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How To Have A $5000, 150 Guest, DIY Wedding.

The average cost of a wedding with 150 guests is $26,000.

But you can do it with only $5,000

How is that possible? Well, first I want to mention that you must be the wedding planner, decorator, organizer, coordinator, and manager. You will be the blood, guts, sweat, stress, and labor behind every detail.

Yes, you will officially be superwoman after you plan an entire wedding on your own.

A DIY wedding can be more easily accomplished if you are pro-active, task-oriented, a go-getter, and have a driven personality (which will come in handy while planning). This personality can make it possible, but planning ahead of time is KEY...... 

What do I mean "ahead of time"?

Plan your wedding BEFORE you're engaged!

Sounds crazy, right? Maybe for some. You shouldn't feel weird about it, considering many girls have had a wedding portfolio (or at least planned their wedding) since they were 10 years old. No matter your current age, planning is a good thing. That way, once you are finally engaged, you can enjoy it without stressing on the many little details that come with planning (since you've already got it down).

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT PURCHASE ANYTHING... and I mean anything. You can plan all you want, but don't buy a single item. You never know what your future holds, if you will actually be getting engaged, or if your assumed wedding date and location will be completely different (changing your theme or colors). I can't stress this enough... do not buy anything until actually engaged.

But to the point...

How do you plan a wedding for 150 guests....for under $5,000?

Some things you will learn:
  1. Things you can plan ahead on before being officially engaged, or things to plan NOW. 
  2. A detailed wedding checklist and timeline to make sure everything gets done before the big day.
  3. Ideas for cutting costs in areas that rack up bucks.
  4. Hidden fees/costs that you forget or don't know about.
  5. Things you can do without if you have an even "tighter" budget, including alternatives.

1. Planning Ahead:
  • Location
    • Backyard or local church weddings are the cheapest, especially if you are a member.
  • Time
    • Don't pick a time that falls right during an "eating" time, that way guests know to eat lunch or dinner before they come. Only serve hors d'oeuvres and drinks. 
  • Theme
  • Color Theme 
  • Budget 
    • Obviously, it's probably around $5,000 if you're reading this blog. But decide if you can and are willing to go over, and if so, by how much?
  • General/Tentative Date 
    • This will allow you to tentatively figure out what needs to be done and decided on according to a wedding timeline/checklist. 
  • Guest Count 
    • If you know the future groom's family/friends, you can "guess-timate" how many you will probably invite to the wedding. This will also help with guesstimating how much food/drinks/tables/favors/etc to buy to help you determine your budget.
  • Dress Style and Cost 
    • Bridesmaid's Style and Cost 
      • Allow bridesmaids to pick their own dress, buy they have to pay for it. Give them a paint swatch with the colors you like, and give them a few pictures of certain styles you prefer.  This saves you money and allows them to pick out a dress they actually like/will wear again in the future. 
    • Types of Flowers in Season 
      • Always buy seasonal flowers for cheaper prices, or grow your own garden in advance to clip your own. You may also opt for Baby's Breath or other cheap flowers. Or you can allow only the bride to have a bouquet.
    • Cake Type and Decor 
      • DIY wedding cakes/cupcakes are obviously the cheapest way to go, but if you want to purchase them, cupcakes are generally cheaper than cakes.
    • Photo List for Photographer/Videographer 
      • Bridal party, dress, getting ready, cutting cake, first dance, etc. 
      • Include the typical wedding photo list for photographers, but also add some really cute poses and picture ideas to the list (check Pinterest).
    • Ceremony and Reception Decor Ideas 
      • Try to think of ideas on your own! You don't want an "all-Pinterest" wedding --unless you don't mind having overused wedding/party ideas. 
    •  Food and Beverage Ideas
      • Self-serving food stations:  serve finger foods and mini appetizers, instead of dinner, to cut costs.
        • Beverages: instead of bottles and cans for non-alcoholic drinks, have multiple drink dispensers / pitchers that guests can fill up their cups at. Much cheaper and more elegant than cans, too.
          • Opt out of serving alcohol (especially an open bar) if you want to keep costs low. If you want some kind of alcohol, a keg is cheaper than individual bottles, or you can just add one bottle of champagne/wine to each table for toasting.
      • Bridal Party 
        • Keep in mind, the more bridesmaids you have, the more wedding gifts you will have to buy. If you have a ton of good friends that you would want to use, opt to just do siblings or your bestest-of-best friends. You can always invite more girls to your bachelorette party. 
      • Wedding Song Playlist
        • Unless you're in a small, indoor area (where you could use a portable speaker or iHome system), rent a sound system that you can just plug up your iPod to. 
        • You can look up thousands of songs online to play at your wedding on YouTube, Pinterest, Google, or even iTunes. 

