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How low can brides on a budget go?

The average cost of a wedding is $36,200, but these four brides did it for less... a LOT less.
Ask anyone planning a wedding and they’ll tell you that even with the best intentions, your budget can break more easily than that fine bone china dinner set on your gift registry. Indeed, in September last year the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) found the average cost of a wedding in Australia was $36,200. And if you think that’s a fairly large sum, some other publications put the average as high as $65,000. That’s a lot of Mason jars and personalised chocolate bomboniere. 

“From props and expensive gifts for the bridal party to elaborate decorations and a million professional photos in giant canvases or photo books, these things can seriously blow out any budget,” says Michelle Hutchison, money expert at finder.com.au. “[Your wedding] doesn't have to be an incredibly opulent affair that will leave you in debt for the next 10 years – the simplest weddings are often the most special.”

And Michelle should know – her own 2009 nuptials came in at just $9,000. “I shopped around for absolutely everything and when I thought I could do it cheaper myself, I did,” she says. To find out exactly how, we quizzed Michelle and three other brides who pulled off their big day for less than $18,000 – or half the average cost of an Aussie wedding.

The $17,000 wedding


Small budget wedding
Couple: Lauren and James
Wedding date: 22 December 2010
Venue: All Smiles Cafe, Sorrento
Number of guests: 80
Original budget: $15,000
Total spend: $16,880

What were the main ways you kept costs down?
We went for a cocktail style wedding, which was less expensive. It was also less formal, which is what we were after - we wanted more of a party style event. We also had our wedding during the week, on a Wednesday.

What didn't you mind splurging on?
The dress! I spent $3,000 on that (don't tell the groom!). We also hired a double decker bus to bring guests down from Melbourne and back on the day - we joined them on the ride home, which was a highlight. We chose a double decker as James and I met in London and he is English. We didn't care what we needed to pay for it.

What were the biggest challenges with planning a low-cost wedding?
When you say "wedding", the price automatically goes up!

The $10,000 wedding

Couple: Geri and Casey
Wedding date: 21 March 2015
Venue: Teavine House, Tallebudgerra Valley
Number of guests: 50
Original budget: $12,000
Total spend: $10,000

What were the main ways you kept costs down?
I'm very much into the simple things in life, so for me it was really just cutting out the things I thought were cliché, overdone or tacky. One of the biggest things was that we just had a photographer at the venue for two hours. I didn't want to have photos taken while I was getting ready and I certainly didn't want to leave the venue to have two hours' worth of photos done - no way was I missing out on my own party. 

Did you leave anything out?
Yes, absolutely. The bridal party didn't have any special car or transport to the venue. I had two of my brothers pick us girls up and drive us there, and they were able to pull into an area where no-one could even see us arrive, so guests wouldn't have known any different. 

What are your top tips for budget brides?
Find a venue with BYO alcohol and a canapé option. Make sure you stipulate that even if you have canapés, you want your guests to have enough food. One of the best things we had were lawn games: they are so cheap to hire, heaps of fun and really get people mingling. And never go into debt for a wedding!

The $9,000 wedding

Small budget wedding
Couple: Michelle and Simon
Wedding date: 19 January 2009
Venue: Jeffrey Street Wharf, Kirribilli, and Vibe Hotel, Milsons Point
Number of guests: 75
Original budget: $10,000
Total spend: $8,740

How did you decide on your original budget?
I started with the biggest expense: the reception. I looked around for venue packages and found some for canapés and alcohol for around $70 to $90 per head. We worked out a guest list, so with that in mind and keeping it very simple, we aimed for no more than $10,000.

What were the biggest challenges with planning a low-cost wedding?
Cutting back on all the little things that can really add up. There are so many little extras you could add to your wedding that I don't think you really need. From props and expensive gifts for the bridal party to elaborate decorations and a million professional photos in giant canvases or photo books, these things can seriously blow out any budget. 

What are your top tips for budget brides?
The reception is the biggest expense, so cut down on guests as much as you can and find out all of your options like the cheapest days to have a wedding, time of day and having a sit-down meal versus canapés. If you have a garden or know someone where you can host the reception, why not have it there? You could look at hiring caterers or go trendy like Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi's wedding and order a heap of pizza. 

The $7,000 wedding

Small budget wedding
Couple: Cascie and Stacy
Wedding date: 14 March 2015
Venue: New Farm Park, Brisbane
Number of guests: 90
Original budget: $10,000
Total spend: $7,000

Were there some items you didn't mind spending a lot on?
We made an e-invite on Fiverr and it cost only $5. We then emailed and Facebooked it to everyone and only printed 20 for older guests who didn't have computer access. I also had lolly bags handmade from a supplier on eBay. We got 100 for $11 and they were amazing. 

Did you leave anything out?
We made a decision to get married close to our house so we didn't need cars. The groomsmen rode pushbikes and I walked to the venue with the girls. I only spent $500 on my dress, which included alterations, so I was very happy with that. 

What were the biggest challenges with planning a low-cost wedding?
For us it was the cost of food. We wanted to invite everyone and needed to have something cost effective but still a good meal, so we booked two food trucks. We allowed for all dietary requirements and did our own bar with waiters, so we saved a lot on drinks as well. 
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