How to Plan a Wedding Without Breaking Your Budget

Did you know that the average cost of a wedding in the United States is nearly $28, 000? Or that wedding receptions are typically half the cost of the entire wedding? For many couples, their wedding ends up being an extremely expensive event that really hurts their finances.

My friend is actually getting married in a few months and we’ve been talking about ways to make it both memorable and affordable. What follows are some tips for planning your wedding without busting your budget.

Consider your budget before you start planning

For starters, who’s paying for the wedding? In some cases, the bride’s family pays for both the wedding and the reception. In other cases, the families share the cost. And in still others, the bride and groom are on their own. In my friends’s case, they’re sharing the cost with their family. Fortunately, they’ve been saving up money for this special occasion since before they got engaged. Planning ahead and saving is the best way to have your dream wedding without winding up in debt.

Choose your wedding date and time wisely

The date and time of your wedding has a huge impact on how much things will cost. The most popular (and thus expensive) months to get married are June through August. You can usually save a lot of money if you choose a less popular month.

In addition, the most expensive rates for reception halls are on Saturday nights. By choosing a different day, you can get the same reception hall and services for considerably less money. If you can’t switch days, try moving the wedding up to an earlier time so you can cut your reception costs by serving a lighter meal.

For example, have a cocktail reception, or just serve appetizers. In both cases, your guests can have a great time and the bride and groom saved a bunch of money.

Count and choose your guests thoughtfully

The bigger the reception, the higher the costs. Thus, you should focus on inviting guests who you truly want to be a part of your special day. While you may have pressure from your family to include distant relatives, it’s up to you whether or not you include them. We included a few such relatives to compromise with our parents, in part because they helped out with the wedding costs. However, the reception included our dearest and closest friends and family only.

Allocate money to important details, cut expenses elsewhere

Focus on details that matter to you and find creative ways to cut costs on other expenses. It’s all about prioritizing your budget and making it go further. Be sure to focus on your personal preferences rather than those of your friends.

Many brides choose to make their own wedding favors, both to save money and to give a personal touch to the occasion. You should also check on things like whether or not the reception hall will allow you to make your own centerpieces.

Another option is to have your friends use their unique talents to help with the wedding in place of giving you a gift. For example, we had a friend with appropriate experience who helped with the flower arrangements. She did a wonderful job and we saved quite a bit of money. We also had my husband’s grandmother make our wedding cake. It was special touch for us, and our guests loved it.

Of course, it’s important to do this only if you’ll both be happy with the arrangement. If you’re not happy with your friend’s portfolio, or if you’re worried that this might strain the relationship, then it’s probably better to pay someone else to handle it.

You should also think twice about items like chair covers at your reception. Do you think it’ll really make a big difference or are you just enticed by the sales pitch?

And remember… This is just the beginning of your marriage

Your wedding day is just the first day of a (hopefully) long and happy marriage. It’ll be a special day regardless of how much you spend. By all means, enjoy yourself, but do so without breaking the bank. Starting off your marriage on solid financial footing is the greatest gift you can ask for.

23 Responses to “How to Plan a Wedding Without Breaking Your Budget”

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you very much for your post and your advice; but what is your website as I would be very interested to have a look at that as i’m having trouble finding a great dress for under £1000 at the mo?

  2. Anonymous

    First, congratulations! Next, I would set a budget and then prioritize what matters most to you. Again, when considering your attire, look at preowned wedding gowns. I have just one of many websites that specialize in beautiful preowned gowns. They are available immediately and you may find a perfect match. Next, your friends are probably more than willing to share their talents, such as music, etc. Both of my daughters were fortunate to have friends who provided that as their gift to them. Since it is December, you will have lots of holiday decor in the stores at your disposal. Check for coupons to save money there. Those are just a few thoughts. Best wishes!

  3. Anonymous

    Hi, I’ve just been reading through all your posts. I’m planning on getting married this december, only problem is it is a last minute decision and I have no ideas about how or where!
    Any advice for a small, family and a few close friends, wedding for as little as possible?
    Any ideas very welcome!

  4. Anonymous

    Buying a used wedding dress (that is made to last a lifetime, but only used a couple of hours) saves so much money. Easily hundreds of dollars for buyer and seller, not to mention the carbon footprint reduction as well.

  5. Anonymous

    I got married in a very nice backyard reception. Music was done by friends and collegues and most of the stuff at the reception was homemade. It ended up costing about $5000 anyway, most of which was for 6 hand-tailored dresses and the photographer. It was a damn good wedding. Don’t be afraid to be unusual in your wedding.

  6. Anonymous

    My two cents on flowers.

    1) no one really cares what is in the middle of your table.
    2) dollar store vases
    3) buy flowers in season and in bulk. I bought tulips in may and paid 75$ for all the tables.
    4) candles make a room very lovely and tea lites are cheap.


  7. Anonymous

    We got engaged in December 2008, and will be married in December 2009. Thankfully, most of the big money items have been decided upon / paid for.

  8. Anonymous

    @Bryan I agree: If you can afford your wedding celebration without going into debt, it can be fantastic as you have a lot of freedom with choice.

    We’re all just sharing tips and stories on our weddings, no one should be feeling bad about that.

    How about you? How long have you’ve been planning for this wedding?

  9. Anonymous

    Our wedding is going to be over the average listed here, but who cares? We are able to afford it without going into debt, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed for putting on a heck of a party for all of my friends and family. It is the only time of you life that you will have this group of people all together at once. If you can afford it, you shouldn’t feel bad about spending the money!

