If you were one of the lucky couples to get engaged in 2020, or even 2019, your wedding plans are likely on a “pandemic pause.” While COVID may have delayed (and possibly defunded) the wedding of your dreams, don’t abandon those perfectly curated Pinterest boards just yet.
Most couples take about a year and a half to just be engaged and plan their wedding, and, as you’ll soon discover, the most popular venues in your area are going to be booked out for at least a year and a half. You’ve got time to relax a bit, wait out the craziness COVID had graced us with and use this time for some focused planning.
If 2020 also left you… shall we say, in a state of fiscal decline, we’ve got 31 wedding ideas to help you keep things on the cheap.
So, What’s a Wedding Cost These Days?
We hope you’re sitting down for this. According to The Knot’s 2019 Real Wedding Study, the total average wedding cost that year was $33,900, including the engagement ring. The average honeymoon adds another $5,000, bringing the grand total to just about $39,000. There’s a reason they call it your “big day,” and it has everything to do with the price tag.
Before you start planning, it’s a good idea to sit down with your fiance and discuss what’s most important to each of you. Then you guys can frame out how much you’re willing to spend on those items. It’s also pretty important to have a handle on what kind of budget you’ll be working with upfront, so you can plan accordingly.
Do You Need to Hire a Wedding Planner?
The decision to hire a wedding planner is going to be unique to every couple’s situation. If the idea of wedding planning makes you break out in a cold sweat, it might be a good decision to have someone else handle the details. If you’re planning a destination wedding or a wedding in a city other than you currently live, a local planner will be able to help coordinate unforeseen details.
Skipping on the wedding planner is an excellent way to shave costs from your wedding day bottom line. The average cost for a wedding planner is about $1,500, but this varies greatly by location and what kind of planner you choose. Someone who handles only the day of details will charge a much different rate than the planner who has held your hand through every “This isn’t the right shade of clementine” meltdown.
If you don’t mind some planning, a few spreadsheets can lock down a lot of details, save some dough and pass on hiring a planner.
How to Save on the Venue
One of the most important decisions in the wedding planning process and probably the thing that will determine your wedding date is the venue. These are some tips to help you find an affordable wedding venue.
Non-Traditional Venues – Backyards and Barns
If a wedding on the cheap is in your future, think outside the box when it comes to the location. Sure, a fancy banquet hall or prestigious hotel may be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about wedding locations. But keep in mind that these venues are going to come with the biggest price tag. Also, be mindful of the price tag that comes with the trendiest locations your local area has to offer. While some of these are just cheaper by design and default, the price may actually be inflated for wedding parties.
Instead, think of places that are personal to you and your partner. Do your in-laws have a sweet backyard that’s perfect for parties? Does your uncle have an amazing old barn that is dying to see some twinkle lights? Or even places like the local park where you met when your dogs became friends can serve as an intimate, special location to take your first steps into wedded bliss.
Get Hitched During the Week
Venues can charge up to 30% more to get married in a coveted Saturday time slot. Choosing a weekday for your nuptials will help you stay within budget and give you a greater selection of dates to choose from. If you have to get married on the weekend, opt for Sunday for your next largest savings.
Forget Wedding Season
If you’re looking for a wedding on the cheap, look to spring and winter for your date. The price of literally everything will go up during wedding season (May – October), with the greatest increase going down from late summer to early fall.
Stick to One Location
Instead of changing locations for your wedding reception, have the whole shindig in one place. You’ll save a ton only decorating one space, and you won’t have to coordinate transportation from the wedding ceremony to the reception.
Mind the Extra Charges
When looking at venue choices, be sure you always ask for a price list that shows all the fees associated with renting the location. By the time you add up the cake cutting fee, corkage fee, insurance for providing alcohol and linen fees, a venue that’s seemingly reasonably priced can show it’s true colors.
Be prepared for a standard 18-25% service charge that can cover things like staffing and clean-up. If you are unsure of what this fee covers, just ask to make sure you don’t mistakenly provide for it later.
