Our DIY Budget Wedding
all photography by Rachel Liz Photography
Not long after Alex and I got engaged, I dove right in to wedding planning mode. I am 100% a DIY person, so I spent just over a year nailing down every single detail that went into our wedding, and it was entirely worth it. We kept it all under $8,000 and our goal was to make our wedding unique and memorable while staying within that budget.
I will say, if you are planning a DIY wedding, get started on projects EARLY. To make things easier, I highly recommend your first major decision being your venue choice. Once you have your venue picked out, you can bring your entire vision to life.
We visited a few venues, none really stuck out, until I saw a gorgeous wedding on Junebug Weddings blog at Green Lakes State Park, and realized the venue wasn’t far from us. We went to visit it and booked it that day.
Tip #1 for having a budget wedding: don’t neglect your state parks. Or any other non-traditional wedding venues, for that matter. Especially if they have an insanely beautiful building you can hold your reception in. The rental fee for ours was CHEAP. Especially compared to quotes we got at other cookie-cutter venues. We booked it for two days, the day before the wedding, and day-of. Our wedding was on a Friday, which also brought cost down because it was on a weekday. There are so many other places besides your typical wedding venue to get married and have a reception in. Think of what you love as a couple and go from there. Check out your local breweries, wineries, farmers’ markets, hell, find someone with a great backyard! There are so many options these days that you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Back to our venue…
Green Lakes State Park: home to the most gorgeous, stunning, beautiful, breathtaking, etc. etc. etc. lake I’ve ever laid eyes upon. Who knew this gem existed in Upstate New York? I saw photos before we visited, looked it up online and thought “wow, is the water really that color?” YES. And it’s even more incredible in person.
Our ceremony was lakeside, and our reception was just across the way, up the stairs in the Old Administration Building. When you enter this building for the first time, you feel transported back in time. Entirely made of stone, grand fireplaces, high ceilings, soft lighting; this building is truly remarkable, almost medieval. When we first stepped foot inside, we thought, “yeah, this is it.” Our wedding was small, only 61 people including ourselves and a few kiddos, so this just fit all of us, with room for a small-ish dance floor, our DJ, and a dessert table.
If you are having a DIY wedding like we did, and the daily rental is reasonable, book it for multiple days. Ideally the day before, day-of, and day after your wedding. I wish we booked it the day after our wedding to clean up. We just tried to save as much money as possible so we stuck with two days. Looking back, it definitely would have saved not only ourselves time, but also our amazing family who stayed with us AFTER the reception was over to help with clean up.
Tip #2: Trim down your guest list. I have a big family that I’m close with and Alex doesn’t, so that helped with keeping our guest count low. We decided to stick to our closest family and friends, and mainly those who have known us as a couple and have been there for us at least within the past couple of years. Don’t feel obligated to invite people just for the sake of inviting them. We made the decision early to have a small wedding, and wouldn’t change it if we did it all over again.
Tip #3: Look at catering alternatives. For our cocktail hour, we hired a food truck who is local to our area (Happy Pappi Arepas!) and he dished out some of the most delicious arepas (Venezuelan street food) ever. We also got some fruit, meat, and cheese trays from Wegmans, and everyone seemed satisfied. We went with Dinosaur BBQ for our main course, and I can’t tell you how many people raved about it. Drop off with servers was our choice, so they had a team that brought in all of the food, set it up, served it in a buffet line for us, and cleaned up their station and left. It was a seamless operation and they did a fantastic job. For desserts, my brother’s mother-in-law who owns a bakery (Baked Euphoria) made our delicious gluten-free cake and mini cupcakes, my sister-in-law, Monique Chavez, made custom “Fiehl” cookies (also delicious), my uncle Hassan brought pastries from his deli, and we ordered donuts. If you have family or friends who are talented bakers, or just love baking, don’t be afraid to ask them to help out! They really came through for us and it was all so beautiful and got devoured.
Tip #4: HIRE A DAY-OF-COORDINATOR. I would have made this tip #1 if it followed my story line better, but I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are having a DIY budget wedding, and for us that meant having the venue at our disposal with NO staff provided whatsoever (though the maintenance staff at Green Lakes was phenomenal, more on that later) you absolutely need a Day-Of-Coordinator, in my opinion. A wedding planner wasn’t in our budget, so I did all of the planning myself, but we were dead-set on hiring a DOC (day-of-coordinator). You really don’t want to have a friend or family member worrying about the million little details on your wedding day because they should be there with you to enjoy it. It is worth every single penny to allot room in your budget for this person. Our DOC, Katie Perkins, was absolutely phenomenal and is the sole reason everything went as smoothly as it did. If we did not have her, our stress level would have been through the roof. If you decide on having a wedding at a state park like we did, there should be maintenance staff to help out with certain things, and the staff from Green Lakes was just amazing. They helped our DOC set up chairs, get the ceremony decor set up, and put the chairs back for us after the ceremony. She raved about them and we were so grateful for all of their help.
