Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 (Revised Edition)

Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 (Revised Edition)

by Kathleen Kennedy


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Become your own budget wedding planner with this classic book—fully revised and expanded to include advice on personalizing your event and using online planning tools
Designing a wedding that is priceless and perfect for you has never been easier. No matter how many guests you hope to invite or what kind of setting you choose, you don’t have to take on big debts to achieve your big day. 

For more than a decade, Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 has helped couples craft unique and meaningful celebrations while saving money on every aspect—even the high-ticket items. Completely revised, updated, and expanded with more than 25% new material, this edition reveals the secrets and resources for planning a wedding like a pro.  You’ll learn how to make every detail and every dollar count with:

·         All-new chapters on envisioning your ideal event as well as using online resources and apps to find the most creative options and the best deals 
·         A questionnaire to help you decide—as a couple—on your top priorities for the day
·         Strategies for making—and keeping to—a budget 
·         Dozens of unexpected ideas for booking a low-cost venue
·         Tactics for negotiating with caterers, florists, musicians, and photographers
·         Advice on which elements you can DIY to save thousands (without risking your sanity)
·         Menu plans, recipes, and many other low-cost alternatives for the food and drinks 
·         Tips for finding stylish attire at a fraction of the cost
·         Real-life couples’ wedding stories, including complete budget breakdowns
Priceless Weddings for Under $5,000 proves you can create a celebration that everyone remembers forever, and still end up with plenty of money for the happy future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804185769
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 12/15/2015
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 1,199,349
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

• Chapter One •

Ten Steps to a Priceless Wedding

Congratulations! Raise a glass and make a toast to your adventure into the world of wedding planning. By now you have probably called or texted friends and family to report the great news. Maybe you have an engagement ring or a date in mind. But what’s next? Where do you go from here?

To make your journey as seamless as possible, I recommend that you focus on ten key steps:

1.Craft a vision for your priceless wedding.

2.Determine your priorities.

3.Draft a realistic budget.

4.Create a timeline.

5.Research your options.

6.Keep a wedding notebook or journal.

7.Track all costs, deposits, and payments.

8.Finalize all of the details.

9.Execute with ease.

10.Relax and enjoy your wedding!

If you are raring to go, jump right in and start with step 1. Or consider reading through the entire book, then coming back to start the steps. There is no right or wrong way to proceed. What is important is to decide broadly what you want. Clarify what is most important. Get real about the budget. Then hone in on how to bring it to life. The following is a brief overview of all the steps.

Step 1. Craft a Vision for Your Priceless Wedding

This is the step that helps you decide what success looks like for you and your beloved. With a broad brushstroke, set down on paper the blue-sky ideas of what success looks like. When you think about the festivities, what do you want to remember most when it comes to the ceremony and reception? Use your imaginations to conjure up the idealized image of your big day.

Step 2. Determine Your Priorities

This is the time to decide what aspects of your ceremony, reception, and the vision you drafted are the most important. Once you have determined what is crucial to both of you—for instance, having live music—your priorities will help you decide where to splurge and where you might want to cut back. Add in the details that you already know now, too. For example, draft a guest list to plug in how many people you think will attend. And if you plan to wear your mother’s wedding dress and only need to pay for alterations versus buying a whole new wedding gown, make a note of that.

Step 3. Draft a Realistic Budget

Now that the word is out that you are tying the knot, have any family members pledged to help financially with costs? Have one or both of you set aside any savings? Can you count on part of your paycheck to cover expenditures? Do you need to consider additional creative financing options? Based on your budget, priorities, and any costs you may already have nailed down, you can estimate how much to allocate per category, such as food, location, clothes, and so on.

Rings and Things

If you are still searching for the perfect engagement ring, here are a few of the ways the couples I spoke with cut costs:

•Inherited a hand-me-down or a family heirloom from Mom

•Selected a stone other than a diamond, such as a ruby or a sapphire

•Used a birthstone for the center stone with tiny diamond chips on each side

•Picked out a ring at a pawn shop

•Bought a diamond from a wholesale jewelry mart

•Decided on an Irish claddagh heart-in-hand ring

•Purchased a ring at an estate sale

•Had a graduate art student make it for the cost of the gold

•Reset a ring or a stone they already had

•Designed their own matching ring set—without a stone

•Fell in love with an antique ring at a consignment shop

•Chose a silver ring instead of a gold or platinum one

•Bought a ring with both of their birthstones

•Bid on a ring on eBay

•Bought a ring off Craigslist

•Purchased on TV/online shopping networks, such as HSN or QVC

•Borrowed a ring for the ceremony and then purchased a ring while on their honeymoon

•Bought a smaller stone, planning to “trade up” every five years

One bride and groom, both previously married, had old gold jewelry from their past lives melted and molded into new hammered gold rings in a symbolic gesture of sharing their pasts and forming their new lives together.

