Leafing through wedding magazines like The Knot or Brides can get any bride- or groom-to-be salivating over the beautiful, fantastical weddings featured in their pages. But when you start looking into it, you soon discover that beautiful weddings cost a pretty penny.
You might be nearly convinced that you need to mortgage your house and sell a kidney to afford the wedding of your dreams. But before you call the surgeon, we’ll show you how you can pull off a memorable, lovely wedding without ruining your finances (or your bodily integrity).
We all know that weddings can be expensive. From the dress to flowers and feeding all of your guests, costs can really add up quickly. The average couple spends $194 per guest. How do weddings get so expensive? The cost of the wedding venue eats up the majority of your budget; in fact, in 2010 brides and grooms spent an average of $12,124 just for the wedding location.
The second highest expense is food catering, costing an average of more than $8000. After that, couples spend most of the services such as a wedding band, photographer, florist, and videographer. These add up to an average of nearly $9000.
So this post is going to focus on these main “problem” areas when it comes to cutting down on the costs of your wedding.
Remember, having a wedding with a modest price tag doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice having a spectacular day. Without the extra stress, cost, and distraction of people and things you don’t really need, you can highlight the essence of your love and spend a beautiful day celebrating it without maxing out your credit cards.
1. Choose An Affordable Wedding Venue
The cost of the wedding venue and reception typically account for the largest wedding expense. To make matters more difficult, many venues limit the amount of time you can stay as well as the number of guests you can invite. There’s also the added complexity of having to allocate money for both a wedding and reception venue.
Renting a building or fancy hall for both the wedding ceremony and the reception can get really expensive. Having both at the same place can cut down on costs.
Think hard about beautiful properties that your family and friends own which you could use for free or at low cost. For example, getting married in your childhood home adds a touch of nostalgia to the day while helping you save money. If you’re using a parent’s home, you may have the added benefit of housing for the wedding party.
Many denominational churches donate their space for wedding ceremonies free of charge because of the belief that sacraments should not be bought or sold. If you choose to use a church as your wedding venue, it is appropriate to offer a donation to the church or the services of the chapel including special programs and missions. This is a great choice if you want to have a traditional wedding while minimizing the financial impact of extravagant venues and over-the-top locales.
Another option for a cheap wedding venue is to check out local community centers, schools gyms and condo party rooms. A school gym is a great way for high school sweethearts to use a sentimental place that represents the early years of their partnership. Community centers and condo party rooms are ideal because they can serve as the formal reception area as well as the fun reception where everyone can let loose and celebrate your matrimony.
2. Cater Your Own Wedding
You can drastically reduce the costs of your wedding by making all the food yourself and getting family to pitch in with the catering. Pick up ingredients at your favorite grocery store and get large cuts of meat and bulk items from warehouse type stores to keep your wedding cost low. You can do test runs so you can perfect different recipes before the big day. Try to avoid complicated menus and focus on keeping things simple and delicious.
But cooking for a large party isn’t for everyone. If so, look at hiring locally run family restaurants. These small businesses are more attuned to budget sensitivities than larger corporate catering businesses, and definitely more than the catering offered at venues.
If you’re up to make your wedding a truly “shared” event, why not transform your wedding into a fun potluck and have members of the bridal party each brings a dish to share.
3. Avoid An Ever-Expanding Guest List
While you might be tempted to invite everyone you’ve ever known to your big day, resist the urge. With every new guest you add to your invitation list, the more your costs increase when it comes to the venue, food, and planning. Decide at the beginning whether you want to have a big wedding or a small wedding, choose a maximum number of guests, and stick to it. Don’t feel pressured to cave into guest requests or add invites just because you feel guilty. Invite the people you want, stay within your predetermined limits, and you’re sure to have a beautiful wedding.
Try to stick to inviting family members, close friends, and special colleagues to keep your costs down and make your wedding day a celebration with the people you truly adore. Make choosing wedding guests and approving special requests a conscious decision that takes into account your finances as well as your happiness on the big day.
4. Rethink the Open Bar
Alcohol is a pricey item on your wedding list of things to buy. You also want to keep in mind that there will likely be leftover alcohol since you want to stock enough so you don’t run out. Beer sold in kegs will turn bad if it’s not used, but you can keep cans and bottles for months after the event. The same goes for large, opened bottles of wine, so keep these things in mind if you decide to purchase your own alcohol for the reception.
If you really want to do an open bar, try to limit the time frame or the products offered. For example, you could offer an open bar that serves only beer and wine. Or, you could offer an open bar for just one cocktail hour and then limit the open bar to beer and wine or switch over to a cash bar later in the night.
If you are holding your reception at a venue that offers a fully stocked bar, ask if you can stock your own booze for the reception. Venue supplied alcohol is often charged at a premium, making your costs even higher. By supplying your own alcohol at the reception venue, you can minimize costs by buying supplies at a discount, in bulk, or at wholesale prices. This request is likely not to be approved, but it’s worth a try.
5. Get Friends to Donate Their Skills
Keep your wedding budget in check by asking your friends to donate their talents during your big day in lieu of buying you wedding gifts. If you have a friend who is wonderfully skilled in photography, ask if they can document your wedding and provide albums and digital images.
Instead of a wedding band, ask a musically gifted family member if they would be willing to compile your playlist for the reception hall and play the wedding waltz as you walk down the aisle.
