Are you trying to plan your dream wedding on a budget?
Real talk: Weddings are expensive.
And frequently unnecessarily expensive.
The average wedding in the United States costs $35,000.
Do you know what else you could buy with $35,000?
That’s a down payment on a house, a really nice car, paid off student loans, or the best honeymoon you’ve ever dreamed of.
And cutting costs doesn’t mean it will be bad.
It means it will be a less expensive way to have your dream day.
Let’s talk about 10 easy tips that will save you THOUSANDS on your upcoming wedding!
Tip #1: Pick the top 3 priority items for you and your partner.
This was the BEST decision my husband and I made while planning our wedding.
Before we did anything, we agreed on our top 3 priorities for the entire day.
For us, our photographer, amazing food, and the venue were the absolute most important, and we were willing to spend a little more on them than other other categories.
This makes the next step a lot easier, and here’s why.
If you’re researching flowers, and flowers didn’t make your top priority list, start your searches with “budget” to see where you can spend.
On the other hand, when you’re building your budget for tip #2, you’ll feel more comfortable if your higher priority categories take up a bigger percentage of your budget.
Our top 3 priorities made up more than 60% of our wedding budget, and we were comfortable with that.
Tip #2: Agree on your guest list before you make your budget.
Your guest list can determine your budget
This may seem counterintuitive, but trust me.
Sit down with your partner and write out your ENTIRE guest list.
If you have a big list of friends and family, involve both of your parents and siblings in making sure that no one has been missed.
If you and your partner disagree on the size of your guest list, THIS is the best opportunity to have that conversation.
Also, this can give you a clear picture going into your budgeting process.
If you know that you’re planning on inviting 200 people, a $5,000 budget may be impractical or require a lot of DIY.
Shrinking your guest list is one of the best ways to shrink your costs
For most venues, you’re going to pay $100 per person in food and alcohol.
If you’re planning on a 200 guest wedding, you need to be realistic.
Can you can afford $20,000 on JUST food and alcohol?
Now there are plenty of venues and ways to do it cheaper, but focus on $100 as a starting point.
Are there people on your guest list that could be on a “Maybe” list?
If you’re filtering down your list and wondering if you should invite someone to your wedding, consider these four questions:
#1: Has this person ever met my partner (or me, if this person is on your partner’s guest list)?
#2: Has my partner (or I) talked to this person in the past year?
#3: Could my partner (or I) pick this person out in a lineup of strangers?
#4: Is this person someone who will be a part of our marriage and belongs at our wedding?
Remember, guest lists aren’t about obligation or who invited you to their wedding.
Invite the people who you a) want to be there and b) will be a part of your marriage for the rest of your lives.
Tip #3: Set your ENTIRE wedding budget and stick to it!
This is the ultimate basic way to save money on your wedding.
Your Overall Wedding Budget
Sit down with your partner and, if you have them, anyone who has agreed to help you pay for your big day and have a real talk.
What is the total amount of money that you ALL actually plan to spend? Is it $500? $5,000? $50,000?
Put that number on a piece of paper, along with the amount that each involved person agrees to pay.
If you’re nervous about this commitment, have each person sign that piece of paper so you can remind them of it later.
Let there be NO miscommunication on your wedding budget.
Build Your Wedding Budget by Category
Once you’ve settled on your total budget, do some research on your own.
The two most important things: categories you want to include and the price you expect to pay for them.
For example, if you’re looking at a wedding checklist that includes a wedding planner and a champagne toast, and you think they’re unnecessary, don’t add them to your list.
But if you want an archway completely decorated with flowers, do your research on what that costs.
When you’re done, add up all of your items and see if they match your total budget.
If they don’t, try to identify where you can spend less or things you might be willing to cut. Definitely check my tips below to help!
If anyone else is helping you pay for the wedding, ask them to do the same thing.
Settle on Your Final Wedding Budget
Sit down with the same group of people from your original wedding budget meeting (and a glass of wine).
Walk them through your budget line by line, then let them do the same.
If your budget categories align pretty closely, you’re in good shape.
If they don’t, have that conversation now.
