WEDDINGS ON A SMALL BUDGET
You do not have to spend an exorbitant amount of money to have a lovely wedding. Know in advance what you intend to spend on your wedding and stick to it. There is no reason to go into huge debt to have a nice wedding. Remember that you will be just as married if you spend $1,000 than if you spend $30,000. Here are a few tips on cost-cutting.
The ultimate in simplicity. Just go get married and forget the elaborate planning and disagreements that can occur in larger weddings. You could simply do it locally, or consider combining it with your honeymoon and have a destination wedding, like a tropical beach or a cruise. If you like, you can invite immediate family, maid of honor and best man (and their spouse/guest) to go along for the wedding. Make it a long weekend or stay for weeks and enjoy! There are many travel agents who specialize in weddings and can give you great advice as to the details. One fun idea is a Las Vegas Wedding. You will save lots of money if you do this off-season (Summer is off-season in the Caribbean or Hawaii and Winter is off-season in Europe). Many hotels offer honeymoon packages, so check with a number of travel agents and compare. This can be a cost-effective and very romantic and memorable wedding experience. Then you can decide later if you want a reception for other friends and relatives after the fact (which isn't a necessity).
The Bride's Attire
One way to save tons of money is to find a nice, off-the-shelf dress in a department store. If you aren't going for the big white wedding, this is a reasonable alternative. Nothing says you must have a traditional wedding. Or if you have access to one, wear an heirloom dress of your mother or grandmother's. With a bit of alteration, this can be a memorable, sentimental wedding dress.
But, if you want the story-book, white gown, you still do not have to spend a fortune. Start at the sale racks in a bridal shop. Discontinued styles or overstocks can save bundles. Also consider buying a sample dress (if you are the right size). You would probably want to dry-clean it before the wedding. Consider less expensive fabrics (like polyester blend vs. 100% silk), and generally the less ornate and beaded the dress, the less the cost. If you order a dress, order it with plenty of time for delivery and alterations, so you don't need to pay rush charges. See Bridal Attire for lots of details on wedding dresses, etc.
Another option is to have your dress sewn for you. Be sure you have a seamstress who you trust and has done wedding dresses before. Check references with other brides and see if they were happy with the work. Consignment stores are an option, but carefully check the dress and compare the prices to new dresses, as sometimes they can even be more costly. Check ads from brides who have called off their weddings. Bargains can be had for the wise consumer.
A great option to save money is to make your own headpiece and veil. Look through bridal magazines and check out the bridal store veils and then go to your local fabric store. You can buy inexpensive, ready made bridal headpieces and lots of veil material. With very little work, you can easily save $100 or more on the veil. Make your own headpiece from scratch and save even more. Consider your hair style first and then choose a headpiece. Match it to your dress and overall look desired.
When it comes to shoes, you can wear a pair of white shoes you already have. It will probably be hidden by the dress and it will certainly be more comfortable than trying to break in new shoes on this important day. Or, ballet slippers are inexpensive and would look and feel fine.
The Groom's Attire
Talk about money-saving. Wow! There is nothing wrong with simply wearing a dark suit you already own. The same goes for the groomsmen. There is no law that says you must rent a tux. Add a boutonniere and your outfit is complete. But if you want to go the tux route, some tips include sticking with the standard black rental tuxedo, which is inexpensive and classic looking. Avoid wedding dates close to prom time, as tuxedos are in high demand then. See Grooms Guide for lots of details on renting groom and groomsmen formalwear.
The Bridal Party
The larger the bridal party, the greater the cost. Consider that you will also invite the spouse or guest of each bridal party member, so if you have five each bridesmaids and groomsmen, you are now up to 20 people to seat and feed at your reception. This requires tables and centerpieces and maybe extra decorations for the bridal table(s). You also pay for bouquets and boutonnieres for each, thank you presents for 10 people, perhaps more transportation (limo) from wedding to reception site, and maybe extra money to help cash-strapped bridesmaids pay for their expensive clothing. In addition, the more bridesmaids you have, the greater the stress and hassle you will have. For every bridesmaid you add, the disagreement factor rises dramatically. One or two attendants will save you money and stress. One cost saver for dresses is to check out good department stores. They have a wide variety of dresses off-the-shelf that might make you and your bridesmaids happy. Or, order then through a catalog for great savings. For information on who does what, see Wedding Party and Their Duties.
The Wedding Date
Schedule your date at least three weeks before or after any holiday. These are the busiest times of the year for most vendors, including churches, hotels, restaurants, florists, bands, DJs, etc. Not only will you pay a premium, but service and quality may suffer during holidays. It's also a good idea to schedule around sports events or other major events in your town. Besides saving you money, it will be easier for your guests to travel to your sites when the traffic is calmer. Saturdays almost always command a higher price than other weekend days and certainly more than weekdays. Also busy wedding months will cost you more than if you get married in an off-month. The biggest wedding months are September/October and June/July. You can save big bucks if you get married in, for example, April or November. But, consider the weather in your area. Spring or Fall usually works better than Winter. Negotiate with your vendors for better pricing for your date.
