As I’m writing this, my wife and I are celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary. Yes, it’s been four years since we said our vows in front of a handful of guests in Las Vegas, Nevada before starting our new lives together. Since that day, we’ve had plenty of adventures together — many of which I’ve chronicled on this very blog. Still, one story I haven’t fully told is that of the wedding itself. More specifically, how we managed to pull off the entire event for just about $2,000.
I never understood why so many couples went into debt or spent their life savings on weddings; it seemed that money could be far better spent. Thankfully, my bride-to-be was on the same page, with the two of us even considering an elopement for some time. Eventually those plans got slightly upgraded but we still kept our budget small, while including everything we wanted from a wedding.
So how did we do it? Here’s a breakdown of each of our expenses and some tips for how you too can have a great (small) wedding on a tight budget:
Although there were only a dozen people present at our wedding, we sent out nearly 100 invitations. Well, calling them invitations may be generous — perhaps a “save the date” or “announcement” is more apt. These postcards featured a photo of us (taken by her sister) on the front along with our nuptial date and time. The back elaborated on said details and also included our new address and honeymoon plans just in case anyone wanted to send us a little something.
Between the cards themselves and the postage required to send them out, this was the first $100 we spent ahead of the wedding.
In all honesty, I had never really paid much attention to people’s wedding bands before I got engaged. I remember my father’s was a basic yellow gold that didn’t really appeal to me. So, in an effort to find something different, we decided to shop Etsy.
At first, it seemed like this clever plan of ours might not work as many of the shops we found on the site were generic and even identical to others. However, on about the 30th page or so, we finally found a shop we liked. On top of the creative style of the ring’s outer band, the creator also allowed you to customize the inner loop with whatever color you wanted. We were sold on this idea and purchased a set of two rings for $190. While the inside color faded and eventually disappeared after constant wear, four years later, our rings still look great.
Dress and “tux”
According to a study by The Knot, brides spend an average of $1,564 on their wedding gowns. However, my wife spent about one-tenth of that for her nuptial attire.
First, instead of getting a more traditional wedding dress, she shopped the “special occasion” section and found an ivory dress for just under $100. Then came the shoes, which posed a bit of a problem, as they would need to be dyed to match said dress. Still, even with the dye job and some alterations made to the dress itself, thanks in part to a 20% off coupon, the bill came in at about $170.
As for my threads, I was actually able to don a slim fit suit I already had on hand, having recently purchased it for a big TV prom scene I was an extra in. While I didn’t include this cost in my wedding grand total, the jacket and pants were both purchased from H&M, so they too were only about $150 at most. The only special touch my look received was the boutonniere that, as you’ll see, came included with our wedding venue package.
When people here that you were married in Vegas, they surely picture a drunken and spontaneous evening topped off with a quickie ceremony performed by an Elvis impersonator. I hate to burst your bubble here, but none of those clichés applied to our experience.
Our ceremony was held at the Excalibur Wedding Chapel at the Excalibur Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Although the Excalibur may not be one of my favorite hotels on the Strip, its south-side location did put it next to some preferable spots like the Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, and the New York, New York (and meant I didn’t have to drive too far down the Strip itself). More importantly, this location had some of the lowest rates we found, even when compared to some of the famously tacky chapels to be found in Sin City.
Despite my father being a little worried when I told him the hall to the chapel was located just beyond the food court, the Excalibur chapel was actually quite lovely. Thanks to the unassuming hallway that leads to it and the attentive staff that keeps out riff-raff, the area was quiet and welcoming, with the chapel itself being tastefully decorated. Quite honestly, if you didn’t know it was a casino, you might have thought it was just a small room at a church.
But, anyway, how much did it cost? We chose a package dubbed “I Do” that was just $205. As I mentioned, this also included my boutonniere, my bride’s bouquet, and a few other extras I’ll get to in a moment. The venue also provided a minister, although his services added another $55 to the tab. Now, we didn’t get to choose who would be officiating the ceremony itself, but we did get to select whether we wanted a Christian ceremony or not (I believe other faiths were available if pre-arranged but I’m not 100% sure). Also, for the record, the officiant we were assigned was fantastic.
Did I mention how completely sans stress our wedding was? Pretty much everything we would normally have to think about was handled by the Excalibur Wedding Chapel, leaving us to just show up. But there is one other important step you must take if you want your marriage to be legal: obtain a license. Fortunately, in Las Vegas, that was pretty painless as well.
