Weddings have a lot of small fees that add up, but I was able to arrange our wedding on a budget by following these inexpensive wedding ideas. Who wouldn’t want a lovely wedding on a budget that appears to be large? You may already be adopting ways to save money in other parts of your life, but good bargains in the wedding business are difficult to come by.
In the United States, more than a quarter of couples say they went into debt to pay for their nuptials. You are not required to be one of them! Your marriage is about your love and collaboration, and starting out in the red is not ideal. The less you spend on your wedding, the more money you’ll have to start your happily ever after.
If you don’t have a large wedding budget, you can still throw a fun and memorable party at an economical wedding location without draining your bank account or maxing out your credit cards.
Wedding on a Budget
If you’ve never planned a huge event before, figuring out your wedding budget can be difficult. If you’re not sure how much bang you can get for your buck, it’s difficult to put a price figure on it. When a couple’s wedding wishes do not match their financial means, conflict ensues.
Because your wedding is one of the most important days of your life, you may feel compelled to prepare a lavish celebration. There is, however, no need to go into debt. No matter what your budget is, you can have a fantastic, memorable wedding!
How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget
1. Decide on the type of wedding you want to have.
What comes to mind when you think of your wedding? A posh cocktail party in a downtown loft? A BBQ in the backyard with all of your friends and family? What about a traditional hotel ballroom reception?
Consider all the weddings you’ve attended, watched on TV, or browsed on Pinterest if you need some more ideas. What did you enjoy about them, and what did you dislike about them?
Don’t get too caught up in the specifics just yet. Instead, consider the overall atmosphere you want to create at your wedding. Knowing your priorities is crucial when it comes to arranging a wedding on a budget.
2. Discuss the wedding budget.
The bride, groom, and parents, as well as anyone else who will be paying for the event, should sit down and look at the overall wedding budget. It’s possible that this is your first time budgeting with your prospective spouse as a team. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Learning to talk frankly and honestly about how much you can spend on your wedding—and how much you’re willing to spend—will pave the way for amazing budget date nights once you’re married!
Remember, as awkward as this budget discussion may be, it’s a lot simpler than paying for your wedding day on your fifth anniversary! When I say budget, I’m not simply referring to the overall amount of money you have available; I’m referring to how much you should spend on each individual item.
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I recommend dividing the whole wedding budget into categories and determining how much of each to devote:
- Reception: 55%
- Ceremony: 12%
- Photography: 10%
- Wedding Planner: 10%
- Dress and Tux: 8%
- Miscellaneous/Cushion: 5%
These aren’t exact figures; Winston and I came up with them together. Your ratios should be based on what’s important to you. You might be willing to spend a little extra on photography, but flowers aren’t really your thing. Change the percentages if one area is more essential to you than another.
3. Make a list of non-negotiables.
Take a moment with your fiancé to select your top three must-haves for your big day based on your percentages. An outdoor celebration, a plated surf and turf meal, tons of flowers, a live jazz band—whatever is most important to you.
You can construct separate or joint wish lists, but make sure you sit down and figure out what you both actually want. Allow your budget to be guided by your vision.
Ideas for Wedding on a Budget
Read on for low-cost planning techniques and advice to help you get your team’s financial life off to a good start. Find out how to arrange a low-cost wedding:
1. Recognize that you can have a low-cost wedding anyplace.
In the United States, the average wedding costs a little under $34,000. The average wedding costs $16,366 in Idaho and $96,910 in Manhattan. However, even in beautiful Manhattan, you don’t have to spend the typical amount of money. All you have to do now is get creative with your options and implement some tactics and ideas listed below.
2. Understand where the funds for your wedding will come from.
Nearly 10% of couples in 2018 paid for their wedding fully on their own. Another ten percent had it completely paid off. The majority of couples (80 percent) had a mix of donors. Gather all financial stakeholders (not necessarily all at the same time) to determine who is providing what.
3. Commit to a budget-friendly wedding and define your priorities.
You’ve agreed to marry each other. Now is the time to make a commitment to a low-cost wedding. Make time to talk about what you’ll do with the money afterward. This is a talk that you should have regardless; it will help you prioritize and understand what is most important to each of you.
Decide whether you want to use the money you’ve saved to pay down student loan debt or simply avoid getting into debt. Perhaps you’ll use it toward a down payment on a home or a college fund for your children.
4. Make (and stick to) a budget.
This is an absolute must. Almost half of the couples (45%) report they went over budget for their wedding. Almost the same number stayed on budget, while only 6% said they came in under budget.
