My (not so) Cheap Wedding

When I turned 18, my parents threw me a Debut Party, which is essentially the Philippine version of a quincinera. It was a lavish event held in a local hotel ballroom and attended by 200 of my closest family and friends.

While I am thankful for the experience, I've known since then that if I were to get married, I'd want a smaller, simpler, and less costly wedding. What I didn't realize was the amount of work it would take to accomplish that.

According to, the average wedding in the United States costs $26,645, with couples in my area spending between $31,112 and $51,853. While not enough for a house down payment in the Bay Area these days, this is money that could easily be spent on vacations, house renovation, and college tuition for any future children. My husband, who still isn't a fan of the pageantry and societal expectations surrounding marriage, preferred to elope or have a courthouse ceremony.  Coming from a culture that places extreme importance on marriage, I knew my family would never forgive me if we did either.

Thus, we went ahead with planning a "standard wedding" (I use the word "standard" loosely because we did not adhere to my culture's tradition of getting married in a Catholic church). Through it all, we kept the following in mind:
1) Keep to the budget as much as possible, but don't stiff the guests and vendors
2) Treat this as a thank you party for family/friends who've supported us through the years and are willing to attend (see #1 below)
3) Stay true to ourselves, only compromising on things we don't care about much

How did we manage this without blowing our budget? Here are some (sometimes controversial) cost saving measures we enacted:

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #1: Have a destination wedding outside the Bay Area
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a relative's wedding in the Philippines. This relative had a wedding at a resort and rented rooms for the guests. It was more like a mini-vacation with my family, and I wanted that sort of feel for my own wedding.

After vacationing there two years ago, we opted to have our wedding in Mount Shasta, a beautiful mountain town roughly 4 hours away from the Bay Area. Thanks to the lower cost of living in Mount Shasta City, we were able to find an affordable venue/caterer that would have easily cost twice as much locally. The other plus was cabins on site!

Mount Shasta City California
Mount Shasta

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #2: Cut the guest list
Next to having a low-cost wedding, what was important to my husband and I was that we had a wedding with no more than 100 guests. While my parents advised me to simply "not invite people", we knew that this was completely unrealistic and a local wedding would likely result in 200+ guests.

Having our wedding 4 hours away helped keep our numbers well below 100. The only down side is that the guest list was heavily skewed to my side, while only a few of my husband's family could make the drive. I suppose having a destination wedding may have worked too well in cutting the guest list!

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #3: DIY (Do It Yourself) everything
When I first started planning the wedding, I was told that details and decorations were how I could really personalize everything. To be frank, elaborate decor was the least of my priorities and wanted to spend as little as possible on it. Since my mom loves that sort of thing, I purchased artificial flowers in bulk and let my mom take over the decorating.

This freed up time for my husband and I to focus on details we cared about, like printing our own invitations and making personalized favors for our guests. While ambitious and time consuming, there was definitely a sense of accomplishment knowing that we were able to pull it off. In the end, my mom did a wonderful job with the decor and our guests seemed to appreciate the personalized favors.

diy do it yourself
Pumpkins grown by my parents

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #4: Buy instead of rent.
Wedding planning opened my eyes on the costs of renting things like table linens, chairs, and tables. While doing some comparison shopping, I realized that it was cheaper to buy cloth table napkins than to rent them, plus I get to keep the napkins. I am now the proud owner of 100 burnt orange cloth napkins to use for future Thanksgiving and Halloween dinners!

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #5: Shop early and shop around!
Next to crafting, most of my time was spent comparison shopping. I would definitely recommend booking venues and vendors as soon as possible, as you'll likely be competing with other couples with the same wedding date. Though my husband and I started looking less than a year before our wedding, we were fortunate enough to find a reasonably priced photographer, videographer, cake maker, and DJ. Make sure to check multiple sites as we found our videographer through and our photographer through Craigslist.

Once our venue and vendors were booked, it was time to focus on clothing and decor. Bridesmaids dresses were ordered from Weddington Way during a sale. We watched Slickdeals regularly waiting for sales on gift cards and wedding necessities. One trick we used was to buy gift cards for places like Macys, Ebay, and Sephora at a discount, then use said gift cards during a sale. My parents and I lost track of the number of times we visited various craft stores, each with a 50% Off One Item coupon in tow.

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #6: Take advantage of cash back websites and credit cards.
We not only purchased things on sale, but also made sure to use cash back sites for additional savings. To decide which cash back site to go through for a particular online store, we used, which compares rates at the major cash back sites.

Credit cards often offer cash back as well. My husband was fortunate enough to have a credit card which offered 5% cash back on all restaurants during our wedding. This saved us a decent amount on rehearsal and wedding dinner costs.

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #7: BYOB (Bring your own bottle)
When deciding what wines to get, we realized that bringing our own wine and paying the corkage was cheaper than using the wine provided by the venue. Shopping for wine was one of the funner parts of the wedding planning process as we would hunt for bargain wines at places like Bevmo and Grocery Outlet and try them with our dinner. Bringing our own wine worked out pretty well since all our wines cost less than $5 each, including a Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato which proved to be a hit with our guests.

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #8: Pay for what's important to you, not for what is expected
When we first started wedding planning, we were frequently told that we "needed" things like a wedding planner, wooden dance floor, chair covers, ceiling drapes, doves (the birds), aisle runner, 10 appetizers per person, open bar, etc. We had none of these and didn't miss it. Every wedding is different, but if you find that the sole reason you've paying for a service is because you think it's expected, then you can probably put that money towards something else.

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #9: Ditch the wedding planner
Early on, we were advised to get a wedding planner so we could be "relaxed" on our wedding day. Unfortunately, even the most affordable wedding planner started in the 4 figures. Could we justify the cost?

I'm a social worker and a discharge planner. I like to help and the type of person that would prefer to do things herself instead of burdening other people. I wanted to find my own vendors, come up with a timeline, delegate tasks, and be involved during my own wedding day. These things make me happy.

One of the most hilarious parts of my wedding day was the look of horror on the vendors' faces when I tried to do something like move a chair or pick up trash off the ground. Like I said, it's the social worker in me. Would hiring a wedding planner and making our wedding party do more work have been less stressful?  Of course, but I would have felt immensely guilty about the extra money spent and making others do work I could have easily done myself. Plus with the money saved we were able to hire a videographer and get extra beer/appetizers.

Wedding Cost Saving Measure #10: Know your guests
Lots of wedding websites have calculators on the amount of alcohol and appetizers to serve. While they were valuable for planning purposes, what's most useful is knowing your guests' preferences and habits.

For instance, the calculators advised us to get 6-8 appetizers per person. I was also advised to up the appetizers because "people overeat at weddings". My parents - knowing that our family does not eat a lot - advised me to serve fewer appetizers to avoid paying for wasted leftovers. In the end, we cut down to about 4 appetizers per person and even had some leftovers.

When deciding whether to have open bar, we looked at our guest list and realized that most of our family and friends are beer and wine (specifically sweet wine) drinkers. We opted for having a beer/cider/wine-only bar with a variety of choices. No one seemed to miss the liquor and our guests seemed to especially like the sweet wine.

In the end, our wedding cost well below the United States average. While this isn't saying much, considering I know people who've had weddings for under a thousand, our guests were well-fed and seemed to genuinely have a blast, which was most important to me. Of course we could have saved much more by eloping or having a courthouse ceremony, but ultimately, there's still something to be said for throwing a party for all your favorite people.


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  4. Renting is the most expensive part of the wedding the final bill is always more than what you expect.
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