Earlier this month, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary with my spouse. It’s hard to comprehend that it has been a year since our wedding day; it seems both like it’s been ages since we got married and feels like it was yesterday, all at once.
Needless to say, our anniversary and the recent engagements of a few friends have gotten me thinking about weddings. Between reliving our own and thinking about the upcoming ceremonies of others, I’ve also been thinking about how we managed to save money on the big day – and how we could have done better and gotten even more frugal.
Don’t get me wrong, our wedding went perfectly and it’s a day I’ll always remember. A lot of hard work and effort and even sweat and tears went into pulling it off, but at the end of the day, I was married to the most incredible person that I’m thrilled I get to spend the rest of my life with, and that was the only thing that mattered. The fact that our families, friends, and guests had a blast and enjoyed it too was an awesome bonus.
And that’s the first thing anyone planning a wedding, especially on a budget, needs to remember: if at the end of the day, two people who are in love and fully committed to each other walk away as a married couple, the wedding was a success. Of course, standing on the married side of that situation, I know it’s easier said than done. So don’t let me just try to throw some fluffy, warm-and-fuzzy words at those of you who are currently faced with the very overwhelming task that is wedding planning – I’m about to show you how you can pull off a totally fun and completely fabulous wedding without blowing your budget and starting your life of wedded bliss in debt.
First, The Facts
The average wedding in America costs $25,000. That’s the average! That’s also the full price of a new car, it could be all or most of a down payment on a home, and it might be what you’re carrying in student loan or credit card debt. While a wedding is absolutely a very big deal and an important day in your life, the fact is one day is not worth incurring debt you will be paying off for years. Let’s be realistic: the ceremony is where you are married and holds the true meaning of the day. The reception is the fun, celebratory part – and also the part where you start racking up the big costs. It’s essentially a big party, and while still important, no party is worth blowing tens of thousands of dollars on. Keep in mind why you’re celebrating in the first place: you just got married! You may be tempted to spend big bucks in hopes of making everything perfect, but remember – no matter how perfect the day of the wedding is, you’re still going to wake up the next day and be asked to face reality.
Respect Your Families – But Stand Your Ground
Once you’re in the mindset that your wedding, while important, is still just the first day of what will hopefully be many more to come in your married life, you’ll be better prepared to make good decisions to keep costs low. But there are still obstacles to overcome: namely, your own families.
While you and your future spouse may be in agreement to spend wisely and sparingly, your future in-laws or your own parents may not be on the same page. Your parents will probably be just as excited as you are about your upcoming wedding – and they very well could have certain expectations of how the big day should look and feel. Most of the time, your families only want what is best for you. But when we’re talking about a wedding, people tend to be a little unreasonable; it’s easy to get caught up in how things are traditionally done or how things are “supposed” to be. Your family may not be intentionally trying to sabotage your budget, but their wishes and wants for you can quickly have your costs spiraling out of control.
The biggest rule with weddings is that there are no rules anymore! You have the power to add, remove, or change any element to the ceremony and the reception so that the day doesn’t get too expensive. The only people who should have any say in what the wedding will be like are the two people getting married, and anyone whose financial contribution to the celebrations you’ve accepted. If you and your partner are footing the entire bill, you don’t need to invite 300 guests like your mother wants you to or have the ornate centerpieces your future sister-in-law insists are necessary. If you and your partner, however, have accepted financial help from your parents or other family member, they do deserve to make their voice heard – but ultimately, it is your day and that should be respected.
Simply planning ahead can save you significant amounts of money on your wedding. Plan to have the big day during the off-season; peak wedding season may vary depending on where you want to get married, but June is one of the most popular months. Venues will often charge a premium during their peak months, so consider moving your date away from those highly popular times to get a lower rate. Additionally, try to have the wedding on any day that’s not a Saturday – for most people, this will mean having the event on Sunday. This can save you a bit, as well, because just like peak seasons cost more, the peak day of the week will drive up costs, too. Once you’ve determined the best off-season month and booked your Sunday wedding, also consider having your reception at a specific time: during the day or early afternoon. Dinner will cost more to serve than lunch or even a 3pm-4pm meal; often with lunch/early dinner meals you can serve a bit less or get away with having more finger foods, and this can help you rack up the savings.
