Wedding Update – Up To $20,000

Engagement PhotoHello! Our wedding is on June 7, 2014, which means that we have just over two months to go.

When I first created my wedding budget (back in January of 2013), I wanted to stay under $20,000, and preferably around $10,000 to $15,000. I knew that more than $20,000 was just not in the budget for us, especially since we are paying for everything ourselves.

The only problem is that we are having an outdoor wedding with around 200 people, and rentals (table, chairs, tent, etc.) all add up very quickly.


Is having an outdoor wedding cheaper?

“You are so lucky, you are going to save so much money!”

Numerous people have told me that I must be so happy to have an outdoor wedding on family property because it would be cheaper, but that is definitely not the case. It’s actually very similar to having a wedding at an actual wedding venue, and in some cases we probably could have saved money.

The good thing about having a wedding on family property is that I can choose everything. I am not forced to use a caterer that the venue forces, and I am also free to make many other choices.

Everything is up to me and I can decide everything, which is nice!


How am I feeling about wedding planning?

I won’t lie, at times wedding planning can be a little stressful.

Also, planning everything all by myself can be stressful too and sometimes even sad (when I think about it).

However, I know that I’m not the only person without parents in the world (I need to stop my pity parade) so I know it is possible. I have wonderful friends, my sister and W’s family who are making everything much more pleasant. I don’t know what I would do without them!

Having an outdoor wedding where I have to plan every little detail (such as where things will be placed – tables, chairs, lighting, tent, food, bathrooms, etc., what to do with all of the trash, back up plans for weather or if the electricity can’t handle everything, and so on) can be scary to think about.

However, for the most part I am excited. Almost all of my wedding vendors have said I’m the most laid back bride ever, which I take pride in :)

Here are past wedding related articles I’ve published:


How is our wedding budget going? 

I think our wedding budget is going very well. I have bartered, exchanged services, and received discounts on many of our wedding expenses so far, which has really, REALLY helped our wedding budget.

Below in each category, I will be giving the total cost (before any discounts or bartering), but the amount that we have saved from bartering, exchanging services, and discounts equates to a crazy total of:


Crazy, right? :) I would tell you exactly which ones that were discounted or bartered for, but I also want to protect the company as well.

I plan on creating an article about how we bartered, exchanged services and asked for discounts as well. If you are interested in this, please let me know in the comments below. Also, if you have any questions, leave them below for me.

Wedding Update - Up To $20,000 In Expenses

This is where our wedding will be!

Wedding rentals – $2,800 so far.

Wedding rentals is probably what killed our budget, but I am not surprised. For the tables, chairs, linens and dance floor, the price was $2,000. We are also thinking about renting a few couches, which would be around a few hundred for each. I’m not sure if I feel like spending that amount of money though.

We still plan on renting a tent as well, but that depends on the weather. Wedding tent rental is around $1,500 where I live. I really want the wedding to be open and under the stars, so I’m really hoping for good weather. However, the rental place said I can just request the tent a few days beforehand if the weather looks bad. I’m going to assume that we will be doing that regardless because I don’t want to risk it.

We also had to rent bathrooms for the property, because you never want to rely on a septic system to handle so many flushes and people. We rented “wedding” bathrooms that flush and have sinks. These were $800.

I plan on sprucing them up a little bit and putting air fresheners, mats, and battery-operated candles in them. I’m hoping no one will be upset with these. There will still be indoor bathrooms for those who refuse to use them, and I will be using the indoor bathrooms as well (since I have a huge wedding dress).


We taste tested our wedding food. Best. BBQ. Ever.

We taste tested our wedding food. Best. BBQ. Ever.

Food and drinks – $4,300

Luckily with a wedding on family property, we can choose our own caterer and we can supply our own alcohol, which means a lot of money saved! We are using a family member’s BBQ catering company, and the total for that is around $2,000.

We will be having pulled pork, beef brisket and smoked tofu (for the vegetarians) as the main dish. The sides will be tequila lime green beans, baked beans, corn bread, cole slaw and smoked fruit. There will be no salad. Does all of that sound good? I want to make sure!

For drinks and a bartender, I believe the total will be around $1,500. Since we get to supply our own alcohol, we get to save a few thousand dollars.

We also have a dessert table filled with tons of pies, wedding cakes, cannolis, brownies, cookies, and so on, which was $400. We will also have a candy table and everything for that will cost around $400.


