Weddings: one of life's great moments, and quite likely the most expensive party you'll ever throw. Here's how to make sure this important milestone doesn't usher in years of debt.
Getting married can be one of the greatest moments in your life – and one of the most expensive. The average cost of an American wedding is $28,082.
That figure from Brides.com may scare some, but look on the bright side: For last month’s royal wedding, security alone carried a $33 million price tag. But whether your bridal budget is four figures or eight, there are plenty of ways to shrink the bill while still creating lasting memories. In the video below, Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson shares some ways he cut the cost of his wedding. Check it out, then find dozens more tips on the other side.
Wedding planning can be overwhelming because there are so many details and so many expenses. But that also means there are nearly infinite ways to save. Single best idea? Negotiate! Venue, food, liquor, hotel rooms, entertainment, flowers: Virtually every cost associated with a wedding is negotiable. Can you a get a better deal simply by asking? You won’t know until you try.
Time and place
1. From venue to vendors, some cities are simply more expensive than others: Check out How Not to Plan a Costly Wedding for the 20 most expensive cities. Of course, moving the wedding elsewhere carries costs of its own, but if you do live in a costly city – think Manhattan, where the average wedding costs $70,000 – at least you can be prepared.
2. Peak wedding season is from May to September, so move outside that window for better rates. Otherwise, book far in advance before the least expensive options fill up.
3. If color and theme are important considerations, remember that flowers are seasonal. If your colors require out-of-season flowers, you’ll pay extra to get them. About.com has a list of what’s in season when.
4. Weekend weddings are more popular, so a midweek date may be cheaper for both the venue and hotel rooms.
5. Traditional church weddings and hotel ballroom receptions will cost multiples of outdoor venues like public parks and beaches. If you go with an outdoor setting, you may need permits, and you’ll definitely need to watch for restrictions on party size, music, and hours. Outdoor venues also require planning (and sometimes added expense) for bad weather.
Food and alcohol
6. Not only is a dinner reception more expensive than lunch, guests will drink more heavily in the evening.
7. An open bar is obviously more expensive than a cash bar, and the longer it’s open, the more it will cost. Most reception venues present two or three fixed options – for example, either a cocktail hour or four full hours of open bar. But don’t be confined to what they offer: Ask about other options, like two hours of open bar. When it comes to brands, most venues offer different tiers, from budget to “top shelf.” Ask for premium liquor for the budget price.
8. As mentioned in the video above, buffet-style is cheaper than formal dining.
9. Handling food yourself? Buy in bulk at a wholesaler like Costco for better prices, and don’t hesitate to ask friends to pitch in.
10. If you insist on a fancy cake, get a small one for the wedding party and a bigger sheet cake for everyone else – it all tastes the same.
11. “Wedding dress” is an expensive category of clothing, but whatever the bride wears to the wedding is, by definition, a wedding dress. Look at bridesmaid dresses or even non-wedding gowns for better prices.
12. If you want a “real” wedding dress, consider the “like new” option – most are only worn once. Sites like PreownedWeddingDresses.com sell all kinds at a discount, including designer gowns. Family hand-me-downs are another possibility, as are used clothing stores. You may have to pay for some size adjustments or alterations, but the savings could be huge.
13. Veils are expensive and unnecessary. Spend the money on getting the bride’s hair or makeup done instead.
14. Borrowing jewelry and accessories from friends and family saves money and adds sentimental value too.
15. If formal attire is required, don’t automatically assume the men should rent and the women should buy. In a story last year, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson suggested that it might make more sense to do the opposite: Check out Formal Wear: Rent or Buy?
16. Consider suits for guys. Most men already own one, and the focus is on the bride anyway.
17. If there’s one area of the wedding you don’t want to skimp on, this is probably it. As the years go by, visuals are the best way to preserve memories – and you don’t want blurry and poorly lit photos or dizzying, shaky video. Get a pro.
18. That doesn’t mean you have to get an expensive pro. Prices vary widely, and the best isn’t necessarily the most expensive. Ask friends for recommendations, and carefully examine portfolios before signing.
19. If your venue allows it, make your own wedding soundtrack and bring a CD. You don’t need a professional musician or band for what is, after all, a pretty short ceremony.
20. You don’t have to have a DJ for the reception either. This is the age of iPods. Just rent speakers or make sure a sound system is available.
21. As mentioned in the video above, the wedding bouquet can be recycled into reception décor: Place it at the head table. And do-it-yourself decorations aren’t as hard or expensive as you might think if there’s time to set them up.
22. When it comes to invitations, make them yourself. The personal touch is less expensive and more meaningful to your guests. And for those guests that are comfortable online, set up a Facebook page for both invitations and RSVPs.
23. Have your venue in mind before you establish your guest list. Some desirable settings may not accommodate a bunch of people. On the other side of the coin, some venues may require a minimum number of guests. So decide first where you want to be – then decide how many people to invite.
24. When judging venues, find out whether they can hold the ceremony and reception, or if they offer packages that bundles services like photography, catering, and music into the price (in a cost-effective way).
25. If you have talented friends or family, a wedding is a great time to call in the favors. Get your cousin to DJ, your aunt to handle floral arrangements, and your new brother-in-law to handle photos – if they’re good at it. Wedding help can be a great alternative to gift-giving too: Maybe your grandparents’ timeshare weeks for this year become your honeymoon resort.
Bottom line? No single day is worth years of debt. Make sure your dream wedding squares with reality and you’ll have a bright future to match your great memories. Planning the honeymoon? Check out 10 Things to Know Before You Book a Cruise and How to Get VIP Treatment When You Travel.
And if you’re a bit pessimistic about this whole wedding thing, we have Is Wedding Insurance For You? and 3 Things You’d Better Know Before Living Together.