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Our $7,000 Southern California Wedding: The Budget Recap

When: Saturday in June
Where: Southern California
# of people who attended: 35 
Initial Budget: $7,000

When I was allocating our wedding dollars, I loved “real wedding” budget posts – blog posts that broke down costs and gave a realistic sense of what kind of wedding is doable with what amount of money. In the spirit of paying it forward, I hope this budget recap will be helpful to brides & grooms out there, especially if you are planning a daytime event in Southern California. Plus, I get to show you some of our pictures!:)Read on for details on how much getting married cost us.

Ceremony: $532.00 / 8%

We held our ceremony inside this gorgeous city-owned property, which I believe is one of the BEST hidden secrets of wedding venues in California. As you can see, the room comes with leather benches, 12-feet ceilings, and double chandeliers, and needs no decoration. A 2-hour rental only cost $240. Where else can you get that kind of deal?! The only less-than-ideal thing about the room is that it tends to be dark, especially with the morning June gloom. An afternoon wedding would get much more light. The balance of the ceremony budget went to our marriage license, marriage certificates, and an acoustic guitarist. A family friend officiated – we gave him cash as a “thank you” that is included in the Gift section below.

Reception Food & Drinks: $1,961.00 / 29.6%

Our reception for 35 – including bride, groom, photographer, and photographer’s assistant – was held inside at a very lovely restaurant near our ceremony site. We didn’t have to pay a room rental fee and didn’t do much decorating at all. We selected a 2-course plated lunch with a choice of braised chicken with mashed potatoes or grilled salmon with risotto. In addition, we hosted champagne and wine for $300. Instead of a tiered wedding cake, we got three “regular” cakes in different flavors.  The food was pretty darn good, and everyone seemed to have cleaned their plates…at least at my table! By having a daytime event, we saved 25% on the menu vs. dinner.

Attire & Accessories: $1,838.98 / 27.7% (Bride: $987.82, Groom: $851.16)

My dress (from David’s Bridal) plus alterations cost $947.04 – I had to get an emergency $250 alterations job 2 weeks before the wedding. If I had not purchased my dress at retail I could have shaved $200 off this category.  Ah well. C’est la vie. It’s mind-boggling how I spent almost $1,000 on a dress that I will wear for ONE DAY. Even more mind-boggling? I don’t regret the expense at all. I felt supremely bridal in that gown… and it was lightweight and comfortable. In addition to my dress, I also bought shoes (Marshalls) and a jeweled brooch (eBay) for the wedding. The only jewelry I wore, aside from my engagement ring, were a pair of pearl earrings that CB gave me the Christmas before. CB was the true budgeteer between the two of us. His Brooks Brothers suit plus alterations came out to $650.66. The shoes, shirt, and tie were all purchased at Nordstrom Rack.

Photography: $900 / 13.6%

What I learned when I first started looking at photographers: it costs more than I, pre-engagement, ever thought were possible. Photography is an area where many brides splurge on, and I can understand why. After all, when the wedding’s over, all you will have are the pictures and the memories. Fortunately, I found someone that I like and that fit our budget. We paid $850 for 4 hours of coverage and digital user’s rights, plus I tipped her $50. We decided to forgo a professional album as we can always print out our pictures later on. Our photographer was just starting out when we booked her, but I really like her style and her personality. Now she is much more experienced and her prices have gone up, but she is still surprisingly affordable. We met up with family an hour before the ceremony to take pictures, skipping the getting-ready shots.

Flowers & Decor: $294.49 / 4.4%

Throughout the whole wedding planning process, my floral mantra has been “fresh flowers plus succulents CAN’T look bad.” That gave me the confidence to DIY everything: 8 flower centerpieces, 1 bridal bouquet, 2 bridesmaid nosegays, and 1 cake table arrangement. Less than two weeks before the wedding, I ordered some succulents from Etsy for a total of $100. I also bought around $20 worth of goblets and glasses from Goodwill. The day before the wedding, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law and I went to the flower market where we purchased around $100 worth of spray roses, roses, lamb’s ear, banana leaves, floral foam, and wire and supplies. I did all of my flowers the night before the wedding – we got done around 12:30 am. It was a last-minute project but quite surprisingly the most fun I’ve had with wedding planning.

