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According to bridal magazine Weddingbells, the realized cost of a Canadian wedding in 2014 averaged $31,685 for 128 guests. The average realized cost in the US is similar at around $30,000. In another survey by Canadian bank Bank of Montreal, couples on average planned on spending $15,000 for 100 guests.

What gives for the awfully large disconnect between how much couples plan to spend and how much they actually end up spending?

The culprit: Pinterest.

Just kidding.

In the same BMO survey, 40% of couples feel that they won’t be able to afford their ideal wedding. That’s staggering. While there are many hidden and last-minute costs to any wedding, there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t put your foot down on a realistic budget and prepare for those hidden, last-minute surprises. You want wedding bells, not wedding bills, and a good financial start for you both.

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Right from the beginning, my then-fiancé and I agreed to slash the expected cost of $30,000 in half. We shouldered all the costs ourselves (in cash!), splitting it between the two of us and not asking for any financial help from our families. We also agreed on a guest list of 80, which comprised of mainly close family (no further than cousins) and a few friends. With the two most important decisions of the wedding planning process made, I began drafting our budget. I took charge of all the planning because my husband didn’t want anything to do with it. LOL. He’s more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy who hates planning anything, while I am an extremely organized, Grade A planner.

I first consulted various sources online and books of how a $15,000 budget would look like (there are plenty of these available whatever your budget is) so that I would have an idea of how much I should allocate on all the different categories. I did this first so that I wouldn’t expose myself to anything I knew would be above my budget. This also allowed me to begin framing what kind of wedding we could afford, and not what kind of wedding we wanted to have.

Even if we didn’t have a limited budget, I knew we weren’t going for an extravagant wedding with everything under the sun.

No. Just… no. I don’t even understand why people want this sort of thing… and accept to pay for it! Ugh. It’s no wonder many go into deep debt in order to “afford” these kinds of weddings. And they look like they tried too hard.

While we both thought that $15,000 was nothing to sneeze at, I quickly saw how hard it was to stretch for the hundreds of things needed for a wedding (or at least what society has told us a wedding needs). I used this spreadsheet template in particular – I highly recommend this one out of all the ones I’ve seen and tried. In the planning stage you can enter your estimated expenses, then you can enter the actual costs when you’ve made a purchase. You can always see how much you’ve gone over budget to keep you in check. The categories were also very comprehensive.

I persevered, researched, completed DIY projects, and asked family and friends for help in order to save money. In the end we came reasonably close to our initial budget of $15,000, with our wedding costs totalling $16,026 for 75 guests.

My personal tip: Allot 10% of your budget for contingencies, something I learned from budgeting for a drilling program as a geologist. I was basically planning a $13,500 wedding but had room for unplanned expenses, like getting a decorator last-minute when I realized I didn’t have time to make 10 centrepieces with fresh flowers.

Another tip: Avoid going on Pinterest until you’re aware of what you can afford and you have a solid vision of the wedding. While Pinterest is useful for conveying your ideas to your bridesmaids, photographer, hairstylist, florist, etc. in the much later stages of planning, I don’t think it should be used as a starting point. At least that’s what I did to avoid disappointment and unrealistic, fluffed up expectations!

The following account is after the submission guidelines of both A Practical Wedding and Budget Savvy Bride (two websites I consulted many times) – maybe I’ll submit our version of How We Did It one of these days!

How we had a lovely wedding AND stayed on budget

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Summary of wedding vibe: Simple and intimate. Vintage meets rustic and outdoorsy. LOL. Do I hear Pinterest? (Isn’t it obvious I’m against it?)

We’re both geologists who love the great outdoors, so we wanted to incorporate as much of the outdoors in our wedding festivities. We had our wedding in the spring (April) and there was no way we were taking a chance to have our wedding outside!

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Where we allocated the most funds: The reception, of course. We wanted to keep our costs low here so we opted for a lunch reception (instead of the traditional dinner where people eat more). We had only wine with lunch and didn’t have an open bar because it wouldn’t make sense for a lunch time affair and it kept our costs reasonable. Our venue, The Glenerin Inn and Spa, had a luncheon package which included passed hors-d’oeuvres and non-alcoholic punch for the cocktail hour and a three-course meal for the reception itself for $69 per adult. We said no to their dessert and instead served our wedding cake plus a homemade white chocolate bark, which saved us $3 per person. They also had reduced pricing for children, teenagers, and vendors (no alcohol) where the savings really added up.

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Where we allocated the least funds: Hiring a videographer. We knew that our wedding video wouldn’t be cherished as much as our photos. I couldn’t imagine ourselves watching the raw footage in our spare time. Initially we weren’t even going to hire a videographer at all because of our budget. But I gave in and searched high and low for either students, amateurs, or professionals starting out in the business who were willing to provide their services at a very low cost. We paid $300 for our videography, vs. upwards of $1,000 for standard wedding day services.

Where we didn’t spend a dime: Luckily we had many talented and generous friends and family members who offered to help and provide for our wedding. Our friends hosted the programme, DJ-ed, and did my makeup as their wedding gift. Our families decorated the church pews with flowers, made our delicious favours, bought our gorgeous cake, and paid for our wonderful photographer.

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What was worth it: Aside from not hiring a wedding planner, it would be the bilingual stationery and vintage décor. I designed all our stationery myself on Adobe Illustrator (save the dates, invitations, ceremony programmes, reception programmes, menus, thank you notes – yup, all of these) then had them printed by either Vistaprint, Staples, or Optimalprint. We saved a lot of money this way as I had to make everything in English AND French, and it didn’t make sense to get stuck with 40 French invitations when we only really needed 10 to satisfy minimum orders from design-and-print businesses like Minted. The vintage décor we rented was also absolutely worth it as they added so much personality and uniqueness to our celebration.

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What was not worth it: All my worrying the night before the wedding and making sure everything was going right on the wedding day itself. Here’s proof 1 (about the hors-d’oeurves) and proof 2 (about the cake being plated with the chocolate bark).

What helped us along the way: All our family and friends who provided certain things or services for the wedding as their own gifts – we saved so much money! Gift cards and gift certificates from Christmas and my bridal shower helped bring our own costs down too. Finally, my 13-year old, artsy fartsy sister helped me a lot with all my DIY projects.

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Most memorable moment of our day: Reading our guestbook and all the cards together with my husband in our hotel room after the wedding. We felt incredibly touched by everyone’s love and support for us.

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Best advice you have for planning your wedding now that you’re on the other side: I honestly don’t have any regrets about how I went about planning our wedding. It was an enjoyable, frustrating, eye-opening, and exciting experience all together.

I am glad I know I will never have to do it again!

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Get our actual wedding spreadsheet here!

And see more of our wedding here.


Ceremony: St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish – 2300 Burnhamthorpe Road West Mississauga, Ontario L5L 3T6

Reception: The Glenerin Inn – 1695 The Collegeway, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 3S7 (contact Faye Kotcyk)

Photographer: Carrie Scherkus – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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