The first time I looked at our final first draft of our wedding budget, my jaw dropped. We had already selected the most cost effective venue on our list, and limited our guest list to just over one hundred people. We had already decided on a more frugal DJ as opposed to an extravagant band, and I had already fallen in love with an off-the-rack dress that was half the price of the average wedding dress. Yet, our itemized budget was double the price I estimated in my head as a reasonable price.
At that moment, we knew we had more work to do, and I began my quest to save money yet still have a wedding that felt like it was “ours.” My goal was to make decisions that were both smart and personal. Sometimes this meant we would be willing to spend money where there was a good reason, and sometimes it meant we needed to make cuts. I wanted to feel like I got a good value for the money we were spending, and not that I completely compromised an important life event that, either way, we would still be paying good money for.
Note: everyone’s situation is completely different! While some may have inheritances or family contributions towards every bell and whistle, others may be struggling to make each end meet. We were somewhere in the middle.
Below is how I personally saved money on my wedding (with some personal pics!), while still making it feel top notch. You can pick and choose from pointers or use these ideas to brainstorm even better ideas. In the end, it’s about your own budget and your own goals, which may differ from mine.
First, I recommend that you create a detailed budget and update it frequently. I also kept a note in my phone updated with each and every wedding expense listed. It was truly eye-opening to see the numbers on paper, as opposed to in my head, and it was also immediately gratifying to see the numbers drop as we made changes.
Since this is primarily a book blog, I would like to mention that I also used the planner below, which is really cost effective, offers spaces to maintain all relevant information without overdoing anything and is small enough to carry in my tote bag during planning:
I definitely recommend it!
I would also recommend that you establish who is paying for the wedding and how before you make large decisions. As working professionals in our mid-thirties, we knew we wanted to shoulder the costs ourselves. I checked my savings and also estimated how much per month I thought I could put towards the wedding. I did not want to rack up any credit card bills, and I certainly didn’t want to take out any loans (as I have heard people do!).
Second, we unofficially chose “classic and traditional” as our theme. While it matched the style of our venue, and it made me feel like I would not look back and regret my decisions, it also enabled us to make more standard, budget friendly options, like abundant white roses versus harder to source tropical flowers.
Third, stress is a part of the game, and I don’t think anyone can escape it! Check out my tips on managing your wedding stress to take a breather.
Without further ado, below are my best recommendations for ways to save money on a wedding:
The wedding venue is the largest expense of a wedding and so, it’s also the biggest opportunity to cut costs and one of the best ways to save money on a wedding.
It all boils down to two things: cost per person and number of people. As for the guest list, we aimed at keeping it as low as possible without failing to include important guests or hurting anyone’s feelings, and we ended up with a fairly modest number of about 110-120 people invited.
As for venue, I knew there would be priceless value in an established location, as opposed to a backyard or public space, even though it would cost more. So, I priced out some venues we liked in and around our city of Philadelphia, then I narrowed down the options to a handful.
The first venue we visited also happened to be about $50.00 less per person than most of the others, and it was a venue that was meaningful to my fiance, as all of his special events growing up were there. It wasn’t the flashiest or most unique location, but it was still high quality, clean, traditional and got great reviews. This particular venue had also been the most communicative with me during the research process and, in person, it seemed to operate as a well-oiled machine, which made me feel confident.
The food and drink bill alone would be about $6,000.00 less than the others, based on our guest list. This venue also offered a free wedding cake (about a $500.00 value), waiver of the ceremony fee, a free stay at the venue the night of the wedding, discounted flowers, free upgraded linens and so on. It just couldn’t be beat for the value we were getting.
Now, I had seen venue rental fees of up to $10,000.00, without even mentioning food and drinks, and many other venues had higher minimums, so I thought this venue was a great deal, and we booked it. Additionally, we saved about $2,000.00 by having our wedding on a Friday night, as well as an extra 2% in taxes by having our wedding just outside the city of Philadelphia.
One thing I would caution brides to do is to calculate all added fees into per person costs for each venue before making a decision. Ceremony fees, minimum head counts, taxes and the like can really alter a figure unexpectedly. So, in the end, we spent more by having friends and family beyond our most immediate inner circles and an established venue, but the venue was more cost effective than others.
Approximate savings: $8,000.00
The average cost of a wedding dress is $1,564.00 and, if you have ever watched Say Yes to the Dress, you know that it’s not uncommon to see price tags in the $3,000.00 to $5,000.00 range, and the sky can truly be the limit. The first dress that caught my eye after my engagement was off-the-rack at Anthropologie’s wedding brand, BHLDN, and it was on sale for $800.00 (from an original price of $1,300.00). Wanting to score the deal before the dress sold out, I purchased it online (with a thirty day return policy), then booked an appointment to try it on.
Long story short, when I first looked in the mirror in the dress, I said, “This is exactly what I was looking for.”