Remember that an 8-tier wedding cake may be important to your mother-in-law, but not to you.
Work to find some compromise, BUT always remember that it’s your special day and about what you want.
Sometimes the best words are “that doesn’t fit with what we want for the wedding” or “that doesn’t fit the budget we’ve planned, but if you really want it, maybe you could pay for that.”
Once you’ve (hopefully) settled on your entire budget, check one BIG box off of your wedding to-do list!
Tip #4: Don’t waste money on paper products.
If you’re looking at a full wedding invitation suite, your prices might start at $10/invitation.
If you’re inviting 100 couples, that’s $1,000 in paper- and that doesn’t include save-the-dates, thank you cards, or postage.
Now maybe you picked stationary in tip #1 and you’re fine with paying more.
But if you’re not, there are a few ways to save.
First, decide if you really need save-the-dates. They aren’t a necessary invitation in the wedding Bible.
If you decide you need save-the-dates, consider getting them printed as postcards.
Why postcards? First of all, a single stamp costs 50 cents, BUT a postcard stamp costs 35 cents.
Also, because they are smaller and don’t require an envelope, you can typically get a postcard printed for less.
Skip the Fancy Invitation Holders
As pretty as invitation holders look on Pinterest, they are generally not worth the $1-2 you pay per invitation.
Instead, head to a craft store and pick up a few pieces of scrapbook paper that match your invitations.
Ask your crafty friend if you can borrow their paper cutter and cut your paper to 1” widths.
Wrap them around your invitations and close with a dot of paper tape.
Your invitations will look gorgeous- for much less!
Where You Buy Your Paper
It can be really fun shopping in a fancy stationary store.
But stationary stores are also usually the most expensive option for printing your paper products.
We started looking at options for stationary on Zazzle about 2 months before Black Friday.
We purchased a few single invitations for samples to get an idea of what we wanted the pressure of shopping in a store.
And every time we got a package from Zazzle, we got a discount code for our next order.
So we were able to purchase our save-the-date postcards at a major Black Friday discount. Then we bought our invitations and thank you cards with discount codes.
And how did they look? We got so many compliments on all of our paper products, and no one would have ever guessed just how much money we saved.
Tip #5: Shop sample sales and discount wedding boutiques for your dream dress.
Have you ever watched Say Yes to the Dress and caught your jaw drop when the bride says her wedding dress budget is $8,000?
Remember that when you’re dress shopping!
Now I am NOT saying that you have to settle for a discount wedding dress from David’s Bridal.
Check out your favorite designer’s trunk shows
While you’re browsing through thousands of wedding dresses on Pinterest, take notes.
If you find yourself drawn to a specific designer, go to their website and check for a trunk show calendar.
If you plan your dress appointment during that designer’s trunk show, you could see up to a 20% discount on your perfect dress.
Shop bridal discount stores and sample sales
If you have a local bridal district, there is a good chance that there is a consignment or bridal discount shop for wedding dresses.
Most of the time these are just overstock dresses that run 30-80% off for that exact dress.
One of the benefits of getting an overstock or sample dress on sale?
You walk out of the dress store with YOUR dress the same day, no ordering or waiting for months.
My perfect dress was a sample sale dress that a) was NOT in my budget at full price, b) needed alterations because I’m short and curvy, and c) started alterations in November for my July wedding with no need to order.
Tip #6: Skip an open bar and stick with beer and wine.
If you end up serving alcohol at your reception, expect that a catered open bar will cost you a lot more than just serving beer and wine.
Serving beer and wine usually costs between $11 and $33 for four hours for a cocktail hour and reception, while an open bar can cost double or more. An upgrade to premium liquor could will cost you another $5+ per person.
Of course, if an open bar is one of your top priorities from tip #1, go for it.
But if it’s not, bringing your alcohol selection down a level can save you a lot of money, and most people aren’t going to miss hard alcohol anyway.
And if you think someone won’t go to your wedding if you don’t have an open bar, consult tip #2!
Tip #7: Get married on any day but Saturday.
Everyone wants to get married on Saturday.