Stationery & Website: $54.00 / 0.8%

A family friend did our invitations and thank you cards as an gift. All our invitations just took a regular $0.45 stamp, with the exception of a single invitation to Southeast Asia – that was $1.10. I’m not kidding when I say that our stationery – letterpress on very thick, 100% cotton cardstock from Crane & Co. – is probably THE most-top-of-the-line item we have at the wedding. The cardstock was so substantial that the mailman at the post office asked me if I were mailing CDs! We sent out around 30 invitations, which would have probably cost us at least $200 had we paid for these invites (what’s the going rate for letterpress these days?). $39 went to the premium version of our online honeymoon registry. We got a free wedding website at weddingwire.com.

Gifts & Favors: $500 / 7.5%

This includes a $250 cash gift to our officiant (the same gentleman who did our invitations and thank you cards), the other $250 went to our parents and the wedding party. My mother-in-law did the favors (candy), so I’m not sure how much they cost. I believe it was somewhere around $50?

Hotel: $220 / 3.3%

The night before, we stayed 40 minutes outside of our wedding site because the area is just so. damn. expensive. I used my hotel points for this. The night of the wedding we stayed at a place we found via AirBnB for $220 total for Saturday & Sunday night. In an ideal world, we would be spending our wedding weekend at the Four Seasons (which was around $600/night during the weekend of our wedding. ha!), but that was 1. way outside of our budget, and 2. WAY outside of our budget. You win some, you lose some.

Hair & Makeup: approximately $300 / 4.5%

Hair and makeup were all on my own. In fact, this picture is the first time I have gotten a good look at how my hair looked from the back… I put my hair in foam curlers the night before the wedding and the pinned it with bobby pins in 10 minutes. In most of my pictures you can see a ton of flyaway hairs… but for a DIY hairstyle, I think it turned out really well. For my makeup, I went to Sephora and spent lots of dough. Then I went to Rite-Aid and bought more stuff. I want to consider those “normal expenses” as opposed to wedding expenses, but I probably wouldn’t have went so above budget had I not had the wedding. So.. in the wedding budget they went. It was all worth it, though, because I loved my makeup the day of. And now I have all the products to play with.

Rings: $35 / 0.5%

CB bought a tungsten ring for $35 from Amazon.com. Originally, I planned to get a cheap stand-in wedding band, but then I realized I’m fine with just wearing my engagement ring. There’s no point in getting a cheapie band if I don’t care about wearing a band in the first place. So that’s another cost forgone.

What We Spent: $6,635.47 (or 5% under budget)

A few more tips:

  • I stand by these 5 tips for a sane and (relatively) stress-free wedding without breaking the bank.
  • In my experience, it’s easier to cut expenses rather than trim expenses. So we eliminated dancing, reception music (the restaurant provided ambient music), professional florals, engagement photos, videography, transportation, separate hotel rooms for the bride and groom, tiered wedding cake, cake toppers, expensive rings, etc.
  • The simplest way to keep a low budget is to manage your guest list. That’s not to say you can’t have a great budget wedding with a guest list of 250. It will be much harder, however, to do so with 250 guests than 25 guests. As your guest list shrinks, your reception possibilities open up. Many quirky or interesting venues only host small groups. I don’t feel like we scrimped when it came to our guests, and the only reason we could do that on a budget was to have a small guest list.
  • Spend a little more on the groom’s outfit, and make sure to get it tailored. A good suit will last ages, certainly far longer than a wedding dress will.
  • Consider hosting your reception at a restaurant if you 1. want good food, 2. hate hassle, and 3. can give up dancing. Our decision to have the reception at the restaurant is probably one of my smartest. The food was great – better than any wedding food I’ve had before, everything went smoothly, and we didn’t worry about rentals. Our reception felt like a nice lunch party where we were the guests of honor, and it was fun to just relax and catch up with friends.
  • A wedding goes by in the blink of an eye. Seriously, I was a little surprised by how quickly the whole day passed. Make sure that you will not regret all the work and money you’ve put into an event that really, will be over in 12 hours, max.
  • On the other hand, wedding budgeting isn’t a competition. You don’t get a prize if you spent $2,000 on your wedding and you don’t get a prize if you spent $200,000. Just don’t start your married life with debt because of the wedding. Life is much better without wedding debt.

