22 money-saving ways to stretch your wedding budget as far as it’ll go

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Michelle Hayes Wedding Photography New York City

No bullshit — planning a wedding is MURDER on your wallet. From vendors that try to up-sell you at every turn, to venues that cost more than your entire budget (and that's JUST for the venue — nothing else), and then there's the dress, the accessories, and maybe favors and wedding party gifts. And do your vendors expect to be tipped on top of all that? And… and… and… Are you breaking out into hives, yet?

This shit is truly ridiculous, I feel you. I also want to help you! So here are a few ideas on how you can stretch your wedding budget as far as it'll go.

PLANNING

  • Make up a game to save money. So far this is the best money saving advice I've ever read.
  • Repurpose stuff. This is where your grandma's ring and your mother's wedding dress comes into play. You could also use stuff from your own home as party decorations and centerpieces.
  • Small guest list. The fewer people you invite, the fewer people you have to feed, the fewer chairs you need to rent, the fewer invitations you need to buy, etc, etc. Small weddings can be awesome too!
  • Email your invitations. No postage due. No paying for stationery, envelopes, RSVP cards, plus the RSVP card postage.

VENDORS

  • Ask friends to donate their time instead of gifts. Do you have photographer friends who'd shoot your wedding for free or for a discounted rate? (I say this as a pro photog who's shot several weddings for friends) Do you have a designer friend who could help you DIY or donate an outfit? A bossy friend who can play day-of wedding coordinator?
  • Get your decor from the dollar store. Dollar stores often have paper goods like lanterns and balls to hang around the venue.
  • Don't mention the wedding. When you go make an appointment to get your hair done on your wedding day, don't mention that it's for a “bridal do.” Similarly, when you ask for floral centerpieces, don't tell them it's for a wedding. More on that whole concept over here.
  • Rent your outfits or buy used. There are services that will even let you rent a wedding dress. And if you buy your outfits, make sure to get clothes that you can wear again.
  • Hand pick the fruit you serve from your local U-pick farm. I did this for my birthday once, it was a ton of fun.
  • Craigslist! Craigslist is your friend for finding deals on so many different things. Get this: Tribe member Mari purchased her dance floor on Craigslist for $90, when renting a dance floor for the reception was going to cost around $300 to $800!

CEREMONY

RECEPTION

  • DIY desserts. Make your own wedding cake or cupcakes. Bake your own pies or cookies. Or find a friend or family member who's a wiz at making delicious treats and beg them to make the dessert as their wedding gift to you.
  • Brew your own beer. Open bars are expensive and if you brew your own “I DO Brew” you can give them away as wedding favors, too. One Tribe member said that brewing their own wedding beer cost them only $30 for five gallons of beer!
  • BBQ cookout. Have a down-home-style barbeque reception with hot dogs and hamburgers… mmm, I'm making myself hungry.
  • Turn your wedding reception into a fundraiser where, instead of gifts, your guests can donate to an organization of your choice, and get organizations to help out by donating their services instead of hiring vendors.
  • Candy favors. Set up a candy bar using several different kinds of penny candy to keep costs down.

Of course, most of these ideas came from previous Offbeat Brides — you guys are nothing if not resourceful. So tell me: what are some of your favorite budget-stretching tips?

Comments on 22 money-saving ways to stretch your wedding budget as far as it’ll go

  1. Don’t forget to check your local freecycle lists! Sometimes it might take a while, so start hunting early, but freecycle totally helped multiple weddings in my family. 🙂

    • Also, look for ethnic bakeries. When I got married in 2005, I bought my plain frosted wedding cake from a little mexican bakery for some ridiculously low price like $45, and they threw in a chocolate groom’s cake for free. All we did was put flowers on top and it was perfect. I just priced a wedding cake from a chinese bakery recently and their price was similarly awesome (adjusted for inflation.)

    • Why do people want to put on these big shows? Most end in divorce in a few short years. Be smart. Go small. Save for the future. A house. Anything except a vanity event.

  2. Great tips, lets see if I can add more.

    Locate those “hobby-job” professionals for catering, photography, flowers, cake, DJ, etc. If you find someone that isn’t making their bread and butter from your wedding, you’re likely to get a lower price.

    If you cant find a hobby-job florist (I found a lady that grew all the flowers on her property!) then check out SAM’s Club or BJ’s for flowers. Making your own bouquets and centerpieces is a simple task. Bouts and corsages are harder, but definitely doable.

    If you don’t brew your own beer at least check on stocking your own bar. This is a double whammy, you won’t get stuck with the worst line up of wine/beer/liquor know to man (that often plague’s wedding receptions) and it’s often way cheaper than what a caterer will charge you (there is a catch, watch out for corking fees).

