Should You have a Frugal Wedding? A Look at Our Wedding Budget

frugal wedding our budget

Should You have a Frugal Wedding? A Look at Our Wedding Budget

The holidays are near, which means the start of engagement season. My husband and I actually got engaged last July and married this past March. It feels like a long time ago. So now with the engagement season upon us, I’m a bit nostalgic for the excitement of wedding planning and married life.

Weddings come in all sorts of sizes and costs. I’ve heard of weddings spanning from a hundred dollars for a marriage license to over $100,000 for the fanciest country club affair around. If you’re a frugal-minded bride, the cost of a wedding might be of interest or concern to you. That’s why I decided to reflect on our wedding planning experience and give you a look at our budget. You may find it relevant to your wedding planning.

Our Story

My husband and I originally planned to have our wedding in San Francisco, one of the most expensive areas in the country. We live in San Francisco and have family and friends in the Bay Area, so it made sense for us to have it here. We hoped to get married in May of this past year, giving us about 10 months to plan. Then a family member got sick and we quickly changed our plans. We moved our wedding to SoCal and after a few missteps, we planned our wedding in about six weeks and got married this past March.

Our Budget

When we started talking about getting engaged and married, I read wedding websites and message boards online to get an idea of the work and costs I had ahead of me. Being frugal minded, I knew I wanted an economical wedding. The average cost of a wedding in the US is over $33,000. I wanted to spend less, even in an expensive city like San Francisco.

I didn’t want to be ridiculously frugal about my wedding either. My husband and I both work full-time at stable jobs, live comfortably, and don’t have any debt. I wanted to serve a high-quality meal and provide fun entertainment for our guests. Although I kept an eye on costs, I nixed the idea of serving lentils and cabbage or anything close to that. I suggested getting married at San Francisco City Hall and having a dinner reception at a restaurant afterward. City Hall is a beautiful building and costs $1000 to reserve a balcony or gallery for an hour-long ceremony.

My fiancé wanted a more formal event for us. There are only so many major celebrations in life. There are high school and college graduations, weddings, births of children, and marriages. These events might not come along often depending on your family. With that in mind and knowing that we had a sick family member among us, we wanted to make our wedding special.

After some discussion of the budget, we roughly agreed on

  • Ideal: $20,000

  • Comfortable: $30,000

  • Cutting it close: $50,000

My goal was to keep our budget to $20,000, although I knew that would be tough to do.


Our Wedding Costs

Here I have some rounded numbers for our wedding costs. There may be a few other small costs that I didn’t include because they were handled by my husband or others. I didn’t include a honeymoon because we didn’t take one. We kept our wedding small at 62 guests.

  • Venue & catering: $17,600

  • DJ/Entertainment/Photo booth: included

  • Photography: included

  • Officiant: included

  • Videography: $2,900

  • Flowers: $1,300

  • Planner: $2,500

  • Bride’s attire: $1,250 (dress, alterations, and jewelry)

  • Groom’s attire: $800 (suit, shirt, and shoes)

  • Wedding bands: $200

  • Hair & makeup: $750

  • Gifts & favors: $850

  • Paper goods & extras: $100

  • Hotel: $350

  • Airfare: $350

Estimated wedding cost: $28,950

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Financial & Other Lessons Learned

I am actually very grateful to my husband for encouraging me to have a nicer wedding than I originally intended. We’re careful about our spending in our everyday lives. And we hadn’t done much for ourselves like going on vacation together during our dating years. This was an event for us to remember and cherish forever. For my husband’s family with an ill family member, the wedding was a joyous reason for family to come together when there likely wouldn’t be many more in the future. It was worth it to us to celebrate a big life event with a big celebration.

Another thing I learned is that wedding planning isn’t the dreamy state that commercials and social media would have you believe. We spent a lot of our evenings exchanging emails with our wedding planner and debating details that I never thought would matter. On top of our full-time day jobs and other obligations, this resulted in more stress and less sleep for both of us. We often said, “I can’t wait for this to be over!” I loved that our wedding day came together beautifully, but the planning wasn’t easy or magical.

Financially, I decided that package deals are awesome! Our venue, Chapel of Orange, offered several different package deals. I thought all were reasonably priced. Our cost came out higher because we upgraded a number of things, but not nearly as high as if we paid for each vendor separately. Some of the upgrades we made include ordering more flowers to decorate the venue, two additional appetizers, extra hours with the photographer, and a photo booth. Other ways to save:

  • Shop around for venues and vendors. You may be able to get discounts through referrals and use of preferred vendors.

  • Negotiate prices and ask to pay in cash for an additional discount.

  • Get married in the off-season. Wedding season typically runs May through September. It worked out for us to get married in March. A lot of vendors were still available and prices were cheaper to hire them.

  • Plan a quick wedding. We planned our wedding in 6 weeks. I don’t recommend doing that, but if you plan your wedding in less than three months, ask vendors if they negotiate prices. Most couples book vendors 6 months to a year out from their wedding date. If a vendor is free within three months of a date, they’re not likely going to be booked, so they’re more likely to negotiate in order to work with you.

  • Prioritize what matters to you and spend on that. I would’ve loved a beachfront hotel wedding. I fell in love with the Marriott in Newport Beach, but I wouldn’t have been comfortable with the overall cost of our wedding. I’m glad we chose a more modest venue and prioritized good food, entertainment, and wedding favors.

For some readers, the numbers I posted above probably sound ridiculous and you’re shaking your head in disbelief. Others will nod their head in understanding of how much a wedding can cost nowadays. If you’re newly engaged, you might be just learning what’s to come for you.

One of the best ways to budget accurately for your wedding is to compare your plans with those who have already gotten married. That’s why I’m sharing my wedding costs with you here today. I didn’t have an extravagant wedding. I had a typical wedding at a chapel with less than 100 guests. It still cost a pretty penny. Weddings don’t always come cheap. Although I embrace frugal living in other aspects of my life, this wedding was right for my husband and me. We managed to stay within our budget and have a beautiful day.