Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.
If you’re planning a wedding in 2023, you’re probably wondering how much it will cost — and how you’re going to afford it.
On average, couples in the U.S. spent $30,000 on their wedding ceremony and reception in 2022, according to a survey by The Knot.
OK, that’s cute, you might be thinking. After all, who has $30,000 to blow on one day — especially in this economy?
The truth is, there are plenty of easy ways to save money on a wedding in 2023. You’ll need to be open-minded, creative and willing to compromise on a few things.
But with a little planning, you can throw a memorable wedding for much less than the national average.
Here’s how to get started.
1. Figure Out Your Wedding Budget
The first item on your wedding to-do list is creating a budget for your big day.
Your wedding budget is your financial roadmap. Think of it as a set of guardrails to rein you in from splurging and overspending. A budget can also help you avoid starting your marriage off saddled with debt.
Before you get started, sit down with your fiance and ask yourself these questions:
- What are your wedding “must-haves”?
- How long will your engagement last?
- How will you pay for the wedding?
Your savings, plus any financial contributions from family, will determine how much money you can spend on your wedding.
That number will be different for everyone. A couple in their mid- to late-30s with high-paying jobs and generous families might be able to afford a luxurious $80,0000 wedding.
But a young couple right out of college with a small family network may only be able to budget $5,000 for a backyard wedding.
Be Realistic About Your Savings and Resources
If you don’t have enough money to cover the extras, your two primary options are:
- Plan a less expensive wedding.
- Push back the wedding date to allow more time to save up.
Once you figure out how much you can afford to spend as a couple and how much your families can contribute, you’ll need to start mapping out how much to spend on different wedding categories, from flowers to alcohol.
Your budget should include sections for estimated costs and the prices you actually pay. Make note of when initial deposits are made and when final payments are due.
What to Consider for Your Wedding Budget
Here are some big categories to keep in mind:
- Reception venue
- Food and alcohol
- Invitations and stamps
- Wedding dress
- Groom’s attire
- Hair and makeup
- Photographer and/or videographer
- Wedding cake
- Reception band or DJ
- Ceremony site
- Wedding bands
Not sure how much to budget for each category? WeddingWire’s Cost Guide lets you search by city or ZIP code for the average costs for everything from the photographer to the wedding cake.
2. Find a Cheap Venue
Finding a place to host your wedding is one of the first (and most expensive) things on your wedding checklist.
Couples spent an average of $11,200 on their wedding venue in 2022, according to a survey by The Knot. It made up roughly 40% of their budget, which averaged about $30,000.
Nearly 90% of all respondents booked a professional wedding venue for their celebration — which might be why they spent so much money.
Thinking outside the box and getting creative with your wedding site can help you save thousands of dollars.
Here are some cheap wedding venues to get you inspired:
- A friend’s backyard (or your own backyard)
- Public landmarks
- A beach
- Local state parks
- Botanical gardens
- Colleges and universities
- Restaurants and breweries
- Farms and ranches
- Churches and meeting halls
Keep in mind that some cheap (or even free) wedding venues come with hidden costs and extra coordination.
For example, a backyard wedding may sound like a great way to avoid a pricey rental fee. But you’ll be on the hook for all the things many venues provide, like chairs, tables, linens, tents, silverware and an altar.
You may need to rent portable bathrooms for your guests and figure out where everyone will park, too.
3. Consider an Intimate Micro-Wedding
Micro-weddings became all the rage in 2021 and 2022 as couples slimmed down guest lists amid pandemic precautions.
But an intimate micro-wedding is still a great way to save money in 2023.
A wedding with less than 50 guests helps trim the cost of food, alcohol, table settings, decorations and favors.
How much does a micro-wedding cost? Think around $1,500 for some light food, drinks and wedding attire for a party in someone’s home or backyard.
However, every detail you add to your micro-wedding jacks up the cost. Even a small-scale wedding with catered food, alcohol and flowers at a rented venue can easily cost $10,000.
4. Buy Your Wedding Dress Secondhand and Save Hundreds
You’re only going to wear it once — so why pay a fortune for your dress?
