How we saved on our $31K wedding in Livermore, CA

A couple from Santa Clara, CA shares how they planned their $31K wedding in California wine country.

By Emily Forrest

How we saved on our $31K wedding in Livermore, CA
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 Santa Clara, CA shared how they pulled off their $31,175 wedding in Livermore, CA.

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: Higher Education Comms and Pro Sports PR
Ages: Both 29
Location: Santa Clara, CA

About the Wedding

Wedding Date: 9/10/2022
Wedding Location: Livermore, CA
Venue Type: Small resort
Wedding Party Members: 6
Number of Wedding Guests: 80
Wedding Style: A semi-formal wedding in California wine country.

Budget Overview

Original Wedding Budget: $45,000
Actual Wedding Budget: $31,175
Payment Breakdown: Groom's family contributed $20,000 | Bride's family contributed $20,000 | We contributed $5000

Wedding Budget Breakdown

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

1. Venue

Original budget: $9,000
Actual spend: $8,519.30
What we got: This included space rental, operations and wedding coordinator, tablecloths, napkins, tables, and chairs.

2. Catering + Alcohol

Original budget: $13,050
Actual spend: $10,699.77
What we got: A buffet dinner, including 2 proteins, salad, bread, vegetables, and 2 sides. This also covered wine and beer, flatware and silverware, and the labor of catering staff.

3. Couple’s Attire

Original budget: $3,150
Actual spend: $1,918.24
What we got: This included the cost of renting the groom's tux and the bride's dress alterations which were paid for by her grandmother as a gift.

4. Florals

Original budget: $3,600
Actual spend: $1,829.07
What we got: This included the bride's bouquet, bridesmaids' bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, centerpieces, floral splashes for signage, two ground arrangements, and the olive branch decor for the cake. We used a lot of greenery, roses, thistle, ranunculus, anemone, larkspur, and delphinium in the arrangements and in the bouquets.

5. Music and Entertainment

Original budget: $3,600
Actual spend: $1,795
What we got: We hired a DJ and got one party light for the reception.

7. Photography

Original budget: $4,500
Actual spend: $3,197
What we got: The cost included the photographer and a second shooter, an engagement session, digital photos, and a wedding album. Our photographer had a few different wedding packages to choose from, and the one we chose fit our budget and what we wanted for our wedding day photography coverage.

8. Paper

Original budget: $900
Actual spend: $234
What we got: Eastwick Vines invitations and envelopes from Zola. We also used Zola's digital save the dates with the same designs to save money.

9. Wedding Bands

Original budget: N/A
Actual spend: $2,981.76

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

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?

We did a lot of research on what weddings typically cost in the area we were looking at getting married. Once we picked our venue, we let the cost of the venue and catering inform how much we would budget for the rest of our vendors, while also staying within our set budget.

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

We set our initial budget with the goal of having some cash saved for an amazing honeymoon and eventually a new home. It turned out we actually set it a bit higher than we needed and were able to save even more than we expected. Plus we were lucky to find vendors within our budget that were willing to work with us. Everything just fell into place nicely.

Top Three Priorities:

Our venue, photography, and hair/makeup were top for our budget priorities.

Bottom Three Priorities:

Before getting married we knew we didn't really want a videographer so we opted not to get one. We also wanted to save a bit on invitations so we used Zola’s digital save the dates and kept it simple with our wedding invitations (also from Zola).

Did you hire a wedding planner?

We hired the wedding coordinator that worked at our venue and have no regrets! I tell EVERYONE that they need to at least consider hiring a day-of coordinator. She was absolutely amazing and would work with her and the venue again in a heartbeat.

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

Our ceremony and reception space were both at the same venue. The venue was a small resort, so part of the agreement with them was that we were required to rent all 10 guest rooms at the venue the night of the wedding.

We talked at length about this because the total cost, with the inclusion of renting all 10 guest rooms the night of the wedding, was more than we had budgeted for. We didn't at first see eye to eye about whether we would ask our family and wedding party to pay for the rooms, if we would pay for them, or if we would split the cost. But because the venue was exactly what we wanted, we decided to do it anyway and found other ways to save and make up for what we were spending on the venue. It worked out in the end!

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

We didn't really need to cut anything out to stick to our budget but I did make the decision to try and keep the flower budget as low as I could while still getting what I wanted. I liked that our florist had ideas for how we could save money or reuse certain arrangements from the ceremony, for the reception. We also did not elect to make linens or chair/table upgrades. We just picked from what was included in the cost of our venue.

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

We decided to buy very nice bottles of wine to drink on our 1st, 2nd, 5th, 10th, and 15th wedding anniversaries, and have our guests sign those in lieu of a traditional guest book. We also supplemented our bar with some wine from a winery we went to when we got engaged.

We also initially thought we wouldn't do favors but our venue has olives they press into olive oil and sell, so we purchased 80 small bottles of olive oil and they put a custom label on them. They were a hit!

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

We had initially invited many more guests than those who came. This helped a lot with getting some money back that we had planned to spend. It was also a big help that my grandmother paid for my wedding dress and alterations. We also created our own signage and table numbers, rented a cake stand instead of buying one, and borrowed a card box from the venue instead of buying one.

Mostly I think I got lucky in that I was able to find a florist who was a prefered vendor with my venue, who was very reasonably priced while doing an amazing job (we got so many compliments). I didn't have a super specific vision in mind, aside from color and how I wanted my florals to compliment the natural beauty of my venue, so I think based on my budget, our florist was probably able to make flower suggestions that would fit within my budget.

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

Yes! We both received money from our parents as a wedding gift that helped cover the cost of the wedding while still having money left over. We planned to reserve some of that money for our honeymoon. While we were planning, my husband also set up a high-interest savings account that we put the rest of the money in for a future house.

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

I think I could have spent more on flowers if I had wanted to, but I have no regrets. We wouldn’t do anything differently.

What wedding expenses surprised you the most?

Venue and rentals. I was surprised to find out how much venues cost to rent out space once we started inquiring.

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

Not particularly weird or out of the box, but I am so happy we went with our venue. The best part was that when you rent the space, the space is entirely your wedding for the entire weekend. I loved that it was just our party and it meant the staff could focus on us. I also am so happy we chose a venue that handled all setup and take down, and we were able to stay there the night of.

Any other details you want to share?

I think it's important to outline a budget, come to a consensus on what money is coming from where, and how much of your budget you are spending on which vendor/category. It really helped that we had a shared spreadsheet and were already open about expenses. For a lot of couples, their wedding may be the first time they have conversations around money. It's awkward at first but if you're open to each other's thoughts and ideas, you'll be better for it!

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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