Afterward, just to be sure, I visited a few other shops and even tried on one look that amounted to a whopping $8,000.00. The designer was often seen on the red carpet, and the fabric and fit was other worldly. At one point, I gasped to the bridal consultant, “I feel like Sarah Jessica Parker!” Naturally, she responded, “this is even better!” But, on pictures, it sort of looked like any other dress, and I simply could not justify cashing out my bank account on a dress. If I really were Sarah Jessica Parker, maybe I would feel differently. But, I’m not.
Just days later, I received the $800.00 BHLDN dress in the mail and decided to keep it. I still look back and feel great about this decision. Although the fabric wasn’t as luxurious as high end dresses, it had a flattering shape and details that matched my wants, like a bateau neckline and a keyhole and buttons down the back, that would look both unique and timeless on pictures, which is what remains from the wedding when the day is over.
I was also able to order not one, but three, sizes and choose the best fit (returning the others). This was crucial, since I ended up keeping the size I least expected to keep.
So, the best advice I can give future brides when it comes to choosing your wedding gown, based on my experience, is there really isn’t one and only one dress that can be “yours.” Making this realization can be one of the best ways to save money on a wedding.
The dress selection process can get emotional, so, if you have a budget, it’s important to force yourself to check back in with logic. Off-the-rack is a great way to save money while still feeling beautiful and timeless (and BHLDN particularly excels at curating exactly these types of dresses). And there’s something to be said about being able to quickly obtain a dress and swap sizes if need be.
Approximate savings: $764.00 (calculated off the average dress price, since I really could never justify the $8,000.00 dress in reality)
And if you haven’t taken your engagement photos yet, check out my white dress engagement photos ideas.
My BHLDN bridal consultant accessorized by dress with a $300.00 veil and $130.00 earrings that perfected the look. I certainly could have accessorized my look cheaper, but this amount wasn’t far out of reason, and it would save me the hassle of trying to accessorize the dress myself. So, I purchased these items but made the conscious decision to use a purse I already owned (of my grandmother’s — my something old and something blue), and to not accessorize with any additional jewelry. And due to a shipping snafu, I ended up getting the $130.00 earrings for free — one of the most unexpected ways to save money on a wedding!
As for shoes, I really liked the brand Badgley Mischka because they look very high end bridal, but they aren’t egregiously overpriced. Still, around $250.00 for shoes is not cheap. So, I did some internet sleuthing and ended up finding Badgley Mischka heels that matched my look and needs (lower, block heel for comfort and walking through grass) on clearance for $127.00 at Neiman Marcus Last Call and the matching flat sandals on clearance for $67.00. After the wedding, I re-sold one pair and re-used the other pair.
Approximate savings: $186.00
After we decided on our color scheme, my fiance noted that he already owned a grey suit that was custom-tailored. I told him he shouldn’t let that hold him back from wearing something that makes him feel great on our wedding day. He responded, “Well, let me just try it on and we will see what we think.”
The truth is, it was a perfect fit and looked great. He officially decided to wear something already in his closet! Utilizing what you already have is one of the most resourceful ways to save money on a wedding.
Approximate savings: $1,000.00
I thought the appropriate gift price for my bridesmaids was about $100.00 per person, and I knew I wanted to focus on gifts they could use during the wedding (and afterwards), so that their costs of participation were less — minimizing your bridal party’s costs is one of the most generous ways to save money on a wedding.
I ended up spending about $75.00 per bridesmaid, but purchased items worth over $200.00. I scored pink Kate Spade clutches on a flash sale for $35.00 each, Badgley Mischka earrings on clearance at Macy’s for $12.00 each, Betsey Johnson shawls on sale at Macy’s for $15.00 each and J.Crew Factory oxford shirts for getting ready on clearance for $12.00 each.
Scoring these deals generally took some time searching and patiently waiting for sales, but I think it was worth it.
Approximate savings: $25.00 x 6 bridesmaids = $150.00
NOTE: Although I didn’t purchase the bridesmaids dresses and shoes, I let my bridesmaids select their own shoes (so they could choose their own price point or wear something they already owned), and I let them select their own style dress in the brand Adriana Papell from Macy’s.
This allowed them to choose a cheaper dress from the line if they so chose or wait for a sale (which occurred frequently), as well as use Rakuten to get cash back, and try on multiple sizes to get the best fit and spend less on tailoring.
I called in my reinforcements when it came time to plan for hair and makeup. My mom is a hairdresser and agreed to do they hair of any bridesmaid who wanted it done for free. Five out of six bridesmaids jumped on board (along with me!). Finding at least one thing that is “free” is one of my favorite ways to save money on a wedding. We all know someone who can help out in some way.
Quotes for makeup were about the same everywhere, so I selected someone with good reviews and a studio in the vicinity of the venue, and I did decide to pay for all bridesmaids (I thought it was worth spoiling them in this way, especially since we were saving money on hair.).
Approximate savings: $100.00 x (5 bridesmaids + 1 bride)= $600.00
Flowers & Decor
One thing I loved about our venue was that it had an in-house florist. I knew this would lead to additional savings. Our package included very small floral centerpieces for free, or a $25.00 credit toward each upgraded centerpieces.
