How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

You don’t have to sacrifice beauty when budgeting. San Francisco City Hall weddings provide an inexpensive, elegant wedding ceremony venue.

We’re SF Bay Area photographers who see every end of the wedding spectrum – from the lavish weekend weddings with wedding coordinators to small weekday elopements. Today we’re going to address the latter, or at least weddings with the budget of one! Let’s discuss how to plan a wedding on a budget. Sure, everyone has a budget. (Or they should!) But we’re talking about a small budget here.

Frugal weddings are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the San Francisco area. Young couples (yep, millennials) have less and less money to spend than past generations and are re-prioritizing how they spend their money. If you’ve already amassed quite a bit of debt thanks to student loans, and are now facing the cost of planning a wedding, you’re not alone. The folks over at Earnest are a great resource for people just like you. If you’re thinking about refinancing your student loan debt to get your finances in check before you get married, use their student loan calculator. Huge, expensive weddings are often a low priority.

Since we live and work in one of the most expensive places to live in the country, it becomes difficult to justify spending such large amounts on weddings. It’s tempting for couples to create a small budget for their wedding.

So let’s break it down.

Guests

The number of guests that you want at your wedding ultimately determines the total budget for your wedding. Seating and feeding (and hydrating!) these guests costs money. The more guests you have, the larger the venue you’ll need and the more food and drinks you’ll need to provide.

If you’re on a tiny budget, you need a tiny guest list. You need to invite those who are closest to you and eliminate everyone else. Bring your two best friends and your parents. Bring your siblings and no one else. Just a small group of people who support you.

If that task seems daunting and excluding certain people while including others will cause too much heartache and headache, eloping is an excellent choice.

Elopement

Tasha and Seth's San Francisco elopement - civil ceremony

Tasha and Seth eloped to San Francisco City Hall

Traditionally, eloping meant that two people in love would sneak off in the middle of the night and get married without telling a soul. While that is sometimes still true, many now plan their elopements months in advance. They may tell a select few, or choose to feature a big announcement on social media alongside some wedding photos. Or everyone close to them may know that it’s happening, but since absolutely no one is invited, no feelings are hurt. And if feelings are hurt, that’s not on you. This is your wedding day and your money!

We recently met an adorable couple with their super cute infant son at a city hall wedding. Tasha and Seth were traveling from their home in Canada to San Francisco to visit some cousins. They quickly decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to elope since San Francisco City Hall is really popular for elopements!

San Francisco City Hall

Tasha and Seth's San Francisco elopement - City Hall entrance

Tasha and Seth’s SF City Hall elopement

If you’re looking for a budget ceremony venue in San Francisco, your search begins and ends with San Francisco City Hall. Seriously, you won’t find any place better than this. A civil ceremony only costs $83! Plus you can invite a few guests if you like, but the limit is six. (Although we often see that rule broken, but don’t go too crazy!) Robyn and Hugh invited 12 guests to their SF City Hall wedding, which is more than recommended, but it worked out just fine.

If you’d like a private wedding, City Hall does those too. One-hour weddings are $1000 and are also Monday through Friday during the day, just like the civil ceremonies. With these weddings, you can invite up to 100 guests. Two-hour weddings are also an option, but we shouldn’t even mention those here; they cost $5000 and certainly don’t fit those on a small budget.

We love SF City Hall. These weddings are our specialty. It’s a hot spot for tourists and people in love every weekday, year-round. We’ve even written a very thorough and complete guide to getting married at San Francisco City Hall!

Photography

Yes, we’re wedding photographers, so we may be biased here. But if you’ve done any reading about weddings and wedding planning, you are likely to have read again and again that wedding photography is the most important thing to splurge on. Photos are the one thing that will last forever. Not the flowers, not the food. The photos.

We offer low-cost SF City Hall wedding photography to ensure that every couple getting married at city hall has the opportunity to have fantastic photos to cherish for the rest of their lives!

Everything Else

Yes, everything else. All those pesky little details. Let’s break it down, with examples!

Flowers

Flower bouquet from Trader Joe's

It is incredibly common for couples to arrange their own flowers the day of their wedding. Stop by a local florist or even a grocery store like Trader Joe’s for an easy arrangement that you love. Plus, it adds the desired pop of color in your photos!

The Dress and Tux

San Francisco City Hall wedding photography

You don’t need to wear an overpriced wedding gown or tuxedo to get married. Crazy, I know. Keep it simple and comfortable. Head to your favorite store and buy something you know you’ll look pretty in.

But if you can’t stand the thought of not doing it up right, then consider renting both the gown and the tux. Rent the Runway is a great option for renting dresses. For tuxedos, there’s the super convenient The Black Tux.

Reception

After city hall weddings, most couples and their small group of guests (if any) head to a local favorite restaurant. It’s easier to reserve tables or even a private dining room ahead of time to ensure convenience the day of your wedding. Plus, having your reception at a restaurant keeps the day simple. No expensive cake, DJ, or decor. Cutting out those things makes for a lot of room in the budget. When you’re at a restaurant with those closest to you, everyone simply gets to celebrate one of the most exciting days of your life.

If you want to keep your budget as low as possible, we suggest keeping the reception as simple as possible. Even if you’re looking into a traditional reception but opting to DIY many of the elements, it will still be a very pricey day. You still need to feed and entertain those guests!

Skip the headache, and have a stress-free dinner at a restaurant after a city hall wedding. Your bank account will thank you.

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