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Budget Savvy Bride: Courtney in California


Our beautiful wedding was that much more beautiful because everyone felt our love in their hearts on our wedding day and not in their pocketbooks!  Hopefully this post about the details of our budget conscious wedding can inspire some other budget brides out there!

Let's begin with the dress.  Growing up in San Francisco, my mom and I always started at the Jessica McClintock outlet when we went looking for prom dresses.  With the most important dress of my life on the line, we figured, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"  We thought we had nothing to lose and this being our first search outing, we didn't have too high of expectations for finding THE dress.  Well, on my first day out, I tried on 3 and left with 2.  I never considered myself a 2 dress kind of girl (1 dress for the ceremony and 1 reception dress), but here's how it happened. 


When we got to the outlet, there was a sign over the racks and racks of gowns that read, "All wedding gowns $75".  When I went to pay, however, what the sign didn't say was that all of the dresses were 50% off the last price...meaning, $37.50 each.  I thought that the alterations might cost me a mint (which I was prepared to pay since the dresses were such a good deal) but when I tried them on for my tailor, he was thankfully, very honest with me and told me they just needed a good pressing.  So, for $60.00 total, my dresses looked beautiful.  Grand total for, not just 1, but 2 beautiful wedding gowns: $135.00. 

I found my veil for $18 on, and my flower was made for me by a sweet seller on for $35.

I felt like my bridesmaids were doing me the favor by agreeing to be by my side on the biggest day of my life (in dresses I picked out for them to wear, no less) so I thought it was only fitting that I give them their bridesmaid dresses as a small token of my appreciation.  By the time I went looking for dresses, I knew a few things:  I wanted my girls in navy blue (one of our colors, along with aqua blue) and I wanted them wearing cowboy boots with their dresses (a nod to my husband's West Texas upbringing).  This last bit seemed to create a bit of a challenge because I didn't want the dresses to look too costumey with the boots.  Also, like most brides out there, I wanted to find a dress for my girls that they could actually wear again.  While wandering through one of my favorite stores, The Gap, right before last Thanksgiving, I came across a navy dress.  I tried it on and really liked it.  A lot.  It was $78, which was already a steal and within my budget of about $100 per dress.  So, I bought it and brought it home for my now-husband to see.  I tried it on with my pair of boots and took pictures to send to my Maid of Honor who loved it too.  Working with my very best guesstimates for sizes, over the course of about 3 months, I was a Gap dress buying machine.  Why 3 months, you ask?  Well, The Gap being The Gap, the dresses kept getting marked down, especially with after Christmas sales.  In the end, my bridesmaids were each wearing a $12.50 dress...and loving it!  They are all excited to re-wear them and I bought it in black myself and have already worn it as well. 



The funny thing is that our 2 year old flower girl was in a more expensive dress than the bridesmaids.  Our flower girl's white eyelet dress came from for $18.50. 


As for my handsome groom and his entourage, I had always dreamed of tan suits for our wedding.  With a little help from a blogger on, we purchased all the groom's and groomsman's suits for $99 each.  The guys also loved their

versatile tan suits and are excited to re-wear them as well!  Their ties came from a seller on eBay because my husband loved the aqua color of them.  The ties were only $7 each. 


How we met our photographer, our biggest splurge, is an interesting story.  Before we even got engaged, I fell in love with a few local wedding photographers.  Although we had already decided that pictures are what you splurge on, we were interested to see what our options were.  As I researched my dream photographers, I realized that packages started at about $8,000.  The more I thought about how much I loved these photographers and their style, the more I realized that other photographers loved them as well.  In my head I reasoned that their styles were probably similar.  So, I started e-mailing photographers that had commented on some of the blogs and my reasoning was right; the styles were similar, the prices were not.   Our amazing photographer, Matt Dorroh ( was one of our very best discoveries.  He is based in Starkville, Mississippi and just graduated from Mississippi State University.  Within about 2 weeks of checking out his blog and really liking his work and the packages he offered, we booked him, and he flew out to California to shoot our engagement session.  He was incredibly easy to work with and we were thrilled with our pictures.  He shot on Saturday, flew back to Mississippi on Sunday, and we had all our 200 some odd proofs by Monday morning.  These are some of our favorite shots from the engagement session:

Not worrying about our wedding photos eliminated so much stress from planning and anticipating the big day.  All in all, we saved almost half of what we would have spent on a California photographer.  More than that, we have amazing pictures from our engagement session and our wedding and we have a lifelong friend.  Photography package including engagement session, all day wedding coverage, all digital rights (this is so rare), and our album = $4500!


Using one of our awesome engagement pictures, we designed our save the date cards.  We decided to do a postcard and found a great deal at  On this website, you can upload your own image for $2.50 and the printing on the back (the text) is free.  We were able to get 250 cards with shipping for $37.00.  We also saved money on postage because they were postcards (28 cents each), not envelopes (44 cents each).  This was the photo on our postcard:


To save money on our invitations, I bought a calligraphy set on clearance at Borders bookstore and learned how to write the letters.  I practiced a lot and then was able to address our outer and inner envelopes.  This was a little bit stressful to do, but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed "designing" each envelope and I was really happy that I, personally, could add a personal touch to each of our guests' invitations.  Here is an example of my calligraphy:

As for some of the budget saving wedding ceremony details:

Flowers:  Our flower was the white hydrangea and so all of our flowers came from the L.A. Flower Mart.  For about $230 worth of flowers, we used beautiful, fresh, creamy white hydrangeas for bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, decorating the pews at the church, and all the reception centerpieces.  We actually could have bought less because we had lots of extras, but I wanted to have lots to work with, just in case.  Here, some details:

        -bouquets:  I was very fortunate that both of my husband's grandmothers have worked with flowers.  So, under the supervision of my nana-in-law, my maid of honor and I made the bouquets.  We used rubberbands and floral wire to fasten the stems together and then to add the aqua color, we actually used the groomsman's ties.  Because they were such a good deal and because I really wanted the aqua colors to match, I took the ties to my tailor to have them cut into strips that we could glue gun around the bouquets.  It worked out great, was affordable, and the colors were matching perfectly.  The corsages and boutonnieres were tied with navy and aqua ribbon from the craft store. 