  10. Anonymous

    Great post! I got married almost a year ago and was very budget concious. I think the most importnat thing like you said is talk about your budget. There should be no secrets…who is paying, who is contributing, and how much? This way you can go into everything being realistic. Also, pick the part that is most important for you. For me it was the reception location so really most of my budget went towards that…but because i knew that I was able to give a lot on flowers and other things that were not as important to me…

  11. Anonymous

    We planned our wedding very carefully over a nine month span, and had no outstanding bills by the day of the wedding. We spent around $5,000 on everything we wanted. I bought my wedding gown and accessories at a consignment shop, and everything I wore (brand new) cost less than $650. We used a neighborhood florist who paid attention to our budget and had good suggestions that helped us save money. Our reception was in the church fellowship hall, which was very reasonable because we are members of the church. We chose barbecue catered, again very reasonable. We married on a Wednesday evening in November, but the date was special to us because it was the anniversary of the day we met.

  12. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wedding stories. It’s amazing to see how unique and fun you can build a wedding celebration with out going into debt.

    For those that saved before the wedding, my question is how soon did you start? For us, we started the day we got engaged. Before then, all my money was going towards paying off my credit card debt.

  13. Anonymous

    A couple of other things: my brother just got married and was able to get a discount on most services by paying in cash. What he wasn’t able to get a discount on, he put on his rewards card, and they paid for their honeymoon with rewards.

    Also, I got married in June and got discounts for it – I live in Phoenix and summer is *not* wedding season here – we would have paid a lot more to get married in March. Make sure you know your area!

  14. Anonymous

    We had a small wedding… 75-100 people… for roughly $8k. Looks like we saved $20k. Good grief. Not sure how else we could have spent another $20,000…

  15. Anonymous

    I got married later in life (35), and our friends and families were spread out all across the country. Rather than saddle ourselves with expenses for a wedding and our guests with transportation and hotel costs, we went to Vegas. The small chapel had a live web feed for anyone that wanted to “attend” by watching. Total cost of the wedding, our flights, and 3 days in Vegas: $1,000.00. Besides the actual choosing of my husband, it was the best decision we ever made.

  16. Anonymous

    Thanks for the mention, Laura!

    I would also like to add that we took the money we saved by not serving a full course dinner and provided open bar.

    We got married when we were 22 & 23 and had over 300 (mostly younger) guests. This was an amazingly great decision. Everyone was safe, but had an absolute blast. There was no problem getting people onto the dance floor!

    We still have people mention how cool our wedding was. If you like that formal, proper type of reception, go for it. But we found success just being ourselves and treating it more like a celebration!

  17. Anonymous

    Very solid advice . . . my wife and I laugh at the wasted money we see at weddings, because we know it doesn’t have to be that way.

  18. Anonymous

    I’m getting married in three weeks, so this topic is extremely relevant for me. My fiancee and I are paying for everything ourselves and have tried to maintain a tight budget. We also have the money saved so that none of it will be financed.

    We opted for a destination wedding – a simple beach wedding in the Carolinas. Only our immediate family and a few close friends will be there. The total cost of the beach ceremony is around 650.00 and half of that is for a photographer. The casual beach theme has allowed us to save a lot of money on everything from decorations to clothes. We are staying in the Carolinas for our honeymoon as well and got a discount on our resort stay since we are getting married there.

    We are also having a back-home reception for our extended friends and family. We decided to have it on a Friday night b/c the rental rates for event hall are cheaper on the weekdays. We are also having wedding cup-cakes, rather than an actual cake. The cup cakes are cheaper (I think they taste better) and you also get out of the ‘serving’ fee that comes along with having a cake. They are arranged on a tower, so they are shaped like a cake and there is an actual small cake at the top for the bride and groom. We are keeping our food choices down as well. The price per plate for both food and drink should be around 15.00 per person. My sister – who is very artistically inclined – is making our centerpieces and what not.

    The total bill for just the ceremony and reception (not counting the honeymoon) should be around 5,000.00 dollars – relatively cheap for a wedding.

  19. Nickel

    Here’s a great way to save on your wedding reception: Hire a DJ who won’t actually bring music to your reception. That’s what happened to us.

    We booked the DJ way in advance, but we later found out that he subsequently booked a second wedding shortly before ours. He wasn’t worried because his son was going to handle the second wedding, and they had plenty of equipment. Unfortunately, they only had one music collection, so…

    He showed up with everything that he needed — except music. His son had almost all of their CDs at the other wedding. Not surprisingly, the music selection (if you could call it that) at our reception *sucked*. He had almost nothing that we had requested. In fact, he didn’t even have our requested first song. He actually had to leave during the reception and rush to the record store to get it. Thankfully, our photographer rocked and was able to sort of coordinate things in the DJ’s absence.

    Needless to say, the DJ didn’t get paid. The bad thing about something like this happening (beyond the wedding day stress and disappointment) is that it jeopardizes far more than the cost of that one service. Oh, and for the record, this guy came highly recommended. In fact, he had done my sister-in-laws wedding and he got rave reviews.

  20. Anonymous

    @Wise Money Matters: Thanks for sharing some practical tips from your wedding. I agree that photos are something you may want to spend a bit more on for the memories.

  21. Anonymous

    Great advice. My wife and I did a lot of this for our wedding. We were actually able to keep everything right around $5,000.

    We had the wedding just after Christmas so we could send out extra invitations (and thus not offend anyone) but not expect all of them to show up due to Christmas stuff.

    We served hot apple cider and cookies because the wedding was at 2 and the reception around 3pm so nobody was expecting dinner.

    We also made most of the decorations, party favors and even flower bouquets ourselves.

    The most important area I believe that you should spend extra money is on photography and videography. Luckily we had some friends who were professional photographers so we got a great deal, but the wedding is such a fast paced blur that you are going to want to have stuff to remember it.

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