Friday, October 4, 2013

How I made my $20k wedding look like a solid $50k'er

In March, I married my bestie.The minute we got engaged in Rome (romantic, right?!), I immediately said, "I guess this means I get to start planning our wedding!" I had secretly been planning already for 3 years, and I have a feeling I'm not the first to have plotted such a scheme.

He let me do all of the planning and I made it my part time job to not only plan the perfect wedding for us (keyword: perfect for us), but to save as much money as possible, while making it look like we spent way more than we did. I began my mission to turn over every rock I could find in value.


Everything that was paid for was thoroughly researched and compared. What could be DIY, I did myself. What could be done without, I did without, according to our preferences. I didn't believe we needed to include something as part of our wedding just because it was tradition or done at every single wedding in prior history. 

My main goals were:
  1. I wanted everyone to have as much fun as possible
  2. We would splurge on the food
  3. There would be plenty of booze
  4. To have the wedding at a location that was already beautiful unto itself; that way I could keep the decorations minimal
We chose to have our wedding at the Hyatt Mission Bay in San Diego. It was the perfect location weather wise, and scenically. It truly felt like a paradisaical luxury resort, but the pricing packages were very reasonable compared to other posh resorts. Yes, it took a lot of touring other locations and scouring packages, but it was so worth it to know that we really did pick the absolute best spot. The landscaping and built-in decor made it an easy start to a gorgeous wedding. I liked having it at a hotel, where everything was taken care of.

DIY Flowers
Months before, I made all of the floral arrangements. I wanted pink and white peonies and roses, but couldn't stomach paying a florist thousands of dollars for a day's worth of beauty. I found the exact flowers in the exact colors I was going for... at the Dollar Tree. I bought a few hundred dollars worth of bushes, stripped them of the leaves, and made all my own bouquets to fulfill the floral needs of our entire wedding. 

The bouquet of pink and white roses and peonies with rhinestones I wanted that had been previously quote at nearly $1000 by a florist (yes, $1000 for ONE bouquet), I made for under $15 (8 bushes from Dollar tree, ribbon, floral tape, and rhinestones). Since my bridesmaid's bouquets were not as extravagant or as large as mine, they cost under $10 each to make. I may do a blog post on how to make bouquets, another time. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to know how I did it.

I also made all of the pew/altar bouquets, table arrangements, boutonnieres and corsages, and even a tossing bouquet. And all with everything I bought from the dollar store (except the rhinestones and rhinestone ribbon for the vases (below) which I got at Michael's for fairly cheap).

I Fired My MUA and Stylist 
After having my makeup done several times by "professional" make-up artists and being extremely frustrated with the results, I decided I was going to do my own makeup. I asked a lot of questions when I was having my makeup done so I could at least learn some professional techniques. Tip: it's all about blending and "building up". 

I recruited my bridesmaids to help with my hair. Unless you're a crackhead with missing chunks of hair and broken teeth, it's really not hard to put together a professional look yourself. Your guests won't know the difference.

For the rest of my outfit, I found my perfect dress at David's Bridal, on sale for $750. I got a good deal and still I can't imagine ever paying more for a dress that's currently sitting dirty in my closet. I bought super cute $5 jewelry for me and my bridesmaids at Charlotte Russe and Forever 21. For that price, I was able to buy a few extra pieces so I could decide what I wanted to wear on the actual wedding day. Fun!

Custom Touches
If you don't hate me enough already, I'm going to tell you that I decided to make my own wedding cake. I had recently gotten into cake baking as hobby, and I thought, "I can totally do this." 

I baked the cakes (champagne cake: replace water with champagne in the recipe, yum, and fancy) earlier in the week of the wedding and wrapped them up super well in plastic wrap and foil. They turned out extremely moist. I made the frosting two days before, and stored that in an air tight container. The morning of the wedding, I set aside an hour to assemble the cake. I watched a LOT of YouTube videos on how to successfully do this. I dedicated it to my Great Grandma, Mary B. Martin, and embraced the imperfections. It was lopsided, but it was special. And delicious...

