How I DIY’d My Wedding On a Budget

It still feels like I just got back from our wedding road trip with #BradTheBoo (and no, his hashtag / pet name is not changing to anything hubby-related, just like my name ain’t changing one bit!). I’m still overwhelmed by the outpouring  of love we felt and the enormous effort it took to pull off our dream wedding weekend. But now more than ever, I’m feeling grateful for all the ways we saved money and stayed on budget when it came to pulling this shin-dig off!

You see, this is the time – the month after the wedding – when so many couples feel the financial pinch. It’s common that brides and grooms in this stage are digging out from wedding debt or tightening the belt to pay off credit card balances that somehow got sky-high. Brad and I set a goal at the start of the year (we always set new year’s resolutions together as a couple – a tradition I love!) to get “in the green” before the end of the year. That was an AMBITIOUS endeavor considering we bought a house and spent nearly 6 figures on our home remodel here in Denver last year. We financed a lot of those expenses – including our $20k foundation repair – with interest-free loans that would turn into very HIGH interest loans this summer if we hadn’t been diligent about paying them off.

I’m proud to say we did pay them all off WHILE planning a budget-friendly wedding, and now we’re officially in the green except for a remaining $2,500 in my student loans, which I’m on finally track to pay off before the year’s end.

Cost Saving Considerations for Your Wedding

We found so many creative ways to save money when planning our wedding, that I had share them with all my fellow boss brides out there. Keep in mind, everyone’s wants and needs are different, so knowing your own values and starting from there is a good way to ground your planning process (for instance, our number-one priority was finding a way to have as many of our closest friends and family present, everything else came second). I found A Practical Wedding’s Wedding Planner book to be very helpful in starting this process from a values-driven perspective and highly recommend it.

I should first acknowledge that everyone has a different set of privileges coming into this conversation, too. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have in-laws who had a backyard big enough to host our beautiful wedding day, and the willingness to actually do it. Not everyone has such cost-saving measures available to them, but I hope by sharing my experience, it’ll spur some creative brainstorming about what kinds of hook-ups you might have to help make your wedding day wonderful – for you and your budget.

Here’s a few ways we did it:

Stay Local

My in-laws were total rockstars when it came to making local recommendations for vendors who they already knew – which helped us avoid the very real wedding inflation you might by working with wedding vendors elsewhere.

Our flowers were hand-picked by me and my bachelorettes at a lovely local woman’s backyard cutting garden the day before the wedding. They were only $1 or $2 a stem, which saved us tons of money and added a real hands-on element to our experience.

The Cutting Garden

We stayed local when it came to our musical entertainment, too. A few summer’s back, Brad and I went to a local festival near his family’s farm. While there, we were impressed by the fun, funky, honkey-tonk band that was playing, so Brad’s dad got their name and number in case we ever wanted to host a farm party someday (I still think we were alllllll thinking the same thing: a wedding, but Brad denies this). Fast forward two years and we booked them for our wedding for only $500 (plus a healthy tip) and they were absolutely perfect for the Wedstock vibe we were going for. They played folk songs and classic rock all night long, and got everyone groovin’! At one point, the band even invited me on stage to sing a rendition of Sweet Home Alabama, and it was an absolute blast.

Emilie on stage at Wedstock 2018!

I care a lot about how our food tastes and where it’s sourced, so when I found that a nearby restaurant was named “Hudson Valley’s first green-certified restaurant” and specialized in socially responsible cuisine, I knew I wanted to work with the husband-wife duo who owned it. Jamie from Aroma Thyme put together a delicious menu that fit our backyard BBQ vision and was incredibly helpful in working with me to stay within our budget constraints. We saved a lot of money by opting for a buffet-style meal, which also played into our casual aesthetic.

Our final major money coup came in the form of how we handled our rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. We had a TON of family members coming in from out of town, so our rehearsal dinner had a good number of our wedding guests in attendance and we had to get creative to ensure we didn’t overspend before our wedding even began! For just under $350, we ordered delicious pizzas and big mixed salads from a nearby family-style pizza joint, Peppino’s. Along with the help of my sister, besties, and longtime family friend, I made a trio of mini desserts that we put out as a dessert bar: brownie bites topped with raspberries, mini lemon merengue pies, and mini strawberry shortcakes.