And it makes complete sense- you can have your rehearsal dinner on Friday night, get ready Saturday morning, have the ceremony and reception, and sleep it all off on Sunday.
But this falls into one key rule about wedding costs: If it’s in high demand, it WILL cost more.
If you have the flexibility to get married on a day that isn’t Saturday, you will save money and often have a higher chance of booking the date you want without competition.
Just remember to check with your probable wedding party first!
My husband and I got married on a Thursday evening, which was completely unconventional.
But it worked for guests AND our wedding party.
We got married in a vacation town, and most of our guests were family members from out-of-town.
Having the ceremony on a Thursday allowed our out-of-town guests to fold our wedding into a relaxing vacation time, so they didn’t have a second thought about a Thursday night celebration.
Plus, we were able to get our exact date at our perfect venue at a discount!
Tip #8: Have your wedding ceremony and reception at the same location
There are two reasons that this tip saves a TON of money.
First, you can take advantage of package deals from your venue.
If you’re going to spend money with them in two ways, they will often charge you less than two separate venues may.
Second, you will save BIG on transportation.
Let’s say you need a limo to take you from your house to the salon, then to the wedding venue, then to the picture venue, then to the reception venue and then home.
Since a limo runs about $100/hour, that’s going to cost you about $1,200 for the entire day.
Or you decide you NEED that vintage Rolls Royce that costs $500+ per hour, totaling $6,000 for your ride.
What if you only needed someone to drop you off at your venue in the morning, and you spend $100 for a weekend rental on a fancy car instead?
That $1,100 leftover will look really good somewhere else in your budget.
Tip #9: Skip or skimp on wedding favors
Truthfully, almost everyone will leave your fancy favors at your venue.
Yes, even if it’s really cool or sweet or sentimental.
My husband and I spent $1.50 each on pairs of personalized sunglasses for our beach ceremony, and we still ended up bringing half of them home.
If you skip on favors, almost no one will notice.
Remember? Your wedding day is about you, not what your guests leave with.
But if you do stick with wedding favors, make it something that you will use if they all get left behind.
Like 20 pairs of personalized sunglasses!
Tip #10: The key question to all wedding decision making should be “Will I care about this later?”
Wedding planning is SUPER stressful, no matter what you do.
There are a ton of decisions and tiny details that all pile up at one point.
When something comes up that is out of your budget or you’re not sure if it’s worth spending money on, ask yourself “Will I care about this later?”
Because I can promise you, 2 years later, that I’m glad I didn’t obsess over my flowers and spend a lot of money on them.
And when my original flower plan blew up 2 weeks before our big day, I didn’t flinch.
Because I knew that I could go with a last-minute inexpensive option, and I would still be happy.
Thankfully my last-minute plan turned out to be inexpensive, and they turned out perfectly
But flowers weren’t a top 3 priority for us, so my standard for “perfect” wasn’t an impossibly high bar.
Bonus Tip #11: If you’re going to splurge, splurge on your photographer.
You may not remember what you ate.
You may not remember exactly which songs you danced to.
But you WILL be looking at your wedding pictures for the rest of your life, and a great photographer IS worth the splurge.
Unless you are 100% absolutely positive that you will NEVER look at your wedding pictures for the rest of your life, do NOT hire your photographer simply because they are the cheapest and will get the job done.
Like I said above, our wedding photographer was in our top 3 priorities, and I have no regrets putting it there.
Go through their portfolio, ask exactly what they will give you and what their timeline is after your ceremony to deliver pictures, and figure out if they are really worth the money.
The best recommendations for a great photographer are happy brides posting their pictures all over Facebook.
Take your time choosing a photographer and make sure you leave enough room in your budget for the right one.
How are you planning to save money on your wedding? What are your top 3 priorities for your wedding planning? Are you interested in learning how my husband and I strategized and used credit cards to save $2,000 in flights for our wedding planning and honeymoon without paying a dime in interest?
Share your answers in the comments!
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Budgeting 101: Your Complete Guide to Building Your Budget
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Emergency Fund 101: Why You Need an Emergency Fund
The Debt Snowball Method: How to Become Debt-Free in 5 Easy Steps