For many of us, our wedding to our best friend is the ultimate celebration and one we will cherish for the rest of our lives. Weddings are supposed to be the best day of your life. It would help if you didn't have to start your marriage worrying about debt. Although the cheapest way to get married is at the courthouse, most people spend years fantasizing about their wedding ceremony. The good news is that you can accomplish your dreams without the financial burden. Check out our Top Wedding Planners here to help make your special day as smooth as possible
Make sure you stay mindful of your spending, so you'll have something more than pictures when you start to build your life together. You really can create a stylish, unique, and memorable occasion without breaking the bank---read on, and we'll show you how.
Table of Contents
- 1 Start With a Well-Defined Budget
- 2 Don't Go for the Most Obvious or Convenient Venue.
- 3 Skip Peak Wedding Seasons and Days
- 4 Leverage Personal Relationships and Keep Business Local
- 5 Trim Your Guest List
- 6 Try Shopping on a Budget
- 7 Explore All Your Lodging Options
- 8 Cheap Wedding Venues: Consider the Great Outdoors
- 9 Choose Your DJ Wisely
- 10 How to Save Money on Catering: Communication Is Key
- 11 Control Your Floral Budget
- 12 Keep Decorations Simple and Tasteful
- 13 Elope!
- 14 Final Thoughts
- 15 Frequently Asked Questions About Wedding Budget
- 16 What is a reasonable budget for a wedding?
- 17 How much does a 100 person wedding cost?
- 18 What is the most expensive part of a wedding?
- 19 Are weddings a waste of money?
- 20 How do people afford weddings?
Start With a Well-Defined Budget
Saving money on your wedding begins with a strict, clearly defined budget. Use the following steps to create it.
Set a Hard Maximum.
First, look at your savings and determine how much you and your soon-to-be spouse can afford to put toward your wedding – every single aspect of it. If appropriate, talk to your respective parents about what, if anything, they'd be willing to pay for. The sum of these figures should be your absolute maximum.
List All Known Expenses.
Next, make a spreadsheet and tally up every expense you can think of. For fixed costs such as the DJ or band, venue, outdoor furniture, and officiant, source a range of price quotes in your area or directly ask the person or company you hope to use.
Make Educated Estimates for Other Expenses.
For things like food and drinks, estimate how many people you expect at your wedding and how much the average person is going to consume
Build a Buffer.
Finally, build in a buffer for last-minute or unknown expenses, such as extra decorations, additional tables, and staff tips. Depending on the extent of these unknowns, your pillow could range from 5% to 30% of your budget.
Arrive at Your Target Budget.
The sum of the figures in steps two through four should be your budget goal. If that number is more than your maximum from step one, you may need to reevaluate your priorities and jettison any ideas that aren't essential to your vision.
Don't Go for the Most Obvious or Convenient Venue.
It might be tempting to hold your wedding at the closest or most convenient venue to your house. However, because opting for an outside-the-box choice could save you a significant amount on your ceremony and reception, you should explore as many options as possible. You can divide these options into three categories: those that work in small towns and rural areas, those that work in bigger cities, and those that work in both.
Skip Peak Wedding Seasons and Days
Everyone feels love in the air when spring rolls around. Wedding venues know that warmer months are more appealing to couples, which means they can get away with charging you extra.
The most popular months to get married are June through September. There are also spikes around significant holidays like Christmas. If you're willing to compromise, you can save big by choosing less popular dates.
Another tip you need to know about choosing wedding dates is that Saturdays are the most expensive day of the week. Since most people have weekends off from work, it's natural to pick Saturday. If your wedding is local, though, you can get away with planning a Sunday wedding for a fraction of the price.
Who says "Saturday in June" wedding couples have more fun? The wedding off-season typically runs from November to March, so if you're on a budget, you'll get the most bang for your buck by hosting your big day during this timeframe. Consider having your celebration in December, and you may be surprised at how much your venue will shave off the regular rental fee. Just be sure to have a contingency plan in place for inclement weather!