Tip #5: Work with vendors who are willing to work with you. We knew right off the bat that photography was important to us, so we took the time to research photographers, found Rachel, and got on the same page with her as far as budget and timing went. She was absolutely perfect. She got all of the shots we wanted even though we only had her for 5 hours (which flew by!). Our Day-of-Coordinator, Katie Perkins, is a friend who was willing to work with our small budget and she went above and BEYOND to make everything happen. Our DJ was an old high school friend of mine, and though we originally weren’t going to have a DJ, he also worked with our budget and we are so happy we decided to hire him. He was extremely organized, set up our timeline, made the reception go smoothly and set a great tone from the beginning. It really would not have been as great of a wedding without him. My best friend was our officiant which saved us hundreds of dollars, and she delivered the most beautiful ceremony that was personal to us. Our catering choices which I mentioned above were much cheaper than traditional catering companies. We bought all of our own booze in bulk, and had a ton left over (hello 12+ bottles of wine). 99% of our desserts were generously made/brought by our family (I mean, look at the pics above, talk about YUM). We rented chairs and extra tables from a local rental company. All in all, we spent the money where we wanted to, and are very happy with the vendors we went with!
Tip #6: Spreadsheets, Zola, and more spreadsheets. I worked mainly in Google Docs and had several spreadsheets and referred to them OFTEN throughout the planning process. They helped keep me sane and not go nuts with spending. I also used Zola for our free wedding website which has an amazing tool for organizing all of our guests and their addresses. That was especially helpful after the wedding for thank you cards! You can even have an entire registry on Zola, and they have cash funds that you can have people donate to. A few friends used that feature for my bridal shower and it helped us pay for certain aspects of our wedding which was a huge help. And hey, don’t want to spend more money on printed RSVPs? Zola has a feature to allow people to RSVP on your website! BOOM, money saved on prints and stamps.
Tip #7: Bridechilla Podcast: the one and only wedding podcast I listened to the entire time I was planning. Aleisha’s podcast was one of the reasons I threw a lot of wedding traditions in the FIB (f**k-it bucket), and it saved us money in the end. She has a no-B.S. approach to wedding planning and really puts into perspective what your wedding means to you and how you should basically do whatever the hell you want. We did not have a bridal party (though we did have my brothers and their wives, along with Alex’s best friends walk down the aisle before sitting down), we left out a lot of traditional reception activities, and guess what? No one cried about it! Aleisha has a plethora of informative episodes with guests that have years of experience in the business. Plus she is hilarious. I can’t recommend this podcast enough. Be sure to join the Bridechilla Community on Facebook as well. You can get ideas and advice from other Bridechillas and it’s great to have a support group of people who are going through the same wedding planning process as you. There is also a Bridechilla Buy and Sell group where brides/grooms sell decor items, gowns, accessories, etc. at discounted prices!
Tip #8: Two words: Sample Sale. I went to a local bridal boutique who was having a sample sale about a month after we got engaged just to see what silhouettes would look good on me. I had no intention of buying a gown because we hadn’t even set a date or booked our venue yet. I tried on maybe 25+ different dresses and ended up walking out with a gown the very next day. It was reasonably priced since it was off-the-rack, and with some alterations, fit like a glove. My original intent was to buy a simple white dress online, but I’m so happy with the gown I chose and was happy to support a local woman-owned business!
Another route you could take is to look on websites like BHLDN, Lulus, and ASOS. They have reasonably priced white dresses (don’t forget to look at bridesmaids dresses in ivory, too) and many of them can be worn as your wedding dress. There are also websites that have pre-worn dresses, and let’s be honest, they were only worn for one day, so why not save some cash and check those out?!
Speaking of ASOS, my husband bought his suit from there and he looked amazing. Oh, and he spent under $200 on it.
Tip #9: Get Thrifty. Over the course of a year, I went to many garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores, and was all over Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace collecting decor for our wedding. I knew that I wanted a vintage look for our wedding that fit the style of the venue, and got many items on the cheap by going to these places. Many of the vases I got would only hold a few flowers, so my solution to that was ordering all of our flowers and greenery from Sam’s Club online! You don’t have to be a member to order (though it does save you a few bucks) and they give you the option to select the delivery day for your items. I ordered a bunch of roses and greenery and had them delivered three days before our wedding to allow for everything to hydrate and the roses to open up nice and big. I knew we couldn’t afford a florist, so I decided I’d make my own bouquet and do the rest of the flowers myself, with the help of my Mom! I could do a whole other post on arranging my own flowers, so feel free to send me an email if you want tips on that! Even if the vintage/thrifted look isn’t your taste, you can still achieve other styles for decor by going the used route.