What’s the takeaway? It’s unlikely that the final tally will be much lower once you’ve established a wedding budget. Take a good, hard look at the figures and come up with a budget that you can live with.
5. Keep your guest list to a minimum.
For a variety of reasons, a smaller guest list equals a lower-cost wedding. You reserve a smaller space (about half the cost of the average wedding). Food, beverages, service, tables and table settings, linens, and invites all come at a lower cost.
There are advantages to both large and small weddings, but since you’ve decided on a little one, let’s concentrate on those! Instead of a large guest list that includes your mother’s book club besties, smaller weddings allow you to relax and enjoy the day with your nearest and dearest.
6. Shop for your dress or suit at a secondhand store.
Wedding gowns and suits, often known as tuxedos, are frequently a large part of wedding costs. They don’t have to be, though. Vintage wedding gowns and tuxedos or suits can be found in secondhand stores. Make an entire day out of it and see what you can uncover. Even if your wedding gown needs some patching or alteration, it will still be less expensive than purchasing a new gown.
7. Select a wedding location that is close to your home.
Because they require travel and overnight accommodations, destination weddings are costly for both you and your guests. Staying close to home saves money and appears to be the best option for a low-cost wedding because “home is where the heart is.”
8. Keep in mind that the cheapest locations are free.
Consider conducting both the ceremony and the reception in a suitable backyard (your own or that of a friend or family member). Renting a tent, chairs, and tables for a gorgeous garden wedding is a low-cost choice.
9. Get married in the town hall and have dinner at a restaurant afterward.
For this option, the wedding guest list will have to be reduced to a minuscule number. Invite a witness and a small group of individuals to the town hall ceremony. If you’re being married in a big city, you’ll probably have to wait in line with other newlyweds, which may be a fun communal experience.
10. Look at wedding venues that are within your budget.
There are a plethora of low-cost venues to choose from. Whether your wedding motif is rustic, elegant, futuristic, or ultra-casual, you may locate the perfect place. The Wedding Spot’s budget filters can help you narrow down your search to venues in your pricing range.
11. Look for a vacation rental in your neighborhood.
You can hire a magnificent home for your wedding in the off-season if you live near a popular holiday spot. For the convenience of guests, this option includes outdoor space as well as interior space and facilities. Make it obvious to the proprietor that you intend to hold a small wedding there.
12. Choose a winter wedding date.
Weddings during the holidays are both popular and expensive. However, most of the country considers January to March to be the off-season for marriages. (This isn’t the case in winter resort towns like Telluride, Colorado, where snow bunnies pay top bucks for a wedding with a mountain background.) During the dead of winter, you’ll probably find the cheapest venue options in most places.
13. Ignore Saturdays.
Fridays and Sundays are often less expensive wedding days. Because most individuals prefer to have their wedding on a Saturday, the venue, caterer, and vendors are usually less expensive.
14. Consider having your wedding on a weekday.
Although it is not common, having a wedding and reception on a Tuesday or Wednesday is not out of the question. These selections are also less expensive than those available on Fridays and Sundays. Choose a Thursday and many of your visitors will be able to take Friday off, giving them a three-day weekend.
15. Combine the ceremony and reception in one location.
This is usually less expensive because the cocktail hour can be skipped while guests travel to the reception place and the wedding party snaps pictures elsewhere. It also makes the day’s logistics easier.
16. Opt out of the nighttime reception craze.
There’s no rule that says the reception needs to be dinner! Get married in the morning and throw a wonderful brunch reception. It’s unique, delicious, and usually inexpensive.
Planning for a Wedding on a Budget
Remember to compare apples to apples when comparing venues and food-service costs. Although all-inclusive packages may have a higher sticker price, a blank-slate venue may require you to carry in tables, dishes, and linens in addition to the food. Calculate the costs of those things as well, so you can make an informed comparison.
Consider the following inventive, low-cost catering options:
17. Decide on a preferred family-run eatery.
Outside-the-wedding-industry vendors may be less expensive. Ask your favorite restaurants whether they cater and if they’ll give you a discount because you’re a regular. Even if they don’t often cater, you can ask if they’ll prepare large amounts of your favorite dishes and supply chafing dishes if they don’t normally do so.
18. Consider one or two food trucks.
These popular catering solutions cost half as much and are twice as stylish. Paper plates are acceptable as well.
19. Instead of gifts, ask for assistance with meals.
This is a fantastic choice for backyard weddings or small town halls. Contact your gourmet pals or your aunt, who bakes elaborate cakes for all occasions. Many people enjoy assisting in this manner, and you’ll never know unless you ask. The key is not to expect positive responses—some people prefer to kick back completely when they attend a wedding.
