How We: Planned an Outdoor, Bay Area Wedding for Under $10K

Made possible through six degrees of separation

Matt, Senior Valuations Analyst & Rachelle, Land Tech

One sentence sum-up of the wedding vibe: A casual outdoor celebration with great people, pretty flowers and tacos!

Planned Budget: The budget was a moving target as we and our family saved up. Our original thought was $5,000 (HA!) but we ended up with $10,000.

Actual Budget: The final total was $9,219.83, including everything but the honeymoon. I was insanely detailed with tracking expenses, as evidenced by the 83 cents.

Number of Guests: Invited: 89; Actual: 75

Where we allocated the most funds

Catering, the venue, and the dress (including alterations) were the three largest line items and made up almost half of our budget. Finding a venue and food in the Bay Area on a strict budget was HARD and made even harder because we were planning from Denver, where we live now. Matt’s mom ended up stumbling across this fountain store with a beautiful garden area they rented out after hours for a reasonable price. We went with the cheapest possible option we could find for catering, and it was still the single largest expense even without drinks or rentals.

Where we allocated the least funds

We had some seriously amazing friends and family donate their talents to make what are typically huge expenses either very low cost or entirely free. Our photography was done by a wonderful college friend who has a side business that (in her words) is a hobby that pays for itself. Her generosity literally saved us thousands of dollars and her skills with a camera go well beyond what I would call a hobby!

The maid of honor’s mother is a florist and gave us the most gorgeous and fragrant bouquets and centerpieces that we would never have been able to afford. Rachelle’s mom used her baking and decorating abilities to make our wedding cake and spent so much time making all the perfect little orange sugar flowers. We don’t want to know how many she threw out because they weren’t up to her standards! Matt’s friend got deputized and officiated the ceremony, Rachelle’s ring was gifted by Matt’s grandmother, bridesmaids played DJ and coordinator, a friend’s brother bartended, Rachelle’s sister designed the invitations and has an art school friend with a letterpress studio, and Matt’s dad knows the owner of a rental company.

Long story short, ask around while you’re planning a wedding because you never know who you know! We were told point blank by wedding planners that a Bay Area wedding with dinner for seventy-five people on a Saturday night in September was not possible for under $10,000, and it wouldn’t have been if we didn’t have these connections. Before you blow off our budget as unrealistic because of that, just know that we had no idea we knew all these people before we started planning. Six degrees of separation, people!

What was totally worth it

The venue is one place that connections aren’t necessarily a huge help. Even if someone has the space for you to use, the added costs of transportation, parking, and having to rent a tent, furniture, and restrooms turned out to be more than a lot of venue rental fees that include this stuff. Our venue was priceless! It was centrally located to both of our families, it held the exact number of people we wanted, and it was truly beautiful. The owner and her staff were so helpful and sweet.

We love food, and a good caterer in the area is typically around a hundred dollars a person once everything’s included. Once we shifted our expectations from a sit down dinner to something delicious and filling, but not necessarily fancy, it brought the cost down significantly. We considered food trucks, but tacos were actually cheaper. Everyone loved the freshly cooked meats and quesadillas and we’ve had so many people ask for their information since. Plus, the “splurges” to upgrade the menu were things like guacamole and fruit salad and only added a few dollars per head.

We didn’t spend a lot on decorations, but that stuff has a huge market and we were able to sell most of it after the wedding—note that we didn’t factor the money we got back into the budget. The ribbon backdrop was cheap and quick (the bridesmaids put it together while we were getting ready that morning) and it ended up being really pretty!

What was totally not worth it

Thinking I could do it all myself. Hiring a planner or coordinator seemed so unnecessary, and I was pretty turned off by the idea after the negative experience with budget shaming. There are a lot of moving pieces to a wedding, and as a bride (or groom) you’re too busy getting ready, saying vows, taking pictures, and partying to deal with everything. Unfortunately wedding zen never took over, and I was pretty disappointed about the wasted time and money on things like rented flatware and favors (mini Reese’s with little “Mr. & Mrs. Reese” stickers on them. Guys, they were so cute!) that never got used because they were forgotten about. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our wedding, but the stress of handling all the little things that came up took away from it in a big way. Honestly, the cost of a day-of coordinator would have been worth not having to stay sober and clean up in my wedding dress at the end of the night.

A few things that helped us along the way

We could basically just copy the whole “where we allocated the least funds” section here! Our families were so generous in giving us funds for the wedding and doing the in-person tasks while we were planning from out of state. APW, of course, helped us keep everything in perspective and realize that our wedding really didn’t have to be like all the other weddings we’ve been to.

