50 Must-Know Money-Saving Wedding Tips
A lot goes into a wedding—including money. That's why, as you're planning your celebration, you might be looking for ways to save. To help you have the best event for your budget, we've highlighted some of our favorite ways to cut costs.
First, a little rundown of what you'll be spending on. Typically, brides and grooms book at least one venue, and they usually hire a team of vendors, which might include professionals like a photographer, wedding planner, and florist. From there, there are other elements to rent or buy, from fashion items to decorations, and every other detail that they envision having for their big day. With so many different things that couples can shell out on, it's no wonder that bills begin to rack up fast. That's where our expertise comes in.
Ahead, we give our top advice for planning a wedding that won't break the bank. We've also consulted experts in the industry and asked them to share their creative money-saving methods, too. In the end, it's all about deciding what matters most to you and your partner, and then finding a way to make those things work. Here, we show you how.
From choosing more affordable centerpieces to serving alternatives to the traditional wedding cake, these tips and tricks revolve around different aspects of your ceremony and reception, so that you have options (and can mix and match, if desired). Whatever your financial limit, these unique and practical suggestions are bound to be useful—no major sacrifices necessary.
Rank Your Priorities
What facets of your wedding are most important to you? Focus on areas that you feel most strongly about, and you'll be okay with cutting back on the rest.
Think of it as cost-free outsourcing. Gather your inner circle, play to their strengths (e.g., assign lettering to the friend with the most beautiful handwriting), and turn the prep into a party.
Be Ruthless with the Head Count
Quick tips for whittling your guest list: Omit children and coworkers (making cuts categorically is less likely to cause rifts); and when it comes to couples, invite spouses, fiancés, and live-ins only. Keep the numbers down for your wedding party as well: Fewer attendants means less money spent on bouquets, boutonnières, presents, and transportation.
Initiate an Officiant
There are many unexpected costs that can inflate your budget; an officiant can be one of them. If that's the case for you, consider having your vows administered by a trusted relative or friend. Universal Life Church and Esoteric Interfaith Church are two organizations that "ordain" laypeople so they can officiate weddings. To ensure your marriage is legally recognized, check with your location's county clerk about the laws where you'll be wed.
Embrace the Off-Season
Who decided that June brides had more fun, especially when there are 11 other equally-lovely months clamoring for your attention? Those that don't fall during peak months will help out your bottom line. "You can save as much as 15 percent off high-season rates," says James Jay, director of catering at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa in Texas. Just remember, in places such as Florida or the Bahamas, summer is the off-peak season.
Think Beyond the Banquet Hall
Pick a venue that appeals to you, even without added décor. Bringing in your own decorations can cost a ton.
After moving her wedding from Brooklyn, New York, (her home), to a beach town in Michigan (her native state), bride-to-be Vicky Sherman watched catering quotes drop from $140 per head to $40—a savings of $15,000, based on her 150-person guest list.
Hire an Expert
Save money by spending it on a planner? It sounds counterintuitive, but wedding planners 1) aren't shy when it comes to haggling, 2) can draw from years of experience working with brides on budgets, and 3) have working relationships with vendors—all of which can amount to big bucks shaved off your final bill.
Seek Free Fonts
Say Yes to All-Inclusive
"Choosing a venue that comes with extras built in, like a wedding coordinator or an on-site ceremony location, means significant savings," says Christina Latvatalo, a wedding sales manager at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. All those extras can add up to thousands you won't have to spend.
Create Your Own Dot-Com
Save on paper, printing, and postage by sharing your wedding details online. Many businesses charge only a small fee to use their webpage templates, and some charge nada. On MyWedding for instance, users can pick a design (including ones created by yours truly) and personalize it.
Forgo a Program
Un-Grave Your Cards
Going with thermography instead of engraving can cut your stationery budget in half. The processes are different, but the look (raised ink) is nearly identical. "On average, 100 engraved invites will cost $500," says Lea Armstrong of Wedding Paper Divas. "With thermography, you'll get the same for $229."
One word: monogram. All it takes is a decent home printer to thread that logo through every element of your wedding, from invitations and favors to programs and banners. The personalized touch only looks expensive.
