15 Ways to Save Big on Your Dream Wedding

The Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriages has put weddings in the spotlight. Here are 15 ways to avoid starting your “happily ever after” in a sea of debt.

In our casual, dress-down society, we have just a few occasions that call for getting gussied up and throwing a lavish party. And no blowout is bigger than your wedding day.

So when the opportunity presents itself, many of us want to go all out on the day we’ll never forget.

But just because we have big dreams doesn’t mean we have big wallets, too. You could spend $31,213 — the average price of a wedding in 2014, according to TheKnot.com — or you could use these 15 tips to pare down the bill and spend your money on something that lasts more than a day.

1. Decide what is non-negotiable

There’s nothing wrong with spending a little money on your big day, but make sure you’re spending it on something meaningful. Sit down with your betrothed and decide together your priorities for the occasion.

Remember you’re on a budget, so limit your must-haves to one or two items each.

2. Forget what the experts say

Once you know where you want to spend your money, eliminate many nonessentials. Worry less about what the wedding industry says you must do and more about what works best for your family.

Here are a few of the items it might make sense to eliminate:

  • Save-the-date cards. (Isn’t that why we have Facebook and phones?)
  • Professional makeup. (Do your own or ask a friend instead.)
  • Printed programs. (Your family and friends do know who you are, right?)
  • Champagne toast. (Let guests use whatever’s in front of them.)
  • Guest favors. (Guests are there to see you, not get a reward.)
  • Videographer. (Are you really going to watch the ceremony again and again?)

3. Use less expensive invites

Engraved wedding invitations are a tradition, but you’ll spend a lot of money on paper that might be destined for the recycling bin.

Depending on your comfort level, there are several less expensive options to consider:

  • Buy some high-quality paper and then design and print your own at home.
  • Use a website such as Vistaprint or Mixbook to design and print less expensive invites.
  • Look for thermography invitations, whose raised words mimic the look of engraved ones but at a lower cost.

4. Invite only those you truly love

This is a tough one. Once you start inviting some people, you start to feel obligated to invite others. However, limiting your invite list is one of the best ways to lower your overall wedding cost.

Obviously, unless there are extenuating circumstances, you should probably invite your immediate family and best friends. Beyond that, be stingy with the invitations. If there is anyone you’re secretly hoping won’t attend, don’t send them an invite in the first place.

To soften the blow, you could invite everyone who didn’t make the cut to an informal gathering (think backyard barbecue) after the honeymoon. Just don’t call it a reception, or your guests might think you are merely angling for gifts.

5. Ask to be gifted with someone’s talent

You have to walk a fine line on this suggestion to avoid a tacky breach of etiquette.

Within your circle of family or friends, you likely have some talented people. Folks who can bake like no one’s business, wannabe DJs who could most definitely handle the dance music, and photographers with an amazing eye. Rather than a blender or china place setting, a better gift might be a little help with the wedding, no?

The problem is that asking for gifts is always a no-no. Instead, you could wait for these people to ask what you want and then suggest a gift of their talent. Another option might be to ask their professional fee and see if they volunteer a discount or gift of their service.

6. Design your own centerpieces

Head to the dollar store for some cheap vases or glass containers and make your own centerpieces. It could be as simple as putting some marbles at the bottom, filling with water and floating a tea light.

If you have crafty friends, ask for their input. Or head to Pinterest for inspiration.

7. Use the church flowers or get married someplace naturally beautiful

For decorations at the wedding site, use what’s on hand rather than trucking in a van full of flowers.

Depending on the time of year, many churches are already beautifully decorated, especially after Christmas and Easter.

Or, if you aren’t planning a church wedding, hold your event in a botanical garden, on the beach or at a park where nature can provide most of the decoration.

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  • Terry Sanders

    The article omitted the very best way of all to save REALLY BIG on a ‘dream’ wedding: DON’T HAVE ONE. Instead, have a private civil or religious procedure and then throw a GREAT PARTY. PERIOD. These big, showy weddings are a giant scam, just like engagement rings and other industry inventions made expressly to suck vital resources from couples just starting out.

    Your ‘dream’ needs to be of a wonderful marriage, NOT a dog and pony show preceeding it.

    • OK, but if you’re going to spend all the money on a GREAT PARTY anyway, why not just schedule the wedding ceremony right before it, and invite people to both? What’s wrong with having the people you love present when you actually get married? Because, you know, some people think the wedding itself is the important part, and that’s what they want to be there for. And there’s no law saying a wedding ceremony has to be a “dog and pony show.” Heck, you could just kick off that party with five minutes of vows and it would still be legal.

  • Flyinhigh

    Oh God, I love weddings! We married on a Saturday morning in late April, had a jazz brunch for a wedding reception (a friend of my sister’s played the keyboards and sang standards), and limited the bar to beer, wine, and a signature cocktail. However, since we held the reception in a city restaurant, we sprang for valet parking. There were only 85 guests, and most came with plus-ones, so it wasn’t that much money. We hosted a potluck rehearsal dinner. My sister was my only attendant, and DH’s best friend was his best man. His brothers were ushers. We just asked the guys to wear their best suit, and only the bridal party and the moms had flowers. Since it was the Saturday after Easter, the church still looked nice. I found my dress and my sister’s dress on a discount rack, and my shoes were on the clearance rack at Thom McAn’s. (Now everyone knows when we got married, LOL.) We had the photographer, but we only had formal pictures at the reception — who wants a candid photo of someone stuffing their face?

    About the only things I wish we had done differently: MIL has a group of girlfriends who are just a ton of fun, and I wish we’d invited them and their husbands. I wish I’d had the guys all rent the same suit, and I wish we’d been able to find a vintage Rolls-Royce to go to the reception in. I also wish my eyes weren’t half-closed in my formal pictures! Maybe I can get those Photo-shopped…

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