::How to have a wedding on a smaller budget.::

Wedding budget shaming is really starting to hit my last nerve. My father is clergy so naturally, we grew up pretty frugal. I had a 200 person wedding for $20k. Which is truthfully no one’s business except to say that as a professional, I know it can be done. And honestly, even for less. This was five years ago, so keep in mind that costs have indeed changed but you'll be told this is a really unrealistic budget for 200 people. And in a lot of ways, that is true. But it truly depends on priorities.


We served wine in throw away cups (my dad would want me to insert that he did not pay for said wine). But I now know today how much my mother - in - law loves me because she can.not.stand to have wine in anything other than glass. She’s no snob, but that’s her thing. And we all have a thing. Mine? Don’t put pepper on my food. Anyway, she never mentioned this to me while planning. Ever. She happily toasted her lovesick kids with a plastic cup.

We had a DJ.

We served BBQ.

I was okay with a start-up florist and coordinator (though, if you have followed me long, you know that the coordinator hire was a huge mistake – one that was ironically a big buzz in the industry and created some policy change at my venue even). I told my florist what I did and didn’t like and told her she could take it from there. Creative freedom allowed her to work within my small budget.

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I ordered my invitations online and …gasp… had my aunt address them because she has that pretty cursive we used to learn in grade school.

I bought a sample dress. (Okay, I bought two dresses. But that’s a story for another day. And yes, it made me go over budget. And yes, 5 years later, I’m okay with that.)

I did my own hair and makeup. 

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I hired a photographer from a small town and only had one shooter. And I don’t have 200 detail images that brides nowadays have due to this choice. But I looooove the photos we have of the moments together.

And so on….. I wanted lovely and I got lovely. But it was a LOT of work.


I think one reason eye rolls occur among vendors is because there truly is a difference in a wedding with seasoned vendors and a wedding that is somewhat shoe stringed (shoe strung???) together with either friends or rookies. Seasoned pros just gel as a team. They ‘get it’. Start-ups are learning and haven’t quite figured it all out yet. Shoot, I’m 8 years into event planning and 5 years into wedding planning and I still learn things all the time! No two weddings are ever the same. But don’t knock the start-up. Who says they don’t hustle, have grit and smarts… who says they don’t have a circle to brain pick and learn from? They may very well be investing in a coach, and I know plenty that are. By doing so, they are leaps and bounds ahead of someone having 'figured it out' for three years. But as a bride, you need to know those things in advance. You need to know if the new vendor you are considering has systems and procedures. What is their back up plan? Has it been tested? <- truth be told, my back up plan wasn't tested until almost 5 years in when Annie was born a month early and my lead planner resigned all at the same time. No time for plan B, we jumped straight to plan C and D. 

And vendors, more community over competition! A rising tide lifts all boats. I love this movement and want to see more of it! I am so indebted to those that have lifted me when I needed it and I want to always be giving back. 


You, sweet bride, don’t need to be put into a box or made to feel any certain way. You should be treated the same as everyone. And vendors that do this, try to remember how you felt (or will someday feel) as a bride or groom. Maybe you had industry insight and better understanding. But our clients don't. Last week, I wrote about the extravagance of weddings (root discussion being attitude more than anything) and how social media fuels it. And at the end, I touched on the role that we vendors (yes, myself included) play in perpetuating this. The snobbery is real. Get over yourself. I bet half of you are like me, got married on a small budget and then sit around sighing when a client asks for something unrealistic. I had to work on snapping out of that this last year and remember to just kindly educate her and move on. If she isn't the client for you, fine... people get engaged every day, pick another one. Build your branding in a way that you're only contacted by your target market. If you are getting a lot of these inquiries and don't want anything to do with them, you're likely marketing yourself poorly. Figure out your target market, speak to them, and don't worry about what everyone else is doing. If you operate this way, who cares if a start-up undercuts you? All they are doing is hurting themselves. 


