Tuesday, July 10, 2012

DIY Wedding on a 3,000.00 Budget- Stress Free and the Best Time of My Life!

When Jon and I got engaged in October of 2010, we had a few options. We could make it a long engagement in order to save up the money, or we could do what we wanted to do and elope for almost nothing. The important part to us was being married, we weren't a fan of waiting and stressing out over the cost. I had been a bridesmaid several times, and had seen first hand the extreme amount of stress that traditional weddings create on the bride, the couple, their friends, and family. I hadn't really had any "dream wedding" plans. I was way more concerned with the dream husband. I figured, if you found the right guy, the wedding was just a formality. We looked at our finances and figured we could spend about 3,000.00 on a wedding in January of 2011. That's right folks, 3 months!

The location was easy to pick, Jon and I first began dating when he came with me on a trip to Atlantic City. We were just friends at the time, and my parents and sister fell in love with him (so did I, he's hard not to love). He became part of the family before we even had our first date. My family lives in New York, we live in Northern Virginia, and his family is scattered around the country. We figured a destination wedding was the way to go.

My family had been going to the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City for years since it was a great halfway point for us to meet for a night or two. The Casino has something for everyone. Beside the slot machines and table games (I'm not really much of a gambler), they have retail stores (everything from White House Black Market to The Farmers Almanac Store), amazing restaurants (Carmine's, P.F. Changs, The Palm etc.), and as a bonus they're located right on the boardwalk and beachfront. When you go to the casino and sign up for a free players card, they track your "game time" and send you offers in the mail to go back. Normally the offers are for one or two nights free during their slow season. Since each member of my family (and now Jon), have their own player's card, we were getting 5 separate room offers. You should also know that these offers aren't for high rollers, If I spend $50.00 in the penny slot machines while I'm there, I would be shocked. And my mother (whom I have inherited my frugalness from) spends $20.00 per day. When you check in for your free room, you have to pay about $8.95 for taxes and fees. Since we only need two rooms for all of us, we can invite friends and check them into our extra rooms for free. I would caution however to make sure that you trust your friend, since you are ultimately responsible for the room.

 The Quarter... Photo Courtesy of Tropicana.net

 The Balcony where we got married.
We called the Casino and told them that we would like to get married there in the middle of the Tropicana's Quarter. We asked who we needed to talk to if we wanted to have a very short ceremony with about 15-20 people. Since we chose to get married on a Monday (we wanted to have my parents anniversary date which happened to fall on a Monday) at 2pm, they said it was no problem at all. We didn't need permission as long as we weren't planning on setting up chairs. The cost was free and they were always excited and helpful when we called with questions.


In order to keep the cost down (and the pressure!), we wanted to just have our immediate family there, but in the end we decided to invite a few of the friends that we spent the most time with. I had a rule... I couldn't invite anyone that I wouldn't feel completely comfortable tripping down the stairs in my wedding dress in front of. When you use that rule, you narrow it down quickly. In the end, we invited 27 people, and we had 22 for the ceremony (including us).

We knew we couldn't pay for a wedding (without debt) that included our awesome, but humongous families, so I sent a letter with our photo and information about the groom to my extended family. Jon and I had been dating less than a year but had been friends for five years before that. Since my extended family lived so far away, most of them hadn't met him yet. I printed the letter on vellum paper that I already had so it was a little more exciting and spent 40.00 in postage to mail it to my extended family (including the cost of envelopes).  The letter that went out (with personal information redacted) is below:


Jonand I are happy to announce that we are getting married in a very small, quick ceremonyat the end of January. We wanted to elope with just a few witnesses but weren’tsure how everyone would feel about it. Mom and Dad came up with a greatsolution of having an awesome picnic this summer to celebrate. No gifts please,just some great food (Opa’s chicken!), good friends, and a few laughs. Mom andDad will let everyone know the details in the spring.

Ithought I’d tell you a little bit about the man I’m about to marry.

Jonathan Groner is a XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXto XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXwith me. I’ve known him for 5 years and have always been astounded by his work ethic and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Jon is the recipient of the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, the highest award in the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He’s affectionately known around the office as “Jonathan Freaking Groner!” because there isn’t anything he can’t do. I never could have imagined his “softer, more romantic side” but I’m blessed everyday that God gave me the opportunity to see him as more than just “Jonathan Freaking Groner!”