Leverage Personal Relationships and Keep Business Local
Once you choose your venue, determine whether you can leverage relationships with local business owners. In addition to helping you out, it's a way to keep business in the community and potentially make friends and family feel like participants on your special day. If you have any skills you can offer them in exchange, such as web design or legal expertise, don't hesitate to make an in-kind offer.
Consider the following ideas:
Whether it's a college friend or cousin, you likely know someone you can trust to serve drinks responsibly. Offer to pay them an hourly rate, trade for services you can provide later, or let them keep some leftover alcohol (if such an arrangement is legal in your area).
Or Be Your Bartender
Instead of paying for an open bar with a bartender, your budget will fare better if you stock your bar. You can choose your favourite alcoholic beverages and decide how much you're willing to spend on each bottle. While cheap alcohol has earned a bad reputation, it's helpful to know that there are plenty of delicious brands with an expensive taste.
Guests will also enjoy the freedom of preparing their drinks exactly how they want them. Keep in mind that not every person will drink. You can cut your bill further by also providing some non-alcoholic drinks like sodas and juices.
You may have artsy friends or friends who are professional photographers who can take on this role. If so, offer to compensate them at an agreed-upon rate – hopefully, more minor than the market rate – and make it clear that they don't have to get you a wedding present.
If your ceremony and reception aren't in the exact location, you don't have to pay for a fancy party bus or limo. To avoid this hefty line item, reduce your costs by relying on designated drivers or transport specialists among your friends. Several months before the event, put out a call for designated drivers within your group of invitees, and make sure they don't indulge at the wedding. Offer to compensate them – an hourly rate or free hotel room, for example. Better yet, see if any of your guests own larger vehicles, such as vans or buses. If so, offer to pay them – both for use and associated costs such as gas and hired drivers. Alternatively, if you're in a city with robust public transit, encourage your guests to take the tram or subway from the ceremony to the reception. They won't mind spending $2 or $3 apiece to do so, and there's nothing quite like taking over a train car with your fellow revellers. This way, you can get just a single limo or bus for your wedding party and possibly arrange a few taxis for older guests.
Decoration and Setup.
See if you can borrow potted plants from friends instead of paying for expensive floral arrangements. Tap family members to make simple decorations, such as table runners and streamers, and set up your ceremony and reception sites.
If any of your friends or family members are licensed to perform marriages, ask them to officiate the ceremony. Since this is a somewhat hefty responsibility, it's an excellent opportunity to trade your services for theirs. However, you can also offer to pay them a fee or cover their lodging. Even if you don't know a clergyperson, a gifted orator among your friends could quickly get a minister's certificate online, a process that can take just a few hours (they may need to complete a course and take an exam). The cost is nominal – for example, $10 on the Universal Life Church website – which you should cover, of course. In our case, we asked one of my wife's close friends from high school – an ordained minister – to officiate the ceremony. He did so for free, though we made it clear that he didn't have to get us a present.
On the day after the wedding, tap friends or family members – perhaps the same people who assisted with set up – to help clean the venue. Members of our bridal party each pitched in about an hour of their time, and the place looked great by mid-morning.
Delegate some smaller tasks that tend to fall through the cracks at a wedding, such as guarding the door to the bridal dressing suite and telling guests where to go when they first arrive at the reception area. You can compensate for this help by offering to pay for drinks – if you don't have an open bar – or providing extra wedding favours.
Trim Your Guest List
This tip may be the most difficult to heed because you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. However, cutting one person could lead to hundreds in savings. Imagine how much you can save by trimming a list with over a hundred guests down to a couple of dozen.
This may take some soul searching, but you have to be honest with yourself. Does the neighbour that you wave to a few times a week need to attend the most intimate event of your life? While most people are sympathetic to wedding costs, some may take their exclusion personally. If anyone does express hurt feelings, you can apologise and explain that you can only afford a small wedding reserved for close family.
Make your guest list the A-list.
A shorter guest list is easier on both your budget and your sanity! Even if it's unrealistic to whittle your list down to 20, chopping it from 300 to 150 will still help take things from overwhelming to manageable. More often than not, an intimate affair does require less money and less work—and it comes with a valuable bonus: more quality face time with that cozier group of guests you invited!
