How Do You Plan a Wedding on a Small Budget?

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Planning a wedding on a small budget needn’t mean that your wedding won’t be unique and memorable. A low budget wedding is ideal for expressing your individuality and having a fantastic day while not breaking the bank. Need help planning your wedding? Check out our list of Wedding Event Planners here.

Planning a Wedding

Sometimes, with all the excitement of planning a wedding, the very basics of a marriage ceremony and what it means gets lost. The one important feature of a wedding is the commitment that two people make to each other. It doesn’t matter if the bride is wearing a top-end designer wedding gown or if the guests are sipping the very best vintage champagne; what matters is the fact that the bride and groom are celebrating their special day with friends and family. Whether the wedding costs a few dollars or tens of thousands of dollars, the end effect is the same. The bride and groom will end the day as man and wife and embarking on their new lives together.

How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

how do you plan a wedding on a small budget

Determine the kind of wedding you want.

When you picture your wedding, what do you see? A swanky reception at a downtown loft? A backyard barbecue with all your friends and family? A classic hotel ballroom reception?

If you need a little more inspiration, think about all the weddings you’ve been to, seen on TV, or scrolled through on Pinterest. What did you like—or not like—about them?

Don’t get hung up on the little details just yet. Instead, think about the overall feel you want your wedding to have when planning a wedding on a budget; knowing your priorities matters.

Have the wedding budget talk.

Everyone paying for the event (bride, groom and parents) needs to sit down and look at the total wedding budget. This might be your first experience budgeting with your future spouse as a team. What a priceless experience! Learning to talk openly and honestly about how much you can spend—and how much you’re willing to pay—on your wedding is going to lay the groundwork for wonderful budget date nights once you’re married!

As uncomfortable as this budget talk might be, remember—it’s a heck of a lot easier than still paying for your wedding day on your fifth anniversary! When I say budget here, I’m not just talking about how much money you can spend total—I’m talking about how much you should spend in each specific area. 

Break the total wedding budget into categories and figuring out what percentage to devote to each:

  • Reception: 55%
  • Ceremony: 12%
  • Photography: 10%
  • Wedding Planner: 10%
  • Dress and Tux: 8%
  • Miscellaneous/Cushion: 5%

You should set your ratios based on what’s important to you. Maybe you’re willing to splurge on photos, but flowers don’t matter to you. If you care more about one area than another, change up the percentages.

Decide what is non-negotiable.

Based on your percentages, take a moment with your fiancé to decide on your top three must-haves for your big day. They can be practical or frivolous: an outdoor reception, a plated surf and turf dinner, loads of flowers, a live jazz band—whatever is most important to you.

You can come up with your wish lists separately or together, but make sure you sit down and determine what you both want. Let that vision dictate your budget.

Aim for a short guest list.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll repeat it: The cost of a wedding is pretty much based on guest count. (Read that sentence again and let it soak in.) The number of attendees will determine not only the size of your venue but also how much food and alcohol you’ll have to provide—which, by the way, happen to be two of the most significant wedding expenses.

Reining in the guest list is the best way to cut costs. So what’s a small wedding? Some think it’s under 100 guests, but if you want an intimate (and cost-effective!) event, we recommend 10 to 50 people.

Once you start paring down your list, you’ll likely realize it’s harder to do than you thought! To make it easier, ask yourself, “Have I talked to this person in the last two months?” More often than not, this one simple question will ensure that only your nearest and dearest are a part of your Big Day.

Rethink “traditional”.

Why not take advantage of your pared-down guest list and plan your celebration at an otherwise off-limits location? This could be a scenic overlook in a national park, you and your SO’s favourite brunch spot, or the cozy backyard of a family member. In general, these types of locations only require a permit, a private room rental, or a thumbs-up from your relative and tend to be less expensive than a typical large-scale wedding venue.

Also, since your short guest list includes only your closest family and friends—most if not all of whom are likely to attend—you have more freedom to choose an off-peak day or time to host your celebration. Consider a Sunday brunch wedding complete with a stacked waffle “cake” and bottomless mimosas!

TIP: Many venues offer spaces for intimate weddings that they don’t necessarily advertise, so it doesn’t hurt to ask about all your options!

Focus on the stuff you care about—and ditch the rest.

