Fun fact of the day:
The average cost of a wedding in America is $35,000.
Clearly, in the age of social media comparison & Pinterest-perfect photos, the pressure has never been higher to spend BIG on the “BIGGEST” day of our lives!
“Wait- are you against spending money for a wedding?!”
No, I’m not.
“Don’t you think a bride deserves to have a wonderful day!?”
Of course I do. (haha… pun intended…)
My intent is NOT to make you feel bad if you had/are planning to have an expensive wedding. Everyone’s circumstances are different. After discussing our goals with my husband-to-be, we decided that we wanted to go into our marriage debt-free and stress-free, and we intended to pay for our own wedding. For the sake of context and transparency, I want to disclose that my entire wedding cost $5,000. Some people might say that number is ridiculously low, others might say that’s way higher than what they feel comfortable spending.
And guess what? That’s okay!
Let’s just toss aside the expectations and opinions of others for a minute…
I want us to stop and think about this together:
In a world where divorce rates have climbed to almost 50%, clearly there’s a much deeper need to prepare for a lifetime of marriage itself, rather than only preparing for a wedding (which is over after only one day!).
The amount of money you spend on your wedding day will NOT affect your joy in marriage.
So, what WILL affect your joy in marriage? Here are just a few ideas:
- Pursuing God’s heart first, BEFORE you pursue someone else’s.
- Attending premarital counseling together.
- Reading books together about healthy relationships.
- Seeking wisdom and advice from mature people whose relationships you respect.
THOSE are steps of preparation that will take you SO much farther than simply finding the perfect wedding venue or hiring the best DJ.
Let’s take the spotlight OFF of spending a fortune on a single day for the sake of impressing others, and put the emphasis on investing in a lifetime of choosing JOY together!
So, if you’re excited about the idea of learning some tips and tricks to have the wedding of your dreams on a realistic budget, keep reading! 🙂
I’ve picked 10 primary wedding-day expense categories, and included some tips and tricks for each topic. Here we go!
The average cost of paper wedding invitations (save-the-date cards included) ranges from $500- $800 for a mid-size (150-300) guest list. (Don’t forget to add postage on top of that! Yikes!) But before you get discouraged about spending hundreds of $ on pretty pieces of paper that will eventually end up in everyone’s recycling bins, here are a few ways to trim those costs:
- Digital Save-the-Dates! Instead of sending 2 rounds of cards via mail, you could send digital save-the-dates, and save the formal paper invites for later! We did digital save-the-dates for our wedding, and guess what? No one complained.
- Bundle-deals! Oftentimes, printers will offer bundle deals to purchase Save-the Date cards, Invitations, RSVP cards, and Thank You cards all at once! Saves time and saves quite a bit of money if you shop around a little.
- Ignore the Brand. Designer invitations can be lovely, but don’t feel pressure to shell out big bucks for a trendy brand-name printing company. If you have a friend with talent in design/graphic art, you could ask him/her to whip up a couple of ideas for you as a wedding gift, and then print them low-cost yourself. Or, check out places like Costco, Sams Club, or Shutterfly for bundle deals! (I ordered ours from Costco- and no one was bothered by the fact that I only spent $60 for 200 invitations.)
2.) The Venue
- Book “Off Season”! If you have the flexibility to choose your wedding date, it’s often much more affordable to get married in an ‘off season’ month. Depending on where you live, these times can vary- a little research goes a long way! Where I live, July & August are often much less expensive times to book a wedding, because of the hot weather and lack of popularity for venue requests during those months.
- Last-minute deals! This won’t work for everyone, but if you’re looking at a short engagement season (my engagement was 4 months long), scouting out those last-minute deals can really work out in your favor! I got a 45% discount on the venue I chose, simply because I booked barely 2 months in advance and the owner was eager to fill a vacant off-season weekend. You have a LOT more negotiating leverage if you are flexible and willing to snag those last-minute deals!
- Get creative! If you have a friend with a stunning garden, or a family member with property that could be perfect for a wedding, consider asking if they’re willing to ‘lend’ you their space for your ceremony! Or, if there’s a specific place that is significant to you both as a couple, think about what it might take to get hitched in a location that is completely unique to you. This could definitely save you some serious moolah!
3.) The Food
- Ask about preferred vendors! Many venues provide bundle deals or referral discounts to help you get more bang for your buck. The venue I chose also happened to be owned by a 4-star chef, so we got a significant discount for our catering because we booked both the venue and the food through the same person.
- Go ‘Buffet’ style! This is an easy way to avoid extra service charges and the extra venue staff required for a sit-down formal dinner. Buffet style meals can be just as classy, and just as delicious as a full-service seated meal. Guests were raving about the food at my wedding months after it was over- and it was buffet-style. We had one self-serve appetizer course during the cocktail hour, then a full buffet with salad, veggies, garlic herb mashed potatoes, creamy pesto chicken, and roasted pork. I’m very happy with my choice to go with a ‘buffet’ style dinner!