Jon served in the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX with the “XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXHe then came back to the States and joined the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.Once he served his 5 years in the Army, Jon came to the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Jon is also a private pilot in his spare time, and is the president of the XXXXXXXXXXXX(Soon to be the NOVA Flying club). He’s also quite a talented entertainer. He can juggle torches of fire, he can even flip it under his leg! Using a bull whip (a real one, that can actually break skin and bones), he can snap a straw out of a man’s mouth (He did this in front of Mom one time and the picture of Mom’s expression is almost better then the trick.) He finished his first Triathlon last year and came in #13 in his division. He’s gotten into motorcycles, and last year he “built” his own“bobber” (I have no idea what this means but I bet the guys will). He’s also very modest and is insisting that I stop bragging about him, but I’m refusingJ

He’s also one of the sweetest, most romantic guys I know. Jon and I began dating after he came on a Trip to Atlantic City with my family, and while we were all at a Karaoke Bar… He serenaded me in front of EVERYONE (including Dad and Jenny) with “Your Eyes” from the Rent Broadway Show. When we had the insane blizzard this year, my house was snowed in by more than 2 feet of snow and my road, which is at the bottom of a hill, wasn’t plowed for over a week. I had to walk a half a mile in the snow to get to my XXXXXXXXXand even had to sleep in the office one night because I couldn’t take the walk anymore. Food was hard to get to, because most businesses were closed and home supplies were running low. Jon surprised me by walking 8 MILES in the blizzard from his house to my house to bring me food and help me shovel a footpath.

From co-workers, to acquaintances, to friends, to best friends, to dating and now onto husband and wife, Jon has always looked after me and put my feelings first. I can only hope that I can be as good to him as he’s been to me.

Our new address is XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. We can’t wait to celebrate with everyone this summer!


Since we were getting married on a Monday (with a small crowd, you can do that), We could take advantage of our free room offers. In fact, each of my immediate family members could take advantage of our free room offers giving us more rooms than we needed. This made it possible for us to help out some of the wedding guests with free rooms. We did have to pay the $8.95 for taxes and fees. When it's slow (like a Monday in January), you can ask for free room upgrades. We've had a two room suite before with a Jacuzzi tub next to the bed and a private entrance, and an ocean view room with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. Both of those rooms cost us just $8.95 in taxes and fees. We stayed for 2 nights and three days. We arrived the night before the wedding, stayed the day of the wedding, and left the next day. Very often on weekdays, you can call down for late check out and you won't need to check out until 2pm.
 Photo courtesy of Tropicana.net


Most likely, you can pay for your parking in comp dollars (free when you gamble a little bit of money), but if you don't gamble enough, then factor in another $10.00 for parking.

Also, if you've been to Atlantic City before, you'll get offers in the mail to tempt you to go. You can take advantage of those offers for extra fun.  I've gotten $15.00 gift cards to Macy's and free slot tournaments before. Keep in mind, these offers are meant to tempt you to spend a lot of money gambling. If you have an addictive personality, this is a tough place for you to be. Don't bring any credit cards or debit cards down to the casino floor. If you have a set amount of money to spend, have it in cash and divide it into days, then divide it into half days. Only carry your "half day" cash limit with you to the casino. That way, if you get inspired to gamble extra money you have to cool down during your walk to the room. Again, this isn't a problem for some people, but it's a good precaution. If you have someone in your party that has clearly demonstrated that they are immune to the bright lights and carnival sounds of the slot machines, then you can give all of your cards and cash to them. Remember, There are TONS of things to do at the Tropicana that don't involve gambling. They have an indoor and an outdoor pool, a health club, an Imax theater, a spa, an ocean you can swim in, a beach you can walk on, a boardwalk you can explore, shops and stores to check out, shows (often free with a comp card), and even magic shows in the magic shop! One of our favorite things to do is to meet in my family's room and play poker for change.

 I gave myself a $50.00 a day gambling budget ($100.00 total- though I often divert some of that money into the shops), and Jon a $100.00 a day gambling budget ($200.00 total). Jon gets more because he enjoys it more, but he also plays craps, which seems to have much better odds since he normally leaves with more money than he started and I almost always lose my money. For most of our trips, he makes up what I've lost so it works out well.

You should also set aside $20.00 in $1 bills for tips. This includes the bell hop, the maids, and the tips for the waitresses that bring you free (very strong!) drinks on the casino floor. You will also need gas money to make the trip up there. For us, this was about $65.00.