How to Save on the Decor & Details
Flowers, lounge areas, table runners, calligraphy and embossing, oh yes, the devil is in the details. It’s impressive how many decisions there are to make for one day. We’ve got a few frugal tips to help you save money on everything from floral arrangements to favors.
Wedding flowers usually make up about 10% of your overall wedding budget, so savings here can seriously shave overall costs.
Check grocery store florists. Safeway, Costco, Sam’s Club, and even your local Mom-N-Pop have a floral department that will usually come in much less expensive than a florist and look just as good. The selections might be limited, but the savings can more than make up for it.
Check into a Flower Share. Ask if your venue offers a Flower Share. Events from the same week can sometimes share arrangements at a drastically reduced cost. If you’re getting married on Sunday afternoon, you may be able to benefit from Saturday’s floral arrangements.
Beware the trends. So here is where a little dream dashing might be in order. The trendy flower you’re seeing all over every Bridal magazine is going to be expensive, sometimes simply due to availability. And often, it’s going to be something exotic or hard to work with. There is a reason they are so striking in the fashion spreads.
When I got married, it was all about fiddlehead ferns. These beauties will set you back around $50 for ten stems. Compared to something classic like eucalyptus, which will cost around $15 for ten stems and give you the same woodsy feel.
Skip the centerpieces. OK, so you may be clutching your pearls in horror, but seriously, ditch the centerpieces. Shelling out somewhere between $75 – $400 per table for a floral centerpiece all so grandma can have something else to take home with her at the end of the night isn’t truly necessary.
Candles and other decorative themed tablescapes can be cheaper and more interesting than a bunch of flowers artfully arranged in a glass bowl.
Cheap wedding invitations often look, well, cheap. Turn cheap into chic with these helpful tips for fabulous and cheap invitations.
Print your own. This is not a suggestion to print invitations on 8×12 copy paper and shove them into an A10 envelope. You can easily print your own professionally designed invitations for a fraction of having them shipped to you ready-made.
Etsy is an amazing resource for custom-designed, printable invitations and complete stationery packages for your big day, no matter your particular taste and style.
Try the postcard or an all-in-one invitation. If you’ve never seen an all-in-one invitation, it’s essentially an envelope, invite and RSVP card all in one piece, with the RSVP card detaching like a postcard. These invites tend to be less expensive since there are far fewer pieces and layers, and you’ll save on return postage as postcard stamps only cost $0.35.
Bench the DJ
Thanks to the masters at iTunes and Spotify, you no longer need to hire someone to spin all your favorite jams. This cost-saver works especially well if your venue already has audio equipment you can plug a smartphone into. Take the next 18 months to start cooking up a wedding playlist filled with your favorite songs and classic bangers.
Shop Second-Hand and Vintage Stores
Don’t underestimate the treasure that a second-hand or vintage shop can be holding. These stores are perfect for finding funky vases and interesting pieces for hipster tablescapes and decor that won’t cost as much as brand new ones. You can also scout out great pieces that can be enhanced with a little spray paint, new fabric, or accessorizing.
The Mason Jar
Mason Jars and weddings seem to go hand-in-hand. You’d be hard-pressed not to find a mason jar showing up somewhere, at a wedding in the last 10 years. They are a little basic, but still trendy, and can be a great, cheap way to decorate your wedding.
The thing about mason jars is that everyone has them lying around, and they can totally be reused with proper cleaning. You may even know an avid canner that will let you borrow a metric ton of them-– under the right conditions, of course.
This slightly rustic decor option looks great both indoors and outdoors and provides intimate lighting for evening weddings. Use them to hold utensils, as vases, drinking glasses or pop a white candle in them. Classic.
Keep Your Favors Simple
The costs of favors can be staggering, considering you need one for every guest plus a few extras for those pesky party-goers that don’t RSVP. Keep your favors simple and something they’ll hopefully use or enjoy, so it’s not a total waste of your budget. No shade, but what is anyone going to do with a paperweight customized with your names and wedding date?
