For all of the many reasons to get married, paying for a wedding isn’t one of them. It’s an expense that can be used elsewhere — such as for a down payment on a house — or to pay for a honeymoon or use as an emergency fund.
Those aren’t exactly romantic expenses (except for the honeymoon), and with family and friends pushing for a party to celebrate a couple’s union, a traditional wedding is often how many people tie the know without eloping.
The average wedding cost is $ 25,000, though most people spend less than $ 10,000, according to Costofwedding.com. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Below are 24 ways to save big on your wedding. Some are from my wedding, and others are from people I queried:
1. Cut the guest list
How intimate can a guest list of 500 be? Start with a modest guest list and you’ll cut costs on food, alcohol, chairs, tables, party favors, decorations, cake and more. Yes, you’ll receive fewer gifts, but you’ll probably remember who gave you what with fewer people there.
2. Give everyone a job
People like to help out at weddings, especially in the preparation. If you have family and friends who are willing to help, accept it. Chances are someone you know has a skill you didn’t know about who can help at your wedding.
We had relatives make flower arrangements, set up tables, set up food, and clean the facility at the end of the night. I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting.
3. Accept skills instead of gifts
If your friends are professional photographers, cake makers or DJs, among other things, ask them to donate their services in lieu of giving a gift. Or ask for a discount. Some may not want to combine work and pleasure, but others will be more than happy to help by offering their skills for free.
4. Hire new, small business owners
People who are just starting businesses in the highly competitive wedding services field may have low prices when they open their doors as a way of bringing in customers. Take advantage of this.
We got lucky by finding a wedding cake designer who was slowly trying out his craft at home before expanding his business. We got a beautiful cake (including delivery and setup at the venue) that would have cost us hundreds of dollars more.
From table centerpieces to decorating the venue and making wedding invitations, there are all kinds of do-it-yourself projects that a bride and groom can do together.
We went to a home and garden center and bought potted flowers we liked, and put them at the center of each table. They were such a hit that one family member tried to hoard most of them after the wedding to take home. Years later, we bought a house that had the same flowers in the front yard.
6. Partial DIY
If you don’t have enough skills or time to put something together for your wedding, such as the table centerpieces, hire a professional to do some of it.
For example, if you want custom wedding invitations created, but the price makes you cringe, ask your graphic designer if you can assemble the invitations yourself to save money, suggests Tracy Maniaci, a graphic designer and owner of Autumn Glow Design in Raleigh, N.C.
A bulk of the charges for custom work comes from assembling all the details and small pieces of invitations, such as tying bows and stuffing envelopes, Maniaci says.
7. Buy a used wedding dress
Jon Dulin married his wife about a year ago, and she saved by buying a used wedding dress for $ 500 that would have cost more than $ 3,000, says Dulin, who owns MoneySmartGuides.com.
“She decided that she wasn’t spending thousands on a dress that she was only going to wear once,” he says.
Some venues prohibit this, so read the contract carefully. But if a venue allows you to bring your own alcohol, you can save money by not having a caterer or bartender, or even the venue, make money by serving drinks.
David Rae, 35, a financial planner in Los Angeles, says he and his husband saved thousands of dollars at their wedding in September by spending $ 1,000 at a liquor store sale. Otherwise, they would have spent $ 10,000 to $ 12,000 with an open bar at a typical venue, Rae says.
9. Marry in off season
Spring is high season for weddings, and an off season wedding can save you thousands of dollars.
Rae’s September wedding was a few weeks off peak season, and was the only wedding that weekend for their vendors. They not only got better pricing, but the vendors went above and beyond for them because they didn’t have other gigs that weekend.
10. Weekday wedding
This can be difficult for your guests to get to, but a weekday wedding can be half the price of a traditional wedding on the weekend. And if it’s in the off season, you could save more from wedding vendors who aren’t busy. If a discount isn’t offered upfront, ask for it.
11. Shop outside the city
Just telling a vendor that you’re having a wedding, and the price automatically seems to go up. The same goes for shopping in a big city.
Travel 45 minutes outside of a big city and the prices of flowers and wedding cakes, among other services, will likely drop, says Christina Nicholson, who works at the Inn at New Hyde Park, a Long Island venue for wedding receptions.
12. Marry and party at the same place
Getting married and having the reception at the same place can save on venue costs because you’re not booking two separate locations. It can also reduce the costs of transportation and shuttles for yourself and your guests, Nicholson says.