My husband is a race car driver, and I love champagne... so I found these to be the perfect cake toppers. I didn't use them on top of the cake, but next to the cake on the table, and my photographers got creative with putting our rings on top for a photo opp. After discovering these cake toppers online, I immediately went into "turn over every rock" mode and found them 2 for the price of 1 on some other website. DO YOUR RESEARCH!!!

Drink & Be Married 
The hotel wanted to charge us $40 or more for their cheapest bottles of wine. We decided to buy a few cases of Charles Shaw, scrape off the label, and put our own labels on. Not only did everyone love the wine and the fact that we had our "own" wine bottles, but we saved a TON of money. No one knew the difference.

I splurged a little on drapery, table cloths, and swagging. I figured I'd rather spend money on items that were going to make the largest impact at the wedding, like the linens and drapery rather than tiny pieces of expensive jewelry or wedding cake that was to be demolished in my husband's face. 

I did thorough research and found the absolute best company to work with and even negotiated their original contract to meet my needs and the price I was looking to pay. See the crystal tiers on either side of us two pictures down below? The company who I found them through wanted to rent them to me for $300 a pop. The company I ended up working with custom made them for me and charged me $75 each. And NO ONE KNEW THE DIFFERENCE!


By the end of the night, I was certainly exhausted. But it was so well worth the savings. I changed into my dance dress (which by the way, I bought at one of those cheap mall stores for around $40). This was another reason I am glad I didn't spend any more on my wedding dress, I couldn't WAIT to get it off and just be comfortable, spill wine on myself, and have the best night of my life.

It was a lot of work to prepare and compare every little detail of the wedding to ensure we were getting the best value, but ultimately, it was fun and extremely rewarding. For the things we skipped out on, I really don't think our guests knew the difference (we skipped on favors, top shelf liquors, extra dinner courses, etc). Everyone had massive amounts of fun. Even though I took so much upon myself the day of the wedding, please believe I had a timeline, and made sure to take the necessary time to just relax, drink champagne, get massages, and cry with my bridesmaids pre-nuptuals. 

A Quick Cheat Sheet
  • Do your wedding YOUR way 
  • Think of the marginal benefit of everything you're spending money on
  • Figure out what you like- then go find the same thing for a better deal 
  • Skip the small stuff that costs largely
  • Spend more on things that go further 
  • Figure out what you are willing and can DIY
  • Personalize whatever you can to make it special (homemade lopsided cake dedicated to Grandma, for example)
  • Have as much fun as you conceivably can- it's about the experience and the memory, not the size of your bouquet or the brand of wine you served

Photos by AS Photography


  1. Hey Sarah!
    I love love love this post. I was thinking about making my own cake too and you've inspired me to ACTUALLY do it. Thanks :) Can I ask what company you worked with for the table linens,decor, etc.? I'll be getting married in San Diego also and would love some advice.


    1. Hi Kelsey!

      Congrats on getting married. And thanks for the shout-out! I'm glad it inspired you. San Diego is the best place to be getting married in.

      For the cake, I recommend making a few cakes in advance as practice. I made my bridal shower cake and a couple of others. Not great for wedding day waistline but absolutely necessary to build confidence in yourself, unless you're already a pro :)

      For linens/drapery/swagging, I used San Diego Linens Thomas was my contact there and he was absolutely amazing. Their website isn't super impressive but they really do have the best rates and they're willing to negotiate. Ask them to put together a proposal based on what you want then negotiate if you see the need. They were very professional and there when I needed them.

      Also, I recommend Kenneth Day as an officiant, if you don't already have one. He does a few things differently than other officiants (like standing back, in the aisle so we could face our audience (brilliant!) and his delivery was excellent.)

      If there is anything else I can help with, let me know. Enjoy this process immensely, and best wishes to you!


  2. Great article, exactly what I was looking for. netflix login member