Chances are, if you're here, you might be in the super early stages, the we've-got-some-time-but-I-need-ideas stage, or the OH S#!T stage. Whatever stage it may be, a lot of details go into planning, and I am hopeful that if you're striving for a beautiful day on any budget, this information helps you. Funny enough, I've been a wedding photographer for 10 years this very month (YAY!) and am in the middle of planning my own on a modest budget. Before this, I could whip up a timeline with minimal information, give you tons of vendor recommendations, and go on all day about cute decoration ideas I've seen - but planning my own has really driven home how many details there are to handle, and how QUICKLY it all adds up. Surely, everyone's vision, wants, and needs are different, and my opinions on places not to cut the budget may differ than others. But if you're like me, and want a beautiful day (even a little Instagram-worthy) but don't want to go with the top-of-the-line everything, that the ideas I'm about to share will make your planning a little bit smoother.
Cover Photo: Dahlias from Sly Hill Farms, Greenery from Costco
Check out local parks or even city, county and state parks out of your area. Often times these locations will have minimal fees or less than your average wedding venue. One special gem in the PNW is the Friend's Barn at Fort Townsend State Park, renting for only $300/day, tables and chairs included! The downside to city and county parks may be limitations on alcohol. Be sure to verify before booking.
You don't need a big backyard to have a beautiful wedding, but I have photographed backyard weddings with guest counts from just a few to over 100! Brainstorm if a friend or family member might have a good size yard to use.
"We saved $6000 on a Saturday wedding with 150 people by having it in a backyard instead. This is great for people who have years to plan so they have time to landscape and let plants/flowers settle in nicely. We had a year and a half to plan and it looks amazing so far!" - Melissa O.
Many venues have weekday rates. You may save hundreds to thousands by simply switching your big day to a weekday. Most often, the special rates are for Monday-Thursdays, but sometimes Friday will be looped in. The season you choose will also come into play, for venues specifically, and often times Fall & Winter will have lower rates than Spring & Summer, with Summer being by far the most expensive at most venues.
Some people hear "fake flowers" and equate them to tacky. This is simply not true! There have been many weddings where I could not even tell the difference until I looked very close. Faux flowers are great for many reasons - They won't wilt, they can be gifted as keepsakes, and they're ready to go vs. requiring timely delivery and delicate care. Even a strand of faux eucalyptus or other greenery makes for an elegant centerpiece or arbor touch.
Some great options for faux flowers:
- Reuse your arbor flowers for your sweetheart table. This can save you $100's. Be sure that someone is either in charge of moving it or your florist can instruct you how, and that they know this is the plan so it is constructed accordingly - An arbor put together delicately piece by piece will not be a good idea to try and dismantle and move.
- Ask for bud vases instead of full arrangements. Simple and sweet, this is a great way to save.
- Ask your florist what flowers are in season, and in more affordable ranges. Requesting high-end and out of season flowers will raise your costs.
- Baby's breath is one of the most affordable flowers to purchase in bulk. It can be used in almost any décor aspect; In tin buckets for your aisle, placed on the ground, hung off the seats with ribbons, or on a hook in the grass. It can also be a simple cake decoration!
- Costco actually has great deals on flowers, with full floral sets and greenery and more.
Local Farms & Markets
Check your local farms, and farmer's markets. Often times they will sell low-cost bouquets, U-Cut options where you pick your own from their farm, or bunches & buckets of beautiful flowers that you can use to arrange bouquets, centerpieces, and more.
"We cut costs on flowers, we got them from the Bremerton Farmers Market and it was whatever we wanted at $50 a 5-gallon bucket. We got 3 then had friends and family make the arrangements. Super fun to do!" - Caitlin J.
Local farms & markets to check out:
- Pike's Place Market - Seattle
- Willow and Mabel Garden Co. - Poulsbo
- Bremerton Farmer's Market
- Port Orchard Farmer's Market
- Wonder Bloom Farm - Port Orchard
- Brightside Flower Farm - Kingston
Wood & Paper Flowers
- Wood flowers are up and coming and are so unique. Sola Wood Flowers is the main brand offered, and you can even find florists that specialize in it - or DIY! Though not the cheapest option out there, there's often sales, and many bundle deals. If you've got a while to plan and craft, you could collect and whip up your flowers over time. I tried out a bouquet kit and while it was a bit of a learning curve, it was really fun picking out my exact colors and putting everything together!