        -pew flowers: we used a few stems of hydrangeas on each of the pews and tied it with navy tulle we bought down in the fashion district for $1/yard.

Guestbook: I wanted something different than just the typical guestbook, so we were inspired by another one of our engagement pictures.  The picture is of us sitting under a big tree on our campus. 

We got some vellum paper and I cut the paper into leaf shapes.  With an olive colored permanent marker, we had each guest write their name on the leaf.  After our wedding, we glued all the leaves on the tree and got the picture framed. 

Enlargements can be expensive, especially poster sized, which is what we wanted.  To save money on the enlargement, we took the picture to OfficeMax when they were running a promotion.  For $15, we had a color copy of the photo.  We then got some foam board at Office Max (about $6) and glued it down so that the photo could sit on an easel at our wedding (we borrowed the easel from the church). 


And, as for how we saved some money on our Reception details:

Cake:  This was another area that we were more than willing to shell out big bucks for because we decided to only have a cake reception, rather than a full meal.  I loved the idea of a cupcake cake and who knew, it was $2 less per person ($3/cupcake) to serve cupcakes rather than a traditional wedding cake!  We served 2 kinds of cupcakes and our cupcake tower had a 6" cake at the top that we could cut into (and save for our 1 year anniversary!).  Our cake came from the fabulous Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica.  One of the cupcake towers that Vanilla Bake Shop offers can be decorated with fabric on the panels.  Amy, the owner of the shop told us that to save money with the tower (about $150), we could go and find our own fabric.  She needed 3 yards and so we found a pattern we really liked at JoAnn's craft store.  Buying our own fabric probably saved us about $115).  The cake was a hit and was truly the cake of my dreams.


Favors:  My husband and I have huge sweet tooths; particularly for candy.  So, before we even began to really plan our wedding, we knew that a candy buffet was what we wanted for our wedding favors.  My mom found 12 beautiful jars on sale after Christmas at Williams Sonoma that were perfect.  They were also on sale for only $5.99 each (originally $24.00 each)!  We found some ice cream scoops at the craft store ($2.50 each) and with a bit of aqua ribbon, they were perfect.  My husband and I were really looking forward to the best part...buying the candy.  About a week before the wedding (we didn't trust ourselves with bags of candy in our possession before the wedding reception!), we went to Smart and Final and went nuts.  We got lots of our favorites and some other candies to round out the color scheme/flavors.  (We also used some valentine heart-shaped candy that I got on sale at the dollar store after V-day since our weddiing was only 2 months later).  All in all, we had 12 different kinds of candy and everyone loved the idea of getting their own sweets to take home. 

We spent less than $100 on all of the candy and we're still eating the leftovers!  The clear bags came from a restaurant supply store ($1.00/100 bags) and we got the personalized stickers made from a seller on for about $30.00 for 300 stickers. 


Flatware/Cups:  We bought all our necessary party supplies from an online restraurant supply store that shipped everything directly to my apartment.  We spent $130 on all the plates, napkins, cups (hot and cold), and an iced tea dispenser (that we are now the proud owners of) for about 250 guests. 


Drinks/Ice: we bought all of the drinks in bulk and served them in ice buckets we had rented from a party rental company. 


Centerpieces: as I mentioned before, all the flowers came from the flower mart.  For centerpieces, we used clear mason jars.  I love the simple, clean, country feel of the jars.  We found the jars, brand new, on eBay for a great deal.  We bought 36 jars from a seller who was offering free shipping so we spent $45 on all the jars.  With a little ribbon and 2 or 3 hydrangea stems, the centerpieces were just as I had imagined.   


Thank you notes:  Because we ordered the save the date cards from, we periodically received e-mails with special savings.  The pictures were such a hit that we decided to use a wedding photo and make our own thank you note postcards.  One of the special offers allowed us to get the first 100 postcards FREE!  Since we've sent them out, many of our guests have told us how much they enjoyed our note.  Also, once again, we saved money on postage, sending the postcards rather than cards and envelopes.  This is the photo we chose for our thank you notes:


I could probably go on and on about all the details of our wedding and how I attempted to cut costs everywhere.  But, one of the unexpected budget savvy moments came after our wedding.  One day, we decided to list our jars on craigslist since we didn't really use them much at all.  Within a few hours, we had a seller.  It was hard to let them go, but we didn't have an immediate use (or room in our apartment) for the jars so a little cash in our pockets was a welcomed trade. 


I loved everything about our wedding and the icing on the cake was that we found ways to have what we wanted without spending a fortune.  If you're willing to think outside the box and do some of the work on your own, you can cut costs and have a wedding that is personal and unforgettable to you and your guests.  There are so many great resources out there and by pinching pennies where you can find alternate ways to do things, your budget expands for things that may be less negotiable or areas of your wedding that are the most important to you.  Don't waste money on fancy napkins when you can use plain napkins but get the cake of your dreams!  Most importantly, have fun with the planning but never lose sight of what you're really celebrating.

Last Updated: April 1, 2014 at 3:57 pm
Tags: Budget
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