You’ve finally gotten engaged and now you’re looking to plan your dream wedding, CONGRATULATIONS!
Even though most people have a good idea of what their perfect wedding would look like but after researching how much it will cost to get there it can be overwhelming.
Follow the tips below and be willing to compromise, even just a little bit and you can have a truly memorable wedding for you and your guests without breaking the bank.
1. Have a Firm Budget!
The first step is not the easiest, you have to have a frank discussion about how much you are willing to spend on your wedding. To help with creating a budget here are a few things to keep in mind when determining how much you need to set aside for your special day:
- What Will Your Expenses Be?
At every wedding you’re going to have an officiant, so start there! How much will it cost to have your officiant of choice? Do you want a band or a DJ? What is the venue? Where is the reception? Do you need to rent furniture? Obviously the food is a big part of a wedding so what will a caterer cost and how much will a cake cost? Are you having drinks, if so, open bar or just a cocktail hour? List everything in a spreadsheet as you go so you can refer back throughout your planning process.
- How Many Guests?
This one is going to guide the rest of your budget process. How many people are you expecting to join you on your special day? For each person you need to plan for food and alcohol and also account for space in your venue.
- How Much Do You Have.
The first source of money for your wedding will be from your own savings. How much do you and your fiancé have in savings right now? How much are you willing to spend to make your special day come together? While your wedding will be one of the most important days of your life, you can’t afford to put yourself into debt or risk your financial health to pay for the event so make sure you choose a number you can both live with and set a firm maximum.
- Will Parents Contribute?
Next you’re going to want to discuss with the parents of both the bride and groom (or groom and groom or bride and bride!) and find out what they intend to contribute, if anything. Once you know how much the parents can chip in then I suggest reducing you look at your personal contribution and decide if it sounds like enough, too much, or too little and then re-set your firm maximum.
- Add Between 5% and 30% to Your Budget.
Like most big events, sometimes things pop up you didn’t expect. It’s going to be important to have some wiggle room in your budget to cover those unexpected costs right before your big day without worrying.
So you now have a rough idea of what your expenses will be, how many people you want to come, how much money you have, how much you expect from parental contributions, and have included some wiggle room so you can set your final budget. You’ll see that throughout the rest of your planning process having a solid budget will guide the rest of your decisions so make sure you are comfortable with the number you get here.
2. Save Money Wherever You Can.
The first thing you need to choose is your venue. While you might have a venue in mind already, set that aside and think about what other venues you might be happy with. Then go a step further and think about whether it’s important to you to be in an urban area near home, in the town you grew up in, at a foreign destination, and list out other places that sound interesting. Finally, THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!!! There are all kinds of interesting places you can use and some may be substantially less expensive than your first choice. Here are a few ideas for rural areas and a few ideas for urban out of the box venues from least to most expensive:
Smaller communities usually have fewer formal options so you’re going to want to look at other opportunities:
- Friends and Family. If you’re lucky you may have a friend or relative with enough land for you to have your wedding on their property. A great benefit to this is that this might be one of the few free options available to you and will relieve some of the stress of planning in an unfamiliar place. However, parking, electricity, storage, and places to get ready may be a little harder to figure out.
- Event Halls. Most cities and towns will have public event spaces available for rent. They may be American Legion Halls, School Gymnasiums, or Rec Centers. Most of these spaces can accommodate a few hundred people and the cost will typically be quite reasonable. They’re designed to be flexible so they’ll likely have space for your caterer to use, places to hang decorations, a space for your band or DJ and plenty of electric hookups for lighting or the DJ. However, it may be a more impersonal space that would take a good deal more effort to create an environment that matches your expectations with decorations. A rule of thumb would be to assume it will cost between $100-$500 depending on the size of the space.
- Country Club or Golf Course. In rural areas golf courses and country clubs may not have the traffic that they would in more urban areas so they are likely going to be less expensive. If you’re persistent you can probably negotiate a lower rate than what is initially quoted and the space will be great for an outdoor wedding. It may cost anywhere from $500-$1000 or more for the venue depending on the terms you are able to negotiate and the location.
Cities and other urban areas will have plenty of options for a wedding venue, but here are a few you may not have thought of:
- Restaurants. Many restaurants often have spaces that can accommodate small to medium-sized wedding receptions. Many restaurants are more than happy to develop custom menus, decorations, flowers, and provide a package price. My neighbors took advantage of just this kind of deal and saved thousands of dollars compared to their original venue choice. Prices will usually be determined per guest starting at $40 or more per person. If your wedding has a 100-200 people this is may be a bargain.
- Art Galleries and Museums. Museums may offer rental of their event space, or even the entire museum for rental for a wedding. You may be required to be a member of the museum and you may be required to use a pre-selected catering service. This is probably the most expensive option for a reception, but will provide for a thoroughly memorable experience for you and your guests. The price may be anywhere from $1,000 to well over $10,000 so make sure you shop around to determine what works for you and your budget.