If dancing isn’t your thing, then don’t hire a DJ. Want a bonfire for roasting s’mores instead of an extra-fancy wedding cake? Roast away! Are you obsessed with food trucks? Forget the pricey caterer! Whitewashes you out? Strut down that aisle in a colourful dress you scored at your fave consignment shop. Get where we’re going with this? You do you, boo.

Forgoing some big-ticket items will not only help trim down your to-do list, but it’ll also trim down that budget of yours and make your wedding more personal.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When it comes to small, budget-friendly weddings, remember that DIY doesn’t mean you have to do-it-ALL-yourself. Your friends and family can be your saviours! Enlist retired aunts for centrepiece prep, ask your talented cousin to do your makeup, and see if your BFF who loves to bake will whip up some wedding cookie favours. Then set up a super casual cocktail party to thank your squad for their contributions. A “divide and conquer” approach will keep things affordable and take some of the DIY stress off your shoulders.

Stay true to yourselves.

At one point or another, during the wedding planning process, you’ll likely experience some pushback once you explain your small wedding plans to non-like-minded folks. Flak may come from relatives who feel scorned because they didn’t receive an invite or from acquaintances that are shocked you’re planning such an inexpensive affair.

Never fear, m’dear! If anyone gives you a hard time, we recommend some variation of the following phrase: “We’re so excited to get married in a way that feels right for us, but thanks for your opinion.”

Essential Considerations When Planning a Wedding on a Small Budget

There are several things to consider which will help when planning a low-cost wedding. The first thing is what your actual budget is going to be. Using a budget worksheet is an excellent way to start the planning off on the right foot and keep track of expenses as you go.

Don’t Get Caught Up in the Hype!

Bridal magazines, specialist stores, planners, and many others will tell you that you need to buy, hire, or rent all sorts of things for your day to be extraordinary. Resist! Decide what things are important to YOU and stick with it.

Be Individual

A low budget wedding is a perfect opportunity to push tradition to one side and organize a highly individual celebration. In contrast, the rule might say that the bride ‘must’ wear a long white gown or that the guests ‘must’ toast the happy couple in champagne, which is to say that a beautiful day can’t be had by doing something a little different, and a little less expensive.

Look for Second Hand Bargains

There are many secondhand bargains to be had, and these can be a great way to help keep the costs down when planning a wedding on a small budget. No one will know if your dress is secondhand or if the groom’s suit was from a thrift store! Some real bargains can sometimes be found on auction websites, such as eBay, or at local consignment shops.

Make Your Wedding Invitations, Programs, and Other Items

A great way to save money is to make your wedding invitations, programs, table decorations and more! LoveToKnow Crafts has lots of information about creating a whole range of beautiful items, which is a great way to stamp your individuality on your day. A do-it-your wedding invitation will also belong treasured by family and friends, and a handmade wedding program will be truly unique.

Check out our ultimate list of Wedding Planners in Melbourne to help you organise a stress-free wedding.

Alternative Receptions

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Many couples face one issue: balancing their desire to share their wedding day with lots of family members and friends while also sticking to a tight budget. This can make wedding receptions very expensive. Why not consider alternatives to the traditional reception. This not only saves a lot of money, but it can also provide a wonderful day to be long remembered. A picnic or backyard wedding barbecue, for instance, can be great fun, and these can be supplied on a low budget or even ask guests to bring their own. Don’t worry that people will be offended or surprised by a break in tradition; many people prefer informal ceremonies to stuffy formal affairs. If you would still like caterers, several small companies can offer excellent deals. They can often offer highly competitive prices as they do not have the large overheads of more prominent companies.

Money-Saving Wedding Tips

Now that you have a better understanding of what your budget can get you, how can you reduce the cost of your wedding even more? Here are seven ways to keep wedding costs down and help you stay on budget!

Limit your guest list.

Less is sometimes more! You might feel tempted to come up with a guest list as long as the royal wedding’s, but think of it this way: Every guest is an expense. It sounds harsh, but it’s true, you guys! With each addition to your guest list, you’re only driving up the overall cost of your wedding.

To save money on your wedding, you may want to host a smaller, more intimate affair. If the number of people at your wedding isn’t necessary to you and your fiancé, try cutting your guest list by 20%, then another 20% on top of that. Or invite more guests to the wedding ceremony and host a smaller reception with your family and closest friends.

Host the ceremony or reception at home or outside.