Your guests will love one of these practical wedding favors that can be bought or made for less than $3 each:
- The Perfect Blend Coffee Favors – Add your favorite coffee for a simple, DIY wedding favor.
- Organic Cotton Face Masks – Keep your guests safe and eco friendly with these reusable face masks.
- Small Compass Favors – Love will always find its way with these adorable compass favors.
- DIY Pansy Favors – Perfect for those cost-saving springtime weddings, these DIY favors are adorable and simple to put together.
How to Save on Your Duds
Now that you’ve got your budget and date set, the venue picked and the details are coming together, it’s time to shop for your wedding attire. If either you or your partner is planning on wearing a wedding dress, you’ll be spending anywhere from $500 to $4,000 on average for that one garment.
Quite unfairly, Tuxedo rentals average only $135 to $185.
Keeps your costs low and still look like a million bucks with these helpful tips.
Rent Your Wedding Dress
Renting fashion has become increasingly popular in the last few years, so why not rent your wedding dress? Your tuxedo-wearing partner gets to rent theirs anyway; why not you, too? ? This is also a great option for brides who want to wear designer but can only afford off the rack.
When are you going to wear the thing again anyway? For as little as $35 you could rent the dress of your dreams and save a boatload of cash for something else.
Consider a Bridesmaids Dress in White
This is one of the best money-saving hacks for a bride-to-be. Bridesmaid’s dresses are significantly less expensive than wedding gowns. It’s a white dress. No one will know or care that it comes in 15 other colors and only cost you $150.
Do Your Own Makeup
Yes, you want to look picture perfect on your wedding day, but you also want to look like yourself. With a little help from a Youtube tutorial and maybe some shade matching assistance from Sephora, you can handle your wedding day face.
If you never wear makeup or really want to take that time to let someone else pamper you, at least skip on having the makeup artist hang around for touch ups and handle tear repair yourself.
Save on Your Tux Rental with a Little Planning
Tuxedo rental for you and other members of your wedding party will probably be one of the lower-cost items in your wedding budget. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to get them cheaper!
Many bridal boutiques that offer Tuxedo rentals will offer a percentage savings of rental costs if you get the entire wedding party’s clothing at the same time. This will also make sure everything coordinates. If you’ve got time to wait for a sale or special, you can save even more.
Dress Shop Outside the Bridal Boutiques
What makes a wedding dress or a bridesmaid dress what it is? Is it where you bought it, or who’s wearing it?
A great way to save on dresses for your wedding party is to shop at department stores right after the winter holidays and right after the Easter holidays. Formal wear is usually in high demand for these holidays, and you can totally score on coordinating dresses for all your ladies after the sales start.
Don’t Pay For the Bridal Party’s Clothes
While it has become somewhat traditional to cover the cost of the tuxedo rentals or bridesmaid’s dresses, this is not necessary, especially when the budget is tight.
It’s a nice gesture and a baller move if you have the cash. It’s just not a requirement if you don’t.
Remember that if you don’t have the cash, some of your wedding party might not either. Make sure your dress and tux selections are affordable for everyone.
Cheap C’s – Cake, Cocktails & Catering
When you think about what everyone talks about after the wedding, it’s usually how good (or bad) the food was or how amazing the cake was. Here’s how to save big on your wedding nosh and make sure guests are talking for years to come.
Shop Around for Your Cake
Not only can shopping around for your wedding cake help you find the best price, but it’s also so much fun! Cake tastings can be everything they make them out to be in the movies. Plus, you may accidentally discover delicious flavor and frosting combinations you would have never thought of on your own.
Consider the Cutting Cake
A cutting cake is a small, often ornately decorated wedding cake used the get that classic picture of the newlyweds cutting the cake together but doesn’t actually serve the guests.
