Weddings can be expensive affairs. Over the years, advertising and marketing has convinced brides and grooms into spending enormous sums of money. The average wedding cost $30,000 in 2013. But you do not have to spend the financial equivalent of a new car or a down payment on a house to celebrate the start of your marriage. There are multiple ways to cut costs in planning wedding that reflects the true character of you and your partner, without going into debt for what is in the end, a party.
Budgeting the Wedding
Make a budget and stick to it. Set a total dollar amount that you and your partner are willing to spend. Be firm about sticking to that total amount (or go under it). You will inevitably find more fees and costs that you did not anticipate, so be sure to think through what you need to spend money on. Aim to spend about half your budget on the venue, food and beverages.
Prioritize your “must-haves”. There may be certain parts of your wedding that you feel you absolutely must have. You may be committed to a church wedding, for instance. Or you want your reception meal to be catered by your cousin. Talk with your partner to determine where you are both willing to compromise and where you are not going to bend.
Determine sources of funding. Are you financing the wedding yourselves, or will any family members be contributing to the overall budget? Many parents or other family members want to contribute money to a wedding. Determine who wants to give money and establish how much money it will be. Have a conversation about whether there are strings attached to accepting this money.
Some family members may want to chip in to pay for something specific, such as the photographer or the cake. This can be wonderful, but you can run into problems when everyone wants to dictate what you spend on certain aspects while often ignoring mundane expenses such as portable toilets for your wedding.
Be sure to give your benefactors reasonable and realistic estimates for their contribution, and respects any limits. Your grandmother may not realize how expensive a high-quality wedding cake is, for instance.
Make a comparison chart. Use a spreadsheet on your computer to make lists of different aspects of your wedding planning. This will make it easier to compare them for price and amenities, so you can see what the best deals are.
This will also help you keep track of what to plan and when to complete tasks.
Scheduling the Wedding
Plan in advance. Giving yourself several months to plan this event will give you more time to shop around for good deals. Booking things at the last minute may raise the cost of the total event.
Plan for the off-season. Plan a wedding that takes place after April or before October. Plan a wedding that does not take place on a Saturday. Venues and potentially caterers will be more expensive on Saturdays and in the summertime. If you plan your wedding to occur when weddings are few and far between – such as in the winter – you might find more reasonable rates.
Stay away from holiday weekends, as these are usually more expensive as well, no matter the time of year.
Mid-week weddings will likely be less expensive, but many friends andfamily members may not be able to participate in a wedding ceremony on a Wednesday. Or a winter storm may possibly mess up your February wedding in Quebec.
Plan for a shorter wedding. Go for three hours instead of four or five hours. This saves on costs for labor, drinks, food, and so on. 
Plan the wedding for yourself, not for everyone else. Attempting to meet every expectation can quickly add to your overall costs. You may be blessed with a family that is nothing but helpful and supportive. More typically, friends and family will be a combination of support and unhelpful and even selfish. Be careful about “bending over backwards” to try to accommodate every guest to the extent that you blow your budget.
For example, in America many people have Memorial Day in May off and makes it easier to get to a wedding. However, because it is in spring and a major holiday, this is a prime booking time for weddings and usually more expensive. You may have to trade off a more affordable site fee for having more guests be able to come.
More food options often increase catering prices dramatically. Forinstance, a simple “chicken or vegetarian” menu option will be less expensive than a “chicken, beef, vegetarian, fish, or lamb” array. Also, more choices do not actually make guests happier.
Choosing a Location
Look into public spaces or parks. Many parks, public gardens and other public spaces may be free or inexpensively priced. Check with your city’s parks department to scope out suitable locations, fees and requirements.
Hold the wedding at someone’s home. If someone has a scenic home or lovely garden, ask if you can hold your wedding at their house. Be considerate of their home and yard, and how the number of guests you’re inviting will fit into the space.
Keep in mind things like parking, bathrooms and accessibility. Make sure people are able to get to your wedding. Renting a portable toilet is an option if there are not enough bathrooms for the number of guests.
Hold the ceremony and reception at the same place. If you rent one space instead of two, you will definitely save money. Many venues, especially if they hold weddings frequently, are fully equipped to handle the ceremony and reception, and are able to make the switch easily between the two.
Hold the wedding in another town. If you live in a city, venues may generally be more expensive. Move the celebration to a smaller town adjacent to your city and you might find that your costs decrease.
