This is part of our ongoing series, Real Wedding Budgets, bringing you actual numbers from actual couples, along with an idea of what you can get for your money. See more Real Wedding Budgets here.
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Before you read, a note on vendors: We don’t provide vendor information because you never know what kind of discounts they may have given, or if their prices have changed since this wedding. And also because if the couple didn’t love them, we don’t want to be putting a bad review out there. That’s what Yelp and Wedding Wire are for.
However, there is one exception – photography. Because we want you to get a good idea of what the couple was able to do with their budget, we include photos when possible, and credit the photographers. (The photographer for this post asked not to be credited, as their aesthetic has changed significantly since this wedding.) So word of advice – if you like these photos, please do go check out the photographer’s website (linked at the end of the post), and then ask for their current rates. Do not expect that you will necessarily get the same package and pricing you see here.
$18,849: 150 Guests on a Saturday Evening in Atlanta, Georgia in the Summer
|Photography/Video (including albums, prints, etc.)||$ 3,850|
|Food/Beverage (catering, alcohol, and cake)||$ 7,720|
|Entertainment (Band, DJ, Ceremony Musicians)||$ 0|
|Attire (including shoes, jewelry, etc.)||$ 1,145|
|Marriage License||$ 26|
|Wedding Planner/Day-of-Coordinator||$ 0|
|Invitations, Save-the-Dates, Programs||$ 390|
|Hair & Makeup||$ 540|
|Rehearsal Dinner||$ 1,000|
|Gifts & Favors||$ 300|
What They Got For the Money
Ceremony & Reception Venue ($450)
The ceremony was held in a Presbyterian church with a contemporary feel and room for up to 250 guests. The church also had a private art studio/gallery that they were allowed to use for photos. The fee included a sound technician for the ceremony and all day access.
The reception was held at a nearby Chinese restaurant. There was no specific charge for the space; use of it was part of the catering fee. They had room for their guests to fit comfortably and still have a dance floor. There was a stage, which they used to set up the desserts and champagne. The restaurant was all-inclusive: chair covers, linens, tableware, cake servers, a champagne tower, mirror ball and lighting, screen for a slideshow, and a sound system were all included with the cost of catering.
8 hours of coverage with two photographers; files with print rights, an engagement session, a photo slideshow; online gallery of that friends/family could order prints from, and a gorgeous leather-bound album. When the couple realized that the photographers had lost a chunk of the files from a portion of the day, the photographers gave them a free canvas wrap and some print credits.
The couple wasn’t planning to take any video, but the groom’s father brought his camcorder and roped a friend into filming. A cousin of the groom edited the footage after the wedding, and the couple says, “the resulting DVD is totally homespun, shaky cam and all, and we wouldn’t trade it for any of the professional videos in the world!”
The restaurant served a sit-down style traditional ten-course Chinese wedding banquet. The venue charged a flat per-table fee for the food, soda, and a bottle of champagne for each table, and the couple spent $7,150, including tips for the staff. There was no corkage fee so they purchased two kinds of craft beers ($320 for 12 cases) to serve their guests. The catering fee included the venue (see above), four waiters, three busboys, and an on-site manager to take care of the event.
The couple didn’t care for cake, so they asked a friend of a friend who is a budding baker to bake cheesecakes. He created ten cheesecakes in five different flavors. The couple note that he charged a very reasonable rate, and they made sure to advertise his business all around.
The couple bought all the flowers wholesale and a friend made all the arrangements: a bridal bouquet, 3 bridesmaids bouquets, 6 corsages (for the groom, groomsmen, and fathers), and 2 presentation bouquets made for the mothers. They saved money by buying wholesale and trying to stick with in-season florals.
The bride thrifted 14 different frames during their engagement and filled them with favorite quotes and poems about love. They were combined with votive candles for table centerpieces.