You can also use your own stereo equipment or invest in speaker system rentals instead of hiring a DJ. You can then just plug them into an iPhone or laptop, and play a music list of your own making. You can put one together yourself, or choose from the many ready-made wedding playlists on online players such as Spotify, like this one.
6. Keep Flowers Reasonable
People spend a ton of money on bouquets for weddings that simply die just days after the event is over. Cut costs by keeping flowers simple. Choose one or two of your favorite flowers and use these to build a small bridal bouquet and use individual stems for members of the bridal party. Buy flowers at wholesale and get the bridal party together to create the centerpieces for your reception tables, boutonnieres, and the bridal bouquet.
Fake flowers keep costs down even further. Silk flowers are highly realistic and beautiful, and cost a fraction of what natural flowers cost.
You can consider something a bit different, like paper flowers. Some of these are cheaper than silk flowers and can be far more charming to some.
7. Make Your Own Invitations
Keep things simple by printing your own invitations at home with your partner by using a quality printer and good ink. Stationary stores offer easy-to-use kits that make gorgeous wedding invitations without a lot of pomp and circumstance. You can use online sites like VistaPrint to create exquisite wedding invitations at a fraction of the price wedding industry retailers charge. Or just skip the paper invites, and use email invitations instead.
8. Make Your Own Wedding Cake
With Internet how-to guides and endless designs, you can easily find video tutorials and recipes to create your dream wedding cake on your own.
Forget the 12-tiered cake, and go with one or two tiers. To make things easier, opt for a combination of cake and cupcakes, which are easier to make.
You can contact a local culinary college and see if they have students that would donate their services in exchange for portfolio work.
This idea can be applied to musicians and photographers too if you don’t have any particularly talented friends to pitch in.
9. Say Yes to An Affordable Dress
Your wedding dress is one of the focal points of your big day. Choose a dress you love that makes you shine, rather than being engulfed by an excessive and extravagant dress that simply drowns you and your budget. Make sure to check out regular stores which sell formal gowns since wedding gowns will instantly have a higher price just because they are “for weddings.” Buying gowns off the rack is a more affordable option and you can call ahead to make sure they have the right color and style to keep everyone happy.
You can also let bridesmaids wear dresses they already own and coordinate them by selecting a specific style or color so that they look like a proper bridal party. If you have enough time before your wedding, try to plan on buying dresses during high sale seasons and keep an eye out for flash sales that will help you stretch your budget.
Think outside the “new dress” box. There are plenty of used wedding dresses being sold on Kijiji and Craigslist which have been only worn once and can easily be tailored to fit your size. Another option is to rent dresses and tuxedos, using services like Rent the Runway, for example.
10. Avoid Peak Season
Like most other things, weddings have a peak season and that means the cost of everything, from venues and florists to musicians and photographers, increase dramatically. Peak season for weddings is typically from June through September, so you’ll want to avoid the summer season to save on all sorts of wedding expenses.
Some venues and wedding service websites like the one below prominently display prices and the potential savings when you have your wedding during the offseason. If you were to hold your wedding at the Quintessa during the offseason instead of during peak season, you’d save a whopping $8,000!
The least popular months are January, February, and March, so you’ll likely get steep discounts if you can schedule your wedding during these months. Just imagine how stunning your wedding photos will be with a fresh blanket of snow and gorgeous snowflakes softly drifting down for a dreamy scene straight out of a fairy tale. Make sure to avoid Valentine’s day and Easter, because although they fall during the wedding low season, flowers like lilies and at roses are in high demand and will cost a premium.
While the summer season is typically peak season for weddings, weather patterns and region can play a role as well. For example, places in the south that have sweltering hot summers like Arizona and Texas are often cheaper in summer for weddings since most people find the weather too hot. While you might get a bit sweaty or need to select an air-conditioned indoor venue, you can find great deals when most people avoid the region. In places with snow, spring is less desirable because of snowmelt, making that a great season for cheap wedding deals.
11. Tax Write-Offs For Weddings
While you can’t completely deduct your wedding costs on your end of year taxes, you can get a few tax credits and deductions depending on your wedding venue, your gift registry, and what you do with leftover goods. If you use a donation to have a church wedding, you may be able to write-off the ceremony fee as a charitable donation. The same thing applies if you have your outdoor wedding at a historical site or national park and you pay a donation to use the venue.
For leftover food and beverages, take them to a local homeless shelter or charitable organization as a donation and you can deduct the value of each item. Just make sure to get a receipt so you can include it as documentation when you file your taxes. With online software like TurboTax, FreeTaxUSA, and H&R Block, it’s easy to add these deductions to your tax filing so you can increase your refund and toast to a successful wedding.
Nowadays, there are tons of charities that take used wedding dresses and resell them. While donating your wedding dress may be difficult sentimentally, you’ll love the warm feeling you get from knowing that you’ve helped another lucky lady have the wedding of her dreams. It’s another added bonus that you can write off the donation and save a little money come tax time.
In the topsy-turvy world of wedding planning, it’s easy to get distracted and overwhelmed by the innumerable decisions you have to make and the obstacles that are sure to arise throughout the process. Make sure you take a step back every now and then to remember what is important and focus on celebrating your love. Try to strike a balance between trimming your budget and having fun. Your wedding should be a special day that you will remember for years to come, so sit back, enjoy the ride and take control of the reins when you need to. Have fun and happy planning!