      2. A Detailed Wedding Checklist/Timeline

      3. Cutting Costs
      • Borrowing Chairs and Tables
        • Borrow chairs and tables from your hometown church if possible, or if you have any other connections that can provide these things.
        • Reuse the chairs for both the ceremony and reception tables.
        • Alternative options: If you don't have access to free tables/chairs and have a really tight budget, you could do a few things:
          •  Have a BYOC (bring your own "lawn" chair) wedding
          • Have hay bails and cover them with white sheets
          • Have a large variety of random chairs and tables you found in the house --or borrowed-- for a unique look.
        • Cloths/Linens: these can be expensive unless you know someone who owns a restaurant or your local church has some you can borrow. You can also opt out of having any table cloths and just have cute centerpieces / setup to make it still look nice. 
        • Self-Serve Drink Stations
          • Instead of buying tons of water bottles and soda cans, having a drink station is a cheaper and more elegant way to go. Put beverages in drink dispensers / pitchers. 
          • Opt out of serving alcohol (especially an open bar) if you want to keep costs low. If you want some kind of alcohol, a keg is cheaper than individual bottles, or you can just add one bottle of champagne/wine to each table for toasting.
        • Bridesmaids Buy Their Dresses
          • If you do this option, give them the option to pick out their own dresses. Mix-matched bridesmaids have (thankfully) become a popular trend. The pictures can also turn out surprisingly cute. 
          • Win-Win Situation: It makes the bride happy because she doesn't have to pay for the bridesmaid's dresses, and it makes the bridesmaids happy because they get to pick out a dress they actually like and would wear again. Plus, it's an excuse for them to go shopping, and determine their own budget on the type of dress they want.
          • No Catering, DIY Food
            • Food can be one of the biggest expenses in a wedding. The average cost of catering for 150 guests is $2,000.
            • Yes, catering is definitely the easy way out...but not the cheapest. Not only do you pay more money for catering than if you make that exact same food on your own, but you also have to pay for multiple fees, servers, and tips for servers. 
            • Get finger foods at Sam's or make your own finger foods ahead of time. 
          • Non-Traditional or DIY Cake
            • If the cake is a huge deal for you, getting a professionally made cake might be your best option. But if it's not and you don't want to pay big bucks for a fancy cake that you might only get one bite of the whole night, then a DIY option is best. Learn on YouTube or Pinterest some good decorating tips and practice ahead of time. 
            • A non-traditional cake can also be fun, exciting, and refreshingly unique. You can do pies, donuts, cheeses, cheesecake, cake pops, brownies, rice crispies, etc. Be creative!
          • Photography/Videography = $2000
            • These can also become one of your biggest expenses in a wedding. But in my opinion, they're worth it, even if you have to go a little over your budget. 
            • Photography: 
              • If you want photography but don't want to spend a lot on it, consider an amateur or student photographer. They won't cost as much because it's not their main income they need to live off of, and a lot of them still provide really good quality work. 
              • Hire a friend that you know is a photographer that will be able to give you some kind of discount. A friend photographer would be good for engagement photos, if nothing else. 
            • Videography: 
              • Post to Craigslist and other sources for a nearby college campus to find a "Student Videographer, One-Time Gig" who has proof of good filming, but who also needed more experience to put on their resume/portfolio. Negotiate the price for a few hours, including editing time and the DVD. 
          • Invites/Stationery = 
            • To save on stationery, opt for these alternatives:
              • Everyone gets Save the Dates: All who you want to invite to the wedding gets Save the Dates. But....
                • For older folks (or those who don't use the internet much): Also send out invites to them so they won't forget once time gets closer. In the invites, put additional RSVP envelopes and postage stamps inside. Add a small note with the registry information so they know where to shop.
                • For everyone else: Only send Save the Dates, but include information to RSVP on the wedding website online. You can create a free website on On the website, add an RSVP page, registry info, location of the wedding, and more needed info.
              • Gift "Thank You" Notes: 
                • If you buy "official" thank you cards or wedding cards, the prices will most likely be higher. Go to TJMAXX, Tuesday Morning, Big Lots, or even the dollar store and find some cute blank cards for your Thank You notes/stationery. Write a nice, personalized note inside expressing your gratitude. 

