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How to Plan a Wedding on $500 (or less!)

Updated on July 7, 2012


You're engaged to the love of your life! Congratulations! Whether you've been planning this event for years in your mind, or the whim just hit the two of you love-struck fools, this is a truly life changing time. For those of us without cushy bank accounts, it can also be a stressful time.

Some people go into debt planning their weddings, but that really is a horrible way to begin a new life with someone you love. The following guidelines will help you plan an beautiful wedding on a limited budget.

How limited? $500. It may sound impossible, but it's perfectly do-able. (And actually quite fun!)

To Begin

This whole process can seem overwhelming; but remember to relax and breathe! You are getting married because you are in love, and are loved! To begin, I would suggest finding a three-ring binder, and designing a beautiful cover for it. (A collage of photos, or a special quote could be inspiring.) Find a free printable calendar, and print out each month leading up to your wedding. Put lots of blank pages in so that you can keep notes.

Lots of people suggest that you should print up a free wedding planner, and that could be a good idea, but remember that just because they list a thing as a "necessity" does not mean that it is. Your wedding is ultimately your day, and it will be most enjoyable if it is comfortable and intimate. No monster brides here! If you let go of the desire for "the perfect day" you'll find that your day will be a lot closer to that than you could have imagined.

The first thing to do is set a date (even if it is just tentative). This will help you plan what you need, and when you should buy it to maximize savings. For example if you like autumn colors, like orange, brown, and burgundy, getting married after Thanksgiving will allow you to buy lots of things in those colors for a fraction of the price. Getting married after Valentine's Day will allow you to buy lots of heart shaped items, including cups, plates, tablecloths, and candy, for next to nothing.Generally speaking, engagements of at least 6 months allow you to save the most because they allow you to buy and make what you need without having to stress yourself out too much.

Another thing you should know is that it's important to have a good support network, and to ask them for help. Whether these people are your family or friends, you need to have people around you who support your decision to marry, and who want to help you. If you don't have oodles of support people, you at least have you fiancé. Enlist his help when you need it. Most likely he'll be thrilled to be involved in the process (especially if it doesn't just involve picking things out of a catalog). I'm speaking in generalities here, but most men like "doing" rather than "looking" so if you can get his help putting something together he'll enjoy that more than he may enjoy deciding what color tablecloths you should use. (Plus, constructing things will be the part of this process you'll need the most help with anyway.)

Because I'm Curious

Will this be your first wedding?

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Helpful Ebooks

When it comes to keeping costs low, remember that electronic is the way to go. From information to invitations, the more you can do online, the lower your costs will be. So rather than running out and buying books and magazines on weddings, browse the kindle store and buy one (or two) that suit your tastes.

Location, Location, Location

It's easy to be tempted by the halls and reception locations that offer to decorate and cater your wedding for a few thousand dollars. Tempting as this may be, for many, it's just not financially logical.

As a general rule, you will want to spend no more than $100 on renting your location. If you are a member of a religious group see if the pastor will allow you to have your wedding there right after a service (so they won't have to crank up the A/C or heater). Better yet, if you're planning to have a reception, why not have the wedding at the hall too.

If you're planning a wedding during Fall or Spring, why not plan to have it outdoors? This is a gamble, but there are some beautiful places that will provide the prettiest backdrop for your occasion that you could ask for. Public beaches in the spring are often empty, and very beautiful. Forests in the Fall are celebrations of color.

Do you have a family member or friend with a large house or garden who wouldn't mind a wedding there? These weddings are intimate, and can be very enjoyable. Plus, you they will likely allow you to use it for almost nothing (or free) especially if you are nice enough to clean up afterwards (or arrange a group of people to do that for you).

To meet our budget, you should spend no more than $200 on the location for both your wedding and your reception. You can rent a cabin at a state park for about $120/day in peak season. Public beaches are free and empty in the fall. Your great-aunt Myrtle with the gorgeous garden would just love to host your wedding.


Most brides in America will spend more than $500 on their wedding dresses. That would completely ruin our budget, now wouldn't it! One thing you need to ask yourself is, "How important is it that I look traditional?" For some people this is a high priority, but for others (like me) it's really not a big priority. If it's not that important, think of your wedding dress the same way you would any special occasion dress. Ask yourself how often you could wear it again? Separates are a great way to get something unique and beautiful that you can wear again (and remind yourself of your wedding day), and save lots of money while doing it. Shopping at outlet stores will allow you to get the most for your money. I picked up my tea-length, silver organza wedding dress for $11.

For those who want to look more traditional, there are still lots of money saving options. First of all, perhaps you could borrow a wedding dress; some families have traditions of handing down wedding dresses from mother to daughter. If you know how to sew, the world suddenly becomes your oyster. Check out garage sales and thrift stores. A great idea is to take a large wedding dress and revamp it into something beautiful! (Unless, of course, you find a beautiful one that fits you perfectly!)

