Planning a wedding isn’t so bad when you have $20 or $30 grand to blow. When your a bride or groom without that kind of “discretionary” income, it can start to feel as if you are having to sacrifice what you want your wedding to be. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Let’s face it. Weddings can break you–emotionally + financially–if you let them. The great news is that there is something you can do about it so that your wedding does not break you (or whoever is paying for the wedding) financially.
Side note: There’s something you can do so it doesn’t break you emotionally either:
Everyone loves a deal, so if you’re a bride or groom on the lookout for ways to cut costs for your wedding, you’ve come to the right place. Read through this massive post about all of the ways you can save money on almost anything + everything for your wedding.
Download it too so you can save it for later.
Food costs at your wedding can really skyrocket the wedding expenses. A sit down dinner can run as much as $75 per person (+ that isn’t even counting the wine + other drinks you serve). This means that a guest list of 150 peeps can run a food tab close to $12,000 (Yes, 12 grand).
It’s rare not to serve some kind of food at your wedding, so rather than cut the food altogether, figure out ways to cut the bill instead.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
1. Dress up Cocktail Hour Foods
Serve inexpensive foods during your cocktail hour. Focus on the presentation instead. For example, gourmet macaroni and cheese is a crowd pleaser, inexpensive + can be filling. Serve it in martini glasses to give it some pizzazz + make it easy for guests to hold while they stand, mingle + eat.
2. Pass the Hors d’oeuvres
Instead of dinner, consider a buffet of bite size appetizers, or even better those appetizers passed on trays by servers. People have a tendency to fill up a plate at a buffet, wasting a good portion of the food, or stuffing themselves. They’re much less likely to chow down in front of a wait person or clear the entire tray.
3. Cut the Courses
No matter what time of the day you serve a meal, cut back on the number of courses you serve. Instead of a five-course meal, consider a three or even a two-course meal (salad + entree). Choose to serve shrimp with a side of beef medallions. Caterers can order food in bulk this way, which cuts their costs and reduces the cost they pass on to you. you can still be mindful of dietary restrictions for guests and serve special meals for allergies or vegetarians. Guests can fill up during a cocktail hour, which means that you won’t need to serve as many courses during the main meal. Then, there’s wedding cake for dessert!
4. Go Family Style
Serve the meal family style instead of having a buffet or served meal. Wedding guests can pass the food platters + bowls around the table. It cuts down on the number of wait staff you have to employ. It also brings your wedding guests closer together—like family.
5. Serve Brunch or Lunch
Serve brunch or lunch rather than dinner. Guests tend to eat less during these mealtimes so you can naturally serve less food + pay less money.
6. Go Combo
Serve combination meals, such as surf + turf + serve everyone the same meal. Eliminate the options + it can help you cut down on your overall food costs. You can still have one or two plates of different foods for guests that have special dietary restrictions, such as allergies or are vegetarians.
7. Choose a Hardy Cuisine
You can serve less food when you choose hardier food options. Filling comfort foods, such as barbecued chicken + macaroni + cheese + pasta dishes fill tummies. Full tummies mean you don’t have to serve as much food, which also means that you spend less money on food.
8. Hire a Food Truck
Food trucks are sweeping the nation with some delicious food. Ask the owner of your favorite food truck if they cater. The answer is likely yes + it’s probably at a fraction of the cost of a caterer. Some couples even have the food truck pull up to their reception to serve guests directly from the truck.
You want to choose a wedding venue that is fabulous, but that doesn’t blow your entire budget. Here are some ways to save on the location of your wedding, whether it is for the ceremony, the reception or BOTH.
9. Think Outside the Ballroom
So many fabulous venue options exist that are not hotel ballrooms. Do some research about the area where you are hosting your wedding. Find some of the unique or historic locations that the city or town has. Most venues rent private rooms or you can rent the entire space out for special events like weddings.
Here are some options for inspiration:
- Historic homes
- Historic sites
- Bed & Breakfasts
- Halls of Fame
- Local attractions
- Civic gardens
- Art galleries
- University/college campuses
By no means does this exhaust the list so you can come up with your own, too, that might be unique to the area where your wedding is being held.
10. Go Virtual
Stream your wedding live using live stream services such as LiveStream.com or IDoStream.com. Your guests can enjoy + participate in your wedding ceremony from wherever they are. Since these guests are not physically attending your wedding, you don’t have to rent a venue large enough to host them, you don’t have to feed them or serve them drinks, or send them home with a favor.