          4. Hidden Fees and Costs:
          • Plan B:
            • Especially if you have an outdoor wedding, having a Plan B is essential. What if it rains? What if strong winds start blowing everything over and the outdoor tent isn't strong enough to hold up? You will need to rent a large tent for outdoors in case it rains or you will need to have a back-up venue/location in case whether doesn't permit a desirable outdoor wedding.
            • Plan B can be more than just weather issues: 
              • What if you have a power outage at your night wedding? You will need a lot of candles or additional lighting options. What if there's not enough room for guests to park? You will need to know where an additional nearby area is for parking. What if there are unexpected additional guests (maybe ones that never RSVP'd but still showed up)? You will need extra chairs, food, and drinks just in case. 
            • There may a lot of "just in case" items for times like these that you need to prepare for. And these "just in case" items can cost extra money. Even if your Plan B never happens, you need to be well prepared in case it does. Better be safe than sorry.
          • Officiant Fee:
            • The man who marries you usually requires a fee ($50-150). If you get a close friend or family member that is qualified to ordain you, they may do it for free, but it is a courtesy to give them at least a $50 gift or offering for their service.
          • Wedding Party Gifts:
            • You remembered to get wedding favors for guests, but don't forget the gifts for your bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents, grandparents, volunteers, and even your new spouse. They put in a lot of work into helping you plan and execute your wedding, so they deserve a gift (big or small) to show your appreciation for them.
          • Vendor/Rental Fees:
            • If you do pay for a venue, check on all the fees and taxes after the price of renting it out. Is there a damage/setup/cleanup fee? How much will you need to tip them? Will there be servers and security to pay for and tip? Are there regulations for serving alcohol? Can you bring in your own food, drinks, decor, etc.?
            • If you hire a catering service, check on the fees/taxes after the price of the food itself. Will there be servers? If so, how many servers will you have to hire/tip? Do they charge by the hour? Do they charge setup/cleanup fee? What about gas/transportation costs to get to your venue?
            • If you do rent items, pick it up from the location if possible to steer clear from trip charges and extra fees. 
          • DJ/Live Music
            • These can rack up big bucks, too. Opt to rent a music/sound system that has a hookup for an iPod and includes microphones. Ask a volunteer to manage the iPod during special dances and events (such as the entrance of the bride at the ceremony).