13. Skip bridesmaid dresses
Instead, go to Macy’s or somewhere where they can pick out a dress they like that’s less expensive and will be something they’ll wear again, she says.
Crowdfund all or part of your wedding costs with a site such as DreamFund, which bills itself as a circle-giving platform for important dreams. Ask friends to chip in instead of buying a wedding gift.
15. Scrimp on appetizers
Either get rid of appetizers entirely at the reception, or pre-make platters of cold appetizers such as cheese, salami, olives, a bowl of olive tapenade, and crackers, suggests Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game.
Gault has planned and hosted weddings at her home, along with her second son’s wedding last year with 120 guests for $ 4,936 out the door, including the rehearsal dinner.
For appetizers, pre-make mini antipasti skewers on toothpicks, she suggests. If you have a kitchen at the venue, you can get fancy with stuffed mushrooms, mini quiches and more at warehouse club stores, she says. Make everything self serve and save the cost on a caterer.
16. Buffet line
Instead of having a caterer and waiters, find local restaurants that deliver and have a buffet.
Gault recommends paying for help to keep the food hot and replenished, serve at the buffet line, and collect dishes from tables. She hired four women for $ 600 to serve and clean up, saving thousands on catering, bartenders and more.
If there’s an oven on site, buy large trays of frozen main entrees from warehouse club stores, such as lasagna, and serve with a DIY tossed salad and garlic bread.
Create a professional catering look with books and risers on different levels covered with a tablecloth, she says.
17. Cheaper venues
A cheaper venue doesn’t have to mean sacrificing ambiance. Gault recommends exploring cheaper locations such as historic buildings, botanical gardens, garden clubs and community centers.
City and county parks have gorgeous wedding venue sites at a fraction of private wedding venues, basically for the cost of cleaning, she says. Many such sites have tables and chairs you can use at almost no cost. A state park will only charge a parking fee for guests.
If you’re in the military or a military dependent, you can get married at a base chapel for free.
A friend may be able to use their neighborhood association hall for free once a year, or for a small fee and a cleaning fee.
Just as everyone probably has a skill you can use at your wedding, they know someone who has had a wedding and can loan you something.
Items Gault says she’s borrowed include two Roman columns for the altar, 14 round tables, vintage China, antique silverware, white strings of Christmas lights for trees, and more.
19. Pick your own flowers
Another option to a florist is to buy from a grocery store, recommends Dee Power, author of “Weddings on a Shoestring Budget.”
20. Haggle with the DJ
Many services, as we mentioned above, will charge more for a wedding. But initially, ask what the fee is for a “party,” and then haggle because you’ll eventually have to tell them it’s for a wedding.
DJs can charge triple for a wedding vs. a “party,” Gault says, so haggle with them on it a bit. In a DJ’s defense, he does more than just play music, she says. He should be master of ceremonies for the presentation of the bride and groom, first dance, and cake cutting, so he should charge more for the extra responsibility and planning. But triple? No way.
21. Hire a video editor, not a recorder
Ask videographers if they’ll accept your footage, and if they’ll edit only, Gault suggests. This way they won’t be needed to spend hours at the wedding and reception, taping hours of the events.
Ask friends to take some video at the wedding and reception, and then give all of the files to the professional to edit. You’ll get plenty of candid shots that may not have been captured by a professional.
22. Wedding cake hacks
You may not want to bake a wedding cake yourself, but as we said in item #4, you can save by hiring a baker who is just starting in the wedding back business.
Another option is to go to a cake decorating school, as Gault suggests, and save half the cost of what a bakery would charge.
You can also have a small groom’s cake for the cake cutting, and have a dessert table with a variety of treats from Costco. Or ask family members to bake things in advance.
A multi-tiered cake can be expensive, so save money by ordering it with plain white frosting and no decorations, says Power, the author. Decorate it at the reception with fresh, edible flowers that the florist hasn’t sprayed with insecticides or fertilizer, she says.
Eloping is an obvious way to save a lot of money, though it may upset your family, says Nicholas Purcell, a wedding photographer in Australia.
“It’s obvious but you can save a bucketload,” Purcell says. “If you take an awesome photographer with you on the elopement then you have something to help appease the relatives.”
And that may come in handy for having a happy marriage.
What are your best tips for saving on a wedding?