From your invites (using one shade of ink means big savings on letterpress) to your flowers, choosing a single overall hue creates an instantly chic party at a fraction of the price. Notes expert Denise Vivaldo. "Color is cheap, and it can become your theme."
Take up Hunting
"My best tip is to stay seasonal and local," says Maxine Siu, of Stem in San Francisco.
Pick the Right Kicks
For more bang for your buck, buy shoes you'll actually wear again after the wedding.
Supersize Your Flowers
Choosing bigger buds (like king protea) means you'll need fewer stems, thereby helping your bottom line.
Focus on You
When it comes to your ceremony site, you don't need to deck the guest-book table and every pew with flowers. Get the most bloom for your buck by asking your florist to design one or two lush altarpieces, which will direct everyone's eyes exactly where you want them to be: on you and your partner.
Cutting out the middleman by calling on a grower will allow you to source flowers for, well, dirt cheap. Look for farms or related associations that crop up. Sherman found one such grower by contacting the American Dahlia Society; he offered her 120 flowers from his garden for $200, plus a low fee to deliver them to her personally.
Bouton-ette Your Bridesmaids
Turn your cost-saving tactics into a fashion statement. Instead of giving bridesmaids costly bouquets to carry, pin one beautiful blossom on each of your attendants.
Get Twiggy with It
Make Your Flowers Work Overtime
One of the simplest ways to save can also be one of the loveliest. Let potted flowering plants act as both living centerpieces and favors that guests can tote home.
Sign Up for Emails
Most wedding-dress designers allow you to sign up for news and updates. Even if you have a policy of sharing your email address with only your nearest and dearest, this is one of the few times where it pays to offer up your deets. Get on their email lists, and you'll be privy to time-sensitive insider info such as sample sales and trunk shows.
Score a Pre-Owned Gown
At sites such as PreownedWeddingDresses.com and Once Wed, you can find gently used (and sometimes never-worn) designer dresses at a fraction of the price you would pay in a salon. They can also be ideal places to search if you've already found your dream gown and are simply waiting for your fairy godmother to wave her sale wand.
Give Your Dress an Afterlife
If you have your heart set on a pricey dress, here's a good way to recoup your investment: after the wedding, resell your dress on eBay or the sites mentioned in the previous tip; it may end up putting a smile on another bride's face.
Sample-Size Your Makeup
If you're getting your wedding look done at a makeup counter, buy only the items you'll definitely use again (e.g., lipstick). Scoop up samples of anything you'll use only on the big day (e.g., face powder).
Shorten Their Hours
"You can save on makeup by hiring the best person you can afford," says Rosemary Redlin, a New York-based makeup artist. "Then ask them to leave a touch-up kit behind." Many artists charge by the hour, and you'll rack up serious costs by having them stick around for your photo session, when all you'll really need are touch-ups.
It's actually part of the wedding credo. Whether it's your mother's veil, grandma's earrings, or brother's cuff links, borrowing will not only save you money—it will imbue your celebration with even greater meaning.
Start With the Basics
Don't assume you can't afford top wedding photographers. There are ways to get the person you want at a price you can afford. "Book basic coverage," says Bradley Hanson, a Minneapolis-based wedding photographer. "You can add extras, like an album, later," once you've seen how your budget balances out and how the pictures look.
Use Bud Vases
Instead of centerpieces with oodles of blooms in them, consider using petite vases. Fill them each with a few flower stems and spread them out. An added upshot: "Each person at the table will get a feel for the flowers, which isn't the case when you have one centerpiece," says Siu.
Give a Newbie a Break
There are many talented photographers who haven't made a name for themselves yet, and their lack of fame can save you a fortune. If you fall hard for a photographer who's in high demand, ask if she'll refer you to a lower-priced colleague (just make sure you like his work before you commit).
Play Tunes Yourself
One way to have a band and stay on budget? Hire a live act for the dancing portion of the event, and fire up your MP3 player for the rest. It's easy to program a wedding march as well as a playlist of tunes that will see you through the cocktail hour. (For bonus points, include a line on your R.S.V.P. cards asking guests to write in a song they'd like to hear.)