We had just one thing that we wanted for our wedding. We wanted to be married by a family friend of ours that has served as our religious guide. In addition, this friend was the person who originally got us together and had been a source of inspiration in both of our lives. Plus, he's just really cool. It took a TON of research and several calls to the Atlantic City Registrar's office (609-347-5410), but we got it done. Atlantic City allows ministers of the Universal Life Church to officiate marriages. The Universal Life Church is an online church that certifies people for ministry. The only requirement is that the person seeking ministry have a belief in god. It's free, although you can pay (I believe $45.00) if you need credentials. New Jersey doesn't require credentials, so we didn't need to pay that. If you're interested, you can look into becoming ordained as a minister here.

Keep in mind that every state is different. Some states won't allow you to get married unless you are a practicing minister (i.e. you lead a congregation). Most states have a requirement that certain phrases are used in the marriage ceremony, so you need to research your state to ensure that you are meeting the regulations.


We did have to take an additional trip to Atlantic City right before the wedding to obtain our marriage license. You also need to take your witness with you. Your witness can be anyone attending the ceremony. Your Marriage License must be obtained within 30 days of the wedding, but at least 72 hours before the wedding. Since we weren't arriving until the day before our wedding, we made a trip up about two weeks before the wedding. We used free room offers again, and just stayed over night. Mom packed a cooler with fried chicken, mixed greens, and pasta salad for dinner the night we arrived. We just meet up in their room and chow down. We have muffins for breakfast in the morning and eat lunch the next day at Adam Good Sports Bar. Adam Good Sports Bar is one of the best values in the Tropicana resort! In addition to cheap tasty food, you can use your comp card to get buy one, get one free meals. We normally spend about $15.00 for two people for lunch including the tip.
It takes about $65.00 worth of fuel to get to Atlantic City (from NOVA), so factor that into your costs for the marriage license trip. Plus, you'll have to pay another $8.95 for room and tax fees. You'll need $10.00 for tips and if you don't plan to gamble, you'll need $10.00 for parking. We spent $20.00 for my gambling money (in total) for this trip and $50.00 for Jon's. This was a whirlwind trip so we really didn't have much time for gambling. It's important to gamble something on every trip to continue to receive free room offers. But be cautious, gambling $600.00 on a room that costs $110.00 doesn't actually save you money.

The actual marriage license is obtained from the Atlantic City Registrars office, located at 1301 Bacharach Blvd. 1st Fl, Room 105, Atlantic City, NJ 08401. They can be reached at: 609-347-5410. The cost of the marriage license is $28.00.



We chose not to hire a professional photographer and just have the guests take photos. We got tons of photos, and I'm happy with our decision. However, if this is really important to you, you can hire someone to come in and photograph the ceremony. I had received a quote of about $350.00 for 2 hours. Unfortunately, I wasn't planning on being a blogger at the time, so I didn't save who my quote was from. We have a really nice camera that we brought with us and gave to a guest for photos. We also had about 6 other people with their own personal cameras taking photos.


Despite bucking most of the other wedding traditions, the wedding dress was important to me. I went traditional and bought an actual wedding dress. I had an obsession with Greek dresses, and found one that I loved online at David's Bridal. When you're searching online, pick "view all dresses" and then sort by price: lowest to highest. As you scroll through, you'll find one that you fall in love with. When that happens, you'll be glad you're looking at the $300.00 dresses and not the $3,000.00 dresses. My Greek dress was on sale for $99.00. I ordered it and figured if I didn't like it, I can send it back. I put it on and fell in love with it. In fact, I fell in love with it so much that I wear it out for a night every time we go to the Tropicana now. They stopped selling mine, but you can find the dress from the photo above at David's Bridal for $119.00. You can wear any white sandals that you'd like, since no one will really see them.


The Tropicana Casino has a Salon available. We didn't use it since my sister wasn't impressed with the assistance she received there. This is not the same as the Spa, which is the Blue Mercury. The Blue Mercury is amazing (although a bit expensive). We chose to go to The Trump Plaza Salon, which is about a mile away. We paid $65.00 for an up do. If I had to do it over again, I would actually do my own hair and make up, but it was nice to be pampered. If you make an appointment for your hair, don't mention the word "wedding". Actually, when you book anything, don't mention the word "wedding".

HAIR COSTS: $65.00

We went to the Blue Mercury Spa to get our make-up done. I am quite positive that we paid $25.00, but their website now quotes $90.00 for a 50 minute make up application and instruction or $100.00 for a bride's make up application. If they won't do it for the $25.00, than I would do my own or have a talented guest help you out with your make up.


We're lucky enough that one of our best friends has her own invitation business, so she was able to help us out on the wedding invitations. They looked great and were done casino style with rolling dice on the top.  If you're struggling to meet your budget though (and you don't have a best friend with her own invite business), go to Michael's Crafts and look in the clearance aisle. Every time I'm there, they have a box of 50 "print yourself" wedding invites for about $11.00. When we planned the "Wedding BBQ" for my family in the summer, we used these. They were so easy and looked surprisingly fantastic when they were done.


