The average cost of an American wedding is more than $30,000. For many of us, that’s an impossible sum, overshadowing what should be one of the happiest times in our lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Under-$10k Weddings celebrates beautiful, affordable weddings, from city hall ceremonies to Vegas elopements—proving that it’s possible to have the wedding of your dreams on a budget.
Taylor and I met in 2015 when we were both living in Delaware. We were working retail together, and I was saving up to pay for my move to New York for graduate school. We were friends, then best friends, then girlfriends. We moved in together in 2016, when she joined me in New York City.
My now-wife asked me to marry her when we were both living in Brooklyn in 2017. I was fishing spaghetti out of a dirty sink drain, and when I turned around, she was barely holding her balance down on one knee on the tile floor behind me. I had just come out to my parents a few weeks before, and I was getting ready to graduate. We were still trying to figure out how we’d pay our rent, but in the moment all I could think about was saying “yes!” and shaking off the cold noodles wrapped around my fingers.
In the months that followed, the excitement of our engagement was overshadowed by financial stress and the huge decision of whether to leave New York for someplace more affordable. By the end of that year, we decided to move to North Carolina and start planning our wedding there.
What it was like to plan our wedding:
From the beginning, we were determined to pay for everything upfront, meaning no wedding-related credit card debt. We were lucky enough to get about $3,000 from my parents as a wedding gift. We factored that into our overall budget, and it ended up covering the cost of the venue and food, with gratuity. With some saving and strategic budgeting, we ended up spending about $6,500 on the entire wedding.
Cost was always a big factor during the planning process, but we also had very specific ideas in mind for how we wanted our wedding to look. We wanted it to be small and cozy, like a garden party with our closest family and friends. For the ceremony, we chose the green space outside of the town hall. This was a public space that anyone could reserve for an event, and for just $100, it was ours for a two-hour ceremony. There was already a gazebo that the town used for farmer’s markets, so we didn’t have to do any decorating.
We portioned most of our budget for the reception, which we hosted at Mediterranean Deli in Chapel Hill. We wanted lots of big, beautiful flowers everywhere and plenty of space to dance. Above all, the food had to be delicious. We knew we would spend the majority of our budget on the food, so we kept that in mind when we chose a local restaurant.
One of the most difficult parts of planning was selecting the guest list. Every couple knows that the grand total goes up significantly with every three-times-removed-second-cousin you invite. We were both pretty strict with our invitations, which made for some tough decisions. But in the end, we settled on 40 guests, all of whom were easily accommodated under the gazebo for our ceremony and in the deli’s banquet hall for our reception.
Why we held our reception at a deli:
Anyone who grew up in the Chapel Hill area or who went to school at The University of North Carolina can tell you how wonderful Mediterranean Deli is. Known affectionately as “Med Deli” by locals, it serves delicious Greek, Lebanese, and Turkish food from giant deli cases. Neither of us is a North Carolina native, but when we moved here, it was the first restaurant we visited. My family is Syrian, so I’m always on the hunt for good Middle Eastern food, and I knew when we dug into a plate of hummus, grape leaves, and kibbeh that first visit that we would love living here.
When the time came to pick our venue, we knew that Med Deli combined my appreciation of the food I grew up eating with our mutual love for laid-back deli atmospheres. We lucked out when I discovered that Med Deli had a seldom-used banquet hall in the back of the building. They leased the space for free and charged for the food per plate. We ended up with the perfect venue: no frills, plenty of sentimental value.
One of my favorite parts of our wedding was getting to see everyone enjoy some of our favorite foods. Things were served buffet-style, with big pitchers of lemonade and rosewater iced tea. My Syrian family loved seeing us incorporate my heritage into our special day, and there were plenty of people at the reception who had their first taste of Middle Eastern food that night.
Why we decided to DIY our decor:
My wife and I are both pretty crafty, and we wanted our wedding to feel as personal as possible. Every minute of our wedding was undeniably “us.” While we did use a professional photographer for family photos and for the ceremony, our reception was completely analog. I’m an amateur photographer and a lover of all things old-school, so our Polaroid photo booth, which cost us about $70 to put together, was one of my favorite things about our wedding. We also included disposable film cameras at every table (10 cameras for $50) for our guests to use. Not only did this save us the cost of having a photographer all night, but it also gave us tangible photos we could sort through after our wedding, seeing the whole thing through the eyes of our guests.
For the banquet hall itself, we went with fake florals: big bouquets of silk peonies and ferns draped over every table. My wife bought a big lot of old antique books online ($35), which we used for the centerpieces. She also made giant floral hoops to hang on the walls. It took her hours to make them, but cost us virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things.
What we wished we included in our day:
Everyone looks back at their wedding, no matter how great, and wishes they did something differently. For me, I wish I’d picked a different dress. I went with a strapless A-line that had corset ribbing on the lace bodice from David’s Bridal ($750). It was a gorgeous dress, but I do wish I had shopped around more. My advice for plus-size brides? There are more dresses out there than you think—don’t impulse buy the first one that fits. Still, I did love my dress and it looked beautiful in photos.
If I could have splurged on one thing for our reception, it would have been live music. My wife and I both love older music, so a live folk or jazz band would have been great. But we used our own playlist, filled with The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Cash.
What made our wedding special:
When you’re planning a wedding on a budget, you feel like you have to compromise every step of the way. If I had 20 grand to spend on our wedding, there might have been bigger indulgences, like an extravagant honeymoon—even though the low-budget road trip we took to Savannah, Georgia, nearly a year later was wonderful. But as it was, our wedding was perfect. Every detail, from the food to the photography, represented something important to us. I still love looking at our box of signed Polaroids from all of our guests: my parents laughing while my dad puts bunny ears on my mom, my wife’s brother and sister squeezing into the frame with both of us.
Yes, there were bumps in the road: the stress of cutting our guest list down to a manageable size, an Airbnb we had booked canceling mere weeks before our wedding day, and my wife slipping a disc in her back months prior. But we got married in front of a group of our closest family and friends, we booked a better and cheaper Airbnb for our stay, and my wife walked down the aisle with the help of a cane. We ended up with a beautiful wedding that still makes me smile whenever I remember it.