We hosted our pizza party rehearsal dinner in the farm next door – literally!  Brad’s parents had tipped us off that their neighbors rented out their entire gorgeous, newly renovated farm on AirBnB – so my mom snagged it for the entire weekend to house my extended family! It included two small farm houses and a gorgeous renovated barn, which had the absolute perfect loft space to host our gathering. It didn’t hurt that Brad’s parents were friendly with the owners, who graciously waived the room rental fee for our party, too. All-in, we spent less than $600 on our rehearsal dinner – and plenty of fun and delicious food was had by all.

It felt like the weekend was off to a good start when this rainbow appeared right outside Silent G Farm’s window during our rehearsal dinner. A good omen, indeed.

Silent G Farms rainbow

Break the Bachelor & Bachelorette Rules

Brad and I are in that season of our lives when a lot of our friends are getting married. So we’re spending many vacation days and dollar bills on their bachelor and bachelorette weekend escapes already. We decided that instead of asking our friends too hoof it up to the Catskills for our wedding weekend AND some other vacation getaway earlier in the year, we’d combine the two into one extra-long extravaganza.

There’s something a little more adventurous in hosting the bachelor/ette parties the night before our rehearsal dinner day, too. It felt a little old-school and a little more fun to spend all that time with our closest friends in the days leading up to the biggest of them all!

I rented an absolutely adorable, made-for-instagram cottage nearby (which admittedly, cost a pretty penny, but my generous bachelorettes chipped in to cover it completely, bless them). My besties and I spent Thursday hiking, visiting a local swimming hole, and giving ourselves some at-home spa treatments. We spent the night making a delicious meal, playing drunken board games, and having one hell of a girl’s night in! We started Friday morning off with yoga on the porch, brought to us by marvelous local yogi, Autumn, who offered us the class for only $100 – and she even brought us mats!

Brad and his pals spent Thursday camping out after a day of adventure that was primarily comprised of a raucous game of paintball, tackling a super-high ropes course, and lighting a dangerous enormous bonfire. All in, we spent MUCH less on our local adventures than another weekend away would have cost us, and it felt like a perfect start to the long weekend.

Get Creative (Or Marry Creative)

I’m creative…when it comes to words and websites. While that was somewhat helpful for our wedding planning, we REALLY saved some coin by relying on #BradTheBoo’s mad design skills.

He designed our wedding postcard invitation in house (quite literally) and we printed 100 of them for only $40 online via Vistaprint. For full disclosure, the first printing didn’t go well – we had the orientation wrong and they came out all whacky. But when I got in touch with their customer service folks, they re-did it perfectly for FREE for us! I absolutely love how they came out:

Brad took that same design process and ran with it to make our wedding favors come to life, too! We wanted something that gave you the feeling of having just gone to a music festival or political rally – so we decided on commemorative buttons as keepsakes that will hopefully stand the test of time. I mean come on – look how cute!

photo credit: Emma Keith

The buttons cost us about $100 + shipping through and we used a dollop of hot glue to stick them to card stock I picked up at Michaels for only $10 and cut into postcard size myself. We were so happy to send our guests home with a cute, memorable piece of our Wedstock weekend together!

Phone a Friend

As the Beatles tune goes, we got by with a little help from our friends. A lot of help, actually. When it came to pulling our wedding weekend off without breaking the bank, we relied heavily on the generosity of our talented tribe.

My bachelorettes took the lead on arranging all the flowers we picked into vases that adorned the ceremony and reception. My grandmother – who once worked in her aunt’s flower shop while growing up in Panama – helped me assemble my own bouquet. And with the help of a hot glue gun, baby’s breath flowers, and some floral wire, I re-used my Mom’s and Brad’s mom’s veils to make my own headpiece! I’m obsessed with how well it all came out.

