The scariest part of getting married isn’t the ’til-death-do-us-part thing. It’s the price tag of a wedding. Weddings have become such a beastly financial burden for couples that it’s tempting to throw in the hand-embroidered handkerchief and run off to city hall. And while we love a city hall wedding, sometimes deep down you both just really want to celebrate the day by doing the cha-cha slide with all your friends and family. Before you elope out of pure frustration, let’s find more dollars in your wedding fund. Here’s a great big bouquet of easy tips to help you throw an inexpensive wedding that looks and feels anything but cheap.
1. Adjust Your Attitude: We’re here to bring you the hard facts and the tough love. A wedding is not about centerpieces and napkin rings and calligraphy. It’s about two people who are joining their lives together and making vows surrounded by all their people. When you as a couple choose to spend money on your people (via food, booze, dance party, thoughtful personal touches) and not worry so much about the things you saw on Pinterest, you’ll be a much happier couple with a much heftier bank account at the end of the night.
2. Stay the Heck Away from Wedding Dresses: Unless you have your heart set on a big, white princess dress in a boutique window, there’s a good chance you might be able to find something you like elsewhere and save money while you’re at it. Stalk sample sales, secondhand gown shops, Rent the Runway, eBay and Etsy for dresses. Consider up-cycling your mom’s or grandma’s dress. It’s shocking how a vintage dress can be new again with a neckline change here and a sleeve change there. I found my Jenny Packham lookalike dress online in the regular formalwear section at Nordstrom, which meant that I could return it anytime if it didn’t fit or if I changed my mind. It also meant that (thanks to my mom’s Nordstrom card) tailoring the hem was free. P.S. Accessories like veils, hair combs, jewelry, cover-ups and all that jazz can add up quickly, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about your dress budget.
3. Invite Fewer People: The more, the merrier… but also the costlier. If you (or your parents) are potentially being a little too liberal with your invitations, it might be a good idea to revisit your guest list. Chances are, your dad’s co-workers that you’ve never met will probably understand if they don’t get an invite. Keep an eye on your priorities though (y’know, people vs. Pinterest). All brides and grooms get a little crazy during the wedding planning process and have moments of poor judgement where it seems completely logical that you should cut your high school buddies off the guest list so that you can spend $500 on ivory chair covers.
4. Adults Only: This kind of goes along with the guest list size as well, but in the case of my own wedding (with two huge families and lots of young second cousins), the no-kids policy was the only way we could’ve realistically even had a wedding at all. We were worried that would bother or even offend some people, but nobody made a peep about it (at least not to us) and all the parents were able to stay out late and celebrate with us stress-free rather than constantly worrying about their little ones. It was one of the best decisions we made.
5. Don’t Give Away +1s Like They’re Candy: Yet another way to keep your guest list manageable and still include all the people you love. For single ladies and gents who aren’t dating anyone seriously enough to be invited by name on the invitation, you might consider implementing these guidelines. A person should be able to invite a +1 if and only if a) they don’t know anybody else at the wedding or b) they are traveling from far away (and also don’t know anybody else at the wedding). I realize traditional etiquette dictates otherwise, but traditional etiquette dictates a lot of things that aren’t practical now that weddings cost more than a college education.
6. Book a Venue That Doesn’t Have Exclusive Vendors Attached to It: If you’re looking to save money, the last thing you want to do is book a venue where the only caterer you’re allowed to use charges $100 a plate. Make sure you ask lots of questions and fully understand everything you are getting into before you choose a location, because it will drive the entire budget. That said, raw spaces (though flexible) can be shockingly expensive (and a ton of work) thanks to all the rentals required, so sometimes the all-in-one venues can be more affordable… again, just do the math and then do it again.
7. Shop Outside the Wedding Industry: The best way to save money is to avoid the industry altogether, which is difficult but not impossible. For example, you can always forgo the pricy florist in lieu of DIY farmers market or grocery store bouquets. Donuts, sheet cake or other desserts from your local bakery will stand in nicely for a fancy tiered wedding cake. My husband and I ended up hiring a neighborhood Greek restaurant to cater our wedding, even though they had only done a few weddings before. The food was a million times better than typical wedding food and inexpensive enough that we were able to host a serious feast rather than having to pinch pennies. Plus, we knew from eating at the restaurant that the level of hospitality would be off the charts, which can be harder to gauge when you’re hiring a traditional caterer who you’ve never seen in action.