My best practical advice for my planning self

Ask people for help. You wouldn’t believe what they’re capable of and willing to do, but they don’t want to seem pushy by offering. Then save on some of the expensive things and hire someone to deal with everything on the day of because you and your people should be able to enjoy it.

Favorite thing about the wedding

Right after the ceremony was a wonderful blur of emotions. We were all crying and hugging and the love was palpable. Matt’s favorite part was the informality. People got drinks before the ceremony, we didn’t make them sit in certain spots and we were able to actually hang out with most of our guests instead of getting five minutes at each table. It felt like a party, not a production, and that was so much more authentic to us. Side note: Rachelle’s pretty sure that “informality” secretly means he didn’t have to wear a jacket, tie or uncomfortable shoes.

Budget Breakdown

Attire: $1,661.26 for dress, alterations, vest, and pant rentals for the groom and groomsmen, shoes, and jewelry
Catering: $1,625.00
Venue: $1,400.00
Rings: $809.63 for Matt’s ring and appraisal, cleaning and new prongs on Rachelle’s ring
Photobooth: $534.96
Gas: $511.83 to drive from Denver to Pleasanton, up to Napa for the honeymoon and back
Drinks: $473.66
Gifts: $420.59 for wedding party, “friendors,” and favors
Stationery: $389.45 for letterpress, envelopes, thank you cards, and postage
Hotel: $369.26 for the night before and after
Decorations: $293.08 for tablecloths, vases, frames, mason jars, ribbon, beverage dispensers, napkins, and straws
Rentals: $290.40 for chairs, wine glasses, plates, and flatware
Legal stuff: $187.00 for wedding license, certified copies of the certificate, and to deputize our officiant for the day
Hair: $120.00
Planning Supplies: $63.71 for magazines, a planning folder, and the APW book
Event Liability Insurance: $50.00
Taxi: $20.00

It’s hard to look at this for comparison when photography, flowers, and cake aren’t even factored in, but Rachelle’s dress, the photobooth, Matt’s ring, letterpress and professional hair were splurges that if we had cut back on would have saved about $2,000. We want people to know that it really is possible, even in California!


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  • StevenPortland

    Such great photos. It is obvious everyone had a great time! I’m a spreadsheet maniac myself, but I had to laugh at the $67.31 for planning magazines. Even I didn’t go into that level of detail — ha!

    • Rachelle

      Thanks! Yeah, it was pretty bad, but the budget sort of took over my life for… a good while and I wanted to know exactly how much we put into this thing! This is literally every wedding related penny we spent except for the honeymoon.

  • Caitlin

    Yay Pleasanton! I grew up there! We were married one town over in Livermore but Pleasanton will always be near and dear to my heart.
    Beautiful wedding, such happiness shining through all the pictures!

    • Rachelle

      Awesome! I love that part of the east bay so much! My parents and MIL are actually in Livermore, but my husband grew up in Pleasanton and his dad is still there.

  • Liz

    ok, detail question. Who did you go with for your event liability insurance? We’re required to have it for our venue, which is fine, but all of the websites offering “wedding insurance” are basically geared towards the bride’s family who does’t want to lose their money when the groom runs off with the maid-of-honor hours before the ceremony. Any recommendations for coverage that will kick in if, god forbid, something at the venue gets damaged?

    • ElisabethJoanne

      If you have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance (or your auto insurer offers this type of insurance), I’d start there. Also, if it’s a vendor requiring the insurance, they should be able to tell you what companies previous renters used.

      If those don’t work: K&K Insurance (I used to be a panel attorney for them, but never directly benefited from policy sales.)

    • sara g

      We used WedSafe. Liability insurance only. It was ~$110 I believe for their cheapest option (which met our venue’s requirements).

    • Rachelle

      It was through my FIL’s homeowner’s policy with State Farm, I believe. Adding event insurance to an existing policy will usually be the cheapest way to go and that way you get a well known, trusted company. Good luck!

      • Liz

        Awesome. I have state farm insurance too, so I will give them a call!
        Thank you!

  • Alison M

    That venue is so gorgeous! Your wedding looks like it has exactly the vibe we’re hoping for at ours.

    • Rachelle

      Thank you! We seriously lucked out. Good luck!

  • vegankitchendiaries

    I just want to quote that WHOLE THING about “thinking I could do it myself” and the wedding zen never “kicking in” because I felt it SO HARD. I too was trying to look after wayyyy to much and as a result the favours (handmade bookmarks by the mother of the groom) and the guestbook didn’t get put out until halfway through the night. I even forgot to assign someone to queue the recessional when our DJ pulled out a week before the wedding! Thank GOD for our amazing officiant who flawlessly sat down at his piano after a milisecond of dead air and exclaimed to the audience, “I shall play you out!” I am still finding things in the house now, weeks later, and going, “Whoops, this was supposed to be on display on a table somewhere.”