    If you’re somewhat handy, do your own alterations. It’s actually pretty easy to remove crinoline, put in a bustle, or take up straps/hems.

    If you don’t want to hire someone to play the electric slide even though you asked them not to, put together a play list and let your ipod be the DJ. Sounds systems rent cheaper than DJ’s.

    Borrow Christmas lights. We strung 14,000 lights on the house we rented for the wedding. It looked amazing and cost us nothing. We just borrowed our friends’ Christmas lights.

    I have more but I Should probably leave it at that!

    Oh, one last thing! Think outside the box. If it’s not a common thing at a wedding, it’s probably cheaper.

      • My future S-I-L’s wedding party in her mother’s back garden had a similar setup: a laptop and good quality speakers.
        I will say, if you’re going for this then make sure one person is in charge of music. Nothing infuriates me more at a party than a decent song cutting out halfway through to be replaced by some crappy bubblegum-boy band crap…

    • I absolutely agree. All my wedding vendors are sort of scoffing when they find out we’re using an iPod for the dance (I keep hearing: “oh, you’re doing the ipod thing?”) but all the weddings I’ve been to with iPods have had better music!

    • Agree completely about ‘hobby-job’ vendors. Our photographer is a pro but makes most his living from landscape photography with wedding photography on the side because he likes shooting people too, but random people on the street don’t tend to like it!

      Because he doesn’t rely on weddings he doesn’t have to do things like charge extra to cover his living expenses in the non-wedding season or the full cost of all his equipment, so we’re just paying for the work we get from him, which is still amazing.

  3. One of the BIGGEST mistakes I almost made was ordering my wedding invitations from a professional! Seriously people, printing them urselves is easier than it sounds and its actually kinda fun! I got a box of 50 invitations and response cards for 20 bucks when originally I was going to have to spend over 150 by not doing it myself!

    • A friend volunteered to do our invitations when we got engaged. She’s a wonderful scribe and illumination artist within our SCA group, and she knows the sort of style I like. And she’s willing to do a SFW version for my 82-year-old grandfather, who may not be into medieval grotesques eating people whole… :p

  4. There’s also the option of just not doing wedding favors. In the wise words of Miss Manners:

    “Who told you that you had to give out wedding favors? Etiquette has never thought of weddings as comparable to children’s birthday parties, where the guests might need consolation for not being the center of attention. You owe them only the hospitality of the occasion.”

    • Children’s party bags are where it’s at!
      We’re self catering, and I always buy too much food, so our guests will get goody bags/trays/paper napkins at the end of the night to help themselves to a ‘doggy bag favor’. Fill-up’n’go clears the plates and what could be better than knowing your next meal or three is covered?

    • They’re generally not done in Ireland. Thank-you cards a few weeks after the wedding, yes, but tokens on the day are a relatively new concept here.

  5. also, for cute centerpieces we are doing pink votive holders hot glued to the center of a yellow gerber daisy..at ur local craft store they should have the flowers in vertually any color! i had even found some that were zebra print

    anyother center piece idea but old high heels painted ur color of choice with flowers hanging out of it…sounds strange but looks great!

  6. Our friends are throwing us an engagement party. Instead of the guests bringing gifts (because we REALLY don’t need any more towels!!!), they’ll be asked to bring a bottle of booze which will be saved for the bar at the reception. I think it’s brilliant! We were concerned about having a lame bar, but, can’t afford to go all out.

    Now to decide if we want to have signature cocktails or not. The pro is that we won’t end up with 5 bottles of cheap vodka that won’t get used if everyone brings the specific ingredients. The con is that people like what they like and may not care for our fruity concoction. Of course, if they don’t like it, it’s more to save for ourselves. 😉

    (I like this as much as the diapers & wipes baby shower idea.)

    • For our wedding we provided champagne, but (quietly) informed guests that if they wanted something harder they were welcome to bring a flask. Several of our friends did, everyone had a blast, and no one complained.

