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If you’re excited to have a fabulous wedding but are worried about breaking the bank, it’s understandable. The reported cost of an average wedding and reception was almost $30,000 in 2019. For an average couple bringing in around the median household income in America ($69,000), that’s a pretty penny! If that number makes you feel a little dizzy, try not to let it spoil the anticipation and joy of wedding planning. 

It’s just as possible to have a stellar wedding for half that price or even less! Cutting costs doesn’t necessarily mean cutting corners. Although you may have to put in more time and effort, there are plenty of innovative ways to save money. Investing in sound advice from an experienced planner can be a wise way to use a small bit of your budget. This way you’ll prevent yourself from making costly planning mistakes and have a better idea of where to splurge and where to trim your costs. Planning a budget-friendly wedding doesn't have to mean you need to sacrifice the beauty and romance of your dream wedding. It just involves some clever penny-pinching to get to that special day.

Decide What Matters Most

For a wedding on a budget, the first thing you’re going to want to tackle, even before forming your budget, is figuring out what parts of the wedding matter most to you. Is high end catering a priority or, wanting a live band vs a DJ? Is there a specific venue that it’s always been your dream wedding location? Every couple has a different vision for their wedding, with different priorities that are uniquely important to them. Identifying what yours are is the first step in creating a cohesive budget you can feel good about. 

That being said, it’s important to make sure you and your fiancé are on the same page as far as priorities go. It’s alright to have separate “wedding wish lists” while you’re still brainstorming, but make sure to discuss your individual priorities together before diving into your budget. Talk out what the definite must-haves are, and what you can compromise on. By figuring out what’s most important to you and your partner from the get-go, you’re less likely to accidentally overspend or get stuck needing to choose between one thing or another later down the line.

Set Your Budget

Your budget isn’t just how much you estimate to spend on your wedding total. It also lays out all the different aspects that come together to make up your wedding, and how much you’re spending on each of them. A comprehensive wedding checklist is an extremely useful tool for helping you to map out your budget. Knowing what costs to expect for each element of your wedding will help you to divide up the funds you have strategically. But before getting really detailed with it and writing out all the specific decorations you want and the price of each one, you should establish the basics. Try looking at some sample budgets and get an idea of what yours might look like. Here’s an example of a basic budget by percentage that can be applied to a variety of price ranges:

  • Venue: 30%
  • Catering: 20%
  • Photography: 10%
  • Music: 10%
  • Decorations: 10%
  • Flowers: 5%
  • Attire: 5%
  • Favors: 5%
  • Cake: 3%
  • Misc. Expenses: 2%

Of course, this is just one of many ways you can split up all the costs involved in a wedding, and the way you do it ultimately comes down to you and your partner’s preferences.

As always, communication is a must to have a proper budget that actually serves its purpose. Don’t dance around “the money talk” out of fear of it being awkward. Talk openly with each other and have honest discussions about what you can and can’t afford. Trust us, no one likes a surprise expense so these discussions will make it easier in the long-run.

It’s also important to set down an idea of who’s paying for what, and with what. Will any family members be contributing? Do you have savings you plan to use? By adding everything up, you can get a good idea of exactly how much you can spend on your wedding total. Once you have that lump sum number, you can calculate what each percentage would cost and tweak them as needed-- and then you have a solid budget!

Plan As Early As Possible

If you travel a lot, you’re probably familiar with how flights get more expensive the closer to the date of the trip. The same goes for event services and vendors. In most cases, the longer you wait to book, the more you’re going to end up paying. That’s why it’s important to manage the time before your wedding wisely. Start planning, at least the major decisions as soon as you can. Planning far in advance also gives you a greater chance at booking your ideal venue and vendors. If you miss the window to book your first choices, you may have to re-evaluate your budget, as you’ll probably be working with a whole new set of rates and prices from the ones you originally wanted.

Evaluate Your Guest List

A hard truth to wedding planning is that the more people you have in attendance, the more expensive your event is going to be overall. More people means more food, bar tab, tables, chairs, linens, centerpieces, invitations and party favors, more everything. If your guest list is looking a little long, consider narrowing it down to a smaller pool of people. Even going from 100 to 90 guests can slash off a portion of the expense.

It may be difficult, but the truth is that every guest is an expense. If there’s anyone you just put on the list out of obligation like a high school friend you haven’t actually talked to in over a year, it might be a good idea to take a step back and calculate how much each guest is worth to you. If you really want an event that’s big and lively, a good compromise is to skip inviting plus-ones and children. This way you still get the people you want, but trim the guest list number by some.

Use a Wedding Checklist

If there’s one thing that goes hand in hand with a budget, it’s a checklist! Simply keeping track of what you need to buy and what you’ve already bought can do wonders for saving a little money. Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer, or maybe you think you can remember everything you need to do and buy in the coming months off the top of your head- but it’s so easy to end up forgetting that one thing that completely slipped your mind until the day before. To get you started on a simple checklist to start really planning, here’s some ideas:

  • Establish the basics: When will it be? Where will it be? Who will be invited?
  • Start budgeting and weighing saving and splurging options; assess finances to get an idea of what your grand total can look like
  • Start researching vendors, caterers, DJs, etc.
  • Shop for your dress or tux
  • Make it official by making and sending out your invites once you have a date and venue secured

Get Creative with Wedding Decorations

While renting full sets of décor is a popular option for weddings, you might find it cheaper to do a little DIY with your decorations instead. Etsy is a good option for anything you want custom-made or handcrafted, like paper goods or signs. Just make sure you use reputable dealers who won’t leave you hanging with undelivered orders. If you need basics like balloons, confetti, and lighting, try sites that sell party supplies in bulk like Amazon. For more unique statement pieces and bigger items, check out craft stores, hardware and houseware stores. Don’t forget to hit up flea markets and sites for used items like Facebook Marketplace or eBay.