    On the bright side, your wedding looks polished as hell from the photos and you’d never know a coordinator wasn’t behind it! And as much as I loved these beautiful photos, *reading* this How We Did It was so, so great… made me say “me too!” quite a few times times. Good work, lady!

    • Rachelle

      Thanks for reaching out! It’s always good to get that “I’m not alone” feeling, because there are the people who are like everything was perfect and I couldn’t have imagined it any better or the I hated my wedding for whatever reason people, and I definitely wasn’t either of those… I had SOOOO much fun, but I was kinda stressed throughout the reception and unfortunately can’t relate to having a moment where I let go of everything! Love love love your story about the officiant! Your post is coming soon, I hope?

      • vegankitchendiaries

        Ohmigosh – EXACTLY! I am kind of freaking out over here reading this!! I comment on APW (um… a lot?) and I wasn’t exactly forthcoming with my regret around never achieving the zen. I thought I *was* delegating, but asking for help gives me ‘the fear’, and I just wasn’t delegating *enough*. My new thing I’m telling myself is that just thinking that the slightly disorganized moments just helped everything feel a bit more organic, and casual… :)

        Thanks for your comment. “I’m not alone” indeed! There’s a broad spectrum of weddings here in APW-land, eh? Ranging from “I hated my wedding day” to “Ermaghad PERFECTION!”… I’m happy with where I landed on that spectrum and I’m sure at the end of the day, you are too. :)

        (I’d love to submit to APW should I summon the courage at some point… Our photog friend ALSO gifted us with great pics. Are you and me like BRIDE TWINS or what??)

        • Rachelle

          Dude. I read all those posts about zen before the wedding and was sure it’s something that happens for everyone. I guess I forgot about my perfectionist tendencies and hostess-with-the-mostess fixation? Who knows! It’s a lovely notion, but not reality for you and me. That’s totally okay!
          I’m a year removed from the little bit of let down that it never came and now all I see is how happy I was in all the pictures and all I remember are the crazy funny things that happened, feeling beautiful and loved and seeing my husband (!) say vows to me. I’m so, so happy with how everything turned out and my marriage is seriously great. Who cares if people thought I was cheap cause they ate dinner with plastic forks even though I really rented nice ones?
          It might take some time, but eventually you won’t have to make excuses to yourself or anyone else about those slightly disorganized moments! And yes, total bride twins! I’m very much looking forward to seeing your wedding because yes, you do comment a lot and how have you not worked up the courage?!?

          • lizzy

            This comment thread is SUCH a relief for me!!! I never achieved the zen because I was looking after a few too many things and then we ran late which made me so stressed. Even now, almost a year later, I get a little sad about the lack of zen. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed and loved our wedding – but those stressful moments are still some of the first memories that pop into my head. I quickly brush them aside for everything else but… they are there. What made it really hard after the wedding was everyone asking how much I loved it and reading about / hearing about everyone else’s wedding zen. I felt like I had missed out. Thankfully that feeling has faded in a major way but it is still there sometimes. What helps me is looking at my favorite photo (just after we put the rings on) we both look ecstatic! Its one of the few moments/feelings I remember with perfect clarity. And it so accurately captures all the awesomeness I felt that day!!!

          • vegankitchendiaries

            <3 <3

  • sara g

    You are so lucky to have all those connections! Literally our only “wedding connection” is a friend’s husband who runs a music store, so he provided and set up our sound equipment. Your wedding was lovely and hats off for pulling it off in such an expensive area!

    • Rachelle

      Thanks so much!

  • Jules

    Thank you so much for including the budget breakdown! It’s always great to have these when bits and pieces of the overall wedding were gifted by friends and family.

    • Rachelle

      Right? It’s a little weird to post for the world (mainly friends and family) to see exactly what we spent on our wedding, but that’s all I wanted to see when we were planning. The few posts and blogs that did have budget breakdowns were so helpful!

      • Jules

        I’m beginning to think that it’s possible we can pull this off for ~$10-12K for roughly 100 people (yay!)…but I’m excluding the cost of rings and the honeymoon, since that’s just fancy words for “gifts and vacation”. (We’ll be foregoing Valentine’s/Christmas/birthday gifts over $10 apiece for that whole year I bet…)

        • Rachelle

          Yeah, our honeymoon wasn’t included in the wedding budget and I think rings are normally not included! You can TOTALLY do it! Good luck!

  • michelle

    I love this post! It so great to remind people that you can have your dream wedding and keep your savings intact! We planned out wedding in the Bay Area for 100 guests and it was just under 12K.

