Now that you’re engaged, one of the happiest days of your life is on the horizon! Problem is, it could easily be the most expensive, too. The average wedding cost $28,000 in 2021. For reference, you could get a base model 2021 Ford Mustang for $27,865.
You probably don’t have a spare Mustang lying around (or at least, not one that you’re willing to part with to finance your wedding.) But that’s ok - because it’s totally possible to plan a beautiful wedding day for less, even as little as $5,000.
To help you out, here’s a budget breakdown for everything you’ll need to plan a $5,000 wedding, along with other money-saving tips to plan a memorable wedding day.
And no, this is not going to be the discount used car of weddings. You can still have every essential element of a traditional wedding if you’re willing to think outside the box - and roll your sleeves up for some DIY projects. Let’s dive in!
Photo by @westmoonphotography
Average Wedding Budget Breakdown
All right, so where does all the money go in this so-called “average” wedding bucket? The breakdown looks something like this:
- Venue rental - $10,700
- Flowers - $2,300
- Officiant’s fees - $300
- Marriage license - $60 average, varies by state
- Catering - $75 per person
- Wedding cake - $500
- Photographer - $2,500
- Videographer - $1,900
- DJ - $1,400
- Live band - $4,300
- Wedding invitations - $530
- Bridal gown - $1,800
- Groom’s attire - $350
- Hair and makeup - $250
- Travel Expenses - $900
- Wedding favors - $450
Ok, yes. That’s some serious cheddar. But before you start looking into elopement packages, let’s look at these numbers in a different way.
When you break each of these expenses down into percentages, it looks something like this:
- Venue, cake & catering - 50%
- Photography/videography - 15.5%
- Music/Entertainment - 10.5%
- Flowers, decorations, & wedding favors - 9.7%
- Wardrobe, hair & makeup - 8.5%
- Miscellaneous expenses - 4%
- Stationary - 1.8%
Now, all we need to do is shrink these percentages to fit your 5,000 budget. Granted, we might need to tweak things a little. Your venue might end up costing 60% of your budget, or your wedding dress might take up 10%. But that’s ok - because you can cut back on other expenses to compensate.
Here’s a breakdown of how you can pull off each of these wedding expenses for a total $5,000 or less.
A Word about Micro Weddings
Before we dive into the nitty gritty, let’s talk guest lists. The fact of the matter is, pulling off a $5,000 wedding is a heck of a lot easier when you cut back on invites. This is where the micro wedding comes in clutch.
Photo by @kevyndixonphotography
A micro wedding usually consists of 50 guests or fewer. Only your closest friends and family members make the list, which is perfect for a more intimate ceremony.
How do you whittle down the list if you have a big family or a lot of friends? Start by making a list of everyone who HAS to be there, then a second list of prospective guests you’re on the fence about. To decide who ultimately gets an invite, you and your partner can try asking yourselves:
- Have we talked to this person in over a year?
- Would we invite this person because we want to see them, or because we feel obligated?
- Would it be inconvenient for this person to travel to the wedding?
- If we invite this person, are we obligated to invite someone else? (IE. If you invite your Great Aunt Carol, will she also expect invites for her partner and kids?)
If you’re getting financial help from your parents or another relative for your wedding, you can ask for their input on the guest list. But if you’re paying for everything yourselves, that’s not strictly necessary. Once you’ve got the guest list all sorted out, you can dive into other aspects of wedding planning.
$5,000 is a decent chunk of change. Still, when the average wedding venue costs $10,400, more than double your budget, it’s easy to feel discouraged right off the bat. While you might not have luck convincing a manager to rope off half their venue space for you, you can find plenty of alternative wedding venues for a low cost, such as:
- City Hall - A simple city hall ceremony can set you back anywhere from $25 to $100.
- A Church or Religious Organization - If you or your partner are members at a church, mosque, or synagogue, you might be able to use the space for free or a small fee.
- Colleges and Univerisites - If you or your partner are alumni, you might have free or discounted access to your school’s event spaces.
- Parks - National Parks are totally free, and you can potentially rent out a pavilion for somewhere between $50 and $200.
- Beaches - Plenty of public beaches allow weddings for free. But some states might issue a beach wedding permit for $100-$150.
- A Private Club - If you’re a member of a local club, you could potentially use their event space for free or a small fee.
For another awesome venue resource, check out Peerspace. They’re great for budget-friendly weddings, since they allow you to rent venues by the hour instead of by the day. How does that help, exactly? Because if you only want the space for 5-8 hours, then you’ll only pay for those hours.
And when you consider that the average wedding venue costs $175 an hour on Peerspace, that means you can have 6 hours in a space for $1,050, plus any cleaning fees. That’s plenty of time for an epic ceremony and reception.
Budget: Let’s set aside $1,200 for a venue.