20. Set up a cash bar.
Provide champagne or sparkling wine for the toast, but have guests pay for their own drinks beyond that. It really is okay, and you may not have to deal with guests who overdo it at an open bar. An alternative is to make it an open bar until after dinner and then switch to a cash bar. Be sure to make this clear in your wedding invites and with a sign at the bar.
21. Skip the hard liquor
Beer and wine are more affordable options than spirits.
22. Look for low-cost dessert options.
The average cost of a wedding cake is more than $500. Consider less expensive options like cupcakes, pies, or doughnuts. No one will notice the cake if it is arranged in tiers. You could even provide treats that are altogether different, such as an ice cream sundae bar or Belgian waffles.
23. Keep the reception to a minimum.
Is your wedding reception taking place throughout the day? Consider negotiating a lower-cost reception with a shorter duration. This keeps you on budget and allows the venue to prepare for an evening wedding.
24. Opt for a buffet meal.
Large buffet-style meals served in chafing pans are usually less expensive than sit-down service. Buffets require fewer staff members, and the chef and kitchen staff have less to worry about in terms of time.
25. Increase the number of vegetables on the buffet.
Meat is more expensive than vegetables, and vegetarian options are frequently just as tasty. Guacamole. Quesadillas with Roasted Vegetables Eggplant Rollatini, Macaroni, and Cheese No one is going to be unhappy!
26. Put a premium on low-cost proteins
If you’re providing meat, there are certain options that are less expensive than others. Prime rib, salmon, and filet mignon are among the most expensive cuts of meat. Taco stands, pancetta-laden spaghetti bowls and pulled chicken sandwiches are not included.
Decorating for a Wedding on a Budget
Whether you’re looking for rustic, winter, sophisticated, or a unique alternative, the decor you choose establishes the tone and ambiance of your wedding. Select a wedding decoration budget that corresponds to your theme and shop wisely. There are almost always inexpensive alternatives to the exact decor accent you choose. Also, keep in mind that the smaller the location, the less decorating area there is.
27. Collect leftover wedding decor from newlyweds
28. Make a trip to the dollar store
This can be a gold mine of low-cost decorations for your wedding ceremony and reception, including vases, jars, candle holders, pretty materials, faux flowers, and more. No one will know since we won’t tell.
29. Purchase decorations in quantity.
Burlap. Tulle. Ribbons. Lace. Table runners with mirrors Votive candles are used to light a room. You can bring the cost down significantly if you buy your wedding decor in bulk. Have a DIY friend who is getting married within the year? Consider increasing the order and bringing down the price even further.
30. Get fresh flowers on the morning of the wedding
Choose beautiful, affordable flowers from the flower shop on the morning of your wedding. Ask for a discount on flowers they would toss soon anyway. Arrange these flowers in the vases you picked up at the dollar store. (Wedding day tip: Give this job to a trusted friend with an eye for flower arrangements who would like to do this for you in place of a gift.)
31. Consider what’s seasonally available
Pinecones make a lovely addition to centerpieces, and you can usually find them on the ground in the fall and winter. They’re also always on hand and affordable at craft stores. Arrange them as is, or gild them with metallic paint or glitter.
32. A bike with a floral arrangement in the basket
Ask around to see if any friends have old bikes lying around the garage, or check out thrift stores too. The bike may already have a pleasantly rusted, vintage vibe. If not, you can paint the bike white, off-white, or match your wedding colors. Then arrange an overflowing bouquet inside the bike’s basket, or a wicker basket you attach to the front yourself.
33. Mismatched china
Make multiple trips to your local thrift store and snap up any pretty, patterned plates you see. You’ll often find vintage china. Use the plates as chargers, table runners, or for the food service. Clean the plates and guests can take them home as a lovely and sentimental favorite.
34. Substitute greenery for flowers for garlands
A long garland of ivy adds a verdant pop of green over a trestle or a doorway. A mix of greenery is more affordable than flowers and makes an impression.
35. Ribbons or lace chair decor
Add sophistication to your low-cost wedding by adorning aisle chairs for the ceremony and dining chairs for the reception with ribbons or lace. Simple bows or bold wraps around the back of the chair are both elegant options.
36. Brown craft paper table covering
A fun choice for a rustic wedding. You’ll have to make sure the paper stays in place with double-sided tape, or even tie it down with twine! Then write each guest’s name at their place setting. Throw out some packages of crayons, so children can color during the reception.
