There’s this new show on Netflix called “Marriage or Mortgage” that is currently driving me to the brink of insanity.
The premise of the show is that they follow young couples who are grappling with deciding between a downpayment on a home or the wedding of their dreams. The episode that really pushed me over the edge followed a couple who had saved up $30,000 toward their future. At the beginning of the episode, they were living in a cramped apartment without a washer or dryer for their laundry. The couple had been pre-approved for a $350,000 mortgage and had even found a lovely home that hit all their checkmarks and came in under budget. Instead, the couple decided to spend the money on an elaborate wedding which featured a custom ranch dressing fountain.
At the end of the episode, I felt physically sick as text flashed across the screen informing everyone that the couple was still living in their tiny laundry-less apartment.
Now you probably think that I am some kind of evil, judgey, spinster hating on these couples for spending their money how they want- but I’m not. I actually love weddings. But I’m also a very practical person. I just don’t believe you have to fork over that kind of cash for a single event. If you want a big wedding- all power to you! Spend your money however you want! But if you want to find out how to have an amazing wedding without breaking the bank, this one's for you.
When I planned my own wedding, I quickly became disillusioned with the process. Prior to getting engaged, I had worked in the event industry so I thought I had a reasonable expectation of how much I would need to budget for a wedding-sized event. I was wrong- the moment I mentioned anything was for a wedding, I would immediately get quoted for a higher price. Seeing the inflated price tags for invitations, venues, decor, and wedding dresses made me feel icky. It felt like the wedding industry was trying to rob me on the best day of my life (which was honestly rude). My fiance, Emilio, and I had student debt we were paying off, we were saving to buy a house, and I was starting a business. Frankly, it just felt like there were better things we could be spending our money on than having a huge wedding.
So, I set out to do it differently- we were going to have the wedding of our dreams for less than $5,000 (dress, venue, ring, food, flowers, everything). And we did it. Two years later, and my wedding was still, truly, the happiest day of my life. Neither my partner or I have any regrets, and even better, we also don’t have any wedding debt to pay off.
Here’s how we eloped for less than $5,000 and how you can do it too:
First step in planning our perfect wedding was making sure we were on the same page. My fiance and I sat down and really, really looked at our budget together. We evaluated our savings and the money that each of our families had pitched in for the event. In the end, we decided that $5,000 would be a reasonable amount to spend so we set up a Google Sheet with a budget.
After having our budget, the next step was deciding what we really wanted to spend our money on. The question I asked my partner was:
“If you had to plan a party to celebrate us being in love, but you had never heard of a wedding before and you didn’t have to follow any traditions- what would your party be like?”
This is truly a MAGIC question to ask yourself while planning your wedding. As you’re planning, it can be easy to get caught up in what everyone else says your wedding “should” be like. But guess what? It’s YOUR day! You get to do whatever you want. Do you think the garter toss is creepy? Then don’t do it! Do you want ice cream instead of cake? Go for it! Do you think white washes you out and you’d rather wear bubble gum pink instead? Awesome! Wear whatever you want!
Breaking down what we wanted versus what everyone else wanted was really a game-changer for us. We made a list of what was important to us, versus what was less important to us. Here’s what our list ended up looking like:
Important to us:
- Being with each other/ actually getting married (cheesy- but this really was the top of our list)
- Having our immediate family there
- Having our closest friends there
- Integrating both of our cultures into the ceremony (my husband’s family is from Mexico and we wanted a bilingual ceremony)
- Having nice pictures
- Finding nice (but also inexpensive) clothes for the bride and groom
- Good food
- Finding a nice, private space for the ceremony
Not important to us:
- Having all our extended family present
- Having all our friends, neighbors, and parent’s friends at the ceremony
- A diamond engagement ring (gasp! I know… I’m just not into diamonds, it’s a personal preference)
- Honeymoon- my husband was in graduate school at the time of our wedding and we frankly didn’t have a window of time big enough to go on a nice honeymoon. We opted to save instead and are planning on taking a belated honeymoon after he graduates from his program this year.