Wedding attire – $3,200

I bought my wedding dress in June of 2013, after just trying on a few dresses. What can I say? I am a quick decision maker, or at least that’s what every single wedding company has told me so far. Ha!

My wedding dress was around $1,615.

Alterations were $160 for a bustle, bra inserted, and having it taken in just half an inch.

My shoes were $50, and are a little on the casual side but I also plan on wearing a pair of heels that I already have too.

My jewelry was $75 for a necklace and earrings. They are super cute!

My veil was $40. Bought it off of Etsy and it was a STEAL!

Hair and makeup are a little expensive at $1,000. I am paying for my bridesmaids to get their hair and makeup done as a part of their gifts.

For Wes, we went to Men’s Wearhouse and we had enough groomsmen so that he could get his for free. We also put money towards each of their tuxes as a gift from us so that the rental fee wasn’t so high for them. We put $300 down for them altogether.


Photography – $2,400

I found an awesome photographer and her fee is around $2,000. We only have her for 6 hours, but I am thinking about adding a few more hours so that she can get more photos of us getting ready.

We also paid for engagement photos which were around $400.


Paper – $1,300

We sent out our save the dates, which were around $500 (don’t worry, I got a BIG discount on these thanks to my blog).

I still haven’t finalized our invitations and RSVPs, but I am hoping to do that this week. The cost for these will be around $400.

Stamps for the save the dates, invitations and RSVPs are altogether around $150. That is one thing that I didn’t think would be so expensive. AHH!

Programs will cost around $150. I don’t plan on giving each and every single person one, so that I can save money. I’m assuming that most people just throw them away anyways. I think I will have enough for around half of the guests, which is probably fine because around 50 guests will be children anyways and they definitely do not need one. What do you think? Should each and every guest get one?

I haven’t looked into thank you cards too much yet. I know that I want to use pictures from our actual wedding for the cards. I’m going to assume that these will cost around $100.


Miscellaneous – $6,000

We have a lot of other expenses, of course. These include:

  • We are having a DJ – $800
  • I bought robes for myself and my bridesmaids for when we are getting ready – $150
  • We will have some signs made for directional purposes – $100
  • Bug spray since everything will be outdoors – $50
  • Lighting for the whole property so that people don’t trip – $200
  • Decor for centerpieces – $300
  • We are wholesaling flowers and DIYing them – $700
  • We are having a fish eye photo booth – $1,400
  • Day of Wedding Coordinator – $850
  • Rehearsal Dinner – $400
  • Champagne flutes – $50
  • Garter – $25
  • We are using a family member for our officiant, but normally these are $200
  • Sparklers and lanterns for guests – $200
  • Guest book – $50
  • Canvas pictures of us for guest book table – $200
  • Hanger for my wedding dress that says “Mrs. Gardner” – $25
  • Custom wedding cake topper – $300


Altogether, everything equals $20,000, before discounts, bartering, etc. 

So, after the $6,000 in discounts, our total wedding cost is $14,000. This is for my dream wedding, so I think I did pretty well! I could have probably cut expenses even more in many areas (such as my wedding dress), but didn’t.


How did you save with your wedding? How much was your wedding altogether?

Would you go back and have a courthouse wedding, or do the whole shebang?



  1. says

    Wow you have done well!! My lazy bride ness couldn’t do an outdoor property wedding due to the organizing nightmare! We are doing packaged deal, but thanks to not being too fussy about certain things have managed to stay cheaper than expected. As soon as you mention wedding everything triples in price anyway!!!! Good luck with the rest of your organizing. I only have less then 4 weeks to go!

  2. says

    You’re doing great! We did both, in fact, so I think we paid nearly $2k for our courthouse dealie (we paid for lunch for 20 & had to fly down from SF to SoCal). Actually maybe it was $1k. I can’t remember. Then the reception w/all the extended family and friends ran to $22K. I can’t say I can really pick one over the other, looking back now.
    The first one was the last time I saw my mom alive so that both was significant and heartbreaking at the same time because I can’t think about that date without remembering THAT. The second one was really meaningful in that we did some of the ceremony that’s traditional in my family and that meant a lot too, even though it was definitely bittersweet not having Mom there. It was always her dream for me to have the nice wedding.

    At the end of all of it, you’ll be happiest because you did this amazingly meaningful thing with the person you’re choosing for the rest of your life. It’ll be good. <3
    Revanche recently posted..Bubbly at home, or water with service?My Profile

  3. says

    Hey, if you can afford it then why not? I personally wouldn’t spend that much but it is your wedding so you can decide what works for you. I am sure it will be lovely no matter what you do.

