How We Had a Super Glam Australian Wedding for $10K

Sequins and fancy cheese. As you do.

Penny, public servant & Jason, small business owner

sum-up of the wedding vibe: Cosy autumn 1930s-ish vintagey glamor with a respectfully Catholic/atheist wedding followed by an elegant cocktail party.

Planned Budget: $10,000
Actual Budget: $12,000
Number of Guests: 50

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budget Breakdown

VENUE: $5700 (Including venue hire for ceremony and reception and a four-hour drinks and canapés package. We got a pretty good deal because May is late autumn in Australia, which is largely off-peak season.)
PHOTOGRAPHER: $1800 (Four-hours coverage starting two hours before the wedding, supplemented with more photos of the reception gifted to us by my bridesmaid.)
PRE-MARITAL COUNSELING: $240 (Compulsory for a Catholic wedding in Australia, but worth every cent.)
JASON’S OUTFIT: $160 (He already owned the tux, a vintage hand-me-down from his Dad, but it needed a few alterations and a new shirt.)
STATIONERY: $150 (A few printed invites and RSVP cards for older relations and a stack of thank you cards using a photo from our engagement photo shoot.)


Where we allocated the most funds

We spent the most on the venue, which included a four-hour drinks and canapés reception package, as well as venue hire and set up for both the ceremony and reception.

We had a cocktail style reception in part because we always feel that cocktail hour is the best part of any wedding reception, so we figured we’d just extend the best part all night. It meant we could have something that felt sophisticated and special, for a lot less than the cost of a three-course meal with a similar vibe. As an added bonus, we got to chat and mingle with all our guests, and we didn’t have to worry about doing a seating chart.

For the detail oriented, our canapé package included about ten regular canapés and three largish canapés (mini noodle boxes and pies) per person. With cheese and chocolates there was plenty of food and no one was left feeling hungry.

The photographer was our next most expensive item. We opted to pay for a good photographer for less time (four hours), rather than a cheaper photographer for more hours. One of my bridesmaids is also a talented photographer and she kindly took some extra photos during the reception and while I was getting ready.

We also spent a surprising amount on outfits. I figured the lower price point for a non-traditional dress, and Jason wearing his Dad’s tux, meant we weren’t spending much on clothes, but a shawl, jewelery, makeup, hair, and other accessories all added up fast.

We spent more than I’d really wanted to on the cheese stack we cut instead of a cake. When I was looking around for delis willing to sell whole cheese wheels for this purpose it was adding up to about the same price as a multi-tiered wedding cake. The lowest quote I could manage was around $500 so I asked the hotel if they could do something like what we wanted for around that price. They said yes and we ended up with an enormous stack of cheese, complete with crackers, fruit and ribbon decorations. We had no hope of eating all of it. We probably could have given them a budget of half that amount and it would have still been awesome.

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Where we allocated the least funds

Music. We used a series of playlists on an iPod for ceremony and reception music and had a friend in charge of pressing play at the appropriate times. Our awesome venue included access to their speakers for a small fee.

Invitations. We made up our own PDF invitations with some help from a free online tool. We printed a few on nice card stock for older relatives, but emailed most of them out. The best part of that was getting most of our RSVPs back by email within forty-eight hours.

My sister and I made all the bouquets and buttonholes ourselves with the handy APW how-to guides (thanks APW!). Since it was a cocktail reception we didn’t bother with centerpieces, we just put our bouquets in vases borrowed from the hotel. Even including a trial run we only spent around $120 on flowers. And now my grandma thinks I’m the cleverest person ever, which is an awesome bonus.

We also spent very little on decorations. Being in a beautiful art deco era hotel meant we really didn’t need to do anything at all to make it look good and feel special. I ended up making a decoration for the mantelpiece mostly so I’d have a craft project to do with a friend who couldn’t make it to the wedding and wanted to be involved. It cost around $30 in materials.

Instead of a photo booth we borrowed a friend’s Polaroid camera and let people take photos and stick them straight into our guest book themselves. We spent around $45 on film and glue.


