I didn’t really blog any helpful wedding-planning info prior to our fabulous shindig in the woods and that’s because there really wasn’t anything too spectacular involved in planning a wedding besides the customary choosing of vendors, making a million crafts, and waiting for the day to come.
I could have blogged DIY details about every craft I made for the wedding, but that’s been done before. And if you need a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a wedding sign or table decor, then maybe it’s best not to attempt these DIY projects in the first place. Etsy will be your best friend!
Now that our big party has been planned and executed, I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty on what many people don’t talk about: the cost of a wedding.
When hubby and I first began our wedding planning process, one of the most difficult and mysterious subjects we dealt with was how much everything was going to cost. No one talks about money. No one! It’s such an awkward subject. All of the wedding articles, forums, and former brides tell you that your starting point is to create a budget. But how do you create a budget when you have no idea what you should expect a wedding to cost in your area?
Online budget calculators are a joke because there will inevitably be several categories that aren’t important to you and your fiancé. And being told that the average cost of a wedding is $25,000 isn’t very helpful either because early on in the wedding planning process you insist that you will be the budget-saavy bride that is able to work your butt off DIY-ing everything in order to save money.
Not knowing how to go about setting a budget, we ended up randomly picking a budget of $3,000 thinking this was all we wanted to spend on a wedding and assumed it would be plenty. We figured we would just do a low-key wedding in the woods and everyone who wanted could come camping with us afterwards. It would be like one big family reunion with everyone pitching in to help and we would save tons of money on food, lodging, and a venue.
Little did we know that the photographer alone, one of the items we didn’t want to skimp on, would be double our random budget.
Little did we also know, that the moment you label something as “wedding”, the price is usually quadrupled. This applies for everything from the pretty white dress you will wear to the chairs you sit on. This seemed to be especially the case for Colorado, a popular state for gorgeous, rustic weddings, and also where we chose to have our destination wedding. This made it really difficult for us to determine what was a “reasonable” cost that we probably couldn’t avoid paying if we wanted a decent wedding, versus what could be considered absolutely ridiculous.
Well, turns out it was all the same. But still.
In the meantime, we also found out that doing tons of DIY for your wedding, to try to save money, isn’t always the most sane route and it’s easy to lose this ambition only a few months into the wedding planning process. The logistics of doing everything on our own for our “camping wedding” and trying to skip on a real venue to save ten or so thousand dollars, seemed like it might not be worth it. We decided that a wedding planner and a real venue were in order.
With this newfound knowledge in hand, we set out to do a ton of research to find the real cost of weddings that had been done in Colorado and to determine whether $3,000 was do-able if we were at least willing to make some sacrifices, such as not having a kick-ass photographer.
We scoured through tons and tons of wedding blogs and found vendors in the Colorado area that had good reviews and had work that we were impressed with from other couples’ personal photos and stories. We focused on the big ticket items that we hoped not to skimp on too much — wedding planner, photographer and venue — in order to get a good base cost on a rustic, outdoor Colorado wedding.
What we found was not happy news. It was going to be expensive and no where close to our original budget. We quickly realized why so many couples run off to Vegas to get married! It’s cheap and easy.
We figured we had two options now.
- Option 1: Increase our budget drastically and have our dream Colorado wedding
- Option 2: Keep our budget the same and watch our dream wedding fade away. Vegas, anyone?
Because we just couldn’t imagine having our lovely shindig anywhere but in gorgeous Colorado and wanted a cheesy, magical day to look back on, we decided on option 1. We also took into consideration the fact that we were only planning to invite no more than 50 people to our destination Colorado wedding, which would still help us keep our costs somewhat reasonable. And why not do it right and spoil the people that we are closest to and wanted to share our special day with us!
Based on our research of vendors in Colorado, we increased our budget to $25,000. This still required us to make many compromises for our dream wedding and to do a lot of DIY projects, but it didn’t feel as impossible as trying to plan a wedding with $3,000.
Now, you’re probably wondering how we went from a $3,000 budget to a $25,000 budget and why we didn’t just start at the $25,000 budget in the first place…
First of all, you never want to start your budget with an enormous dollar figure if you don’t have to (even if you have the money to blow). In the wedding business, you can easily spend several thousand in the blink of eye. It is a good idea to give yourself a modest starting point, even if it ends up being too modest and you have to increase your budget later. Finding the starting point of setting a budget is the most difficult and discouraging part, but if you set a reasonable figure and set a goal, you will find that it’s a lot less discouraging.
