55 Clever Ways to Trim Your Wedding Budget
Who says weddings can't be amazing and affordable? With our helpful tips, yours will be.
Planning a wedding on a budget can make it difficult to look at the big picture. Instead of getting overwhelmed by all the major details and the price tags associated with them, start with these small ways to save money. Not only will our simple wedding budget tips and tricks help you cut planning costs, but they'll add up to one unforgettable celebration. Who says weddings can't be amazing and affordable?
The best part of all is that these tips don't feel like sacrifices. Serving a signature drink? You probably wanted to anyway. But maybe you didn't realize that this is one great way to see major savings on your bar tab. Another great tip? Fill your bouquet and centerpieces with in-season flowers! Local, seasonal blooms are more affordable than imported varieties, and we promise that you'll love the look. Follow one, five, ten, or all of our tips and watch the savings follow.
If you're ready to plan your perfect wedding while saving big, these clever budget-trimming ideas are for you. Click through to see all 55 tips for making your dream day a little more affordable.
Serve a Signature Drink
Serve a custom-made cocktail, such as punch or a classic libation, instead of providing a full bar.
Limit Alcoholic Beverages
Limit alcoholic beverages to wine and beer, choices that will satisfy most of your guests. Join mailing lists at wine shops, then, when wines you want for your wedding go on sale, buy in bulk and in magnum sizes to save.
When you're ready to buy wine, go with wholesale. You'll pay your caterer a corkage fee to pour it, but wine purchased through him can cost twice as much. Most merchants offer a 10 percent discount for buying wine by the case, and they'll often increase that if you purchase several cases at once.
Consider a Wedding Breakfast or Brunch
Breakfasts, brunches, and afternoon teas are usually more affordable than evening receptions: They're shorter, the fare is lighter, and guests tend to consume less liquor early in the day.
Comparison Shop Wedding Cakes
If your caterer's contract will permit it, hire an outside baker to provide the wedding cake. Even though you'll have to pay a cake-cutting charge, you will likely pay less overall if you shop around.
Even if you want a tall cake, have your baker make only the amount required to serve each guest one slice. Any additional tiers can be made of Styrofoam and iced to match the others.
Buy Local Ingredients
Have your caterer use local fruits and vegetables that are in season. Not only will these items be more economical, they'll taste fresher.
Avoid Pricey Main Courses
Use expensive ingredients, such as lobster, in hors d'oeuvres rather than in a main course. Consider a raw bar for cocktail hour stocked with fresh clams, oysters on the half shell, and poached jumbo shrimp, lobster, smoked mussels, and crab cocktails.
Forgo Full Dinner Service
How dinner is served affects the price. French service, in which guests are served by waiters from a platter at the table, and regular plate service are the most expensive. More economical is family-style, where diners help themselves from serving dishes brought to the table.
Make Cake the Dessert Course
Dispense with a separate dessert course, and just present the wedding cake as dessert, with coffee and tea to end the meal.
A punch-and-cake reception held in the late morning or afternoon is the least expensive type of party. To make it special, serve several cakes of different designs and flavors, or make punch in colors that match your palette.
Two Wedding Cakes Can Be Cheaper than One
Order two cakes for the reception: a large sheet cake and a small fancy one to be used for display and the cake-cutting ceremony. The sheet cake, which can be less elaborately decorated than the other, gets sliced and dished up in the kitchen.
Top Off a Simple Wedding Cake
Order a moderately priced, plainly decorated cake, and make the focal point the cake topper. Vintage bride-and-groom figurines, wedding bells, horseshoes, a basket filled with fruit, or a pair of doves (from an antiques shop or handmade) are classic symbols that can make a cake memorable.
Serve Champagne for Toasts Only
Instead of pouring Champagne all night long, serve just a single glass to each guest at the appropriate time to toast the bride and groom.
Select In-Season Flowers
While most popular bridal flowers are available year-round, some traditional ones—peonies and lilies of the valley, for example—can be difficult to find and expensive out of season. Seek your florist's advice before deciding on your flowers.
Economical Wedding Bouquet Embellishments
Mix berries, pinecones, and other economical non-floral embellishments among costlier blooms to fill out bouquets and displays.
Repurpose Your Wedding Flowers
Make floral arrangements do double duty: If there's an adequate number of ceremony flowers and they're an appropriate size, they can serve as centerpieces at the reception; otherwise they can decorate guest-book, seating-card, and favor tables. Place bridesmaids' bouquets on the dessert table.
Instead of decorating tables with large arrangements, float a few flowers in shallow bowls or glass cylinders filled halfway with water. Here, we floated five or six peony blossoms in a footed bowl, surrounding it with scattered votive candles and satellite peonies in smaller bowls.
Arrange Fruit-Filled Centerpieces
Bowls, compotes, or even cake stands filled with seasonal fruits from a farmer's market can take the place of expensive floral presentations.
Decorate Tables With Candles
A single pillar candle in a hurricane lantern is a wonderful centerpiece, as is a casual display of votive candles in the middle of a table.
