Help! I can’t afford the wedding of my dreams. Now what?


Image: Margaret Austin Photography

When I got engaged I was ecstatic. I had been thinking about my wedding for the past 10 years.

Peony bouquets. Letterpress invitations. 3 course dinner. Hanging floral installations. Bentwood chairs.

I started researching and getting some quotes from wedding suppliers. My jaw hit the floor. Our initial budget had seemed so reasonable! Surely I could have my dream wedding without spending a stupid amount of dollars?

As soon as you realise that you can’t have the wedding you’ve been dreaming about, you can start dreaming about the wedding you never knew you would have.


Ensue more researching. I’ll just be savvier and thriftier than the average bride, I think to myself. Surely one day can’t cost that much.  Eventually come to the realisation that we cannot, in fact, have the wedding I’ve been dreaming about for, well, my entire life. Cue depression and self pity, anger at the wedding industry in general. Sound familiar? If you can relate, I have some good news for you.

As soon as you realise that you can’t have the wedding you’ve been dreaming about, you can start dreaming about the wedding you never knew you would have.  Stay with me. Here are my 5 tips on what to do when you realise that you can’t afford the wedding of your dreams.

01. Make a (realistic) budget

Begin by knowing that this is possible. And a glass of wine doesn’t hurt either.

There are a few important things to consider here: Who is funding this party? Will you and your partner be paying for the wedding yourselves, or will your families be contributing? How much can each party afford to contribute? Be honest here – with your partner, your families, and yourself. If staying out of debt is important to you, keep that in mind when thinking about this.

Then, how much do you want to spend on your wedding? This number very well might be different from the answer to the previous question. Just because you can “afford” to spend a certain amount on a wedding doesn’t mean that you have to, or even want to. Think about what other priorities you and your partner might have, and where else you might want to be spending your money. What are your financial goals? Come to a number you can not only afford, but feel happy and comfortable spending on your wedding.

02. Look at real weddings within your budget

Find out what is possible. Remind yourself that others have done it. Truly amazing things can be accomplished at any budget – when there’s a will, there’s a way! Read about real weddings of all different budgets online. Ask your friends and family how they did it. Ask someone twenty, forty, or sixty years older than you what their wedding was like. Chances are, it was probably memorable, joyful, and full of love.  

I’d recommend starting here for examples of fabulous real weddings at budgets starting from $2K.

03. Decide on your priorities

I’m not very good at compromise. Or trade-offs. Or doing things halfway. Or settling. So I’m not going to lie, this step was (is) hard for me. But as much as I care about every detail, from the silhouette of my wedding gown right down to the specific shade of pink rose petals for the aisle, the reality is that I cannot have absolutely everything I want. And that is ok. What I can do, is choose a few things that are really important to me, and make sure that they are priorities. Then, I’m going to do my best to not stress too much about the little stuff. It just creates more headaches anyway, right?

Sit down and have a think about the top 3 things that you care most about for the wedding, and get your partner to do the same. This exercise is actually good to do separately, so that you can get a clearer idea of what you both value without influencing each other’s choices. Then, discuss your top 3 things together. If there’s some crossover, great! If not, discuss why these things are important, and try to understand why it means a great deal to the other person.

Make a list of Your Top 3 Things + Your Partner’s Top 3 Things. This has now become the Official List of Wedding Things You Care About. Consider devoting more time, energy and money to these things, because at the end of the day, they are the things that matter the most to both of you. Everything else can be be incorporated where time, funds and care-factor allow.

04. Get creative

A wedding can be anything you want it to be. Sometimes following tradition can be expensive, and maybe it isn’t even what you want anyway. Come back to your wedding priorities. How many different ways can you think of to achieve what you want? Take a sit down dinner for example. That could mean a 3-course traditional meal. Or asking everyone to bring a plate to create a delicious buffet of food made with love. Or serving tacos instead of an alternate plate menu. Or making the meal lunch instead of dinner. The possibilities are endless if you allow yourself to think of creative solutions and consider out-of-the-box options.

Next, research, research, research. Ask for recommendations from family and friends, read reviews, compare prices, and look in unconventional places. A friend-of-a-friend’s might be a florist. You might find your photographer on Gumtree. A knock-out catering company might have a dodgy website, but incredible recommendations and you instantly click when you meet them in person. The point is to keep an open mind, and not only look down traditional wedding avenues.

Lastly, ask for help, or accept help when it is offered. Fun Fact #1 – people love weddings. Fun Fact #2 – there are probably quite a few people in your life who love you. Those people are usually happy and willing to help you with wedding-related tasks. Instead of politely declining, take some time to think about the things you could really use a hand with, and enlist your people to help you pull it all together.

05. Remember that you’re marrying the love of your life

Keep sight of what’s important. It’s a cliche, but it really is true that as long as you are marrying the love of your life, everything else is gravy.

My fiancé has a line that he brings out when we are moving house that I find applicable in this situation too. While I’m busy freaking out over packing boxes and starting all over again, he simply says: 

“Home is where you and Harvey are.”


(FYI Harvey is our bunny fur-baby and you should definitely be following him on Instagram). Instagram pets aside, my fiancé is right. At the end of the day, as long as we have each other, everything will be ok. 

How did you cope with wedding sticker shock? Do you have any tips on how to create a dream wedding on any budget? Share your wisdom in the comments below.

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