We also learned a little secret that a lot of couples probably don’t confess. When you see those amaz-balls weddings with venues alone that cost $10,000+ and you think to yourself there is no way some young couple could have afforded that on their own…. it’s because they didn’t. They likely — though not always — had mom and dad’s help to pay for their wedding.
Shortly after starting our wedding planning, we received a very generous gift for our wedding from hubby’s dad and a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders! There was no way we could have afforded the wedding we did without that generous monetary gift.
Although I want to boast that hubby and I budgeted, made tons of sacrifices, and afforded this wedding all on our own, it was nice having the wedding we envisioned that allowed us to invite all the guests we wanted and to spoil them and ourselves the way we wanted. Additionally, even with our generous monetary wedding gift, we still had to reach deep into our pockets to pay for the rest of the wedding.
Now, I’m definitely not going to say it’s impossible to plan a wedding on a budget of $3,000. Obviously it’s been done many times before, and for cheaper at that! But for us, we decided we would splurge to have a kick-ass, memorable wedding and in the end, we still thought it was worth it.
Because the most helpful method of determining a realistic budget for us was to see what other couples’ spent on vendors and projects, I wanted to share the costs of our wedding. Now that I have babbled on long enough, here are the numbers!
Venue Location: Breckenridge, Colorado
Total number of guests: 40 adults, 5 children
Final Cost: $36,000
Wedding Planner – $5,000
While a wedding planner is not essential, I had decided very early on in the wedding process that if we could afford it, hiring a wedding planner needed to go in the budget.
I wanted the wedding to be stress-free and I was only a few weeks into the wedding planning when I decided it was just too overwhelming for me to handle on my own. Having only attended one wedding in my entire life, and having no bridesmaids or friends to guide me through the process of planning a wedding, I was entirely lost!
Having our wedding planner, Kara Delay with Love this Day Events, on the day-of was without a doubt, worth its weight in gold. She was on top of every detail from getting our ceremony set up at 8 am to helping guests get on an unscheduled shuttle at 10pm. I didn’t have to help decorate, deal with vendors, or corral guests and I was a happy, care-free bride all day long.
Venue – $7,700
It may seem like we splurged here. But we didn’t. Our wedding planner found us our gem of a venue, which is actually a large ski vacation home called Aloft at V3 Ranch. This home is nestled in the mountains and woods of Breckenridge and has held a few weddings since the completion of its remodel. This venue allowed us to get the perfect scenic, outdoor Colorado wedding in the woods we had dreamed of and as a bonus, the venue served as lodging for us and a few of our closest family members for the whole wedding weekend, making it a mini-vacation!
Many of the well-known venues we checked out online in Colorado, such as cozy ski lodges, rustic barns, and fancy ranches had price tags starting at $10,000 and some as much as $25,000! To add to that price tag, many of these venues also had per person food and drink minimums that were several times higher than what we could afford to spend.
We could have recooped some of our costs for our venue by asking the guests who stayed with us pay a little money for lodging, but we didn’t think it made sense to ask for money from the people who we were just happy were there spending the weekend with us.
Photography – $5,000
I will confess this was a huge splurge. Hubby and I are camera whores and we knew that hiring amazing photographers was essential for the kick-ass party we were throwing. Occasionally I have come across a wedding that was photographed really well for “only” $2,000-$3,000, but I didn’t want to take a chance on the photography of our most special day. Decent photographers in the Denver area start at about $5,000 and can be as much as $8,000 for larger packages or more seasoned photographers.
Our photography package with Brinton Studios included two photographers (our photographers were a husband and wife team, which was great because we knew they would work well together as a team), six hours coverage on the day of, a CD of all our photos, and a professional, 20-page photo album. Our photography package (like many others) also included a short engagement session, which allowed our photographers to get to know us before the wedding and for us to get accustomed to taking awkward, fake photos before the real deal.
Also, it is important to mention that when you hire a photographer, you are not just getting someone that will point a camera at you and capture a moment, but you are hiring a tour guide that is going to take you to the most amazing and scenic spots in order to take a memorable and incredible photo and you are hiring a friend that will know how to make you feel happy and at ease in front of the camera and you are hiring a stranger you must trust to get all the details of the day you spent months planning.