11. Go All-Inclusive
Consider all-inclusive venue options. Banquet halls + hotel ballrooms are but two of the types of venues that offer all-inclusive package deals. In addition to being able to choose the types of linens + chairs, these packages tend to include a free coordinator + even a free ceremony location because you are hosting the reception there.
12. Book Your Meeting Place
Opt to book the location where the two of you first met. If you met on a college campus, talk with the college or university to see which areas on campus are available for ceremonies + receptions. If you met at a local bar or café, some offer private party rooms you can rent. These types of venues can be less expensive (+ sometimes free) than traditional wedding venues.
13. Close to Home
A well-manicured + landscaped yard (your own or someone that you know) can be a free venue for your wedding ceremony. You might have to rent chairs for guests to sit, but you don’t have to do this. The yard of a home can be the perfect solution to the lowest cost ceremony ever.
Hosting a reception in a backyard can seem like a less expensive route, but it’s not always the case when you factor in all of the costs. If you have beaches, lakes, ponds or rivers in your area, these are other “yards” you can consider renting (+ some might even be free) for hosting the wedding ceremony+/or reception.
14. Associations or Affiliations
Consider associations you belong to or affiliations you or friends or family members have. Someone in the military can often use the base/post chapel for free + rent a room in Enlisted or Officers Club (as a member) without a fee.
Food + beverage costs can vary, but these associations often wave room rental fees + throw in tables, chairs, linens + place settings for free. The VFW or lodges where you are a member can have similar low + no-cost options.
Flowers + weddings tend to go hand-in-hand–from the ceremony to the reception + everywhere in between. The flower budget can quickly spiral out of control if you let it. Check out some of these secret ways to get the flowers you want without having to worry about busting your wedding + flower budget.
15. Forgo the Bouquets
Forget about having your bridesmaids carry flower bouquets. The savings on this step can really add up if you have a large bridal party.
Be creative, instead. Have the girls carry something that relates to your wedding. If you’re having an outdoor wedding, have them carry parasols that in your wedding colors. Fans + pinwheels are a couple of other substitutes for parasols. All options are less expensive than flower bouquets.
16. Holiday Flowers
If your ceremony is around the time of a holiday, you might be able to get out of buying flowers altogether. For example, if your ceremony is at a church around Easter, you can typically use the altar flowers at a church + the arrangements throughout the church for your ceremony.
17. Go Simple
Find inexpensive + unique bud vases. Fill the different style vases with one-stem flowers or a few flowers. These create simple inexpensive centerpieces that are low enough for guests to see other guests around the table to have a conversation with one another.
18. Branch Out
Create “trees” by planting twigs in pots. Hang whatever you like from the branches. You can hang votive candles, decorative paper hearts or glass Easter eggs, for example. Choose something decorative that matches your wedding theme + you can really cut back on the cost of flowers for the wedding.
19. Bridesmaid Boutonnieres
Better yet, don’t have the bridesmaids carry any flowers at all. Instead, choose a blossom + turn it into a boutonniere for your bridesmaids. Have them pin the flower to their dress instead of carrying big bouquets of expensive flowers.
20. Go to the Source
Buy your flowers directly from the farm. You can opt to buy from a local farmer or have them shipped in for your wedding. Gather girlfriends + make your own bouquets + centerpieces with the inexpensive flowers or assign it as a task to someone you know who has the talent for creating flower arrangements.
I did this for my own wedding. I ordered Gebera daisies from Costco. They landed on my doorstep the day or so before the wedding. My (now) sister-in-law made my bouquet + the centerpieces for my wedding.
21. Altar Only
Most ceremony locations, such as churches, are decorative enough without having to add a ton of flowers, runners or other decor. Besides, you want the guests to focus right where your vows are talking place. Instead of splurging on numerous flower decorations, spend your money instead on two altar pieces + that’s it.
22. Go Big
Choose large blooming flowers for bouquets. With such large blooms, each bouquet requires fewer flowers, which costs less money. In this case, less is more.
23. Coordinate Flowers
Use the same flowers in your table centerpieces + arrangements that you use in your bouquets. This allows your florist to place a bulk order on the one type of flower + then arrange them throughout the bouquets + arrangements.
24. Go Green
Use fewer flowers + more greenery instead. Ivy + ferns are both nice green plants that work well in addition to flowers or can replace of flowers altogether.
25. Flower Alternatives
Skip the flowers completely. Use objects that match your wedding theme instead. If you’re having a beach wedding, use hurricane lamps filled with sand, a starfish, a sand dollar + a bug pillar candle as a centerpiece or table decoration.
