Planning a wedding on a budget?
Good news. All the cool kids are doing it.
The average wedding cost in the United States for 2017 was $25,764, according to costofwedding.com (not including the honeymoon), and if that sounds steep to you – it is. The real story is that 50% of couples spend less than $15,000.
First of all – ask yourself if you really want a wedding. Would an elopement do? Or how about a microwedding?
“Contrary to an eblog, which is organized by the bride and the bride, a microding maintains some structure of a traditional marriage, plus small scale.” Anna Goldfarb, New York Times
Whether your budget is $15,000, $10,000, $5,000 or $500, planning a wedding on a budget is not just a good idea – it’s essential to creating the wedding of your dreams – and avoiding debt in the process.
Here are some common principles to keep in mind while planning a wedding plan to maintain your overall expenses..
After all, the wedding is about getting married, not going into debt, right?
Make a budget.
Tell your money where to go. By making a budget you can prioritize your spending. At the basic level, a budget is an estimated outline of how much money you will spend in essential categories.
You can download a free wedding budget pre-filled with recommended percentages for each wedding category here.
You’ll want to plan your wedding date with your budget in mind – and really, there are two ways to go about this.
1. Plan a date for the near future in which you force yourself to scale down your wedding, guest list, and go small, intimate and casual – think elopement – you’re not tempted to spend more money than you already have in the bank.
2. Plan a date far enough in advance to allow more time to save money for the wedding and to secure the best vendors (they’re often booked months and sometimes a year+ in advance) and score the lowest rates in the off-season (see below).
Pick up a slower time of the year, and you can score some major discounts by getting married in the off season.
In most parts of the country, deep winter months – January, February and March – are at least popular for marriages (June, August, September and October are the most popular). Because there’s less demand, you’ll likely get discounted Prices on your site, not to mention your second wedding services, such as catering, photography and flowers, more than Valentine’s Day and Easter, when roses and lily premiums are on high demand ). –The Knot
The off season will depend on the region where you live, but don’t hesitate to ask wedding venue coordinators about when their best rates are available.
Side note: marrying in the off-season may also help you save money on honeymoon costs, if your destination is also in the off-season months.
Similarly, marrying on any day but Saturday can get you significant discounts – and earlier availability as Saturdays will book up first for venues and vendors.
Most people avoid week days, Friday evenings and even Sundays because they’re afraid to inconvenience their wedding guests. Don’t let this keep you from exploring those options if your budget is a concern. Those who love you and are closest to you do whatever it takes to be there for your special day (even if it means time off from work, especially if you decide to do a destination wedding, which could also save you money!)
But if you feel weekend works best, consider this advice.
If you want to keep your wedding weekend day, the branch celebration on Sunday is a wonderful wedding trend we love. The vendors will be less expensive, your guests will be able to be present without leaving Sunday nights and you have to serve delicious branches and serve Macosas. –BrideBox
Limit the guest list.
I know it’s easy. On a practical level, this single approach will save you more than any other. Example: Most caterers charge per-person, so the difference between 100 guests and 150 is significant.
Some parameters to keep in mind: don’t allow people to bring dates, don’t allow children, don’t invite people from work. Beyond that, create a “must-invite” list and stick to it. Real Simple has some key parameters here, like the “one year test.”
However, chances are you’re unsure of how to limit the guest without hurting feelings. That is normal. Brides.com has some additional tips on how to handle that here. A big one: again, a destination wedding wins when you’re trying to keep the guest list to the essentials.
Use free online tools.
You’ve likely already scoured Pinterest, Instagram and wedding blogs for your wedding inspiration. Now it’s time to apply your ideas on the application using online available wedding planning tools. And there is no shortage.
- Planning: BridalMusings has a roundup of the top most practical apps. Zola also has some free, beautiful planning tools. Don’t forget to download my wedding budget template here.
- Invitations: Canva has invitation templates as well as WeddingChicks.com, a longtime favorite of mine. I’ve compiled some additional resources and a step-by-step DIY Invitations Tutorial here.
- Registries: One of my favorite alternative registries is CardAvenue.com, which allows you to register for gift cards instead of actual home goods.
