My husband and I got married on August 16, 2008, and I was dumbfounded at the various costs of a wedding. Even after planning large events in my professional life for years, nothing had prepared me for the costs of adding the label "wedding" to anything you might need to buy or rent.
I'm here with some encouraging news, though. You can have that special wedding that you've dreamed about even on the minutest of budgets without having to sacrifice on elegance. The key is to go handmade on as much as you can. My whole wedding, including all of the homemade items shown below, cost only $8,000, which is less than half the national average of $21,814, according to The Wedding Report.
Don't skimp on the wedding theme
Before you purchase anything, spend some extra time thinking about the elements you want to define your wedding experience, and then let these elements guide you through all of your wedding arrangements. This can be your colors, flower choices, personality (fun, sophisticated, etc.), or lifestyle (outdoorsy, beachy, etc.) in any combination.
For our wedding, I chose hydrangeas because the blooms are so large that you basically get a bouquet-sized arrangement for the price of one flower. I love the look of blue hydrangeas, so I picked two shades of light blue for my overall wedding colors. I also wanted to play off the idea of love birds for our reception and show our fun and laid-back personalities. This combination of hydrangeas, blue, love birds, and fun/laid-back style gave me plenty of detailed elements to work with as I started to make handmade items to carry out this theme. As I shopped for wedding bargains and craft supplies, I always asked myself if the item(s) up for consideration tied in with the theme, and if they didn't, then they weren't a good deal. This will greatly simplify decision making and help your wedding achieve a consistent feel.
Try not to purchase "wedding" items
Like I mentioned earlier, the word "wedding" comes at a premium price. Just about anything for your wedding except maybe your apparel can be created with a little out-of-the-box thinking. Consider your ring-bearer pillow. It's just a pillow with rings tied to it. I made the pillow below by hand sewing (I'm not very good with a sewing machine) two pieces of felt together embellished with a few blue buttons - items that I happened to have lying around.
How about your guest book? You want to record your guests' attendance, but those little books are so pricey, especially if you only need a few pages like I did. Instead, I used a well-wishes tree. I cut out little squares of paper with blue birds printed on them and attached a string of ribbon to the top. Guests were encouraged to write a little message on the cards and tie them on the tree. This tree created an interesting centerpiece for my welcome table, too, saving me money on my florist bill, which brings me to my next tip.
Let wedding items serve multiple purposes
You can't beat a two-for-one deal. Just like the well-wishes tree was able to be both the wedding guest book and a large table arrangement, there are plenty of other ways to let items serve double duty. For example, my wedding favors doubled as placecards. I found little nests and oval soaps online. Then I printed the guests' names on little strips of paper with blue birds in the background and secured them around the nests.
The one area where I splurged on professional printing was my invitations. I needed a way for guests to RSVP and also include a map to the venues. Instead of having two coordinating cards printed, I simply had one tiny card printed with a URL for guests to RSVP and print custom directions. The Wedding Channel has a great interface for letting you set up a custom website for free with RSVP functionality, uploading maps, etc. I was able to let one card serve as the map and RSVP card, saving me on printing, extra envelopes, and postage. Plus, many of my guests commented on how much more convenient the website was for them, and I thought this method fit in with our laid-back style perfectly.
Use what you already have in new ways
There's no better way to add personal flair to your wedding and save money than by using items you already own and love. Run around your house and try to look at everything with a fresh pair of eyes, keeping your wedding theme in mind. After speaking with florists, I found that I could save quite a bit by providing my own containers for flower arrangements. My mom had given me these cute cream-colored fluted bowls years ago as a gift, and my friend Brandi decorated a bridal shower she threw for me with large birds' nests and graciously gave them to me afterwards. I was able to take these to my florist, and he created some one-of-a-kind arrangements with my own containers that perfectly fit my theme. If you do this, it's a good idea to put labels on the bottoms of your containers letting guests know they should be returned to you. Sometimes, wedding guests like to take centerpieces as a souvenirs, which is fine, as long as you get them back once the flowers are past their prime.
My reception seating chart was also made from found items at my house. Instead of a fancy printed chart, I mounted slips of paper with table numbers and guest names to a basket-weave tray with pearl-embellished hat pins. I happened to have a little easel to hold it up, too.
I know these tips can help you have a beautifully coordinated and personalized wedding, no matter how large or small your wedding budget is.
About the Author: Betsy Pruitt
After the wedding, I missed planning an event from start to finish and thinking about all of the little details that make a party shine. It inspired me to create my own business, Belly Feathers, to help others have highly personalized events with lots of handmade love. I plan special events remotely from start to finish and design one-of-a-kind invitations, decorations, party favors, and more.
Photos courtesy of B. Good Designs in Huntsville, AL, and K&R Photography of Leesburg, GA