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Creating a Dream Wedding on a Budget

Boy oh boy do I have a special treat today for you. I am SO uber excited about today’s post. I have been in the wedding industry for a very long time now and one of the things I have learned is that more brides need education on how to plan their dream wedding. Planning a wedding is honestly a full time job. (Thus the reason there are people who make a living doing it.) It’s also an extremely difficult job, as well as very expensive. It’s so hard… and when brides get engaged, it’s usually their first time planning a wedding, and have no idea where to even begin. So many end up making the same mistakes over and over just simply because they don’t know any better. This is something that has always bothered me but as a photographer I don’t really have a whole lot of say on how to make a dream wedding come true. That’s why I asked one of my brides, Lauren, to share with you how she planned her dream (and unique) wedding on a budget of $20,000. Lauren’s wedding is still to this day one of my top 5 favorite weddings I have ever photographed. Why? Because she did it right. She stuck with what she wanted instead of what everyone else wanted or what everyone was doing. She made HER wedding happen instead of making someone else’s wedding happen. And the best part is, she did it without breaking the bank. Lauren and Joe’s wedding even got featured on one of the top wedding blogs out there, Ruffled. I am extremely proud of her wedding photos and I am truly honored to have been a part of such a beautiful and unique wedding. Lauren spent 1/4 of her wedding budget on wedding photography because she knew how truly important the photos were. In the end it’s all you have left to remember your wedding and hiring a talented and professional photographer is SO important.

Before we get to Lauren’s post, there are a couple of things I wanted to mention from my personal experience of getting married every weekend:  ; )

While we’re on the subject of budgeting for your wedding, another thing that is so important when planning your wedding is this: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO INVITE EVERY ONE YOU HAVE MET TO YOUR WEDDING. This is something I find to be SO SO hard for couples to realize. I understand it can be very difficult to cut the guest list and keep it smaller and only invite people are truly special and important to you. But I speak from experience when I say, too many brides spend their money on food, alcohol, and venue space to accommodate people who don’t matter and quite honestly, they usually don’t even get to speak to the day of the wedding. Inviting less people can save you thousands of dollars which you can spend on other more important things such as flowers, the venue location, and photography. To give you a good example: If you have a wedding of 200 guests and the food and alcohol is priced at $50 a head, you will pay $10,000. If you cut that to 150 guests (which by the way, is in my opinion, the perfect number of guests to not be too little or too many), then you save $2500 right there. $2500!!!!! That’s equivalent to a beautiful wedding dress or having some really stunning flowers at your wedding/reception. Think about how much better you could spend that money just cutting 50 people (or 25 couples).

Another great tip to saving money on your wedding day is to provide a beer and wine bar instead of a full bar. This not only helps your budget but keeps your guests from getting too intoxicated which can sometimes create disastrous moments. (Trust me, I’ve seen them happen.) We all like to party and have a good time, but a wedding should still remain timeless and classy. At the end of the night, when it’s time to get that “grand exit” shot, we’ve noticed a big difference from weddings who have a full bar to the ones who only serve wine and beer. The guests are less likely to cooperate when it comes that time. I have actually personally witnessed drunk guests ruining this incredibly special moment of celebration… putting a damper on the whole night. For example: once the intoxicated best man decided it would be funny to throw the entire bowl of rice at the bride while they were running out. It ended up hitting her head and making her cry. It was extremely tragic and completely ruined the night and my exit shot. You can definitely avoid this nonsense by serving only wine and beer.

Now, I will hand the spotlight over to Lauren. You do not want to miss this!! Her post will give you some really great insight.

If you haven’t read about Lauren’s wedding day, please click here to do so and see the rest of her photos. You can see Lauren and Joe’s wedding on Ruffled Blog here.

If you’re wanting to learn how you can create a beautiful, picture-esque and unique wedding, then scroll down to read all about how Lauren planned her beautiful wedding that not even the horrible weather could ruin. At the very end Lauren breaks down in detail all of the costs of her wedding to help you see exactly what she did. I really hope this post will inspire you and help you to create a day you will cherish forever that is YOUR day.


I was ecstatic when Courtney asked me to write a guest post for her blog about how I planned my dream wedding on my budget of $20,000. So often, couples spend a fortune and end up with a generic wedding. To this day, I’m honestly shocked at how great the response was to my wedding, because the whole time I was planning I was worried it might not be enjoyed by others because it was so tailored to my fiancé’s and my taste. It just goes to show you that people appreciate the uniqueness of an event, sometimes even more so than something extravagant.

Here are 7 tips from my wedding planning experience, including a breakdown of my budget:

#1 Get organized.

One of the first things I did in the planning process, was try to find a wedding planning book to make sure I wouldn’t forget anything important. Wow was it hard to find a good one. My mom ended up finding Bridal Bargains Wedding Planner which had a lot of helpful stuff.