- Paper flowers are so unique and can make for beautiful bouquets, boutonnières, centerpieces and more. Whether you're a bookworm, crafty, or just like the look, they're a great option.
Cake & Desserts
Your cake doesn't necessarily have to scream "wedding" - if you're looking for simple rounds or even a little decorating, you can probably find a great option at a local bakery. Scout ones near your home or near your venue if it's farther away.
"Saved hundreds buying beautiful chocolate cakes from a local bakery instead of a wedding cake!" - Adriana B.
Cookies & Other Desserts
It's getting more and more commonplace to not even serve cake at weddings but rather serve a dessert variety. This last season, I even had a cookie cake; Big 7-8" cookies with frosting between each one, piled into a cake! They cut it, and had a cookie bar for guests, where they could pick out cookies for a treat bag. Other ideas are donut bars, cupcakes, chocolate fondue fountains, macarons, and I've even seen pies (or mini pies!)
Half Serving Cakes
In my research and personal experience - Not every one of your wedding guests will want cake, or eat a whole piece. You can ask your cake baker about doing a cake quoted with half-servings; This can cut your cost, well, in half! You can supplement with other desserts if you want to, and still have some cake for everyone, just smaller portion sizes.
Get the cute cutting cake for the two of you and serve your guests sheet cake slices! Sheet cakes are affordable, simple, and can be a great supplement to a cutting cake that doesn't run the cost of large, tiered cakes. You can get sheet cakes at grocery stores, Costco, and local bakeries for great prices.
Food & catering
Not only are food trucks unique for a wedding, they're often really affordable catering options! At a low point of $9 a plate for some entrees, you can really cut down catering costs from your budget. Often times your food truck will have you pick from entrees to offer, just like a caterer would, and you can put your guests' options on their RSVP. There are SO many delicious options are available for food trucks in the PNW.
Some great food trucks to check out:
- Barbacoa - Silverdale, WA
- The Smoked Asian - Poulsbo, WA
- Sauced - Poulsbo, WA
- All Fired Up BBQ - Port Orchard, WA - Brings a smoker to your event!
- Crave by Suite J - Seattle, WA (Travels)
Buffets are another great option for affordable catering. Generally, a buffet will cost the most if there are employees serving guests at the buffet, or provide wait service or cleanup service to your tables.
Some great caterers to check out:
- Essence of the Thymes - Port Orchard, WA
- Ambrosia Catering - Poulsbo, WA
- Crescent Moon Catering - Port Orchard, WA
- CJ's Evergreen Store Catering - Bremerton, WA
- Aloha Kitchen - Silverdale, WA
- Table 47 - Gig Harbor, WA
- La Cocina PT - Port Townsend, WA
These bars let your guests assemble their food how they want and can be an affordable and fun option, and allows a lot of room for creativity!
Taco bars are popular, fun and delicious! They can be catered, or put together yourself with the help of friends and family. You can set out multiple options for meats and fillings like cheese, lettuce, salsas and different sauces. Dress up your table with chalkboard signs and flower arrangements. Put out some chips, too! I've also seen Chipotle cater event taco bars!
Another dinner "bar" I've seen done is a burger bar. Easily find multi-tiered displays at local home décor stores like TJMaxx, Homegoods and Marshalls to display toppings.
Instead of a potentially painful bill for an open-bar, offer your guests a couple signature cocktails. This can be your own favorites, or just two options that make sense. Popular signature cocktails I've seen have been mojitos (my favorite!), mules, margaritas, tequila sunrise or sunset, gin & tonic, screwdrivers, and so many more. Ask your bartender for ideas! An excellent bartender to go to in our area is Kitsap Bartending Services; they even have the amazing Bustender for a unique VW bus bar!