Limit the plus-ones.
One way to manage your guest list is by extending a plus-one only to wedding guests that are married, engaged, in your wedding party, or a serious long-term relationship. Beyond that, you don't need to offer a plus-one to every single guest! The only exception to this is a destination wedding: Err on the side of generosity here, so your guests don't have to fly solo (literally!).
Try Shopping on a Budget
Every woman can admit to admiring wedding dresses that cost as much as a car. Though it's fun to imagine yourself in a designer gown, you can find equally stunning dresses elsewhere for much cheaper. Bridal and men's wear shops shouldn't be the only place you stop because of their luxury prices. However, it's worth scanning their clearance racks to see if they have any steals. If you can't find anything within your budget there, you have to get more creative. Thrift stores may not be the first place that comes to mind when shopping for wedding attire, but you can find high-quality clothes.
Or rent and return.
Nowadays, you don't even have to purchase a wedding gown. You can rent one! Rent suits online with a reputable company. You can also comb through consignment shops or even department stores to find a classy little white number at an affordable price.
Use this part of the old wedding adage to your advantage and borrow to your heart's content! This can alleviate the cost of purchasing new wedding accessories like earrings or a cute clutch, or even wedding décor items like signage and frames. Think of delightful details you loved from your friends' weddings—and see if they kept anything that you might be able to use.
Explore All Your Lodging Options
Even if your venue doesn't have beneath-the-stars sleeping arrangements, you can save your guests some money.
Reserve Multiple Room Blocks.
If you're dealing with a diverse group of guests with different lodging requirements, reserve room blocks at multiple lodging facilities. These can include a more excellent hotel for those who crave creature comforts, a cheaper hotel for budget-conscious guests who want a place to freshen up, and a campground or hostel for those who don't care.
Negotiate a Discount.
If you have AAA, veteran status, or access to another type of discount, see if your preferred hotels can knock a few dollars off your room rates. You could save 10% or more.
Go Heavy on the Favours.
Reward guests who stay at bare-bones accommodations with extra wedding favours, such as a bottle of reasonably priced wine and a dark chocolate bar.
Cheap Wedding Venues: Consider the Great Outdoors
When you're ready to start shopping for wedding venues, it's best to avoid the apparent locations known for their receptions.
Instead, it would help if you considered hosting your wedding at a local park or another outdoor area. If you know a business with beautiful outdoor scenery but doesn't advertise wedding services, it doesn't hurt to ask if they'll accommodate your gathering.
Another benefit of beach, mountain, or backyard weddings is that nature does the decorating for you. Although weather can be tricky to predict, an outdoor event can help you save big on venues and decorations. Need help planning your wedding? Check out our list of Wedding Event Planners here.
Choose Your DJ Wisely
For your wedding entertainment, you have three basic options:
- Hire a band
- Hire a DJ
- Use someone's phone and speaker deck (basically free)
The idea of saving $1,000 or more by using the third option sounds appealing, but it may have some drawbacks. In particular, you may want to have an experienced emcee to direct traffic.
Create a Wedding Playlist
DJs are fun, but they can come at a hefty price. With so many free or affordable music streaming apps, you can have an unlimited amount of music. Since you're in control, you can also avoid any unsavoury songs a DJ may have on rotation.
Many providers use ads to keep their content accessible. If you want to avoid this, you can sign up for a free trial that offers full membership benefits. With this strategy, you don't have to pay a cent, and you can avoid ruining the moment with an unwanted ad.
How to Save Money on Catering: Communication Is Key
While it is possible to cut costs by baking a cake yourself and assembling finger foods, it's ambitious to cook an elaborate meal for every guest.
If your wedding is relaxed, you could consider serving cheap party foods like pizza. However, most couples want to have formal dinners prepared by experienced chefs.
When communicating with local catering businesses, it's important to state your budget from the start. Since catering is a competitive business, most companies will be happy to compromise to meet your budget.