"Serving your meal family-style will add ambience, act as an icebreaker, save you on table décor—in this case, the food is the centerpiece—and allow you to serve a menu of reasonably-priced, festive dishes, like pasta, polenta, and risotto, that would never fly at a plated dinner," says Marcey Brownstein, of Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events in New York City.
Think Like a Talent Scout
Sure, there's the tried-and-true wedding band that's been commanding the market in three states for three decades (and requiring a hefty fee just to show up), but if you're willing to look for it, new talent is always emerging. Go to music venues and scout out an act that catches your ear. Non-wedding bands are nearly always cheaper. Better yet, seek out music schools. Try a classical academy; you'll rest assured that your group has been formally trained in the tunes you're paying them to play.
Count on Creative Cuisine
Rather than baby lamb chops, which can add $5 a head, try lamb-filled grape leaves or a mini lamb burger; both cost less. Other passed hors d'oeuvres that might elicit sticker shock? Anything involving crab or lobster. "We do Indian-spiced cod cakes instead," says Brownstein. "They're just as luxurious, and more exciting."
Brunch it Up
"Throwing a breakfast can be ideal," says Vivaldo. "You can serve mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice or set up a lovely coffee bar with whipped cream and chocolate chips. Plus, all of a sudden, the emphasis isn't only on drinking. It's on what's happening."
Order Up a Bespoke Bar
One of the best ways to downsize is to limit your bar to beer, wine, and a signature cocktail that ties into your theme. "It's definitely a big savings, probably a good $10 to $15 per person off your total bar bill," says Wilfried Boutillier, general manager of Maximilien, a popular Seattle reception spot.
Boycott Overpriced Bubbly
Technically, Champagne is sparkling wine that's from the Champagne region of France. But there are plenty of worldly competitors without the high price tag. Substitute with Cava, the Spanish take on Champagne, or Prosecco, from Italy, which is smoother, sweeter, and a better fit for a small budget. It's even true of French sparkling wine: Crémant is usually cheaper than Champagne.
Keep it Bottled
"One of the hugest wastes of money is the Champagne toast: Fifty percent of people won't touch it, and 25 percent have a sip just because it's there," says Cianci. Her advice: Keep the bubbly at the bar to serve anyone who asks for it.
Buy Your Own Booze
See if your venue will let you purchase your own alcohol, so you can return any bottles your guests don't drink. You'll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your friends can get tipsy if they like—and the option to reclaim some of your expenditures if they don't.
Cut the Cake
Many couples are skipping pricey, fancy tiered creations altogether and serving their favorite desserts instead (think homemade treats such as brownies, donuts, and lemon squares). Some even ask bakeries they love to ship the mix for their favorite treats straight to their caterers.
Show Off (Slightly)
Can't do without a designer cake? Go ahead and order one—but just for the two of you. You can put it on display and slice into it for the cake-cutting ritual; then serve a classic sheet cake for your guests to enjoy.
Give Something Homemade
Send guests home with boxes of your mom's brownies, along with her recipe, or fresh peaches tucked in hand-stamped bags. Low price tags, low fuss, high satisfaction.
Lose the Limo
"Transportation can be a huge cost," says Cianci. "One bride, who wasn't obsessed with having a vintage car to go a mile, borrowed friends' SUVs to shuttle the bridal party and family. Nobody noticed the difference."
Pool the Presents
Instead of registering for stuff, ask guests to contribute to your honeymoon stash. They can help you pay for transportation, activities, and the likes.
Throw a Tea Party
There's no rule that says weddings must be held on Saturday evenings. Providing an afternoon spread of tea sandwiches and sparkling wine is a sophisticated alternative to the typical dinner reception. Save even more money by scheduling it on a Sunday.
Cheat With Sheets
Here's how to have your pretty cake and afford it, too. Buy sheet cakes in whatever size and shape you like, and stack them yourself. Use standard cake dowels, available at baking-supply stores, to keep layers from collapsing, then decorate with thick chocolate shavings or fresh flowers and fruit.
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