Kegs of beer or cider are less wasteful and often more affordable than purchasing racks and racks of cans and bottles. Check with your local alcohol vendor (such as BevMo or Total Wine) or local breweries for seasonal options. Silver City Brewery is a popular favorite in the Kitsap area. My favorite beers of theirs are Ridgetop Red and Ziggy Zoggy! (Note: Make sure your venue location allows kegs - I know it sounds silly, but Washington State Parks for instance, do not allow them in the parks.)
For affordable wine, check out your local Trader Joe's. At just $3.99 a bottle for the cheapest option, it's incredibly affordable to offer a variety of wine options without breaking the bank. They were coined the name "Two-Buck Chuck" because they previously retailed for $1.99. Wine options to consider are white wines like Riesling and White Zinfandel, reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, or one of my favorites, a Rosé. You also can likely return unopened wine if you buy from a retailer like Total Wine (Varies by State.)
Second Hand Stores
You wouldn't believe the finds you can come across at secondhand bridal shops. Score donated floor-sample dresses, or lightly worn dresses at great prices - name brands included! Brides for a Cause is the most popular in the area, with shops in Tacoma, Seattle, and Portland. They also donate proceeds to charities. Try looking at Facebook Marketplace and join local wedding Facebook groups for secondhand or new, unwanted dresses as well.
Alternative BRIDESMAID DRESSES
Bridesmaids dresses DON'T all have to be the same color or style! I have seen beautiful color schemes and dresses purchased from places like Target, Amazon and more, with patterns or mismatched colors.
- Thrift mismatched vintage plates for a cheap and beautiful setting.
- Disposable, recyclable or compostable plates and utensils are widely available now, and come in almost styles nearly comparable to the real thing! They are usually much more affordable than renting, and require no dishwashing or returning to a company.
- Pre-wrapped place settings with disposable napkins, some tie or ribbon, & a simple piece of faux greenery. They're easy to set out for each guest, vs individually placing each utensil or needing everyone to grab their own, and just make for a nice addition to your table.
- Laser cut placemats are very affordable, and can be made in any color, neutral or to match your colors, and add that extra oomph to the place settings (as well as a little protection for messy eaters!)
- Place cards can be done in so many unique ways. Some ideas are corks, coasters with your guests' names (try the glass painting + Cricut idea!), dip-dyed tent cards, mini wood rounds, bookmarks with guests names and a little ribbon, succulent planters with placecards, mini bottles of champagne with nametags, and more! There are SO MANY ideas.
- Cheesecloth can be purchased plain and dyed to match your decor and makes beautiful table drapes, runners or chair accessories.
- Tablecloths can often be rented for affordable prices, or found in bulk online. Get a hand steamer & make sure you steam well ahead.
- Spray paint old bottles - wine, beer or otherwise - with your colors to put flower stems in! You can do all kinds of colors and sheens and really make it unique. You can use them as centerpieces, and even paint table numbers on them.
- Mason jars are an old favorite. Fill them with your farm flowers or faux stems & bunches for a cute rustic centerpiece. You could also put fairly lights in them, or battery tea lights/candles. Try adding ribbon or lace.
- Fairy lights can be a great option for affordable lighting and can be put in so many things, from jars to bottles & even old lanterns, for a romantic glow. They can be purchased in bulk online.
- Dip dye vases - Get some paint, and dollar store vases, and just like it sounds, dip them in paint! This could be done with subtle colors, metallic/glitters or bold colors.
- Framed table numbers - Get cheap 4x6 or 5x7 frames from your dollar store or craft store, and print your table numbers! If you don't have a printer, try FedEx, Kinkos or Staples. Check out Etsy for tons of beautiful custom designs you can download and edit.
- Clear vases with colored petals & water inside. You can do any colors you want, and even coordinate your napkins for a simple yet bold display. I have also seen people put full faux floral heads inside the jars with marbles and other creative additions.
Other Wedding Decor
- Old windows make great DIY signage. Ask around for old windows from remodels, or check thrift shops. Windows can be painted and written on to serve as welcome signs, seating charts, menus, schedules and more.