          5. Things You Can Do Without/Alternatives:
          • Expensive Wedding Party Gifts:
            • You definitely want to give good gifts to your bridesmaids, parents, volunteers, and anyone else who helped out with the wedding. But that doesn't mean you need to spend $500+ on gifts alone. 
            • Make a really nice homemade gift and add a gift card or a little something special to it. Make sure the gift is practical, and not so "wedding" oriented that they wouldn't want to use it for everyday future uses. For example, don't get them a clutch or necklace that says "bridesmaid" on it. 
            • Think of a creative way to give an inexpensive gift, to make it more special. 
              • For example: For your wedding volunteers, give a $10 Starbucks gift card and a card that says "Thanks a LATTE for all your help!" Or a small bag of peppermints/Andes mint chocolates and add a note that says "Your help MINT a lot! Thank you for everything!" and add a $5 gift card or $5 bill to it.  
          • Wedding Favors
            • Many weddings these days are opting out of providing wedding favors because it's an additional and/or unnecessary expense. Guests won't be angry if they leave the wedding without one and it's becoming less of a "tradition" than it used to be. 
            • Many weddings have made the wedding favor as the "leaving/exiting" favor (birdseed, bubbles, sparklers, etc.) instead of an actual gift. Many have also chosen to give homemade gifts instead, such as a bag of trail mix, cookies, or even a pack of gum with a creative note on it. 
          • Flowers...Everywhere:
            • Flowers don't last long and can really drain your budget. Even if you get seasonal or fake/silk flowers, they are not cheap. 
            • Opt to only have fresh flowers for the wedding party at the ceremony (bridesmaids, groomsmen, parents, bride and groom). Opt for cheaper or more simplistic flowers. Do your bridesmaids need an entire bouquet? Many brides are choosing to only give one flower (such as a rose, lily, or sunflower) for the bridesmaids to carry, and the only full bouquet would be for the bride.
            • Reuse ceremony isle decor for the table centerpieces. Ask your volunteers to move the isle decor to the reception tables once the ceremony is over. Do you really need flowers for isle decor? Do you really need flowers on every table's centerpiece? Think about ways to minimize your flower expense and decide what your wedding budget priorities are. 
          • Serving a Sit-Down Meal: 
            • I understand catering or sit-down meals are nice and elegant, but it's a huge expense that can overtake the majority of a wedding budget. Plus, as long as you have plenty of finger foods or snacks to keep guests from going hungry, they will be happy (unless they are only there for the food, not the wedding itself).  
          • DJ/Live Music
            • These can rack up big bucks, too. Opt to rent a music/sound system that has a hookup for an iPod and includes microphones. Ask a volunteer to manage the iPod during special dances and events (such as the entrance of the bride at the ceremony).
          • Fancy Plates and Utensils:
            • Although these are nice, they are completely unnecessary. I've personally never heard someone complain at a wedding that the bride and groom had plastic plates instead of fancy gold-plated chargers under fine China dishes. If someone does complain, they're clearly more concerned about the stuff in the event than they are about the wedding itself.
          • Fancy Rentals and Vendors: 
            • If you focus more on the look of the event and "putting on a good show" for guests, you can take away the true meaning of the wedding. There's nothing wrong with pretty serving dishes and everything being stainless steel, but if you're on a tight budget, don't even consider renting or purchasing fancy/unnecessary things. 
            • Don't get me wrong... You do want your wedding to be elegant, but it doesn't need to be extravagant. Only rent items or vendors if it's necessary (such as a music system, chairs, tables, etc.) Fancy serving dishes and rentals can come across as extravagant, and fancy rentals are one of the reasons why the average wedding is $25k.
            • Save-The-Dates:
              • Sending out 2 different invites to the same guests can be very unnecessary and expensive, especially if you include an engagement photo in each one. Only send out wedding invites instead of Save-The-Dates, but make sure to send them out even earlier in advance.
                • If you have a long engagement, you could send out both. But consider the costs of stationery, printing, photography, and postage stamps. Is it worth sending both Save The Dates and Invites?
              • Only add engagement photos to invites/Save The Dates that you really care about, or those who would actually want one to put on their fridge/in their scrapbook. Professionally printed photos aren't cheap, so pick and choose who will be getting one.
                • Your 2nd cousin who lives in Kentucky doesn't need an engagement photo and neither does your great aunt who you only see at family reunions. 
                • Look at your guest list and highlight the ones you will be sending an engagement photo to. This will 1) help you see how many photos you need to print out, and 2) help you determine your budget more accurately. 
                • Make sure to count married couples and family households as ONE photo in ONE invite. Just because your inviting a family of 4, doesn't mean you will have 4 separate invites or photos for each person.
              • Normally you should send invites 6-8 weeks before the wedding (that is, if you also send Save-The-Dates). But if you don't send Save-The-Dates, send wedding invites at least 2 months in advance, preferably 10-12 weeks in advance. You must send invites earlier than normal because many guests may need to ask off work in advance or make sure nothing else gets planned for that weekend.