Don’t shy from negotiating prices and packages with vendors. Never settle for more than you think you should pay. My friend Erin, who I featured here on the blog, said,
“Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate! And use the talent your friends have to offer. I have negotiated with friends to earn photography and custom designed invitations.”
Refuse to pay inflated pricing. Come prepared with quotes from area vendors and know beforehand what you should be paying. My friend Nancie, whose wedding was featured here on the blog, said it best:
“Don’t use the word ‘wedding’ when hunting for the right price on flowers, table covers. They hear wedding and see dollar signs and will charge you for a package with a whole bunch of stuff (that you won’t need) that’s included in the price, rather than a party or large group rate.”
When I interviewed local vendors for my guides, some vendors were willing to work with couples according to their budgets – others were only interested in working with a clientele with a high or unlimited budget.
Make seasonal choices.
Fair pricing will only get you so far if you’re looking to import flowers from across the world. Shop local and in-season whenever possible when it comes to floral, and go all out on the greenery, which is less expensive than blooms. Here are some additional tips:
- Schedule your wedding during a season when the venue is decorated already for a special event or holiday.
- Avoid February when flower prices skyrocketing. Paying too much for flowers is not romantic.
- Use flowers in season and easily accessible. Your florist can assure you that flowers will complement each other in season (such as roses and carnations).
- Mix fake vegetables with real flowers. This will save time and the greenery will wither before the flowers arrive.
- Combine silk flowers with real flowers; especially in large arrangements. This will save time and money.
- If you choose to make your arrangements, consult a seasonal flower guide who will give you insights on which flowers will work best for the wedding. Visit classyweddingfavors.com for a detailed list of good flower choices for each month.
Nontraditional wedding couples can express their personalities and save money in the process. Eschew traditional wedding elements for more personally meaningful expressions, and your wallet will thank you.
- Attire – Options for wedding gowns are not limited to traditional boutiques. Off the rack, eBay, Etsy and even retailers like Target, J.Crew and White House Black Market all have options that can work as wedding day attire. And maybe you don’t even want a wedding gown. Jumpsuits are gaining in popularity.
- Venues – Former private homes and working farms have become popular for couples seeking nontraditional wedding venues. Money-saving venues can also be also city parks, community centers and restaurants.
- Rings – The Frugal Gene outlines several options for nontraditional jewelry (some of which aren’t jewelry at all) and the reasons for it here.
Monica Castillo of The Lily summarizes the nontraditional wedding trend this way:
“My favorite marriages have been the ones that represent the couple. Whether it’s a sudden wedding on a hill overlooking the city where they met or a beautiful garden wedding where couples can fit in with as many friends and family as possible, it’s their party and Couples can make it to their liking.”
Get your hands dirty.
The more you’re willing to do, the less you’ll end up buying and paying for.
But you don’t have to do it alone. Enlist friends. Get your friends and family in the act of addressing envelopes, folding programs, creating favors, and making a headpiece or a veil.
Ask friends to take photos at your bridal showers, rehearsal dinner, pre-ceremony, and reception. Only hire a professional for formal portraits and event shots.
One Seattle couple borrowed or had everything for their wedding through a local “Buy Nothing” Facebook group; their only expense was the $300 venue rental.
Keep the reception food simple.
If you’re set on offering a full meal, definitely plan on the buffet instead of a sit-down meal. Consider “drop-off catering.” The caterer delivers and sets up already prepared food. Or, have family friends cater the reception for you.
Go with a theme: ethnic, or host a high tea; a dessert reception; brunch or luncheon.
You can also go with cake & punch.
Question everything – do you even care about a cake? Would a different (cheaper) dessert reflect your personality or heritage better?
Hire student talent.
Hire a local college student(s) for a variety of functions – from parking attendants, after-wedding cleanup, live music, babysitting the kids, even creating decorations.
When we married, we enlisted the help of students to create all our end-of-aisle decorations and banners. They had a blast and it saved us money.
In short, a cheap wedding is a great opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest milestones of your life with your close friends and family.There are no rules in how that plays out.