If you have a favourite restaurant in town, you can also ask them how much it would cost to feed the number of people on your guest list. Since local businesses appreciate the support, they may throw in other freebies or upgrade the food at no additional charge.
Opt for more casual bites.
A buffet or family-style meal is typically easier on the wallet than a more formal, plated dinner. Everyone serves themselves, and you forgo the cost of waited table service. You can also keep it casual by ordering from a local BBQ joint, your fave Mexican restaurant, or a fun food truck! And if you need to save money, rely on your guests to contribute potluck-style.
Control Your Floral Budget
Wedding flowers are expensive. If you decide on a colour scheme for your wedding, you can reduce your floral budget by relying on seasonal, locally available flowers to match it. Though costly tropical flowers like orchids might look stunning, avoid them.
In addition to using seasonals, you can save money on your wedding's flowers by doing the following:
- Use colourful natives to achieve an eye-catching effect with fewer flowers
- Supply your vases
- Use flowers from your garden (or your friends' gardens)
- Bring in potted plants from your friends and family
Repurpose your flowers.
Let your florals do double-duty by using your ceremony arrangements at the reception. The flowery lushness that flanked your ceremony will look just gorgeous on the guest book table! The bridesmaids' bouquets can also be transformed by putting them in cute vases on the cake table, at the end of the buffet, or anywhere that needs an extra pop of colour.
Keep Decorations Simple and Tasteful
No matter where you're holding your ceremony and reception, don't be afraid to let space speak for itself. In short, don't over decorate. If part or all of your event is outdoors, rely on the venue's natural beauty.
If you're inside or you need some additional touches to spruce up your outdoor space, try cost-effective design touches like these:
- Mason jar vases for table centrepieces, or glass wine bottles (free if you save or acquire enough of them before the event)
- One candle per place setting, instead of living flowers in the centre of the table
- Handmade place settings (accessible, except for materials)
- One or two childhood photos of you and your spouse at each table (free)
Get Crafty with Wedding Decorations
If you decide to book a wedding venue that offers all-inclusive packages, you should choose their least expensive booking option. While these pricier packages save a lot of stress, you do get overcharged for the convenience.
Whether you're planning a church, backyard, or country club wedding, it's essential to avoid going overboard with decorating.
One of the best ways to save money is to go to a craft store like Michaels and browse their clearance deals. You'll be able to find lots of stunning décors that can be hung on the walls, set on the tables as centrepieces, and placed throughout the room to set the mood.
You can also get creative with lighting. Even if your wedding isn't during the winter months, you can use white holiday lights to add a magical glow. Not only are these lights cheap, but you may not have to buy any if you ask to borrow some from a few friends.
If you got through all of these tips and still don't think you can swing a traditional wedding, you might want to elope! Whether you opt for an elopement package at a wedding venue or your neighbourhood City Hall, eloping equals significant savings. BTW, many photographers have exceptional (i.e. affordable!) elopement pricing, so this could be a great way to book your dream photog on a budget! Looking for the Top Wedding Planner in Melbourne? Look no further and check out our ultimate list of Wedding Planners here.
Ultimately, what we're going to remember about our wedding is not the name of our DJ or the decorations' colour scheme. Weddings are about celebrating a special day with your friends and loved ones – and starting a new chapter in your life on the right foot. Get that part right, and the rest is just icing on the cake.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wedding Budget
As a general rule, plan to budget at least $100 per guest. If you're planning a wedding on a budget, one of the easiest ways to reduce costs is to invite fewer people and have a more intimate celebration.
It depends on the cost per plate, but most receptions for 100 people cost around $5,000 to $10,000, with the average cost being around $7,000. The average cost to cater a reception can vary, as the type of catering offered and the cuisine can both affect the cost per plate.
The most expensive parts of most weddings are costs associated with the reception venue, including the cost of renting materials, including tables and chairs, and serving food or alcohol.
- Set a realistic budget.
- Ask family and friends to chip in (when appropriate)
- Save during your engagement.
- Pick up a temporary side hustle.
- Cut costs on lower-priority items.
- Take advantage of credit card rewards.
- Consider a personal loan.