9 Ways to Cut Wedding Costs if You're on a Strict Budget
Did you know that a 2019 survey recently revealed the average cost of a wedding in the US is $29,200? Even the most budget-savvy couples can get roped into spending more money than they ever expected to by choosing a high-traffic wedding date, inviting more guests than they’d originally planned, or getting convinced they just need the fanciest invitations available.
While some costs are probably worth it, there are others you can definitely avoid going into debt over. And the big thing to remember? "Don’t let people manipulate you when you have a strict budget," says Misty Lynch, Head of Financial Planning at John Hancock. "When people hear 'wedding,' it's like instant permission to jack up costs, but you don’t have to accept it. Shop around and negotiate like crazy! If people don’t respect your budget, walk away. You want to work with people that want to help you—not just themselves."
For more words of wisdom, here are a few great ways—both large and small—to keep costs reasonable while planning your day.
1. Trim the guest list as much as possible.
Not to put a price tag on your loved ones, but it’s true: Shrinking the headcount is one of the biggest ways to lower the cost of everything from dance floor installation to catering. "Instead of going big and compromising your long-term goals, consider opting for a smaller wedding with close friends and family," Lynch says. If a limited budget is really cramping your style, it’s okay not to invite everyone you’ve ever met and to limit plus-ones.
2. Look for a wedding venue that does it all (or close to it).
You might think having a backyard wedding will save you money, but that’s not always the case. The cost of rentals and décor in a space not typically meant for weddings and events can really add up—from flowers to luxury portable restrooms to salt and pepper shakers for every table. With that in mind, consider you might actually save money celebrating in an event space that does this all the time, as in, they already have table linens, barware, event-ready restrooms, and a list of vetted, preferred vendors. Oftentimes venues like this will work with you and your budget to throw in a few extra services (or exclude ones you don’t need), saving you on things you never even thought to budget for (like a coat-check attendant or valet parking). This isn’t a rule, but it’s worth looking into and touring around. Another tactic is to look for venues that can host the ceremony and reception. This will trim down travel time and expenses for vendors that need to be both places (like maybe your photographer, some musicians, wedding planner, and so on). You may also be able to repurpose ceremony seating and décor easily for the reception space.
3. Get married on a Friday or Sunday—or during an off-season month.
This idea isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a second thought if you’re in need of a significant budget solution. Saturday weddings are (understandably) the day to get married, which means vendors typically up the price for these popular dates. The same goes for weekends during peak wedding season (usually spring through early fall). If your dream venue is out of the question on a mid-June day, ask if anything's available, say, on a Friday in February—you never know. "When I got engaged, I knew a big wedding was not for me," Lynch says. "We decided to get married in Hawaii and used hotel points and airline miles to cover travel and hotel stays for our immediate family. We got married on a Wednesday in July, which saved us money, and 17 of our loved ones were able to celebrate with us."
4. Keep everything as simple as possible.
The wedding dress, the cake, the invitations, the centerpieces, the flowers—the more intricate these details are the more expensive they'll be. "At the end of the day, when it comes to decorations and attire, decide what really matters to you and cut back on the rest," Lynch says. If you’re dead-set on including certain elements, take the less-is-more approach. So, for instance, the more handmade sugar flowers and fondant art on your cake, the higher the bill. Instead, go with a simple, buttercream frosting without all the bells and whistles. Large, ceiling-scraping centerpieces will cost hundreds more dollars than understated, uncomplicated flower arrangements surrounded by votive candles (plus, your guests will actually be able to see each other!). And when it comes to invites and other paper goods, avoid expensive details like custom calligraphy, gold foil, deckled edges, letterpress, illustrations die-cut and thick cardstock.
5. Choose local, in-season flowers and food.
Both in-season and locally sourced florals and food will cost less than anything you or your vendors would have to ship from somewhere else (and they'll be fresher anyway). Work with a professional to find the right balance between what looks and tastes good, and what’s reasonably priced. Florists know which flower types to substitute for pricier stems, and caterers know which cuts of meat are equally as tasty for half the cost.
6. Rent or borrow jewelry and accessories.
If a new pair of diamond earrings isn't in the cards for your wedding, that’s perfectly okay. Ask if you can borrow pieces from a relative or friend, or look into renting fine jewelry for your wedding day.
7. Limit the bar.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to offer an all-night open bar. Limit drink options to just a fun cocktail, plus wine and beer; just wine and beer; just a couple signature cocktails; an open bar for only an hour or two—any number of combinations will work. Swap prosecco for champagne and offer only one or two types of top-shelf liquor (if you’re determined to have at least one).
8. Have a brunch or lunch reception.
There’s a chance the venue you have your eye on will be less expensive to book in the morning or early afternoon on your ideal wedding date. But there are other great reasons to celebrate your nuptials earlier in the day. You might not be into a wild party, in which case a nice brunch or even tea reception is the perfect alternative. Other bonuses: Breakfast and lunch food is usually more affordable than dinner entrees; plus, at noon, your guests won’t expect a flowing open bar and filet mignon (and who wouldn’t want to celebrate with mimosas, espresso, and a make-your-own waffle station?).
9. Skip the favors.
This is a hot take—so feel free to ignore it if you’re determined to hand out wedding favors. While favors are a super-nice gesture your guests will appreciate, they’re not required, and a lot of guests end up leaving them behind or throwing them out anyway. (Just something to think about.)