The second thing I did was go to an office supplies store and buy a 3-ring binder notebook and dividers. This was my preferred method of organization because I could hole-punch blank copy paper for writing notes and sketching ideas and floor plans and also hole-punch things I found online or received from vendors.

I divided my notebook into 7 sections:
1. Apparel
2. Ceremony
3. Reception
4. Photography
5. Invitation suite
6. Flowers
7. Other

#2 Stick to decisions that reflect both you and your fiancé, not your family members or guests.

Planning a wedding is tough. Friends and family are so excited and eager to offer up advice on every last detail and there are tons of resources online offering the dos and donts and forcing industry-driven expectations down your throat. Others’ advice and opinions should be greatly appreciated, don’t get me wrong, but they shouldn’t always be followed. Sometimes their advice doesn’t align with other aspects of your wedding (nobody can see the big picture like you can, even if you’ve told them every detail). Other times their opinions are, well, their opinions, not your and your fiancé’s. Just always stay firm on decisions you know mean a lot to you and your fiancé, and try not to second guess yourself. Revel in your individualism and let what makes you different as a couple craft a memorable, honest celebration.

There were so many times throughout my wedding planning that I would stop and think, is it okay for us to do this? Are guests going to have a terrible time? Like our decision to have local musicians play original music at the reception instead of having a cover band or dj. But I held on tightly to our decision because if anyone knew my fiancé and I, he/she knew we weren’t cover band or dj people. Various people I had worried would have a terrible time told me it was the best wedding they’d ever been to. Our guests really loved being a part of our life for a night. It allowed them to feel closer to us.

Our decision on location for the ceremony and reception determined the number of people we could invite, and was quite controversial. We chose to have a smaller, family-only ceremony at my Great Aunt’s home which was 30 miles away from the reception location. It was a tough decision because I didn’t want anyone to be upset that they were only invited to the reception, but the location meant a lot me and there was no other place I could imagine us being married.

Having the ceremony outside my Great Aunt Lee’s home was so important to me, that I didn’t even want to schedule an in-case-of-rain location. I also didn’t want part of my budget to have to go to a venue that we may not even use. We decided to include an in-case-of-rain card telling guests to just go to the reception if it rained, and we’d just be married inside my Great Aunt’s home in front of whoever showed up. Well, of course with my luck, it poured the day before and day of and we were even under a tornado watch. But I’m kind of glad it rained. the ambiance and intimacy couldn’t have been more perfect. Any other day, rain would have ruined my day, but I made a decision when I made the ceremony plans that I would accept whatever weather came our way.

#3 Get inspired.

Create inspiration boards to keep track of things you like so you can share with your vendors. Showing a vendor a range of things you like will allow them to create something new that you will love. So instead of picking out the exact flowers you want, just find various bouquets you like. A good florist will be able to spot the commonalities and create a unique arrangement that captures the essence of your inspiration perfectly, without copying someone else’s work. I used Adobe InDesign to create my inspiration boards, but there are tons of ways you can create it, you could create a tangible collage and scan it in to print copies for vendors, or you could create a digital pinboard with Pinterest.


#4 Make a wish list and prioritize it.

As you gather inspiration, ideas will emerge and your vision will begin to take form. Write everything down. Within each binder section, create a wish lists of specific details and prioritize it in case you can’t afford everything you want.

#5 Get creative.

Playing a hands-on role in the planning of your wedding will allow you to stretch your budget. You can do things like: add time between your ceremony and reception to allow your ceremony arrangements to be reused at your reception, pick a venue that will let you set most everything up the day before the wedding so that you don’t have to hire someone to coordinate setup. Let color do some heavy-lifting by developing a color palette and carrying the swatches with you everywhere to help color-coordinate every detail. And incorporate an idea or material into a few elements of your wedding. Small details can really add BIG impact and repetition can add cohesion to your wedding. Be careful not to go overboard though, you don’t want everything to be too matchy-matchy.

Think of your bridal party attire as part of your overall design. You don’t have to choose a dress from a bridal shop. You don’t even have to put your maids in a dress. Styling your bridal party can really tie them into the look of the event. Color palette and bridal party attire were two of the first things I planned. I am obsessed with gray but was worried it might be too drab with the whole wedding party in neutrals. But as I browsed bridesmaids dresses with my maid of honor (yes I did choose a style from a bridesmaids collection, but that’s because J.CREW has an amazing line that is both affordable and high-quality). Another good thing about buying a bridesmaid dress from J.CREW is that they will send you swatches of the dress material and color so that you can incorporate the exact colors throughout your wedding. The dress I fell in love with for my bridesmaids was a cool gray, called Graphite, but since it was on sale, available sizes were limited. The dress also came in a gorgeous purple called Spiced Wine that had all sizes available so I made a game-time decision that my bridesmaids would wear purple and my maid of honor would wear gray. I thought this was a great compromise to my obsession with gray and worry about being too drab. I told all the girls to wear any style of boot in gray, brown or tan.