We started with the things that were important to us. We found a beautiful, private home that was available for short-term rent in a nearby ski town. We reached out to the owners explaining that we wanted to host a micro-wedding at the space. They made us a great deal for a three day rental. We were able to go up the night before and keep the space through the weekend. It was private, fun, and there was plenty of space for everybody- so it checked all of our boxes.
This was by far our biggest expense, coming in at $1,600 for the three day rental- completely worth it for this view.
Next was photography- something else that was very important to us. To be honest, we got really lucky with this. My favorite photographer also happens to be my cousin. He and I are really close and despite my best attempts, he didn't let us pay him and instead insisted that our wedding photos be a gift. This was incredibly generous of him and it really saved us a lot on our big day. Technically, we did send him a $200 flight voucher as a little thank-you gift which brings our total to just $1,800. Thanks again, Clark for the amazing photos- you're the best.
If you want to save money in booking photography or videography for your wedding, communicate ahead of time. Some photographers offer discounts for certain times of the year (the "off-season") if you plan accordingly, you could be able to secure a discount.
Next up was clothing- I fell in love with a wedding dress that a friend of mine wore to her wedding. She generously let me know the brand and name of the style. However, because it was from a previous season, the store no longer offered that specific dress. I was able to find a sample in my exact size on Ebay for $200- total score. I paid an additional $200 for alterations bringing our grand total to $2,000.
Since we had such good luck finding my dress on Ebay, we also searched Ebay for a new suit for Emilio. We found a cut and brand that fit him well and put search alerts on Ebay- a few weeks later we got his suit for $300. We paid an additional $150 for alterations bringing our total to $2,450. We spent an additional $100 for accessories putting us at $2,550.
Finding a beautiful, high-quality wedding dress doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Check out this beautiful bride wearing a Q.NOOR Liesa dress as an elopement dress:
Stunning- and less than $100. What could be more perfect than this? You can find all the white Q.NOOR dresses here- and any one of them would look beautiful as a wedding dress.
I knew I wanted something really simple for an engagement ring. I'm an artist and I'm always working with my hands. I wanted something classy, comfortable, and that wouldn't get in the way or catch on anything. We chose a lovely emerald stone in a gold band designed by an indie designer that cost just $400. Emilio wanted a simple band that cost just $100 for himself. We spent an additional $75 on a wedding band for me which brought our wedding total to $3,125.
For food, we spent $850 total between food for our guests for the night before (we ordered pizzas), an omelette breakfast the morning of the ceremony, and a catered lunch from our favorite restaurant. Since we only had our closest friends there and our immediate families, we were able to keep costs low bringing our grand total to $3,975.
Pro tip: as you are getting quotes from caterers, simply tell them it is for an event and let them the number of people in attendance. Often, this will get you a lower quote than if you tell them the event is for a wedding- "wedding tax" is totally real.
We bought flowers from Trader Joes- which my sweet dad assembled into a bouquet for me the morning of our ceremony. We purchased a cake from a local baker, ordered ice cream from the college down where we met, and we bought a piñata to celebrate after the ceremony. These additional expenses added up to $350- bringing our total to $4,325.
As for our guests, both of us invited two of our closest friends and our immediate families. We asked them to come in whatever made them feel the most comfortable which made the day feel breezy and avoided incurring additional costs for attire. Both of my parents walked me down the aisle, my nephew was our ring bearer, our niece was our flower girl, and my husband's sister earned her minister's license so that she could perform the ceremony for us. She did a beautiful job of incorporating touches of my husband's Mexican culture- including using my Mother in Law's rosary for a traditional lasso ceremony. It was perfect.
A few weeks after the festivities, we announced our marriage by sending out elopement announcements. Since I work as a designer, I designed them myself. The printing costs and postage ran us about $600- bringing our grand total to $4,925.
So that's it- that is how we eloped for less than $5,000. It might have not had a ranch dressing fountain, but it was still perfect for us. If you're also looking for a simple, intimate ceremony- I hope this is helpful.
Happy wedding planning!