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How I Planned a 300 Guest Wedding with a $20,000 Budget

Updated on January 25, 2016

Planning a wedding can be overwhelming and many times can end up costing you a fortune! The Knot's 2014 Real Weddings survey found that the average wedding is now $31,213!! There are many articles out there about budget and DIY weddings, but in this article I will break down how we were able to have 300 people for $20,000! Yes, $20,000 sounds like a lot, but when the average wedding now has 139 guests for $31,213... 300 guests for $20,000... what a deal!

Figure Out YOUR Budget & Guest List

The most important factor in planning a wedding on a budget is knowing EXACTLY what your budget is! There will be many times you will want to upgrade something or unexpected expenses may occur, if you don't know your budget it will be really easy to go WAY overboard.. even if you think you are being economical.

Once you have a set budget in mind (ours was $20,000) you will need to set a rough guest list. Many people will tell you this can wait, but the guest list will start to bring out people you never even thought of! If you have a general guest list (don't forget to ask your parents for their list too) you will be able to work out a more detailed budget and know how big of a venue you need. We never would have thought our list would be so big, glad we did this early on as many venues won't fit 300 guests!

Now that you have a budget ($20,000) and a guest list (300) the easiest way to figure out a more detailed budget is using theknot.com's budgeter tool. As a new fiance you may not even know where to start on working your budget out (how much are flowers? DJ's charge WHAT?!). This tool will break down each item and give you a rough estimate on what you should spend on each vendor/item. Once they set my budget I was able to adjust based on things I cut out to save costs in one area (we didn't hire a videographer) to spend more in another area (an open bar was important to us). This gave me a breakdown of how much I should spend on each item as I began to look for vendors.

Find a Venue & Choose a Theme

Now that you know how many guests to plan for and how much you can spend on those guests, it's time to make the two biggest decisions... Venue and Theme.

When we were looking for venues we were very limited because of the size of our guest list. Luckily we live in Southern California, so there are PLENTY of venues to choose from. We first started looking at rustic type venues... barns, outdoor gardens, wineries. We quickly realized how pricey venues can be and how restricted some are. We decided to look at venues that allowed us to choose our own vendors and do a lot of the stuff ourselves. This way we could shop around for the best value, instead of having to pick from a "approved vendor list". Though I was sure we would have a rustic chic themed wedding, the best we did was keep an open mind. When my aunt suggested we check out a car museum as a venue, we were skeptical to say the least but man are we glad we went!! Neither of us are car people so we thought this would be a dud like all the others, but this venue was just want we were looking for!

  • Large venue, with many different areas guest can go to
  • Ballroom that would fit all 300 seated
  • Built in dance floor, bar & projector (no extra cost)
  • Tables and chairs included (though we ended up renting chairs to better fit the look)
  • Best part... the venue was pricey ($3,500), but because they are a non-profit it was tax deductible!!

Since we found a venue we loved at a car museum, my original rustic chic theme was not going to fly! Hours of pinning wasted, but we were able to find a theme we both liked that fit the venue and allowed us to play around with our interests.. Vintage! Now when I say play around with our interests we were able to tie some things about us into the wedding decor for example my husband loves music, so we had vintage music sheets. Now that we had a venue and theme we had to get down to the nitty-gritty details! Our venue was the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo.

Research Vendors

I think the most important thing we did that kept us on budget was really taking time researching our vendors. There are so many big names that everyone uses (especially in LA), but we spent HOURS scrolling through YELP reviews to find budget friends, but also highly rated, vendors... and boy did we!

When we started out we both sat down and wrote down the 3 most important things to us at the wedding so when it came time to readjust to stay on budget, we didn't cut corners when it came to those key items. I highly suggest this... when you are 2 weeks out and about to spend too much $$ to add linen napkins, you can look at your list & realize it's not a core item, no need to upgrade! For us our key components were:

  • Open Bar
  • Good Food
  • Being able to invite all 300 (no downsizing)
  • Good Photos

With these main items in mind we were able to decide which vendors so splurge on and which to save on.

Food Selection: When it came to food we thought long and hard how we would feed 300 quickly, without long lines and make sure it was delicious but budget friendly! This was no easy task, but we finally decided... FOOD TRUCKS! The ballroom had a slide up door that lead to a parking lot, so we were able to have 3 food trucks, a bar and some cocktail tables setup outside, but still close to the main room. We used the Urban Oven, the Bun Truck, and In-n-out (which was the most pricey, but we got it for out of town guests.. you can save money by using a third local truck).

Bartenders/Event Staff: Because we didn't have a typical catering company handling our event, we hired a bartending service that also brought additional staff to setup, tear down and serve/bus tables during the event. We were able to search for and wide to find an amazing deal on an open bar! We used Cocktail Concierge ask for Nick, he was so helpful & we got to sample drinks!!

Wedding Dress & Rings: We went out to David's Bridal just so I could try on different styles and see what looked best for my body type & with my tattoo. The plan was to find out what looks good on me and have it made downtown. When we were there the third dress I tried on.. I fell in love! Luckily it was "last season's" style so we got it for a great deal! I took it to a local tailor for alterations since they charge an arm & a leg! For the rings, we were both fortunate enough to have our grandparents wedding bands.. we just had to pay to get them sized!

