It’s the day you’ve dreamed about your entire life: your wedding day. You already have in mind the type of venue, the clothing, the colors, the food...so you begin to make arrangements, your excitement building by the minute. But after doing some math, you find out that your plan is going to be outrageously expensive and far more than you can afford. Suddenly, you realize the only thing standing in between you and the day you’ve always dreamed of is money.
If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. With over two million people getting married in the U.S. each year, it’s easy to see how weddings have grown to a $72 billion industry. It can be the most expensive party you’ll throw for yourself and a hundred (or more) of your close friends.
But with the average cost of a wedding in some areas costing roughly the same price as a down payment on a home, does it always make sense to throw such a costly party?
Emptying your savings account — or going into debt — for your wedding will certainly make your day extravagant, but you’ll pay for it dearly in the months and years to come. After all, financial challenges remain a primary source of tension between partners.
There is another option of paying a premium for a wedding. You can have a wedding on a budget so that you can enjoy your special day and set you and your loved one up for financial success in the years to come.
This article breaks down how much weddings actually cost, the largest expenses, and how to lower those expenses by having a wedding on a budget.
As you’ll see, a wedding on a budget isn’t a fantasy — it can be done with a bit of creativity and discipline.
How Much Do Weddings Cost?
According to the annual Newlywed Report published by WeddingWire.com, the average couple spends $38,700 on their wedding. That total breaks down to:
- Ceremony/reception: $29,200
- Engagement ring: $5,000
- Honeymoon: $4,500
Keep in mind that these costs can vary wildly by location. For example, throw your wedding in New York and the surrounding areas and you’ll be looking at a $50,000 average cost. In Cleveland, Ohio, you’ll spend less than half, with an average cost of $22,000.
Top Expenses By Category
Within this total budget, you’ll have some big expenses making up the bulk of your wedding budget. The largest expenses, on average, include:
- Venue: $9,000
- Catering: $6,700
- Band: $3,900
- Photography: $2,400
- Wedding rings: $1,900
- Wedding planner: $1,850
- Rehearsal dinner and additional meals: $1,800
- Videography: $1,800
- Flowers: $1,800
- Event rentals and photobooths: $1,700
- Dress: $1,700
- Lighting and decor: $1,700
Seeing this list can make it seem like it’s impossible to have a wedding on a budget. But don’t give up hope: here are some ways to trim your wedding budget while still having a day to remember forever.
10 Ways To Get Married On A Budget
#1: Trim Your Guest List
Yes, this may sound harsh, but when you’re trying to save money on your wedding, it might be time to make some cuts to your inflated guest list.
Many of your wedding costs are going to be charged per person, so for each person you add, you’re adding to your costs.
For example, things like catering, rentals (chairs and tables), and invitations are all charged on a per-person basis.
Cutting back on the number of guests cuts your budget immediately.
#2: Choose Your Venue Wisely
The venue is the largest line item on your wedding budget, so choose it carefully. With an average cost of $9,000, this is where you can find some serious cost savings if you shop around — and get creative.
Here are a few venues that you may not have thought of that can help save you money.
Have a friend or family member with a beautiful or extravagant yard? Ask if they’d be willing to host your bash. ‘
A backyard wedding can come with some extra costs — such as tables, chairs, lights, and maybe a tent — but you might find that ditching a traditional wedding venue can still save you money.
If you’re worried a backyard budget wedding can’t be chic, John and Sherry Petersik, the bloggers behind “Young House Love” prove that you can have a beautiful backyard wedding — on a $4,000 budget.
City Or State-Owned Venues
Does your town have a particularly pretty community center or a park with beautiful views? These public venues often come with smaller venue rental fees.
Often, these locations can be just as beautiful as a private, more expensive options. For example, Belle Isle’s State Park in Virginia offers rental of the Bel Air historic home and 33-acre property for weddings.
The venue rental fee?
During their standard season, you’ll spend less than $500 for the night and you can even stay there overnight, forgoing a hotel (and hotel costs).
Is there a place that is special to you and your loved one, such as a lake, a beach, a field or a beautiful overlook?
If so, you may be able to have the wedding ceremony at one of these locations for free — weather permitting.
If you’re having a smaller wedding, you might be able to have an intimate affair by holding your reception at a restaurant. Many restaurants allow you to reserve a private area or room, giving you a separate space away from the other restaurant guests.
While the costs will still add up, keep in mind that a restaurant likely won’t charge a venue fee and you won’t have to pay to rent chairs and tables.
Plus, as restaurants are already decorated, you can save a considerable amount on decorations (as long as you like the restaurant’s aesthetic).
#3: Re-Think Your Catering
With catering costs coming in as the second-largest expense behind the wedding venue, taking time to re-think these costs can save you some serious cash.
Rather than opting for a formal plated dinner, why not make things fun with a gourmet food truck (or two)?
If you’re planning on providing an open bar for your guests, and you’re going the traditional caterer route, you can stretch your budget by finding a caterer that will allow you to provide the alcohol yourself.
You can shop the sales at different stores and find the best price on all the drinks you want and have the caterers serve them, without having to pay a markup (the prices on wedding alcohol can include a steep markup).
#4: Save on Music, Photography, and Videography
Music, photography, and videography are all important elements in making your special day memorable. The issue is that these costs can easily balloon, inflating the overall cost of the wedding. There are ways to cut costs though.
Instead of high-cost musicians, photographers and videographers, utilize your friends and family who have the talent and skills to do the job — they might offer a discount or even offer to do it for free.
