I know some of you might be thinking, “$5k? How can you plan a wedding for under $5k?” Well I’m here to tell you that it is possible to plan a wedding with a small budget and I know thousands of brides who have done it. I’m in a Facebook group called “Weddings on a tight budget (5k and below)” that has over 89,000 members. Today I’m going to share their best tips and tricks and use the Loud Bride budget calculator to help you plan a wedding for under $5,000.
If you’d like to plan a wedding under $5k, your most important consideration is the guest list. Hosting a wedding with less than 50 people and forgoing a traditional venue is the easiest way to spend less than $5,000.
That’s the main strategy for planning a wedding under $5,000. Stick to a tight guest list and get creative with your venue selection. Keep reading and I will show you exactly how to spend your budget so you have an amazing, memorable day. There are some other ways to get there if you need to stick to this budget but have a larger guest list. I will cover some of those alternatives as well below.
How do I keep my wedding under $5,000?
Here is an exact plan for how to plan a wedding under $5,000. Using the Loud Bride calculator, I put in a budget of $5,000 and a guest list of 50. It uses national averages and my own research to give you estimates of what to spend where.
Spend $3,800 on food and alcohol
Yes, you read that right. I want you to spend the bulk of your budget on food and drinks. Here’s why: it’s usually the most expensive item on any bride and groom’s list. And it’s the thing your guests expect the most to be covered by the couple hosting the wedding. If you skimp too much in this area, some guests are going to be grumpy. You want everyone to have a great time and providing a substantial meal and buying some drinks is the surest way to do that.
This budget includes $100 for a cake, $65 per person for food and alcohol, $100 for cocktail hour appetizers (think a DIY cheese plate), and a 15% tip for the company or any staff depending on how your cater it.
If you absolutely don’t want to spend this amount because you’d rather prioritize something else on your list, that’s okay. Here’s how I would spend less on food and alcohol:
- Host a “Cake and Punch” reception
- Opt for a champagne toast instead of an open bar
- Host a cocktail reception
Spend $100 on the venue
You’ll need to get creative to do this. The average wedding venue charges $5,000 and that’s your entire budget so you can’t go that route. Here are some options for you:
- Book a local clubhouse (e.g. a Kiwanis club where a relative is a member, your church rec room, etc.)
- Talk to a local restaurant
- Your own backyard (or a family member’s)
- Have it in a local park
One note on hosting your wedding at a restaurant – This is especially a good option if you only have 20-30 people, tell them it’s for a wedding and explain your food and beverage budget and see what they can do. Some restaurants will hear “wedding” and charge a lot more to book out the entire restaurant, others will be able to work within your budget and offer you a private room or just a large table or allow you to come in at an off-peak time.
One note on outdoor weddings in a backyard or park – Make sure you don’t fall into the rental trap. Items like a tent or chairs will be thousands of dollars and completely blow your budget. Sometimes it’s cheaper to find a venue that includes these items than trying to secure your own.
If you have connections at work or church that will allow you to secure these items for free, great. Otherwise, you may need to have a quick standing ceremony under a tree and then provide blankets or use park tables with benches to have a picnic reception. Your guests won’t mind. It will be perfectly Instagrammable and unique.
Spend $350 on your dress or day of attire
You can score a traditional off-the-rack wedding dress for under $300 at Azazie, Hebeos, BHDLN, or even David’s Bridal. (Our full list of off-the-rack gown options and how it saves you time and money can be found here.) You can also try renting your dress or buying secondhand.
Spend $100 on hair and make up
Honestly you can get away with less here if you have a friend or family member do your makeup for free but I personally recommend pampering yourself for the big day if you’d like to ensure you are picture ready. You can hire someone local to spend an hour touching up your hair and makeup, maybe schedule a regular blow out that morning or the night before at your favorite salon, for around $100. Aim for someone who works freelance, not a salon wedding package, which will usually charge more for a full face and full updo or hairstyle.
Here’s what I would do – $40 manicure and pedicure, $30 blow out (have a friend touch it up in the morning with a curling iron or do an updo I found and PRACTICED on Pinterest), $30 freelance make up artist to touch up my make up or splurge on some new make up items and do it yourself (again PRACTICE beforehand if you’ve found something on YouTube you want to try.)