Choose a venue with great ambiance. By selecting a location that looks beautiful or interesting, such as an art museum, aquarium or manicured garden, you may not need much in the way of decorations. There may already be beautiful decorations or floral arrangements in the venue, which means you won’t need to supply them.
Keep the bridal party small. You may feel obligated to have several bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl and a ring bearer. You typically give these people a gift for participating in the wedding, and the more people you have in the bridal party, the more costs you may have. Choosing just one attendant each for the bride and groom will cut down on costs.
Cut down the guest list. Fewer guests means that you can book a smaller place and provide food for fewer people. Think about who you’d most like to share this occasion with.
Anticipate who will likely decline an invitation. It can be a nice gesture to invite family or friends who live far away, even if it is unlikely they will attend. Think about who you should invite and who might decline the invitation. This will help with planning numbers.
Don’t be surprised, however, if far away relatives decide to come for the wedding. Many use it as a reason to take a holiday.
Choose a justice of the peace to conduct the ceremony. Justices of the peace are judges of lower courts who are ordained to perform civil marriages. Experienced or high-profile ministers will cost more, charging $200-$400 or more to perform the service.
Justices of the peace charge $50 to $100 for a simple ceremony. You may need to pay travel costs for the justice for them to get to your ceremony location.
Some justices of the peace may only perform ceremonies at the city hall or county courthouse. Others may attend ceremonies at your preferred location.
Wear a hand-me-down gown. It can be very special to wear wedding garments that are handed down from one generation to another. You can re-purpose a dress, veil or shoes if they fit you, and you can potentially save thousands of dollars.
Rent your wedding attire. Check with a formal clothing rental store in your area. They may have wedding gowns and men’s suits for rent. Rented wedding dresses can range in price from$200 to $2,000, plus a damage deposit, and will be available for a few days before the wedding. Keep in mind, however, that you will likely not be able to alter this dress.
Some stores have pre-owned wedding dresses too, which are gently used dresses and which can cost as low as $100. When you consider that the average wedding dress is only worn once for a few hours, it can make a lot of sense to get one that is used.
Wear casual or non-traditional wedding clothes. If you are going for a less formal event, (such as a beach wedding) you might wear more casual or non-traditional clothing. Men might wear khaki pants and a button-down shirt and women might wear a white sundress with a simple viel.
Consider your footwear too. If you are getting married in the summer, for example, you might be able to get away with sandals or even flip-flops, if they match the aesthetic of your event.
Get a dress that is not specifically sold as a wedding dress. Wedding dresses in particular can be very expensive, but if you choose a dress that isn’t sold as a wedding dress, it can mean huge savings.
Make your own invitations. If you are crafty in any way, or you have a friend who is, designing your own invitations can be cost effective and reflect your personality. Design the invitations either by hand or on a computer using a desktop publishing program.
Purchase paper and envelopes at a paper supply store or art supply store. These stores typically have a large selection of paper colors, weights, and finishes.
Reduce the amount of inserts in the invitation. Instead of including printed out maps, lists of hotels or other pertinent information for guests, put this information on a blog. Then include a link to a website in your invitation. You can cut down on some of your invitation costs this way.
You can also request people to RSVP by sending you an email, rather than returning a card. This will eliminate the need to include stamped return envelopes with the invitations you send out.
Send online invitations. For less formal weddings, you might choose to move everything online and send invitations online. Design an invitation and send it from your own email address, or use an invitation site like Evite. Using an invitation website like Evite can help you keep track of RSVPs, since guests will RSVP through the website.
Ask family or friends to prepare food. You don’t need a gourmet chef in the family to produce good food that is suitable for a wedding. Enlist the help of 2-3 people to handle the cooking. Prepare a menu that is realistic for them to prepare with the equipment they have access to.
Remember plates, cutlery, cups, and napkins when doing it yourself. You will also need serving dishes and heating trays.
Check with your venue to make sure you can bring your own food. Some venues require that you use their catering services.
Serve light refreshments instead of a full meal. Not all weddings have full sit-down dinners, and you should not feel obligated to serve a meal to your guests. Serving hors d’oeuvres and drinks is another way to cut down on costs.
Forgo the alcohol. Alcohol is probably the top expense in the food category, and your beverages budget can quickly run over once the wedding starts. Many guests often expect that alcohol will be served at a wedding, however, so keep that in mind. You will need to serve some kind of beverage at the wedding, but nonalcoholic drinks are much cheaper.