  4. says

    Seems like you’ve done great with the wedding expenses! I think ours was just under 20k, though I’m having trouble remembering. It’s cool that you tracked it so closely and have it recorded to reference back to when people ask how much you spent. I would change pretty much nothing if I could go back, and I would definitely not have a courthouse wedding!

  5. says

    Very nice Michelle, especially with the discounts, bartering, etc. Our wedding was about $11,000. My wife wanted to be able to get married on the beach since she’s a San Diego native. We thought it would be cheap since it was outdoors and it’s the beach…well, not so much. We ended up at a church for like $400, lol!
    John @ Frugal Rules recently posted..When is Pain Worth it?My Profile

  6. says

    You are doing awesome. And I love outdoor weddings, I think it will be beautiful.

    I’m definitely interested in a bartering post 😉 I have just begun to do this lately. So far, the only thing I’ve gotten is a free cellphone (cost $200) and a few free months of service. Sounds like you’re a pro though!

  7. says

    Way to go, Michelle! The wedding sounds like it’s going to be beautiful and you’re really put a lot of thought into the details that will make it extra special. Considering how big your wedding is going to be, I’d say you’re doing extremely well for budget. As for ‘over spending’ on things like the dress, hopefully it’ll be the only one you ever buy so you should give yourself a pass :)
    Can’t wait to follow along with the rest of your wedding planning!

  8. says

    Good luck with the preparation. It’s nice that you’re so chilled about everything and have a handle on everything . I was happy to see your photographer budget. My hubby is a photographer and l can’t tell you how many people try to chisel him down, they don’t understand that you get what you pay for. After all is done, the memories are right there forever . Good luck with everything.

  9. says

    Wow, great work! It is fun planning for a wedding, but sometimes it can just get overbearing and then annoying. I am in the same boat as you right now for planning for the wedding. For my fiance and I, the biggest savings we have gotten is from having a budget. In shopping for a dress, you tell them how much you will save and they offer deals and find the dresses that fit your budget. It has worked out very well.

  10. says

    I am so impressed that your catering is $10/plate!! It all sounds super delicious, too, so great job with the food! I can’t wait to see all of this come together, it will look so amazing! :)

    • says

      Haha it doesn’t sound so bad when you put it like that, but when it add in the rental fees (like you would if you were having it at an actual venue), the price quadruples.

  11. Sarah says

    It blows my mind that weddings are that expensive (although you are defiantly saving bundles compared to other brides I know). My husband and I got married in Vegas, destination wedding style. Our family was there and it was a nice ceremony for around $700 (that includes photographer, a bunch of pictures – of our choosing, boutiques, a DVD). I saved a bundle on my wedding dress by sewing it myself. I bought all the supplies at JoAnn’s for around 40-50% off, so the dress total was about $60 and four days of my time. I defiantly couldn’t have been that organized to put together a wedding, so I let a hotel in Vegas do it for me. :)

  12. says

    Our wedding cost only a slight bit more than where you’re currently at (we funded almost all of it ourselves as well), but we live in crazy expensive California. Two bits of advice/suggestions:

    1) Another way to possibly save on your wedding is to ask for cash donations as a wedding gift. That’ what we did. Most people give at least $25 and many more than that. You could get “reimbursed” for several thousands of $’s that way.

    2) Don’t freak out if something at the wedding doesn’t go exactly as you planned it. Most people will never know! One the day arrives, just enjoy it…it goes by FAST!!!
    Mr. Utopia recently posted..Understanding the Power of Compound InterestMy Profile

  13. says

    What a beautiful plot of land and I love that you’re going with BBQ for the food. I honestly can’t imagine the stress of planning a wedding. I’m a MoH right now and it’s painful to watch my best friend going through so much stress to plan the wedding out. I’m sure you’re going to have such a beautiful day and create wonderful memories.

  14. Erin S. says

    I think you’re doing great, as well! My wedding cost about $7000 total, but I like in a low cost of living city and only had 80 guests. The BBQ looks delicious!

  15. says

    My husband and I had a courthouse wedding and we don’t regret it at all. We are already in so much debt thanks to our student loans; I can’t imagine getting in even more debt because of a wedding!

