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How we pulled off our $36k wedding in Freedom, NH

This couple from Manchester, NH share how they came in under their original wedding budget and saved on their rustic-chic wedding.

By The Zola Team

How we pulled off our $25k Morrisville, PA Wedding
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 Manchester, NH share how they pulled off their $36,195 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: Beverage Distribution & Medical Device R&D
Ages: 34 & 31
Location: Manchester, NH.

About the Wedding

Wedding Date: 10/22/2022
Wedding Location: Freedom, NH
Venue Type: Summer Camp, all-inclusive lodging and food, BYOB
Wedding Party Members: 10
Wedding Style: Rustic-chic

Budget Overview

Original Wedding Budget: $40,000
Actual Wedding Budget: $36,195
Payment Breakdown: Groom $13,000 and Bride $23,195
How did you keep track?: Google Sheets
How did you pay for your wedding?: As a couple

Wedding Budget Breakdown

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

1. Venue

Original budget: $16,000
Actual spend: $20,000
What we got: We budgeted $16,000 for both food and venue and ended up spending $20,000. Of the $20,000, $9,600 was for the venue which included all tables, service linens, glassware, plates, silverware, day of coordinator, set-up, breakdown, and access to the entire facility for a 48-hour period over the weekend.

2. Catering

Original budget: Included in venue price.
What we got: Of the $20,000 we budgeted for our food and the venue, $10,400 was for the food. This price included appetizers during the cocktail hour and the reception dinner.

3. Alcohol

Original budget: $1,200
Actual spend: $910
What we got: Beers, seltzers, wine, water bottles, and non-alcoholic drinks (soda, juice, etc.). We were fortunate to have most of the non-macro beer donated by my husband's company, since they are a brewery.

4. Couple’s Attire

Original budget: $1,000
Actual spend: $1,350
What we got: My bridal gown and shoes, a rhinestone belt, alterations, and my husband's suit. Not included in this price was the $170 veil, which my mom paid for.

5. Florals

Original budget: $2,000
Actual spend: $1,400
What we got: All of the flowers for the tables, 2 wedding arch arrangements, an arrangement for the fireplace behind the head table, my bridal bouquet, 6 bridesmaid bouquets, and my husband's boutonniere. The cost was reduced because my mom did the table, fireplace, and arch arrangements.

6. Music and Entertainment

Original budget: $4,000
Actual spend: $2,500
What we got: Our ceremony setup, cocktail hour setup, and reception setup totaling 10 hours of contracted service.

7. Photography & Videography

Original budget: $6,000
Actual spend: $3,600
What we got: An engagement photo shoot and 8 hours of contracted service for both photography and videography. We hired a husband and wife duo and were able to benefit from a discounted rate for our videographer because he is new to the industry. The photo and video breakdown was $2400 for photography and $1200 for videography.

8. Paper

Original budget: $1,200
Actual spend: $410
What we got: Save the Date postcards, Invitations and RSVP postcards, a self-inking return address stamp, stickers for our favors, a large stamp and map and information cards for our "Welcome to Camp" bags, and Thank You cards.

9. Wedding Bands

Original budget: $500
Actual spend: $655
What we got: This included my husband's ring and my wedding band, which I upgraded to match my engagement set, after purchasing a very simple coordinating band at first. I did manage to get my wedding band 60% off of the retail price because it was being discontinued.

10. Other Expenses

Original budget: None
Actual spend: $250
What we got: Our officiant. We originally did not have a budget because I was going to have a family friend get ordained and perform our wedding ceremony, but ended up paying $250 to have a woman from the area officiate our ceremony.

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

Wedding Budget Breakdown 36K NH BD

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?

I had been saving for a while and started looking into what certain things may cost. I did not want to spend an exorbitant amount of money, but I also wanted to have the exact day I was dreaming of.

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

This was sort of give-and-take. Some items were much more expensive than I had thought they would be, but I prioritized the venue, entertainment, and photography/videography.

I then worked to stay within or under budget on other items by buying my dress at a local boutique that gets designer sample dresses (what you see is what you get, and you leave with your dress day-of), doing a LOT of DIY, shopping around for hair & makeup services that were reasonable, second-guessing the expensive photographer/videographer that we were originally considering (this was a FANTASTIC decision in the end).

How did you track your wedding budget?

One large Google Sheet with multiple tabs for tracking our budget, money spent, different checklists, guests and their dietary restrictions, RSVPs, and a sleeping plan (unique to our venue!).