And while booking in the off season can save you on some costs, when it comes to flowers, in season and local will save you the most. Keep this in mind so you can plan accordingly for your centerpieces or other decor. You might even be able to skip the overabundance of floral arrangements entirely, and that’s where the next money-saving tip comes in..
Get Creative and Do It Yourself!
Who says you have to have floral centerpieces? If you don’t want flowers all over the place, don’t have them! Get creative, and switch out the more traditional elements in favor of things that feature your own unique twist – and things that are more cost effective.
The sky is really the limit on this one, and everyone is going to have a different idea of what their own wedding should be like. I’ll offer a few examples of what we did to get creative and do things ourselves to keep costs low to get you thinking about ways you can change it up, forgo the traditional, and save some money in the process:
- We chose an outdoor venue – the scenery made up the majority of the decor.
- The decor we did have, we made. Banners and signs were all handmade; we searched for items we already had to use as additional decor. When we had to buy supplies, we went to craft stores and Walmart to get things as cheap as possible (instead of buying things from wedding-specific retailers or places like Etsy). We tried to borrow as much as possible, too. We were able to borrow some burlap for table runners, blue mason jars to use as part of the centerpieces, and even borrowed the vintage truck that was used to drive me to the ceremony.
- The flowers were kept to a minimum. Again, this was made easier by the fact it was an outdoor wedding.
- We incorporated a fun activity for guests into their wedding favors. We rented a photobooth and the pictures that guests took and printed became their favors. It saved us a lot of time (not having to make favors) and money as the photobooth did some multitasking for us. It provided entertainment and fun things for guests to take home.
- We kept everything casual. We went into it thinking this was really just a big party for everyone; nothing had to be too serious or formal. Bridesmaid dresses cost $50, the guys didn’t wear suits, and the wedding party was small. We used a buffet instead of a plated dinner and we stuck to beer and wine and skipped hard liquor or cocktails.
Enlist Friends and Family
You don’t have to hire a vendor or a professional for every single element of your wedding. Need a wedding planner and have an overexcited aunt? Consider giving her the job of helping organize everything and making sure everyone in where they’re supposed to be and things run on time on the big day. Don’t have an officiant, but have a well-spoken relation? Have them ordained – it’s simple and easy to do online (this is what we did, and it was so awesome having one of our best friends be the one to marry us using the ceremony script we wrote). Know anyone who loves to bake? See if they would be willing to make your wedding cake, or perhaps appetizers to serve during a cocktail hour. Trying to pull off all the food for an entire wedding may be difficult, but having family or friends cover some of it will help keep catering costs down. Planning on DIYing all your decor, and have an army of crafty and creative friends? Enlist their help to get everything accomplished. Also consider looking around for acquaintances or friends of friends who are attempting to get a business off the ground. They’re looking for experience, recommendations, and good reviews to help grow their fledgling business – by hiring them, you’re doing them a favor by allowing them the opportunity to earn these things they need to continue to grow. Oftentimes they’ll offer you a low rate, reduced price, or some sort of discount in exchange for the opportunity to grow that business.
Of course, you don’t want to take advantage of your loved ones by making them slave away on a wedding for zero compensation. Consider giving everyone who played a major role a small gift. You can take them out for dinner, or give them a gift card to their favorite store. Make sure they know how much they and their hard work was appreciated.
..but Not Every Single Person You’ve Ever Said Hello To
It’s important to involve your loved ones in your big, special day. Once you’ve invited those family members and friends that you feel closest to, think long and hard about who else to include on the guest list. One of the easiest ways to cut wedding expenses is to keep your guest list small. In most cases, you are probably safe to leave off coworkers (if you invite one, you need to invite everyone – it’s a can of worms. If anyone at work gives you grief, say that you’re having a small, intimate event and are only inviting a handful of people), friends from high school you haven’t seen since high school, and your dad’s third cousin. Remember, it’s a wedding, not a show. Invite the people you truly care about, not just people you want to impress.
These are a few of the ways we managed to save money on our wedding. There are countless more ways you can save, because there are countless ways to customize your day to make it completely yours. The best guidelines to follow when planning a frugal wedding are to keep it simple, remember the importance of the day, get creative, plan ahead, and involve your friends and family who are eager to help (but don’t feel the need to invite the entire town to the celebrations).
How are you planning on saving money on your wedding ceremony and reception? Or, if you’re already married, do you have any frugal tips and money-saving tricks of your own to share?