How much did you spend / will you spend on your wedding? And just as importantly… do you think wedding budgeting will be a fun process? 😉

  • Life [Comma] Etc - I couldn't love this more – everything looks perfect! ReplyCancel

  • Janine - Love the post! I was just at David’s bridal with a co-woken an saw that dress! It is stunning!!! I hope you had the perfect day! ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn C - Oh.My. Amazing.

    Your shoes…to die for.

    And that dress is made for your little figure, it fits like a glove. So gorgeous and effortless.

    PS I am surprised you didn't bust out some macaroons for dessert.


  • shopping2saving - OMG.. I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS POST. I may even think of holding my wedding at the same venue. I'm not engaged but still… that sounds like an amazing deal.

    Your dress is gorgeous and so are your shoes. I would have never guessed it was from David's Bridal and MARSHALL'S!!! The rustic chairs add such a lovely touch and the cake is beautiful.

    Everything looks super expensive…. I'm bookmarking this. I love how you only had 35 guests too. AMAZING! ReplyCancel

  • Happy_Homeowner - You did such a fantastic job with every single piece of your wedding & festivities–I love it all! ReplyCancel

  • jesort415 - Your wedding looks amazing and so do you! I totally love this post. I have so many friends who have gotten married recently and they refused to budget for the event. One lady spent 100k and the event was not all that fun or beautiful. BTW 2 yrs later they are not happy and he cheats.

    We had a very small wedding too…about 20 ppl. We did the ceremony on the beach by a family friend, a judge. The reception at a restaurant we loved. We did this on a Friday late morning/early afternoon so it was not too hot to be on the beach in June & the reception was also inexpensve since it was lunch. We only invited ppl we truly love and knew would care enough about us to not care about the time/day. Our attire was very beachy…a flow-y white summer sundress for me…khakis and a striped shirt for hubby. I was 6 weeks post partum so having professional pics wasn't cool for me lol. My mom paid for the flowers as our gift. For our 10 year anniversary we want to do a big celebration with a vow renewal ceremony. I can't believe that is only 5 more years away :-) ReplyCancel

  • MLISunderstanding - Your photographer captured some great moments (and I'm sure that's only a fraction of the ones you love). I especially like his suit. It's so nice that your friends and family gifted you some of the details like invitations and favors!

    We're getting married in October; the budget is at $2500 for "the day" and under $5000 including rings, honeymoon, legal paperwork, second punch and cake reception the next day. Like you, we kept costs down by keeping it small and in the daytime. ReplyCancel

  • @frugalportland - I love this post, and sincere congratulations (as sincere as you can get from a complete stranger!) to you and your husband. ReplyCancel

  • makingsenseofcents - I love this post also! I love your pictures. Very pretty. ReplyCancel

  • bogofdebt - I love this post! I'll be posting my potential wedding budget pretty soon. I'm still working on some things but I just wanted to say that I have really loved your wedding posts (well all of your posts but you know what I mean) and they've been a tremendous help! ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - I love your dress! You looked so beautiful! And I love all your decorations. You did a great job. We got married at my in laws house. It was an extremely small wedding (civil ceremony). My in laws paid for most of it, and it was probably around $1500. The only thing I regret is my dress. :( I actually used one of my dresses from an earlier time :). We decided to go low key because we are so young and didn't want to plan a big wedding, and we promised (he promised me) we would have a bigger wedding later on. Honestly, after seeing wedding costs, I am not sure if we will have a bigger wedding later on. I think I would rather go on a European trip! ReplyCancel

