It’s finally here! You guys asked, and here I am with the goodies. How the heck did we have an epic destination wedding on a budget?!? It’s all about finding out your priorities, researching, and sticking to your guns. Here. We. GO!
The first step in having an epic destination wedding is setting your budget. For perspective, an average REGULAR wedding is about $35,000 (also depends on where you live). We knew we wanted to go someplace special and make it about family, but couldn’t afford a ton. Jack and I set our budget at $20,000 and didn’t want to stray far from it. Once I had that number in my head, I was ready to rock and roll.
The second step is prioritizing your needs. For us, photography was the number one priority, even before the location and date. I stress this to everyone who inquires, but your photographs are the only tangible thing you will have left of your wedding when it’s all over. It’s the memories that matter most, and your photographs hold on to that. Over 50% of our budget went to photography and once you see her pictures, you’ll understand why we didn’t skimp in that department (none are featured in this post, these are ours!).
You don’t have to go crazy on it, but find a photographer who has an amazing client experience and photos, and that price tag will be so worth it. We knew from BEFORE we got engaged who we wanted as our photographers. We had an idea of a location and time of year, but it all changed when we contacted Katelyn James. Katelyn has been my online mentor since 2016 and I learned everything I know from her!!!
Jack and I had our hearts set on Lake Louise in Canada. That clear turquoise water was just… UGH. We also chose the end of July as it was when we were both in our downtime for work. I contacted Katelyn and she unfortunately let us know about Canada’s rules for photography. Only Canadian citizens can professionally shoot there! In our hearts, we knew that Katelyn was the only photographer for us. So, we researched the closest looking place in the United States, which is how we ended in Colorado.
After switching locations, we received some more disappointing news. All of her weekends for the year were booked already as she only takes a handful of weddings per year. BUT, she said if we could do a Wednesday wedding, she would 10000% be there. Wednesday, July 29, 2020 officially became our wedding date and honestly saved us a ton of money.
Now, choosing our ceremony venue was where everything else fell into place (and how we started saving money on this epic destination wedding). We knew Colorado had the mountain look we were going for, but how did Maroon Bells come into play? There are a TON of gorgeous wedding venues in Colorado, but they didn’t have the exact background we wanted when reciting our vows.
Well, I started researching National Parks in the state because fun fact: Many National Parks have day rentals and if you search hard enough, you can find special rentals like we did. I found the Maroon Bells Amphitheater through some Google Searches and OMG was it perfect. I figured it would cost a ton of money, but when I got to the rental site, I was SHOCKED that it was only $200 for the day. For that gorgeous view?! OKAY. Guess what the only day was that they had available? That’s right. July 29th. BOOKED. National Parks are your best friend (just ask Leslie Knope).
With our date and location set, and our photographer booked, it was time for the rest of the planning to begin. The next biggest thing for us was travel costs. We knew it would take a chunk out of our budget. Now, we didn’t book at the best time because we were anxious about securing everything, so our travel costs were more than we wanted ($2650 with hotel, car, and airfare). However, our Man of Honor, Skyler, and his wonderful wife, Rachel, booked round trip flights into Aspen for $200 by waiting for a change in the industry (COVID). Our friend, Christine, is also a travel planner who gets amazing deals on bundles (and she’s more than willing to assist any of our brides and grooms with destination weddings/honeymoons!!) .
When planning your travel, book flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the afternoon. Also, always sign up for the free mileage programs because they definitely help if you travel frequently! We are both TrueBlue members and United Mileage members. Signing up for the free car rental programs also give you bonus upgrades sometimes! When booking hotels, cars, and flights, see if they have discounts for being members of programs such as AAA. Who knew that having your car break down frequently can help you when you travel?!?
Now for the reception. One thing that really helped us when planning the destination wedding was the guest list. We only wanted our closest friends and family who had a relationship with us there. That put our list at 40 people. With it being a Wednesday wedding, many couldn’t attend (even before COVID hit), and our final guest list was around 20 people. PERFECT for a destination wedding like this. Knowing that we had so few people, we looked for restaurants in the area that would be able to seat large parties as opposed to another wedding venue. You’d be surprised how many of those restaurants are out there!
