When I planned my wedding for last summer in one of the most expensive cities in the world (New York City) during the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, I picked up a few tips for couples looking to throw a wedding on a budget. I learned how to cut costs and stay sane without compromising too much on what I wanted. If you’re willing to be flexible and open to nontraditional ideas, you, too, can have the “perfect” wedding, whatever your budget may be. After the jump, 15 tips for throwing a budget wedding.
1. Quit “Shoulding” All Over Yourself
The biggest cost-cutting tactic in planning a wedding is focusing on what you want, not what you think you should do, have, or wear. Just because every bridal magazine and your Great Aunt Sally say you have to have a $1,200 veil doesn’t mean you do! In fact, you don’t have to have a veil at all. You don’t have to have Save the Date cards, a three-tiered cake, or a poofy white gown if you don’t want them. These aren’t the things that make a wedding a wedding. YOU and your betrothed saying your vows, expressing your love, and making a commitment to each other is what makes a wedding a wedding. Everything else is icing on the cake (or pie, if that’s what you prefer).
2. Choose A Free Or Cheap Location
Most banquet halls are ridiculously expensive. Before you drop a deposit that could pay for a home, think about places you could say your vows that won’t put you in debt. Backyards, parks, restaurants, your best friend’s parents’ enormous house, even a community rec room can be wonderfully intimate spots for a wedding. After researching lots of places, my husband and I settled on a small garden in Central Park. It costs a fraction of what some of the raw spaces and reception halls in the city would cost, and it comes with its own flowers! Afterwards, we had our reception at a restaurant, where we paid about a quarter what a typical caterer would charge per person. Choosing a restaurant for a reception is a fantastic way to keep costs down, particularly if you find one that doesn’t charge a booking fee.
3. Avoid Wedding Rush Hour
Saturday night is the rush hour of weddings, so restaurants and wedding halls will cost more on that night than, say, on a Friday afternoon. For religious reasons, Drew and I couldn’t have a wedding on a Saturday, and since we wanted to celebrate with our friends into the night, we decided a Sunday wouldn’t work either. So we had a Friday morning ceremony, followed by a lunch reception and a party at our apartment later that night, and we saved hundreds of dollars in the process. Also, keep in mind that spring and summer are the peak wedding seasons. Consider off-peak months to save even more bucks on your wedding.
4. Have A Potluck
Wanna really save a bundle on food? Invite everyone to bring a dish in lieu of a gift. You’ll have a great variety of eats, and you won’t be stuck returning a bunch of toasters you don’t need.
5. Keep The Wedding Small
Consider making the wedding family-only or only inviting immediate family and close friends. Resist the urge to invite everyone’s plus-one, unless their plus-one is someone you actually know well. Think about inviting one group of people to the reception — often the most expensive part of a wedding — and having a BYO party at your apartment for a more inclusive group of people. Who says you have to buy dinner for everyone you want to celebrate your special day with?
6. Use Your Friends And Family
Do you have friends who are talented with a sewing machine, know their way around a camera, play the fiddle like a pro, or have baking skills that put Martha Stewart to shame? Great! Ask them for assistance in making a dress, taking pictures, providing music for the ceremony, and making your wedding cake. Always offer to pay, but don’t be surprised if they offer their services at a big discount or even for free as a wedding gift. Be careful, though: If your wedding — and friendship — would be ruined if any of those aspects don’t turn out perfectly, go ahead and splurge on a pro.
7. Use Family Heirlooms
If there are engagement rings or wedding bands sitting in a drawer or safety deposit box somewhere, get them out and consider giving them life again. I used my great-grandmother’s engagement ring from 1928 as my own, and I couldn’t be happier with it. The money that would have gone to a brand-new ring helped fund our honeymoon. If there’s a wedding gown, veil, handbag, engagement ring, wedding band — anything! — in the family you like well enough to use for yourself, do. Not only can it save you a ton of money, it’s a special gesture to boot.
8. Take Advantage of Students
For every service you need, there’s a student willing to provide it for a nominal fee in exchange for experience. If you live in a big city like New York, for example, you’ve got students from some of the most renowned schools and programs in the world at your fingertips. My husband and I hired Julliard students to play music at our ceremony, but even if you don’t live in a big city, you’ll find plenty of talented apprentices eager for experience. Scour Craigslist and contact schools for names, but be sure to ask for samples before you commit. The last thing you want is a shoddy makeup job or a crappy cake on your big day because you failed to sample the goods first.
JUST SKIP IT
9. Skip the DJ and make a great playlist for your iPod that you can blast at the reception. Does anyone really enjoy the doing the Funky Chicken anyway?
10. Skip the tiered cake that can cost hundreds of dollars, and go with a large, simple sheet cake. Better yet, get a tiered pastry tray and a bunch of cupcakes instead. They’ll taste better, and no one will get stuck in a corner cutting a cake all night.
11. Skip the bridal boutiques and look for your dress in department stores, bargain shops, and online sites like eBay, Etsy, and vintage shops like Unique-Vintage.com.
12. Skip the Save the Date cards! Call or email people, and let them know you’ve picked a date. You’ll save a couple hundred bucks and a branch or two of a small tree.
13. Skip the expensive florist and grab some flowers at a local flower shop or grocery store and make your own bouquet. Use a few buds and some greenery as centerpieces, instead of huge arrangements. Scour thrift shops, garage sales, and eBay for interesting vases, mugs, or tchotchkes to use as fun focal points. For a few bucks, a small, tin watering can filled with daisies can make a greater impression than a pricey rose arrangement.
14. Skip the wedding party. The people who are closest and mean the most to you don’t need to wear a special outfit or hold your bouquet to know they’re important in your life. Write a little note to those people, if you want, thanking them for their support, and save yourself the price of those token wedding party gifts no one really has any use for anyway.
15. Skip the pricey rehearsal dinner and have a pizza party. There’s enough formality in a wedding, and everyone will be happy to blow off some steam before the big day.
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