  • Libby

    Rachelle, I love this post and really appreciate your detailed expenses! Congratulations to you both.
    Do you have any advice for wedding planning from afar? Are you glad you had the wedding where you did?
    The reason I ask: we are currently deciding on whether to have our wedding where we live, in a remote northern city, or at my parents’ home two provinces – a 3 day drive, or a day of air travel, away (we live in Canada). We are trying to stick to a similar budget to yours…$5-10,000. My fiance is worried about not being able to DIY/DIT enough if we host the wedding away from our own home, though I know we will have a lot of help when we get there. Most of our close friends and family live closer to my parents, though we have a lot of new friends where we live, whom we’d like to include as well….any advice would be welcomed!

    • Rachelle

      We had the wedding in California because we’re both from there, met there, and both of our entire families are still there. Our options were basically just us (and the out of town friends that would have to travel no matter what) traveling for the wedding or making everyone except us travel and increasing the likelihood that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to attend. Plus, late summer in the bay area is pretty standard as far as weather goes and Denver weather is fickle no matter what the season! It was kind of a no brainer.
      I can’t help you make the decision as there are so many factors to consider and it’s really up to you and your fiancé in the end! Maybe a pro-con list would be helpful? But if you do decide to plan from afar I can offer a bit of advice.
      DIY/DIT is really mostly fluff stuff. You do have to consider how you’re going to get everything from your home to the wedding location whether you make it or not. If you’re driving and can stuff it all in the car, great, but this will still limit the size and amount of whatever DIY you’re planning on. If you want to fly (and if it’s a 3 day drive I definitely would) not so much. At that point you need to rely HEAVILY on local friends and family and ask them to take on tasks you might not want to/feel comfortable asking of people.
      Also, time. We went home a week early and I thought I was going to have so much time to spend on wedding stuff… not the case! We were so busy running around town seeing all the people we wanted to spend quality time with before the wedding day that a bunch of stuff I had planned on doing in that week got removed from the plan entirely.
      Basically, DIY is really not an option when you’re planning from afar, but asking other people to DIT definitely is. Depends on how comfortable you are with delegating– both in terms of giving up creative control and asking people to do things that you can’t even help with.
      You also have to consider how many times you’re willing to go back before the wedding. It took us 2 trips to find a venue, in part because of poor planning. I would suggest having family or friends scope out potential venues, caterers, whatever vendors you would need to visit with in person, before you even book a flight. That way they can weed out the bad ones and you can narrow it down without having to be there.
      Good luck and let me know fi you have any specific questions!

      • Libby

        Thank you so much for this thoughtful response, Rachelle! I have made oh-so-many pro/con lists :) but I think ultimately it makes more sense for us to travel rather than asking everyone else to, plus I know it will mean a lot to my family to be able to host the wedding. Great idea to get family & friends to do some on-site research. Good to know that a week didn’t end up much time to get everything together. I keep trying to think of ways to simplify – thinking of having the ceremony & reception at one site rather than two. Not having to shuffle people, food, etc. around seems way better to me.
        One question: what was included with the catering at that price? Thanks again!

        • Rachelle

          The catering price included 5 gallons of horchata, 30 quesadillas, chips, four tacos per person with carnitas, chicken and steak, rice, beans, salsa, pico de gallo, onion, cilantro, limes, radishes, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and fruit salad for 75 plus 20% tip. They would have given us paper plates and plastic utensils without an extra charge, but we rented instead (our venue people cleared and rinsed plates, not the caterers as clean up isn’t included in their prices).

          • Libby

            Thanks! This is SO helpful!

  • Bets

    I love seeing the detailed budget. It’s super helpful to see exactly where the numbers fall.

    • Rachelle

      I’m so glad you found it helpful!

  • Stacy {Woodsy Weddings}

    You can have your dream wedding even under a tight budget. This wedding is inspirational to many brides-to-be trying to get that perfect outdoor wedding without the expense. Everyone obviously enjoyed themselves!

    • Rachelle

      You absolutely can! Thanks for the sweet comments!

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  • Dana

    Yay, such a great and helpful story! We’re trying to plan something low key and similar, so it’s great to hear that it can be done! What did you do for music? I see you dancing in the pictures, but the budget didn’t mention that. Thank you also for giving me extra validation as I think about hiring a coordinator. I don’t know how I’ll manage everything on my own and still enjoy my wedding!

    • Rachelle

      Sorry for the super late response! We just plugged in an iPod and had a music-savvy friend put the playlist together. The venue already had speakers. The music got hijacked a couple times, but we weren’t concerned!