When Casey and I got engaged, my mom didn't have a ton of money lying around to pay for the wedding and rather than put us on a strict budget, she gave Casey and I a check to use as we pleased. We could choose to spend the whole thing on the wedding, elope and keep all of it, or do a low-key wedding and still keep some. We chose the third option. I didn't have a lot of expectations for what I want - but we knew we wanted to keep it under $10,000 and I had one special request (which I'll get to later). We ended up succeeding and came in under budget without compromising the beauty or elegance of our wedding.
We started with our guest list and realized it was huge! My mom is very involved in church and volunteering and had a lot of people she couldn't leave out. We decided that people were important and so mailed 198 invitations and had 328 people attend! We ordered invitations from a friend of the family who works for a stationary company and he gave us Crane invitations at cost (which you will all be very sad to know - they don't cost much!) Since we only had a 4 month engagement, we saved money by not sending save the dates.
Then I went to work negotiating. I went to the country clubs in my hometown and said here are the dates I am thinking about what is the cost. The country club we ended up choosing started off at $13,950 minimum for a Saturday night. By the time I was done, we paid $6,750 for passed hors d'oeuvres, a beautiful cake and grooms cake (big enough to feed 300!), a buffet dinner, and the DJ. The country club has two DJs on their payroll that you can choose between so when we met with the one we decided on he tried to up sell us all sorts of things like a slide show how, fancy lighting, a tv in the back room for kids, etc. For everything he suggested we said oh we'd like that - but not for that price! We ended up giving him $100 to put together the slide show, bring the projector and screen, fancy lighting including monogrammed spotlights in the entrance way and behind the cake, the tv for the kids, and extra speakers on both balconies. As I said, we negotiated like crazy! The one thing we didn't get at the country club that we would have liked was an open bar. We had champagne for everyone and a cash bar but our budget just didn't allow for an open bar. Now that I have been to a lot more weddings, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. People get pretty ridiculously drunk and trashy at weddings - and I'm glad no one did at mine!
A few of my moms friends volunteered to help with decorations at the church and brought in tulle and pedestals and bows and made it gorgeous. They also helped make the altar arrangements. My best friends mom led the group of women decorating the country club and sed tulle and twinkle lights to decorate the banisters and the balconies. We put fish and candles on each table instead of flowers. I loved that it was unexpected and people could see over the fishbowl to talk instead of being obstructed by tall flowers. (My two goldfish in a bowl were also pretty romantic!) We bought roses in bulk from Sam's club and used them to decorate as well as made our own bouquets for a fraction of the cost of a florist.
We hired a photographer who was new and we were her second wedding. She charged us $300 for 8 hours with her and her husband both taking pictures. I have some wedding shots that aren't perfect, but honestly you hang maybe 3? And the rest go in an album to be looked at once a year. She gave me a CD with 2800 pictures on it from my day and some are awful - but an awful lot of them are great! Our videographer was a friend who was a film major. Since he wanted to participate in parts of the wedding, we don't have footage of everything (like the toasts) but he got the important parts - the vows, the dance, the cake cutting.
I wasn't your typical bride who was obsessed with the party aspect. I just really wanted to be married! I didn't care what flowers were at the altar or the size of the bows on the pews as long as Casey was with me. The one thing I did want was some sort of a tribute to my Dad who passed away unexpectedly when I was 18. My parents were both very active in the choir at my church, and when they learned this, they offered to sing at the wedding! I love music and was planning on having a lot of hymns - so this was perfect! I did make my whole wedding party stand through a long ceremony, but the choir was gorgeous! My sister and brother also lit a candle on the altar in memory of my dad to bring him into the sanctuary with us.