- Wood palettes make great schedule boards! Write the time and event on each plank so your guests know when everything's happening, or hang photos from it like a wall.
- Glass sheets with paint pen and paint - this trend has been really popular and is so easy if you have good handwriting or can have someone write on them for you. Paint on the backs of the glass with brush strokes, sort of in a back and forth, then on the fronts with a bold paint pen or lettering decals made with a Cricut. If you don't own one or know anyone with a Cricut to borrow, you can find Etsy sellers that make custom decals of any size and font to ship to you.
- Wooden crates set upside down as little tables for arrangements at the start of the aisle is an affordable and simple option for a beautiful aisle entrance. Set out signs for your ceremony here also, or place baskets with ceremony exit handouts, like bubbles or confetti bags to make even more use of the crates.
- Camp lanterns set at the end of the aisles on wooden stumps is a cute and easy aisle piece.
- Thrifted rugs for the aisle! I've seen this done as the entire aisle (you'd probably want 4x6 rugs minimum) or just at the alter to stand on. It's cute, and keeps your dress cleaner.
- Colorful paper pinwheels can be a fun Springy wedding decoration, and you can usually find them at Party City.
- Paper hearts on sticks stuck in the grass along the aisle is a super unique and sweet way to line your walk. Make them tall enough!
Guest Welcome Tables
- Instax photo guest books are super popular. The little cameras are user-friendly, and very easy to come by. Search for a used one or purchase new for around $60. Film for the cameras can be found at your local electronics stores usually, or Targets and Walmarts and on Amazon. Set out a blank book with a pen and some tape, or a frame with twine and mini clothespins to display the photos. Designate a film replacer!
- Jenga sets - Buy a plain jenga set, set out some markers, and let guests sign the planks!
- Globe guestbooks are unique and rising in popularity. Check out a local thrift shop for a vintage globe, tape off the stand and spray paint a neutral color to make it easy to write on. You can brush paint the base with an acrylic paint (do a few coats!) & even write your names on it or date, & let guests sign it.
BUY USEFUL FAVORS TO CUT OUT A BUDGET ITEM
This tip comes with input from a favorite wedding planner friend of mine, Kelly E., and is my favorite tip for planning on a budget. Pick favors that are USEFUL at the wedding to cut out an entire budget item as a two-in-one! Here's some ideas:
- Customized drinking glasses for each guest. They could have their names on each, to cut out the need for place cards with names, and cups/glasses at the bar, and offer a take home gift for everyone. I've also seen mason jars with chalk labels for each guest to write their own names. Drinking glasses could be mugs, wine glasses, beer glasses, etc.
- Pre-made treat bags or a treat bar with bags for guests to add their choices to as favors. If you want to label them, make customized labels with Avery labels & their online label maker or find a seller on Etsy that makes ones you like. Treat bags/treat bars could be trail mix, candy, cookies, etc. This lets your guests take favors home, & also get a snack!
- Desserts as a centerpiece. Try displaying desserts & treats as a centerpiece creatively! You won't need a separate dessert table, and everyone at the tables will have desserts available.
- Use favors in your table design, like drink cozies or soaps. Again, they can either simply be part of your table design, or you could customize them with names to mark guests' seats.
- A custom gift as a place card for seating. Check out the place settings section above.
What About Other Parts of my Budget, like Photography, Music, and so on?
I want to note - "budget" is subjective, and the things that are most important to you will reign over any suggestions from others. My biggest advice is to not go cheap on photography, as it's what you will walk away with at the end of the day. A good photographer can really make a not-so-elegant location look pretty. If you're having a lot of guests, I wouldn't cut down on a good DJ either - they keep your party going! It's tempting to throw a playlist on the speakers yourself, but if there's any technical errors or you need someone to hype up the crowd, you'll likely wish you had a DJ. A good makeup and hair artist are also valuable. If you can manage planning a lot of your wedding without feeling totally stressed out, you may be able to save on the wedding planner costs and just get a day-of coordinator. Trust me - you DON'T want to be the one in charge on your day! Most importantly, HAVE FUN!