I've been in hundreds of weddings and planned to pay $30,000 for mine — instead I spent $1,000

"We were able to pull it off on a tight budget largely thanks to help from friends."

Bridesmaid for Hire founder Jen Glantz and Adam Kossoff.
Photo by Katie Beiler

I have spent six years as a hired bridesmaid for strangers and have been to hundreds of weddings, so I've seen weddings of all different shapes, sizes, and budgets. I have also learned which aspects of a wedding tend to yield the most value, like food options and the particulars of the ceremony, especially if they are unique to you, and the ones that tend to be more expensive, like decorations and dessert buffets. 

Right before the pandemic hit, my partner and I sent out save-the-dates for a large wedding of our own, one we hoped would take place in October of 2020. A few months after we sent out postcards asking guests to write down our wedding date in their calendars, we followed up with wedding cancellation cards. 

The big elaborate party we designed would have cost around $30,000, but it was called off. The pandemic forced us to start from scratch. Months went by and we couldn't make up our minds about how to proceed, since neither of us had the energy or the desire to plan a giant wedding again.

Then my partner and I did something spontaneous: We decided to get married on the five year anniversary of our first date, with only a week to plan it all. 

We decided to cut our budget significantly and only spend $1,000 on the entire day, in an effort to use the rest of our original wedding budget for other important things like joint investments, a future down payment on a house, and retirement contributions

I went into the reserves of notes I had taken over the years to plan a quick celebration for us that wouldn't eat into our savings account. We picked a location outside the coffee shop where we had our first date, and invited 15 guests to be there with us, socially distanced and in person. 

Here are the five ways I was able to pull off a wedding in one week for under $1,000, and how you can plan a beautiful budget wedding of your own. 

1. I personalized the food and drinks 

A highlight of any wedding is often the food and drink options provided to guests. While I never remember the exact food I ate and enjoyed at the weddings I've been to, I can clearly remember which weddings had delicious food and drinks versus which didn't.

Since we had a small group of people, I didn't want to hire a caterer or provide endless options. Our whole celebration was two hours and took place in the middle of the day. Rather than providing a small buffet or even a full meal, I decided to offer just sweets like cake, chocolate bars, cupcakes, and treat balls. 

We decided to cut our budget significantly and only spend $1,000 on the entire day.

I knew from experience that most weddings have an abundance of food, from cocktail hour offerings to multiple dinner courses, and people don't ever finish all that's offered. I decided to keep my offerings limited and pick refreshments that were more snack-like than meals.

I also decided to personalize the drink options. Since we got married outside the coffee shop, we asked each guest ahead of time what kind of drink they'd like from the coffee shop and had it ready when they arrived. This personalized, pre-planned, and Covid-safe approach made it easier on us, since we didn't have to worry about placing any orders on the day.

In total, we spent $105 on preordered drink options, plus tax and tip, for 15 people. 

2. I asked friends for help

We planned this elopement very last-minute and we were able to pull it off on a tight budget largely thanks to help from friends. 

One of my closest friends is a pastry chef and offered to make the desserts and refreshments for our ceremony. This helped me save around $300, according to what one bakery quoted me when I was doing my research.

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I asked another close friend of mine, who is a photographer, if she could shoot the photos for us for a few hours. That saved us around $1,200. 

Since I had friends help out and provide their services as a wedding gift to us, we were able to save quite a lot of money. Out of respect and appreciation, we gave both of them a gift card as a way of saying thank you. These gifts cost $100 total. 

3. I hunted for discounts 

When it came to my wedding outfit, I didn't know what I wanted exactly, but I did know I didn't want to wear a traditional wedding dress. I always wanted to wear an outfit to my wedding that I'd be eager to wear again, especially after having been dress shopping with many brides before who spent anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 on a dress.

I wanted to be very intentional about that purchase. My partner and I both budgeted $350 total for our wedding outfits.

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When we searched for his, an off-white suit, we were able to find a 30% off discount code online that helped bring down the price. I found a beautiful gold sequin suit online that caught my attention but was a little out of my price range. 

I signed up for the website's email list to immediately get a 10% off coupon. I decided to wait one more day and got lucky. The website was having a friends-and-family sale and that coupon code offered me 25% off.

In the end, our outfits did exceed that $350 budget but only by about $100. Since we will both wear the outfits again, it felt justified.

4. I limited the décor 

Since our wedding location wasn't anything fancy and included a small outdoor area in front of a coffee shop, I wanted to spruce it up a little bit with some décor. 

At many of the weddings I had worked over the years, I noticed that while couples would often spend hundreds of dollars on décor, from personalized napkins to centerpieces, many of their guests hardly noticed or appreciated those touches. 

I decided to go to the dollar store and spend $15 on tablecloths, plates, and napkins. While it wasn't anything memorable, it got the job done and helped make the area look a little bit more special. 

5. I prioritized the must-haves

There were a lot of things I wanted to have at this ceremony that were just out of the budget. I would have loved to have a musician there but we couldn't: Nobody was available at the last minute except some who quoted us $500 for an hour.

I would have loved to have more elaborate flower arrangements on the bench outside and the tables, but that would have cost upward of $500 too.

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I'd seen the importance of having professional hair and makeup done to tie the whole look together, so I found a local makeup and hair professional to provide this service for $200. 

I also wanted to have a bouquet that could bring a pop of color and brighten the day so I went to a local florist who was able to create one for me in just 24 hours for $125. Those two items were high up on my must-have list and it was worth spending the money on them.

Overall, I cut back on the nice-to-haves and instead paid for what I knew I really wanted.

Planning a wedding in a week with a $1,000 budget did momentarily add more stress to our lives, but it allowed us to pull off a memorable celebration that didn't cost a hefty amount. What we will remember the most from that day is how we had just what we needed, and how much joy we felt.

Jen Glantz is the founder and CEO of the business Bridesmaid for Hire, the voice of the podcast "You're Not Getting Any Younger,″ and the author of the Amazon-bestselling books "All My Friends Are Engaged and "Always a Bridesmaid for Hire."

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