If you’re having a farm or barn wedding, use old-fashioned lanterns as centerpieces or table decor. For a winter wonderland theme, replace flower centerpieces with mirrors with lit votive candles on top. A bird cage wrapped with ivy can make the perfect table centerpiece for a spring wedding.
It may sound counter-intuitive when you’re talking about cutting flower expenses, but using two or three smaller containers of flowers per table can be more cost effective than one large centerpiece. You can mix + match a few different styles of containers (pick up containers at a second-hand store) + even mix + match the flowers that go into each container to give the centerpieces a twist.
27. Paper Flowers
Turn to someone who knows how to whip paper into shape. You can find handmade creations on sites such as Etsy. These artisans can create paper flower bouquets, centerpieces + other decorations at a fraction of the cost of real flowers. When the wedding is over, you can recycle your flowers or keep them as a keepsake that can live into perpetuity.
Some artists even rent “flower walls” that are made out of paper flowers. This way you don’t have to recycle or figure out what to do with the paper flowers after the wedding is over. You just return it or have the rental company pick it up.
From your walk down the aisle to the first song at the reception, music adds ambiance to your wedding day, helps set the mood + helps to get your wedding guests up out of their seats + dancing at the reception. When it’s time to show off your dance moves, here are some ways to do it without spending more money than you have to spend.
28. iTunes It
The music you love is probably already downloaded on your phone. If not, download the songs you want to play. Instead of hiring a band or a DJ, hook your phone up to bluetooth speakers to play the music from your phone.
You can (+ should) hire a master of ceremonies (MC) for prompts, such as when it’s time for the first dance or to cut the cake. It costs far less to hire an MC than a DJ. Arrange to hook the iTunes music list to speakers + an amplifier with the venue so that all of your guests can hear the music when it’s playing.
If the venue does not have these items, you can usually rent them or even buy inexpensive bluetooth speakers.
29. Limit the Hours
Time is money when it comes to hiring vendors such as a DJ or a band. Go ahead + hire the DJ or band you want, but reduce the number of hours you have them play. For example, cut them out of the cocktail hour. Instead, have the venue pipe in background music during this time. Do the same during the meal, but check to see if this cuts the amount the DJ charges, since he is already set up for the event.
30. Hire a Local Band
Find a local band instead of having your favorite band truck in from two cities away. It can save on the band’s travel expenses, which means it saves you money in paying their fee. An up + coming band is likely to perform at your wedding for a cheaper rate than an established band, so don’t overlook a band that is just starting out.
31. Lessen the Load
Live bands can be more expensive than DJs. If your heart is set on live music, ask if you can reduce the number of band members to the instruments/singer you need to perform the songs on your list. With fewer members in the band, the bill tends to decrease.
32. Think about the Local Orchestra
Instrumentals, such as quartets or trios are nice additions to the ceremony, cocktail hour + during the meal. Check with the local orchestra to see if there are musicians that play at events. It can save you money from hiring wedding trios + quartets if you can assemble a group of orchestra members—especially off-season.
The food and beverage portion of your wedding tends to take the biggest bite (or drink) out of your wedding budget. The bar tab can skyrocket if you offer an open bar + have some heavy drinkers at your wedding. Here are six ways to cut the wedding bar tab without having to close the bar completely.
33. Go Wholesale
Find out if your venue allows you to supply your own alcohol. If so, use a wholesale club membership like Costco or BJs to stock your wedding bar. You can buy the liquor, mixers + champagne + drop it off at your reception venue one or two days before your wedding.
34. Serve a Specialty Drink
Instead of offering an open bar during the cocktail hour, serve a specialty drink. This limits your costs to whatever ingredients it takes to make the specialty drink. You can continue to offer the specialty drink during the reception too, but open the bar for the reception as well.
35. Cut the Cocktail Hour
Instead of offering an hour-long drink fest, offer half an hour. You can also shorten the number of hours you serve alcohol during the reception. For example, close the bar during dinner when wine + champagne is typically served. You might also opt to close the bar an hour or so before the reception ends.
36. Opt Out of the Champagne Toast
Hold the toasts + hold the champagne. If you decide to have toasts, just hold the champagne. People can use their wine or other drinks for toasting. It is not a requirement to toast with a glass of champagne.
37. Negotiate the Corkage Fee
When you provide your own alcohol, especially wine, some venues charge a corkage fee. In other words, they charge you to open each bottle. Some couples assume they are saving money by buying their own alcohol + quickly figure out that the venue is charging $2+ for each bottle they open + serve. If your venue charges a corkage fee, ask them to waive the fee or to discount the fee.