I was willing to upgrade a bit within reason, to get a really beautiful look. Since I was upgrading on the florals in the reception, I selected small and simple bouquets and corsages for the bridal party.
Our in-house florist also comped the rental of all candle holders and upgraded vases, since she already had them, and she also offered to move the ceremony florals into the reception to cut down on our floral and decor needs. She also offered white rosebud vases in the cocktail room for free, and we used a $100.00 coupon as well. Resourceful vendors are great ways to save money on a wedding!
Our total quote for my dream look was about $2,700.00. This is still a lot of money, but it was less than 10% of our wedding budget, which is the average floral cost.
And you can preserve your flowers forever with my easy DIY wedding flower preservation ideas.
Approximate savings: $800.00
In a perfect world I would have loved to have a band. I think they bring so much life and joy to a wedding celebration. I reached out to a fantastic band that played at a friend’s wedding, and they were seeking $10,000.00, which I heard was about average for a wedding band in our area.
There was no way I was going to convince my fiance to shell out that kind of money for entertainment! This was the man who had once said to me, “Can’t we just play a Bruno Mars album on repeat?”
So, I hired a DJ that frequently played our venue for $895.00, which was about $100.00 – $200.00 under the average quotes I was getting.
And, in order to have some live entertainment incorporated into the wedding, I hired a strings trio (a few hundred dollars less than a quartet) to play during the ceremony and cocktail hour. “Compromise” is one of the most realistic ways to save money on a wedding.
Approximate savings: $8,100.00
The cost of wedding paper astounded me. The average bride and groom spend $750, before paper, on average, before postage! My sister DIY-ed her invitations at home with blank invitations from Michaels for about $100.00, and they looked great!
However, while I wanted to save money, I also didn’t want to spend weekends cursing at my printer. So, I compromised by selecting Minted, a middle-of-the-road online service (more expensive than Vistaprint but less than a paperie). Minted also provided a matching website, which I utilized for information purposes, like directions and accommodations, and excluded those paper inserts from my invitation suite, instead directing guests from the invitations to the website.
I also excluded menus and programs, which were shockingly expensive, and used cheaper postcards, as opposed to traditional cards, for Save the Date’s and RSVP cards. I patiently awaited discounts, then pounced on Black Friday. I was also able to get matching table numbers for free with a discount I earned from participating in Minted surveys. We spent about $500.00 all inclusive.
And after your wedding, you can make my DIY wedding invitation ornament.
Approximate savings: $350.00
Since we were getting ready, getting married and celebrating at the same venue, we didn’t require a limo/bus for the bridal party, which would cost approximately $400.00. However, we did hire a shuttle for our guests to the local hotel where we had reserved a block of rooms.
Approximate savings: $400.00
Early in the planning process, I reached out to a few photographers that friends had used, and I also researched photographers that had worked at my venue (so I could see what a finished product would look like at my venue — a tip I highly recommend). Most quotes came in around the same price.
There was one photographer I reached out to and thought to myself that I hoped she was not too expensive because I really liked the light, airy look of weddings she had done at my venue. She responded almost immediately and quoted me at $700.00 less than the other quotes I received, including a free engagement shoot and second shooter at my wedding. I booked her that day and never looked back.
We did also elect not to have a videographer in order to save money, and we got really lucky that a few guests took great videos for us to cherish, because I actually did regret not having even more video of our special day.
Approximate savings: $700.00
Lastly, I tried to make other decisions that were cost-effective. Because I had already owned a home for many years, I did not have a bridal shower, which was a great cost savings to my bridesmaids and family.
And since the venue offered to conduct a rehearsal the day of the wedding, we did not have a rehearsal dinner, for a savings of approximately $1,500.00 off the average cost.
We did however, order lunch and drinks from our venue for our bridal party, which totaled $264.00.
Approximate savings: $1,236.00
Cash Rebates on Wedding Purchases
I also used Rakuten (formerly Ebates) for cash back on all my online purchases, as well as the credit card that gave me the best cash back rewards. These did add up!
Rakuten is a rebate system that gives you cashback simply for making purchases you are already making. You can use a Google Chrome extension or their app for mobile when making purchases online. In Google Chrome, when you make a purchase a popup alerts you to cashback from the retailer (which can range from 1% to 10%+). You just click on it then continue with making your purchase.
In the app, you just search for a store then click on it, and continue making your purchase. There are also options to link your credit cards to earn cash back on in-store purchases.
I have made over $2,000.00+ cash back since 2014! There’s no cost or catch – like bloggers who earn money when readers click on our referral links, Rakuten earns cash back from stores in exchange for Rakuten advertisement. Rakuten then shares some of their earnings with their users
For more information, read my full Rakuten.com review, and to get started now, click below:
All things considered, I estimate that we saved a total of at least $22,286.00 off of our wedding.
Again, every wedding and every budget is different. You can use my experience and/or brainstorm your own to create your own dream wedding on a budget.
Pin this post to Pinterest because you can refer back to it later and get the good word out to other brides — we’re all in this together!
Here’s wishing you a beautiful wedding day!