Here’s Every Single Dollar I Spent On My Wedding

Paying for a wedding is no easy task, and expenses can vary by tens of thousands, depending on size, location, and type of event. We asked one recent bride to spill the beans — anonymously, of course — on every wedding-related expense, from the marriage license to her gel manicure, at her recent North Carolina wedding.
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Visual resources graduate assistant at a public-university library (20 hours a week); barista (12 hours a week)
Age: 26
Location: Durham, NC
Annual salary: Hourly employee: $15/hour as a graduate assistant and $13.75/hour as a barista. Hourly wages calculate to $21,060 ($1,491.05 per month after taxes). My husband's wages calculate to $28,288 ($2,003 per month after taxes).
Number of bridesmaids: 1
We didn't hire a wedding planner. We planned our entire wedding (rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, reception, and next-day brunch) ourselves. We also didn't have an engagement party, a bridal shower, or a bachelorette party. We didn't have a DJ or ceremony musicians, either — we made playlists for the ceremony, hors d'oeuvres hour, buffet, and reception.

The Essentials

Marriage license: $70 ($60 to file our marriage license + $10 to obtain a personal copy for our records)
Engagement ring: About $200
Wedding bands: $405
=Total: $675
I'm not sure exactly how much the engagement ring cost, but it was less than $200 — it's a thin, yellow-gold band with a small diamond, from Etsy.

The Venue

The wedding ceremony and reception were held at the same venue, and the location charged one price for both events. Venue rental for wedding day: $500
Venue rental for the day before the wedding: $300 (for a six-hour rental from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Food fee: $25
Application fee: $15
=Total: $840
Our venue was priced at $50 per hour, at a minimum of six hours, or a flat fee of $500 for the entire day (from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m.). We paid for the entire day of our wedding, six hours the day before to set up everything, and a food fee to use the venue's kitchen. We also paid a refundable $200 deposit.

Rentals & Decor

Chair rentals for ceremony: $235.71
Lighting: $120
Ring-bearer pillow: $5
=Total: $360.71 Our venue rental included chairs and tables for the reception inside the space, but not food or extra chairs for our outdoor ceremony. The lighting included eight strings of clear globe lights from Target, and the ring bearer's "pillow" was a thrifted jewelry dish and silver tray.


Buffet lunch: $1,200 ($24 per person for 50 people, including two photographers' meals)
Waitstaff: $300
China and silverware rental: $336
Linen-napkin rental: $37.50
=Total: $2,060.85 (including gratuities)
We served a catered buffet of five dishes at the reception: falafel, grape leaves, hummus, spinach-chickpea warm salad, Armenian wild rice-cranberry warm salad, cold cabbage-and-spinach salad, and pita bread, plus pickles and olives. The waitstaff included three people for five hours each, at $20 per hour. The china and silverware rental included dinner plates, dessert plates, beverage glasses, wineglasses, dinner forks, dessert forks, and knives.

Additional Food Items

Appetizers: $150
Non-alcoholic drinks: $50
Shaved-ice stand: $250
=Total: $450
We also offered an hors d'oeuvres hour between our ceremony and reception. The items for that included crackers and veggies from Trader Joe's, plastic cups and paper napkins, and homemade cheeses, totaling approximately $150. We made three non-alcoholic drinks to accompany the buffet lunch for the reception, for an additional $50. We also rented a shaved-ice stand for the second dessert during the reception, since our only other dessert was wedding cake. No alcohol was served at any point during the wedding ceremony or reception. Our wedding was on county parkland, and we'd have to have a police officer present and pay for insurance to have alcohol. (And I did not want to see police on my wedding day!) The nonalcoholic drinks included blueberry-lavender lemonade, a rhubarb-ginger cooler, and green tea with lemon and echinacea from Trader Joe's.

The Cake

Cost per person: $3
=Total: $150

I made our wedding cake (two-layer vanilla with grapefruit-curd filling) and chocolate-mocha cupcakes with ganache filling for $150, including supplies like cupcake liners and garnishes. The cake and cupcakes were vegan, and we offered the shaved ice as a gluten-free dessert. There was only one guest who was gluten-free, and we had personally discussed offering her an alternative.

Flowers & Centerpieces

Bride's bouquet: $225
Groom's boutonniere: $15
Cake-decor flowers: $40
Bulk flower order: $589.31 (180 stems of flowers and 110 stems of greenery)
Centerpieces: $42 for six urns from Jamali Garden
=Total: $911.31
We used the bulk flowers to make our own centerpieces, to decorate the arbor for our outdoor ceremony, and in smaller vases to decorate the dessert and gift tables. We also made a flower-girl bouquet from our bulk flower order. The bridesmaid (maid of honor) did not have a bouquet, and the best man did not have a boutonniere.

The Dress

Dress: $65
Alterations: $20 to shorten the sleeves
Ear cuff: $20
Shoes: $65 (Manolo Blahnik mules from eBay)
=Total: $170
My wedding dress was a happy accident. I found it not long after my boo and I decided to get married, back when we were still living in NYC and didn't even know how we were going to afford a wedding. We were out in Greenpoint one day, and I decided to stop at Old Hollywood and just happened to see an ivory crêpe de Chine dress that was just cute enough for a casual wedding. It was a knee-length dress with lace trim and detailing, but was not marketed as a wedding dress. It fit me well, and I figured that, for $65, if I ended up not using it, it wasn't a big deal.

Beauty & Gifts

Foundation: $70
Gel manicure: $100
Gifts for maid of honor, flower girl, and officiant: $150
($50 each — pairs of earrings)
Gifts for bride's father, groomsman, ring bearer, and groom's father: $200 (luxury subscription boxes for $50 each)
Favors: $32 ($0.64 per person)
=Total: $552
We did our own hair and makeup, but I paid $70 for foundation. I got a gel manicure, along with the maid of honor, my mother-in-law, our officiant, and the flower girl.

For the favors, we made our own seed bombs, with a quarter pound of wildflower seeds for $10, small linen bags for $10, newspaper thrifted for $2, and a stamp and inkpad for $10.


Save-the-date cards: $30 on Vistaprint for printing and mailing
Invitation-suite design fee: $79
Invitation printing and mailing: $90
Signage and day-of programs: $18
for printing
Thank-you cards: $20 (four packages of nice thank-you cards from Target)
=Total: $237
Our good friend is a graphic designer and designed our save-the-date postcards as a wedding gift. We did not mail RSVP cards, and instead directed all attendees to RSVP via our website to avoid paying for additional postage and things getting lost in the mail. We didn't use table numbers or a seating chart. Our wedding was small, so we let people sit where they wanted, with the exception of the "reserved" bridal table, which had myself; my boo; our officiant; the best man, maid of honor, and their daughter; my boo's brother; and my sister.


Photographers: $2,100 for two photographers

Rehearsal Dinner & Day-After Brunch

Instead of paying for a rehearsal dinner, we reserved a room at a bar with food trucks outside for a "welcome dinner." The room reservation was $250, and my father-in-law had a tab open at the bar. I don't know how much it cost. The day-after brunch was just our immediate families getting lunch before they all flew home. It was for eight or 10, and I have no idea who paid, just that it wasn't us! =Total: $250

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