Real Destination Wedding Budgets


July 26, 2019
Words by Jennifer Stein
Photos courtesy of

Spending Savvy: What You Get for the Money

You get what you pay for – or so they say. When it comes to some things, that old adage can absolutely ring true, but weddings are a bit more complex. We interviewed five couples to find out what their weddings cost, where they placed their priorities and how they cut back.

While you’re reviewing the following pages, keep one thing in mind: the guest list. This is by far the biggest driver of cost. The more people who attend, the more it will cost you. However, you can save in some areas and splurge in others – the choice is yours! A little advice from a real-life destination bride (that’s me!): set your spending priorities first, before you get swept up in wanting it all! And most importantly, don’t go into debt for your wedding event – spend only what you are able. What is important is your union, so it’s best to start it off on solid financial ground. After all, each one of these weddings were beautiful, regardless of how much was spent.

Location: Tulum, Mexico

Number of Guests: 60

Splurged on: An incredible photographer.

Saved on: Décor due to an already beautiful venue.

Brittany and Ross had clear wedding priorities from the start. They wanted to share their love for Tulum and “the beaches, great food, charm, boutique hotels, history and natural beauty,” with their closest family and friends. “Intimacy and quality time were really important to us. We knew a destination wedding would allow us to accomplish both,” said the couple.

An intimate, “bohemian-vibe,” was exactly what the couple got in the end. The bride admits, if they had held their celebration at home, the cost would have gone up dramatically. “I believe we saved money by doing a destination wedding. The guest count for a hometown wedding would have been much larger.” 

With a double rainbow appearing in the distance providing the ultimate photo-op, as well as the ceremony taking place in the jungle (giving it a “secret garden” feel), the couple got all they dreamed for and more. Their favorite part of the day was, “seeing our vision come to life and being able to celebrate with all our loved ones.”

Tips from the Planner:

  • Never skimp on a professional photographer. “We [discourage] our couples from using a friend who has a nice camera to shoot their wedding. It’s not worth the gamble.”
  • Hire a great DJ or band. “A good DJ or band can read the room and keep the energy going.”

Tips from the Couple:

  • Invest in a destination wedding planner. They made the planning process stress-free, eliminated day-of worries and kept us on a timeline.
  • Make sure to find some bride and groom time!

Vendors: Photographer: Kelsea Holder, Planning and Design: Crosby+Jon Design, Ceremony/Reception Site: Sanara Tulum, Florist: María Limón Florals + Styling, Rentals: Archive Rentals Mexico, Videographer: Gallardo Films, DJ and Cocktail Hour Music: Scenic Music Entertainment, Ceremony and Reception Music: Black Jam, Dance Floor: The Event Cancun & Bakery: Shoebox Bakery


Location: Beaver Creek, Colorado

Number of Guests: 75

Splurged on: A fabulous photographer and spoiling guests.

Saved on: Hiring a DJ instead of a band.

The goal of an easy to get to and intimate wedding led Chuck and Dayle to the beautiful Colorado Rockies. Only a two-hour drive brought 75 guests to Beaver Creek during peak fall foliage. “The aspen trees’ leaves are amazing in the fall and it made for a beautiful backdrop,” recalls the bride.

Had they kept the wedding at home, the couple would have had 400-500 guests at their interfaith ceremony. Instead, they opted for a smaller group seated on wooden benches in the middle of an aspen grove as the sun was setting.

Dayle had followed her destination wedding planner’s work for years and had total faith. “We wanted [the wedding] to be breathtakingly beautiful and I knew it would be. We also wanted our guests to feel taken care of.” With pointers from Aimee Monihan of Mountain Occasions, that’s exactly what happened. “Guests are still raving about it,” says the bride.

Tips from the Planner:

  • Find a planner who will fight for you. “We advocate for the client, whereas an on-site venue planner advocates for the venue they work for. We add so much to the experience – allowing our clients to fully live in the present.”

Tips from the Couple:

  • Hire an experienced planner/designer. Someone who truly understands your vision and personalities.
  • Trust their connections and suggestions. This saved us in so many other areas and brought to life (on budget) exactly what I had dreamed in my head.

