Spring is almost in the air and while a young man’s fancy may be lightly turning to love, his sweetheart is likely thinking about those wedding plans. Weddings don’t seem to come cheap these days. According to many reports, the average cost of a wedding is about $25,000 or so. Keep in mind, though, that figure includes an AVERAGE of all weddings, from those at the county courthouse to the extravagant celebrity affairs you see in the tabloids. It’s estimated that fully 50% of couples only spend about half that, which is still not a small sum of money.
So, how do you plan a wedding that doesn’t cost more than a luxury car or a down payment on a house?
Here are a few things I’ve learned from my nearly 30 years in the wedding industry.
- Keep your guest list manageable. The people you invite to your wedding should be the people who will support you in your marriage. They should be people you, your fiancé and your families have an actual relationship with.
- Pick your priorities. Choose what is most important to you and focus your budget there. You don’t need to have “everything” for a beautiful wedding. What are the things that come to mind first? Is it a fabulous dress? Is it the flowers? Are you not a dessert person and cake flavors don’t matter? Do you really need those fabulous, custom-designed Italian wedding shoes? Is having a wedding album that will move you to [happy] tears every time you look at it what you’ve always dreamed of? By knowing which elements of your wedding are most important to you, you can plan and budget accordingly so you don’t end up spending much more than you can afford.
- Consider alternative venues. It isn’t necessary to have your wedding reception at a hotel or reception center. There was a time when wedding receptions were held at home or in the church hall. Creative decorating can turn a simple hall into a beautiful, elegant setting worthy of your wedding dreams. Outdoor locations can eliminate most of the need for decorations as well.
- Consult the calendar. Scheduling your wedding at a high-demand time can add thousands to your budget. Holiday weekends, Friday nights and Saturdays, special dates (like 11-11-11) and just before and after the beginning of the school year all tend to be popular wedding times. Scheduling your wedding for a less-busy day of the week (obviously better for a small wedding) or for a non-peak period may gain you access to lower prices for the same services or the opportunity for special discounts or deals. It will also allow your out of town guests to find less expensive travel and lodging deals.
- Time of day also makes a difference. Scheduling your wedding to fall across a meal period (for example: a 6 p.m. wedding invitation comes with the expectation of a dinner) means you’ll be spending more on food and drink. If spending $50-$100 per person or more on food isn’t within your budget, consider a shorter wedding/reception at a time of day when a meal might not be expected. A late morning wedding with a light brunch buffet or an early afternoon wedding with cake and punch in the church hall can save you thousands.
- And speaking of punch, it is not necessary to serve alcohol at your wedding. You can have a lovely wedding toast without champagne, and not have to worry about the expense of providing alcohol or the liability of intoxicated guests or wedding party members. Of course, if you’re having an LDS wedding, this won’t be an issue–and it will certainly keep your costs down.
- RSVP. The formal French translation is “répondez, s’il vous plaît,” meaning “answer if you please.” What it really means is “please tell us whether or not you’re coming.” This is basic courtesy and seems to have fallen out of favor. Get a head count. Include the response card in your invitations to make it easy for people and give yourself a cushion of a couple of weeks, so you have time to contact those who haven’t responded. Just an FYI–those response cards and stamps are going to be a LOT less expensive than all that extra food you’ll buy and end up wasting. Knowing how many people you are actually planning on makes a huge difference to your budget. This avoids under (not so much) or over buying and will lower your stress level considerably. Yes, doing the food yourself can save thousands on a food budget, but not knowing how many people to actually plan for–and guessing at the number of guests you have to feed as well as the portion sizes, can tack back on hundreds of dollars spent on food that doesn’t get consumed at the wedding. There is nothing wrong with asking people to commit to coming or let you know if they won’t be able to make it. And if you’re invited to a wedding, do your hosts a favor and RSVP.
- Don’t blow your budget on clothes. Contrary to the popular wedding TV show, it is not necessary to spend $5000 or $10000 on a dress you will wear once. You can buy wedding dresses new for as little as $400-$500 for something fairly traditional. To save even more, consider thrift stores (hit-and-miss but I’ve seen some incredible dresses for under $100), consignment shops or even Craigslist and eBay. And now you can even rent a wedding gown, just as grooms have traditionally rented tuxedos. Along the same vein, do your bridesmaids really need $500 matching satin dresses that don’t do a thing for them and they’ll never wear again? (I’ve had more than one bridesmaid tell me she was sure the bride picked the dresses to make sure no one in her wedding party would look better than she would.) You can find many beautiful event and special occasion dresses in dress boutiques and department stores for far less. And as an alternative, you can have both wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses made, often for much less than you can order them. The other advantage to not ordering dresses through a bridal boutique is that you won’t have to wait six months to a year for your dresses to arrive.
- For your grooms and the male members of your wedding party, consider a suit instead of a rented (or purchased) tuxedo. It is not necessary to have tuxedos for the wedding day. If the men in your wedding party are never going to put on a suit again and you want that formal look, then a rented suit or tuxedo makes sense. But for a less formal wedding, consider less expensive—and possibly re-usable alternatives.
- Get creative. When shopping for wedding décor, favors, etc., look in places besides party stores, craft stores and wedding boutiques. You don’t have to have what everyone else had at their wedding. Choose décor and other elements that reflect you and your groom. The same goes for wedding services. You may get better pricing and better service from a vendor who doesn’t necessarily specialize in weddings. Just make sure they can handle your job. Get recommendations, ask friends for referrals or even ask your vendor if you can stop by to see them in action before you commit.
- Remember why you’re getting married. The marriage is the important thing here. Not the party, not the dress, not the décor. The focus of your wedding planning should be on planning for your future together—not the party that celebrates it. You don’t have to start out your marriage thousands of dollars in debt; in fact, your chances of keeping that marriage strong and healthy will be much higher if you don’t. Your wedding day should be fun. The more you feel compelled to cram into it, the more stressed you will be and the less fun you will have.
What are your best tips for having a great wedding on a budget? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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