Is it Even Possible to Have a Frugal Wedding for 150 Guests?

Is it even possible to have a frugal wedding when your guest list is 150?

It wouldn’t be out of line if you called me a “control freak.” In some situations, at least. There are plenty of times when I’m perfectly happy to go with the flow, but put me in charge of planning something? Well, that’s when the little shovels inside by body start digging a pit in my stomach.

When Kathleen and I started to plan our frugal wedding, my stomach traded in the shovels for an industrial backhoe. Like in most planning situations, the stress I experienced was totally self-applied. I even had my (very wise) mother telling me: “Brent, just hire somebody to deal with this,” when she first caught wind of my grand plan for the the wedding. “Ah,” I replied, “But coordinators are expensive, and we are trying to come in under $15,000 for the wedding.” I figured I could save money, maybe even come in under budget, if I managed the details myself. More fool I.

Let’s be clear about something I am completely aware of: our wedding is not a frugal affair. There are any number of things we could be using that money for. $15,000 is a  staggering amount of money to spend on an event that takes less than five hours (I say this knowing full well that the “average” American wedding runs in the neighborhood of $30,000, which, let’s be honest here: WHAT?!). However, if you want to throw a party for 150 people, there aren’t a lot of ways to save on money without costing yourself an exorbitant amount of time.

So, Kathleen and I agreed that we would do most of the work ourselves, except for on the actual day of, when we would hire somebody to pull the levers while we were, you know, getting married.

If throw in the entire ball of wax, including rings, wedding outfits, rehearsal dinner, we ended up going  way over budget, with our wedding clocking in closer to $25,000 than $15,000.

Here are the decisions we ended up making that we thought would save us money:

Picnic in the Park

Is it Even Possible to Have a Frugal Wedding for 150 Guests?

We didn’t want our wedding to be all that formal. Partially due to the fact that Kathleen and I aren’t particularly fancy people. Partially due to the fact that we felt it would put a different stamp on our wedding. But in the front of our minds, we figured if we kept the event more casual then we could save money just by conforming to the general theme. The park permit for the day was about $600, we’d provide our own beer and wine, thereby spending less on alcohol for 150 people than some weddings spend on the cake. A local food truck that is one of our favorite places to eat in all of Portland caters for under $15 a head.

The $5 Wedding DJ

weddings are expensive, yo

Did you know Pandora has a Wedding Music station? Not interested? How about just throwing on a Classical Guitar station? Or a Golden Oldies station? Or… or… or… You name it. We’re not having a dance floor in the park, why bother to spend the money on a DJ or a band? Just pay the $4.99 for a month of commercial-free Pandora. This way, you can be absolutely certain “Electric Slide” never gets played.

Handcrafted Favors

we made treats for out of towners

Our out of town contingent is receiving a gift bag with homemade treats. A little handcrafted love goes a long way.

 Dressing Down

no suits at this wedding

Khakis, button down shirt (with the sleeves rolled up), and Adidas Rayado sneakers. I bought the entire outfit new and it still came out to about half the cost of a tux rental. Plus, my groomsmen and I can actually wear the stuff again. Kathleen’s dress was more expensive, but she came in under $750 which, for a wedding dress, is bordering on unheard of.

It’s In the Details

I think we probably would have spent the same amount of money (possibly less) by hiring a full-time coordinator as we did by trying to go it alone. By the time the last two weeks rolled around, we got lazy and started throwing money at problems to make them go away. I imagine a professional would have anticipated these things in advance, making up the extra costs with simple foresight. Even so, it would have easily been worth it if I had to spend $1,500 for somebody to take over in the last month leading up to the event. I had many sleepless nights because I didn’t have anybody to focus on the things that ended up eating the last four weeks of our time, including:

  • Setting up the venue
  • Cleaning up the venue
  • How to transport things to and from the venue
  • How to keep drinks cold. On a 95-degree day. In Portland. In September. This is freakishly hot.
  • How to deal with tables and chairs when your ceremony and reception venue happen to be the same space

That’s to say nothing of the time it takes to orchestrate all of this. The time, the worry, the money, none of it was worth the ethereal “pride” of doing it ourselves.

So if you’re planning a wedding, even if you’re looking save money in the process, do you and your future spouse a favor and hire a full-time wedding coordinator that can help you through the process. I wish we had.

Did you have any “frugal fails” when you planned your wedding?