We had plans to go to Kay Jewelers (or even Walmart) and pick out two plain silver bands for about $50.00 each. We walked into Kay and I was dazzled by all the shiny things. Thank goodness Jon fell in love with a tungsten carbide ring that's so manly it doesn't have a match to it. His ring was around $185.00 (don't rely on the catalog price, if they can't beat that price significantly, look elsewhere). So, I picked the one with about a million diamonds. It matches my engagement ring perfectly. Let's face it... We failed miserably at being frugal on the rings, but on the bright side, I'm giddy in love with them:) We traded in our old diamond jewelry and paid about $800.00 to make up the difference for my wedding band. The catalog price was $1,499.00 but it was on sale for less.



We kept it simple for the wedding, since our goal was stress free. My sister was my Maid of Honor. We're about the same size and height and collectively, we've been in a LOT of weddings, so I sent her my collection of bridesmaid dresses to combine with hers and she could pick her favorite (or go find a different one she liked). She chose a gorgeous strapless ball gown style in a deep purple that I had worn just a few months before as a bridesmaid. The best man was told to wear whatever he wanted. He chose a fancy suit that looked great.

Jon already had a really nice black Calvin Klein suit, so we just paired it with a white button down with french cuffs and a dark purple tie. He looked great! If you have something in your closet already that works, then use that. If not, just figure out what you do have and shop sales to fill in what you need.


The night before the wedding, we had the Officiant, parents, and bridal party meet at Adam Good Sports Bar for dinner and to discuss the ceremony. Technically, there wasn't anything to rehearse but it was fun to get together. The ceremony was very simple. Everyone gathered in the balcony on the staircase in The Quarter. Jon and I met in the middle with the Officiant, he performed a quick 5-7 minute ceremony. We kissed, and we're married! The average cost for dinner for 2 at Adam Good Sports Bar is about $15.00 (including tip), and we had 8 people. Don't forget to print out your buy one entree, get the second free from the comp machines! The estimated cost of the Rehearsal Dinner was about $60.00, but you can tip an extra $20.00 (since you have a large crowd and you're using coupons).



Photos courtesy of Carmines NYC

This was the other place that we splurged. My family has an obsessive love for Carmine's Restaurant. It's unbelievably good food. Their large group menu can be found here. We chose to eat at 2pm, which put us on the lunch menu. The cost was $35.00 per person versus $57.00 per person if we had eaten a few hours later. The Total Cost for dinner for 22 people was $770.00. We saved $484.00 by eating at 2pm for the same (delicious!) food. In addition to having amazing food, the staff at Carmine's were a blessing to work with and created a great atmosphere to celebrate.


We didn't have traditional bachelor and bachelorette parties, but we did have a blast the night before the wedding. All of the guests and the wedding party went to Planet Rose Karaoke bar in The Quarter (part of the Tropicana), everyone had fun and there was more than one drunken ballad. After that we went down to the casino and played craps and roulette until 3am. (In hindsight, I probably should have went to bed a tad earlier). It was one of the best nights of my life. Since I don't drink, and everyone kept buying Jon drinks, this actually didn't cost us anything except the gambling money that was already accounted for under "special considerations".


I hadn't planned on doing favors, but my mom in all her ingenuity came up with really sweet gift boxes for each of the guests that included cookie mix, cookie cutters with our names on them, bubbles, and a dollar chip from the casino that they could use or keep. I don't know how much they cost, but If I know my mom (and I do... very well), then the cookie cutters and bubbles came from oriental trading, the cookie mixes were $.88 from walmart, and casino chips were a dollar each. She made up a box for each couple.


COST OF FAVORS: (estimate only): $30.00

The wedding was amazing, completely stress free and one of the best days of my life. Even better? We weren't paying for it for years! The Wedding Barbecue that was thrown with my family that summer was equally amazing and completely stress free. I would recommend this as a way for anyone to get married.



We were equally blessed that my parents generously paid a significant portion of that, so we ended up spending about $1,500!


  1. This is awesome. I recently got engaged and live close to AC so this would be perfect! Thanks so much!

    1. Congrats! You'll have a blast no matter where you go, but I can't speak highly enough of the "budget wedding" that's customized to your needs. See you at the craps table some day!

  2. Thanks for the invite shout out! Love you girl!

    1. :) Also- Your profile picture is adorable!


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