If you’re looking for floral decorations, try talking to your florist about repurposing the flowers from your ceremony to your reception. Chances are, they’ll have some creative ideas for you even if it’s just reusing bouquets as centerpieces, it still is overall a cost-effective (and not to mention non-wasteful) option.

Do The Catering Yourself

Professional catering is one aspect of a wedding that can really rack up the bill, and oftentimes it’s not avoidable. A lot of venues due to local food service regulations are unable to accommodate self catered events. They will require that all food be prepared and served by a licensed, insured catering company. But if you have a wedding venue where you are able to self cater and you’re feeling up to a do-it-yourself challenge, you can try your hand at planning your wedding meals on your own.

You can self-cater in a variety of different ways, from making the food yourself to having friends and family help out or even ordering meals from a restaurant. Cooking the food yourself can be especially convenient as most of your food can probably be cooked ahead of time and reheated on the day of the wedding, and options like a no-cook sandwich buffet or an appetizers-only spread can make things even easier.

Make sure you include the cost of renting or, purchasing chafing dishes, flatware, plates etc. And consider who is going to set up everything, serve, replenish and clear. Include these costs so you have a true picture of how self catering costs stack up against professional catering. There's no rule that states that your reception has to include a grand four-course dinner, so you can really go as simple as you want with it.

DIY Your Wedding Invitations 

Not only is this a money-saver, but making and printing wedding invites yourself is a fun way to add an extra personal touch. You don’t need to be a skilled graphic design artist or a Photoshop pro, either; there are endless templates to choose from online that you can easily customize to suit your style.

While some of these do cost money to download and use, it’s still a fraction of the cost of going to a pro. Printing at home will also drive down the cost; the only things you really have to factor in here are paper stock, ink, and any extra decorations like ribbons or custom wax seals. Then there is the eco-friendly option of going the 100% electronic version on invitations. Again it comes down to priorities.

If you always dreamed of preserving your invitations and making them something special, it’s okay to splurge. But if you just see them as a way to get information out to guests, don’t feel the pressure to incur the expense. After all, how many wedding invitations have you saved?

Consider An Off-Season Wedding

Consider having your wedding during the “off season” and know when this is for your location. For most states this is usually from late fall to late winter, and many couples find that they can save some money by avoiding the busier spring and summer months. But in a state like Florida the “off season” is actually over the summer months so check with your venue when their slow months are.

Not only are services more expensive during the busy season because of the high demand, but many companies even offer discounts and deals for off-season weddings. Aside from the monetary benefits, an off-season wedding also means less competition for you when it comes to booking specific vendors or services.

If you’re trying to book someone who’s in high demand during the busy season, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up disappointed. Some couples will book months or even years in advance to secure their spot in line. Off-season, however, usually finds most vendors with pretty open schedules, often with better pricing too.

It may be cheaper to get married on certain days. Weekdays and Sunday mornings are usually always less expensive than the cost of a wedding on a Friday or Saturday night, and by simply choosing one of these “off” days for your wedding you may find yourself saving a considerable amount of money.

Consider A Backyard Wedding

What’s not to love about a backyard wedding? Not only are they very trendy and chic, but you’ll also find that they’re an extremely affordable option. Cutting out the need for a venue will drastically reduce the amount of money you’ll need to spend, in some cases even slashing your total cost in half.

Of course, there are some unique expenses that come along with hosting your wedding on your own property. While you may not need to worry about booking a venue, you’ll need to consider possible costs like parking, landscaping, portable restrooms, table, tent and chair rentals and even event permits. You’ll especially need to keep your guest list to a manageable number that you can comfortably fit in your space.

Seven other ways to bring down your wedding expenses

  1. 1
    Limit your wedding photographer’s hours to a minimum. You don’t need professional photos of three hours of dancing. Instead ask guests to share the pics they take on special wedding photo sharing sites.
  2. 2
    Downsize your wedding cake. You can still enjoy the cake cutting ceremony, but serve a far more economical treat to guests. Other options include donut bars, ice cream carts or less extravagant cake options
  3. 3
    Skip the favors. It’s okay, guests don’t expect them anymore and many people will appreciate not finding a spot for yet another commemorative wine topper or corkscrew.
  4. 4
    Go minimal on decorations. It’s easy to get caught up feeling like you need every decorative option to set the mood. Rather than go all out, focus on letting your setting speak for itself
  5. 5
    Tone down the open bar. Guests will appreciate great drinks, so it’s crucial to have wine and beer on hand, but you don’t need the ability to mix any drink. Choose a signature drink in the theme of your wedding and you’ll offer plenty of ways to imbibe.
  6. 6
    Don’t skip over lighting. Candles and tealights might be an additional spend but they can go a long way to adding ambiance on a shoestring.
  7. 7
    Get creative with your entertainment. Your budget doesn’t seem like it can fit a live band? Maybe it can if you check out the audition videos from local music school students looking to develop a reputation. Search social media and you never know who you might find.

Through all of the wonderful chaos of planning your wedding, try to keep in mind what it’s all about: you, your partner, and your special day together with all of your loved ones. No matter if you’re spending $1,000 or $10,000, what really makes the day special is your love for each other and the celebration of it. That is priceless.

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