At an average of $75 per person, you could spend nearly $4,000 on catering alone. So what are you supposed to do if you can’t spend that much? Draw straws and see who gets a plate of food? Not necessarily.
Photo by @julietmaceyphotography
Bear in mind, $75 per person is for traditional full-service catering - the fancy kind with wait staff. If you don’t care about the formality, there are plenty of more budget-friendly ways to feed a crowd, like:
- Drop off catering - Average cost: $600 for 50 people. Have a local restaurant drop off food orders at your reception venue. Everyone gets to choose their meal, so you don’t have to worry about picky eaters.
- Buffet - Average cost: $1,250 for 50 people. Arrange a self-service buffet from a local caterer. Everyone can help themselves to as much or as little as they like, and you can take home the leftovers afterward.
- Food truck - Average cost $800 for 50 people. Food trucks are essentially caterers on wheels and are easy to rent for events online. Plus, how adorable would it be to take wedding pictures with one? Especially if you choose a retro trailer and your wedding is vintage-inspired.
Total Budget: let’s allot $800 to feed 50 guests with a food truck.
“Let them eat cake,” -Marie Antoinette
Well, if you insist. The average wedding cake costs $500 from a bakery. Which is… actually pretty feasible for a budget of $5,000! But there’s still an opportunity here to save a little extra dough (or should it be batter?) The exact cost of a wedding cake can depend on several factors, such as:
- The number of tiers
- The complexity of decorations
- The number of flavors
- The experience level of the baker
You could potentially dial back the price by choosing a simpler design, or going with fewer layers since your guest list is shorter. And no offense to Madame Antoinette, but you don’t have to serve cake at your wedding, either.
Single serving desserts can be more economical from a bakery. Some options to consider include:
- Cupcakes - usually ranging anywhere from $20 to $50 per dozen.
- Donuts - anywhere from $8-$30 per dozen.
- Cream puffs - $15-$33 per dozen
Photo by @ryannwinnphotography
Not only can these options help you enjoy a more budget-friendly wedding sweet, you can get a unique statement piece for your reception. One word - yum!
Budget: Let’s budget $300 for cake or any dessert of your choosing.
Ask any wedding planning expert about budgets, and they’ll almost always agree - the one element you shouldn’t skimp on is photography. After all, if you’re going to be hanging these photos above your mantle for the next 50 years, you want them to look nice.
Photo by @madisongracephoto
“Ok,” you might say. “But hear me out: that’s expensive.” And you’d be right. At an average of $2,400, wedding photos from a pro photographer can easily eat up almost half of your $5,000 wedding budget. But let’s look at that number a little more closely.
A lot of photographers will stay with you for your entire wedding day - from the time you get ready until you boogie out the door at your reception. As a more budget-friendly alternative, some pro photographers might offer more basic packages that only cover a few hours of shooting, allowing you to get the important pics in without going over budget.
Photo by @Mayapapayapictures
Also, no one says you have to go with a professional. Student photographers need work, too. They usually charge less for their services - anywhere between $50-120 an hour, according to Fix the Photo. If you can find a student photographer that charges $100 an hour, you could get a whole 8 hours of coverage for $800. Sounds like a picture-perfect solution! … Get it? Yeah, thought you would.
Budget: Let’s set aside $800 for a student photographer or a basic package from a pro.
In the so-called “average” wedding, your wardrobe takes up about 8.5% of the budget. We’re tweaking that a little and making it 12%, giving you $600 to find new duds.
If you split that in half, that’s $300 each to dress yourself and your fiance for the day. Ok, don’t spiral. It is possible to find a dress for that amount. You just have to look outside the bridal salon.
Plenty of department stores sell formal dresses off-the-rack in white. You can look into secondhand sites for wedding gowns, which can help you get a nicer gown for cheaper than you could brand new. Options to consider include:
- Nearly Newlywed
Another option? Just rent your outfits. You can find recommendations for our favorite rental sites for bridal gowns and suits on our blog, How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget of $1,000.
Photo by @katherinerose.co
Budget: $600 for new or rented attire.
DIY Your Hair & Makeup
With your outfits sorted away, it’s time to complete your look with hair and makeup. This expense normally goes for $250 for a professional to style you for the day. So, you could totally swing this if it’s a priority!
Photo by @julietmaceyphotography
If it’s not, then there’s an opportunity to save here by doing your own hair and makeup for the day. You’ll get to put your influencer skills to the test and finally apply all those Tiktok tutorials you’ve been hoarding!
Budget: Let’s budget $100 for some new goodies, like a new eyeshadow palette or curling iron. (Treat yourself.)
Faux Flowers Are Your Friend
“I must have flowers, always and always,” -Henri Matisse.
Matisse definitely knew what he was talking about. Not only are flowers an amazing way to enhance a painting, they help your wedding venue look like a painting full of color and elegant vibrance.
