Wedding. Southern California. 100 guests. Under $10k.

I am a newlywed.  The #1 thing people ask me when they find out that my husband and I tied the knot in September, they ask, “are you relieved that all the planning is over?” To be honest, it doesn’t really feel any different.  Because I carefully planned out my wedding down to the last detail, no time ever felt super duper stressful.  I know in the coming years, most of my friends will be walking down the aisle.  So friends, here is my gift to you: a series on how I planned a wedding for 100 guests in Orange County, California for under $10,000.

The average wedding cost in the United States is about $26,500.  I lived in Irvine, California and I knew I wanted to have my wedding in my hometown.  The only problem?  The average wedding in Orange County is about $37,000.  As Chandler Bing once said on Friends, “I’m not going to spend all the money on one party.”

Today, I’ll discuss the initial steps of setting the budget.  In subsequent posts, I’ll go in depth about each individual vendor and how I managed to tackle all the budgets.

What I noticed amongst my married friends is that some of their budgets flew out the window when disorganization struck during wedding planning.  It was either forking over the money or losing their sanity.  So they often chose the former.  I think it is important to do the following in the proper order to ensure that you stick to your budget and don’t break it.

  1. Set a budget (a goal budget and a hard budget):  This one should be fairly simple.  Most couples make the mistake of doing the guest list first, and then realizing that they have to expand the budget.  No.  Trust me on this.  Set your budget first.  For me and my husband, $10,000 was our goal budget.  We decided to pay for the wedding ourselves.  At the time, I was teaching piano and he was still a graduate student.  We were saving our money to buy a new house.  So we set a modest budget of $10,000.  Now, $10,000 was our goal budget (which we actually met at the end).  But we were prepared to shell out up to $13,000 if necessary for any unforeseen expenses.  The $13,000 was a hard budget, meaning that under no circumstances would we ever exceed that number.
  2. Estimate the # of guests:  The average wedding will cost around $100/guest, depending on how “fancy” your event is.  But for now, $100/guest is a good place to start.  Got your budget?  Divide that by 100, and that should give you your # of guests that will be partying on your wedding day.  Ian and I knew that with our budget, our target # of guests was 100.
  3. Creating the guest list:  Did the number from #2 make you upset because now you can’t invite Betty or Steve?  Fear not.  A good rule of thumb to remember is that around 20-25% of your invited guests will likely decline.  This is especially true if your wedding is not on a long weekend or if your wedding location is somewhere obscure.  My wedding was considered “out-of-town” for a half of our invited guests, so we had closer to 30% of guests decline.

Next time, I’ll discuss how to create the most efficient spreadsheet for your guest list that will make wedding planning so much easier.

Additional tip:  If you are a Gmail user, I highly recommend using Google Docs for all your wedding planning.  That way, you and your future-spouse can both edit the documents at the same time, and you can view them from any device.  My husband and I were 2000 miles apart during the entire engagement, so that really made wedding planning easy for us in terms of communication.