20 Tips to Plan Your Wedding on a Budget
1. Avoid guest list bloat.
Although you might be tempted to throw everyone you know on your guest list, that isn’t always a great idea. With each addition you make, you’re adding additional costs while also making your wedding less intimate.
To a degree, this was a trap we fell into with our own wedding – our guest list grew and grew to the point where we invited people that we didn’t know well simply because we felt obligated.
To save as much as you can, try inviting fewer people and making the event more intimate. Start by whittling your list down by 20%, then another 20%. Then see if you’re happy with it.
2. Ask for wedding help instead of wedding gifts.
We were lucky that several of our friends and family had musical talent, so they were able to provide musical accompaniment for our ceremony. We also have a close friend who’s an extremely skilled amateur photographer, and he was willing to photograph our ceremony as our wedding gift. Then, after the ceremony, he provided high-quality digital images of everything.
Asking family and friends to offer help or services that align with their talents in lieu of a gift is a great way to keep your wedding on a budget.
3. Hold the ceremony at home, or outdoors.
Renting a building or function hall for your ceremony and reception can be very expensive. Instead, consider using your own home (or the home of a parent) for your ceremony, or perhaps a public park with a beautiful view.
In each case, you can also have your reception outdoors, creating a picturesque, memorable ceremony while eliminating the cost of renting a venue.
If you go the outdoor route, however, it’s best to have a back-up plan in case of bad weather; you don’t want to get married in a downpour that leaves all your friends and family soaked. That might mean renting a sturdy tent if rain is forecast, or a few industrial fans if it’s an extremely hot day — or simply stuffing everyone inside the house to wait out a storm.
4. Do the catering yourself, or hire a family-owned restaurant.
For our wedding, we handled our own food preparation and catering with a lot of help from my wife’s family. This drastically reduced the food costs for the ceremony.
If this isn’t your forte, look around your community for a family-owned restaurant and ask the owners directly to cater your wedding. Family-owned restaurants are always the first place to check – they will almost always go the extra mile to make your wedding special and are generally more understanding of your particular budget needs.
5. Go minimal with the flowers.
Instead of spending boatloads of money on flowers that will die shortly after the reception, keep it simple but elegant — for instance, a single rose for each bridesmaid and a very small bouquet for the bride. If you know someone with a rose bush, you can actually make your own bouquets the day before the ceremony by cutting the roses yourself and trimming away the thorns.
Another cheap wedding idea – go with fake flowers instead. It’s likely that no one will even notice, and you could save a bundle by making the arrangements yourself well ahead of time.
6. Skip the groomsmen and bridesmaid gifts.
While it’s considered customary to give gifts to your groomsmen and bridesmaids in some circles, it isn’t always necessary. Instead of buying gifts they may not even want or enjoy, consider writing them a special note to say “thanks” instead. If your friends know that you’re trying to have a frugal wedding, they will understand.
7. Make your own invitations.
With a quality home printer and some time, you can make very classy invitations on your own. My wife and I picked up a simple blank invitation kit on sale at Staples and made our own invitations to our wedding. No pictures or anything – just a very classic font and simple text. It looked stylish and didn’t cost us much at all.
Sites like VistaPrint.com also offer cheap wedding invitations you can order from the comfort of your home. Their options aren’t fancy, but they will do the trick.
8. Borrow stereo equipment or use yours from home.
Rather than hiring a DJ, just use your own home stereo equipment, or equipment you borrow from a friend. Put speakers around the dance floor area – there’s no need to spread them around the reception room. Create a playlist on your iPod that features a few hours’ worth of your favorite songs – or see if you have a friend who might want to make a playlist for you. Choosing your own songs is a great way to personalize your entire experience.
9. Stock the bar yourself.
Alcohol is a big expense when it comes to a lot of weddings, and it’s also a big variable you can play around with to cut costs. Instead of opting for a full open bar, for instance, you can save money offering just beer and wine, or a free cocktail hour followed by a cash bar.
If you do rent a function hall, ask if they’ll let you supply your own alcohol instead of using the venue’s, which can be a big money-saver. Look for a discount liquor store in your area, and stock up on the basics: red and white wine and a few types of beer at the very least. If you want to offer a full bar, pick up the standard liquors like vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey, plus a few mixers and soft drinks like sodas and juice.
Keep in mind that while it’s more cost-efficient to buy a keg of beer instead of cases, any leftover beer will go to waste, whereas you can store excess bottles for months. And that’s helpful, since it’s a good idea to overestimate — you don’t want to run out drinks halfway through the reception.
10. Display ‘vendor cards’ in exchange for reduced rates.
If you’re hiring people to provide services for your reception (musicians, a DJ, florists, caterers, photographers, etc.), offer to advertise for them in exchange for reduced rates.
At the reception, put a small card by each person’s place setting that lists the businesses responsible for each service at the wedding, along with their contact information. Since this tends to be very effective advertising, many businesses will happily provide services at reduced rates in exchange for this opportunity.