The groom’s cousin played some classical pieces on the piano before the ceremony, as guests were being seated. A friend played two songs on guitar. The processional and recessional songs were played from an iPod on the church’s speaker system. The groom put together an iPod playlist that kept the dance floor packed for two full hours.
The bride wore a fit-and-flare wedding dress, crinoline, long-line bra, and purple peep toe heels; the groom wore a rental tux. The bride’s wedding jewelry was a gift from a family friend and she borrowed another friend’s veil. Dress alterations were also a gift from a family friend who owns an alterations shop.
The bride wears a pave diamond 3/4 eternity ring in white gold; the groom wears a brushed white gold band; both were custom-made by the couple’s jeweler.
Marriage License ($26)
The couple’s college pastor officiated the ceremony. They met several times prior to the wedding to talk about the ceremony and timeline for the day. They followed a fairly traditional Protestant wedding ceremony. The couple chose the readings and music; the pastor wrote the homily. He didn’t charge a fee, so the couple gave him a $400 honorarium.
Wedding Planner/Coordinator ($0)
The couple planned the wedding themselves and a friend stepped in on the day of as a gift to them.
The couple purchased 150 invitations, 130 reception card inserts, and 170 envelopes from Wedding Paper Divas. They designed and emailed their own Save-the-Dates and having guests RSVP online with a free wedding website. They purposely picked a rectangular design after learning that square envelopes cost more to mail.
Hair and Makeup ($540)
The bride hired two stylists for up-dos and full makeup for herself and three bridesmaids.
The couple spent about $200 on wedding party gifts and $100 on gifts to each other – she gave him a pair of Star Trek cufflinks; he gave her a custom jewelry box.
The groom’s mother bought small coin purses in Korea as favors (cost unknown); otherwise they would not have had favors.
Rehearsal Dinner ($1,000)
The rehearsal dinner was at a Japanese sushi bar and steakhouse, owned by friends of the bride’s parents. They hosted everyone who helped with the wedding in any capacity as well as their extended families and some out of town guests – about 40 people in all.
Miscellaneous costs included thank you notes from Target ($25); printing for ceremony programs that they designed ($100); materials to make escort cards, table numbers, and guestbook ($30); and pre-marital counseling sessions with a professional counselor ($550).
What was your biggest financial splurge? Why did you choose it? Was it worth it?
We felt our biggest splurge was on photography, since photography-as-art is something that’s super important to me and photography-as-memory-preserver was super-important to both of us. Even with losing some pictures from the day, we feel that it was worth every penny (and then some) that we paid.
Was there anything you regret spending your money on or anything you wish you’d spent less on?
This might be a little weird, but I actually somewhat regret the cost of my wedding band. Wearing diamonds daily isn’t practical with my lifestyle, so about a year after we married we got a simple, plain gold ring that I now wear all the time instead of my original band. I wish I’d thought those issues through before our wedding so we could’ve saved the expense.
What was the best thing you spent your money on?
Pre-marital counseling was hands-down our best wedding-related expense. I would recommend that all couples do their counseling with a professional if they can at all afford it!
Anything else you’d like to say?
Yes! I remember getting really frustrated when reading these blog-beautiful weddings during our planning. “Who are all these people with professional graphic designer, chef, florist, and seamstress pals?” I’d scoff. Looking back, I’m *always* a bit shocked at how much of our wedding ended up being handmade or homemade and how many of our nearest and dearest volunteered their time and skills toward absolutely beautiful results. So I’d encourage couples to think outside the box in terms of who they might ask for help. You might not actually know wedding professionals (we certainly didn’t!) but maybe you have a friend who’s been dying to bake a wedding cake or who’s really great with flowers or Photoshop. I was also really shocked at how many contacts my parents had (my mom pretty much singlehandedly pulled together our rehearsal dinner in a week when our original plan fell through), so allow your community to help you if they want to!
Also, when potential vendors try to sell you on regret, run the other way. 🙂
Also, wedding magic is real. I promise.