What to DIY and What to Hire Out For a Stunning Wedding On a Budget

My personal Philosophy when it comes to weddings is SPARE NO EXPENSE! You are only doing this once (most likely) and you don’t want to have any regrets!! HOWEVER. Sometimes you can’t just close your eyes to the cost of all things wedding and write out checks for all of your dreams. So I’m here to help any bride on a budget know how to invest in what matters and how to save on what you can!

Photos By: Summer Soelberg | Makeup By: Sarah Cox | Gown by: Watters Via: Mary’s Bridal SLC | Flowers by: Sweet Grace Floral Co. | Groom’s Suit: H&M | Bride’s Shoes: ASOS | Veil: Restoration Bridal | Cake: Flour and Flourish | Bridesmaid’s Gowns: ASOS |

As a wedding photographer I have seen a lot of weddings. I’ve worked with brides on multiple levels of budget throughout my career, and I’ve learned that money can be used wisely to create an amazing wedding or thrown away on things that are irrelevant for a less-than-stunning wedding, regardless of the budget. As a rule, THE BIG 3 of what to invest in/get booked as soon as possible are:

  • Venue

  • Gown

  • Photographer

You’ll want to have all three of these in mind simultaneously.

Photos can Make Or Break Your Wedding.

I’m not just saying that because that’s my line of work—I promise. You will not regret one penny spent on a good photographer. I got married fairly young, and before I had really delved into my career and I made the horrific mistake of hiring an inexperienced, beginner photographer for my wedding day in the name of the budget. When I got my photos back I cried, because honestly ladies, after your honeymoon is kind of a depressing time— you’ve spent your whole entire life dreaming of your wedding day and planning everything, and wondering who you’ll marry, and fantasizing about your gown and your ring—and then all of a sudden you aren’t a bride anymore! Like what can you even pin on Pinterest now that you don’t have a wedding to plan ever again?! After your day as a bride is done, all you have left to look forward to, hold onto, and remember it by are your photos. SO CHOOSE WISELY AND INVEST. Pick a photographer you LOVE not one who is the cheapest option. A good photographer can capture a cheap wedding in a beautiful, enhancing way, and a cheap photographer will make an expensive wedding look cheap

“You’ve heard the phrase before – “you get what you pay for.” When you think about your wedding day, your focus may initially be on where it takes place, who attends, and what’s for dinner. However, once the rentals have been returned and the dress has been stored, all you have to relive your wedding by are the photos. You want to cherish your wedding photos for years to come, not get a bad feeling in your stomach about every time you remember what’s missing or what could have been.

Wedding photography is a job that encompasses so many unique skills. Not only are they keenly aware of exactly what needs to happen in documenting your wedding on the big day, but they have abilities to turn what’s in the camera into art after the fact using a variety of post-production processes. A photo can be beautifully composed straight out of the camera and still require more work to create images you will be able to use and show off.

Here’s a little food for thought for you: would you trust your brother’s friend to fix your engine if he isn’t a mechanic, but has a nice tool set? What about letting your childhood friend perform minor surgery if they went to school for marketing, but they want to contribute to your healing process? Our guess is probably not. Just like with any other service, invest in a wedding photographer you trust, not only to nail every moment, but to be prepared, responsible, and professional – because it’s worth it!

- Excerpt from “Why Hiring a Free (or cheap) Wedding Photographer isn’t all it’s Cracked Up to be” From Junebug Weddings Blog

Looking For A Wedding Photographer? Lets Get In Touch!

Your Venue:

This is both, something to invest in, and somewhere you can save. If you can afford your dream venue, then book that and don’t look back. But if it’s not in the cards for you to get that ritzy space, DO NOT BOOK A CHEAP VENUE JUST BECAUSE IT’S CHEAP, AVAILABLE, AND CONVENIENT. An ugly venue that is in your budget is a WASTE. Get Creative, Find someone’s backyard that you love and ask if you can host your event there— put up some lights, tents, and florals and voila! you’ve got yourself a dreamy setting for the best day of your life. Look at public land— lots of state parks have facilities, campgrounds, and gorgeous views that could be the setting of your perfect wedding for a fraction of the cost of a venue. Look for interesting restaurants, warehouses, parking garages, barns, rooftops— find out who owns them and ask if they’ll let you host your wedding there! You may have to plan your date around the weather in your area (i.e. you can’t do a backyard wedding in a freezing cold Utah Winter, or a sweltering hot Arizona Summer) But don’t get antsy, plan the perfect wedding- not the convenient and hasty wedding.

Your Gown:

Your gown is not something to be compromised on. You should feel more beautiful on your wedding day than you feel on any other day. For example. If you find a dress that is $3,000 that you LOVE and you find a similar dress for $1800 that you like, but you don’t feel as good in it as you did in the expensive one—spend the extra $1200 because otherwise you are wasting $1800!! Your wedding gown is not something you buy to be practical. People love to tell you “you only wear it once, don’t waste too much money on it” but I am here to say YOU ONLY GET MARRIED ONCE GET THE DRESS OF YOUR DREAMS GIRL! Now again, I understand the budget thing- believe me. I was a bride on a budget! So I have some tips for finding your DREAM dress without breaking the bank.

