I got married approximately two months ago. Yes, this post is long-overdue, but anyone who has planned a wedding while building a company can surely sympathize with me.

Here are a few spoilers:

  1. Our final wedding cost was $13,249.
  2. We exceeded our wedding budget by $3,249.
  3. We paid for our wedding in cash.

Yep, my husband and I exceeded our destination wedding budget by $3,249.  As a financial educator I initially grappled with shame for going over budget.  But the truth is, it was the wedding of my frugal dreams, we could afford it, and I don’t regret it for one second.

Why I chose to have a destination wedding:

A courthouse wedding was out of the question. I was married previously ( albeit lasted all of 11 months) and we had a courthouse marriage. I wanted this experience to be different. We previously planned a stateside marriage but decided to switch gears to a destination wedding after the guest list topped 200 guests and the expenses started to climb over $15,000, without the last minute expenses and vendor tips. Had we proceeded with a stateside wedding our costs surely would have been closer to $20,000.

The only charges not included in our final price were our attire and rings. I purchased my dress from David’s Bridal for $379,  he rented his tuxedo from the Black Tux .

budget friendly destination wedding

My Davids Bridal Dress and his Black Tux Tuxedo  Photo by: Dean Clarke Weddings


Here is how I planned a budget friendly destination wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica:

We prioritized expenses accordingly. The money to pay for our wedding didn’t magically appear. There were trade-offs and difficult decisions to take into consideration. For example we passed on the $300 flight deal to South Africa and a few other amazing deals because a good portion of  our additional income was allocated to the wedding. We missed out on concerts and elaborate activities in order to save money. We even opted not to exchange Christmas gifts and put money aside for the wedding instead.

We took on additional work and found ways to earn additional income. For us this meant landing another video production client that paid us monthly for content. We put  90% of the money in our savings account. By the time the contract came to an end we saved $7,000. We also saved on a bi-weekly basis and put whatever extra money we had towards it. We paid for deposits out of this account. Our original wedding budget was $10,000 and we had $9,000 in our savings at the time of the wedding.

We also received $4,500 in cash gifts from family to put towards our wedding.

We kept our wedding expenses realistic. I knew what we could afford. Welcome bags for everyone, yes. Spa treatments or a luxury dinner cruise for everyone? No. We were careful not to get caught up in the wedding hype. There are plenty of additional expenses we passed on such as the welcome cruise and the bonfire and the fire-dancer. Everyone enjoyed themselves (including us). Mission accomplished.

We only decided to go over our budget after we received cash gifts. We could have done our wedding for under $11,000. Once we realized we had more money to put towards items we wanted for our wedding agreed to add them. Could we have put that money in an investment vehicle? Yes. Given our investment portfolios are relatively sound though we opted to invest in our wedding experience since we are typically frugal with money. Fifty-six friends and family members made the trip to Jamaica and it was important to us that they enjoyed themselves. We also tipped our vendors. That was very important to me. They did a great job and in my opinion, and deserved it.

Considering the average cost for a destination wedding is between $17,000-$25,000 we still did pretty good.

BUT Here are a few tips to help you avoid going over budget for your destination wedding.

  1. Review the off-site vendor policy prior to booking

We had our wedding at the Iberostar Rose Hall Suites in Montego Bay and we chose our wedding location based on the resort reviews and the package options. The package we chose included the cocktail hour hors d’oeuvres, the cake, a steel-pan band, a 30-minute couples massage and more.  While we saved money by receiving those items practically free, we paid the price for not exploring the vendor’s fee section of the contract.

The resort, like most resorts, works with preferred vendors. If you opt to utilize vendors other than their preferred vendors, the fees can be excessive. We chose an off-site photographer, makeup artist, and decorator and were charged an additional $739 in vendor fees for working with off-site vendors. You may choose not to hire off-site vendors, but in our case we did not like the quality of work provided by their preferred vendors. We were happy that we chose off-site vendors and felt that we received a better value for our money.

I encourage you to research the preferred vendors of the resorts. If you are not happy with the quality of their work, request the off-site vendor fee information before making your final decision.

  1. Encourage Individuals to Lodge at the Host Resort

In an effort to accommodate guests who are financially strained, you may consider allowing people to lodge at nearby properties that are less expensive. If you are hosting your wedding at an all inclusive resort, off-site guests will likely be charged a day pass fee to receive access to the property.  Some brides offer to cover this cost. We decided to cover this expense for our off-site guests. As a result it cost us an additional $1,400.

To avoid this additional expense explicitly inform invitees that they will be charged a resort fee for each day they wish to access the property, if they decide to lodge anywhere other than your selected hotel. Resist the urge to cover this cost as a courtesy.                                                                                                                                          

  1. Ask to have fees waived or reduced

Don’t assume that the prices are inflexible. Your appointed contact might have the final say in what fees are mandatory. If you are pleasant, there is a possibility that a discount may be offered. My site coordinators waived the open bar fee for our ceremony. They also reduced the makeup artist vendor fee AND gave us a complimentary upgrade to the breathtaking Presidential Suite.

It doesn’t hurt to ask and could possibly save you money in the long run. The larger your guest list the more likely they will accommodate your requests.

  1. Price plane tickets to the destination ahead of time.

While airline prices are unpredictable, you can gain a general understanding of the average ticket price by conducting research during the venue selection period. Since we previously traveled to Jamaica, we assumed our ticket prices would be around the same price. We were wrong. Despite declining gas prices, the tickets were $100 more per ticket than we estimated.  If you don’t have a personal connection with any particular location, choose your top five destinations and compare prices. Since prices fluctuate according to season, make sure you compare choices based on the time frame of your wedding.

Lastly, if you aren’t handy, ask others to DIY for you. My Aunt made my broach bouquet which was absolutely astonishing and she gifted it to me. 

budget friendly destination wedding

Our table escort cards also doubled as favors for the guests which also saved us money.

Tonya & Khomari-521

It is very easy to become consumed with the excitement of wedding planning. Remember to pay attention to the fine print, shop around and negotiate to avoid exceeding your wedding budget for your destination wedding.

And now for the moment most people are waiting for, here are pictures from my budget destination wedding in Montego, Bay- View Online Album HERE

Related: How I Saved $800 on My Engagement Photos




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Created by nationally recognized millennial money expert Tonya Rapley, My Fab Finance is a leading financial education and lifestyle blog for millennials who want to become financially free and do more of what they love.