How we planned a $265k Greek wedding in Chicago, IL

A couple from Chicago shares how they pulled off their $265k traditional wedding with support from loved ones.

By Emily Forrest

How we planned a $265k Greek wedding in Chicago, IL
Photo by Zola

Welcome to Zola’s Wedding Budget Diaries, where we break down one of the industry’s greatest mysteries: how much weddings actually cost.

But no two couples are the same, and neither are their weddings. Each wedding budget, big or small, has its backstory of unexpected surprises and compromises.

This week, a couple from Davenport, Iowa shares how they pulled off their $265k Chicago wedding.

Need to figure out your own wedding budget breakdown? Discover our free wedding budget tracker – also available on the Zola app – and start keeping track of your budget today.

Quick Hits

A bird’s eye view of this couple and their wedding budget.

About the Couple

Fields of Work: Education & Automotives
Ages: 25 & 26
Location: Davenport, Iowa
Combined Salary: $140,000

About the Wedding

Wedding Date: 7/16/2022
Wedding Location: Chicago, Illinois
Venue Type:
Ceremony - St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church
Reception - Field Museum of Natural History
Wedding Party Members: 5 bridesmaids, 4 junior bridesmaids, 5 groomsmen, 2 flower girls, 2 ring bearers, 4 ushers, 1 stefana (crown) bearer
Wedding Style: Black Tie, Traditional, Elegant

Budget Overview

Original Wedding Budget: $200,000
Actual Wedding Budget: $265,000
Payment Breakdown: Bride's parents covered 100% of the wedding costs including dress, tuxes, reception, ceremony, etc. Groom's parents covered 100% of the costs for the rehearsal dinner.
How did you keep track?: Spreadsheet designed by wedding planner (google sheets).
How did you pay for your wedding?: Parents support.

Wedding Budget Breakdown

Time for the budget breakdown - their original budget vs. actual spend on each wedding item or service.

1. Venue

Original budget: $32,000 for Field Museum Stanley Hall
Actual spend: $32,000
What we got: Included room rental, some tables (others provided by design company), premium bar package with additional specialty alcohol, staffing, security, and open museum exhibits

2. Catering

Original budget: $50,000
Actual spend: $56,000
What we got: On-site staffing, bartenders, all rentals, 9 passed hors d'ouevres, plated course meal, late night snacks, coffee and tea station, and all vendor meals.

3. Alcohol

Original budget: Included in venue and catering costs.

Couple’s Attire

Original budget: None
Actual spend: $13,475
What we got: Bride's Dress, Veil, and specialty bow for dress: $11,000, Brides shoes: $475. Groom's custom and personalized tux and shoes: $2,000.

5. Florals and Decor

Original budget: $30,000
Actual spend: $61,000
What we got: Included all bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, table florals (low and high top), church florals, specialty marble tables, all table decor including candles, linens, specialty tableware, 2 lounge seating areas, specialty escort display with custom 1965 black mustang car cutout with florals (then utilized for the photo-booth backdrop), bar backs, specialty bars, unlimited design proposals and customization, and floor planning.

6. Music and Entertainment

Original budget: $10,000
Actual spend: $14,500
What we got: Included 6-hour coverage for an 11-piece band and DJ for cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing.

7. Photography & Videography

Original budget: None
Actual spend: $16,500
What we got: Photography $11,500 - full-day coverage (10 am-midnight) and second photographer, as well as included engagement photos. Videographer $5,000 - included 12-hour coverage, 2 videographers, drone footage, 3-minute instrumental song highlight mini-video, 7-minute instrumental and song choice highlight video with speeches and artistic shots, ful-length day edited video with ceremony, grand entrances, speeches, and important dances, and all raw footage.

8. Paper

Original budget: None
Actual spend: $7,800
What we got: Included save the dates, invitations and response cards, postage, all wedding day signage, table numbers, menus, bar menus, and thank you notes.

9. Wedding Bands

Original budget: None - not included in overall wedding budget
Actual spend: $3,700
What we got: Bride's band - $3,200 Groom's band - $500

10. Other Expenses

Original budget: None
Actual spend: $2,000
What we got: Church costs, priest fees, organist fees, church planner fees, etc.

Note: Individual figures may not total overall budget due to approximations + omitted items.

WBD 5 -$265k Greek wedding in Chicago, IL

Wedding Budget Questions

A deeper look into all the decisions – what’s important, what’s tossed, and more.

How did you decide on your original wedding budget?

My parents decided upon the original wedding budget as a starting point. I am the only daughter in my immediate family and the eldest cousin, so this was all very new to us. We knew a Chicago Greek wedding would be more expensive, so we chose 200,000 as a starting point and knew that some items might be pricier or even cheaper than expected.

Once you decided on a set budget, did you actively attempt to stick to it?

The budget mostly fell to the wayside as planning got underway. We would have a budget for something in mind, and then once we began planning things out, it would expand from there. Oftentimes, we would want to include more than what we had originally budgeted for, and going over budget allowed us to include the things we really wanted for our wedding day.

