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I learned a few things from planning my own wedding and doing everything by myself, and there's a couple things I learned along the way. Just to give you an idea of what I was working with, I had a budget of $5000 for wedding and honeymoon. In order to make it work, I really had to budget tightly. I did it pretty much by myself at 18 years old, so you should be able to as well!
1. Budget. Give yourself enough time to plan and gather what you need.
I had a six month engagement, so I didn't have a lot of time, but it was enough for me. In the early stages of our engagement, we came up with a budget for the money we had, decided on a honeymoon destination, and picked out colors and theme. We decided that I would take care of the wedding and my husband would take care of the honeymoon and everything to do with that (luggage, passports, travel insurance, etc).
I would definitely recommend budgeting being the first thing you do. That way you don't end up spending more than you have. Food was far and away the most expensive item on our budget, at a whopping $1800. For my wedding dress, we budgeted a rigid $175.00. (I managed to find one brand new, by the way... it fit perfectly without alterations, luckily!) Those figures worked for us, but it's definitely up to you what you want to do.
2. Make Your Own Invitations
I had very little experience and no special computer software, and I managed to create a pretty incredible looking invitation. I downloaded a couple of free fonts from the web, did a little watercolor painting with the colors in my theme, which I then scanned, and put it all together in Paint on my computer. Then I got them printed on some heavy weight card-stock at Staples. In the end, I only spent $100 on stamps, envelopes, and printing. They don't have to be insanely fancy to look beautiful. These days you could even just set up a group on Facebook and invite your loved ones there.
3. Shop Kijiji and Other Online Retailers, Thrift Stores, and Dollar Stores
I found my veil on Kijiji and got a lot of really beautiful decorations from different dollar stores. I got big white pinwheels, laser-cut white paper banners, and tissue-paper flowers at a dollar store which ended up being $15. These are great places to find different little trinkets or bigger items like your shoes, glassware for the tables at the reception, tablecloths, and things like that.
Also, see what your venue has to offer in terms of decorations. We ended up being able to use a bunch of white tablecloths ours had and didn't need to borrow or buy our own. Friends who've been married before you might have some things laying around you can buy off them for cheap, and you can reuse even some of your own household decor. We used a painting I'd done of the two of us together behind us at the head table and put fairy lights around it. It was really beautiful altogether.
4. DIY as Many of Your Decorations as You Can
Whatever extra decorations I needed, I made myself. Using some cardboard, toothpicks, and string, I made the signage for my gifts table, the signs to indicate what food was on the menu, and cake toppers. I cut the cardboard into triangular shapes and painted them with some inexpensive watercolors I got from Michael's. Then I hand lettered on them with a black Sharpie. (If you do this, make sure the watercolor completely dries, otherwise the Sharpie will run into the color!) Once everything was dry I hot-glued the cardboard to the toothpicks and the string to make banners and little cake toppers.
There's plenty of ideas out there, Pinterest, Youtube, and blogs have some really great tutorials on how to make things. I really like the Sorry Girls on Youtube because they have so much content that you can recreate, although they do use lots of tools like jigsaws, power drills, and glass cutters. I didn't make a lot of decorations, but the ones I did make really popped.
5. Finding a Venue to Fit Your Budget
We didn't have to worry about venue costs. We used my husband's childhood church for the reception and the ceremony, and the pastor did our wedding for free as a favor. There's lots of options though, anywhere that has a big open area and tables can probably be rented out. I've seen every reception from picnic tables at a campground with candles and lights all the way up to expensive golf resort dining rooms with views onto the beach. If you're looking for a cheaper option, try a church basement like we did. Oftentimes they have kitchens and items you can borrow. Just stick to your budget, you'll need wiggle room for your food expenses.
6. Price Match for Rental Tuxes
Places like Men's Wearhouse and Moore's Clothing for Men will beat the prices for your rentals in order to gain your business. Get quotes from all your local menswear shops and see which one you like best, then ask them if they will price match. Just so you know, cheapest is not best! You want a soft material for their tuxes or suits. If your bridal party's color is not available for ties, go for black ties for your groomsmen. They will look just as good, if not better, than matching ties.
7. Real Flowers Can Be Expensive, Try Fake Flower Bouquets
Seriously. We spent $104.20 on our flowers and they looked incredible.
I made our bouquets and boutonnieres with some floral tape and pins and faux purple roses, hydrangeas, blue thistles, lavender, and baby's breath. I also picked up an old curtain at Value Village in a bright denim blue color to wrap the bottoms of the bouquets (no sewing required, I just cut the curtain into pieces and pinned the raw edges under). I made 4 bouquets and 9 boutonnieres with what I had, and I still have the flowers today.
Michael's will sometimes have BOGO sales in their flower departments, oftentimes as the season is changing. Check their online flyer to keep up to date on the deals, and hit the shops when you see flowers on sale. They stay fresh all day and you can buy them well in advance. They also make an excellent keepsake for your fathers and mothers. Just a heads up, the flowers are typically constructed with some type of wire inside the stem, so if you're trimming down the ends, make sure you have some wire cutting pliers.
8. Friends Can Help You Get Deals!
We hired a harpist for our ceremony, who we knew through my mother in law. Our photographer was the pastor's wife, and was just starting a photography business, so we let her shoot our wedding for her portfolio. My husband's mother also know a woman who ran a bakery, so we got our cakes at a discount.
You will have people around you who can help you lower the cost of your wedding no matter where you are. Ask around at your local churches to find out prices for pastors, or if you're not religious, you can always have a friend or relative get ordained online so you can have them marry you. If you know someone who plays an instrument, maybe they would play during your ceremony as a gift to you. Just a note - do not expect that friends who own businesses will give you a discount or a freebie just because you know them, especially if they're a small business or don't have many clients. Support their company with your business and respect their decisions.
9. Venue Clean Up
This is super important! The last thing you want to do on your wedding night is clean up a venue because you forgot that has to happen before you can leave. We paid a couple we knew to clean up once we had all left. They needed the money and were happy to do it. Sometimes venues will have this service included, and if that's the case you can ignore this tip, but ours didn't and I almost forgot about it.
This is one of the most exciting moments of your life, and you want to be able to enjoy your big day to the fullest extent. Try to make sure everything is planned out ahead of time so you're not tying up loose ends the day of. The week before the wedding, come up with a daily schedule so you know what tasks you need to get done each day and check them off as you go. The day of the wedding, at the reception, go around to your guests and make sure they're enjoying themselves. Thank them for coming. They came to celebrate with you, and if you don't make contact with them they might be disappointed.
No matter how big a problem might seem, it can't ruin your day if you don't let it. Try to go with the flow. You can't know everything. If planning the wedding is really too much for you, hire a wedding planner and be explicit about your budget and what you want it to look like.
Be realistic - your vision for your wedding will change as you get ready for it. As an example, my bridesmaids' dresses arrived in light pink instead of lavender like we had arranged, and nothing could be done. We added some sprigs of pink flowers to our bouquets and went with it.
Also, most people are willing to help! Ask your family members, friends, and community members for help decorating, organizing, ironing, arranging, printing, whatever you need. It's okay to delegate, just don't be rude or demanding. Be grateful for the help you get. You could even write thank you notes to people who help you set up your wedding.
Above all, just remember it's one day in your life. Have fun on your big day and enjoy what you've put together. You're looking forward to the rest of your life with your soulmate, and that's what is most important.