Intimate DIY Outdoor Wedding for $1k


We’re back with another entry in our Wedding Budget Diaries! This real wedding comes to us from California where this savvy couple pulled together a simple celebration for just over $1k! It just goes to show that a wedding can be whatever you make it. Hope you enjoy these insights from Emily about her intimate DIY outdoor wedding!

Xoxo, Jessica

wedding budget diaries
Intimate DIY Outdoor Wedding for $1k

Emily + Dylan 

May 20th, 2018
Mendocino Coast, CA 

When I was planning my wedding three years ago, I had a list of things that I needed my wedding to be. I wanted a whimsical, fairy dusted wedding that had a momentous vibe to reflect the importance of the ceremony being performed. I also needed it to be dirt cheap. We were both in school and didn’t want to go into debt for a wedding. We managed to have a completely magical wedding for around $1,000 and we wouldn’t change a thing about it!

If you want to have an inexpensive wedding, I’m sure you’ve been doing lots of research and you might feel quite disappointed. When I did my research I would look up things like, “How to have a very cheap wedding.” The articles I found were always along the lines of “Here’s how I managed to only spend $10,000 on my wedding!”

Yikes… I must have a very different understanding of the word ‘cheap’. The suggestions I saw tended to be a bit tacky, in my opinion. I saw suggestions such as ‘Just rent a school gym!’ or ‘Buy a pre-made cake from Safeway!’ Eww… (no offense Safeway.)

So I just decided to go completely rogue (per usual.) I came up with some pretty cool ideas that I think anyone looking to do something similar could really benefit from.

Without further ado, if you are wanting to throw a truly budget friendly wedding, read on! 

How we Planned Our Intimate DIY Outdoor Wedding for only $1,000

The Budget Breakdown:

Here is our rough budget breakdown.

  • Venue: $0
  • Attire: $200
  • Dinner: $50
  • Cake: $10 (homemade)
  • Flowers: $75
  • Hair and Makeup: $80 
  • Ring: $400
  • Chair Rentals: $40
  • Photography: $200
  • Total spent: $1,055

We hosted 40 guests for our intimate backyard wedding.

The Venue: 

Every aspect of a wedding has the potential to be extremely (and usually unnecessarily) expensive, especially the venue. I have seen many of my friends drop thousands of dollars on venues that weren’t spectacular by any stretch. They also came with lots of rules (and sometimes sinks of dirty dishes from previous events.) 

Thankfully, outdoor weddings never seem to go out of style. I am very lucky to have some beautiful forested land that my parents take care of that was available to us to use for absolutely free. Although I did choose this option, I considered national forests, headlands that overlooked the ocean and beautiful properties owned by friends. Most of these options were free or only had a fee of $50-$100! Finding an alternative wedding venue can be a big money-saver.

The next thing to consider with the venue is the setup. You will probably need chairs, tables, plates, cups, and silverware. If you are having a wedding with 20 guests or less, chances are you can pretty easily collect 20 chairs from your house and the houses of family or friends. Mismatched wooden chairs can have a very cute, Pinterest vibe.

We had around 40 guests so we decided to rent chairs. I would recommend not going through any agencies and just do a little digging to find companies that rent out event supplies. I was very surprised by how inexpensive our cute, white wooden chairs were. They were about $1 per chair per day and the other supplies were similarly priced!

The Flowers:

This is a fun one! It blows my mind how expensive flowers can be and how you can so drastically reduce the price with just a little work. For my wedding, I wanted a wildflower look with blues, whites, and a few pinks. I purchased a huge box of baby’s breath from Costco for about $60, and a dozen pink roses for $15. 

I planted some blue CornFlowers and my bridal party collected the rest of the flowers from the side of the road leading to our venue. My mind was completely blown by all of the beautiful, wild blooms they brought back with them!

Buy Bulk Flowers Online

In the afternoon we had a ‘Flower Party’ where we drank tea, listened to music and created the bouquets, boutonnieres, flower arch, and centerpieces. My flowers turned out to be so inexpensive and more beautiful than any of my inspiration board photos I’d saved. Plus, putting them together was such a fun memory with my bridesmaids. 

real wedding for $1k

The Dress: 

The dress can be a tricky one. Lots of brides will choose to splurge on their dresses by buying from a boutique, which is great, but there are some awesome budget-friendly options too! I like to sew, so I designed and made my own wedding dress. Yep, I was *that* bride! I bought most of the materials from Joann’s for about $80 and I bought my lace from Italy for $20. 