Turn Favors into Centerpieces
As an alternative to traditional flower centerpieces, group favors together on the table. Even if you spend a bit more on the favors themselves, you'll probably save overall.
More Flowers Can Cost Less
Don't overlook such floral standbys as daisies and carnations. They're available year-round, are quite affordable, and when arranged en masse make delightful centerpieces and bouquets.
Find Low-Cost Drama in Flowering Bulbs
Flowering bulbs—amaryllis, narcissus, and hyacinth among them—often cost less than regular flowers and are dramatic, even when arranged simply.
Two-in-One Favor Place Cards
Use favors as seating or place cards to save a bit on stationery costs. For seating cards, write guests' names and table numbers on strips of paper, affix them to the favors, and set in order on a table near the entrance. For place cards, put favors with names attached at guests' places.
Use What You Already Have
Your florist won't have to supply vases for your centerpieces if you have a collection of containers, such as jelly or milk jars. Filled with flowers, such vessels make pretty displays.
Put a Cap on Calligraphy
Have a calligrapher letter only the cover of the ceremony program; print the interior pages using favorite fonts on your own computer. Consider making up menus, seating cards, and place cards with your computer, as well.
Make Your Own Favors
Handmade favors and decorations are appealing and usually cost less than store-bought.
Vendors will be more likely to reduce fees if you choose a winter date rather than scheduling for summer, when rates are at their highest. This doesn't apply, however, during holidays. Fridays and Sundays are generally less expensive than Saturdays for renting a venue.
For a destination wedding, book a date that is not as popular for travel in the region.
Downsize Your Bridal Party
Try to keep the number of attendants as small as possible: The larger the bridal party, the more you'll spend on gifts and flowers.
Set Guest List Boundaries
To minimize the guest list, refrain from inviting children and coworkers. Include your friends' significant others but not casual dates.
Before signing a contract with your caterer, photographer, or florist, try to negotiate a lower, yet still reasonable, price.
Better to Borrow
Borrow accessories from family and friends instead of buying them; this can also provide your "something borrowed."
Ask for Help
Ask talented friends or relatives to help with your wedding. An artistic friend, for instance, might design your stationery, or a baking enthusiast could make cupcakes or cookie favors.
DJ Vs. Wedding Band
For your reception, remember that a deejay can be less costly than a live band. To avoid hiring two bands and paying two separate fees, ask if just a few pieces of the band can play during the ceremony and cocktail hour, as well as at the reception.
Party in Public Spaces
The nicest wedding sites—parks, museums, public gardens—may be the most affordable.
Skip Reply Cards
Eliminate reply cards and have guests handwrite a note instead. You'll save on stationery and postage, and the responses will be great keepsakes.
Know Your Priorities
Prioritize aspects of the wedding that are most important to you. By compromising in some areas, you can afford to splurge on others.
Lose the Limo
Use a personal car rather than a limousine to get to and from the reception.
Don't Pay Retail for Your Wedding Dress
Look for a dress at sample sales, trunk shows, and outlets; you can sign up for some designers' sample-sale listings online.
Consider wearing your mother's gown. The costs of cleaning and alterations will likely be far less than the cost of buying a new wedding dress.
Fly on Credit
Pay wedding costs with a credit card to earn frequent-flyer miles toward your honeymoon. Just make sure to avoid incurring interest charges by paying the balance in full each month.
Consider a Cruise
Check cruise lines' websites for discounts or offers of free airfare during slow travel times.
Capture Only the Most Important Moments on Video
Hire a videographer to work just from the ceremony through the first dance rather than for the entire wedding.
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, which most of the 50 states will recognize. Laws in a few states, such as Virginia, are strict, requiring officiants to be active in their ministry. To be sure you're in the clear, check with the county clerk about the laws where you'll be wed.
After moving her wedding from Brooklyn, New York (her current 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.
Seek Free Fonts
Finding the perfect typeface that's also free is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail. Here's reason to rejoice: four decidedly un-tacky fonts that don't cost a hard-earned dime. Top row from left: Customize place cards, coasters, menus, or thank-you notes with simple Kontor serif or Lane sans serif, from dafont.com. Bottom row: Use the more stylized Monogram kk and Hoedown fonts from abstractfonts.com to stand in for a calligrapher or give a "Just Married" sign a retro Western kick.
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, 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 weddingwire.com, for instance, users can pick a design, upload photos, and even add a song that will play whenever guests pay a visit—all for free.
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 two lush altarpieces, which will direct everyone's eyes exactly where you want them to be: on you and your groom.
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.
Sign Up for Spam
Most wedding-dress designers allow you to sign up for news and updates. Even if you have a policy of sharing your e-mail 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 e-mail lists, and you'll be privy to time-sensitive insider info such as sample sales and trunk shows.
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 will really need are touch-ups.
Use Bud Vases
Instead of centerpieces with oodles of blooms in them, consider using petite vases (we painted ours, which came from CB2 and cost only $3 each). 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).
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: "The least expensive bottle of Champagne we sell is $57," says Boutillier. "And Cremant, which is made the same way but isn't from Champagne, is $33."
Pool the Presents
Show Off A Little
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.
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