How I Threw a Downtown Wedding For Less Than $4,000

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You may have noticed lately that ThriftyGuardian has had a LOT of guest posts and I promise it’s not because I’m getting lazy 😉

Rather (if you haven’t yet heard….)


Frugal Wedding Planning

So needless to say, I had to bring a few friends to help keep ThriftyGuardian running while I juggled wedding planning + #thetoddlers + running my own business…easy peasey, right?

Well I’m happy to say that I’m back at it and I’m eager to share with you how I put together a frugal wedding that didn’t look frugal!

The Beginning of My Frugal Wedding Planning

When we finally picked a date, my first thought was of course about the budget (heh I can’t help it! Frugality is life!)

I knew I wanted to throw a wedding downtown, it was important to me that no one feel tempted to drive, regardless of how much they were or weren’t drinking. I also wanted to be able to continue the party at my all-time favorite bar (Floyd’s, for those of you who are local!)

When I brought up my plans to my maid-of-honor, she scoffed. “There’s no way you can throw a wedding in Springfield for less than $5k,” she told me. And after I spoke to a few other friends, I began to fear she was right.

The Right Place, The Right Time

As luck would have it, my MoH and I happened to head out for a girl’s night to a new(ish) place in town – Arlington’s Restaurant. As we walked in, I was immediately in awe — this place was GORGEOUS! And the food….oooh my goodness. I was in love.

And guess what?

Our waitress just happened to mention that the upstairs area was available for rent!!

Now not only were we lucky in that this beautiful space was available (I’ve recently heard they’ll well booked through January 2018!) but it fit well within our budget.

I was sold.

You’ve got the wedding venue – now what?

Once the wedding venue was booked, the hard part began. There were so many decisions to be made! Time frame, food, drinks, hotel block, colors, decorations…so much to do and I’d given myself only six months to do it!

Given that my entire business runs around my ability to be efficient, I knew the first thing to do was to develop that budget. Having a number in mind is great, but was it possible? Only one way to find out…

(Please note this article contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission should you click through. This in no way impacts my recommendation of any products/services.)

Developing Your Wedding Budget

To begin, set a budget that gives you a tiny bit of buffer, but not so much that you’ll be tempted to spend when you don’t have to. Again, my budget was $5,000 (with us ideally staying under $4,000!) If you’re getting ready to plan your own wedding, please take my advice when I say – do NOT Google average prices of various wedding components! For example, wedding flowers cost an average of $2,000 (!!) Ooph. No.

Figure out what you feel is fair/reasonable and go from there, adjusting as necessary but recognizing that adding to one area will pull from another.

Our original Wedding Budget was as follows:

Groom’s Clothing/Accessories 120
Bride’s Clothing/Accessories 150
Kid’s Clothing 150
Venue 2,000
Cake 300
Bridal Party Gifts 200
Photos 1000
“Honeymoon” 500
Misc 500
TOTAL $4,920

Now, I already know what you’re thinking – $150 for the bride?! $500 for a photographer?! Where’s the DJ??!

Well stick with me, we’ll get there…

Wedding Budget – The Clothing

I’ve never been a “big wedding, expensive white dress” kind of gal, so that alone really helped us in saving money while still giving us an end result we loved. I had two desires when it came to the wedding clothing –

1. I wanted to wear a petticoat. I love petticoats.

2. Henry (our 3 yr old) needed suspenders. He looks flippin’ ADORABLE in suspenders.

Now if you’ve never seen my first born, I need you to prepare yourself for the cuteness coming your way…


Frugal Wedding Ideas

Crushingly adorable, is he not?

So my starting place involved petticoats and suspenders…how could I NOT do a Rockabilly/50s theme??

Answer: I couldn’t. Rockabilly it was!

I clicked on over to Amazon and sure enough, found the perfect wedding dress for only $30!!

And because I’m a kind, wonderful bride (though maybe too kind…more on that later…) I had my bridesmaids buy the same dresses, but in a different color. Having spent nearly $200 on my own bridesmaid dress a few years ago, there was no way I’d inflict the same financial pain on someone else.