The Guest List
The more people you invite to your wedding and reception, the greater the cost. The smaller the guest list, the more you save on invitations, food, liquor, centerpieces, musicians, wedding favors , thank you cards, room/site rental and perhaps parking vouchers, coat check fees, and a host of other little extras. With less people, an outdoor wedding/reception will also save on rental fees for tables, chairs, tents, etc. The less people you have, the more you can spend on each guests. Upgraded the food and liquor and perhaps other extras you might forgo with lots of guests, like ice sculptures and other decorations, due to budget constraints. And the less people, the less time it takes to feed them. You can cut down on the time needed to rent the room and musicians, etc. Four hour receptions can be much cheaper than five or more hours. Plus, a more intimate crowd allows the bride and groom to more easily mingle with their guests. One hundred or less guests makes for an intimate and cost-effective wedding. If you have a very small guest list, consider a reception in your home after the ceremony. You can track all your guests in the EZWeddingPlanner People section.
If your home or that of a friend or relative is large enough to accommodate the number of guests you plan to invite, you can save a ton of money. Do any home renovations and major landscaping far in advance of the wedding. You can rent trellises, archways, gazebos, etc. if you don't already have them and decorate them with flowers, or have the ceremony inside by a fireplace, or other pretty location with lots of room for guests. Consider inviting the neighbors, since there will be increased noise and congestion. Send a map with the invitations if you think guests will have a hard time finding the site. Mark the outside with balloons or signs. See below for more outdoor suggestions and catering/food ideas.
If you have a small wedding, a backyard barbecue or picnic in the park or beach is great. It is intimate and relaxed and is easy for the bride and groom to mingle with their guests. For larger guest lists, consider hiring a caterer who can also deal with tents, tables, etc. But check out their prices vs. those of a hotel or other facility to be sure you are indeed saving money here. You can also consider a public park or beach, but make contingency plans for bad weather. Check out places like Elks, American Legion and other clubs. They can be decorated wonderfully and you can have both the ceremony and reception in one place which will also save money. Unfortunately, some churches have instituted very high fees for their facilities/services, so you may want to check out several before choosing. On the other hand, some are very reasonable and if they have a large basement or fellowship room, you can save lots of money by having your reception there. Officiants also come in different price ranges, so shop around. You also do not need excessive decorations. If you book a banquet room from a hotel, often times this includes the draped tables and centerpieces and many other extras. You can probably negotiate many extras too. See reception for lots of details. Remember, off peak dates and days of the week and times of day will save you a bundle.
There are many locations that specifically cater to outdoor weddings and will be able to coordinate all the details. If you are planning it yourself, here's some things to think about. Back up tents or other cover are a good idea, in case of rain or blazing sun that will melt not only your cake, but also your guests. Tents should be set up several days prior to the event to ensure dry ground underneath. Have an adequate number of chairs for both the wedding and reception. If the reception will go into the evening, you will want lights and perhaps heaters, depending on weather. If insects are a problem in your area, consider pre-spraying with insecticide or lighting punk sticks or citronella candles. If you want dancing, you may want to rent a portable dance floor. Also remember to consider the needs of any of your guests who may have special handicap or accessibility needs. Parking and rest room facilities should also be adequate for the number of guests you are planning.
The Food and Drink
Simple appetizers set on a table will cost less than passed hors d'oeuvres, because you don't need extra people to walk around serving them. Or, do away with the appetizers altogether and shorten the cocktail hour to one-half hour. This will not only save on food bills but also liquor bills. Look into buffet vs. sit down meals. They may be less expensive. Also selecting chicken instead of beef, etc. can considerably reduce the meal bill. One great way to cut down on food costs is to time the wedding (like early afternoon) so that you can just serve drinks and appetizers or cake and champagne or finger sandwiches, etc. after the service. People will drink less and not expect a large meal. If you serve wine, beer, and soft drinks, your bar bill will be considerably less than including other liquors. And if you stop serving alcohol an hour before closing and serve coffee and water, you will not only save money but have less inebriated guests. See Low Cost Ideas for catering info. Also Do It Yourself catering ideas.
First off, don't let your caterer talk you into serving other desserts also. The wedding cake is the dessert, so save your money on the others. Negotiate to get rid of cake-cutting fees (get this in writing). Consider a small decorated cake for you to cut at the reception and then a sheet cake of the same flavor cut in the kitchen to serve the guests. If you have a talented friend or relative who makes wedding cakes, this would be a great wedding gift from them to you. Many home-made cakes are better tasting and as beautifully decorated as cakes from a bakery. See Cake Ordering and Cutting for lots of cake details.
There are some books that say don't buy a supermarket wedding cake. However, when one of our daughters was married, three people taste-tested numerous specialty wedding cake bakeries against the supermarket cake and were much happier with the later. It tasted better, looked beautiful, was less expensive, and they made a new first anniversary cake for free as part of the package. And as a bonus, the guests loved it and some still talk about the great cake. So, check out your local supermarket bakery as a viable source and do your own taste-test.