Alternately, supply your own alcohol. Buy it in bulk at a store such as Costco, for example. Check with your venue to make sure you are allowed to bring your own alcohol.
Do any of your friends or relatives home brew, or are an amateur vintner? Ask him or her if that could be a creative wedding gift to you.
Ask a friend to make your wedding cake. If you have a friend who is a skilled baker, ask them to bake your wedding cake. It does not need to be a multi-tiered cake; in fact, the fancy wedding cake is usually only eaten by the wedding party. In reality, guests are usually served from a sheet cake in the kitchen. Ask if a friend can bake several large cakes and decorate one cake with a fancy look.
Buy wedding cakes at a grocery store. Grocery store bakeries often have excellent cakes that can be decorated to order. Work with the head baker at the grocery store to get the look you want for your cakes.
Pick up the cakes yourself. Instead of having them delivered to your venue, save some money by picking them up yourself.
Plan a sit-down dinner where guests are served. Sit-down dinners with each guest served a plate, rather than buffet style, is less expensive. This way, you can ensure that guests will not eat more than one portion, thus saving you money overall.
Host an informal rehearsal dinner. Plan the rehearsal dinner in the afternoon as a barbeque or picnic with less extravagant food. Keep the rehearsal dinner relaxed and informal. An informal menu will be more consistent with an informal tone to the dinner.
Planning the Music
Skip the live music. There are many beautiful compositions of recorded wedding music available that can be played at the ceremony. Download some songs or play a CD at key moments during the ceremony.
Ask a friend or family member who is not in the wedding party to be in charge of the music for this part.
Hire a local or amateur band. Save money by hiring a local band that wants exposure and practice, rather than a more professional band that will cost more money. Meet with the band to go over your preferred types of music and listen to them play.
Make a compilation of reception music yourself. If you’d like to play music during the reception, or have dancing at the reception, make a playlist of the music yourself. Make a list of must-have songs that you and your partner want to hear. Ask a friend or family member to keep tabs on the music to make sure it plays smoothly throughout the reception.
Back up the playlist by burning them onto a CD or putting them on a backup drive.
Taking Photos at the Wedding
Ask a talented friend to take photos. If you have a friend who is skilled at taking portraits, ask if they would be willing to be your photographer. It’s a good idea to pay them some money for their work and their time, but you might be able to negotiate a lower fee.
Give your photographer a list of specific shots. Give a shot list to the photographer to make sure they get all the photos you want in a short amount of time.
You don’t have to hire a photographer for the entire wedding. Hire one for the ceremony and part of the reception to capture the essence of the event.
Ask your photographer for a “shoot only” package. Don’t ask for prints of your photos from the photographer. This is a “shoot only” package, where the photographer will just take pictures and give you either proofs or a CD of the images.
Put your guests to work. Give disposable cameras to the guests and have them take pictures during the reception. This strategy often gives you a really unique perspective on your wedding, as you will get a nice array of photos that feature all of your guests, not just a handful that a photographer might focus on.
Decorating for the Wedding
Let the venue be the decoration. Holding your wedding at a beautiful location may enable you to replace decorations with scenery. An art gallery, aquarium or even an outdoor setting can be the perfect backdrop to the wedding, reducing the need for elaborate decorations.
Shop around for flowers. Visit multiple florists to shop around for flower arrangements. Request flowers that are in season and native to your area instead of exotic arrangements that are expensive or out of season. There are also flowers that are just normally less expensive, such as carnations and gerbera daisies.
Alternately, buy flowers in bulk; Costco, for example, has flowers for purchase. Arrange the flowers yourself.
Use candles instead of flowers. Flowers can be a costly expense for wedding decorations, and candle arrangements, even in combination with some flowers, can reduce your costs. Be sure to carefully enclose the candles or arrange them so that they don’t catch anything on fire.
Hang Christmas lights. If you are having an evening wedding, achieve a romantic, soft look by hanging Christmas lights around the venue. Stock up on extra lights when they go on sale after Christmas.Be sure to tuck away extension cords or run them underneath rugs so that guests don’t trip on cords.
Additional Wedding Resources
Wedding Budget Chart Sample
Sample 3 Month Wedding Action Plan
Keep copies of all contracts that you sign. In case of any cancellations or unfulfilled contracts, you should have documentation of your agreements with vendors.
If you are not tied to having a formal ceremony, you might consider eloping and getting married at the courthouse or city hall. You can still throw a party for family and friends to celebrate.
Sources and Citations
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