Then for my accessories, I went with a bird cage veilwhite Mary Jane(esque) shoes, and some costume pearls. All-in-all, my total wardrobe cost: $80 (original budget: $150)

We lucked out with our daughter’s clothing, in that we happened to visit my mom when her local JcPenney was closing! My daughter’s dress cost us $7 and even with her shoes and the same set of pearls I bought myself, her overall outfit cost us $32 (original budget: $75)

For the men, we decided to keep things simple. They wore white shirts, black pants, and black/white Chucks. My husband’s and son’s clothing cost a total of $200 (original budget: $195) – a bit over budget, until we factored in Ebates! Ebates saved us an additional $22 and if you’re not yet a user of Ebates, sign up now to earn an automatic $10 (it’s literally free money!!)

Total spent on clothing for the family: $312 (original budget: $420)


Saving Money on the Wedding Venue

Thus far we were well on track to staying under budget, but food and drinks can add up FAST. Do you do an open bar or cash bar? Sit down dinner or a cocktail hour? Decisions, decisions…

Personally, I’m a beer drinker so if we were going to have ANY free drinks, it was going to be beer. With the guidance of our amazing venue owner, we went with keg beer and a soda bar, everything else being cash bar. And that would be my biggest tip here – TRUST YOUR VENUE OWNER! If you can’t trust the owner, you may need to reconsider where you’re doing business. Ideally your venue owner will be upfront and honest in what works and what doesn’t for your specific budget.

And as I mentioned earlier, our venue has absolutely PHENOMENAL food (heh and clearly I LOVE food!) so figuring out the best plan of action was a bit tough. We ended up going with a later wedding – a start time of 6:30pm – and doing a variety of appetizers (or “drunk people food” as I liked to call ’em). We did decide to provide dinner for the bridal party beforehand so they could eat in between pictures and the wedding, but even with that expense, our total venue cost ended up being right on the nose at about $2,000. So far, so good!

Do You Really Need a Fancy Wedding Cake?

I’ll be honest here – we could have saved a lot more on our wedding cakes than we did but uh…TOTALLY worth it.

Obviously the bigger/taller your cake, the more expensive it’ll be. We ordered “sheet cakes” (the prettiest darn sheet cakes I’ve ever seen!!) and got enough to feed 100 people. Total cost: $280

As with everything in wedding planning, you really have to decide what’s most important to you. Would you rather have a huge wedding cake that costs you $6/serving or something that actually lasts beyond the night – like photos or favors?

DIY Wedding Decor

I’m HUGE into DIY and crafting, so that went a long way in helping us save money in our “Misc./Decor” budget. Not to mention we chose a venue that was already gorgeous, so what decor we did need was minimal.

Rather than rent linens from the venue ($15/piece), I kept an eagle eye on our local Facebook resale groups. We were able to pick up all the linens and table runners we needed for only $8/piece and then resold them for $10! Not bad, eh?

We also found a ton of mason jars at a garage sale and I already had other necessities – ribbon, glue, and hot glue guns galore!

I did buy some submersible tea lights to glue to the top of the mason jars and then all I did to create the centerpieces was spray glitter inside the jars, glue flowers to the tops, and wrap some ribbon/pearls around ’em. I added a few butterflies in honor of my grandma who passed in 2001 – she LOVED butterflies.

I then used the extra pearl strands and ribbon we had to do some decor for the chair backs:


Can You Do Your Own Wedding Photos?

Our biggest budget-saver was when we decided to do our own wedding photos and I am SO glad we did. Now I’m definitely not discounting the benefits of hiring a professional photographer, but I love having saved so much money while also having full access to each and every photo taken that day. While there are a lot of reasons to hire a professional wedding photographer, I feel there were a lot of photos taken that would have otherwise been missed had we hired someone not familiar with our friends/family. So rather than spending $500+ on a photographer, we spent about $100 on a “thank you” gift for a friend who gave us over 500 BEAUTIFUL shots of our entire day.

Who else but a friend would understand my need to wear a poncho while eating a horseshoe??

We also decided to have a photo booth at our wedding and asked that everyone leave us a copy. We built a collapsible display board with chicken wire and everyone loved it. So not only did we have photos of our friends/family being fun and goofy, but everyone got as many favors as they wanted to remember this beautiful day. We even bought little butterfly clothespins from Amazon for only $10 – totally worth it!

