happy to charge less than her usual fee if we did all the work of shaping the ceremony with our own words ahead of time. Not all countries allow celebrants to legally officiate a marriage, but you can think about getting married in a church or registry office for a minimal fee and then creating your own more personal ceremony to hold in a park, beach or indoor venue. There are lots of ideas online for writing personal vows, and for suitable poems and readings. Words are free, but beautiful words can make memories that last a lifetime.

My best tips for searching for a venue would be to look at low cost community-based options such as public parks or beaches, or community halls. Think about how you can cut down your guest list – who do you really want to have with you on your special day? At the same time, less formal options like barbecues or picnics can be a lot of fun and can help you save on catering costs. If your guest list isn’t too large, you can even think about doing some of the cooking yourself.

A florist who was starting out in business gave us a great deal on the bouquet.
A florist who was starting out in business gave us a great deal on the bouquet.

Outfits, flowers and rings

I got pretty lucky with my dress. Although looking back at the wedding photos, I am not sure it was the absolute best style for my figure, I did manage to get an elegant wedding-looking dress for around $100 dollars. I got an off-the-rack dress from an upmarket high street store in the summer sales, and because I could only get it a size too big I was able to pay a small amount (about $30) to have it altered to be exactly figure-hugging. So maybe it wasn’t perfectly flattering, but it was a really nice dress, it looked bridal and I was happy to spend the money I saved on getting my hair done properly and getting a lovely bouquet. These extras really added to the whole outfit, made me feel truly like a bride and so I think they were worth it. Other options for affordable wedding dresses are vintage and second-hand stores, or ordering dresses direct from suppliers in China.

Speaking of the bouquet, we got a really good price from a florist who was just starting out. She gave us a better bouquet than our budget of $70 could afford in exchange for being able to use a photo of me with the bouquet on her website. With a small wedding, we decided not to have any bridesmaids or a best man, so the flowers were limited to one bridal bouquet and a button-hole for the groom.

For my hair, I just made an ordinary appointment to get my hair put up in the afternoon (we had en evening ceremony right before a sit-down dinner – another saving). I didn’t get my hair cut and I had washed it myself earlier that day. All of this, combined with a student discount kept the cost to a very reasonable $50.

We didn’t bother with an engagement ring, as we had spoken about getting married from early on in our relationship it never seemed necessary for one of us to formally propose. We got our wedding rings online, from a jewellery website that was having a sale. It is not the most romantic story but we got his and hers palladium wedding bands for a very affordable $400. And at the end of the day, it is the love they symbolize that is important to us more than style or price.

Other savings came from getting my sister (who was able to join us) to do my make-up, adding roses from a friend's garden to help decorate the cake and getting a couple of friends who had nice cameras to take our wedding pictures.

Meanwhile, my partner was happy to wear a new suit he already owned and he got me to cut his hair for him, as I usually do, the week before. And anyway, once I walked into that room as we were about to get married, all that mattered was that he was there waiting for me with a smile his face. Any concerns about outfits or how we looked just dropped away.

Deciding What Matters to You

What helped us the most to keep to a low budget was deciding what was important to us, and letting go of other stuff. Your wedding is a very special day, and it is personal to the two of you as a couple. Some people will, quite understandably, want to celebrate in style with as many of their friends and family as possible. However others will want to keep things smaller, whether because you feel it will be more intimate or because you have financial constraints and don’t want to start your married life buried in debt.

We decided that meaningful words were important to us, that we would like to make the most of the great views in the area where we live and that we wanted to keep the ceremony small and intimate, while finding ways to celebrate with our wider circle of friends. By keeping things ‘simple’ and ‘sincere’ we had a beautiful wedding weekend which we will remember for the rest of our lives. I don’t regret any of the money that we did spend, not any of the expenses that we decided not to make. We had everything we felt we needed to celebrate getting married in the way that we wanted. And in the end, it pays to remember that what really matters is that you have found each other – everything else is just the icing on the wedding cake!


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