  • Look on Etsy. There are tons of handmade gorgeous gowns that can be customized and most of them are under a thousand dollars.

  • Find a local Designer and have a custom gown made — be careful because not all dress makers and designers are created equal. Look at their past work, have a consultation with them and discuss your vision. You don’t have to use them after you talk to them. Go home, go visit some other options, think about it. And if they feel like they can create your dream gown and stay within your budget then go for it!

  • Plan Ahead, and watch for sample sales. Ask all your local bridal shops if they have sample sales, and then mark your calendar! Follow their social media to stay up to date. Sample sales are CRAZY good deals if you can find something that works for you. Make sure you go into the sale with a fairly good idea of what you are looking for (consider booking an appointment at the bridal shop before the sample sale so you can get an idea of what gowns they have that you love, and then cross your fingers that they show up at the sample sale) **don’t go into a sample sale a buy a dress just because it’s on sale. Go to a sample sale in search of a specific gown or style, and if they have it then great and if they don’t go back to the drawing board!**

    I once had a bride that bought a gown because it was on sale and it was “fine”. And as the days grew closer to her wedding she felt more and more unhappy with it— and of course the gown she bought couldn’t be returned… so she was in the hole $1500 with a gown she didn’t want to wear on her wedding day!! Fortunately for her, someone she knew had a wedding gown that was the expensive one she had originally been hoping to get before settling for the other option. They were kind enough to let her borrow it for her big day—- but that doesn’t always happen!

  • Find a gown you love at a bridal shop, and then go straight to the designer to cut out the middle man mark-ups that bridal shops add to their price tags. (Some bridal shops mark up their gowns as much as $1000 more than what you would pay directly from the designer, you can order extra fabric from the designer for alterations and find a seamstress who can make any necessary changes to your gown) Before you check out at the bridal shop, look up the designer of the gown you’re about to buy to see if there are savings to be had

  • Don’t get hung up on the typical bridal store experience. Check out ASOS, Free People, BHLDN, Wear Your Love XO, and other online stores. Many of those do carry bridal gowns at affordable prices, but don’t miss out on gowns around the internet that aren’t labeled “bridal”. Just because it isn’t listed as a wedding gown doesn’t mean you can’t add a veil and make it your wedding gown.

    • At The end of the day, DO NOT SETTLE. Any money spent on a gown that you are not obsessed with is money down the drain. Get into a Gown you LOVE.

Flowers and Food are the next big expenses.

Let’s start with flowers:

A talented florist is honestly priceless, but they can be pricEY. So you may be tempted to do your own. You CAN do most of your florals on your own if your budget calls for that, but unless you spend a good amount of time learning how to arrange florals you’re going to want to at least hire out some of your floral needs.

Things You Should Leave To The Pro:

  • You’re bouquet (it’s going to be front and center all day… and you’d be surprised how difficult it is to create the shape and form you have in mind out of stems!)

  • The Backdrop for Your Ceremony (again, this floral piece will be the center of attention) If it’s not in the budget to pay top dollar for a luscious floral installment, consider other backdrop options, or simple floral accents that you (or a member of your bride tribe) could replicate without being a certified floral designer.

Tips For The DIY Florals:

  • Keep It Simple: You are not a pro, do not attempt pro-level florals. This includes color palates, varieties of blooms, and arrangement endeavors. I would recommend Whites and Greenery for the DIY bride when it comes to florals, because you know you’re going to get what you mean to order. You could venture out into a light pink, or a red, but when you get into the more specific, rare, select colors (i.e. Marsala colored peonies, or quicksand colored garden roses) You may have a not-so-happy surprise when you go to pick up your florals from the wholesaler which brings me to my next point

  • You’ll need a wholesale license. So you’ll have to either find a florist that is willing to let you purchase flowers at her cost, or find a friend that randomly has one, or obtain one yourself. which costs money) Once you lock down a wholesale license to use you’ll need to find a wholesaler of flowers to order through. You’ll want to order 2-4 weeks in advance, and it’s live product so there’s no real guarantee of whats going to be available the day your shipment comes in. If you are unable to obtain a wholesale license, you can order some limited flower options through costco, or just risk it and the day or two before your wedding hope that your local grocers have some floral options that will work for you. (It’s not as unlikely as you might think—but it is a gamble)

  • Remember that time=money. So you have to value your money more than your time to justify doing the flowers yourself. You will need to plan several hours the night before arranging as much as you can as well as some time the day of for things to be set out (this is what you would normally pay the florist for, but you gotta do what you gotta do!) Have your bridesmaids, or you mom and family members all get together the day before to assemble all that can be assembled (boutonnieres, bridesmaid bouquets, garlands, etc.) Then be sure you have mapped out where everything goes, communicate clearly, and have some photo inspiration to be given to your helpers on your wedding day (bridesmaids, groomsman, aunts, cousins, sisters, mom, etc.) you’ll need people you can trust with your vision to be in charge of making it happen for you since you’ll likely be otherwise engaged taking photos, getting ready, preparing to say ‘I Do’, etc.