Vendors: Photographer: Dennis Kwan Weddings, Wedding Planner and Designer: Aimee Monihan of Mountain Occasions, Ceremony/Reception Site: Allie’s Cabin with Beaver Creek Resorts, Florist and Décor Rentals: DesignWorks, Linens: La Tavola Linen, Hair: Inga Cox, Makeup: Michele McKamie, Paperie: Sweet Zion Paperie, Wedding Cake: Cornerstone Chocolates, Ceremony and Cocktail Musician: Piper James, Rabbi: Rabbi Ron Speigel, Gown Designer: Kelly Faetanini from Emma and Grace Bridal, Groom’s Clothing Designer: Andrisen Morton, Bride’s Jewelry: Hyde Park Jewelers & Accommodations: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch


Location: Maui, Hawaii

Number of Guests: 80

Splurged on: Setting the scene.

Saved on: Place settings and signage.

A teenaged girl’s dream turned reality when she married the love of her life in Maui, Hawaii. “Carmen fell in love with Hawaii when she was 13 and had been planning her wedding there ever since,” said the groom. Over 80 people watched this lifelong dream come to fruition at the Mauka Lani Estate on the island of Maui with an exquisite sunset topping off an already magical event.

The couple struggled a bit with budgeting for the wedding, but Lorrie from Unveiled Hawaii came to their rescue. “Our amazing wedding planner always kept us in check. She told us where it was important to save and splurge. We trusted her guidance and she never led us astray!” 

Carmen and Chad wanted their wedding to feel like them – “low key, welcoming and fun.” And when it came to priorities on where to spend – photography, “to die for” food, signature drinks and a favorite local band topped the list. “Our lovely wedding planner Lorrie was another top priority. At first I had no idea how amazing it would be, but we could not have done any of it without her.”

Tips from the Planner:

  • When sticking to your spending plan: “Be REALISTIC!”
  • Make sure you don’t just discuss what’s most important with your planner, but also with each other. As well as anyone who is contributing financially to the wedding.

Tips from the Couple:

  • Take time to make all your big decisions. This way you won’t regret any of them.
  • Allow yourself to change your mind. The wedding only got better as time went on.

Vendors: Photographer: Brittany Mahood Photography, Wedding Planner: Lorrie with Unveiled Hawaii, Ceremony/Reception Site: Mauka Lani Estate, Florist: Mandy Grace Designs, Gown Designer: Pronovias & Groom’s Clothing Designer: Harry Rosen

TOTAL BUDGET: $44,842; FOOD & BEVERAGE: $14,115; SITE/VENUE: $4,100; RENTALS: $5,422; DÉCOR & LINENS: $2,030; PHOTOGRAPHY: $7,000; STATIONERY: $588; DESIGN & PLANNING: $6,500 & FLORAL: $5,087

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Number of Guests: 160

Splurged on: Music and Entertainment

Saved on: The entire thing – due to a smaller guest list.

If music and food are top priorities, New Orleans is a good place to meet those needs. With Rebecca and Charles’ families spread throughout the country, it only made sense for them to pick a destination wedding in the “Big Easy.” At first, some guests were a bit “skeptical” of the decision, but quickly came around. “We are still hearing back from guests about how much they enjoyed the experience,” says the couple.

Budgeting for the wedding wasn’t easy for the couple, but a professional wedding planner helped “guide the process.” “We identified what was most important to us and made those our big ticket items,” recalls the couple. Food and beverage was extremely important. “The food served was decadent – filet mignon and shrimp and grits.” But the true star of the show was the music. “Between our band and DJ, everybody was on the dance floor permanently!”

One highlight for the groom was the second line stopping traffic for an impromptu dance party. “The Catholic church across the street paused its mass and its parishioners joined our party!” recalls the couple.

Tips from the Couple:

  • Start researching pricing early and force yourself to prioritize one or two things to splurge on. Be reasonable about everything else.
  • Rigorously track your spending. You will be surprised how quickly things add up.

