7 wedding celebrations that didn't break the bank
During wedding season our feeds are filled with venues, gowns, and flowers. It's a happy time, but weddings are often expensive and can easily spur feelings of envy. My husband and I recently celebrated ten years of marriage (more about that at the bottom of this post) and looking back I'm so glad we kept our costs low because it allowed us to focus our funds on paying off our student loans—setting us up for the long term.
In this spirit, I called on my friends to share their humble yet gorgeous weddings that I hope will inspire you to celebrate your love without sacrificing your financial goals.
Sara & Sam's Bed and Breakfast Wedding
Barrows House Inn | Dorset, Vermont
Sara and Sam decided, after months of planning and reimagining, on an intimate wedding at a Bed and Breakfast in Vermont. They had spent lots of time traveling New England and staying at B&B's while they dated. Their family stayed for the weekend and Sara's grandfather conducted the ceremony. Having everything at one location saved a bunch of time, money, and hassle.
Having 47 guests made it very intimate and they were able to speak and spend time with everyone, take tons of photos, and actually eat dinner. Sara is someone who enjoys the little details at weddings and they were able to afford a few aspects that they wouldn't have otherwise if they had a larger, more traditional wedding. Sara says the best part was that her and Sam were able to focus on what the day really meant to them—their love for each other and their family—which can sometimes get overwhelmed at larger weddings.
Hannah & Patrick's Farmhouse Wedding Weekend
Pineland Farms | New Gloucester, MainE
Hannah and Patrick got married over Labor Day weekend at Pineland Farms in Maine. It was important to them to create a vacation experience since most people were traveling a long way. Hannah honestly never thought she would have a formal wedding—her parents had eloped and the idea of spending that kind of money on a wedding was a bit foreign to her. In order to make the event fit within their budget and style they embraced the help of a lot of friends and family, and did a bunch of the work themselves.
The attached farmhouse sleeps 26 people and as part of the package they got the whole gorgeous property for three days and two nights! They were in their mid twenties and knew most of their friends would struggle to afford travel to Maine plus multiple nights in hotels, so they put them up for the weekend. Hannah says: "Absolutely one of the best parts of the whole experience was being able to host 25 of our closest friends under one (lovely) roof." They did the rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, after party, and breakfast all at the same location, cutting costs.
For the rehearsal dinner they hired the Good Shepherd Food Bank Food Truck which drove up to the house and served tacos out the window. It was inexpensive and 100% of the proceeds went to the Food Bank. "It felt right to give a little back during a weekend when we were spending so much on ourselves" said Hannah.
Instead of a formal cake with cake cutting fees they got 100 Frosty's donuts for $1 each which had the unintended benefit of everyone dancing while eating their donuts! Afterwards the party moved right into the attached farmhouse and continued until people were ready for bed.
Hannah says they ended up spending around $10,000, which felt like a lot to her, except that it gave them so much more than just a wedding. They got an entire weekend on a beautiful farm in Maine with all of their closest friends and family.
Jessie & Matt's Summer Camp Wedding
Tanglewood 4-H Camp | Lincolnville, Maine
Jessie and Matt both went to the same summer camp as kids and met there as camp counselors so it only made sense that that's where they would get married (normally the camp isn't available to rent, but Jessie and Matt had so much history there that an exception was made). Their wedding wasn't particularly small but they made their spending decisions very consciously, making sure their dollars went towards supporting the people, places, and causes they believed in.
They asked for guests, in lieu of gifts, to consider a donation to the camp. Almost all of the remaining budget went to food and drinks, serving seasonal food and a favorite local beer. Two friends tag-teamed the photography and they hired a local band fronted by a friend from high school.
With the help of some girlfriends, they collected vintage china that the meal was served on. They've since been able to use the plates for other friends' weddings and even rented them out to make a few bucks! Jessie got her dress at a discount bridal shop where they have only one of each dress. It was 1/3 of it's normal price and the perfect combination of whimsical and wedding. The bridesmaids were asked to wear anything blue and Jessies says they picked the perfect combination of dresses.
For the honeymoon, they took a little road trip all the way from Maine to... New Hampshire, because Matt had to be back for military duty. Their first stop on the way was to go with Jessie's mother to the dump. Jessie says: "We were so full of love coming off a high we didn't need much else." Romantic right?
Diane & Kurt's Peak's Island Party
The Lion's Club | Peak's Island, Maine
Diane and Kurt met on an airplane—she's from Scotland and he lived in Maine. She asked him to open her creamer and he asked her to email him. Both had recently come out of long term relationships but despite the odds, a whirlwind romance ensued. Kurt proposed several months later on the same flight they'd met and later that day they were married at City Hall in Boston wearing shorts and not having showered.