In terms of photos and videography, if you are choosing to pay a professional, you can save money by examining the wedding timeline and shortening the amount of time the photographer or videographer has to be at your wedding.
For example, you can request that the photographer only be present for the ceremony and a specific portion of the reception. This can shorten the amount of time the photographer has to be present, which can lower the cost since many photographers sell packages based on time.
Along those same lines, you can organize your reception so that the important moments — introduction, speeches, father-daughter dance and more — can be at the beginning of the reception so that the photographer doesn’t have to stay the entirety of the reception, thus shortening their time on the job and saving you money.
It also helps if the ceremony and reception are at the same venue — this saves precious time spent in transit, which can shorten the photographer and videographer’s bill.
#5: Aim For Off-Peak
Have your heart set on a certain venue? Ask what their rates are outside of peak times, which are the times of the year that are the most popular and therefore the most expensive.
You can usually get a discount for having a wedding outside of peak times. For example, try aiming for other seasons. An indoor winter wedding can be beautiful and autumn colors can make for stunning seasonal pictures.
Set on a specific season? Try varying the day you pick. Venues and other vendors often offer discounts for having your wedding on a day other than Saturday. Inquire about pricing options for different days and see if they offer a deal.
Another option you might consider is having an early wedding. While you may have dreamed of a wedding that stretches late into the night, don’t count out a morning wedding. Venue costs are cheaper and hosting a fantastic brunch may help you stretch your food budget.
This is a strategy that isn’t often mentioned but can help you have a wedding on a budget that you love.
If you can find a vendor to work with, they may be able to provide additional services at a reduced cost.
For example, the vendor that provides your linens might also offer lighting services. If they do, ask them about bundling different services for a reduced price.
Negotiating to get the things that you need at a reduced price will help you keep your wedding on a budget.
#7: Save On Your Wedding Dress
Ever notice how a simple dress suddenly comes at a premium price when it’s white and can be worn as a wedding dress?
With the average bride spending $1,700 on a dress, it’s easy to see how it can be difficult to have a wedding on a budget.
Rather than heading to an expensive bridal boutique, you can explore other options.
Search for sample sales in your area, where boutiques will sell the dresses that they used in-store for people to try on. These dresses can often come with a deep discount.
Or, find a used one online. Sites like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com offer an easy way to buy and sell your gown, often at 50% or more discount. If you find a gown that you love in a shop, but the price isn’t within your budget, see if you can find a used one online. Depending on how you care for it, you might be able to sell it once you’re done with it, making the gown a minimal cost of your overall wedding budget.
If you’re willing to forgo a traditional white dress, you can save even more. For example, this silver bridesmaid dress is $375 while the white counterpart from the same designer is $695. Consider expanding the color dress to find some less expensive options.
#8: Ditch The Decorations
Flowers cost an average of $1,800. Do you remember floral arrangements from any of the past weddings you’ve attended? Chances are you don’t.
Skip the expensive arrangements and opt for alternative decorations. Greenery on tables can look nice and guests probably won’t even notice flowers missing from the foliage. Or look at alternatives like candles, hurricane vases, fruit bowls, or even vintage books.
If you love flowers and can’t imagine a wedding without them, a little legwork can get you a good deal. Head to a flower mart, grocery store, or farmers market the day before or the morning of your wedding. Buy flowers — at a discount — and have fun making arrangements yourself.
#9: Honeymoon Registry
If one of the things that excites you most about wedding planning is the honeymoon, make sure you have enough budget to head on the trip you’ve been dreaming about.
While the average couple spends $4,500 on their honeymoon, you don’t have to shell out quite as much.
Many couples already have a toaster or a set of dishes that they like. Instead of registering for another bowl or a set of china you may never use, consider a honeymoon registry.
Guests can contribute to your trip or gift you a fun experience for you to enjoy as newlyweds.
#10: Send Digital Invites
While invitations and stationery don’t make up a large part of a wedding budget, it’s an easy item to cut. With more couples making wedding websites, why not turn the entire experience digital with online save the dates, invitations, and RSVPs?
You could easily save hundreds just by making this one little change.
If you’re worried that older guests won’t feel comfortable replying online, you can still opt to send a handful of invitations to select guests.
How To Stick To The Budget
When you’re having a wedding on a budget, one of the more difficult tasks is to stay on track with your plan.
According to the Wedding Wire study, roughly half of couples spend more than they planned. And they blow it by a lot, expecting to pay $16,000 but ending up spending over $29,000 — on the reception.
What causes the budget to get so out of hand? The top reasons include:
- The initial budget was too low
- They fell in love with things they “needed” while planning
- Their guest count changed
So how do you stick to having a wedding on a budget?
Create your budget after you’ve shopped around. While you might think you know how much a venue costs or how much dinner should be per person, you’ll have a more realistic picture of how much you’ll spend once you get an accurate picture of what things cost.
Then, review your budgeting fundamentals. Creating and sticking to a wedding budget is no different to sticking to your monthly budget.
Just like with a monthly budget, don’t fall for random, spur of the moment purchases for your wedding — in the short term, they may make your day more lavish, but in the long term, they’ll end up giving you a financial headache.
How To Have A Wedding on a Budget
Having a wedding on a budget may feel impossible when you’re comparing exorbitant costs and looking to create the perfect day for you and your loved one.
But with some creativity and an understanding of what truly matters on your wedding day, you’ll find plenty of ways to save money — and step into the future without financial worry.
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project.