When the fabric swatches arrived, I found ink colors in a Pantone swatchbook to match J.CREW’s Graphite and Spiced Wine and rounded my palette out with the addition of mustard. These three colors would be the foundation of the entire wedding. For color to play a big role in your wedding, it’s important to develop a color palette that will give you enough range and to carry the exact colors with you. Just knowing a color name is not enough.

Next, I took the swatches to the fabric store and bought 3 fabrics to have my generous aunt make skinny ties for my groomsmen, best man, groom and dad. I found linen that matched the spiced wine swatch exactly to be used for the groomsmen. I found a mustard fabric for my best man and dad. And I found a beautiful plaid tweed in grayish taupe, brown and mustard for my groom. I said the heck with whether or not the fabric made sense together, linen with tweed? who cares! So, if you’re unfamiliar with tie making, you have to get way more fabric than you need because it has to be cut on the bias. This is great, though, because then you can incorporate the fabric into other parts of your wedding.

Since I wanted our bridal party to be such an integral part of the overall style, I decided we’d give part of their attire as our gift to them for being in our wedding. We gave the ties to the guys and got a cardigan and necklace for each of the girls.




INVITATION SUITE (designed and copywritten by my fiancé and me)

#6 Utilize your friends and family to help bring your vision to life.

No seriously. Delegate tasks to friends and family members. You may think they are just being nice when offering to help (like I did), but they genuinely want to help. They’ll enjoy your wedding even more if they’ve been part of making it happen.

TIE FABRIC REUSED AS BUNTING AT RECEPTION (handmade by my step-mother-in-law-to-be)

TIE FABRIC REUSED FOR CAKE “TOPPER” (handmade by my bridesmaid, Margarita Rivera, and maid of honor, Kelsey Duncan and assembled by me)

RECEPTION WELCOME BOARD (hand lettered by my bridesmaid, Erin Murphy)

WEDDING FAVORS (handmade by my bridesmaid, Delaney Smith)

#7 Determine your budget after you’ve done some research to see what things cost.

It’s hard to come up with a budget if you are doing something for the first time. We first set a budget of $12,000 and quickly realized when we began looking into costs that we needed to raise it to $20,000 to accommodate 100 ceremony guests and 250 reception guests. Generally costs are the same across quality vendors, so shopping around isn’t going to be what saves you money (researching vendors is important to find the good ones, though!). Some vendors’ prices are lower, but there’s a reason for that. You have to get creative with the ways you can save, and don’t skimp on the really important areas. For me, great photography was really important because it captures the memories you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. My dad thought it was crazy to spend 1/4 of the budget towards photography, until he saw the end result (especially knowing how bad the weather was the day of wedding).


Bridesmaids’ gifts (cardigans and necklaces) – $1,000
Bridesmaids’ brunch – $500
Groomsmen’s tie fabric $190
Reception food and drinks (we had so much food and wine left, we could have halved the numbers)
Wedding cake $700
Dickey’s Barbecue catering and buffet service $1,400
McAlister’s – cookies/brownies $130
Wine/champagne $1,100
Beer $500
Flowers $0 (gift from my Great Aunt Lee)
Hotel rooms for two nights for bridesmaids, bride’s parents, brothers and grandmother $2,050
Hotel guests’ gift bags $400
Design of wedding paper goods $0 (lucky for us, one of us is a professional Graphic Designer)
Letterpress printing of wedding paper goods $1,500
Screw posts to bind programs $40
Postage $130
Ceremony musicians $600
Reception musicians $0 (our friends were so nice to lend us their talent as our wedding gift)
Photography package $5,000
Reception venue $850
Ceremony rentals: chairs $250 (ended up not being used due to rain)
Reception rentals: chairs, tables, tents $2,400
Reception decor purchased $300
Wedding favors $130
Wedding dress – $0 (I wore my mother’s dress from the 70s)
Wedding dress alterations/cleaning $300
Ceremony accessories (boots, headband) $280
Reception attire (dress, cardigan, necklace) $250
Hair and makeup – $0 (my maid of honor/cousin beautified me!)

No matter the budget, I think these my tips will help any couple achieve their perfect wedding. The thing I hope everyone takes away from this is that it’s not about the amount of money you spend; it’s about celebrating your union and allowing everyone to get to know you better as a couple.

Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions ( Happy wedding planning!

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  • I loved Lauren and Joe’s wedding photos the first time I saw them, but when I looked at them again today and re-read your original post, I appreciated them even more. There’s absolutely no clue from these photos that the weather was so bad and the conditions so awful. You are truly talented! Love your work.

  • margaret

    I totally cried when i saw her holding the ring like her mom in her mom’s dress. Loved the photos and the wedding looked amazing

  • Anna

    Can you tell me the name of the cardigan your bridesmaids wore and where you got it? It is very cute and my sister and I are wearing the same color dress for our sister’s wedding.

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