What was totally worth it

Paying a bit more for a beautiful venue with everything included was probably the best decision we made. It reduced our decoration costs while making the whole event feel really special and significant. And it saved a major amount of stress. We didn’t have to worry about set up or pack up (apart from our gifts, cards, and bouquets) or other logistics. Having the ceremony and reception (and wedding night) in the same building removed the need to organise transport for us or our guests.

I’m glad we shelled out for a really good photographer. We didn’t have many photos of us together before we got engaged, and now we have many beautiful wedding and engagement photos that make me feel warm and fuzzy whenever I look at them.

Doing the photos before the ceremony was another good idea. We got afternoon photos when the light was at its best and we didn’t have a break between the ceremony and the reception. Apart from not leaving our guests hanging around for hours waiting for us, it also meant that we ended up hiring our venue and photographer for less time which reduced our costs.

I didn’t think I’d say it, but the wedding favors were also worth it for us. I got a big glass bowl from a dollar store and filled it with chocolates and put it on the guestbook table, which was hardly any expense or effort. But because we had cheese instead of cake it was the only sweet thing on the menu, so people gobbled them up (maybe we should have had more sweets). It also acted as an incentive for everyone to go to the guestbook table and sign the guestbook.


What was totally not worth it

We were pretty good about not spending money on things that weren’t worth it.

The main thing that was not worth it was trying to be a low-maintenance bride. I wanted to be the cool bride that didn’t care what the bridesmaids wore and wasn’t imposing on friends and family to make everything perfect. But it actually made things more stressful for people who were trying to be involved. I should have just sucked it up and asked our terribly helpful and organized friends to take care of packing up our cards and gifts and bouquets for us. They did it anyway, but I’d have felt less bad about it if I’d asked first. And I totally should have just picked the bridesmaid dresses. They’d have probably both been happier wearing an ugly dress that they knew I liked, and we’d have had more bonding time while dress shopping.

A few things that helped us along the way

Spreadsheets. In particular the APW planning spreadsheets. I filled in every detail I could think of and sent it around to everyone who might need to know.

Friends were lifesavers, especially those who stepped in (sometimes at the last moment) to fill in gaps and make sure everything ran smoothly. One very good friend stepped in at the last moment to act as wedding coordinator and make sure everything happened on time and little problems were taken care of without either Jason or me having to worry about it.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Stand your ground on the things that are important to you (like having both Jason and me walked down the aisle by our families), but ditch or go easy on anything that seems more trouble than it’s worth. The emotional stuff around weddings is hard enough already without adding frustrating crafts projects.

All you really need to get married are you, your spouse, someone to marry you and a time and place to get married in. Everything else is basically set dressing and after-party.

That said I have always felt that ritual is important. It’s worthwhile to take the time to make the important moments in life feel important. I wish I’d taken a bit more time out to spend with my bridesmaids and other important people in the days leading up to and following the wedding.


Favorite thing about the wedding

The speeches at the reception were my favorite part. I know they’re not everyone’s thing, but I loved them. They were touching and welcoming and were a great opportunity to reflect on our relationship and what our marriage means to both our families and where we fit in the bigger context of our families’ histories. It was so moving to hear how proud of us our parents are. Weddings aren’t just about getting married, for many people they still serve as a milestone in life and a milestone in your parents’ lives. As you get older there aren’t many opportunities for your parents to tell everyone how proud of you they are; about how great it is that you’ve got all your sh*t together and have a great career and have travelled and made a home and pay all your bills on time; how great it is that you have sorted out who you are enough to be ready to share that with someone else; and that the someone else you’ve chosen is equally awesome.

My other favourite thing was realising I was so excited about marrying Jason that I’d accidentally put extra letters in my own name when I signed the marriage register. Whoops.

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Anything else:

We generally enjoyed wedding planning and didn’t find the organising aspects particularly stressful. But I underestimated how much emotion getting married would bring up. In hindsight that should seem obvious, but I wasn’t prepared for the stuff about families, parents, friends, and other relationships that getting engaged dredged up. The intensity of dealing with all the other issues took me by surprise.



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