Top Three Priorities:

  1. Venue - I knew that we wanted something a little non-traditional and unconventional where we could have a big party for the whole weekend and all of our guests could stay on-site.
  2. Entertainment - we have a big network of people who really love to dance and enjoy themselves, so I knew that we needed someone who could read the room and keep the party going.
  3. Photography/Videography - we wanted to have photos and video that would trigger all of the emotions we were feeling and make us remember each moment as we had lived it.

Bottom Three Priorities:

  1. Dessert - my husband isn't much of a cake guy and we knew we wanted to do something different. We ended up having a bakery make us 200 cookies and we provided ice cream cups so people could make their own ice cream cookie sandwiches.
  2. Flowers - I don't love cut flowers, they just seem really wasteful, but my mom loves to be creative, so I let her take the reigns. She went to a local flower market and purchased all of the stems and then did all of the arrangements herself. I did pay for the bouquets to take a little pressure off of her.
  3. Decor - we tried to keep things simple and classy so that we wouldn't have a million things leftover from the wedding. The venue was really beautiful, so we played off of the simplic, woodsy feel, and just put a little sparkle in the decor so that it would all tie together.

Did you hire a wedding planner?

I did not hire a wedding planner or coordinator. The venue provided a coordinator on the day-of, who really helped with all of the set-up, breakdown, and general coordination of activities. I didn't find that leading up to our day I really needed anyone else to provide opinions or coordinate and I am kind of a control freak when it comes to how I like things.

When we arrived at the venue, we just had to set one table up the way that we wanted it and then the on-site coordinator took over from there!

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

One of the main budgeting challenges we faced was that I was in a car accident a month before our wedding and needed to try to quickly purchase a new car. I was able to work things out with my insurance company, but there was a bit of time when I thought I might have to pull from our wedding budget.

I worked to purchase items from other brides who had leftover items or lightly used items from their weddings (through resale groups on Facebook). I was able to get all of my napkins this way and an unplugged ceremony sign.

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

I didn't really cut anything to stick to my budget, but I did try to consistently take a look at the budget and make sure that we weren't overspending in any one area. I had my girls chip in for their hair & makeup so that I could also stick closer to the budget I had originally planned for.

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

We ended up spending a lot more on gifts for the bridal party than I had originally envisioned, but all of the personal touches made it completely worth it.

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

My upgraded wedding band was a surprise that I did not originally budget for, but I am very happy that we ended up splurging a little for it to complete the set.

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

  1. We did generate a guest list that was pretty condensed so that we could stay within budget.
  2. We also were gifted a lot of the beers and my mom paid for a few bigger ticket items.
  3. We did not have to pay for our own rehearsal dinner, and we received some help from other family members so that we did not have to pay for everything out of pocket.

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

We did not open a joint account until after we were married, but we do constantly discuss our financial goals. We need to make a will!

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

I wish we had done a 2-hr cocktail hour so that my husband and I could have enjoyed our appetizers! We were taking couples' photos during the entire cocktail hour, so we never got to have the delicious food our guests were offered during that time.

What wedding expenses surprised you the most?

  1. Our venue fee was surprising, but not when we considered that we were getting it for a full 48 hours.
  2. Meal tax and gratuities added up, but were reasonable for what we received.
  3. Liability insurance surprised me, not because it was expensive, but because I hadn't realized we'd need it!
  4. We splurged for lighting and chair rental so that we would not have to use the fluorescent lights in the rec hall where we had our ceremony and so that we wouldn't have to use the camp's benches for our guest seating.

While these items were not originally budgeted for, they helped add to the aesthetic we were trying to achieve.

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

Our venue offered Camp activities - archery, kayaks, paddleboards, and plenty of land sports to keep our guests busy while they were not engaged in wedding activities.

We also had the opportunity to house all of our guests in cabins on-site, so that nobody had to worry about driving late at night or after they had been drinking. We put together Camp Forget (our last name) welcome bags for our overnight guests with fruit snacks, Pirate's booty, a camp map, cabin assignments, and a list of activities.

We were able to offer a day-of brunch and a send-off brunch to all of our overnight guests. We also kept with the camp theme and made S'more favors for our guests to take home or enjoy at Camp! We had a photo guestbook, where we provided a Polaroid camera and double-sided tape, with lots of different color pens for our guests to leave us notes!

Any other details you want to share?

We were able to save a lot by pulling a few favors from friends, family, employers, and just generally keeping our eyes open for deals and discounts.

I would highly recommend saving, making a budget, sticking to it so as to not take on debt in your first months/years as a newly married couple, being realistic about what you can and can not fit in your budget, but ultimately remembering that the day isn't as much about what you look like, but how you feel marrying your favorite person!

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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