  • Mo' Money Mo' Houses - Congrats on the wedding and omg, spending only $7000 on your wedding that's quite an accomplishment! Definitely gives me hope for sticking to my wedding budget, though I've got about 80-90 guests so it'll be more like $10,000 (fingers crossed). Love the cake and the dress! ReplyCancel

  • chocolatecookies - And here I thought that I was incredibly frugal. I was floored when I saw the breakdown of expenses. Wow. Wow. Wow. My wedding was more than a decade ago so I guess prices would've gone up, up, up. I wanted to spend as little money as I could because we really wanted to buy a house. We ended up buying a house AND had our wedding on the same month. It was stressful to say the least.

    My wedding dress was an evening gown from my favorite New Zealand designer, Karen Walker. My regular SA dug around the stock room and pulled out an ivory evening gown from the previous season. Cost: NZD 150. Alteration: NZD 200. Shoes were my trusty Anne Klein which I bought from the US a few years before. Floral arrangement/shoulder spray etc etc was NZD 250 (friend of a friend) and she gave us a centerpiece. My dad wanted a grand wedding. I wanted a cheap wedding so we came to a compromise. He was so relieved he finally married off his eldest child that he gladly paid for the reception and even insisted on an open tab at the bar. Sadly, my friends were all too sensible to drink themselves silly.


  • @nobel4lit - As someone who isn't really sure I want a wedding, I am also trying to cut back on costs… so I really appreciated this post! Money isn't an issue more than just my issue with wasting money on something I'm not sure I want. But great tips! ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Miss, your photos are stunning! I hope I can find an equally hidden treasure of a venue.

    Hoping to spend $5k. I think a restaurant reception would suit us really well, actually, though I really struggle to think of one that I'd like to use. Did you book out a private room? Were there many other diners there? How did that work?! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - We got lucky – our restaurant had a spacious private room that we could rent out for a private party. There were other diners in the restaurant (but not in our room, obviously), but I didn't mind. They were very nice and complimentary!

      If you pick a restaurant where you'd have to buy out the whole place, that'd usually take a rental fee or a high minimum. Maybe you can check to see if you can host the wedding during the time the restaurant's normally closed (i.e. some places are only open during afternoon / evenings – so maybe you can do a brunch reception). ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - Love the wedding and congrats on being under budget! That's quite a feat these days especially on a small budget. It's awesome that you posted your budget recap (I was really scared to add up my total costs at first since I thought I was way over budget). A spent a little over $7500 on mine last May. I had about 120 guests, so to stay within the budget I ditched a sit down dinner and opted for a dessert reception. I spent about the same amount of money on my David's Bridal dress. I felt like it was too much money to spend on an dress that I would only wear once so I sold it. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - You had 120 guests and you only spent $7500? That's amazing. I couldn't have done it without a small guest list. ReplyCancel

  • belowhermeans - I get stomach butterflies! You look so beautiful. I'd like to have my wedding at a similar size – very small and intimate. I told M. I just want to go to the courthouse and he smiled and said, "Okay." ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - I just wanted to say that you look absolutely stunning in your dress!!!! I used your link to see it on the David's Bridal website and you wear it so much better then the model on their website. ReplyCancel

  • onegirl - Absolutely beautiful. I love the chairs at your reception site, and I love CBs suit! Nice work. I will definitely be checking back when the time comes for me to get married. Perfect summary for your perfect day. ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - I absolutely LOVE your dress!!!

    And um, a ceremony in a mural room? That is amazing! The pictures all look beautiful :) ReplyCancel

  • nicolakay - I love it! And and I love your blog! Thanks for sharing. ReplyCancel

  • BlueCollarWorkman - Well congratulations!!! That cake looked pretty damn awesomely delicious. :-) People say that CA is expensive, and so if you got away with spending that little amount on the whole wedding, well then you did pretty great! You make a good point though, there's no prize for an expensive or not expensive wedding, it's just the mark of the beginning of your life together. Although I have to say this, my wife likes to watch this show on TV where girls buy wedding dresses at this expensive place in NYC. I've watched for a few minutes with her before and have been shocked at how they spend your entire wedding budget on just one dress! It's crazy! So good job avoiding a HUGELY EXPENSIVE dress! ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Congrats, lady. Everything looks beautiful! ReplyCancel

