Whether you’re planning a wedding or simply addicted to the TV series, “Say Yes to the Dress,” you’ve learned that this joyous occasion is also…a money pit. Keenly aware of societal pressure for over-the-top perfection, wedding vendors of all stripes have perfected the art of separating betrothed couples from as much of their hard-earned cash as they possibly can. Now, the good news: With a bit of creative thinking, prioritizing and planning, you can have a beautiful and memorable wedding for much less money than you’ve been led to believe. To make it work, you’ll need to think about how much you can afford to spend without borrowing, the in-kind resources and discount services you can tap from close friends and relatives, and what you really want your guests to remember most about your wedding (hint: it’s not the favors or whether the napkins matched the bridesmaids’ dresses). Three years ago, I made the following financial decisions about my own wedding and saved more than $13,000 in the process. We came through it debt-free, had ample cash for our honeymoon and some new furniture, and -- best of all -- are still hearing rave reviews about it from our guests!
Hold Ceremony & Reception at Same Venue
We held our wedding and the reception in the same location. I realize this might not work for everyone, but the pastor of our church was agreeable. The bridal party dressed at the venue, so we skipped the limousine. We also saved money on the photographer because she didn’t have to build in the cost of travel time. Best of all, our guests didn’t have to wait to eat -- the hors d’oeuvres were served as soon as the last note of the recessional music faded.
Savings: $2,000 or more.
Use Photographer's Time Wisely
Speaking of the photographer, we hired her for the ceremony through the cake-cutting only. By the time the cake is cut, ladies' hair and makeup are fading, kids are tired and cranky, and everyone’s clothing is disheveled from dining and dancing. Shaving off two hours of photography time and the associated costs of downloading and photo-shopping can save serious cash. After the photographer left, we asked guests to take snapshots with their small digital or cell phone cameras and then email them to us.
Savings: $1,000 or more.
Do Your Own Flowers
I ordered my flowers in bulk and had a talented friend make the bouquets, boutonnieres and table arrangements as her wedding gift to me. We bought the vases at a store that sells things for a dollar. My out of pocket cost was about $450.
Savings: $1,000 or more
Take Advantage of Special Offers
Once we selected the venue, I took advantage of an incentive offered by the general manager. By agreeing to hold our wedding on a date that had been cancelled by another couple, the venue credited their nonrefundable deposit to our reception.
Keep Decor Simple
We chose not to rent color-coordinated table linens and used the venue’s white linens at no extra cost.
Savings: $750 ($75 per table of eight
Limit Open Bar
We limited the open bar to the cocktail reception, switching to a champagne toast and passed wine with dinner. The full bar remained open as a cash bar for the rest of the night, and we didn’t hear one complaint.
Savings: $1,500 or more
Shop Online for the Dress
I took a chance and bought a sample designer wedding dress on Ebay for $100. I figured that, if I didn't like it or it didn't fit, I could resell it on Craigslist or donate it to a nonprofit and take a tax deduction. Happily, it only needed minor alterations costing about $200.
Savings: $2,500 or more
Ask Around for a DJ
A nephew recommended a friend who owns a DJ business and we hired him. Our wedding was on a Sunday night, traditionally slow for weddings, and he was happy to do it for the “friends and family rate” plus dinner and drinks for himself and his date. My nephew and his girl had fun hanging out with them, and the food/beverage for the DJ and his girlfriend turned out to be budget-neutral because another couple cancelled just days before I had to give the final count.
Savings: $600 or more over comparable DJ services
Cut the Cake Cost
When it came to the cake, I learned that décor is the budget buster, not the cake itself. I focused on flavor and kept the design simple, yet elegant. I had the pastry chef make each of the three layers a different flavor combination, which did not add to the cost. She decorated it with a simple Swiss dot pattern and blue bands to match my flowers, and topped it with fresh hydrangeas that I supplied. This shaved $4 per slice off the cost of cake, or about $320. The cake was so delicious that there wasn’t one crumb left. Included in the cost was a topper-sized cake she baked for us a year later for our anniversary. No freezer burn!
Do Yourself a Favor
Skipped the favors. If you give people great food and a fun atmosphere, they won't care -- or even remember -- that they didn't go home with a refrigerator magnet bearing your wedding photo and date.
Savings: $500 or more
Incorporated my groom’s military service in the ceremony and reception. Our groomsmen were a half-dozen soldiers with whom he had served in Iraq, clad in their Army dress blues. At the close of the ceremony, we passed under the “arc of swords” they formed. Other friends of his, who re-enact a Civil War artillery company, brought a cannon and fired a salute. Later in the evening, my husband and the groomsmen held a traditional punch ceremony, which is performed when artillerists gather for special occasions. The inclusion of these rituals made my husband very happy and eager to help plan the wedding. They also meant a lot to the men with whom he served, and were truly appreciated by all of our guests. I didn’t have to budget for these touches, but they certainly were priceless and are a favorite memory of the happiest day of my life.
Do you have any wedding savings ideas? If so, please share them here.