The Catering Is going to be Costly.

If you are having a sit-down dinner you can discuss your budget with a few catering options and find the vendor + the menu that works best for your budget and your desires. You may have to keep to your budget by limiting the number of guests instead of cutting down on the dining service per/person

If you want to really cut costs, consider doing a more open house style of reception, with a simple desert table, or a soda-bar, or hire your little brother’s friends to walk around in black aprons offering guests hors d’oeuvres, get your favorite food truck to cater, Or do a mix of both! Have an intimate sit down meal for your closest friends and family and then have a cocktail hour-type open house for a more broad range of the guest list, so no one feels left out.

Video is Important

…and I’d definitely recommend investing. Here are all my thoughts on videography:

There is a bit less discrepancy between experienced videographers and beginning videographers than there is between experienced photographers and beginning photographers. The photographer generally is responsible for a lot more directing throughout the day whereas the videographer follows along with the photographer’s lead for the most part (In theory, if you hire a photographer who can set up good shots, the videographer will most likely end up with those good shots as well). So, you may be able to shop around a bit more as far as price goes, but look at their portfolio and make sure you like what you see. If at the end of your budget you don’t have room for videographer with a portfolio you like—ASSIGN SOMEONE ON YOUR WEDDING DAY (a cousin, or friend are great options, maybe the wife or girlfriend of one of the groomsman) Pick someone who will be there the whole day but isn’t so close to the bride and groom that they want to leave their phones in their pockets and experience the day first hand. Ask them to take video on their phones throughout the day, specifically of your ceremony, cake cutting, first dances, and exit. You can even tell your photographer who you asked and tell that person to follow along behind the photographer throughout the day. There are lots of apps that can stitch together video clips for you to have a final homemade video of your wedding day. *Make sure you have them take footage in landscape not portrait. (if you want it to be a more “professional” looking home-made video)

Are you looking for a videographer? Check out this list of my favorites!

Now I’ve covered the biggest expenses, here are some littler ones that you don’t want to forget about!

Your Announcements

You’re planning this amazing wedding and you want people to come right?? Announcements can get expensive, but they don’t have to. Avoid trendy collage templates from print shops. Keep it classy and cost effective with a simple single sided announcement and a separate 4 x 6 print included in the envelope. You may need to print other inserts such as specific invites to the ceremony or rehearsal dinner, directions to the venue, travel accommodations and info for out of state guests etc. I would recommend finding a friend who can use photoshop or indesign and have them help put together the design then take it to a local printer and have them print it on nice heavy paper and cut it for you. Watch for deals from small announcement businesses who might be able to create a design for you at an affordable rate and print for you. Don’t forget about the cost of stamps—you need to plan for $0.50 per invite! (so if you’re inviting 300 people you’ll spend $150 on postage)

Hair + Makeup.

In the Grand Scheme of things, the few hundred dollars spent on Hair and Makeup are relatively insignificant. But their impact on your photos and the way you look and feel in real life on your wedding day are inexplicable. INVEST IN YOUR MUA. They are the MVP. If you’re hair is going to be down, with a veil in it, and you feel comfortable doing it yourself you can get away with doing your own hair, I would even caution against hiring a hair artist unless you are able to do a trial run, because sometimes getting too creative with your hair doesn’t make you feel special, it just makes you look weird— but for real. Treat yourself to a professional Makeup Artist. You want to feel special, you want your look to last all day, you want your makeup to translate flawlessly in your photos— you need a Makeup Artist. Check out this post for more of my thoughts on Makeup Artists on your big day.

In the vein… of being vain…;) GO ALL OUT. Get a pedicure, get your nails done, have a facial a few weeks before, get waxed—take care of all of your personal primping details and don’t skimp! Feel amazing on your wedding day!!! It should feel special and different from a regular day in your life.

Other little things to remember in your budget are Thank you cards + Postage, Your cake, your veil, Thank You Gifts for your Bridesmaids, your mom, your dad, your future in-laws, and your groom. Rice, confetti, sparklers, or flower petals for your exit, tips for service providers, lingerie for your honeymoon, prints of your engagements and/or bridals to be displayed at your wedding (and frames or easels), linens, table and chair rentals, and any other miscellaneous little thing that comes up— just give yourself some wiggle room and the expectation that you may forget something;) and you’ll be fine!

Was this helpful? I hope it is a good guide for how to plan your dream wedding and stay within your budget. Feel free to leave questions, or other ideas and suggestions in the comments.