Saying “I Do” with style—for less than $5,000

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When 20-something Ivelisse Estes, founder of the blog, Carnation Dreams, got engaged, the jitters she felt weren’t about her fiance Thomas, but about how they would pay for their wedding. Both of their extended families were supportive, but would be unable to help foot the bill, so Ivelisse realized early on that she and Thomas would have to pay for the event themselves. “I have student loan debt, and because he had to pay out-of-state tuition, he has nearly double,” she says. “I’ve seen friends try to pay for their wedding with credit cards. I didn’t want to start our marriage that way.”

So rather than jump straight into wedding planning, the couple sat down and had a frank conversation about financial planning: What mattered most for the wedding, and how could they stretch their $5,000 budget to get the most bang out of their limited bucks (and still enjoy a memorable day with their loved ones)?

That’s their budget (and they’re sticking to it)

“It sounds weird, but I got really excited once we decided we weren’t going into debt,” she says. Finding ways to fulfill their wedding dreams—without winding up in the red—was a fun challenge, in large part because the Ivelisse and Thomas agreed on most things. 

The first big savings the couple found was on the venue. Ivelisse had always hoped to get married in a botanical garden, but after visiting a few options she saw that plan was out of budget—by several thousand dollars. Then Thomas found a nearby state park that rented out areas for weddings for just a few hundred dollars, making it an easy choice over the garden or a traditional banquet room.

The lush outdoor scene didn’t require much decorating (which was another huge saving), but the couple still figured out low-cost ways to add their personal touches: writing a beloved movie quote on a chalkboard and DIYing mason jars with colored beads and carnations.

Another key step for the couple was being honest and open with their family and friends about what kind of event they were planning. As a result, more than one offered a supportive hand. A friend from church baked wedding cupcakes instead of a pricey tiered cake, two girlfriends volunteered to be wedding photographers, her mother-in-law put a down payment on the wedding venue and Ivelisse’s aunt helped her pay for her wedding dress.

“When I look back at the six months it took to plan the wedding, I have so many good memories and so little stress,” says Ivelisse. And because the couple was able to stick to their budget—thanks to lots of money talks and creative planning—they also started their married life without added debt. Ivelisse calls that bliss.

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