We ended up choosing one with the food that suited us best. Restaurants are also a bit easier as they typically have a minimum for food and drinks, and will either close off a section for your party, or you’ll get the entire place to yourselves like we did. The entire reception with all food and drinks, the place to ourselves, customized menus, plus staff was around $3000 total. Um. Some reception places in the area were $5000 minimum with JUST the venue. Nothing included. Restaurants are the BEST!!!!
Now that all of the big stuff is out of the way, let’s talk outfits. Since I watch WAY too much Say Yes to the Dress and other bridal shows, I already knew the designer I wanted. I just didn’t know the price range. The first thing I did was search for shops in the area that carried the designer. Then, I looked at the average costs of dresses at the shop. In Orlando, there are shops that have both a main store and an outlet store (so if I needed to go to the outlet for a better price, I could).
After choosing a shop, I told my mom that my budget was no more than $1000. I wanted to keep it simple. It was a destination wedding after all and I would be hiking! I asked her to help keep me in line (you have to have that support system!!). We found the designer and only chose dresses in the style I wanted that were around my price point. After finding my dream dress, they told me they could either order a brand new one in my exact size, or I could take the sample with a discount. Nothing was wrong with it, so we saved about 10% there!! Along with my veil, we were at exactly my budget. Don’t be afraid to ask about the sample dresses if they fit!
On Jack’s side, we knew he wasn’t a suit and tie kind of guy. He is VERY simple. Honestly, we went to Kohls and got his pants and shirt that he’ll wear to work anyway, and went to JJ’s House for his vest. Everything was under $100 and you wouldn’t even be able to tell by just looking at him. However, if you ARE a suit and tie person, Men’s Wearhouse always has amazing deals. I know you might be anxious to book and secure, but honestly, the holiday sales are killer!
Time for our wedding bands. Jewelers and department stores can have some SCARY price tags on them. But, you can 100% find affordable and gorgeous pieces if you look in the right spot! Jack found his band on a site called Manly Bands. They make SUCH high quality rings at a super affordable rate. Plus, they send a ring sizer to ensure you get the right fit the first time. Jack got me such a beautiful engagement ring that I did not feel the need for an extravagant band. I found a website called Blue Nile who had gorgeous designs with the best coupons! In total, our bands were $600. You can also find some great bands on Etsy (thanks for that tip, Mila Kunis!!).
Our last big ticket item for the destination wedding was hair and makeup. I usually have my hair in a bun and refuse to wear makeup unless necessary, so this was something that was important to me. I wanted to make sure I could treat myself. The original hair and makeup girl got stuck out of the country and sweet Angela gladly took us on last minute. Depending on where you are will determine your pricing, but she was so worth the $400 and came directly to us! This situation is similar to the photography in my eyes. I chose someone who gave us an amazing experience and who’s work would last the entire day.
Everything else for our wedding day was pretty much DIY or waiting for super sales. I’m a very frugal person and will research until I find exactly what I need. For our flowers, I knew I wanted white daisies and to add a touch of maroon for my dad. Not knowing what would be out that way or in bloom, I went the silk flower route from Afloral and made my own bouquet/bouts. I knew that we would be running through the mountains, so I waited for my favorite boots to go on sale at Target!
Etsy was the perfect place to find my details, such as my rose-gold hair piece, earrings, and cancer emblems. Our invitations were from Minted and we waited for their 20% coupons before purchasing anything! For a destination wedding, you also really only need a save the date and invite. You can do the RSVPs all online now!! Finally, let the beauty of your space run it’s course. We did not have any decor for our day besides name cards because it was such a gorgeous place on it’s own.
Oof. I know that was a lot, but I wanted to share all the details of us planning our destination wedding day and finding our deals! We are super transparent and are sharing our exact budget breakdown below.
Hair and Makeup: $400
Food While Traveling: $300
Jack’s Outfit: $100
With us as your wedding photographers, you could do our entire epic destination wedding for around $14,000 with travel included! These plans also work for destination elopements and vow renewals. We still have dates available and you can send us a message here 😉
Looking for more destination wedding content? Check out these real destination weddings!