Photographer, DJ, Photobooth & Cake: For these vendors, we continued to search for the best value. It was amazing how expensive these vendors could be, but after searching we found EXCELLENT people with very high ratings. For our Cake we opted to do a small cake for us to cut and mini cupcakes so guests could grab & go and we didn't have to worry about cutting & serving slices. We used Nickell Photography (she is a friend so we got a good deal, but overall she does AMAZING work without charging an arm & a leg), DJ Tempoe, a Groupon Photobooth Deal & Charmed Cupcakes, which has since closed shop.

Ceremony Venue: Since we used every spot available in the reception venue for the reception we had to find a place for the ceremony. I wanted a church and my husband wanted the beach, so we found a church overlooking the beach. This venue was pretty pricey ($2,100) but we decided since it had such a beautiful view and a lot of photos would be taken there, it was part of our key items to splurge on. We were married at the Neighborhood Church in Palos Verdes.

DIY Decor

Now that we had our main vendors taken care of I quickly saw my dream vintage decor was going to be WAY too expensive.. instead of splurging on this, we saved by doing DIY Flowers and decor. The good thing about spending the extra money on more pricey venues for the Ceremony and Reception was that both venues were so beautiful already, we didn't need to add too much decor.

Bouquets: Flower bouquets can be pretty expensive (especially since I had 10 bridesmaids) and flowers die! Instead of hiring a florist I decided to purchase my bouquet from etsy and make the bridesmaids bouquets myself out of fabric & lace (tutorial coming soon). This saved us a lot in the budget and was a nice gift the girls get to keep forever... not to mention my bouquet is now decoration in our home!

Rentals: We knew we didn't want to spend much for the rentals. We decided to get black table cloths so the lace (see below) would pop out nicely and we rented silver chairs (the venue only came with 250, we needed 300.. plus we wanted a cleaner looking chair since they would be in the background of the photos). We opted out of renting any utensils, plates, cups since the food trucks and bars had all that (this saved us big time, I was about to spend money on linens and glassware so the tables looked fuller, but since it was not a key item we ended up saving instead.. no one knew the difference!)

An overview of the venue with the silver chairs (& me dancing hula for my husband)!
An overview of the venue with the silver chairs (& me dancing hula for my husband)!

Centerpieces: Flowers were too expensive and candles aren't allowed at the museum (because of the gasoline in the cars, we did use a few battery operated ones) we had to brainstorm other ideas. The idea I loved for the look was vintage silver, lace, dried flowers (so we can assemble ahead of time & not worry about flowers wilting) & old books. I bought a couple big spools of lace & glued it together to make place mats for each table. We found someone selling vintage silver teapot sets (which we were able to sell after the wedding & make our money back), we split up the sets so each table had some silver on it (either a tea pot, sugar/creamer bowl or tray). My aunt had a bunch of vintage looking books she let us borrow so we used those at each table. My husband made awesome table numbers using vintage scrap paper, cheap frames, and stickers(which we were able to sell after the wedding)! And finally we added dollar store candles wrapped in vintage looking wrapping paper, dried flowers and some more fabric flowers I made to tie it all together. Each table had a unique look, guests loved walking around to all the tables to see the different settings!

Other Decor: Since the venues was pretty decked out itself I didn't have to add much more. For the welcome/gift table I used the same type of items we had at the centerpieces and added a vintage looking suitcase as a card box and made a chalk sign using trays from the dollar store & chalk paint. For the bar and dessert menus I made more signs out of dollar store frames and chalk paint. That was it!

Enjoy Your Hard Work

The venue allowed us to come the day before to setup the ballroom exactly how we wanted it and I asked my cousin to setup the guestbook/gift table and be there to welcome guests. For the day of we didn't need to hire a coordinator since I made a very detailed event plan (blog coming soon) and our DJ kept us on track for the evening. The bartending crew cleaned up and we picked all our stuff up the next day!

Weddings can be so stressful and expensive, but what I learned from this whole process is.... it's important to ENJOY each step of the process from the engagement to the honeymoon. Time will fly and this will all be a memory you can blog about almost 3 years later! Don't put yourself in tons of debt for your dream wedding... put a little work in and have your dream wedding for a reasonable price!

Overview

To summarize I was able to host 300 guests for $20,000 by following the steps:

  1. We figured out our budget by taking a good look at our finances
  2. We made a rough draft guest list to help create a detailed budget & choose a venue
  3. We chose a venue that allowed us to bring in our own vendors
  4. We picked a theme that we could do DIY Decor for
  5. We did extensive research on vendors to ensure the best value
  6. We made our own decor
  7. We loved every part of our big day & had our dream wedding without any debt!

See my full budget breakdown here!

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      Samantha 10 months ago

      I am confused. How did you spend so little on food? Did guests pay for their food truck meals?

    • modernalchemyst profile image

      Josephine 19 months ago from New England

      I must be way out of touch with normal society, because I can't imagine spending 20k on anything aside from a house or a business. That being said, this is an excellently written article and I will be sharing it with some friends who are planning weddings on shoestring budgets right now. Well done!