Well, I’ve never actually planned a wedding but I certainly have walked alongside a lot of friends (and brides!) who have! :) Below, you’ll find some of my own suggestions, as well as ideas from married women that I know! This will be part of a series on budgeting & picking a wedding photographer— basically, I’m just trying to help any potential brides out there make wise & educated choices! Let’s do this! :)


1 Know Your Cash. It’s a no-brainer that before you can pay for anything, one must know their overall budget. Ask your parents if they are contributing anything financially, and then talk with your fiancé to see what you each can contribute to the budget. (As this post will be read by both college students and established 30-somethings, just know that each wedding budget is unique and that’s ok! I’ve worked with brides paying anywhere from 5K to 25K total for their wedding day.) You can create a gorgeous wedding for under 10K in the Midwest! Iowa has some wonderful ways to hack your wedding budget. ;) And, the main thing, is to remember that having the perfect wedding is not more important than the marriage you are building. :) When you’re planning a celebration, it can be easy to get lost in the details--so just a plug to put things in perspective when you lose sight of the end goal!


2. Invest Wisely Once you know your total budget, pick your top investments first! Of course, after picking a date, you need to find a venue so that you can actually get married! But venues can cost a ridiculous amount, and if you have a smaller budget, I’ll share some venue budget hacks… in a moment. I highly suggest making wedding photography one of your top priorities. If you know that photography/videography is going to be something you want done well, find out 1) what you can budget and 2) what photographers you like cost. Then, after taking into account photo/video, you will know better what budget options you have for a venue. ;)

This is not purely selfish (although I am biased!). Why know your photography budget before you pay for a venue?

One: photography (and videography, if you decide to include that) are the two lasting things you’ll have after the wedding, besides your memories! Photographs tell the story of your wedding day, from start to finish. They’ll remind you of details soon forgotten, of the tears running down your dad’s face the first time he saw you in your dress, the best girlfriends who came across country to dance with you at the reception, and the frosting stuck in your new husband’s ear after the cake smash! If you hire someone new to photography, or with poor rapport, you may regret that decision once you see the wedding photos.

Two: A good wedding photographer will make any venue look great! And, I actually sometimes am much more pleased with reception photos taken at a country club or town center, than reception photos at a trendy venue. Also, outdoor spaces/venues/parks can really be the most gorgeous of areas and usually cost wayyyy less. It’s not just me, tho! Check out what past brides have said here and here.

I’ll be writing a future blog post about how to pick a wedding photographer, and what to know about pricing for Iowa wedding photographers. For now, I’ll leave you with this. If you live in Iowa (especially Des Moines or Iowa City area) you shouldn’t be surprised to see wedding photographers starting in the $2500-$4000 range. You will find some under, and other photographers charge around 7K. But from experience, I suggest that you plan to spend $2-3K on wedding photography to ensure that you’ll be well taken care of. Money isn’t everything, but it tells you something. We will get more into that in a later blog post!!!

Just a sample of the difference between my first wedding vs my most recent one! Bride One’s dress is blown out and has a slight blue tint, and you can see a garage door and garage bin (romantic right?!) behind her. Bride Two is moving so you can see her special boots, some of the detail in her lacy wedding dress, and the background is simple yet attractive!

Just a sample of the difference between my first wedding vs my most recent one! Bride One’s dress is blown out and has a slight blue tint, and you can see a garage door and garage bin (romantic right?!) behind her. Bride Two is moving so you can see her special boots, some of the detail in her lacy wedding dress, and the background is simple yet attractive!

3. Venue Hacks! Look into local or state parks for your ceremony and/or wedding reception venue! This is one of the best hacks for saving money. I’ve got nothing against wedding venues (there are soooo many gorgeous spaces in Iowa!) but my favorite weddings have taken place in an outdoor, local park. You can see Jessa’s Hickory Hills wedding, Naomi’s Omaha Park wedding, and Olivia’s outdoor wedding reception as examples. All of these brides had stunning but simple days, and are wonderful examples of budgeting without sacrificing beauty! (Hickory Hills is $600 for a Saturday wedding & under $300 on a Sunday!!!, and Elmwood Park is under $400, for perspective.) // Photography tip: if you book an outside park, you can rent a big white tent for the reception or in case of rain! Plus, your photography will probably look 100x better than inside a dark, windowless venue that costs 5K. ;)

wedding photos by water at hickory hills park la porte city iowa

4. Dress Shop! Literally—check out a wide variety of dress stores. Find a second-hand dress, or start with the clearance dresses. Since you will most likely wear your gown once, look for lightly worn or never-worn-but-for-sale-again dresses. A shop I highly recommend is Something Blue in Ankeny. DO be careful about buying online from sketchy shops. You could be scamed, so only buy from legitimate sites!

5. Alternate Dates! Choose a unique day, or go outside “wedding season.” I alluded to this above, but Sunday, Friday, or any other weekday can significantly help your wedding budget! Friday or Sundays are the best for your guests (as some will undoubtedly be traveling!) but if you’re having an elopement or intimate wedding ceremony, a Monday or Thursday would be even more unique and do-able. For example: Clover Barn, in Bondurant, charges $1000 less for a Sunday wedding! You’ll pay even less during the “off season.” Meaning, if you plan a wedding during November-April, you can save a lot of cash!


6. Utilize your connections! One of my 2019 brides is hoping to have a family friend make her cake, and have food catered by family! Plated food is by far more pricey than buffet style, so if the reception isn’t too formal, set up a food line. HyVee and Hickory Park cater 60% of the wedding meals I see! They’re reasonable, and good comfort style eats. // I will say, do not expect that you will be able to get a discount. As a business owner, it’s such a joy to have friends willing to pay what pricing I have set. (And honestly, I want to work even harder and better when they do!) It doesn’t mean that I occasionally don’t/won’t give discounts, but it’s not fair to assume that someone will. If you ask for a discount and receive it, an extra note, gift-card, or cash “tip” can really make your friend feel appreciated!

barn wedding venues west des moines iowa photography

I hope that you found this post helpful! What did I miss? Anytihng you have to add? Please leave comments below-- I would love to hear thoughts from past or future brides, & friends! There is no one way to plan or budget a wedding, which makes this process of wedding planning both aa challenge… and a beautiful thing. You got this! Cheers!

Amelia Renee

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