38. Offer a Limited Bar
Instead of having an open bar, offer a limited bar. For example, have a beer + wine bar instead of opening it up to whatever drink your guests order. You can also opt to offer an open bar but remove premium liquor bottles as an option. This can shave hundreds of dollars off your bar tab. Simply request that the venue/bartender not serve any liquors that are out of your price range.
39. Fire the Bartender
Find appropriate “tubs” to fill with ice. Stick beers + bottles of wine in the ice. Have your guests be their own bartender. This can save the hourly rate you would pay a bartender to serve drinks + it gets rid of the option for hard liquor or mixed drink prices. You can get pretty creative with the coolers you use, such as canoe for an outdoor lake wedding (how fun!).
The bride, the groom + the wedding party all have to don dresses, pant suits or tuxes (or something!). Here are some ideas to get everyone stylin’ without dropping the big bucks.
40. Off-the-Rack or Sample Sales
Be on the lookout for off-the-rack or sample gown sales. These special events sell sample gowns at DEEP discounts. Since these are the gowns brides try on, there may be slight defects, such as a make-up stains or missing embellishments.
If you can hide or fix the problem, then this is a great way to afford a designer dress, or a designer look, without paying the designer price. You can typically grab these bargains at about a third of what you would pay for it brand new.
Check to see if there are any consignment shops in your area that carry second-hand wedding gowns or designer clothes. When brides are done with their high-end designer wedding gowns, a lot of these gowns end up in consignment shops. Brides try to recoup some of the cost of their gown, which is a bonus for you because you can scoop up a designer gown at a fraction of the cost of a new one.
The drawback is that the gown probably isn’t sized to fit you. If the dress is too big, you can have it altered to fit you, but if the dress is too small then you are out of luck.
42. Something Borrowed
Get the dress you need + fulfill the tradition of “something borrowed” by borrowing a dress from someone you know. The challenge here is finding a dress that fits or that someone will allow you to alter. Borrowing a dress saves you 100% of the cost of buying the wedding gown.
43. Step Outside of Tradition
You can opt to step away from the tuxedo for the groom + the groomsmen. Buying or renting tuxes can really rack up a bill. Instead, dress them in black or khaki pants, a dress shirt + tie (or have them go tie-less). Bottom it off with dress shoes + your men are stylin’.
For a more casual look + feel, go with linen shirts over khakis + flip flops. This is perfect attire for a beach wedding that takes place in the sand. Switch out the linen shirts for Hawaiian shirts. The possibilities here are endless so use your imagination + creativity but all of these clothes can be bought in a regular department store so it doesn’t tend to have the expensive price tag that a tux or suit has.
44. Pick Your Own Dress
Have your bridesmaids pick their own dresses. Give them some perimeters like the color or the length or the style of the dress you prefer they wear. They can choose a dress that fits the description from their own closet or buy a new one.
Buying a regular dress over what is deemed a bridesmaid dress can save them money + it gives them a chance to wear a that flatters their figure, they feel comfortable wearing + that they can wear for another ocassion.
45. Accessorize Outside of the Boutique
Wedding salons, shops + boutiques can be more expensive when it comes to shoes, hair accessories, jewelry + other accessories. Dig in your own jewelry box or the box of people you know to find earrings, bracelets + necklaces. Consignment stores + antique shops are also great sources for unique pieces of jewelry, hats, veils, shoes + purses.
Head out to your favorite costume jewelry store, such as Claire’s, Charming Charlie’s or Icing to find affordable options for accessorizing everyone from the bride + bridesmaids to the mothers + grandmothers.
46. Choose the Perfect Heel Height
This might sound like a funny way to save money, but it can work to your advantage. When choosing your wedding shoes, try to choose a heel that has the height you need to make the wedding dress fall at the appropriate length. If the length of the dress doesn’t have to be hemmed, it can save hundreds of dollars in alteration fees.
I wore 5″ inch heels for my wedding (my husband is 6’4″). I still had to have the bottom of my dress hemmed but it wasn’t nearly as much if I had worn flats or shorter heels, which saved some money on the alterations.
Photos are a must have for most wedding couples. The photos capture the special moments of your special day. Photos are important so the price tag for hiring a photographer is usually high. Even though photographers are going to fully attack me for these suggestions, you can cut the price tag on your photos.