Wedding guests will then be served from a large sheet cake or even cupcakes. This saves the cost of a giant tiered cake and is easier to cut and serve. Choosing cupcakes over a sheet cake may even save you your venue’s cake cutting fee.
While wedding cakes are averaging about $350, it’s not unheard of spending closer to $1,000. When you start cake shopping, have a clear idea of how many people you are going to serve, as most cakes are priced and shopped “per person.”
Let Them Eat… Pie?
Another way to save some dough is to skip the cake altogether. Many couples opt for a dessert bar, doughnut wall, sundae station or other more personal dessert choices that are much less expensive than that big ol’ wedding cake.
Got a bestie that makes killer pies? An auntie that makes the best sugar cookies? Maybe your brother rocks a fudge recipe. This is a great time to enlist the help of your family and friends to put together a handmade dessert bar made with extra love and sweetness.
Skip Cocktail Hour
Cocktail hour often takes place right after the ceremony and buys time for the just-married-couple to sneak away and take photos before the reception really gets underway.
You’ll save a ton of money with the caterer on the additional alcohol and appetizers by forgoing this reception event.
You can either take your photos very, very quickly or do them before the ceremony. Your makeup and hair will be fresher anyway.
Skip Cocktails Completely
An open bar can be very expensive. Commonly, couples choose to provide only beer and wine for their guests or go with a cash bar. As long as you notify guests in advance to be prepared to buy their own booze, this is considered completely acceptable.
And while 92% of couples served booze at their weddings last year, not serving any alcohol period will also help you keep your nuptials on the cheaper (and sober) side.
Serve Food Buffet Style
No matter if your wedding reception is serving breakfast, brunch, dinner or apps only, going with a buffet serving style will always be your cheaper option. Servers are expensive, and caterers will charge more to plate each meal. How much more? The cost per person can just about double when going from buffet to plated menus.
Going buffet style also lets you have a little more fun with the menu and not feel like you have to stick with a traditional dinner reception.
Shrink Your Guest List
Having a smaller guest list might be one of the most effective ways to achieve a cheap wedding. Not only will it save in catering costs, it means less of everything else as well. This is why having at least a rough idea of the number of guests you’ll be inviting and tracking your RSVPs is essential to the planning process.
If you’re looking for a way to save the most money on your wedding plans, seriously consider eloping. You can still have a fancy dress, a great photo, and even a close friend or family member. Eloping doesn’t have to mean stealing away all alone, just you and your future spouse, although it totally can!
Many wedding venues offer elopement packages, and destination cities have whole companies dedicated entirely to helping couples elope with little effort and a small budget. And don’t forget your local city hall or courthouse. Some of those older buildings make the best backdrops for Instagrammable wedding pictures.
The second time I married my wife, we eloped. (The ever-changing legality of same-sex marriage means we’ve gotten to get married lots of times.) For a cool 350 bucks, we had someone handle all the paperwork, officiate and take some killer photos in a beautiful location. Another $20 bought me a cute white sundress on a killer sale. We were already planning a trip to the area, so we added an extra day to our plans and got hitched again (shout out to Lake of the Sky Weddings).
To put those $350 into perspective, for about the same amount, you can rent folding chairs and tables without linens in California for 80 people for one day. So yes, you may miss the big party and all your friends and extended family sharing in your special day by eloping. But, when it comes right down to it, is this day about a big expensive party, or starting your marriage together in a meaningful way?
No judgment over here – I had both.
The final tip for a cheap wedding? Sell everything, like actually everything leftover, on Craigslist or a similar site. I was able to sell the leftover favors from my first wedding for more than we paid for them by simply saying, “Make me an offer.” Any themed decor can be bundled and sold as a package to another couple looking to save some dough (this is also my favorite thing to do after any themed party).
An affordable wedding can still be the wedding of your dreams; you’ll just have to work a little smarter to stretch your budget as far as you can. It’s like this – You want to remember your wedding day in the photos and mementos, not unending monthly credit card bills.
Congratulations, and here’s wishing you a long and happy marriage!