- Host a dessert reception! This could be a great option to consider for an early afternoon wedding OR a later-in-the-evening wedding. If you have family and friends coming in from out of town, and you want a longer wedding reception that spans over the course of the late afternoon and into the evening, then you’ll need to feed your guests dinner. For example, if your wedding ceremony starts at 4, and reception ends at 9, it will be difficult for your guests to survive the night on a single slice of cake. However, if you opt for a shorter reception, or even an early afternoon wedding that will be over by dinner time, a dessert & punch reception can be a classy and affordable alternative to a traditional dinner.
4.) The Dress
With T.V. shows like “Say Yes to the Dress”, and “My Fair Wedding”, expectations about wedding dresses are at an all-time high. Of course you should choose a dress that truly makes you feel beautiful, but don’t be tricked into thinking it’ll have to cost thousands of dollars.
- Buy a used dress! Don’t shy away from the word ‘used’. As mentioned in my little story above, it can definitely be a GOOD thing. My dress, alterations included, was less than $500! It was a one-of-a-kind designer dress from a small bridal boutique, and the reason it was so affordable was because it had been worn one time at a bridal show, and was put on display after that. So, it was considered “used” (or a ‘sample dress’) even though it had never been worn in a real wedding before! So on my wedding day, I got to wear a unique designer dress in a style no one else had, and it didn’t break the bank.
- Rent a dress! You’ll have the budget-freedom to choose a much more extravagant dress at a fraction of the cost of buying. Bonus: Renting a suit/tuxedo is a viable option as well- especially if the groom isn’t usually a ‘formal dress-up’ kind of dude. Kevin already owned a nice suit which was given to him as a gift from his family, so that worked great and didn’t cost extra.
- Minimal Alterations! If you can find a dress that needs minimal (or no) alterations, that’s an added bonus! I’ve known many brides who were blindsided by how much alteration work costs, so you can trim down those costs by choosing the right fit for your body type.
5.) The Flowers
One word: WHOLESALE.
- Buy wholesale! If you’re a low-maintenance bride who doesn’t mind a little DIY (or if you have creative friends/bridesmaids who can lend you their arrangement skills), check out your nearest wholesale florist! I purchased the flowers for my bridal bouquet, all my bridesmaid bouquets, a ‘tossing’ bouquet, boutonnieres, table decor flowers, and ceremony flowers, ALL for LESS than $130.
All the flowers for the ceremony and reception for less than a single bridal bouquet would have cost at our local florist.
- Choose in-season flowers. If you go with in-season floral arrangements, they are most often FAR more affordable than other types of flowers/plants that need to be ordered and shipped from far away.
- Find someone with experience. If you’re going to splurge, this is the place to splurge. It might sound amazing to have free photos from a student photographer, but it’s definitely a big risk. You don’t want to hire a photographer who is brand-new in the wedding industry; find someone with experience or you’ll run the risk of blurry or poor quality photos.
- Ask for deals/packages. Find a middle-of-the-road, quality photographer/videographer whose work you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to ask for a bargain! Our wedding video was a fraction of the cost of most of my friends’ wedding videos, but the quality is just as wonderful. ALWAYS ask for a bargain and hunt down the good deals! Almost any photographer or videographer will offer a deal if they’re trying to book an off-season weekend event.
- Find someone with AMAZING customer service. Ask your friends, network with married couples whose photos you love. My photographer was incredibly talented, but the customer service after the event was a little disappointing. A few of our pictures came in black-and-white only, and he had stated in writing multiple times that he would send me the color versions, but almost 2 years have passed, and I have yet to see the color copies of those photos. Be sure to ask for personal reviews from people to find someone who follows through and delivers what they say they will deliver, in the timing that has been agreed upon!
7.) The Entertainment
- Opt for a DJ instead of a Live Band. Live bands can be SO pricey! Go with a DJ instead and save some major moolah! Our DJ was incredible- everyone was on the floor dancing the night away, and he was an amazing communicator before and during the event itself. A live band can be a lot of fun, but there’s nothing a talented DJ can’t do to make up for the lack of real-life musicians at your reception!
- Ask your friends! Do you have any close friends or relatives who are musically gifted? They might cut you a deal, or you could even ask them to perform as their gift to you rather than purchasing something off the registry. For example- at one of the sweetest weddings I’ve attended, two of the bride’s close friends played a beautiful and personalized acoustic set during the cocktail hour. Guests enjoyed the gift of live music, and the bride enjoyed the gift of quality entertainment for the reception without spending a fortune! It was a win-win.