Tips from the Planner:

  • Work with your planner to design a wedding within your budget. There is always some give and take – learn what is the most important to you.
  • Manage expectations. Educate yourselves on how much items might cost and where costs might expand.

Vendors: Photographer: Emilia Jane Photography, Wedding Planner and Designer: Belinda with Blue Gardenia Events, Ceremony: The Cabildo at Jackson Square, Reception: The Roosevelt New Orleans, Florist: Bee’s Wedding and Event Design, DJ: DJ R-Tistic, Videography: Brock Gomez Productions, Candle Décor, Semi-circle Bar and Lounge Furniture: Firefly Ambiance, Wedding Cake & Dessert Display: The Roosevelt New Orleans, Table and Chair Rentals: Perrier Party Rentals, Linen: Nüage Designs, Lighting: See-Hear Productions, Second Line Band and Mardi Gras Indians: Kinfolk Brass Band, Ceremony Musicians: New Orleans Finest Musicians, Reception Band: Brass-A-Holics, Invitation Suite: Gourmet Invitations, Menus: Minted, Place Cards: Jenn and Jules Designs, Escort Cards/Calligraphy: VCalligraphy, Hair: Ali Vasquez Hair, Makeup: Lynna Vo, Gown Designer: Wedding gown by Justin Alexander & Party Dress by Watters, Groom’s Clothing Designer: Tom James Company & Bridesmaids’ Clothing Designer: Adrianna Papell & Jenny Yoo

TOTAL BUDGET: $143,250; FOOD & BEVERAGE: $60,000; CEREMONY SITE: $2,550; PHOTOGRAPHY: $9,000; VIDEOGRAPHY: $6,000; DESIGN & PLANNING: $13,000; FLORAL: $11,000; STATIONERY: $4,500; FAVORS/GIFTS: $1,200; DÉCOR (NON-FLORAL): $17,000; RENTALS: $10,000 & MUSIC: $9,000

Location: Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Number of Guests: 33

Splurged on: The best restaurant in town.

Saved on: Music and ceremony décor.

An Internet search led Sarah and Brandon to their ideal destination – the beaches of Costa Rica. Being that Brandon is from California and Sarah had always thought she might want to get married on a beach, the little surfer town of Tamarindo was the perfect spot for their destination wedding.

They quickly sought the help of Aimee Monihan, owner of Tropical Occasions, to “navigate the tough decisions.” Aimee is known for her savvy ability to repurpose, not just for budget’s sake, but for Mother Nature’s as well. “If there are any parts of design we can re-use, we see this as an option to help our clients save. For example: ceremony floral that can be moved during cocktail hour to be used at the reception.” Aimee even loves to re-use candles after guests have left their tables and are busy on the dance floor. “If possible, we will create a beautiful candle pathway that guests walk through as they leave.” She says this leaves guests with a “lasting impression.”

Tips from the Planner:

  • A really good planner should guide their clients to consciously and creatively spend. We treat our clients’ money as if it were our own – with great respect and constant monitoring.
  • If you happen to overspend in one place, work with your planner to make up for it in another area. We saved on lighting and décor, as the venue already had a great space. This allowed us to spend more on the couple’s priorities!

Tips from the Couple:

  • Find a great wedding planner you trust. Someone who will be honest
    with you and help you navigate the tough decisions.
  • If you have a budget you want to stick to, be firm about that amount. Listen to your planners when they tell you what is important versus what you can let go.

Vendors: Photographer: Madison Baltodano Photography, Wedding Planner, Designer and Florist: Tropical Occasions, Ceremony/Reception Site: Pangas Beach Club, Cake: Victoria Zoch, victoria.zoch@gmail.com, Lighting: Cabo Luna Event Rentals & Decor, Gown Designer: Willowby by Watters, Groom’s Clothing Designer: Bonobos & Mizzen+Main, Rentals: Los Primos Designs and DGala Events, Hair: Famous Points Bridal Services, Makeup: Maravilla Makeup & Invitations: Minted


This article can be found on page 34 of the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Destination I Do.

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