Is it possible? Can you plan a wedding in the Washington, DC area for less than the average cost of a wedding in DC? Yes, yes you can! (Even $15,000 seems like a lot of money to me, but what do I know!?) Every couple has their own financial situation and priorities when it comes to wedding planning. (See our complete series on DC wedding budget breakdowns.) It is not impossible to plan and host a wedding in the Washington DC area for $15,000. In fact, it is done quite often. To give us the secret for how to pull off such a wedding, we turned to Emily, owner of Emily Dionne Events & Nuptials. She is giving us a sample $15,000 DC area wedding budget breakdown and the details for how to make it happen. Take it away, Emily…


Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography
(All photos courtesy of Emily Dionne Events & Nuptials from a real DC area wedding)

If you are setting out to plan a wedding in the DC area with a $15,000 budget, take heart – it is possible! A small budget does not mean that a fabulous and fun celebration is out of your grasp. However, you are going to have to get a bit creative, do some things yourself, and remain steadfastly realistic about what you can and cannot afford. Planning a wedding on a very small budget is all about priorities, and more so than a bride working with a larger budget, you are going to have to get yours ironed out right away.

First and foremost, I always tell clients that they need to establish their guest list before trying to make any other decisions. The more guests you have, the less you can afford to spend per guest and the more difficult it is going to be to keep to your budget, so be very honest with this part. Sit down with your fiancé and start a spreadsheet, and make an assessment as to who you expect will attend to come up with a rough total, and then base your budget around that number.

Next, take into account your personal preferences and priorities. If you are foodies, no problem. You may not be serving filet mignon, but what about gourmet goat mac and cheese or fresh made-on-the-spot doughnuts from a fun and festive food truck? If you love photography, but you can’t afford the photographer of your dreams, make an effort to set up a fun DIY faux photo booth with a pretty sheet for a backdrop, a few well-chosen props that reflect the mood you are going for, and a camera you already own set up on a tripod. If you love the idea of a wedding video, but can’t spend $2,500 or more on a professional videographer, rent a few flip cameras for $20 each and hand them out to your more creative guests, then edit the footage yourself or wait and pay to have it edited later.

Of course none of these options will result in a perfectly polished, spectacularly fancy affair, but not everyone wants something terribly formal, and there is no reason to feel pressure to go that route if it’s not what you actually want or what you can afford. Bottom line – you will not be able to do everything with a smaller budget, but you can choose a few areas to focus on and allocate your resources effectively to create a beautiful, personal wedding and a fun reception that your guests will enjoy.

Here is a sample budget for a $15,000 wedding in the Washington DC area with 100 guests:

Officiant – $0 (Family friend)
Marriage License – $50
Programs – $10 (print yourself, and only print enough for 75% of your guests. Some groups will take one per family or one per couple.)

Site Fee and Rentals – $3200

Tips on Local Sites: Research local parks and historic buildings and choose a weekday or Sunday to save event more. If you can find a venue in the county or city where you live, you may be able to get a resident discount. If you are looking at historic homes, look for one with an onsite reception tent that is included, as tent rentals are pricey. Woodlawn Manor in Sandy Spring, MD, for example, offers its house and grounds for only $1,375 on a Sunday or Friday in the high season, which is room for a standing cocktail reception for 120. Prices for the house, grounds, and tent for a seated reception start at $2,350. Total budgeted price includes rental of the venue, plus basic tables, chairs, and linens for a seated reception.


Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography

Catering – $6,000 (100 guests at $52 each with amazing food truck catering, bartenders, sodas and waters, tax tips, and fees included.)
Dessert, Cocktail Hour & Catering Extras – $1,800
Alcohol – $500 (Couple provides beer, wine, and scotch for a Scotch tasting bar to the caterer to serve.)

Tips on Food Truck Catering:  This sample budget includes a bountiful display of inexpensive, but delicious appetizers (like hummus and artisanal pita chips) during the cocktail hour, followed by a luscious buffet for dinner, and gourmet mac and cheese served in tiny take out boxes from CapMac, an amazing DC food truck. The dessert budget includes a donut cake, hot fresh organic donuts, ice cream, coffee, and hot chocolate from the wonderful people of Carpe Donut, based in Charlottesville. This also includes the fun treat of snow cones during the cocktail hour and lemonade as a welcome drink before the ceremony. The key thing to consider if you are planning a food truck-catered wedding is that you will probably need to rent all the tables, chairs, linens, plates, glassware, and cutlery from a separate rentals vendor, so plan ahead and work with the food truck owner to make sure you rent everything he or she will need. If you are working with a budget even smaller than $15,000, you might want to consider having a standing cocktail reception to save on rentals, but make sure there are at least some seats available so people aren’t trapped standing for three hours!


Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography


Wedding gown + veil – $250 (Wear your mom’s dress and have it altered, or find a pretty vintage dress on Etsy.)
Bride’s accessories – $50 (I suggest you use that to buy new shoes. Wear jewelry you already own, or borrow something pretty and meaningful from your grandmother.)
Groom – $25 (Have the groom wear a suit he already owns and just spruce it up with an inexpensive, but dapper new accessory, like a pocket square or cufflinks from Etsy.)

