6 ways to stay positive with a tight wedding budget

May 13 | Guest post by Daryl Thomas
6 ways to stay positive with a tight wedding budget
Photo by Whitney Lee Photography

My fiancé Ryan proposed to me the day after he graduated with his bachelor’s degree. We have been together for seven years, and both of us are eager to start our life together. But we also knew that with him working part time and job hunting, we would have to keep ourselves on a tight budget. Throughout the wedding planning process, we’ve learned six lessons that have helped keep our cash, and our goals, in check.

1. Know what you want

From the beginning, Ryan and I knew that our biggest challenge would be our large families. Both of us have very close relationships with our aunts, uncles, and cousins. Having all of those close family members at our wedding is important to us, and we chose to make that our number one priority, which has meant compromising on other things. The decision to have a Sunday wedding instead of the Saturday night one we originally envisioned wasn’t so tough when it meant including more of the people we love!

One of the best ways to figure out what is important to you is to be an attentive wedding guest. Ryan and I were lucky enough to attend 15 amazing (and diverse) weddings while we were dating, so it has been easier to know exactly what we want.

2. Respect (but don’t obsess about) the expectations of others

Everyone has ideas about what a wedding should be. Open bar versus cocktail hour, a formal rehearsal dinner as opposed to something more casual, etc. Cutting some things we aren’t too concerned about has helped us save some money. Even if there are some things missing that other people might find odd, we haven’t spent too much time trying to please every person. (It helped me a lot to remember the Offbeat Bride saying, “It’s all tacky!”)

Everyone should have the wedding they want, but don’t compromise your goals based on the opinions of others. We’re completely respectful when people offer advice, but we try not to feel like we have to change every little thing to match everyone’s expectations.

3. When friends offer help, take it

We have been enormously lucky. We have many talented and generous friends and family who have volunteered their graphic design talents, professional photography experience, floral expertise, and hair/makeup skills for a reduced cost or for free. Sometimes you can be so scared of putting people out that you might pass friends and family up on their offers. Of course you don’t want to run around begging everybody to help you, but if the people you love are honestly coming to you and offering their skills, take them up on it.

For instance, my green thumb mother offered to plant more fall-colored flowers in her garden this year which will bloom just in time for our September wedding. Those can then be incorporated into the bouquets and floral arrangements my aunt is designing. In the end, these little touches that come from our family and friends mean more to us because they remind us of our loved ones. The people around you love you and want to be involved in your wedding — let them! If you are thankful and appreciative, they will be happy. In the case of planning a wedding on a budget, sometimes it takes a village.

4. Be honest

When people ask, we are very honest about our wedding budget. We had an open line of communication with our parents in the beginning, and asked them to be very clear with us about what they could contribute and what they felt comfortable with. Neither of us had an expectation about how much our parents should contribute, which made us all the more thankful when they did provide some financial assistance.

When friends ask about the wedding, we are honest with them as well. One of the first nights after my engagement, I told my single girlfriends that because of our budget and our large families, we had made the decision to cut plus-ones for our single guests. My friends are not only supportive of our decision, they are excited to have the opportunity to spend a night with their friends without any pressure to have a date, or feeling like they need to entertain a guest who might not know anyone.

One of the great things that has come out of being honest is that people have offered tips, tricks, and recommended vendors they know. A lot of that advice has ended up helping us stay on track with our budget.

5. Don’t beat yourself up

At the beginning of planning our wedding we made some very strict financial goals for ourselves. We were excited when we found a venue that hit our budget exactly, but we also haven’t beat ourselves up for going a little over on our total budget. I had originally planned on just finding a very inexpensive dress, but when I fell in love with one that was a little bit more, I didn’t force myself out of it. Try not to go overboard, but don’t obsess if you go a little over on a few things. We still have a few months before the wedding day, and if a couple of unexpected costs pop up, we’ll try and keep them in check, but if not everything works out exactly how we want it, we won’t spend time beating ourselves up about it.

6. Find your wedding mantra

For our whole engagement, we have had our own little wedding mantra: “Everyone we love, in one place, with food.” Anytime we get caught up in little details, we bring ourselves back to what our big day is really going to be about — “everyone we love, in one place, with food.” Everything else is just icing on the proverbial wedding cake (or, in our case, the wedding cupcake).

What are your tips for staying happy with a small budget?

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  1. What excellent advice! My fiancee and I have something similar to your wedding mantra. We figured out early on what we really cared about (food, booze, our specific fairly cheap venue, and photography) and then we mostly omitted or found cheap shortcuts for the rest of it (wedding outfits, rehearsal dinner, decorations, music, party favors, etc). The overall vibe of our upcoming wedding has morphed into something more akin to a huge summer party for our closest family and friends rather than an event that screams "WEDDING!!", and we could not be happier with that outcome.

    P.S. It also helps to refer to it repeatedly as a "very small wedding" to the acquaintances and coworkers in your life. Then you can only invite the people you want to come and not feel an obligation to invite people you aren't truly happy to have there. That definitely helps keep costs down.

    3 agree
    • It is definitely all about prioritizing and figuring out what you want. A summer party sounds like a great idea! Another thing that has helped us with the "no plus ones" has been telling people the size of our venue. The place has a cap on how many people you can fit in there, and it is hard to argue with that!

      2 agree
  2. Wow, great tips. You nailed it. I especially like "be honest" "respecting but obsessing over other people's expectations" and "accepting help." I would only reiterate simply trying to stay within budget–going over just leads to more stress!

    4 agree
  3. These are indeed a very important tips especially for those who are planning a budget wedding. Nowadays you just have to be practical in planning one. You can still have an awesome wedding even without spending too much for it.

    1 agrees
  4. Excellent tips! I would add to number 5, not only should you not give yourself a hard time about little extra splurges, you should budget for them. For my wedding, we allocated the max we wanted to spend on various items, but we also left a bit of miscellaneous money with no plan for it, knowing it would be eaten up on things we hadn't thought of. It was–we bought some gifts for people who helped us out, and then my mom confessed she really wanted us to have fresh flowers so we got some at the last minute. It was lovely to be able to do those "extras" knowing the money was there for them.

    3 agree
    • I agree 100%! Better to plan for some unexpected things than to be caught off guard completely. Always good to leave yourself some flex room. Also if we have gone over on something, we've tried to cut back on other things to try and balance it out.

  5. This may go without saying, but I'll say it anyway – remember why you're having a wedding in the first place! You've met a person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and you want to express that love and commitment in front of friends and family. Everything else is truly extra. Not unimportant, mind you, but extra. Bonus. It helps to remind yourself of this over and over, especially when you're having to pinch some pennies in the wedding process. At the end of the day – whether you have a potluck or a six course catered dinner, a Vera Wang dress or a thrift shop find, a custom wedding ring that would make Beyonce blush or a $60 ebay treasure (like mine!) – you get to be married to that perfect person who makes you laugh and swoon and melt. And that's fucking rad. I'll be married 2 years this coming June and while my wedding was great and fun, it was also just the first day of the rest of my life with this man that I love. And that's worth remembering.

    3 agree
  6. I agree with you. Wedding planning is really a tough one most especially if you're on a tight budget! From the very first day that you have decided to get married, you should decide the number of guests, the priority or legal matters – the register! Don't forget the venue and the photographers or florists to hire. Hire a wedding planner that could help you in the process.

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