Our photographers showed up in Breckenridge the day before our wedding in order to scope out scenic spots for our first-look photos. They also showed up several hours before the ceremony to check out lighting and even provided a last-minute suggestion to rearrange the ceremony spot, which ended up being one of my favorite decisions of the day because we had our ceremony in an area that was unlike any other wedding that had been done there before. And there wasn’t a single detail or element that our photographers missed on our special day. That’s priceless.
Catering – $3,000
Since we had our wedding in a small Colorado mountain town with limited and expensive options for caterers, we knew we would not have the opportunity to be very picky about the food for our party. Lucky for us, food was one of the items we were least opinionated about in the wedding process. We figured it was highly unlikely that someone would serve us food that was not edible.
We chose Ridge Street Kitchen for our catering, which was a small restaurant in Breckenridge that mainly provides freshly-prepared meals for take-out. We did a small tasting in their kitchen of some of the items that were not what we were planning to provide for the wedding, but was enough for us to decide to give the green light.
The breakdown of our catering included the following:
- $1500 for food for approximately 40 adults, 5 kids, and 6 vendors. This included 3 appetizers, plated salads, bread, and a buffet with 2 meats and 3 sides. The children had half-price meals with chicken fingers and fries. Vendor meals consisted of bagged lunches.
- $800 for labor
- $100 for taxes
- $600 for gratuity
Alcohol – $500
We provided wine, craft beer, and two signature cocktails for our wedding.
The $500 we spent on alcohol did not include the wine because this was gifted to us by hubby’s dad’s fiancé who owns a restaurant. She gifted us two boxes of red wine and one box of white wine as a wedding gift.
Hubby and his best friend spent about $150 towards ingredients to make three different craft beers at home a few months before the wedding. With the help of hubby’s friend, we skipped bottling the beer and brought three 5-lb kegs of beer to the wedding and kept them on ice until the day of the wedding.
Our biggest splurge for the alcohol was the $350 spent on ingredients for our signature cocktail for the guys, a manhattan, and our signature cocktail for the ladies, a margarita. We purchased about four handles of liquor for each signature cocktail, along with other mixers such as vermouth, bitters, and organic prickly pear margarita mix.
We ended up with plenty of alcohol for our party and needless to say, ended up with lots of leftover alcohol. Hey, we weren’t complaining! There was leftover beer in each keg, a few bottles of leftover white wine, an entire case of red wine, at least two handles of rye whiskey, lots of vermouth, and three handles of tequila.
DIY Decor and Crafts – $1,000
This was just a rough estimate from all the purchases I tried to keep track of because I couldn’t even begin to go into the details on how
we I spent money for all the decor, details, and DIY crafts. I really got out of hand with the details and crafting! This estimate included items such as wood slices, wood planks, paper materials, twine, wire, wood-burning pen, drink dispensers, marshmallow jar, cake topper, custom rubber stamp, wood ampersand, outdoor string lighting, and the list goes on….
Welcome Bags – $200
We spent about $120 on contents of our 20 welcome bags including chips, snacks, water, and gatorade. We tried to cut some costs in this category by shopping for these items at Costco, but some of the snacks were also purchased from World Market so that we could provide interesting treats.
We spent about $80 for the screen printing on the canvas bags as well as cardstock for making the paper inserts.
Rentals – $3,000
Since our big party was at a large house in the middle of the woods, we had a lot of rentals to purchase from the local rental company called Colorado Tents & Events. The most expensive item in this category was the tent rental which was about $1300 and included the equipment, labor, and tent permit. Other items in this category included tables for the reception, a drink table, an appetizer table, cocktail tables, linens (who knew linens were so expensive!!!), glasses, plates, silverware, and chairs.
Floral & Decor – $1,800
This category included all the floral and decor design that our wedding planner, Kara Delay with Love this Day Events, did for us, including the altar curtains and decor, floral arrangements for the ceremony aisle, floral arrangements for the reception tables, bride’s bouquet, groom’s boutonniere, and succulents for the escort card display.
We were only able to cut costs a little bit in this category because we didn’t have a wedding party and therefore we didn’t have to purchase extra boutonnieres and bouquets.