Step 4. Create a Timeline

You will want to know how quickly you must make decisions. Timelines are going to vary a lot, depending on your priorities and the length of your engagement. If you are having a one-year engagement, you can be a lot more laid-back than if you decide to elope next week. Do note that if you have your heart set on a specific wedding site or other important details such as a designer dress, a favorite minister, or a specific band, nail those down first.

We had eight months lead time between our engagement and our wedding date. Our timeline looked like this:

8 months in advanceVision statement crafted, top 5 elements prioritized, budget complete

6 months in advanceLocation contracted, officiants enlisted, website started

5 months in advancePhotographer booked, dress ordered

4 months in advanceGroom fitted for tux, paper for invitations ordered

3 months in advanceShoes and veil purchased, florist chosen, gift registry done, wedding newsletter sent out, menu written, help hired, cake ordered

2 months in advanceMusic recorded for the ceremony and reception, ceremony and vows written, invitations printed and sent, dress fittings

1 month in advanceReminder cards sent, newsletter and website about weekend festivities created

The week ofWedding license secured, vows finalized, a dinner hosted for out-of-town guests

Post-nuptialsWedding announcements sent, thank-you cards written and mailed, website updated with photos and video

Step 5. Research Your Options

To create a wedding that truly reflects who you and your betrothed are as individuals—and as a couple—use the resources and exercises throughout the book to research options for every part of your special day from invitations and attire to flowers and favors. Chapter 4, Internet Inspirations, will be particularly helpful in brainstorming ideas and comparing prices. Research online, read the chapters and wedding scenarios, attend bridal shows, and call around to get pricing.

Step 6. Keep a Wedding Notebook or Journal

While you are researching and when you decide upon any aspect of your wedding, whether it concerns the ceremony or the reception, write it down either in a notebook or a wedding planner (see page 10), or print the details and add the page to the appropriate category, for example, invitations. Keep separate folders for estimates and final decisions. Jot down ideas that you brainstormed and notes from conversations with family, friends, and—especially—vendors. I must have made forty calls before an innkeeper who was fully booked on our date referred me to another inn that eventually became our wedding site. Even after seeing it, we didn’t book it on the spot. We took notes, compared it against other sites we saw, and eventually called and negotiated a terrific rate.

Make Your Own Wedding Planner

Create a binder to use for all of your wedding notes. The goal is to capture your priorities, your budget, ideas discussed while brainstorming, a record of the phone calls you’ve made, and any quotes received from potential vendors. To organize your receipts, price quotes, and brochures, it is helpful to add clear plastic pocket dividers to a three-ring binder. Or set up an accordion file with a section for each of the following topics:

1.Ceremony: words, music, vows

2.Reception: food, themes, flowers


4.Guest list, gift receipt list, etc.

5.Receipts, invoices, contracts, deposits

6.Other: websites, inspirations, etc.


Step 7. Track All Costs, Deposits, and Payments

It is important always to have a sense of where you are in relation to your budget so that you don’t overspend in one area without cutting back in another. Be sure to keep receipts and contracts in a safe place—and don’t forget to read the fine print. Set up payment schedules that will work based on your current and projected cash flow. As one friend put it, “It was really helpful that we didn’t have to pay for everything at once. We paid a deposit on our space and negotiated a payment schedule for the catering that we could live with. One month we bought the dress; the next month we booked our honeymoon.”

Step 8. Finalize All of the Details

As the wedding draws closer, you will have to finalize all of the details. This is usually when you decide on the invitations and when to send them, the flowers, the officiant, the vows, and the final guest list. Refer to the checklist on pages 351–52 to be sure you haven’t overlooked anything. Keep in mind that planning your wedding should be fun, not stressful. Practice the stress-busting tips in chapter 15.

Step 9. Execute with Ease

The goal is for you to bask in the love of your future spouse, friends, and family, both on and leading up to your big day. For the ceremony and reception, a key recommendation is to delegate as many tasks and responsibilities as possible to someone you trust. The last thing the bride or groom needs is to be worried about cueing the music for the walk down the aisle.

