santa barbara elopement photographer

DIY Wedding and Save Money

Weddings have become so expensive, especially in Santa Barbara with high prices on everything from venues to caterers, florists, to makeup artist, etc. but if you really want to, there are many creative ways to have a DIY Wedding and save money.

Before I begin, I do want to mention that having an amazing team of vendors will make your life easier, less stressful, and your wedding will be the perfect dream you have envisioned for so long.  That being said however, there are also ways to cut costs, while still having your dream wedding.  I’ve photographed well over 300 weddings now and I’ve seen it all, from super simple backyard style bbq weddings, to over the top lavish luxury weddings, but whatever your style, there are definitely ways to save some money, at any price point.

DIY Weddings - bride and groom

1. REAL VENDORS = REAL MONEY – DON’T UNDERCUT THEM.  If you want to hire professional vendors for your wedding, than expect to pay professional prices.  Don’t just try to get all of your vendors to cut costs and discount everything.  Some just won’t do it and those who do, probably won’t be happy about it and may not give your wedding the same kind of attention or care that they would if they were getting paid their regular price.  Be respectful and know that our prices are what they are because we take into account our operating costs, salaries, living costs (just like it’s not cheap to get married in Santa Barbara, it’s not cheap to live here either!), etc.

2. In my opinion, there are definitely some vendor categories that you should spend your cash on and hire a professional, and then there are other categories that you might be able to do yourself or get creative with, to save some money.

Here is a chart that I made to help you get started and then read the descriptions below for more details on each category.

DIY Wedding

Venue: There are a few options with this one.

Option 1:  For the most cost effective money-saving option, go with a city venue.  You’ll pay a minimal fee but you’ll end up saving thousands overall.  In Santa Barbara some good options for your     ceremony are The Santa Barbara Courthouse, Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, The Beach, etc.  There are some venues that allow both ceremonies and receptions, such as Chase Palm Park, Elings Park, and some beach areas.

Option 2:  Rent a house/mansion that will accommodate you and your guests for your entire stay (saving tons on hotel fees) AND allow for you to have your ceremony and reception there.  There are many options online on sites like VRBO and some really great places in Santa Barbara such as Villa Sevillano, Ravenscroft Historical Estate, Mediteranean Retreate with Infinity Views, (all of which I have shot weddings at, but make sure to get your wedding approved by the owner before you rent any estate.

Option 3: Splurge on your dream venue.  The venue matters, and if you plan to save in other categories, why not spend the big bucks on the venue that you really want?

Photographer: Ok, you might think I’m just saying this because I am a photographer, but I promise, I’m not.  I cannot tell you how many times I hear the same story over and over from my clients friends (at my clients weddings), that they wish they had hired a professional photographer for their wedding, because their photos are A) awful, B) they never got their wedding photos because the photographer disappeared after their wedding, C) they hired a friend and it was super awkward because they didn’t like the photos, D) their photographer didn’t know what they were doing and took forever to take all of the photos, making the entire day run behind schedule.  But most importantly, other than your actual marriage, this is the ONE TAKEAWAY from your wedding day and the only thing that will keep your memories alive forever.  I constantly have couples commenting on how it was so much fun to go through their photos because we captured moments that they didn’t even know were happening, and others that they had forgotten about.  The day goes by in a whirlwind, and your photos are so important.  The other side to it is that regardless of your budget, you are putting a lot of time, money, energy, effort, and love into creating a really special, memorable day for you and your loved ones, and I think it’s worth spending a little more to get a photographer that you not only like (as a personal /vibe with), but whose style you love.  These are the photos that will will carry your memories of your wedding day for the rest of your lives, so to have your wedding documented in a style of photography that you think is beautiful and timeless, is so important.  It’s worth every penny you spend.

Caterer: Here’s another area that I think matters, but there are ways to limit your spending.  I would recommend spending some money on a professional caterer because they are professionals for a reason and know what they are doing.  Food temperature, timing, menu options, etc. are important things to think about.  But there are also ways to save.  For drinks, ask if you can provide the alcohol (so that you don’t pay inflated prices), and maybe limit what you offer to your guests to one or two Signature Cocktails and Beer and Wine.  For the food, buffet or family style will usually save you some money.  Another option is to go with a simplified menu.  There are some great caterers in Santa Barbara that will work with you to create a menu that fits your budget.

