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ok, let me answer this both as a newlywed, and as a wedding and event planner.

if you live in a major metropolitan area, and have opened a wedding publication or have a list of "must haves" that includes the things you've listed under "shoestring", you are already in trouble. A wedding with 200 people with a meal, and music is not "shoestring"

Weddings and events are expensive, primarily because catering is expensive. But the costs vary depending on your geography.

The average US wedding is $16-18,000, not including honeymoon.

By making different choices, and putting some work into it, you can have a wedding with most everything for $10-12,000.

To be truly shoestring, you need very few guests, or you need to eliminate or use non-professional services for some categories/items you probably consider basic.

"all the extras" is a never-ending thing. I worked one wedding for a real estate mogul's daughter. They used a florist who won't even talk to you unless you are going to spend $15,000 on flowers. The photographer couldn't get a shot at the reception without one of the extra staff that we're hired in the shot. There's always something else you can decorate, or something else you can take care of for your guests.

wedding magazines, and sites can be a good source for what weddings cost, and how to keep costs down. But ultimately, their purpose is to sell you on an idea of a wedding that still uses the services of their advertisers.

Don't have a wedding you can't afford. It's a special day, but it is just a day, and the debt will stay for a long time. You can have another wedding or big party later. If you go too far into debt, you may not even be able to buy your pictures, and then you have nothing to show for the day. I loved my wedding, but I really liked my honeymoon more, and I wish I would have spent more on that.

Good Luck!
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