Our $9K ’70s-Themed Church Wedding For 140 Guests

Our vibe: David Bowie and yellow kitchens from the 1970s

Rachel, PhD Student & Justin, programmer

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: Casual ’70s daytime celebration.

Planned budget: $10,000
Actual budget: $9,000
Number of guests: 140
LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia

Where we allocated the most funds:

By far the largest chunk of our budget went to food. We both love burgers—we knew from the beginning we wanted to serve burgers at our wedding. We had five burger options, including a vegetarian and gluten-free burger, and a number of side items. We hired a local food truck that we had never tried before (yikes!), but we trusted the reviews, and they ended up being fantastic! The next biggest chunk of money went to our photographer, who we knew from another friend’s wedding.

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Where we allocated the least funds:

We did a lot of outsourcing to generous friends, and we DIY’d where we could. It was a group effort. The whole process of being dependent on other people was scary, but ultimately it made us feel so loved and cherished. It helped that we did not have an extremely strict vision, so we were able to let our talented friends just do their thing. The biggest cost-saving move was the venue: our church is free to use for members, so we used it for both the ceremony and reception. Bonus perks: that meant no transportation to coordinate and only one space to decorate.

We had friends volunteer to

  • do all floral arrangements. We covered the cost of the flowers, around $300.
  • play live music. We had three musician friends do live performances for the processional and the first dance.
  • DJ. We paid $200 for his trouble, but we had made the Spotify playlists ourselves.
  • MC. We asked a friend the week before when we realized we’d need some help with transitions.
  • do the bride’s hair. Rachel and another bride friend exchanged hair services for each of their weddings.
  • make the veil. Rachel’s sister made the flower crown and veil as a wedding present.
  • set up decorations in the church. A group of friends decorated on the Thursday and Friday before our Saturday wedding.
  • do stationery. Rachel designed the save-the-dates and invitation, and Rachel’s parents printed, addressed, and sent them.
  • officiate. We paid our pastor $200, which is a couple hundred dollars less than his normal fee.
  • contribute lawn games. We had giant jenga and cornhole.
  • day-of coordinate. Rachel and Justin had done music for a friend’s wedding, and that friend offered to be a day-of coordinator as a thank you.
  • record and edit a wedding video. We are friends with a film editor at Disney. We just paid for her flight to attend the wedding in exchange for her services.

Rachel also had friends help her make the paper flower wall, which cost about $80 in supplies. Rachel hand-calligraphied a white leather jacket that she already owned.

What was totally worth it:

Letting so many people help. Early on, we made a vision board for our wedding on Pinterest so that “friendors” would understand our vibe. There were lots of pictures of David Bowie, yellow kitchens from the ’70s, and sunny bees and butterflies. We’re also so glad we had a daytime wedding, for a number of reasons. First, we knew we didn’t want to serve alcohol, and people don’t expect an open bar at lunch. Second, neither of us are particularly good at staying up very late, so we wanted our wedding to be at a time in the day when we’d actually enjoy it. Plus, it really doesn’t take all day to get ready for a wedding, and rather than sitting around in the morning, we wanted to have time for just the two of us after the reception.

We also knew that it would be better for us to get legally married before our wedding date for immigration purposes, and looking back, that was such a good move. We were able to get married privately (in our pastor’s kitchen, on Halloween, in full zombie dress) and go on a nice date, just the two of us, to celebrate and process our feelings. A week and half later, at our actual wedding, we felt we were able to enjoy the day, our guests, and the celebration.

What was totally not worth it:

Rachel: In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t spent as much as I did on my dress (around $1200). I knew I wanted a simple silk column dress (why is that so hard to find?!). Ultimately, I could have gotten something similar for a fraction of the price pre-owned. I really do feel beautiful in it, though, so I’m going to chop the dress to ankle-length and wear it on anniversary dates in perpetuity. That’ll also make me feel better about the cost-per-wear of the most expensive clothing item I’ve ever purchased!

A few things that helped us along the way:

Google Sheets. We had a master Google Sheet for budgeting and for the guest list. The thing that helped us most with stress was, somewhat perversely, the convoluted immigration process. After Justin proposed, we picked our wedding date based on an estimate of when he would be legally allowed to move to the United States. He made it down three weeks before the wedding. The eleven months of our engagement were not idle: immigration paperwork is no joke, especially since we were navigating it without a lawyer and were constantly unsure if Trump would pass sudden sweeping immigration reform. Once we knew he’d have the appropriate visa to move down, wedding planning actually seemed like a relief. We knew we would be able to be together, and we just didn’t have the energy to care about the small stuff.

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Embrace the help. When we think about our engagement and wedding, we think about all of our friends and family who spent their time and talent to celebrate us. We felt so surrounded by love at our wedding, knowing that almost every part of it was only made possible by the love of our community. It was the most beautiful thing. Also, do your own thing if you want to do your own thing. Rachel really enjoys writing poems, so both our wedding invitation and vows were sonnets.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Rachel: My favorite thing was telling our “love story.” We met when we were both on vacation in Mexico, and we were both called on-stage for an audience-participation game. My dad recorded the whole thing. So we got to show a video of the literal first moment that we met. Then we told the story of our starting to date and falling in love, including a few of the mishaps and miscommunications along the way. People told us afterward that was the most fun and funniest thing they’d seen at a wedding. I mean, if you can’t tell your love story at your own wedding, when can you?

Justin: My favorite thing was getting to marry Rachel.

Something else We’d like to share:

These were our vows, a modern sonnet that incorporated a number of traditional elements:

In the presence of God
And of our community
I, [Name], take you, [Name] To make a bond of unity.
All that is sorrow and hardship
Together we will bear it
All that is good and pleasant
Together we will share it.
In service and respect,
My life I bind to you
In love and in joy,
[As husband/As a wife] to you
This is my solemn vow,
For all our future, starting now.


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