  7. This list is pretty much a list of my upcoming wedding! Everyone’s asking me how I’m handling the stress of planning it all, and I’m like, “What stress?” Everything is easy-peasy and laid-back when it’s all a fun, DIY affair! We’re doing it on the cheap not to save money (though that certainly helps!), but the homegrown feel to it just fits our style. But my soon-to-be hubs and I are very lucky to have a wide range of friends that can help us cover pretty much everything we need. One friend is ordained to marry, another designed our postcard wedding invitations (and RSVP is simply via email). Hubs and friends are homebrewing the beer, designer friends are creating the epic custom labels, hairstylist friend will make me pretty, baking goddess friend is doing INCREDIBLE boozy cupcakes (and a cake too… of the Holy Hand Grenade!), and as a photographer myself, I have no shortage of talented friends to document the day for us. A crafty friend is sewing some fabric flags to hang between trees (we’re getting hitched at a campsite in the mountains… yes, our guests will be sleeping just a few tents away on our wedding night). The only costs we’ll really have to cover (aside from the campsite fee) is renting a generator so we can string up a few lights and play an iPod stereo off of! We were thinking of getting some catering (through friends too) but decided we’d rather have more of a potluck, or at least some homemade deliciousness from a few good cooks in the family. I think in the end, we will probably spend less than $500 on everything (including my $80 dress!). Now, our honeymoon on the other hand…

    • This is basically my dream, but as I plan this I feel myself drifting further and further away. If you’ve had your wedding already, tell me: did it go as planned? Did you end up feeling the stress of the planning? I gotta know!

  8. Having a wedding in the off-season, on a weeknight, or early in the day are all obvious ideas too. (Early in the day can also get you out of an expensive alcohol bill if you wouldn’t have a dry wedding anyways).

    As for favors, one of my cousins had mix CDs as favors. I assume she made them herself, and blank CDs are pretty cheap. As a plus, my family discovered some awesome new songs we’d never heard of before!

    I’m a bit worried about the photographer costs when I get married. Most packages seem to start close to what I want my entire budget to be! I’m considering giving guests who have cameras and want to take pictures priority seating near the front and the aisle, and asking them to take pictures through the whole event.

    • Totally agree to the off-day! I’m getting hitched in the PRIME of June wedding season, but I’m doing it on a Friday. A good friend of mine has another wedding to attend the next day, but because we did ours that day earlier, she can make both. I’d call that a scheduling WIN.

    • Consider making a “Group Room” in Snapfish and everyone can upload their photos from the wedding to it. We put the web address and encouraged this in our program.

    • My cousin hired a photographer, but only for the ceremony. For the reception, she put a couple cheap disposable cameras on all the tables and had a drop box for them on the way out the door. Some of the neatest pictures were from the reception!

  9. for photography try craigslist! i posted an ad specifically listing my budget amount for photos and what kind of package i wanted and i got over 50 responses in 24 hours! if you get anywhere near that many i’m sure you’ll find one you like the look of.

    • Yes! I actually just did this too and heard from a bunch of newer photographers and folks new to the area who have experience but are looking to build their business, and so were able to offer a seriously reduced rate. I am planning on doing the same for DJs and florists (if I don’t decide to DIY music and flowers!).

      • I did this, but was looking for free photographers, and got over 20 responses and actually had to let people down. It was…amazing and wonderful. It’s the best thing.

  10. Grow our own centrepieces! We plan to reuse food tins and plant flowers from seed into them. Timing them to be in flower for the wedding. Same goes for buying simple house plants and using them. If guest like them they can take them as favours if not your garden will thank you for what’s left.

    • We did this and just picked wildflowers, which works well if you’re somewhere very wild-flowery (like Central TX!). It was gorgeous and the wildflowers were totally free!

      • I cringe anytime I see the suggestion to pick wildflowers. If you don’t know exactly what you are picking, you could inadvertently pick a population of sensitive native plants. It is never good to remove wildflowers unless you are certain that what you are picking isn’t protected/endangered. The removal of the wildflowers could be devastating to the pollinators and subsequently the entire ecosystem that they live in. It could even be illegal to remove them without a collection permit. I don’t mean to pick on you in particular, I just want everyone reading this to realize that they need to be aware of where and what they are picking when it comes to flowers. Make sure you are not in a protected wildlife preserve, and try to only pick the non-native invasive plants. If you live near a university, you could consult a botanist for suggestions on where non-sensitive populations of flowers are located. I live in California, and while I would LOVE to have some gorgeous mariposa lilies or California poppies at my wedding, it would be unethical for me to pick those sensitive plants. Invasive species like wild mustard would be ok to pick because they are over-abundant anyway. If there is a particular native wildflower you like, perhaps your local botanic garden has some plants for sale that you could grow in your own garden to harvest from.
        USDA on wildflower ethics: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/
        Collection permits: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/permit.shtml
        Tips on collecting native plants: http://nativeplantwildlifegarden.com/how-to-collect-native-plants/

    • We’re doing this too! We’re getting little pots of herbs, the kind you can pick up in Tesco, and growing them for a few weeks so they’re nice and lush-looking. That way our guests can take them home. And they’re tasty!

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