The venue eats up the most significant chunk—nearly half!—of the wedding budget. Why not cut back by using your home, a parent’s home, or a public park as the backdrop? An outdoor ceremony and reception in a place with personal meaning eliminates the need for an elaborate, over-the-top venue.

If you do decide on an outdoor event, make sure you have a good backup plan. Rain or even extreme heat can put a damper on your day, so make sure you have plan B handy.

Ask friends and family to exchange skills for presents.

If you have friends and family members with creative or organizational skill sets, ask them to use their talent at the wedding instead of a gift. Would you rather receive a stand mixer or live music, free of charge?

Tap into your network. Is your aunt an amateur florist? Does your friend have an eye for photography? Is your neighbour a restaurant owner who could lend you their space? Even if they can’t provide services for free, you could still score a significant discount.

Don’t overlook your skills, either. Use your talents to barter for wedding services. Exchange your graphic design skills for a free wedding cake, or trade your accounting abilities for free dress alterations. Get creative!

Do it yourself whenever possible.

You and your fiancé can save big money by doing things yourselves, but a word to the wise: Only DIY when you know the outcome will be worth the effort. And give yourself plenty of time to complete any DIY projects. You don’t want to be up until 3 a.m. the day of your wedding frosting cupcakes or putting together table centrepieces.

Pretty wedding invitations are lovely, but do you want to spend $800 on something that’s ultimately going to wind up in the trash? Save money by making your wedding invitations. All you need is a good home printer and an invitation kit from a stationery shop or an office supply store.

Don’t forget the DIY online route! There are sites that offer relatively inexpensive wedding invitations you can create and order online. You can even use a free design website like to cut back on the cost even more. It may not be as fancy as a gold leaf or an invitation printed on a keepsake tea towel, but it will be way less expensive.

Instead of hiring a caterer, take care of the food preparation yourselves! Join forces with your families to draft a menu and buy food and supplies at a wholesale store. Make bouquets and table centrepieces using supplies purchased from a dollar store or a wholesale florist. You can even clip flowers from your backyard. Try using seasonal décor, too! 

Use a dummy wedding cake.

Wedding cakes are expensive, you guys! Save money by decorating a dummy wedding cake. A pastry chef—or someone you know who has icing skills worthy of a spot on a reality TV baking competition—can decorate a stack of Styrofoam just as elaborately as an actual wedding cake. Serve guests slices from a sheet cake you bought at the grocery store. They’ll never know the difference!

If you’re set on the cake-cutting tradition, have a smaller cake made for you and your new spouse. You could even use it as the dummy cake’s topper, so it looks like the real deal!

Time your wedding wisely.

The average price per person for a plated meal averages around $71. Avoid the expense of a sit-down meal by scheduling your wedding in the afternoon and planning a reception that’s more like an extended cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres.

Consider the day of the week, too. You could pay up to half the price for your venue if you hold your wedding on a Friday or Sunday. Plus, you’ll have more options for vendors—like bakeries, photographers and DJs—which tend to get booked up pretty quickly on Saturdays. And keep in mind the time of year. September and October are the most popular months to get married. So you’re likely to pay more in the fall when wedding resources are limited.

Scout out vendors.

Take time to shop around for different wedding vendors. If you’re looking for a pastry chef, don’t immediately pick the first person you see. Schedule time to meet with more than one vendor to ensure you’re getting quality service for the best price.

There’s nothing like a good recommendation from someone you trust! Don’t forget to ask your friends and family for vendors they’d suggest. Once you’ve found one who seems like a keeper, scour the internet for online reviews to be sure you’ve picked a winner.

A Beautiful Wedding on a Budget Is Possible!

Remember: A perfect wedding day isn’t reliant on all the traditional trappings of a conventional marriage ceremony. When you plan a wedding on a small budget, remember to concentrate on what is important to you and your loved one and create your own perfect and unique day, all while taking advantage of numerous wedding money saving ideas. Looking for the Top Wedding Planner in Melbourne? Look no further and check out our ultimate list of Wedding Planners here. 

Your wedding is about the two of you and your marriage. And that will last much longer than one day of celebration. Through all of the wedding planning hoopla, remember not to lose sight of what truly matters. Spending a ton of money on your wedding day won’t prove your love for one another, but it can leave you with an empty bank account. It’s entirely possible to throw a budget-friendly wedding that’s beautiful, stylish and affordable!

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