I want to be careful here- we each have our ideal client. That may be based on a personality, a design scope, geography…. and yeah, maybe budget. That’s not a bad thing. Vendors have put in their time. The blood, sweat and tears associated with this industry are, at times, what I imagine climbing freaking Mt. Everest to be like. What you as a bride may call a ‘high fee’, they call ‘marginal profit’. Most start-ups in this industry do.not.make profit. Let me repeat- they don’t make any money. They learn the hard way and in their years of figuring it out, cause problems by undercutting the rest of us, meaning when you see a price tag that is actually marginal profit, you shriek at the high fee.

I do think its fair to frankly mention why a lot of vendors choose to work with specific budget ranges, beyond just profit. There is quite the pattern, but I do want to preface that there are absolutely exceptions to this pattern within each category listed below:

  • The lower the budget, the more challenging the client.
    • Low budget brides tend to be demanding, unrealistic and straight up rude. It's uncanny to be asked for discounts, to not receive a tip or to not even be told thank you by brides that require twice the work. <True story: my assistant offered water to a bride while taking photos recently (as we do, or send catering to do, with all clients) and she said "what do you expect me to do with that?" The answer in my head: drink it or I'll pour it on you to calm your a** down. Like really? We aren't your slaves, but when we serve you like one, don't be a brat.>
    • It's also more work and time simply because the research and reconciliation process takes longer. With more money, I can just make some calls and it comes together and the reconciliation is a breeze because seasoned pros don't leave things out of the equation. 
  • The higher the budget, the more challenging the client.
    • These are the ones in the movies that are high maintenance in general. Or maybe there is a lot of red tape because they are high profile. 
  • Somewhere in the middle, is this level-headed client that is realistic about her vision in relation to her budget and treats her vendors well.
    • They see the value, they trust the pros, they follow the process (when the low and high budget clients both often claim the process useless... which is mind-blowing) and it works really well. 

I was very clear that my lower budget wedding required a LOT of work and that goes for what fell on my vendor's plates as well. I had no idea I was asking a lot of them. No clue. The general expectations of vendors when working with lower budgets are seemingly higher because clients (like myself) feel like they spent a crazy high amount, when it was really just market rate. As a result, vendors end up putting in alllllll this extra time to keep the peace and avoid nasty, unwarranted and completely unfounded, reviews. So they don't like it. 


At the end of the day, the biggest thing to know: less money = more stress and likely wedding day troubleshooting (sigh, such are the lemons of life, we poor folk all say) and more money = less stress and more streamline. You get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have the BEST day of your life with a minimal budget. The process will be a real bear but the day itself will be a total blast. When will you ever have all of your favorite people in one room again? Ever? Probably at your funeral…. So don't worry about the money, just ask your wedding planner what can be done within your target budget and we will make it the most amazing day for you. 


VENDOR: " I love your vision. This is pretty, that will be nice for guests, your parents will love this.... based on what I've done before in these areas, the cost came to XX. I realize that is outside of your target budget but what if we did this, this and this instead? It would accomplish the same feel in a similar way but I think we can do that closer to your target budget."

(NOT- "No, we aren't able to do that in your budget." DUDE! Help them out. Develop ideas with them. Don't make them feel small with those words. Show them what they CAN do.)

BRIDE: "Oh, wow. Okay, I had no idea, bummer. But I really like some of these other options. Thank you for taking the time to help me. Would it be possible to tweak this, though? Or do one blown out and skip on the other?"

(NOT- "well so and so friend said we could because in her town, blah blah blah...." Darling, you're not in Kansas anymore. This is one of the country's leading wedding markets and vendors can pretty well do whatever they want. Even if your friend had that thing 'here', there are SO many variables that may make your situations night and day different.)

And to all of us, just be kind. It goes a long way- you as the client will get better service and you as a vendor may very well book the bride that you take time to educate. 

Until next time,


Photos by Nikki Peterson (No longer does weddings, probably because of brides like me. I was SO bad.)