Realities of a Low-Budget Wedding: Chapter #1: Locations

This is the start of a series of posts centered around low-budget wedding/reception advice involving my own wedding in 2005 and the weddings I’ve helped with since, including my most involved wedding recently for my brother Sam. I’ll also be including a bit of outside research for other tips and tricks from people on the web.

Everyone’s idea of a budget level is different. Sometimes I read low-budget wedding blog posts that to me, don’t realistically seem low-budget for the average person. Maybe it was for that particular couple because they had connections, resources and/or were able to contribute their own skills. But what if YOU don’t. What if you don’t really have a friend who is a professional photographer or designer who can cut you a huge break or do it for free? What if you love creativity but lack the ability or even time to commit yourself to doing a bunch of DIY projects and no one is willing to help. I think there are a lot more than some who are in this predicament. How then do you do a low-budget wedding and still pull it off – being happy with it?

I want to throw out an example. I did a post at the end of March called, “Fiesta in the Garden“. It was based on a post from Snippet & Ink about Donia and David and their fiesta style wedding. I absolutely loved everything about their ‘low-budget’ wedding, but in reading the post in detail, noticed a few things most of us don’t have: generous creative resources. The dress alone was an ordeal, and granted, a lot of work, but she had the resources to get there.

Donia purchased two wedding dresses – both discontinued styles at a sample sale – and her matron of honor, a clothing designer, helped to combine the top from one dress with the skirt from the other to create a totally unique look. Along with another close friend, they hand-sewed silk organza details to the bottom of the dress – working up until the night before the wedding! – from the post

While that’s an amazing story, how can you get an amazing dress with no creativeness or resources. First of all, you need to be very realistic about your wedding. Not just the dress or one single area, the entire thing overall. I just recently concluded being the wedding coordinator for my little brother’s wedding. I hadn’t intended to be a wedding coordinator, I’m not even experienced at managing weddings! I’m a good manager (I’d say when I was in the workforce), but currently, I’m just a designer.

Emily’s problem was that she wanted a great wedding, but lacked the creative genius to put x with y with z and make it all work wonderfully without draining her and her parent’s savings.

It started with me attempting to “disaster manage” the things that they a) were ignoring to prepare for, and b) make sure it all went well the day of. Three months before the wedding, I asked my brother’s fiance, Emily how far they were on plans. Being a busy CPA and the prime wedding planning time for her landed during tax season, she told me the best she was doing was to not think about it at all! “OK time to step in and take over” is all I thought. Emily’s problem was that she wanted a great wedding, but lacked the creative genius to put x with y with z and make it all work wonderfully without draining her and her parent’s savings. I stepped in and started helping get the cake and flowers ordered ASAP. Eventually I just fell into the roll of making sure EVERYTHING was organized and well taken care of.

The problem realistically boiled down to budget and bad management of that budget. Sam and Emily were practical people. They are REAL people. Emily is a CPA, in the field for her first year. Sam is finishing up school and graduating as a Structural Engineer this coming Fall. They live in the city (Portland, OR), they have school loans and living expenses and one income. Her parents own a 400 acre farm and are retired veterinarians. Sam’s parents own 9 acres and have a single income (2 miles from Emily’s parents). Neither family has extra cash just floating around. Being the girl, most of the budget was going to come from her parents side. The parents gave Emily a $4,000 budget. Sounds like they could have done something really nice with that, right?

Wrong. The parents started spending their budget on what they thought was most important: landscaping, purchasing tents, renting porta-potties and party supply rentals BEFORE actually being able to lay out the entire budget together and realizing actual guest attendance and see what might be the smartest area’s to spend it in. The money was more than two-thirds gone for remaining expenses such as THE DRESS and the PHOTOGRAPHER, two very major and very important expenses. Not to mention the flowers and cake as second most important. You can make any location and situation work if you have a great dress that you’re happy with and a great photographer.

The biggest key … is to be smart about your decision making and realize what you REALLY need.

I want to offer some insights from the wedding so you can avoid as many catastrophies as possible. The biggest key, aside from nailing down a specific budget, which is first and foremost important before you begin to do anything, is to be smart about your decision making and realize what you REALLY need. You don’t need to use a crazy spreadsheet system or even the computer to track and visualize your expenses. When you start planning, get a legal pad pad or notebook and designate that as your wedding and budget planner. If you’re at least a year or two out from the wedding date, use a binder with clear inserts AND notepaper to keep research notes, photos and snippets of things you like or want to use. Also, get printed/written quotes from vendors to compare. A binder or a single notepad will lower your stress so that you aren’t frantically searching for things you just know you wrote down 3 months ago.