 DJ: Here again, I think it’s best to go with a professional.  You definitely don’t want to deal with sound problems (sound blackouts, shorts, etc.) on your day, and professional DJs know how to connect all of the cords to make sure this doesn’t happen…or if it does, they know what to do to fix it quickly.  I was at a wedding once where the lighting people connected their lights into the wrong circuit that was supposed to be only for the DJ, so as soon as the DJ turned up the sound to announce the bridal party and the bride and groom, the entire system shorted out and the music shut off!  It wasn’t the DJs fault at all but it happened and because they were professionals, they know how to fix the problem and get the music back within a few short minutes.  The night could have been ruined if they had hired a friend or amateur.  I’ve also seen a few disastrous DJ situations, where the DJs were incompetent and playing the same mix of songs over and over, or forgetting to announce the bridal party, or completely butchering the names of the bride and groom when announcing them.

Cake: Alright, here’s where the savings begin!  There are a few great options for cakes.

Option 1: Have the Cake Baker decorate a styrofoam mold, and only make one layer (either the top or the bottom, or both), actual cake.  That way, you’ll have a pretty cake, and you can still cut your cake in front of your guests but you’ll save money on the cake itself.  Have the baker make a bunch of sheet cakes that are hidden in the back for the caterers to cut for your guests.

Option 2: Buy a bunch of generic round white cakes at the grocery store, place them on pretty cake platters, and set them on different tiers around your dessert table.  You can have a friend decorate them with some pretty flowers and honestly, your desert table might end up looking prettier than if you had hired a professional to make your cake.

Option 3: Opt for an assortment of desserts like cookies, cupcakes, candies, etc. instead of cake.

Option 4: Have a loved one make your cake.

Dress:  These ideas won’t be for everyone, but they are ideas to consider if you want to save money on your dress.  Of course, if buying your dream dress and spending that extra cash on it is something that is super important to you for a keepsake, then by all means, do it.  But there are other options for those who want to save.

Option 1: Buy your dress on consignment.  I love this option, because you can get a dress that you might not be able to afford otherwise!  If you’re worries about it not being perfectly spotlessly clean, don’t worry about that!  Within the first 5 minutes of walking around taking pictures, even a brand new dress is going to get scuffed on the bottom and no one worries about that!  Plus, it will come dry-cleaned and practically like-new.

Option 2: Another option to consider is renting a dress.  I know, not for everyone, but honestly it’s an option that some brides like.

Option 3: Buy your dress off the rack and have it altered (if need be) by a seamstress or loved one that can sew.

Planner: Many venues require that you hire (at the very least) a Day-Of Coordinator.  You might be able to have a friend play that role but most likely, they will need to get liability insurance (required by most venues for all vendors).  Planners are super great to have and if you can afford spending some cash on one, I recommend doing so.  They will make your life so much easier and reduce your stress level by a lot.  However, there are some couples that are really good at planning and are super organized, and honestly do 99% of the work themselves.  Not everyone really needs a planner.  It’s a personal decision and it’s one of those things that is absolutely necessary for some couples, and not at all necessary for others.

Hair and Makeup: Sure, it’s nice to have a professional come to your hotel room and do your hair and makeup as well as all of your bridesmaids and mothers hair and makeup, but it’s also not necessary and you’ll save thousands if you go to a salon instead.  You can always go with your bridesmaids to the salon in the morning, leaving plenty of time to get back to the hotel and relax before go-time.  You can do your makeup yourself (I don’t really recommend this unless you are really good at it).  You can go to a department store and get it done. Or, go to the Mac Store (or another makeup brand) and quietly ask the employees if any of them would consider coming to your hotel room to do your makeup on your wedding day.  Most of the makeup artist working at the makeup counters do freelance work on the side, and will be much more affordable than your average makeup artists that specializes only in weddings.

Shoes: You don’t have to spend so much on shoes!  First of all, almost all high heels are super pailful after wearing them for a couple of hours, so 99% of the time brides end up barefoot or in flip flops by the end of the night anyway.  Especially NEW high heals!  Ouch!  Why put yourself through this torture?  If you really want those super cute shoe shots, then get a pair of shoes for cheap at forever 21 or H&M and wear them for the ceremony, and then have another pair to change into that you’ve already broken in (that you’ve owned for a long time and know are comfortable), or buy a pair of cute flip flops that will be comfortable to wear all day long.  Your dress will cover up your shoes anyway!

Rings: These are something that will last forever, years past your wedding day, so don’t go too cheap and make sure you get what you really want becuae you’ll be wearing them everyday for the rest of your lives.  Still, there are many options out there.  Shop around.  Consider Etsey or going with a vintage ring.

Videographer:  This is a category that is super important to some and not important at all to others.  It’s totally up to you.  If all you care about is having the ceremony filmed, have a friend operate the videocamera on a tripod in the back or discretely setup in the front, and record it that way.  DO NOT, I repeat, do not, let your friend walk around to get different angles during the ceremony!  I’ve seen some ceremonies ruined by ‘friends’ trying to get creative with the videography and totally ruining the special moment for the couple and the audience by being completely disruptive and obnoxious.  Don’t take that risk – it’s not worth it and could end up ruining all of your ceremony photos taken by your professional photographer.  Something else to keep in mind is that more often than not, you’ll end up watching your wedding video a few times (in your life!) but that’s it.