How did you track your wedding budget?

We utilized a personalized google sheet created by our wedding planner. This tracked all deposits, due dates, and contracts.

Top Three Priorities:

Top 3 priorities went to the venue, food, and decor. Our venue, the Field Museum, was the highlight of our wedding day, and we wanted guests to have a grand experience. This meant creating a space that perfectly accented the museum and our personalities. I come from a major foodie family so there was also NO way we were skimping on food or drinks.

Bottom Three Priorities:

I do not think anything really hit a "bottom priority" list for us. I found that we were really thoughtful about each element of our day. From the decor all the way to custom chocolates and welcome bags for guests. We even had custom paper towels made for the bathrooms. Each detail was gone through with a fine tooth comb and for some elements, it was less about the money and more about the experience for guests or for ourselves as a couple.

Did you hire a wedding planner?

We hired a full wedding planner right away and it was the BEST decision we made. She truly made our vision as a couple comes to life and is the reason that wedding planning was so exciting at each step of the way and not stressful in any way, shape, or form. I believe for the cost of her and her team, we gained access to the best vendors in Chicago and the expertise that you cannot find on the internet alone.

There are aspects of your wedding day that you simply do not think about and it was incredible to have a team of people taking care of all the small details so that me, my husband, our bridal party, and my parents could enjoy each moment and not have to worry about a single thing.

What, if any, were the main budgeting challenges you faced?

I feel extremely thankful to say that we personally did not face challenges in budgeting for the wedding. As a couple, we were incredibly thankful to my parents for covering all the wedding costs.

Did you need to cut anything to stick to your budget?

Nothing was cut out.

What did you add that resulted in you going over your budget?

Our over-budget expenses were due to adding additional decor and floral elements, adding entree options and additional hors d'ouevres, including customized drinks, providing all transportation for guests to and from wedding locations, paying for suites for the bridal party at the hotel, hair, and makeup for all bridal party members including groomsmen.

What, if any, fun extras did you throw in while planning that you didn’t originally budget for?

We included numerous extras that we did not initially plan for. This included:

  1. Custom tuxes for the groom and fathers (which included customized liners)
  2. Customized cocktail, dessert, and late-night snack napkins,
  3. Custom paper towels for the bathroom,
  4. An audio phone guest book,
  5. Welcome bags and snacks,
  6. Antique Rolls Royce getaway car,
  7. Custom website domain,
  8. Glow wands for the grand exit,
  9. And custom monogrammed pillows for our loveseat at the reception

What did you find to be the most effective way to save money for/on your wedding?

Truthfully, we did not do much to actively cut costs for our wedding. Our thought process was that we wanted to give all the people we loved so much an incredible weekend in Chicago and an amazing wedding experience. We wanted to alleviate costs for our guests and show them how much we cared so this meant providing transportation and covering room costs for the bridal party and many family members.

Did you think at all about or prepare for your newlywed financial future while you budgeted for your wedding?

My husband and I were thankful to have kept our finances completely separate from our wedding budget thanks to my parents and his parents covering everything for the wedding. This allowed us to focus on our financial well-being as a couple and prepare for what we wanted in the future

What is something you didn’t buy that you wish you did for the wedding?

Nothing in particular comes to mind.

What wedding expenses surprised you the most?

I was most surprised by the costs of staffing that were needed for catering, floral, decor, and the venue. I do not think this was something I would have thought of when originally budgeting for those elements. I think it is important to remember that staffing costs, taxes, tips, vendor meals, and other smaller expenses add up quickly. Sometimes the proposed cost of something looks way different after all those other costs are added on top. For a city wedding, these types of charges became very familiar to us throughout the process. It is just the price of doing business.

What is the weirdest or most out-of-the-box thing you bought for your wedding?

Unsure if this counts, but I paid for my junior prom dress to be altered into a shorter dress for our rehearsal. My husband and I are high school sweethearts and that dress was his favorite that I wore to a dance. It was a fun and sentimental nod to our past.

Any other details you want to share?

I am not naive to know that money directly allowed me to have the wedding of my dreams and create an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. However, at the end of the day it is important to recognize that whatever money may buy for your wedding, the focus should remain on the couple, their story, their love and this new season of life they are about to enter. Our marriage is not our wedding day and we value the day itself, but know that even without such a grand and beautiful day, our wedding would still be perfect.

Zola, The Best Place to Track Your Wedding Budget

At Zola, we want your wedding to be everything you’ve dreamed of. We’re here to make it happen from start to finish, from helping couples curate wedding registry ideas and create a unique wedding website with matching invites and paper, to offering free wedding planning tools like guest lists, seating charts, and our new wedding budget tracker!

If you’re having—or anticipate having—trouble keeping track of your expenses, try using our wedding budget tracker, also available on our app. This will take you to a fully customizable budget sheet you can update throughout wedding planning. No stress, no mysterious expenses.

Zola’s helping couples share those diverse stories with those eager to learn more about what it really takes to plan a wedding. If you’re interested, in share your Wedding Budget Diary with us today.

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