Clark County actually allows you to pre-apply for your marriage license online, providing all of the information you need. It should also be noted that there’s no wait period or blood test required. After applying online, all we had to do was visit their location downtown, provide our file number and identification, and pay a fee, which I believe was around $60 at the time (now up to $77). With that in hand, we were ready for our big day.
Photography and videography
Like I said, the chapel really handled a lot of the logistics and also included some extras in our $205 “I Do” package. One of those inclusions was a photographer who would not only snap pictures of our ceremony but also take us to a studio immediately after to get a few special shots. With our package, we were entitled to choose a total of four 4×6 photos from these shoots, although we ended up also electing to purchase a gorgeous 8×10 from our studio session. That photo plus the frame we added tacked another $100 to the bill, but it was a must for us. By the way, should you or your family want more photos after the fact, they also provided us with a site where all of our images could be viewed and purchased for a couple months.
The other feature we added was live streaming video. This allowed the 90-something people we send invitations to that weren’t attending in person to watch the ceremony as it happened or view it on-demand (we even included a TinyURL on the invites so people could easily find the stream). There were a few different options for this add-on depending on how long you wanted to rebroadcast available, but we opted for the $89 package that would keep the video up for two months. As it would turn out, this extra expense was worth every penny and we loved getting reports about some of the peculiar places people viewed our wedding from.
Our reception was a bit different than your typical event. There was no band or DJ, no speeches, and no first dance. Instead, the dozen of us headed to the neighboring Luxor Resort and Casino to dine at Rice & Co.
Still in our formal attire, we were seated at a large table in a “semi-private” area of the restaurant, meaning there were only a few other diners around us. Everyone was able to select their appetizers and main courses off of the menu like normal, with everything from potstickers and spring rolls to pad thai and Peking duck coming to the table. All of this, including a tip, came to just under $600 — a bill our parents generously offered to split (although we’ve included it in our $2,000 calculation).
As for dessert, at the time we made the reservations, we arranged for custom cookies to be served instead of the traditional cake. These sugar cookies were iced with custom colors and piped with our names and wedding date. We ordered a baker’s dozen so each guest could have their own and we’d still have one to save for our first anniversary. At $6.50 a piece (for a total of $84.50 plus tax), these cookies weren’t exactly cheap, but they were a big hit and more manageable than a full-blown wedding cake.
Since we did end up having guests, we figured we should thank them for their attendance by giving them a little gift. Seeing as my wife is a huge fan of building puzzles, we landed on the idea of creating custom mini-jigsaw puzzles featuring photos of us through the years. I was able to create the design using various free programs and we decided to order a total of six puzzles — one per household, essentially. With shipping accounted for, these gifts cost us just under $100 and, once again, were well received (and appreciated) by our guests.
If there was any part of our wedding that I might consider a splurge, it might be the hotel room. Well, I suppose a real splurge would be getting a penthouse suite at the Bellagio but, for us, a small suite in the pyramid of the Luxor would suffice. As I mentioned, this hotel was located right next door to our wedding venue and in the same building as our reception dinner. This was not only convenient but the room itself was nice, even sporting its own hot tub near the slanted window (it is a pyramid, after all). With the discount code provided to us as part of our wedding package, this cost us just over $200 for the night.
Unlike most couples, we didn’t set off on a honeymoon the day, week, or even month after our wedding. Instead, we choose to visit Tokyo, Japan in April of 2014 — a full six-months after we were wed. This decision was made partially because the gap would give my new bride time to get settled at her job in Los Angeles before we set off on vacation but also allowed us to book our trip without going into debt. How? Well, we were able to use the money friends and family gave us as wedding gifts to pay for the honeymoon.
Since the honeymoon is not part of the actual wedding, we didn’t include those costs in our $2,000 total. But, I have to say that this strategy of delaying our honeymoon and paying for it entirely with checks bestowed upon on was another smart financial move on our part. Besides, Tokyo in April is gorgeous so waiting was well worth it.
Four years after our small, budget-friendly wedding, my wife and I have no regrets about our decision to keep things low-key. In fact, it was really the perfect way to start our financial lives together and has allowed us to live happily debt free. So while a big wedding with all the bells and whistles may be a must for some, I’d recommend our Vegas alternative to any couples willing to listen.