  16. DLB says

    We had over 250 people at our wedding and it was around $15,000. We had WAY too many programs. My sister insisted we should have one for every couple at least – and I think we had at least 100 left over :(

  17. says

    I am SO impressed with you!! I planned my wedding 11 years ago before I became financially fit, and I have a number of financial “regrets” from how much we saved. At the end of the day, though, it was the happiest day of my life and whenever I have regrets, I pull up my wedding album and remember all of the fun we had.

  18. says

    You’re doing pretty well for all you have to source. If you want even more frugal inspiration, google Young House Love wedding — they did an amazing job, but I’m pretty sure they self-catered to get their wedding that cheap.

    We had 125 at our indoor (winter) wedding. I think we spent around $10k for a sit-down dinner with an open bar. No dance. I definitely felt like that was the way to go for me, as I didn’t want to coordinate lots of little rentals. She even had most of the centerpiece items, so all I bought was burlap, candles, cedar greenery, and cranberries. I also probably could have done it a bit cheaper, but I wanted the wedding to be easy and smooth. My husband and I are both teachers, and this was on our winter break (and right after Christmas), so we didn’t have oodles of time for coordinating stuff.

  19. says

    My sister got married at my parent’s house and it was a beautiful outside wedding (she did have tents-just in case). She did wine and beer and saved a ton by having some family friends be “bartenders”. I also love the idea of bbq at a wedding, so tasty and homey.

  20. says

    Just think, you could have an extra $100K+ in 25 years, or $20K now. Hopefully it is a great wedding.

    When I think about that kind of money, it’s CRAZY money.

    Good luck with it, you deserve it.

  21. says

    Our wedding is June 28, so I know the pressure you’re feeling! We considered an outdoor wedding at the start of our planning, but decided we didn’t want to risk bad weather. Staying under budget at this point is getting harder, I’m burnt out from the planning and am losing the will to constantly negotiate and shop around!
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Ten Tips That Saved Us $12,000 On Our Wedding BudgetMy Profile

    • says

      Your wedding is so close! WOOHOOO for June weddings :)

      Yes, bad weather is something that I am terrified about. I’m pretty much just hoping that nothing happens.

  22. says

    It’s really awesome that you can still planning your wedding the way you really want it to be without sacrificing a lot of things! I’d definitely love the article on how to keep your wedding budget low 😉

  23. Kathy says

    Your wedding sounds very much like my son’s. It was outside in the bride’s grandparents back yard. They had 1/2 hog roasted and brought in along with baked beans, coleslaw, beer and soft drinks. The bride’s grandmother bought her dress and our son had an open collar shirt and slacks. I don’t know how much it cost because my son and DIL paid for everything else themselves, but it was the best wedding I’d been to other than my own……which by the way, cost $100 37 years ago. It would have cost us $200 but our parents each chipped in $50 toward the cost of our reception at a buffet restaurant. I’d do it the same way all over again!

    • says

      Welcome Rachel! That’s exactly why I wanted to break it down. I feel like whenever I find a wedding budget, all of the expenses are never listed all in one post.

  24. says

    I feel you on the planning without the whole family aspect but it still sounds like you have an awesome support system. You are doing wonderful with your wedding budget! And I’m sure you are not cutting anything you want either. :)

  25. says

    First, your wedding menu just made me extremely hungry! Tequila lime green beans sound really good… I need to go find a recipe and get on trying it out.

    It sounds like your wedding is going to be beautiful and unique!

    I made a lot of the things for my wedding a few years ago, including my veil for about $15 in materials. Your Etsy veil just gave me a great idea for a side hustle! I could totally make veils and sell them on Etsy! $40 is more than reasonable when most of the ones at bridal shops cost upwards of $300. Thanks for that!

    I love how open you are discussing your wedding budget because it’s a great resource for other people planning to figure out what things actually cost because I know that I started out with some unrealistic ideas about prices of things.

  26. says

    That field looks beautiful. And the food sounds amazing (although I’m pretty hungry right now). But I think being able to keep it under your original budget is great. We eloped, and while it was totally our style and also very inexpensive, I sometimes wish we had a big party for it, too. I’m sure you’re going to have an awesome time!

  27. says

    We saved a ton on what I would say is your paper category. I just couldn’t justify spending 1k plus on invites and programs when I knew people would be throwing them in the garbage a few days later haha. I DIY’d both and both turned out really well. We also had a bbq style wedding which ended up being cheaper than a plated formal dinner.
    catherine recently posted..Having a Kid While in DebtMy Profile

  28. says

    For an American outdoor wedding, you’re doing brilliantly. My wedding was close to 30,000 but then it was in Germany and in the summer palace of a German king!


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