Total cost for photographer/photo booth: $360 (original budget: $1,000)

Saving Money on Music & Wedding Flowers

When I first Googled “wedding flowers” and saw the average cost was usually $2,000, my heart dropped; that’s nearly half my budget!! Luckily I love gardening, so set aside some space in our backyard and went about our usual frugal gardening adventures. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out quite as it was supposed to (and legally I’m not allowed to say what happened…) but should you go the route of growing your own wedding flowers, take my word for it when I say you need to make sure no one will “accidentally” spray weed killer near your yard (*grumble grumble*)

Even if you don’t grow your own flowers, though, there are a number of ways you can still save money! We ended up using a lot of fake flowers and I simply cut and pieced them together to make our decorations and bouquets:

A few hot glue gun burns but totally worth it!

Then we stopped by our local farmer’s market on the day of and picked up a few bunches of live sunflowers – which we later had fun handing out downtown after the wedding to confused-but-happy bar friends.

In terms of music, we really had fun with that! Rather than spending $300-$500 on a DJ, I decided to do it myself…with a little help from our friend T-Rox:Save Money Wedding DJ

Instead of a traditional “dollar dance”, we decided to encourage people to donate to our amazing DJ so he could fly first class back to the Prehistoric period (yes. seriously.)

All I did to DJ my own wedding was make separate playlists for each part of the wedding: music pre-ceremony, music during mingling after the ceremony, then dance music. Since I already own a microphone for my business, it was easy to record and plug in a few key pieces to keep the flow going as I wished. I used Raise to buy a discounted ITunes gift card (and Ebates saved me even more from there!) and even after I gave TRox his cut, we managed to only have to spend $70 on the music and I was able to guarantee the songs I wanted were played when I wanted them. This was probably my favorite part of the whole wedding shebang.

The Final Total

All-in-all our wedding total came in just under $4,000 (and that includes the honeymoon!) Obviously we could have cut corners even further, but I’m quite pleased with how it all came together and that we avoided hurting ourselves financially for one single event, even one as big as a wedding.

And we got to wear those petticoats:


If you have any questions (or want additional specifics on what we did!), please comment below!

I’d love to know your thoughts on our frugal wedding fun!



This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Looks like you had a fantastic day too! I love your wedding & bridesmaids dresses! ?

    1. Thank you, Linda!! <3

  2. Aww I love your wedding! It sounds so similar to ours (literally bought most of the decor at the dollar store lol). The only thing I regret is having a family member do the pics instead of hiring a professional photographer, I would love to have stunning photos to look back on. Oh well, glad it worked out for you though! All the best to you and your fam!!

    1. Thank you, Pollyann! 🙂

  3. AMBER! What a great post! I wish I could have been a bridesmaid! ? You all looked great and it looks like you had SO much FUN, which is what I want for my big day (no date set, but if we can do it on a budget like you, I’d be THRILLED.)

    What did you do for your honeymoon to keep it in your budget?!?! That’s a BIG deal right there.

    Oh, and your comment about what you want to remember (cake or things that last) is right on and I will be remembering that when I finally get around to planning my day (thankfully, one of my wedding gifts is homemade cupcakes for everyone…savings! LOL)

    1. Haha thank you, Julie!! We ended up staying around town for our honeymoon since our kids are young (and I’m a nervous-nelly about being away from them!) Our hotel gave us the same block rate they had for the first night so that saved us a LOT of money there and then we just played tourists, something we don’t really get to do with the kids in tow. 🙂

  4. Ok. First, congratulations! You and your family looked amazing. Second, thank you so much for proving that you can have a fantastic day and not have to spend a lot. Thirdly, the poncho! Genius! I need that for eating spaghetti.

    1. Bahaha I wear mine on a daily basis. Then I never have to do laundry! ^_^ 😉

  5. Wow! It was a frugal wedding, but obviously, no corners were cut. You looked beautiful and happy and that’s the big payoff!

    1. Thank you, Jennifer! <3

  6. We don’t even have a wedding budget (I know.. shame on us). We went into planning this totally clueless about what anything could cost.

    We got lucky… REALLY lucky with our venues. We’re getting married at a local monastery which has beautiful gardens. They open the gardens to the public, but also schedule weddings. Our reception is near our home, at a pavilion in our neighborhood. I liked the idea of being close to home in the event someone needs a place to go if they drink too much. And I mean, the cost to rent the pavilion was all of $50.