Keep in mind, though, that this might be an area that you’re less inclined to cut costs. Photos might be the area that you want to splurge + then you can cut costs elsewhere.
47. Hire an Amateur with Talent
Instead of hiring a wedding photographer that has been in the business for double digits, give a newbie a chance. A wedding photographer that is just breaking into the business can possess just as much talent as a long-time pro, but for a less expensive bill.
48.Go the Student Route
Reach out to the art department of a local college or university. Ask about student photographers that offer freelance work. Meet with the student + pore over their portfolio. Ideally, it is a student that has photographed a wedding.
Negotiate a price for covering your wedding. Students tend to work for the experience + the opportunity to add your photos to their portfolio, but you SHOULD definitely compensate them for their time as well.
49. Skip the Amenities
Forget about the packages that include albums or photo books. You can use websites such as mpix to make your own (less expensive) creations later. Instead, hire a photographer to shoot the photographs digitally + provide you access to them via a download or the web.
If you go this route, verify that you receive copyrights to the photos as well + that you receive a photo release to print photos elsewhere. This means you have the right to use + print the photos in any way you choose without having to receive consent from the photographer every time. Get this in writing in your contract!
50. Guest Perspectives
Turn your wedding guests into wedding photographers. Ask them to shoot the wedding from each of their perspectives. Have them upload the photos to social media sites, a wedding website you set up, or email/text them to you.
You’re sure to have some talented photographers in the crowd + it is always interesting to catch a glimpse into your wedding from different points of view. Don’t forget to include some of your own selfies in the process!
This option only works if you do not have a dedicated photographer covering your wedding + if you don’t want specific posed photos.
51. Hire a Photographer’s Associate
Ask your favorite photographer if they have an associate you can hire that fits your budget. The photographer might even offer up one of their own assistants in their place to shoot the wedding.
52. Cut the Time
Instead of hiring a photographer for seven hours of coverage, cut down coverage time. You can have them leave one or two hours before the reception ends, for example. You can stage your sendoff early. Cut out coverage from the moment you start getting ready for the ceremony. Instead, have them shoot a couple of staged photos prior to your journey down the aisle.
53. iPad Photos
Photo booths are fun for capturing memories at your wedding, but the cost can skyrocket the cost. Instead, make one or two iPads available. You can still supply props + costumes, but have guests shoot photos with the iPad instead. Take the iPad home + you have instant access to photos from your wedding.
Your save-the-date + wedding invitation is the first glimpse your invited guests have into your wedding. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a great first impression. Check out these little known ways to save money on your wedding stationery.
54. Printable Invitation Template
Buy a printable design template from a graphic designer. You can personalize it with the verse + wedding information + then print on to your own card stock. This gives you a custom look without the custom price. It can also save you on printing costs.
55. Skip Reception Cards
Instead of printing a separate card with the reception venue details, add a reception line to the bottom of your wedding invitation. It cuts out the need for a reception card + it cuts the cost for printing one. It also saves you on any extra postage for the weight of mailing it with your invitation.
56. Go Regular
Avoid irregular sizes for invitations. Overly large or complex invitations can cost more money in postage. Stick to a standard size + weight so you can mail each invitation for the cost of one postage stamp.
57. Ditch Response Cards
Leave out the response cards. You can have guests RSVP online with a wedding website or with an online program such as Aisle Planner. Include your wedding website address in the invitation package. Ask guests to RSVP + make any meal choices via the website. Even if you print this request on a separate card, you still save on the postage on the response envelopes.
58. Hand or Print Addresses
Calligraphy is beautiful, but it can also be expensive. Have someone with very nice handwriting hand address the invitation envelopes for you. You can also use fonts that look like calligraphy to print the addresses onto the envelopes yourself. You can find fonts for free on sites such as abstractfonts.com.
59. Go with Thermography
Engraved invitations are beautiful, but thermography is just as beautiful. Thermography is also less expensive than engraved. If you have your invitations professionally printed, opt for thermography instead of engraved.
60. Dual Purpose
Use one item for dual purpose, when possible. For example, you can double your wedding favors as place cards by adding a name tag to the wedding favor instead.
61. Electronic Save-the-Dates
If you can’t bring yourself to skip the save-the-date cards, then send them electronically. It saves on the cost of printing + postage.
I’m Kristie McCauley, a former certified wedding planner + lover of wedding planning. I share tips, advice + how-tos with brides + grooms that are planning their own weddings. Check out The Wedding Workshop, a self-paced course that walks couples step-by-step through the process of planning their own wedding.