Tips about bridal dress shopping: Do not feel pressured to buy a “big white wedding dress” from a “big white wedding dress” store. Get creative! There are infinite beautiful vintage white dresses on Etsy, and there’s really no rule that says you have to wear white. I worked on a wedding in L.A. once at Disney Hall where the bride, a creative, artist-type herself,  wore a stunning bright peach gown, and looked just glowingly beautiful. There are no rules these days. Do what makes you happy!


Hair stylist – $40. (Skip the formal updo and just get a blow-out at an inexpensive salon in the morning. Do your makeup yourself, or enlist your most makeup-savvy bridesmaid.)


Personal Flowers – $200 (Bouquet for the bride, boutonniere for groom corsages and boutonnieres for parents.)
Ceremony Decor – $90 (Use beautiful potted plants from home for the aisle and provide simple, pretty paper fans to help with the heat if your wedding is in the summer.)
Reception Decor – $500 (DIY reception tables include moss runners, collected jelly jars, bulk wholesale flowers, votive candles, and home made table numbers. Plus, globe lights, to be strung around the dance floor.)

DIY-DC-Wedding-Centerpieces-Jelly Jars-Abbie-Rufener-photography DIY-DC-Wedding-Centerpieces-Moss-Runners-Abbie-Rufener-photography

Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography

Bridal suite – $0 (Complimentary from hotel with a room block. Many hotels in this area offer a complimentary hotel room for the couple if 80% or the room block is filled. Keep this in mind, and encourage your guests to take advantage of the discounted


Bride & groom and/or guests – $0 (Walk from hotel to venue, allow guests to transport selves and use family/friends to help transport.)

Welcome bags – $0 (Skip these. If you are hosting a wedding weekend or multi-day fete, this is a nice touch, but it’s not at all required.)
Amenity baskets for restrooms – $0 (Your wedding planner probably includes this in her day-of fee. If you’re not hiring a planner, forego it – no one will notice.)
Favors – $63 (72 packs of Chowards violet mints purchased on Amazon with free shipping, and arranged in a pretty basket that you already own. The packages are so pretty they don’t require any other wrapping. Rather than make individual favor tags, place a picture frame in front of the basket of a favors with a sweet note thanking your guests for attending your celebration. Not everyone will take one, and usually at least a third of the favors are left over from any wedding, so order enough for at least 70% of your guests.)


iPod + homemade playlist – $0
Speaker and microphone rental with delivery – $100

Tips for DIY music: If you are planning to use an iPod for your music, you absolutely must assign a master of ceremonies (your brother, the best man…) to make the announcements throughout the night, otherwise your guests will feel adrift and directionless. Plan a script with your MC in advance, and let him or her know what time you want each event announced, like the cake cutting, father of the bride toast, etc.

diy-cafe-lights-for-dc-area-wedding-Abbie-Rufener-photography DC-Wedding-DIY-Star-Charts-Abbie-Rufener-photography

Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography


Photography: $1,400
Video: $100 – Rent 5 flip cameras; edit the footage yourself

Tips on lost-cost photography: It’s a bit of a challenge to find a photographer who fits this budget, but they are out there, and many of them are fabulous hidden gems! Since you are not going to be able to hire one of the prominent professionals wedding photographers in the Washington DC  area, look for someone who is newer to the business, a grad student, a friend of a friend who is willing to help, or a former associate of one of DC’s many amazing, extremely expensive professional photographers who is just starting their own little company to get a great deal. Also, if you fall in love with a particular photographer who is out of your budget, don’t hesitate to contact them, tell them your budget, and see what they can offer. They may not be able to help you, but may be able to recommend an associate, or provide hourly a la carte service for a few key hours, especially if your wedding isn’t on a Saturday night.


Wedding coordinator – $400.

Tips on wedding planning: Even if you can’t afford full planning or even full day-of planning, if your wedding has a lot of DIY elements that require set-up on the wedding day, you are probably going to need to hire someone for at least some partial service. A local DC wedding planner is also often available for hourly consulting, and can help you make a thorough, realistic budget and direct you to the best, (…ahem, cheapest) DIY sources and the most reliable budget-friendly but excellent vendors. A good planner
will save you so much time and money by preventing you from having to try to locate the least expensive quality options on your own, and will be able to actually relax and enjoy your wedding day – priceless! This price includes eight hours of a la carte consulting.

Invitations – $200 (Vendor on Etsy for invitation suite at $1.50/suite with envelope and custom flat card, or, purchase blank cards from Paper Source and print them yourself. Includes postage.)
Escort cards – $20 (DIY or Etsy – print photos of all your guests on Shutterfly, write their table numbers on the back, and hang them on fishing line between two trees with mini clothes pins from the craft store.)
Wedding website – $0 (Using free wedding website services)
Calligraphy – $0 (Find a friend with pretty handwriting or use a beautiful font and print them yourself.)


Photo Credit: Abby Rufener Photography


Thank you so much, Emily! This is full of such good information for weddings of all budgets in the DC area. If you are looking for a wedding planner or someone to help you stay on budget, be sure to check out Emily Dionne Events & Nuptials.

If you need help searching for any of the vendors listed in this post, please be sure to browse around our comprehensive Washington DC wedding vendor guide. In all categories, there are so many great, local vendors to choose from! Also, we have loads of local DC specific wedding budget help, so don’t plan alone!

* Emily Dionne Events & Nuptials is one of our fabulous sponsors, but didn’t pay for this feature. For more info, please review our editorial policies or consider becoming a sponsor.

Photo Credits: Abby Rufener Photography

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