    We got lucky once again with a photographer friend who is charging us $350 for 8 hours. It’s the DJ that’s killing us. We’re spending more on a DJ than anything else – $600 for 4 hours! He’s the cheapest I could find honestly. We live in a destination wedding city… so everything is outrageous here. It’s why we don’t have a traditional wedding venue. The next most affordable option was easily a few thousand dollars.

    We too noticed how much cheaper it is to just buy things rather than rent. We want a 10×30 white tent for the reception, and most places here charge $200 to rent it. I can BUY the tent online via Groupon or Wish for under $150… and then re-sell it! That’s a big part of our financial plans honestly… buying stuff and then re-selling it to get back some of the money.

    Most of our budget is going to clothing – because of the Star Wars theme. I found my dress today thanks to you. It’s $200… which is about what I was comfortable spending considering the other accessories I want to buy or make. We’re making long Jedi/Sith robes for the wedding party… and a whole Sith outfit for Jeremy. I also have friends coming in full costume.

    I sooooo feel you on the cake. We’re doing cheesecake. I am making small cupcake sized cheesecakes for everyone, and then a small 3-tier cheesecake for us and the wedding party. I’m going to make it myself so it’s keto friendly and it’s going to be awesome (and inexpensive).

    Anyways… I enjoyed reading your post and your budgetary breakdown. I’m hoping we come in under $4k as well! Your wedding was beautiful ? Congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Kimi! I am SO excited to see how beautiful your wedding turns out (because I know it will!) And the Star Wars theme is just absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad things are coming together nicely for you and being able to do your own cake is a great thing. Can’t wait to see pictures of your day! 😀

  7. As a DIYer I can relate to saving money while having adorable things as a decor and clothes. Everything looks pretty special. So happy you had a great day! Congrats!

    1. Thank you!! <3

  8. Congratulations on the wedding! You and your family look amazing and happy. I love hearing how you did it all and didn’t spend a total fortune which proves that you can have a wonderful wedding that doesn’t take years to pay off. Best wishes for many blissful years!

    1. Thank you, Shelley!! 🙂

  9. It all turned out great, Amber! You look beautiful. Your family is lovely. And you are right – your son is super cute in suspenders!

    1. Thank you so much, Cathy!! 🙂

  10. This is all such good advice. I wish you two a lifetime of love.

  11. Congratulations! Such a sweet family!!

    Top ideas. Although I am not engaged yet (still waiting on that one!!) I love reading articles like this one, it really shows how you can have the wedding you want for a reasonable cost AND it has your individual personality stamped all over it too. Brilliant 🙂

    1. Thank you!! 🙂

  12. Like you I was determined to make my wedding cheap, without it looking cheap, and I first read this when I was planning… Huge congratulations – you did an amazing job!

  13. Amber, I love the creativity you bring to life, especially for your special day. Love the picture of you with your bridesmaids. Adorable and priceless.

  14. Gorgeous!! I wish you both all the very best! <3

  15. We did pretty good at around 5k too, and it was the best wedding I’ve been in 🙂 Nice outdoor wedding in a beautiful garden, friend playing acoustic guitar, another friend who was a professional photographer gave us a good deal on photos. Did a lot of the decorating ourselves – many people said it was the best wedding they’ve been to (but I think they are supposed to say that 🙂

  16. This is amazing, Amber. What a fun and lovely day without the stress of going into debt or spending all your savings. I love the ways you economized. So many couples could benefit from taking a page from your budget!

  17. Oh my goodness, now I know it for sure! You are an artist! Wow. You top every woman I know. Well, that post actually couldn’t come in any better timed, as I am looking forward to my own wedding, and I don’t want to spend a fortune on it. My family is not around, apart from my brother who will be my witness. My partner’s family is not around, they are 3000 miles away. And I (tell it as it is) don’t want to spend silly money on feeding and entertaining “friends” , that don’t even look at me when coming across all year through. So, I would love to celebrate a great day with maybe 6-8 people. I will not be wearing a traditional bridal outfit, would look a bit silly on me 🙂 I love your outfit, the bridesmaid look gorgeous, too. And the kiddies, omg how sweet they are. I might go for something ‘beachy’, will see. That the budget for photos with 1000$ is on the second place shocked me a bit. But, yeah, you are right. These are wedding photos and not just vacation snap shots. I really enjoyed your post, I am sure you had the best day ever!!!

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