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When I was a little girl, I never dreamed that my wedding day would include a trailing white wedding dress, smiling bridesmaids, a bouquet of flowers, a huge cake, or a sentimental first dance.
Like many tomboys who grew up in the ’90s and ’00s, I dreamed instead of being the rebellious one.
I wanted to be the one who bucked tradition and said, “To hell with weddings!”
That was until I met my now husband, Brendan. By all accounts, we were doing everything the “traditional” way.
We met in our mid-20s, moved in together after a good year of dating, worked diligently at our own professions, and eventually decided that marriage was the best path for us.
Agreeing on a Low Cost Mindset
To celebrate our engagement, we took a short vacation.
On our first night as an engaged couple, we both had a realization that would change the game. We thought to ourselves, if we’re going to do this thing, we’re going to do it our way.
So began our wedding mania.
Didn’t I start this thing talking about how I was essentially Julia Stiles in the teen angst movie 10 Things I Hate About You? What happened to that girl? Reality happened.
It started with me fighting for my small, unconventional wedding. I wanted immediate family only for an outdoor picnic. But my immediate family was a little bit more than just my mom, dad, brother, and sister.
And in the spirit of family and fairness, it meant inviting the same people on my husband’s much, much larger family side. In our first draft alone, we counted nearly 200 guests. (We eventually pared this down to a more manageable 150.)
I started hunting for a place that could accommodate our crowd on a budget. But the average wedding cost here in Chicago is around $60,035, according to The Knot.
Even in the suburbs, we were still looking at $25,000 to $30,000 for a “budget” wedding.
So we did the only thing we could do. We made it work, coming in at the high end of our “budget” nuptials at $30,000.
To be honest, I’m not sure how we came to that number. I think it was just where we both ended up feeling comfortable.
Saving for a Wedding
Even though we were solid on our finances, jobs, and saving and spending habits until then, we knew it would still take some time to raise that amount in cash. So we gave ourselves 21 months to come up with our wedding costs. Twenty-one months to make this right.
We cut out eating at restaurants every weekend. We didn’t travel as much, and we both used our car less. For a year, I didn’t shop for anything that wasn’t wedding-related, and my husband took a few odd jobs here and there.
If you’re saving for a wedding like we were, an app like Digit can help you meet your goals. It allows you to set up a dedicated amount that will be automatically transferred into your wedding budget each week.
Keeping Things Frugal
We tried to be as frugal as possible with our vendors, too. We cut things like flowers and expensive centerpieces. Instead of a big boutique, I went to a cheap bridal salon. Similarly, my husband wore a suit from Macy’s. We even stocked our open bar with liquor from a discount store.
On that September evening in 2013, I walked down that aisle I once swore to avoid. I wore a white wedding dress — the kind I used to make fun of — and said vows that I thought were an imposition. But as I spoke those “I dos,” watched my friends tear up giving their toasts, and danced to just about every song, I didn’t have one ounce of regret or longing to be that girl at the courthouse.
Now that I write about personal finance — and specifically about getting out from under my own debt — I am always asked about my wedding costs and whether I would do it differently. The answer is a solid “no.”
In the personal finance world, there’s emphasis on “less stuff, more memories.”
To some people, my $30,000 budget (all paid in cash, no debt taken out, and nothing borrowed or given from our parents) may seem insane amount to spend for just one day. But it bought a lifetime of memories with the people we love, in a time and place we will cherish forever.
Ways to Save Money on a Wedding
I’ve talked a little about how my husband and I were able to trim some fat off of what could have been a $50,000 or more wedding in our city, but here are some others and more specific ones you can employ to save money on your big day.
1. Check the Guestlist
Sure, it would be nice to have every single relative, family friend, old roommate, classmate, mentor or educator, and anyone else who we’ve shared a special moment in our lives with at our big day.
But if you’re looking to save money, you’ll save a lot right off the bat by trimming down your guest list.
From there, each head you ax from the list will save you big time on things like seating space, amount of food and drinks needed, invitations, and so on.
2. Event Space
If you really do have your heart set on a destination wedding or one in a big event hall, you can count on allocating a chunk of your budget to that alone. Or do you know a close friend or family member with a beautiful home or outdoor space you can use to have your wedding at instead? Maybe even a pretty public park with a view might be a nice place to have your ceremony.
3. Day of the Week
You’ll save money on renting a venue, if that’s what you really want, by having the event on a weekday or Sunday. There is less demand for these days, so vendors may give you a better rate.
4. Time of Day
It’s unconventional, but you can save a lot on catering by having a morning wedding and breakfast buffet instead of a big evening party full of pastas, meat dishes, and booze.
You’ve probably seen some truly beautiful event invitations online or in bridal magazines. But consider doing it yourself or with a party of friends.
You could order a custom stamp to print on stationery you purchased from a store and hand-sign each invitation as a couple.
You can even hire a graphic designer to make an invitation that can be printed at home. Both of these will save a lot of money.
6. Digital Invites and RSVPs
Instead of using paper at all, you can send digital invites and accept RSVPs on apps like Invtd. This will save you money on both printing and postage.
7. Sale or Used Clothing
Try shopping in the sales section of dress shops and avoid custom designs. Sites like Nearly Newlywed sell pre-worn wedding dressings at a discount, too.
8. Pitch-In Party
9. Choosing a Florist
Employ a florist who can create arrangements to be used for both the ceremony and the reception in order to half that section of your budget.
10. Flower Selection
Look through what flowers your florist has available and see if you really wouldn’t mind mixing in some carnations or other less-expensive flowers. Peonies are beautiful, but depending on how many you want to include (and in how many arrangements), the cost will bulk up your bill staggeringly fast.
11. Bridesmaids’ Bouquets
Consider collecting your bridesmaids’ bouquets after the ceremony and having someone arrange them into a large centerpiece, as they will likely be abandoned when it comes time to dance, anyway.
Don’t be afraid to ask your caterer what their cheapest entrees are or if a seated dinner would be the same price as a buffet for your party size.
13. Food Selection
Go for a family-style meal like a meat-and-pasta buffet instead of a three-course meal. Be sure to offer vegetarian and vegan options, too.
Forgo appetizers like bread and cheese so guests can instead focus on the main dish you’re paying for. It’ll save you money and eradicate potential waste.
15. Wholesale Savings
Ask the hall vendor and caterer if you can buy your own alcohol, or if only serving wine and beer would be less expensive. If providing your own alcohol, look to buy wholesale. You can also elect to have a full bar only for cocktail hour and serve only less expensive wine during dinner.
Rent a venue that allows you to BYOB. You can remove all of the existing labels and slap on your own, saving you money and adding a personal touch.
17. Party Favors
Avoid custom favors with names or dates on them, and try to keep it simple. A mini bottle of Champagne or something shareable for couples will usually do the trick.
18. Live Music
A local university or music school may have teachers or students available to sing or perform live music for a fraction of the cost of a professional wedding band.
Instead of hiring an officiant, consider having a close and trusted friend conduct the ceremony for you. It’ll make it more intimate, on top of saving you cash. Just make sure they’re qualified to do it!
20. Skip the Program
Rather than printing out an individual program for each of your guests, hire an artist or employ a talented friend to write out the program on a large board or two that will be placed in key places where all guests can see it.