Making my bouquet with Nani

Emma Keith, a photographer I’ve worked with through Bossed Up quite a lot over the past 5 years, offered to give us a precious gift of shooting our wedding GRATIS. We covered her transportation from Richmond, VA and her lodging for the weekend, but it was still well under the typical amount you’d spend for the professional photography she provided. I cannot thank her enough for this gift and know you’ll be thrilled with her work if you’d ever like to book her yourself!

My incredibly talented mom made us a delicious raspberry limoncello layer cake. She spent months recipe testing and it all came together beautifully. We wanted a wedding cake that screamed summer and included farm-fresh fruit elements. She used raspberries in the filling and soaked each layer with limoncello, the Italian liqueur Brad fell for when he studied abroad.

Brad’s college bestie and uber-talented designer, Kyle Bendle, kindly offered up his chalk artistry skills to add some Pinterest-worthy sign elements on chalkboards we found in the barn, too! I loved the beauty he added to our day, despite the fact that my hand-painted signs look terrible by comparison!

Dressing Like a Bride on a Budget is FINE

I’d be remiss not to mention my attire considerations for the big day. I went into wedding dress shopping with a target budget of $500. I quickly realized that was an incredibly low budget that made it hard to shop at all. One boutique I went to had dresses that started at $2,500. Contrary to the popular advice, I tried on dresses at all price points, more to explore different shapes and cuts and to see what I thought. I wasn’t afraid of “falling in love” with a dress way outside my price point, because I was SO committed to my budget and not paying a ridiculously inflated price for a dress.

It became clear quite quickly that BHLDN – the bridal off-shoot of Anthropologie – was going to be the perfect bridal boutique for me. Not only did they have dozens of dresses that aligned with my boho, casual, farm chic aesthetic, they also had a wide array of super-affordable options.The minute I tried on the dress I ended up with – which was also one of the most affordable dresses I could find – we all knew it was the one. I ended up paying a total of $550, so went just barely above budget for it. But those bell sleeves – hello! That was the moment our “Wedstock” theme started to emerge.

I also sported my used, burnt orange boots that I’ve had for years since I picked them up for $60 in an Austin thrift shop. My parents insisted I get them polished so they would “look nicer” for our wedding day. I vehemently disagreed. I liked that they looked rough and rustic. Plus, with all the mud that we had to deal with one our hike up to our hilltop ceremony (since it had been raining for weeks), we both agreed I’d been right all along. Booya!

I felt the same way about getting professional hair and make-up done for my wedding day. I realize this is super different for everyone, but I feel strongly that I know my own face and I know my own hair, and I didn’t want to look particularly different on my wedding day than I do most days. Personally, I felt strongly that I was the best person to prepare my own wedding look, and I’m happy with how things came together. I did step it up a notch with false lashes that I don’t typically wear, but took the few weeks prior to my big day to practice.

I wore my departed grandmother’s pearls to bring her spirit into my special day. And my dear family friend (who also happened to be my first grade teacher) was kind enough to gift me this perfect turquoise bracelet that added a fun western flare to my outfit, too.

Turquoise Bracelt

Photo Credit: Emma Keith

All that combined with my home-made, hand-me-down veil and flower crown to land me with a wedding day look that I loved for less than $600.

Hold Off on The Honeymoon…For Now

There are a few good reasons Brad and I are holding off on taking a honeymoon. First, it’s certainly saving us some money at the moment. We want to replenish our savings accounts before splurging on a nice get-away to celebrate. But second, we just took a week and a half off of work for our wedding celebration! More vacation right now seems impossible, especially with three of our close friends weddings to attend this fall. Plus, by holding off until next year, we get to plan two major love-centered getaways instead of just one! The road trip we took out to New York and back to Denver felt like a mini-moon anyway.

Are You Planning a Wedding on a Budget?

I’d love to hear what cost-saving measures are working best for you in the comments section below.

It’s up to you and your partner to figure out what you want to splurge and skimp on. These cost-saving measures are how Brad and I found a balance that worked for us – without feeling deprived.

After all, wedding planning is stressful enough. When it’s all said and done, you don’t want to be feeling financially pinched right after your big day. We’re thrilled to be moving forward with a strong foundation – both in our relationship and our bank accounts.


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