Write you budget with a huge sharpie at the top to keep you in line and focused. Start making a list of things you will, or might need to purchase, rent or borrow. This is an “everything list”, this is where you will begin to see where you can push things around to make them work. This includes everything down to the ring pillow. Make the page a disaster of brainstorming titles of all your expenses (or borrows). You can look at wedding planning lists provided online, in wedding magazines or even books (which are usually bloated with too much excess, but a good reference to see what you may or may not need to include).


I learned years ago when I got married that with a small budget it’s important to plan for a time of year that will minimize expense. Meaning, if you are renting an indoor location you have to deal with the rental fee not to mention the cost of making an indoor space look beautiful. If you are looking at an all outdoor event there is much more flexibility in cost and options that will help free up your budget. Though some of you won’t have much choice because of the way things work out.

There are MANY free or inexpensive locations such as parks, beaches, farms and vineyards.

Time of year helps for a cheap or even free locations… if you’re looking to save some major cash, do your wedding outdoors. There are MANY free or inexpensive locations such as parks, beaches, farms and vineyards. Some places are prettier than others at certain times of the outdoor season, so remember to consider that too. Think of everyone you know who might have connections to any of these locations, as well as public use areas (parks or public gardensbeaches and open fields) that can also be used. Make sure you find out the rules and regulations on holding your event on public locations before planning. A huge note: make sure your outdoor location has enough electrical supply, if not, find out how much a generator is to rent (and consider the noise they make). If the cost of the free space is worth the cost of renting a generator, it might balance out.

If you don’t have to be married in a church, save costs by doing the ceremony and reception in the same vicinity. You don’t necessarily have to combine them, just make them on the same property.

…find out if they have seasonal or day of week specials (weekday vs. weekend) to lower the price.

An indoor location can be more expensive, but there are a few money saving tricks, if you need a roof over everyone’s head. You can start with the most obvious local choices. Compare costs with rental halls, (small, historic) mansions, family or friends mansion/large house/vacation house (if a possibility – and free). If you can be picky about time of year or day of the week, find out if they have seasonal or day of week specials (weekday vs. weekend) to lower the price. Now think of locations that you may not even realize are out there, old farmsteads with barns that may be free or very cheap (if you’re doing it during a colder time of year, see what the cost of tower heaters are to rent (referred to as “patio heaters”) and tell your guests to dress warm. You can also use a farm as a good outdoor/indoor location during the warmer time of year for an outdoor ceremony with an open air barn reception. When thinking of using a barn/farm, make sure you find out their available schedule. Some farms “hay” at a certain time of year and their barn may be filled with hay when you want to have your party. Some farms have barns specific for renting for parties, but you might live in an area where you can just ask how much they’d let you rent their barn/location out for. Do your research before asking on ANY location that doesn’t advertise rental rates so that when they ask what you’re willing to pay, you have an answer (lower than that of the rental ads). The benefits of using an advertised barn or outdoor location is that they might have things like power supply, generators and patio heaters available already (including other supplies like tables, chairs, etc.). Make sure you ask about those items.

If you’re using a general outdoor space and need shade, pick a location that provides a natural shade or cooler setting or provide a small area for those who really do need shade. Some elderly guests may not be able to handle the heat. Emily’s parents bought canopies over renting them because they were the same cost and they had planned on “recycling” them on the farm for their horses. They bought two 20×40 foot tents. This was reasonable to the parents, but the tents were NOT party tents (silver on top, black underneath). Thus complicating the decorating crew (my mom and myself) who had to deal with what was purchased. We made it work out, but it was a LOT of work for two people (see my starting post on DIY: Coffee Filter Pom-Pom’s).

There are a lot of positives with having a wedding on a Friday evening (Sam & Emily). First of all, they waited so long to order cake and flowers that the ONLY reason the vendors would service their wedding was because it was on a Friday.

Lastly, let’s cover day of the week. There are a lot of positives with having a wedding on a Friday evening (Sam & Emily). First of all, they waited so long to order cake and flowers that the ONLY reason the vendors would service their wedding was because it was on a Friday. Not a popular day for a wedding. You also might find that rental rates on items for weekdays will be cheaper than the weekends, especially Spring through early Fall, prime wedding months.