The costs of this category might seem a bit high because originally our wedding planner was contracted out to provide a lot more towards the design of the wedding and with only a few weeks to the wedding, I began to panic that our wedding would be void of fun details, so I stepped in a began creating a lot of DIY details that she was supposed to provide, such as signs.
Guest Shuttle – $100
Most of our guests stayed at the same hotel for the wedding – the same hotel that was providing a shuttle from the hotel to the venue. The other half of the guests were with us at the house/venue. This made it really easy for us because we only had to provide a shuttle for a few guests. The shuttle cost us $6 per person and was worth it to not have inebriated guests driving down the steep mountain at the end of the night.
Lodging for Wedding Planner – $200
Because we had a destination wedding in a small mountain town of Breckenridge, Colorado, we knew travel fees and lodging costs for some of our out-of-town vendors might be unavoidable.
Luckily, our photographers from Denver did not request lodging to be reimbursed, even though they decided to come to Breckenridge the day before and scout out sites for photos and they also left the wedding quite late. Our band from Winter Park, Colorado, also did not request overnight lodging on the wedding night even though they also left the wedding very late. Our officiant only required a small travel fee that was covered in his costs since he is used to traveling for weddings, and he was gone soon after the ceremony. And our caterer and cupcake maker were two of the only vendors we were able to hire in the nearby town of Breckenridge so they did not require travel fees.
However, we did have to pay for lodging costs for two nights for our wedding planner from Winter Park because she had to come the day before the wedding to meet with us, put together the floral arrangements, and set up early in the morning on the day of the wedding. Fortunately, our wedding planner was reasonable and did not demand a fancy jacuzzi suite with a mountain view, so we were able to book her at the same hotel our guests received discounted rates at.
Bluegrass Band – $1,650
Budgeting for a band was a VERY tough decision for us. Our wedding planner was really pushing for us to go the iPod route to save money, but since we were having our low-key welcome dinner at the venue the night before that all the guests were invited to, we didn’t want our wedding to feel like just another night at the same venue. In the end, we decided that we really wanted to splurge on the live entertainment and our wedding planner found us an awesome 3-piece bluegrass band called Hunker Down that played for our ceremony and a few hours during dinner and the reception. We were definitely glad we went with live entertainment for the wedding instead of the iPod option. And thankfully, after the band was done, hubby’s way-more-hip-than-us cousin hijacked the stereo with his iPod and had everyone dancing late into the night!
Officiant – $300
We thought it would be tough to find an officiant that was willing to officiant a wedding ceremony in the middle of the woods, but again, our wedding planner saved the day and found us an awesome officiant that fit our style completely and was willing to travel to our wedding.
We tried to save money by going with cupcakes instead of a cake, but I can’t say whether we saved money or not. The cupcakes from Sugar Breck cost us $3 each and we purchased 60 cupcakes for 45 people.
One thing we loved about choosing cupcakes instead of cake was getting to choose three different flavors of cake and not having to cut a cake. We ended up with about 10 or so leftover cupcakes.
Clothing & Accessories – $5,000
This included my budget-buster Modern Trousseau gown at $3800, alterations for my gown at $60, the groom’s custom-made suit from Indochino at $800, the groom’s wedding band at $50, and other accessories such as my dress hanger, earrings, hair flower, shoes, and a strapless bra and underwear from Aerie and the groom’s tie and cuff links. This category did not include my rings because both my engagement ring and wedding band were purchased when hubby proposed.
While I believe my dress was worth every penny, the sandals I purchased for $60 ended up being a waste of money because I didn’t wear them except during the first look photos. I made sure to take the advice of all the wedding blogs and broke in my wedding shoes prior to the wedding and even did our practice dance lessons in them, but I didn’t take into consideration that rhinestones and lace do not mix well. The rhinestones on my sandals kept getting caught on my lace dress so I ditched my shoes before I even walked down the aisle and no one even noticed!
Stationary – $700
I spent about $300 for our DIY save the date wood slices, $300 for our custom calligraphy invites from Etsy, a small amount on kraft cardstock for our DIY menus, and $100 on our photo thank you postcards from Mink. We could have definitely cut costs in this category (mostly by me not going through so many botched revisions of everything from the save the dates to our menus), but I love paper goods way too much to have skimped in this area and I cared way too much about delivering a final product I was completely satisfied with.