Flowers cost an average of $2,300. But no one says your flowers have to come from a florist. Enter, the faux floral advantage.
Faux roses can be four times cheaper than the real thing. Plus, artificial flowers give you the advantage of DIY. You’re not paying someone else to do the work for you - you can pocket that dough and use it to fuel more DIY materials for your creative fire.
You can find gorgeous faux flowers and greenery designed with DIY projects in mind at Ling’s Moment. You can wing it with a designer flower box and a DIY tutorial, or go for one of the DIY kits designed to help you.
Budget: Let’s allot $560 for DIY faux flowers, greenery, and other materials.
We’ve talked about the power of the e-vite before, along with our favorite sites to create and send free wedding invitations digitally. But for $5,000, you can afford to send invites the old fashioned way - through ye olde snail mail.
Instead of recruiting a pro to create and send them for $530, put your DIY skills back to work and print out an invitation template from the internet. Free sites where you can download and customize printable invitation templates include:
- Cards & Pockets
- Greetings Island
- Paper Source
- Etsy (Seriously, some sellers make downloadable templates, although you’ll pay a fee.)
Find your favorite invitations and print them on cardstock paper. You can find a pack of fifty 8x10 cardstock sheets from a craft store for around $6. Depending on the size of your invitations and how you have your printer centered, you could potentially get RSVP cards out of the same sheet. But let’s buy two packs of cardstock - just in case the printer eats an invitation.
Photo by @ryannwinnphotography
As for postage, that typically runs $0.58 for a standard envelope these days, but you’ll need to double that if you’re including return postage for RSVPs. And if your invitations use extra heavy cardstock, you might need to weigh them at the post office first. Just to make sure they meet the weight limit.
Budget: Let’s allot $90 for cardstock, postage fees, envelopes, and any extra embellishments you want to add, like ribbons.
“Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul,” -Plato.
Right on! But if you want a professional DJ to supply the rhythm and harmony at your reception, you’re looking at an average of $1,400 for the night. But again, anything worth doing is worth doing yourself for way less.
DJ equipment rentals can start at as little as $125 an hour, with more advanced packages going for a few hundred dollars. All you need to do is recruit a talented friend or family member to work the turntables or laptop for you. Alternatively, you could skip the equipment altogether and employ a little help from your old friend DJ Spotify.
Photo by @julietmaceyphotography
Some professional DJs might take issue with the suggestion that you can automate their job with an iPhone. But let’s be honest here: you totally can. Obviously, you won’t have the charisma or a real person conducting the party. But if all you care about is the music, you can just curate a wedding playlist, then connect it to a few Bluetooth speakers or your venue’s sound system.
Budget: Let’s allot $250 for a two-hour rental with basic DJ equipment. But you can skip this expense if you’d rather have a Bluetooth speaker.
Remember the Miscellaneous Expenses:
Now that we’ve got most of the major elements of the ceremony and reception taken care of, let’s talk about the miscellany.
Of course, you’ll need a wedding license to get your whole wedding shindig off the ground. The cost varies from state to state, but the nationwide average is about $60. You’ll also need an officiant for said shindig.
An ordained officiant’s fees usually average around $300. Still, in some states, an officiant doesn’t need to be ordained to conduct a ceremony - meaning one of your family members or friends could do it for free! It’s also possible to get ordained online for free or a small fee - usually around $50 or so.
Photo by @noblephotoco
Additionally, you could encounter plenty of other miscellaneous expenses cropping up throughout the day, such as:
- Table & Chair Rentals
- Delivery fees
- Travel expenses
- Cake cutting fees (Which is why single-serving desserts are awesome!)
Let’s set aside some extra cash here to deal with any of these hiccups.
Budget: We’ll allot $300 for your wedding license, a tip for your officiant, and any extra expenses that might crop up.
So what’s the damage here?
- Venue, Catering and cake - $2,300 (46%)
- Photography - $800 (16%)
- Entertainment - $250 (5%)
- Wardrobe - $600 (12%)
- Hair and makeup - $100 (2%)
- Flowers & decor - $560 (11.2%)
- Stationary - $90 (1.8%)
Bringing us to a grand total of $5,000 on the nose.
Bear in mind that this is just an example budget. Your mileage on each element may vary. And hey, no one says you have to stick to the percentage formula here.
If you don’t care about having DJ equipment, you can outsource this expense to a Bluetooth speaker and put that money into something you care about more - like your wedding dress. On the other hand, if you’re able to save money by wearing an heirloom family wedding dress, maybe you can use that money to hire a pro DJ and have the dance rave reception of your dreams.
Photo by @madisongracephoto
It’s all totally customizable, and you don’t even have to skimp if you play your cards right. So now that you’re deck is full with knowledge, go out and conquer the world! Or just your wedding, whatever you have time for.