After all was said and done, the things I noted about Sam and Emily’s wedding, was that the porta-potty rentals were a complete waste, not one person used them. The reason the parents originally got them was because they didn’t want 160+ people tromping through their house to the bathrooms. The wedding was held at their 400 acre farm on their front lawn. Realistically we maybe had 65-80 people show for the wedding, most of which was close family and used the house restroom anyway.

lessons learned: find out how many guests and who they are before committing to tent(s), tables/chairs and porta-potty rentals. If you’re on an off-day of the week for a wedding, like a Friday – ask your vendors when the latest you can reserve a possible amount for your party would be. Also find out if you order X amount and you find out a month before your date you don’t need nearly as many, can you cut down the order and pay less? So keep in mind that some types of rentals can probably be made less than a month in advance, but don’t wait until then to inquire about them.


Some tips are pretty obvious to some and not to others. I just googled, “low budget wedding”. It can bring up a lot of junk or advertised-plastered sites, I find that the ones that a REAL person wrote on their blog are most helpful. Most just tell you what THEY did which doesn’t always help you with your situation. My goal is to give  as many ideas that can suit most anyone and not a direct solution that might only fit a few of you. Always take suggestions with a grain of salt too. Be realistic, like, is the cheapest photographer going to be your best idea? Absolutely not. A future topic I will cover.

“When setting the wedding date you may want to consider choosing a Friday rather than a Saturday as it usually trims off about $3 per guest at your dinner reception. Choose a buffet or plate dinner versus a sit-down dinner. Serve chicken or pasta; it is less expensive. In addition, you may want to decide on a morning or afternoon reception and serve cake, punch, and hors d’oeuvres.” – Traci Morrise from

Easy read, Tips for Planning a Small, Low Budget Wedding, from weddingvendors.comby Traci Morrise of (I can’t vouch for her services and website, but the article had some decent tips in it).

“I’d heard horror stories about how much we might have to spend on a cake, which I think is just ridiculous. You’re just going to eat the damn thing, not bronze it for posterity. We lucked out by finding an affordable woman who did cakes out of her home.” – Angie at

This article, My Big Fat Low-Budget Wedding, on I don’t agree with some of the items (was also written in 2002), but thought that most of it was a decent read and entertaining at best. The reason I liked it so much is that it showed the realities of what one has to do to just get it done and realize the reality of what goes into a wedding. It’s another viewpoint on a real person and her wedding planning experience.

“When calling around for price quotes, don’t mention the word “wedding”. Vendors tend to take advantage of frantic wedding planners, and they know that for many, cost is not an issue. There’s nothing wrong with not volunteering this information. It might save you major bucks.” – Jill Donegan at

At first I was wary of this article, How to have a Fabulous Low Budget Wedding, because of all the clutter on the site and ad’s but it turned out to be full of some pretty good tips. I don’t think it’s very easy to write a short article on budget saving tips anyway. The article is by, Jill Donegan on, a place for independent articles and advice.

I liked the articles and advices from the website. They have a variety of reads and the layouts are easy to skim through. I thought that this one, 5 Cost Cutting Ideas for a Low Budget Wedding came from a large list of articles featured on their site HERE.

What does all of this have to do with colour? A lot! As we move on to decor and what people are wearing, I’ll delve in to that area more with why colour plays a HUGE role in small budget weddings.

That concludes Chapter #1 of working with a small budget. I know it’s a lot of information, but the reality is a low-budget wedding is going to take a lot more research and planning than an endless bucket of money. If you have a bottomless pit of spending for your wedding, my best advice and your biggest hurdle is to hire a great wedding planner, try not to break a nail doing that. Always interview any individual or vendor you are looking to use BEFORE committing to using their services or products.

Next week’s topic will focus on Clothing in regards to the dress, the grooms clothes and bridal party wear.

(all the professional photos minus the top two referencing Donia & David’s wedding, were by
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Author: Molly Bermea
Hi! I'm the COLOURlovers Community Curator. I come from a family with five imaginative kids. My mom instilled creativity to the max and you can usually find us scheming together, figuring out new ways to sew, craft or build DIY projects. The core of my artistic bone is in the art of painting.