Using in-season flowers and/or those locally grown instead of exotic flowers will save you money. As mentioned earlier, the smaller the bridal party, the less bouquets you need to buy. Talk with your florist on budget cutting methods that will still be beautiful, but less expensive. For instance, there are many varieties of roses, some very expensive while others are very reasonable. Using a few, larger flowers even though they may be expensive, may be an overall economical choice - like Calla lilies. See the in-depth discussion on flowers for more details. As far as the reception site is concerned, you can decorate it without using flowers. Mirrors and candles are great and many reception sites will provide decorations as part of the room rental. One trick you could also use is to use the bridal bouquets as table decorations for the bridal table(s). They could be placed in vases or simply laid on the tables. Also, if you have purchased flower arrangements to decorate the ceremony, take those along and use them again at the reception site. You could also use flowering plants on the tables as centerpieces or a single flower in a bud vase.
If you are budget-challenged, simply skip the limo. A nice car will do just as well. Full-size cars are desirable (to fit the large dresses) and if you don't have one or know someone who does, you can inexpensively rent one or more for the wedding day. This will be less expensive than renting a limo for a few hours. But if you do go with a limo, generally black is less expensive than white. If you have a large bridal party, consider one larger limo versus several smaller ones. Many companies offer wedding packages that add goodies like signs, decorations and champagne. Ask for the car without the extras and save your money.
The Printed Materials
If you have less than 50 guests, skip the formal invitations and send hand-written notes or telephone (if local). If you go the printing route, be sure they are light enough to be sent with the least amount of postage. Going over 1 ounce will increase your costs. Tips on lightening the mailing and saving money include: skip the tissue paper, use small postcards as the reply cards (also saving you return postage), print reception info at the bottom of the invitation avoiding separate reception cards. You could also print RSVP info at the bottom of the invitation and skip the return cards altogether. If you have a computer, you could design and print your own invitations. There are some very nice paper stock and envelopes to be found in stores or on-line. One helpful Internet site is InvitationsEtc. which has lot of information on doing your own inviations/programs etc. You can also do your own wedding programs. They can be easily designed and printed at home. See ceremony programs for more detail. If ordering invitations, programs and other printed materials, consider ordering on-line or through catalogs for bargains. Thermography is less expensive than engraving on printed matter. The paper stock also varies in price and you could save money here.
The Decorations and Favors
Decorations can be simple, yet look nice. Depending on your locations and number of guests, you can make your own, rent them, or often they are included in reception site packages. First, ask the reception site what decorations they can provide for free. This also goes for the ceremony site - often Churches have candelabras and candles, etc. that they will let you use (or rent for a small fee). They may also have pew bows or at least pew bow holders. Go to your local craft store and buy ribbon in bulk to make your own bows. Ribbon with a wire edge will hold the bow look and stand up better. If you have a dull looking reception room, consider renting inexpensive trees and decorating them with twinkle lights - particularly for late afternoon or evening affairs. You can decorate with plants bought at a local nursery, garden store, outlet or retail store. Small potted plants make nice table decorations and guests can take them home as souvenirs/favors. If you have a southwestern theme, consider small cacti. Christmas time weddings could give ornaments engraved with the year. Easter time you could use jelly beans or decorated eggs. Mirrors and candles also make great table decorations. You can use tall candles or votive. Check out local craft stores (like Michaels) for ideas on decorating supplies (ribbons, baskets, tulle, candle holders - 3 to 4 per table, wedding supplies, etc.) You may also see some great ideas there for making your own favors. They can be as simple as nuts and/or candy on each table to something more elegant like personalized mints or chocolates. Small picture frames (with their place cards or a picture of the two of you) make nice favors. Fabric or silk flowers tied with ribbons inscribed with your name and wedding date make colorful favors as well as table decorations. Seedling packets or tree saplings for planting are unique and represent the growth of your marriage. For very inexpensive favors, consider poetry or a thank you note printed on paper and folded into fan shapes (accordion-pleated) which can also be decorated with ribbon. Or rolled scroll-like and tied with a ribbon. For the gamblers at heart, how about lottery tickets. Small, heart shaped refrigerator magnets make nice favors (again, check out craft stores). And, there are many vendors online who sell fun favors inexpensively. See the Sponsors section for some favor ideas.
Other Cost Savers
Make your own tapes for reception music and/or use a multi-disc CD player with your favorite CDs. A DJ will cost less than a live band. Have a friend or relative sing a solo at your ceremony as their gift to you. If you are cash strapped, skip the favors at each table. Post seating arrangements on an easel instead of individual placecards, or have open seating. Skip the goodies like ice sculptures, personalized napkins and matches, balloon hearts, chair covers, ceiling decorations, bubble blowers and rice or bird seed packets, bird releases, etc.
Recommended Books about Wedding Planning
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