15 Ways to Save Big on Your Dream Wedding

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At risk of stereotyping women everywhere, it might be reasonable to say that marriage-minded females have big dreams for their wedding day.

And let’s be honest, guys. Some of you might be looking forward to all the pomp and circumstance as well.

In our casual, dress-down society, we don’t have too many occasions to get gussied up and throw a lavish party. So when the opportunity presents itself, many of us want to go all out on a day we’ll never forget.

But just because we have big dreams doesn’t mean we have big wallets too. You could spend $28,427 — the average price of a 2012 wedding, according to TheKnot.com and TheWeddingChannel.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

Let’s focus on the dream part of your wedding first before we talk about how to save.

There’s nothing wrong with spending a little money (within reason) 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. Do you want a particular dress, fabulous food or something else?

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, you can eliminate in short order many nonessentials. Worry less about what the $51 billion 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 tradition, but you’ll be spending 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 that 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 be inviting 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.

If you get any pushback, simply say you had to limit the guest list because of your budget, needed to make some difficult decisions and hope they understand. If they don’t, then they probably aren’t the type of people you want at your wedding anyway.

To soften the blow, you could invite everyone who didn’t make the cut to an informal gathering (think backyard barbeque) 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: 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.

However, be sensitive to your family and friends’ feelings. A distant cousin may be happy to photograph your wedding, but your best friend may prefer to enjoy your big day without running around with a camera.

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.

8. Keep your flowers in season

Speaking of flowers, just as fruits and vegetables have seasons, so too do flowers. For the cheapest arrangements and the freshest buds, let the time of year guide your floral decisions.

That may mean tulips or irises in the spring, while June brides may be better off with roses and peonies. Choices may be more limited in the fall and winter months, but sunflowers, lilies and orchids may all be good options.

In addition, you could buy your flowers wholesale and make your own arrangements to save even more money.

9. Buy a used dress

I know. You’re wondering how I could even be suggesting this, but a wedding dress is a major expense – the average bride spent more than $1,200 in 2012. That means you’ll be paying about $100 an hour for the one day you’ll wear it.

You could save 50 percent or more by buying a used dress. Your local bridal boutique may have a consignment section or you can shop online at websites like NearlyNewlywed.com, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com and OnceWed.com.

For more ideas on how to save, check out our other tips to save on your dream dress.

10. Have a Friday or Sunday wedding

Saturday is prime time for weddings, but you may save lots of money if you buck the trend. Hold your grand affair on a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon, and you may find that vendors charge significantly less.

11. Look for cheap venues

The best venue for your wedding isn’t necessarily the nearby resort. Here’s a list of 10 cheaper and better wedding locales.

If the reception will be elsewhere, find a location that offers a discount. For example, if you belong to a church, you may be able to use the parish hall for little or no money. Likewise, if a family member belongs to a union or fraternal organization, they may have access to an inexpensive hall.

These halls may be of the “plain Jane” variety, but you don’t need a fancy room to have a good time.

12. Rethink your reception food

Food can be one of your biggest expenses. Rather than a traditional sit-down, plated meal, investigate other options that may be cheaper.

  • Dinner served family style.
  • Appetizers and cocktails after a Friday night wedding.
  • Brunch for a Sunday wedding.

13. Rein in the bar

Having an open bar means you’ll have a huge tab at the end of the night. However, if the thought of a cash bar seems tacky, find a happy medium.

Offer the open bar but keep it stocked with limited choices. It’s your wedding, and there’s no need to provide your guests with every form of liquor known to man. Consult with the bartender to find what’s most popular, but offering a red and white wine and a couple varieties of beer may be plenty.

Another way to rein in your alcohol costs may be to buy your own beer and wine at a wholesale club such as Costco. Then, at the end of the evening, you can return anything unopened.

14. Serve sheet cake

In 2012, couples spent an average of $560 for their wedding cake — a cake, I might add, that many guests probably didn’t even eat.

Cut your cake costs by serving up sheet cake instead.

No, I’m not suggesting you have sheet cake on display. Pay for a small, beautifully decorated cake for you and your loved one to cut and share. Then, back in the kitchen, have a sheet cake cut up and put on plates at a serving station for guests to help themselves.

15. Have a winter wedding

Finally, June may be the most popular wedding month, but fall and winter brides may save the most money. By some estimates, you could save 20 to 30 percent by holding your nuptials between November and April, which is the wedding off-season. However, that said, avoid Valentine’s Day when prices may go back up.

How did you save on your wedding? Leave a comment below or share your tip on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

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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.

    • http://ecofrugality.blogspot.com/ Amy Livingston

      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.