3. You’ve Picked a Venue, Now Save Money On Everything Else
You’ve settled on a venue so now it’s time to think about the rest of the things you’ll need to pay for to make your wedding come together. Think hard about whether you have friends, family, or relationships with local businesses that can help you keep your costs down. Here are a few suggestions for ways to reduce your costs on common wedding day expenses:
- Officiating. Maybe you already have a friend or relative that is a member of the clergy who would be honored to officiate at your wedding free of charge. If not, do you have any friends or family who you think would be meaningful as the officiant? If they aren’t already licensed to perform the wedding they can become ordained online for about $10 and be ready to go! I have several friends who have used close friends or relatives to officiate and they all said that it was a more meaningful experience to have a loved one perform the marriage than a clergy-person.
- Photography. This is one you will want to be careful with because bad photos are forever. If you have a friend or relative who you trust to take quality wedding photos for you go ahead and ask! They may not be comfortable working through the whole event but since many photographers are paid hourly you may be able to save money on hiring another professional for less time if your own photographer can shoot part of the event.
- Transportation. If your ceremony and reception aren’t in the same location, think twice about hiring a limo or a party bus. To hire transportation can easily cost a few thousand dollars so look for alternatives first. Can you arrange for carpooling for your guests? Would somebody be willing to drive a large van that you rent to ferry guests from the venue to the reception or back to hotels? Arrange well ahead of time for your own transportation because if you can get people to volunteer this can save you a bundle and can help keep guests who may have had a bit too much to drink off the road.
- Decoration, Setup and Cleanup. This one is a no brainer. Ask your family, friends, relatives, and whoever else is willing to volunteer to help you set up the decorations and furniture for your venue. If everybody pitches in you can put together a beautiful venue and reception area with just a few hours and the help of your friends. Ask these same people to give you a hand the day after to help clean up. This can save you at least a hundred dollars.
Not only can you save money for yourself, but you can save money for your guests as well by bargaining with hotels to find a group rate for your guests.
- Block rooms at several hotels. Some of your guests may prefer a sumptuous resort style hotel while others may be content in a budget motel. Plan ahead and look for blocks of room as a nicer hotel and a budget friendly option. Most hotels will give you a discount for booking a block of rooms so you can save money for your out of town guests this way
- Negotiate a Discount. Are you a veteran? Do you have AAA? What about a civic organization? If you are a member of any of these groups you may be able to save even more money by negotiating a discount using your membership for the entire block of rooms you are reserving.
5. Catering and Alcohol
If you are lucky your venue will not require your use of a pre-selected caterer. If this is the case you have many ways you can save money on food and drinks for your wedding. First, think about bringing your own plates, utensils and glasses. These can be rented from party supply companies for a few dollars per guest or you can buy your own. When thinking of food, think of local specialties that can feed many people. In the southwest it may be barbeque, in the Northeast it may be a clam bake or lobster boil. These are easy large scale meals that allow your guests to enjoy a unique dining experience that will be significantly less than using a caterer. Another added benefit is that these are buffet style meals so you won’t need to hire servers.
Paying for a bar at your wedding can be a very expensive proposition. At a pricier venue, the going rate can be $6 to $9 for a glass of wine, $4 to $6 for a bottle of beer, and $10 or more for a mixed cocktail. As you can see, if each guest has a couple of drinks then your bar bill can quickly head into several hundred to over a thousand dollars. If you’ve already found a friend or relative to take the place of a hired bartender, then you have much more control over your costs. Make a trip to the local warehouse store and buy alcohol in bulk. You can get cases of inexpensive wine, large bottles of liquor, and cases of beer or order a keg. If you’d like to do cocktails but keep prices down you can choose 1 or 2 and make them in large batches.
The music at your wedding does not have to be expensive. Many DJ’s are reasonably priced but be sure to do your homework first. Ask them what music they have and what they typically play at different points in the reception. Find out what their day job is and whether it may interfere with their ability to be on time to your event. With the variety of music available to you through download and streaming services you may prefer to take charge and build a playlist on your own. I’ve been to several weddings where the bride and groom worked together to build a playlist for the cocktail hour, another for dinner, and one for dancing. The total cost for doing it yourself can be as low as couple dollars you may pay for a streaming service so consider if this might work for you.
7. Flowers and Decorations
When considering what flowers to use don’t insist on foreign tropical blooms. These are typically quite expensive since they aren’t local to your area and are shipped in. Try and use flowers that are seasonal and native to your location. You can save as much as 50% if you stick with local flowers that are in season so think hard about how you can develop a color scheme that uses them.
The core message I can relay for decorating is to keep it simple! For an event like a wedding less is definitely more. Think of creative uses for common objects to build centerpieces. Let the venue speak for itself by not hanging too much on the walls. If you’re outside then nature can be the best decoration. Just use some simple ribbon and flowers to accentuate the natural beauty around you.