Getting engaged was amazing, a scene straight out of a rom-com. But the happiness of the engagement lasted just a few hours before conversations started to turn toward the next step: wedding planning.
While I was still overjoyed, I felt a slight gnawing in my stomach. I was going to plan a wedding, and weddings are expensive: In 2013, the average wedding cost almost $30,000. I can think of a handful of other worthy investments for such an amount: a down payment on a house. A brand-new car. A hearty portion of a college degree (or student loan). All of those options seem more worthy of this kind of cash than a one-day celebration.
After celebrating the nuptials of many friends and family members, I know there is no “perfect” wedding, and the celebration can be enjoyed on any budget. But managing your wedding budget can be stressful. Do-it-yourself projects offer savings, but require time, some level of skill, and patience — a virtue I’ve never held.
But with several months to go, I’ve found a few ways to lighten my financial load without having to exert a huge effort on the Pinterest front. I want my wedding celebration to be simple and fun — not complicated and stressful. Here are my tips for cutting wedding costs without compromising.
1. Seek Alternative Venues
When it comes to setting a date and picking a place, some tips are commonplace: some months are priced at a premium; Saturday weddings are usually the most expensive; dinner will cost more than brunch or lunch. But Money Crashers has a tip that I love in their super-list of cost-saving venue hints: Think outside the hotel ballroom.
Consider art galleries, performance spaces, church halls and grounds, parks and other “nontraditional” venues for your ceremony and reception. Locations that don’t host weddings around the clock are likely to have more amenable price tags. (Click to tweet this idea.)
The answer for me: a restaurant, for both simplicity and cost savings. Many of the beautiful venues I’ve seen online are merely shells when the deposit check is written. It takes decorations, a caterer, linens, china and sometimes even table and chair rental to turn a beautiful spot into a reception site. I didn’t want to have to manage those costs as they added up.
It may seem prohibitive to rent out an entire eatery, but check out spaces that have separate sections for private or semi-private events. Rental fees for these areas (before food, drinks, fees and gratuity) is often the same as you would pay to host a bridal or baby shower luncheon. And restaurants usually come with place settings, tablecloths and other items you’ll need. If you’re happy with the restaurant’s decor, your job is so much easier.
2. Arrange Your Own Flowers
Speaking of decor, let’s discuss floral arrangements. I was shocked to discover the bouquet I’ll hold as I walk down the aisle could cost me as much as $250. And multiplying your number of tables by the $40-60 that centerpieces cost could make your head spin.
Only a few lucky couples will have a neighbor with beautiful flower gardens who offers to contribute bouquets. Instead, turn to a more practical option: a flower wholesaler. Simply search “flower wholesale + [your city or region]” to find one in your area.
Wholesale warehouses are often open to the public, and staff can advise you on what’s in season or what you could mix and match. By doing a bit of arranging yourself (or with help from friends and family), you can have beautiful bouquets for a fraction of the price. For example, one wholesaler near me offers a “mega box” with 250 stems. For about $200, you’ll find lilies, hydrangeas, spray mums and plenty of greenery to finish off any bouquet. For a modest size wedding, one mega box could decorate the whole place!
A quick word about vessels: if you’re not set on having identical centerpieces at each table, skip the big box and craft stores. Instead, search for vases at your local thrift store. You’ll pay a lot less for vases you’ll likely only use once, and the variety may be satisfying.
3. Cut the Cake
If you enjoy baking reality shows as much as I do, you know that wedding cakes can be extremely expensive. But when’s the last time you thought about a cake you ate at a wedding? This adaditional treat is one I’m not afraid to drop from my wedding plans.
I’m skipping a tiered cake with globs of icing in favor of treats like cookies, doughnuts or maybe even pie. Consider your favorite dessert options and decide what’s most meaningful for you.
If you’re set on having a cake but want to stick to a reasonable budget, Bridal Guide curated a dessert directory with tricks and tips from professional bakers. Some of my favorite ways to cut costs before you cut the cake: choose buttercream frosting over fondant; display a small cake while offering unstacked slices from the same recipe to your guests; and choose in-season fruits for garnishes or fillings.
Crafty types who aren’t afraid to DIY can even skip a custom cake altogether and doctor up a grocery store cake. A Practical Wedding shared a few tasty-looking tutorials.
4. Say Yes to a Different Dress
I know, brides, I know — your dress is a big deal. It’s hard to compromise on this item. But wedding gowns can run the price gamut, and if you fall in love with a dress with an unexpectedly high price tag, it could singlehandedly wreck your budget.
Instead, consider doing a bit of research and embracing the idea of wearing “something old.” Beyond eBay, like Once Wed, Tradesy, Nearly Newlywed, Wore it Once and Pre-Owned Wedding Dresses have page after page filled with beautiful dresses that have typically already been cleaned after their first big day. If you have a favorite designer in mind, a bit of time searching these sites can help you get a great deal. Just remember to also research tailors near you who can make any alterations you may need.
Willing to wear something even older? Many vintage shops sell wedding dresses from yesteryear that could use a little bit of love — a bit of stain removal or seam repair — for as low as $100. If you love the thrill of the hunt, you may find the dress of your dreams. Don’t forget to check the formalwear racks as well. Just because a dress wasn’t designed for a wedding doesn’t mean it can’t make you shine on your big day.
I discovered the dress of my dreams long before I was engaged. During a vintage shopping trip, I spied a slinky evening gown from the 1960s. It was in near-perfect condition, was covered in ivory sequins and beading, and had a $40 price tag. A wise woman once told me: “Buy the dress. The party will follow.” At that price, I just had to buy the dress — and I’m looking forward to wearing it to what promises to be a fantastic party that doesn’t destroy my budget.
Your Turn: How did you save money on your wedding? If you’re planning your celebration now, how will you cut costs without compromising on important elements?