If you like to sew or know someone who does, I would encourage you to consider doing this! I absolutely loved being able to make the exact dress I dreamed of and now I have a wonderfully unique keepsake. Another great option, if you like to sew or know someone who does, is to alter your mother or grandmother’s dress. I altered and updated my mother’s dress for my sister’s wedding and it was so beautiful, meaningful and only about $40! 

homemade wedding dress

The Makeup and Hair:

This is another really fun one. Before my wedding I knew next to nothing about hair and makeup. Makeup was tinted sunscreen, mascara and chapstick and hair was down or ponytail, so I wanted to hire professionals. I looked into quite a few artists in my area and didn’t love the heavy makeup look, the almost too perfect hair and the $500+ price tag. 

Quickly, I decided I was just going to have to become a pro at the makeup look I wanted. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos, invested in some nice makeup, and practiced the look I wanted about 20 times before the wedding day. It turned out great and I had nice makeup that I got to use the whole first year of our marriage! DIYing your wedding makeup can be a great way to save cash.

For my hair I just wanted it to have some wild, wispy curls and lots of volume and flowers in it. I curled my hair with hot rollers and my sisters pinned it up, put some flowers in it and it was exactly what I wanted. I think this is a great option for brides who are wanting to save some money or are just picky about the look they are going for. 

Also, if you’re looking to get your skin ready in advance of the big day there are some awesome DIY face masks options

The Photos and Video: 

Having quality photos to make a wedding album and having a beautiful wedding video to show my future children were some of the most important things to me, and I think a lot of brides feel the same way. I was very fortunate to be friends with a girl who is a photographer and my brother-in-law is a videographer. If you don’t personally know any photographers or videographers, here is a little secret I learned from being a photo editor for weddings!

Lots of photographers really hate the process of sorting through the photos, selecting the best ones, and editing them. Once you find a photographer you like, ask them if they would be willing to send you the unsorted, unedited batch to you to edit yourself. You will be able to pick all of your favorite images, edit them the way you like and the photographer will often give you a discount. There are tons of different software options and tutorials that make editing pretty easy. It’s also really fun to work on your own images!

The Food: 

There are so many options when it comes to saving money on the food for your wedding. Two days before our wedding, my husband made a huge batch of homemade pasta and I made a big batch of Alfredo sauce that we just had to put together and heat up the day of the wedding. For the sides, we had guests bring salads and bread potluck style. If you want to avoid doing any cooking yourself, going full-on potluck is a great option. Just make sure that guests sign up for different dishes to bring so that you don’t only have salads!

For the cake, a great way to save is to make your own or have someone you know make one for you. I made my six-layer, two-tier cake the day before the wedding. On the morning of the wedding, one of my more artistic cousins decorated the cake with some rustic buttercream and wildflowers. A cake like this would have cost me around $600 from a bakery and ended up costing me around ten bucks! It’s impossible to beat those savings!   

The Rings: 

One of the best things about the age of Etsy is beautiful, unique, and inexpensive jewelry! There are very few brides I know these days who get their engagement or wedding rings from a department store. The giant price tag and the questionable ethics or origins of the stones make department store rings way less desirable. We designed and purchased my amazing aquamarine, diamond, and white gold ring from an Etsy seller for only $300. It’s one of a kind, exactly what I always wanted, and super affordable!

Another amazing option is to ask your parents/aunts/in-laws if they know of any heirloom rings in the family that you could use. My sister was given her husband’s great grandmother’s ring and it is so timeless, gorgeous, meaningful, and free! 

In Conclusion: Your wedding is what you make it

Seeing all of this DIY madness in one place may make you wonder what I was thinking, and how I possibly maintained my mental health, but honestly, I really enjoyed all of it. It requires a lot of planning, learning, and creativity but the skills you learn, the memories you make, and the money you save will really make your day all the more special and leave you in a much healthier financial state. 

At the end of the day, our intimate DIY outdoor wedding was exactly what we wanted. I hope you can implement even just one of these money-saving tips and put that money towards a home, an adventure, or whatever else may bring you joy with your new spouse!


Photography: Peer Through Media | Videography: Peer Through Media | Venue: YWAM Mendocino (Family’s property) | Engagement ring: MRoseDesign on Etsy | Wedding cake: Homemade | Hair & Makeup: DIY | Flowers: Handpicked | Wedding Dress: DIYed by the Bride | Groom’s Suit: Men’s Wearhouse

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Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here

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