Spend $100 on photography
This is a tough one. No decent photographer is going to accept $100 to do a whole wedding. You’re going to skip the videography. Here are your options:
- Find an art student who will be willing to accept $100 payment to help build their portfolio
- Put a relative or friend in charge who has a good camera and is a decent hobby photographer
- Buy disposable cameras and put them on all the tables for guests to help you capture the day
- Spend a little bit more for a real photographer to do 1 hour of photos of you (some photographers will be willing to work with you and do a mini session at their usual rate for 5-10 edited photos)
If photography is important to you and you absolutely will regret not having traditional photos of your day, your best option is to scale back your reception to some of the alternatives mentioned above and spend $1000-2000 on a wedding photography package. Or find a few relatives who will be willing to pool together and gift you a photography package instead of a traditional wedding gift.
Reserve your remaining $550 for the ceremony, bachelor / bachelorette party, invitations, and decorations for the venue
How this breaks out is roughly $100 for the ceremony (any site fees, officiant fee, or donation to a church), $100 for decorations and flowers (maybe you spend some money on grocery store flowers for a simple bouquet and table decor, pick some wildflowers from a neighbor, or have a friend with a Cricut who is willing to make your some signs, $200 for a bachelor / bachelorette party, and $150 for invitations.
You can’t have a weekend out of town for $200 but you can each have an amazing night at a bar, or a dinner, with your friends where they buy you drinks all night long. You can still get into plenty of trouble. 😉
For $150 invitations you can do digital invites, print ones at home, or use a cheaper printer service like Staples or Vistaprint. Read our whole guide on how to make your own invitations here.
Skip traditional flowers, the DJ, and wedding favors
This is my favorite tip and one I used for my own wedding. No one cares about your flowers but you. They will be thrown out sometimes only minutes after your ceremony. It is a waste of money if you’re on a tight budget.
I remember attending a wedding once hosted by two grooms and they told me they saved a ton of money by not buying any flowers and I remember thinking, “OMG. I didn’t even notice they didn’t have any flowers anywhere. Genius!” As a guest, I didn’t notice. Your guests will not notice.
For my wedding I ended up with a small budget that I used towards greenery on the tables and a bouquet for myself to hold that I put into a vase afterwords for the reception. But I skipped a lot of extras that other brides would deem necessary like bouquets for the bridesmaids, decorations for the church, etc. and saved a ton of money that way. I never regretted it and now I buy myself flowers whenever I feel like it at home with no pangs of guilt.
You can also skip the wedding favors. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the guest experience and many guests will dispose of your favor shortly after the wedding. It’s money better spent elsewhere.
You might be sad to skip out on a DJ or band for your wedding but it saves $500-1000 to create a Spotify playlist instead.
You can check out my free budget guide if you sign up for my newsletter. It automatically calculates what you should spend where based on your budget and guest count and helps you stay on track. It’s like the fairy godmother of numbers.
What is a realistic budget for a wedding?
A realistic budget for a wedding in the U.S. is around $30,000. The average wedding cost for 2021 according to The Knot is $33,931. This varies by state, with states like Wyoming having an average of $19,000 and New Jersey topping the list with an average of $53,000.
Most of the weddings you see on blogs and magazines are spending way above that figure. So spending less than $5,000 on your wedding will seem like a challenge if you compare your day to someone else who is spending a lot more. Comparison is the thief of joy after all.
Ultimately, what’s realistic is a budget that you can afford. You should never go into debt over a wedding. And not everyone has family members who are willing to contribute thousands of dollars. I personally believe you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have a special day to celebrate your marriage. And in many previous generations it was not the norm to spend a lot of money having a “traditional wedding.”
What is considered a low budget wedding?
In general, a low budget wedding is anything below $15,000. This figure is less than half of the national average.
So if you’re able to spend less than $15k on your wedding, you’ve officially entered the Budget Bride category and can brag that you scored a deal. What we’ve found in our research is that spending less than $15,000 is actually pretty easy to do if you keep your guest list under 70 people. That’s because you can consider smaller venues, order less food and drink, and keep other guest-related costs down.
How can I reduce my wedding costs?
Not ready to commit to spending only $5,000 but want to leverage some tips to keep costs down in general? We’d got a post on that. Here are some of our best tips for having a dream wedding on a budget. It includes how to save on flowers, how a destination wedding can actually save you money, and how to cut back costs in other areas like invitations and your wedding day attire.
Can my wedding make a profit?
Some couples, especially those who are willing to keep costs down, can actually turn a profit from their weddings or at least break even after they factor in gifts from guests. We have the secrets from 6 couples who made money from their weddings and used it to fund a future home purchase or save it for a rainy day.
Now that you know exactly how to budget for a $5,000 wedding, tell us what you think! Join our community of like-minded brides on Facebook at Bold on a Budget Weddings to share tips, get inspiration from other brides, and get access to the Loud Bride budget calculator.