37. A photo display
Order black and white prints of some of your favorite photographs—of you and your fiance, as well as extended family members and friends if it’s a small wedding. Order them in a single size or a range of sizes and display them on a bare wood pallet or attached to a length of twine with wood clothespins.
38. Paper or fabric bunting
Create paper flags using cut-out craft paper in your wedding colors. Or collect lace or colorful fabric napkins from thrift stores. Attach them to twine for lengths of bunting that can crisscross the ceiling or hang across the reception entrances.
39. Paper lanterns
In white or in bright colors. Giant-sized, tiny, or in a mix of sizes. Whatever combination you choose, paper lanterns are affordable and make a dramatic addition to your wedding decor.
40. Fairy light lanterns
Collect mason jars, or seek out glass lanterns in various sizes at your favorite thrift stores. Order battery-powered fairy lights in bulk and fill the glass jars or lanterns with the lights. They make big magic with their warm, delicate lighting and barely make a dent in your wedding bank account.
Wedding on a Budget Checklist
Take a look at our wedding planning tips and budget checklist for each section:
Though it’s not a popular choice, one cost-saving measure is being flexible about the day of the week you wed, according to Jamie Chang, a destination wedding planner based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the creator of Passport to Joy, a wedding planning course for engaged couples who can’t afford a full-service planner.
42. Wedding Attire, Rings, and Other Accessories
Many brides don’t realize the full costs of getting dressed for the big day. According to Chang, these costs include gown alterations, extra fabric for custom designs, and so on. “Wedding dresses, in particular, are usually the bulk of the cost because they can be very intricate, made of delicate fabrics, and have many layers,”
43. Food and Alcohol
Your wedding catering preferences — whether it’s a brunch buffet or a plated dinner — will heavily influence the final bill. That’s why Chang challenges couples to get aligned on what they want and what they don’t need. “To avoid getting too pricey with your reception menu, skip the seafood and steak.
44. Decor and Flowers
Your decorations and floral arrangements will be key at the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. After all, few locations look wedding-ready without adding special elements. Some aspects, like table centerpieces, can be handled on your own if you’re crafty or skilled, which reduces your overall costs. However, other aspects — like flowers — may need the special attention and care of a professional.
45. Photography and Videography
Whether you’re hosting a grand affair or a small gathering, capturing your celebration of love in photos and on film is likely a must-have. According to Mary Angelini, the owner of Key Moment Films, a wedding videography company based in Palm Beach, Florida, many factors play into the pricing for these professional services. In addition to the cost of living, doing business, expensive photography gear, and education, she says a big part of the quote is reserving time.
46. Music and Entertainment
If you aren’t picky about music and would rather save money, Chang says a DJ will always be more cost-effective than a band. With a live performance, you’ll be paying for the services of multiple people, plus there’s more equipment and setup involved.
47. Wedding Favors and Gifts
Big-box stores like Costco are great places to find affordable wedding favors. For example, you could go with a simple DIY idea, like Mason jars filled with sweets. If you prefer a more personalized approach, there are hundreds of gift options on sites like Etsy — though handmade items will almost certainly be more expensive.
When it comes to transportation, one of the biggest cost-saving measures you can take is holding the reception at the same location as your ceremony — or at least on the same property, according to Jones. This cuts out the need for transportation and also eliminates unnecessary confusion among guests, creating a seamless experience from “I do” to bottoms-up.
While some couples want to send paper save-the-dates and wedding invitations, others choose to go digital for everything. As you can imagine, sending emails is far less expensive than purchasing card stock, envelopes, and stamps.
From a legal standpoint, your ceremony is the most essential part of your wedding. However, beyond paying for your marriage license, you probably won’t spend too much to exchange vows. One big reason for this is the length of your ceremony, which will typically last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, according to Chang.
No matter your wedding budget, you can plan a stunning wedding that stays within your well-thought-out financial boundaries. If you get creative, ask for help, and know whether to look, frugal can be fantastic. For affordable assistance with wedding planning and organization, check out the top no-cost apps to help you plan a wedding next.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good budget for a wedding?
Plan to spend at least $100 each guest as a general rule. If you’re on a tight budget, one of the simplest ways to save money is to invite fewer guests and have a more intimate wedding.
How much does a 100-person wedding cost?
It depends on the price per plate, but most 100-person events cost between $5,000 and $10,000, with an average cost of roughly $7,000. The typical cost of catering a reception varies depending on the type of food provided and the cuisine served.