  • Revanche - It was fabulous! Entertaining and fun, not actually what I usually expect from a wedding. <3 you did a great job. ReplyCancel

  • Our 00 Southern California Wedding: The Budget Recap | Well … | Wedding Bridal Gowns Favors - […] is the original post: Our $7000 Southern California Wedding: The Budget Recap | Well … Related […]ReplyCancel

  • AverageJoe - Beautiful pics. Congrats again. I hear you on "the wedding goes by in a blink of an eye." I barely remember ours, it went so fast. I love the table settings in your picture. Gorgeous. ReplyCancel

  • Little House - I love the photos. A beautiful wedding indeed! $7K is also very reasonable and you made some excellent choices. Congrats again! ReplyCancel

  • Aloysa - Gorgeous pictures! Stunning dress.
    We spend 3K on our wedding. I got a dress on sale from David's Bridal, he rented a tux for $139. We limited our guest list, rented a very small restaurant that our friends owned back then and celebrated. :) ReplyCancel

  • LAURA - Beautiful pictures! ReplyCancel

  • Firday’s Link Loving « bogofdebt - […] Well Heeled Blog shares her wedding budget and some gorgeous wedding photos! […]ReplyCancel

  • Sunday Reading Salon - […] Heeled Blog talks about Our $7,000 Southern California Wedding: The Budget Recap. If you think that weddings cost a lot, think twice. You can have a great wedding for […]ReplyCancel

  • Mandyman45 - This is a fantastic article… when I see people who have student loans and other debt with no savings and then wanting to go into even more debt by throwing $25,000 weddings I just shake my head… these ignorant people are ruining the rest of their new lives together by making such terrible financial choices. Many couples forget that it's the meaning of the ceremony that counts much much more than the ceremony itself. ReplyCancel

  • The Girl Next Door - Congratulations on your marriage! I am my sister's maid of honor and we are planning the wedding. I'm curious about how you managed to keep the guest list so small. How many people did you originally invite?

    • Well Heeled Blog - We invited ~45 people. There were a few that I knew would be very unlikely to make it… so I had expected somewhere around 35-38 to actually show up. We decided to limit the guest list to immediate family members and very close friends, and everyone understood. Besides, I don't think we were so popular that folks were clamoring for an invite! 😉 ReplyCancel

  • Earth and Money - Congratulations on the wedding! The pictures look beautiful and it looks like it was a great day! Thanks for sharing your budget, I'm impressed that you got such a good photographer for that rate, that is very difficult to find! ReplyCancel

  • Sheri Eaton - I love southern weddings! These pictures are great! Congratulations on getting married! ReplyCancel

  • Jasmine Adams - We're doing a $7000 budget and we're also in SoCal. Where was this venue at? Thanks ReplyCancel

    • Me! - Santa Barbara. I was wondering the same thing. Her venue is gorgeous. ReplyCancel

  • Denise - Your dress & shoes….to DIE for! Thanks for posting this, beautiful! ReplyCancel

  • How I got engaged / (or what if one person is ready but the other is less so) | Well Heeled Blog - […] How I got engaged… well, the simple answer was that my now-husband proposed and I accepted. Now we are coming up on our one-year wedding anniversary. […]ReplyCancel

  • MischievousMonkey - Your wedding looked beautiful, but I have to say, $7000 for 35 people? That's actually pretty expensive. I'm surprised it's being presented as a "budget" wedding. That said, again, it looks gorgeous in the photos, but I'm hoping to spend even less for 90 people… ReplyCancel

  • Mominlaw2b - Simply Elegant. My new daughter-in-law to be is being so cost concious, oh how I wish we had the bucks to throw at them to make all their wedding and get a house dreams come true. You did a fantastic job, without breaking the bank. Amazing job…and you look stunning! ReplyCancel

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