8. Call for Backup: If you’re saving your favors for a rainy day, that day has come (though hopefully it won’t be rainy). Is your friend an incredible guitarist? Ask if she’ll play during the ceremony. Did you love the photographer from your best friends wedding? Call him and see if he offers a referral discount. Is your father-in-law pretty handy? Ask him to build the arbor when he gets way too involved in the cake vs. pie debate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and delegate.
9. BYOB: And no, we don’t mean your guests should bring a six pack with them. We just mean you can cut some major costs if you can buy the booze yourself and hire someone to set up a bar and serve it. The laws vary by state, but it’s well worth the investigation in your area and with your venue to find out if it is possible.
10. Limit the Drink Options: Whether you can BYOB or not, curating a couple of hosted drink options will save big bucks in comparison to a full hosted bar. We suggest hosting two beers (a light beer and a nice local beer), a red wine, a white wine and maybe a fun signature cocktail. If it’s a more DIY venue where you are setting up your own bar, bring only those drinks with some non-alcoholic options to cut cost way down (and mitigate the potential waste) of stocking a full bar.
11. Skip Traditional Favors: Favors can be cute, but are rarely practical for every single guest, so they often end up going to waste. We promise nobody will even notice if they are missing. Use that money (or a portion of it) and put it toward a fun experience for the guests that night, like surprise entertainment or a photo booth (which can double as a guest book = extra savings).
12. Hire a Day-of Coordinator: If there’s any place where you shouldn’t cut costs, it’s here. Hire an experienced planner you trust to execute every detail the day of the wedding so you can just get married. Many coordinators are happy to offer referrals and budget-friendly suggestions that you might never think of, so they can often save you money in the long run. Same goes for the photographer. Don’t skimp on documenting the memories on what will be the best/blurriest day of your life.
13. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Does your friend have a gazillion votives sitting in her garage from her wedding? Borrow them and everything else she wants to donate to the cause. At our wedding, we were able to re-use my sister’s tall, branchy centerpieces but rather than hanging candles from them like she did, we hung little mossy terrariums. When everything else was so different in style, nobody even noticed that the centerpieces were the same… or that they cost virtually zero dollars.
14. Do Your Own Makeup and Nails: If you’re good at doing your own makeup, do it. If you have a friend who’s good at doing your makeup, let them do it. It’s the best way to guarantee you’ll look like you on the day of your wedding, and it’ll save money (trial runs add up). Practice makes perfect, so browse YouTube for tutorials and find a look that suits you… and don’t forget the primer. Same goes for nails — no one is going to notice your cuticles. And on a related note, save your big spa treatments like massages and facials until after the wedding when you can truly relax and appreciate them.
15. Skip Save the Dates: The Internet is an amazing tool, so use it, and send free Paperless Post cards or email a YouTube video to your guests instead of spending the money on printed save the dates. It’ll also save you the trouble of emailing everyone to ask for mailing addresses because you can just ask them for their address in the save the date itself.
16. Make Your Own Invitations: Not a designer? No problem. The best way to fake good graphic design is to keep your aesthetic simple and use a no-fail design program like Canva. Use one of their templates or create your own design that can be printed through a local printer or online shop. Don’t forget to make sure your invitations fit in standard envelopes (and don’t weigh more than a standard card) or the postage rate will go up.
17. Online RSVPs: Again, harness the power of the Internet and create an online RSVP form so you can keep your invitations compact. I used Google Forms to create a custom RSVP form that plugged into the website I designed, but many wedding-specific platforms (like Weduary) have that capability built in as well. We liked being able to ask whether or not guests would be riding the shuttle to the venue, if they had any song requests and a few other things that we wouldn’t have been able to do with mail-in RSVPs.
18. Get Married on a Sunday or During the Off-Season: Off-peak prices can mean huge savings. The same exact wedding can cost a fraction when moved from Saturday to a Friday or a Sunday. Not only may the venue be cheaper, but the vendors and entertainers may also be more open to offering discounts for less popular days of the week. There are so many benefits to winter weddings, too — including photo ops like these.
19. Go Casual: Casual doesn’t have to mean a foot-long sub sandwich and flip flops. Casual, more relaxed venues simply accommodate a craftier, more homemade style that can cost less in the long run, while very formal venues lend themselves to more formal weddings, which often (but not always) cost more.
20. DJ iPod: If your friends and family aren’t big dancers, a DJ or band might not be the best investment. Consider making some iPod playlists, backing them up on multiple devices (just in case) and assigning a friend or a cousin to press play. If your friends and family are big into dancing, however, a good DJ is an investment that’s worth every penny.
What budget-saving tips do you have? Let us know in the comments.