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(Almost) DIY Weddings 

Brides and helpers share how they got creative, but realistic, with budget-friendly wedding ideas

There's no shortage of wedding blogs catering to the budget-conscious couple, but planning a wedding within any modest budget is a daunting task.

A bride-to-be can pin as many listicles as she wants to her Pinterest, citing tips and tricks for planning a wedding under $5,000 — but the reality isn't quite as neat and tidy.

The handmade arch my parents made for my sister's wedding. - VICTORIA NABOURS / WHITE DESERT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Victoria Nabours / White Desert Photography
  • The handmade arch my parents made for my sister's wedding.

A survey of nearly 13,000 couples who married in 2017, conducted by the popular wedding planning site, The Knot, found the average cost of a wedding was $33,391 — excluding the honeymoon. So unless you're prepared to elope with your sweetheart or plan a modest backyard wedding, you may need to look beyond the pipedream DIY budget.

That being said, I can say from experience helping plan my sister's wedding last year that there are ways to save, if you're willing to put a little elbow grease in and cut a few corners. My sister's wedding cost about $11,500, which my parents split with the groom's parents. The guest list was small, with only 30 friends and family members in attendance.

Here's the breakdown:

Wedding Cake & Flowers: The boutique wedding cakes populating Instagram may leave you with blinders on to any box store bakeries, but don't count the latter out. My sister's 30-piece cake cost $240 and was probably the best red velvet cake I've ever had — and we purchased it at Safeway. My mother also purchased the flower bouquets for the bride, three bridesmaids and table centerpieces for $58. My parents handcrafted all the flower garlands and a rustic arch made of tree branches, which cost about $800 when all was said and done.

Bridal bouquet, crafted by the fine florists at Safeway of Flagstaff, Ariz. - VICTORIA NABOURS / WHITE DESERT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Victoria Nabours / White Desert Photography
  • Bridal bouquet, crafted by the fine florists at Safeway of Flagstaff, Ariz.

Venue: Originally, my sister had planned to hold her wedding at a scenic picnic area in Sedona, Ariz., campground. The views were gorgeous when she checked out the site in the fall, but in the weeks leading up to her August wedding, the greenery had burned up in the Arizona sun and the heat was becoming unbearable. It also turned out that although she had reserved the site months in advance, the park employee who made the reservation had fed her incorrect information about what was allowed on site. It turned out the ceremony had to be brief with no allowed chairs for guests.

So two weeks before the wedding, the reception venue also became the venue for the ceremony. We were insanely lucky, as the venue owners were extremely flexible with our change of plans. We'd made the reservation with the restaurant before it changed owners six months prior, and the new owners honored our verbal contract with the original owners. For the full evening, the restaurant charged us $500 for use of a giant private room and their garden patio —gorgeous and air conditioned. Moral of the story: get your agreements in writing and, if you aren't a fan of surprises, pay for a proper venue instead of going the public lands route.

Food: The restaurant host catered appetizers and a plated dinner totaling $3,700, without gratuity. Tack on another two grand for the open bar.

Odds 'n' Ends: My sister's dress cost $1,200 from David's Bridal (including sash, veil, alternations and post-wedding cleaning). My mom hired her hair stylist's cousin to do makeup and hair for an extremely reasonable price. A photojournalism friend who I attended school with shot the wedding (she was reasonably priced and much more talented than the "seasoned professional" photographers in the area, in my opinion — browse portfolios!). The two-night stay at the hotel cost just under $100 a night per room.

A handful of Source readers also chimed in with their budget wedding hacks:


Backyard wedding in Bend

Sara Yellich Age: 44

For the free spirit: An intimate backyard wedding, with a limited guest list invited under the pretense of a winter solstice soiree.

Cost of Wedding: Less than $500

The Deets: Best friend acted as officiant, sister arranged flowers from Trader Joe's (bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces), guest favors included jar of honey harvested from her bee hives.

From the Bride: "Since this would be my second wedding, I didn't feel the need to make a big deal of it. My father, one sister and three nieces agreed to drive 20 hours straight from Denver so my Dad could walk me down 'an aisle' and have some of my family represented."


Affordable Portland destination wedding

Megan McGuinness Age: 29

When you're doing it for the fam: A small wedding hosted in family's place of residence, ensuring all 40-some VIPs could attend.

Cost of Wedding: Just under $2,000

The Deets: Kept guest list to 40 people, rented private room at a Portland brunch spot for $300 (food tab cost about $600), modest cake and macaroons for $120, dress from Beholden for $250 ($15 for alterations), DIY party favors for $60, own music mix on iPod and $400 for photographer (2 hours, covering pre-ceremony and ceremony).

From the Bride: "All of our friends lived in Bend, but our family was in Portland. Wherever your eldest relative is should be where the venue is. While, yes, it's your wedding, it's really your grandma's dream come true."


Three-day outdoor festival disguised as a wedding

Emily Eros Age: 31

For the adventurer: An outdoor wedding reception, ceremony, whitewater kayaking, climbing, tubing, taco trucks, a waffle brunch and 30-person mountain bike shuttle ride.

Cost of Wedding: About $10,000

The Deets: Bought a $3,000 designer wedding dress from upscale clothing reseller for $500 (sold it after wedding for $400), rented group site at Tumalo State Park for ceremony for $50, the DIY maven event crafted hundreds of paper pinwheels for table markers, boutonnieres, invitations, custom cornhole boards and boozy popsicles.

From the Bride: "My partner and I really resent how weddings have turned into super expensive productions, and I am really crafty, so we figured out a lot of tricks that kept costs down, made our wedding feel really personal, and helped us focus on having a good time instead of on all the trappings."

About The Author

Keely Damara

Reporter | The Source Weekly
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