Get thrifty by exploring used wedding dresses online. You can find dresses in your area on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Several websites also cater to buying and selling used wedding dresses.
Here are nine that we found:
- Once Wed
- Loved Twice Bridal
- Borrowing Magnolia
Most of these sites let you filter results by dress size, type, designer and cost. You’re guaranteed to discover something beautiful for way less than a new designer label wedding dress from your local boutique.
Before you buy a pre-owned wedding dress, make sure you understand the return policy (if there is one) and find out who pays for shipping. Also keep in mind you will likely need to pay to get the dress altered after it arrives.
Do Sweat the Details
There are literally dozens of ways to save money on a wedding.
Getting crafty with decorations and flowers is one way to cut costs. So is bypassing an open bar and calling on friends with a knack for baking, photography and other talents.
Here are some smart money-saving tips to help you stay on budget.
5. Get Hitched by a Friend
Skip clergy or justice of the peace fees by having a friend officiate your wedding ceremony.
Becoming ordained is simple and doesn’t take much time, but be sure your officiant is complying with local laws and regulations.
6. Keep Invitations Simple or Go Digital
Let’s be real: 99% of wedding invitations eventually get tossed in the trash.
That’s literally throwing money away.
If you’re trying to save, go with bare-bones physical invitations or take the entire process online.
Wedding websites like Joy, Paperless Post or Greenvelope give you access to a wide range of tools, including RSVP, plus-one tracking and photo sharing. You can even send out survey questions to collect meal preferences.
If you’re set on mailing out physical invitations, keep it simple. Like super simple. Walmart.com offers a huge selection of cheap custom wedding invitations starting at $67 for 50. Likewise, you can get 25 wedding invitations plus envelopes from Staples.com for $30.
Also skip save-the-date cards and reply envelopes by sending your guests online to RSVP instead.
Include your wedding website on your invitation or an accompanying note, and you’ll be able to save upwards of $100 or more.
7. Call On Your Talented Friends
Don’t be afraid to utilize your resources to save a bundle on your wedding.
DJs, photographers, bakers, florists and hair stylists all come with their own fee.
Ask friends and family if they can contribute their talent to your big day instead of a gift.
8. Create a DIY Photo Booth
You can capture fun, informal photos of friends and family without renting a photo booth. Set up a simple backdrop and provide some fun props. Guests can use their phones or personal cameras and snap away.
If you’re using a wedding hashtag, you can pick and choose Instagram snaps to have compiled into photo books by companies like Blurb.
9. Buy Decor From Other Brides
There’s plenty of listings for decor and other wedding-related items on sites like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp and Craigslist. You can often find once-used linens and decor at prices that beat the cost of renting.
You can snag items at a fraction of the cost, including candles, centerpieces, altars, garlands, signs, lighting, chalkboards and table runners.
10. Choose a Wedding Cake Alternative
Instead of a fancy traditional wedding cake — which can cost upward of $350 or more — consider an assortment of cupcakes or a series of pies.
Cookies and ice cream is another great choice. Or you could order six dozen donuts for about $60.
These options will be much less expensive than a traditional cake.
11. Rethink an Open Bar
To save money on booze, consider sticking to beer and wine only at the reception. Kegs of beer at a wedding can keep costs low.
You can also do a combination of an open bar and a cash bar. Guests enjoy free drinks during the first two hours of the reception, after which they pay their own way. Drink coupons and tokens are another option.
Determined to have an open bar for the entire reception? There are still ways to keep alcohol costs down, such as only offering house brand liquor and banning shots.
12. Be Smart About Tipping Your Vendors
Weddings come with many easily overlooked costs — like tipping your vendors. Knowing who to tip and how much to tip is essential if you’re trying to save money.
First, you don’t need to tip everyone. Many vendors nowadays have gratuities or a service fee already built into the cost.
You may also be able to offer something else in lieu of a tip. You can show your appreciation with a thank you card, a small gift, a stellar online review or a gift basket.
Still, tipping is important — and the right thing to do — in certain situations. Parking attendants, hair and makeup stylists, reception staff and the band or DJ depend on tips. Here’s a guide on how much to tip wedding vendors.