For the men in the wedding, why not opt for a blazer and slacks or nice jeans rather than a tuxedo. (Renting tuxes can be expensive, and most men own at least a nice set of slacks, and nice blazers can be borrowed, or bought second hand, for a few dollars.)

Rather than picking out your bridesmaids' dresses for them, why not give them a color palette and let them pick out unique outfits that they like. The eclectic blend of clothes is beautiful and has a charming intimacy about it!

In the end, you should spend no more than $50 on your dress and $50 on your fiance's outfit. So that's $100.

Martha Steward- Natural Indoor Flower Arrangements
Martha Steward- Natural Indoor Flower Arrangements

Flowers and Decorations

All my life, I've watched my mother do flower arranging with clippings from shrubs and weeds in the woods behind our house. I'm glad that it's finally becoming popular to go a more natural route, rather than relying solely on hothouse flowers. The result will look more elegant than using cheap flowers for all your decorations. For added elegance, put them in antique vases, silver teapots, or antique crock pitchers.

Now, I'm not bashing cheap flowers! My boutique from my wedding was made for $5 from flowers Dollar Tree, twine, and ribbon from the bargain bin at Michael's. (That also covered the boutonaire.)

I had a student card for Sam's Club, and with that, was able to buy fairly cheap disposable tablecloths, $10/package of 10. As centerpieces for our 8 tables, I bought 8 candles, a bag of river stones, and a bag of Spanish Moss from Dollar Tree (totaling $10). I also picked up a "damaged" container of fake diamonds from Michael's for $.40. So for $20.40, I had my tables covered and decorated.

For the actual wedding ceremony, we didn't buy much on the way of decorations, because we had it in a church, which was already pretty. Instead we put out a table, covered with an antique tablecloth I already owned, with a silver platter on it. I asked the guests to each bring a candle, to symbolize how each person brought light into our lives. It was very pretty. Plus, free!

Allow yourself $50 for flowers and decorations.


Put together your own MP3s for the wedding and reception, and save money on hiring a DJ. Plus, you'll be in complete control of what's played, so no risk of having someone play something obscene, boring, or annoying just because they think it's what ought to be played at weddings.

Have Your Cake

(and eat it too)

Cakes are a wedding feature that you've just got to have. Unfortunately, most people wind up spending $100+ on something that ought to cost less than $25. Baking and decorating your own cake is super easy. Youtube is full of video tutorials, and the internet has many photo tutorials that you can reference.

If you watch out for sales, you can often find cake mixes for $1/box and icing for $2/container. Buying all the supplies needed, and making it yourself (or enlisting the help of a talented friend) you could easily make a three-tier cake for $25.

While we're talking about food, let's talk about what you'll be serving your guests. (Besides cake.) Avoid having your wedding around lunch or supper, when people will be very hungry. Remember that fruits, vegetables, and bread are cheaper than meat. If you want meat, make it stretch. Like chicken? Try chicken salad sandwiches on day-old bread, cut into fourths. Like beef? Blend ground beef in with a generous amount of breadcrumbs and egg and make meatballs in a delicious sauce. A good rule of thumb is $1/person. If you keep your guest list down to 50, you'll easily be able to afford this.

Sample Menu: (Using grocery prices in Louisiana.)

Watermelon Basket: Watermelon ($5), strawberries ($2), grapes ($3) bananas ($2), apples (3/$1) =$13

Veggie Tray: Celery ($1), Carrots ($2), Radishes ($1), Bell Peppers ($2/4), Small Bottle of Ranch Dressing ($1) =$7

Crackers and Cheese: Generic Club Crackers ($1), Generic Butter Crackers ($1), Cheddar Cheese ($2), Mozzarella Cheese ($2)= $6

Chicken Salad Sandwiches: 2 loaves day old bread ($2), 1 lb. Fried Chicken Fingers ($3), 1 doz. eggs ($2), Mayo ($1), Mustard ($1)= $9

Drinks: 4 12-packs ($11)

Total: $46

You can likely find these items for better deals if you shop sales. All $1 items are based on prices and amounts available at Dollar Tree. So for less that $100 you can feed 50 guests.


Wedding favors are a wonderful tradition. Unfortunately, they can also be really expensive. That is, if you're not careful.

Favors are like little presents, and a thrifty girl knows that some of the best presents are hand-made. Here are some cute ideas:

1) Two Hershey Kisses on a plastic spoon, wrapped in tulle. Attach a handwritten note that says, "A couple of kisses from us, to you!"

2) Buy small, smooth, glass candle-holders at garage sales and thrift stores (usually $.10/each) and put a tea light candle in each (usually about $.05/each). Wash the candle-holders. Use acrylic paint to add decoration and the date of your wedding. Put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before you take them out. Add candles.

3) Get small plant pots. Put dirt and flower seeds in them. Add a note that says, "Love Grows!"

4) Go to! Find other DIY ideas! ;)

Allow yourself $25 for favors, or $.50/guest.

Sites to Help You Plan

Let the web be your wedding adviser. The following are some of my favorite wedding related links!


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