Step 10. Relax and Enjoy Your Wedding!

As I tell my friends and clients, “Don’t forget to breathe.” Planning your wedding is an exercise in delayed gratification, so it is extremely important that you relax enough to fully experience the day that you labored so hard over. It will be here and gone before you know it.

Keep in mind that not everything will go as planned. No wedding will ever be 100 percent perfect. Like it or not, some details may have to be rearranged at the last minute. Remember: Embrace the journey! At my friend Laura’s wedding, the flowers that were delivered were completely different from what she had ordered. At first she was irritated, but then she decided that in the scheme of life and in relation to the importance of the day’s events, flowers were not worth getting that upset about.

If at all possible, have a designated wedding coordinator to help direct the big day and attend to details that, as bride and groom, you should not have to think about in the midst of your celebration. This person will also serve as your “bad cop,” keeping all participants on course with your timeline. My maid of honor relished this role. She made sure that all deliveries went to the right place, that the wedding certificate was signed, and that everyone stayed out of my dressing room. Her help was invaluable. If something big went wrong, I had given her the go-ahead to make executive decisions. I wanted my focus to be on the groom, our marriage, celebrating the start of a new phase of our lives together, and on being present with all in attendance.

An All-American Barbecue

Kathleen and Gary’s Wedding on July 4

55 guests in Bolinas, California


1.Great food (many of the guests were chefs and caterers)

2.Location—we wanted it to be local (Northern California) and by the ocean

3.Casual, friendly atmosphere

4.Date—Fourth of July—the anniversary of the day we met

5.Memorable, stylish, and unique

I was twenty-nine and Gary was thirty-one when we tied the knot. Gary and I met on the Fourth of July, two years earlier, while boogie-boarding in the ocean. We decided to get married on the anniversary of the day we met, and we liked the idea that we would always celebrate our wedding date in tandem with a national holiday and fireworks. We had been living together for over a year, but this was the first time our families would come together, so we wanted it to be incredibly special. We also wanted the wedding to be in a place where all our guests could be really comfortable and where kids (we have six nieces and nephews) could have a blast.


We got married at a horse-ranch bed-and-breakfast that was on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The interior of the building was nicely decorated with antiques and had enough room to accommodate us inside in case of rain. The inn’s two guest rooms were perfect changing rooms for the bridal party and later served as the site of our first night together as husband and wife. The inn’s grounds were spectacular—acres of green grass surrounded by eucalyptus trees, a pool, the ocean view, and an amazing herb and wildflower garden. I walked through the garden arm and arm with my brother (who was giving me away) and met my groom in a gazebo under a redwood tree. During the reception, croquet and softball equipment were set up on the lawn for the younger guests, and after lunch we had dancing on the brick patio for all who wanted to partake.


Site and wedding night (a B and B)$750

Dress, alterations, and veil$395

Tuxedo rental$130

Food and beverage$1,650








Miscellaneous (disposables, favors, etc.)$250

Hairstylist (my splurge for me and my mom)$140



We had a very short ceremony, ten minutes in length. I warned friends and family not to be late, so that they would not miss the whole thing. Gary’s best friend was deputized as a California justice of the peace for the day, so he was legally able to marry us. I delegated wedding-coordinator duties to the maid of honor, Laura. She assisted with the ceremony, took care that details leading up to the ceremony went off without a hitch, kept the reception running smoothly, and read the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi (page 312) during the ceremony. My niece was a flower girl, dropping rose petals along the garden path, and my nephew followed as an adorable ring bearer. Our vows were adapted from Marianne Williamson’s Illuminata. (See pages 00–00 for the ceremony and vows.)


I wore a white lace bodice with a shantung silk skirt (a real steal at $275) and a short silk-trimmed sheer chiffon veil that hung from a barrette in my hair. Both Gary and his best man wore traditional black tuxedos. My maid of honor wore a three-quarter-length light-green silk dress that matched my rose-and-green color scheme.


We taped our favorite light-rock love songs for before the ceremony, some dancing music for after the ceremony, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D Minor for my walk through the garden. The selections included “Love Will Come to You” (Indigo Girls), “A Wink and a Smile” (Harry Connick Jr.), “Make Someone Happy” (Jimmy Durante), and “The End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” (R.E.M.).

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