Tip #10: Figure out what is most important to you as a couple, and base your wedding around that. I take after my Mom in saying, I was never the girl who dreamed of her wedding growing up. I am a bargain-hunter by nature, always have been, and a lavish, expensive wedding was never something I wanted. Alex and I wanted an intimate wedding that reflected us, and that’s exactly what we got with a lot of hard work, planning, and research. A DIY wedding is not for the faint-hearted, I’ll be honest, but if you are willing to put the work in and forego certain traditions, you can truly save a lot of money that can be better spent on a honeymoon, down payment for your house, extra payments on your student loans, whatever!
It was stressful and exhausting planning and doing everything for our wedding ourselves, but it was worth it. I can honestly say there are very few things that I would change when I look back on it, but everything turned out so well because we took the time to make it fit our personalities and styles. Budget weddings are doable, you just have to be willing to put in the work. It’s a day you can look back on fondly knowing it was done with so much love and care.
I have to give a huge shout out to all of our family and friends who helped out along the way. The day before the wedding, my brother Ant, my Mom, Alex, and his parents all spent the entire day setting up the venue ourselves. We ran around like crazy and without their help, really, I have no idea what we would have done. We are so grateful to have the most caring and thoughtful people in our lives!
Some more photos…
This badass jacket was made by my great friend, Gypstitch Embroidery! Backstory on “FiehlSport”: Alex’s last name is Fiehl, and he’s a car fanatic/enthusiast/mechanic. “FiehlSport” is what he calls his faux mechanic/car business; and is now what we call our entire household and is basically a brand now, so, watch this space. The lion head represents the fact that him and I are both Leos, and flowers are just something I love so that was an obvious part of the design.
My dear friend, Emilee Burton, captured video of our day. Here is a short clip of what’s to come. :)
If you have any questions please feel free to reach out! Send me an email and I’ll be happy to respond and help in any way I can.
To see ALL of the amazing photos Rachel took, click here.
I am a graphic designer, so I saved money by designing everything custom to us, and printed our invitations and other items on Vistaprint.
Amazon is your friend. We purchased paper napkins, plastic champagne glasses, plastic whiskey glasses, (not everything has to be glass, they photograph just as nicely if they’re clear plastic!) envelopes for invitations, our Jenga guestbook, cheesecloth for table runners, place card holders, table number holders, the best invisible undies (for the bride), and probably 10 more things. Message me for links to any of these!
Things we did to save more money-
We didn’t have a bridal party. Instead, we had my brothers and their wives, along with Alex’s best friends walk down the aisle and then sit down. That way they were still involved but we didn’t have to go through the stress of coordinating bridesmaid dresses, groomsman outfits, and everything in between. And my niece and nephew were the flower girl and ring bearer who also walked down the aisle and sat down.
My best friend officiated our wedding and did an amazing job. She got ordained online and she made the entire ceremony very personal to us. It meant a lot to have someone who has known our entire relationship set the tone for the whole day!
We had a very informal rehearsal dinner. I’m talking pizza and wings takeout and the rehearsal on our back deck at home.
We had our wedding on a Friday, which saved us hundreds of dollars on the rental fee for the venue.
List of things I made myself-
invitations & RSVPs (if you do this on Vistaprint, order postcards and not the wedding invitations, you’ll spend about 1/3 of the price)
boutonnieres (made out of dried flowers)
all florals (bridal bouquet, centerpieces, corsage for mother-in-law)
all signage (including laser cut signs for memorial mantel, escort cards, wedding sign, & acrylic signs)
poems printed on each table
recipe booklet favors
petal toss cones
design for our keepsake box
custom scavenger hunt for my niece and nephew
hand dyed cheesecloth table runners
Day-of-Coordinator: Katie Perkins
Photographer: Rachel Liz Photography
Videographer: Emilee Burton
Bride’s Hair & Makeup: Elite Beauty Studio
Custom Denim Jacket (Bride): Gypstitch Embroidery
Officiant: Jacqueline Albrecht
Cocktail Hour Food: Happy Pappi Arepas
Catering: Dinosaur BBQ
Vistaprint: Invitations & RSVP Cards (5x7 & 4x6)
Custom Newspaper: Newspaper Club
Bride’s Gown: Sincerity Bridal
Bridal Boutique: Ever After Binghamton Bridal
Bride’s Veil: Etsy
Bride’s Shoes: Chinese Laundry
Bride’s Earrings: Olive + Piper
Groom’s Suit: ASOS
Groom’s Tie (and all of Shalene’s brothers’ ties): Etsy
Custom Wooden Keepsake Box: Etsy