Then came the party planning part! Being from two different continents they decided to have two wedding celebrations. I was lucky enough to attend the stateside one (photography by yours truly) and it was a gorgeous, fun-filled day. After a short ceremony we all paraded through the Old Port and piled onto the ferry headed for Peak's Island. A local BBQ joint catered and the groomsmen tapped the kegs. Diane and Kurt baked their own brownies and caught up with friends new and old as the sunset over Casco Bay.
Paula & Greg's Magical Redwood Gathering
Log Cabin Retreat | Nicasio, California
Paula and Greg found out they were pregnant with twins—they loved each other and knew they'd get married eventually, but this sped things up a bit! They got the first slot available at City Hall and were married 10 days later. After the ceremony they had lunch with a few friends that were available but they had so much wonderful news to celebrate and wanted to share it with all of their friends.
They set a date a month later in their favorite place: their cabin in Nicasio which just happens to be listed on AirBnB. The cabin (which has its own Instagram account) is in the middle of the Redwoods and comes complete with a bridge to cross the creek and a huge garden.
For food they hired a local BBQ joint and got a beer keg (sound familiar?). Paula decorated with some Etsy lanterns and arranged flowers she bought from SF Flower Mart. They didn’t have enough tables to accommodate everyone but Greg had table tops that he'd bought before in a big sale and crafted legs from fallen redwoods branches. Greg’s mom and aunt made their beautiful cake and decorated it with fresh flowers.
Paula says it was magical to be surrounded by family, friends, nature, and fire and that their fairy tale went till 2am! Whoever didn’t want to drive back pitched a tent in the garden.
Ashley & Santi's Ceremony at City Hall
City Hall | San Francisco, California
When Ashley and Santi decided to get married, they had two things to figure out: how to not spend a fortune and how to plan a wedding being from two different countries (Santi = Argentina, Ashley = USA). Given that all of Santi's family lives in Argentina and getting visas to the US is time-consuming and expensive, doing a wedding in Argentina made the most sense. Plus they knew it would be fun—weddings last till dawn there! But they still needed to be legally married in the US and didn't want to miss the opportunity to have a celebration in San Francisco where they live.
They decided to get legally married at City Hall in San Francisco about 8 months before the Argentina wedding party. The weekend before, some friends threw them an engagement party, which Ashley's parents, brother, and best friend flew out for. Santi's best friend happened to be visiting so they invited all of them to the civil ceremony, hired a photographer, and turned it into their first wedding! They Skyped in different family members scattered across the world during the ceremony, which Ashley says was a highlight of the day. After the ceremony, they stuck around to get pictures on the beautiful grounds of City Hall and then took everyone to lunch at the Presidio Social Club.
Ashley says it was a lovely, intimate day and she's so glad they had that experience as their "first" wedding. All in all, between the photographer, the lunch, and her sale dress from Anthropologie, they spent about $600.
Our Tenth Wedding Anniversary
My husband and I recently celebrated our tenth anniversary and it had me reminiscing about how special our wedding was even though we spent less than $3,500 (including wedding bands and my dress). When we got married, most people didn't have the first iPhone yet and Pinterest and Instagram weren't even a thing. Looking back, I'm so glad we kept our spending in check because since then we've managed to pay off most of our student debt, travel the world, and do work that we love.
To celebrate, we originally planned to host a family reunion at a ranch in Santa Rosa, California. Sadly, it burned down in the NorCal fires but thankfully no one in that particular house was hurt. After a series of plan changes, we found ourselves relocating from San Francisco to New York City. I had already found an incredible dress so we decided to celebrate twice—plus being happily married for a whole decade is kind of a big deal.
AirBnB Photoshoot Experience + DINNER | New York, New York
Since we were brand new to the city, we'd been AirBnB hopping while we decided on a neighborhood. That's how I discovered the group photoshoot experience through AirBnB by Adam Gong. This was the perfect way to own the "we're new here" vibe we were feeling and capture the essence of starting a new decade in a new city. It was $100 total and we met some really cool new people! After the photoshoot we had a romantic dinner at Augustine.
Marginal Way and Northern Union | Ogunquit, Maine
While our plans had changed drastically, it was ultimately for the best. The following weekend we celebrated by bringing our families together for a reunion (we missed you Jackie!). With us being in San Francisco it had been years since we were all in the same place and time. We started the afternoon by walking together along Marginal Way with a huge balloon in tow (it was such a hit I brought one to Diane & Kurt's wedding, pictured above). After the cliff walk we had a delicious, relaxing dinner at Northern Union before sneaking out for some sparklers on the lawn.