- D.I.Y. Photo booth. This idea is very popular for a reason! It’s a fun way to personalize your reception and give your guests something fun to do during your cocktail hour!
- Stay true to your personality as a couple. Kevin and I LOVE playing games and being goofy. So we asked the DJ the day of the wedding to make up a fun and funky game of musical chairs- EVERYONE got in on the fun! It was a spontaneous moment that fit the crowd perfectly. The game got everyone up on the dance floor, young and old! We also had quite a bit of swing dancing, an ‘Anniversary Dance’ to honor the guests who had been married for the longest time (the “winners” a.k.a. longest married couple provided their best marriage advice to all the guests), a photo booth that printed 2 copies of each film strip instantly; one for the guests to stick into a scrapbook with drawings/notes, and the other for them to take home. Don’t be afraid to bust out of tradition- have FUN and let your reception reflect who you are as a couple!
8.) Cake & Dessert
- Support local businesses! A sweet friend of mine owns a bakery business, and gave me an amazing deal on a beautiful cake that was just the perfect size for our guest list. Supporting local businesses is ALWAYS a good idea!
- Keep it small. The most expensive ‘cake mistake’ most brides make is assuming everyone invited to the wedding will want a slice. Some people don’t even like cake! We had a 3 tier cake, modestly sized, and there was plenty to go around for each of our 120 guests, as well as saving the whole top tier to deep-freeze for our 1st wedding anniversary a year later.
- Skip the champagne. Sparkling punch, Martinelli’s apple cider, or other non-alcoholic options can be a much more affordable alternative to champagne for the post-cake-cutting toasts! We offered alcohol ONLY during the cocktail hour, and then it was closed down. Much less expensive choice than letting the wine flow freely all night long (not to mention that limiting alcohol is a way to deter anyone having a little “TOO much fun”… after all, no one wants to see Aunt Edna dancing on the tables to “I Had the Time of My Life”).
- Remember, this is OPTIONAL. So many sweet friends of mine spend HOURS/DAYS perfecting little homemade gifts, designing and folding mini boxes of candy, crafting picture frames and little treats, burning several hundred CD’s of their wedding playlist… and yet over half of those favors were still sitting out on the table after the last guests had gone home. Don’t feel too much pressure to spend big on such a small detail. Favors just aren’t a central part of the event, and most often they simply get left behind. Even though favors are a totally optional tradition, I still wanted to have something for our guests to make sure they could leave with something fun and memorable. So, I opted for a vintage-style photo-booth rental! Since I booked at the last-minute, I got an incredible deal with unlimited prints for guests, and it was such a big hit! People love fun and quirky photo memories, and they sure did take home TONS of personalized photo-booth strips to remember the event!
- Expedia! Expedia was our best friend! (Not a sponsored post, but hey, shout out if you’re reading, Expedia!) We booked an all-inclusive bundle deal at a classy adults-only resort in Cancun Mexico, where we could enjoy 5-star food on the beach, live shows every night, and being pampered like celebrities. And the price tag for air-fare, food, entertainment, excursions, and all expenses for the entire week? $1600. There are amazing deals out there, and it’s totally worth it to hunt them down!
- Stay-cation! Wherever you live, there’s always the possibility of a ‘stay-cation’! Enjoy breakfast in bed, jump in your car and head to a cute AirBnB outside of town, try some classy restaurant you’ve never been to before, find the fun and quirky things that make your town unique and go explore with your new HUSBAND/WIFE!
- Research Travel-Hacking! If you take the time to research and get creative, you can earn low-cost or FREE flights to essentially anywhere. I will write more on this topic later; my husband is a travel-hacking genius who found a way to fly both of us to Europe last month for only $190 (together, not each!)!!! We only paid taxes on our tickets, since we had already racked up enough air miles to cover the tickets themselves. The primary expenses on that trip were AirBnB accommodations (still way cheaper and more fun and personal than a hotel), food, and other entertainment.
If you’d like to hear more about travel-hacking, please let me know! I’m planning to do an “interview-style” blog post someday soon with my husband. He’s the travel-hacking genius of our household! 😉 In the meantime, here’s a great ‘beginners resource’ for anyone who is interested in how travel-hacking works:
Whew! That was a LOT of information! Thank you for your patience in reading this far! 🙂
I get long-winded when I’m writing about something I’m truly passionate about. I’m passionate about marriage, and I’m also passionate about helping friends save money (and stress) on their wedding day! I hope a few of these tips and tricks come in handy for you, or for anyone you know who is trying to plan a budget wedding!
If you have questions, feedback, or want to hear more, please comment below or send me an email! I’d love to hear from you! ❤ Happy wedding planning!