                • If you're desperate for a small wedding, but have to invite a lot more people than you want/care to be there, send out wedding invites to non-essential guests only 5-6 weeks in advance. It's not good etiquette and it may feel a little harsh to you at first, but it could cut down your unwanted guest list dramatically. *For guests you really want to be at the wedding, send invites ASAP so they will have a better chance of coming.
                • On the side note, when choosing a wedding date, first make sure the most important people (parents, grandparents, bridesmaids) will be able to come before deciding on a specific date and sending wedding invites. 
            • Open Bar (or any Alcohol):
              • There is absolutely nothing wrong with having alcohol, but be careful what you provide (if you provide it at all). Beer and wine are cheaper than liquor. A keg is cheaper than bottles.
              • Option #1: If you would only serve alcohol for several of your friend's sake, choose a different time-of-day for your wedding: 
                • If it's a evening/night wedding, more people will want to drink. If it's a brunch/early afternoon wedding, they may not want to drink as much or at all. Timing is everything.
              • Option #2: If you have alcohol at your wedding, give each guest (21 and older) only one or two "drink tickets" so you know how much alcohol you will need to provide. Having an open bar is very expensive. This can also decrease the chances that your guests will not get belligerent or destructive at your wedding. 
              • Option #3: Only put one or two bottles of champagne/wine on each table for toasting/drinking. This can cut your alcohol expense by a good chunk because you can control exactly how much alcohol is provided. 
            • Wedding Planner:
              • Wedding planners can make your life a lot easier....but can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $10,000 to hire. With a tight budget, hiring a wedding planner alone will probably consume most or all of your wedding budget --not including anything else. Wedding planners don't come with free decor, catering, or any expense you would want for your wedding. Their fee usually only includes finding the best deals on vendors/rentals through their contacts, as well as planning/executing the wedding itself. 
              • Yes, planning a DIY wedding can be very stressful. It requires blood, guts, sweat and tears. But with a tight budget, you'll have to manage and learn to be organized/pro-active on your own. It'll be worth it, but just don't expect it to be easy breezy. Get friends and family to help you, but if they take on a lot of responsibility to help you out, make sure to give them the "benefit of the doubt." Make sure they are pampered too and give them a nice gift for all their hard work to help you plan/execute the wedding. 
            • Professional Hair and Makeup:
              • Option #1: If you are horrible at hair and makeup, find a friend that is good at it to do it for you. 
              • Option #2: Learn from YouTube and Pinterest how to do your own hair and makeup...and do plenty of trial runs before you decide on what look you are going to go for. Once you decide on a look you like, do it again at least 3 times more to make sure you will be able to do it for your wedding day. 
              • Makeup Tip: Makeup artists might make your face look completely different. If you like the way you do your everyday or "going out" makeup, do it yourself, because a makeup artist may not know the way you like your makeup or the shades of color that you look best in. You don't want to pay $100 for a makeup appointment just to re-do or touch it afterwards.
            • Non-Essential Guests:
              • If you're trying to slash the guest list as much as possible, only invite your favorites/closest family members. Sounds kind of harsh, but you don't need to invite guests that aren't a part of your life in a beneficial or important way. 
                • They may have their feelings hurt at first, but remember this: there will almost ALWAYS be at least one wedding guest that becomes offended/disappointed/disapproving of something that you do or don't do at your wedding. This can be everything from traditional vs. non-traditional services, food and beverage options, the fact that you did or didn't serve alcohol, decor choices, location choices, etc. and the list goes on and on. You can't please everyone, so stop worrying about it and do what YOU want to do.
                • These people can include everyone from distant relatives (twice-removed, divorced and not blood related, ones you haven't seen in 5 years, 3rd-cousins), acquaintances, your college roommate that you didn't stay in touch with, college friends, old high school friends that you didn't keep in touch with, friends you just made right before the engagement, co-workers, and others.
              • If you must invite friends or family that aren't exactly "essential," make them essential to your wedding by asking them to be a volunteer. You will need volunteers for parking directory, wedding day decor setup/cleanup, food servers, music/iPod manage, gift transportation after the ceremony, etc.
                • You don't want essential guests (or close family/friends) to be volunteers at your wedding. They will want to be apart of the wedding as a guest, not as a worker. 
                • You don't have to have "non-essential" guests as your volunteers. Many ask good friends, cousins, or family members of best friends to be volunteers for the wedding. 


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