Groomsmen Attire: One word.  Rent.

Flowers: Ok, heres the deal with flowers and hiring a professional florist.  Florists work super hard and it takes hours to put everything together for you.  They are worth every penny you spend on them because it does take a lot of time, and a lot of thought goes into making all of the bouquets and boutonnieres so pretty and perfect.  Some of my dearest friends are florists, and I’ve seen first-hand, what they do – and it’s a lot of work!  HOWEVER, you can save sooo much money if you Do IT Yourself (or to state it more accurately, enlist a friend(s) to DO IT THEMSELVES).

Step 1: First of all, you will save a ton on flowers if YOU buy them (instead of your florist buying them).  If you’re coming from LA, stop in the Flower District and buy buckets of flowers to make everything from the bouquets to the boutonnieres, to the centerpieces, to the ceremony decor, etc.  You can also utilize the grocery store or farmer’s market.  Flowers aren’t ever cheap, but no matter where you get them, you’ll save tons just by buying them yourself.

Step 2: If you really want to have a friend help you put together all of your bouquets and boutonnieres for your wedding party, them make sure you get all of the necessary materials and watch Youtube how-to videos so that you make them right.  You don’t want them falling apart on your wedding day.  Still, it’s not rocket science, and anyone who wants to, can easily put some nice looking pieces together.  Also consider having them made a day or two before the wedding (store them in the refrigerator) so that you don’t have to worry about them coming out nicely on the day of.  MAKE SURE, to get flowers and greenery that will last and won’t wilt or fall apart right away.  Start to make a mental note of flowers you see in wedding bouquets, so that you get flowers that will withstand the day.

Step 3: Centerpieces and Ceremony Decor.  You can really fnd almost any type of vase you are looking for if you shop the thrift stores.  It’s so popular these days to have mix-matched centerpieces anyway, so getting different bottles, vases, and bowls, can really add to the look and style of your tables.  You can also consider using succulents and rocks to make arrangements right on the tables themselves.  Get creative and have fun!  Pinterest will help you come up with the style you want.

A few things to keep in mind:

1: Have whoever is helping you with your flowers (referably multiple people) start setting up as early as possible.  Since they are not professionals, it might take longer than it would take a florist to setup.

2: Consider the weather.  If it’s sweltering out and your reception/ceremony sites are in full sun, you can’t setup too early because your flowers will all wilt by the time your guests arrive.

3: Make sure to start on the personals (bouquets and boutonnieres) at least a day early.  And, make sure you have ALL of the nessary materials for making them and attaching them.

4: Do what you can ahead of time.  If you have a cool place to store your centerieces in, make them a day or two before the wedding as well.

Stationary: There are tons of options here.  There are so many easy online do-it-yourself options for putting together your own invitations, etc.  There are also couples who opt for the Online-Only Invite ‘green invitation’ and there are some classy websites that take your online invite to the next level.

Groom’s Attire: Most grooms rent their tux or suit.  Department stores also have affordable options if you’re going for a little less formal of a look.

Bridesmaids Dresses: It can be fun to let all of your bridesmaids choose their own dress (with a color genre and style).  This way, they all feel comfortable in their dresses and usually they pay for their own dresses.  Make sure to ‘ok’ all of the choices ahead of time, if you’re worried about it.  You can also choose an affordable dress at a department store, instead of going with a bridesmaid-specific option.

That’s it!  You’ve just learned how to save a killing on your wedding and now might be able to put more money towards the vendors that matter most to you.  It takes some organization and creativity, but it’s totally doable and totally worth it!

I often get inquiries for photography and they say they’ve allocated $2,500 for the photography, when really, if they got a little creative, they could easily allocate $5,000 or more, and get the photographer that they really want but think they ‘can’t afford’.  I cannot afford to shoot weddings for $2,500 in Santa Barbara (but I’ll save that explanation for another blog post).

Hope this post helps you save a little money and have some fun along the way!  YOU CAN DO IT!

DIY Weddings - simple bouquet

 Simple, easy-to-make bouquet

DIY Weddings - mix-matched bridesmaids dresses

 Super Cute Mix-Matched Bridesmaids Dresses

DIY Weddings - simple boutonniere

Simple, easy to make Boutonniere

DIY Weddings - toast and tablesettings

DIY Weddings - Table Centerpieces

Super simple and affordable centerpieces

DIY Weddings - Homemade welcome sign

 Homemade, hand-painted welcome sign

DIY Wedding - florals



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