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How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget: The Complete Cost Breakdown

24 minute read

Alia Hoyt Writer

By Alia Hoyt

Marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment, but paying off the wedding shouldn’t be. If you are of the same mind and wondering how to plan a wedding on a budget, these saving tips are for you. As the largest generation yet to age into marriage (over 72 million!), many Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1996) are weighing wants versus needs to avoid overwhelming wedding-related debt and a whopping case of buyers’ remorse.

U.S. Population by Generation

Population in Millions

1.7M
The Greatest Generation
Born before 1928
20.87M
The Silent Generation
Born 1928-1945
69.56M
The Baby Boomer Generation
Born 1946-1964
65.17M
Generation X
Born 1965-1980
72.12M
The Millenial Generation
Born 1981-1996
67.17M
Generation Z
Born 1997-2012

Reference: United States Census Bureau

Millennials are especially gun-shy about high-priced nuptials because they’ve already lived through two major financial crises and all of the stresses those entailed. Student loans, standard bills, and other debt also have many already owing $50,000 or more1 (excluding home loans). Why add an average wedding cost of $30,0002 on top of that? By experiencing the struggle firsthand, much of the generation is opting to use hard-earned cash to fund more responsible goals, such as a down payment on a home or car. Good for you!

That doesn’t mean a white veil isn’t in your future, though. There are budget-conscious ways to get the wedding you want without all of the crippling debt. All it takes is a little know-how and creativity. Here at WalletGenius we’re all about helping you save money. Whether you have $1,000 or $50,000 to spend, there’s no sense blowing money if there’s a cheaper way to do it. There’s also no need to read a hundred different articles when you can one-stop-shop right here! We’ve compiled all of the relevant data and research into one article to save you valuable time and money.

Wedding Packages by Budget

Wondering how you can truly have a wedding at any budget? We created some sample packages based on popular price points and average costs so you can see how you could achieve a less expensive wedding yourself.
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The Engagement and Wedding Budget Breakdown

Who are we kidding? A wedding doesn’t just start and end on the day of the nuptials. There are a litany of expenses and events leading up to the big day. We’ve got them all covered but let’s start where it all begins: the engagement.

The Engagement Party

A party is a popular way to share the joy of engagement not too long after the big question is popped. Often, however, these events cost thousands (the average is $1,5004). It doesn’t have to be a high-priced, fancy-schmancy event, though. But before setting a date, stop to consider this — do you really need an engagement party? There are plenty of other celebration opportunities coming down the road, including bridal showers, bachelor/bachelorette parties, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding/reception combo. No wonder wedding guests are fatigued by the actual event! By opting not to throw an engagement party you’ll save yourself the stress of planning, not to mention a pile of money.

If you decide to proceed, however, here are some tips for keeping the engagement party thrifty:

  • Keep it casual. There’s no need for a catered event. Your friends and family will probably feel a lot more comfortable with a backyard barbecue or low-country boil or whatever strikes your fancy. Consider holding it at someone’s home. Or, rent out a neighborhood clubhouse or park with a pavilion, typically for free or at little cost!
  • Invite electronically. Paper invitations run into the hundreds. These days, no one will care if you send e-invites, plus it’s much easier to track RSVPs and send reminders! Print it out on some nice card stock to keep for the wedding scrapbook.
  • BYOB + a side. Provide the main dish, paper products, soft drinks, and a signature cocktail, but ask your guests to bring a potluck dish and whatever other beverages they want to enjoy. Since they’re doing this, you can choose to forego gifts, if you want.
  • Borrow supplies. Ask friends and families if you can borrow their card tables and folding chairs, then dress them up with tablecloths and inexpensive floral centerpieces. The same goes for other one-off party supplies, like ice buckets, drink dispensers, and such. No need to spend a ton of party pieces you won’t need again!

Engagement Photos

This is a special time, so it’s only natural to want it documented. Engagement photos typically cost between $250 and $500, according to the wedding planner and photographer Thomas Beaman with PA Unveiled, so consider taking a more economical route.

  • DIY. OK, so smartphones aren’t professional-grade, but they’re pretty darn close. “Almost everybody has access to an entry-level DSLR camera or a newer iPhone these days,” Beaman says. “Both of those options will produce fantastic photos as long as the user knows a few things about photography.” Not very confident in your photog skills? “There are so many amazing YouTube videos that will teach you the basics of photography, and all it will cost you is a little bit of your time,” Beaman notes.
  • Find a budding star. People looking to get a photography business off the ground are often happy to book discounted sessions to build their portfolio and reputation. Post a message on a neighborhood site, like Nextdoor, or contact a local university to see if any students are interested.

The Engagement and Wedding Rings

The average engagement ring sets the proposer back a cool $5,9002, with the average wedding ring cost adding another $2,200 on top of that, according to WeddingWire’s 2020 report of 2019 weddings. That’s all well and good for people who make Kardashian-level money (OK, that’s an exaggeration), but the rest of us need to save for a rainy day.

Pare back the engagement ring-related expense by doing one or more of the following:

  • Opt for a stone other than a diamond. 87 percent2 of engagement rings feature a hefty diamond, and 71 percent also include diamond side stones. All those karats really add up! Instead, swap one or both for a different semi-precious stone. Dubbed “nontraditional,” these engagement rings allow for more personal style to really shine through. Be sure to choose a sturdy alternative with a Mohs scale of hardness grade of 7 or above3, like a sapphire or ruby (both rated 9), so that the stone will hold up well under daily wear. The cost savings really are immense here, as a 1-carat sapphire costs hundreds of dollars, versus thousands for a diamond of the same size.

Average Wedding & Engagement Ring Gemstone Costs and Durability

GemstoneDiamond
Price$$$$$
Hardness10
GemstoneGarnet
Price$$$$
Hardness6.5-7.5
GemstoneEmerald
Price$$$
Hardness7.5-8
GemstoneRuby
Price$$$
Hardness9
GemstoneMoissainite
Price$$
Hardness9.3
GemstoneSalt & Pepper
Price$$
Hardness10
GemstoneSapphire
Price$$
Hardness9
GemstoneAmethyst
Price$
Hardness7
GemstoneAquamarine
Price$
Hardness7.5-8
GemstoneCubic Zirconia
Price$
Hardness8.5
GemstoneQuartz
Price$
Hardness7
GemstoneTopaz
Price$
Hardness8

References: Geology.com: Mohs Hardness Scale, International Gem Society: The Mohs Hardness Scale and Chart for Select Gems, Charles & Colvard: Is Moissanite A Durable Gemstone?

  • Use a family heirloom. Nothing says “welcome to the family” quite like a beloved heirloom. Plus, it’s free. Even if the look is a little bit dated it’s easy to put the precious stones in a more modern setting, while retaining the sentimental value.
  • Use a less expensive metal. Platinum is the metal of choice for engagement ring purists, but it’s hard to tell the difference between that and the vastly more affordable white gold. They’re actually a similar price per ounce, but more platinum is required to make a ring. This is especially important for groom as the material can make the difference between a cheap wedding band and a spendy one.

Average Wedding & Engagement Ring Metal Costs and Durability

MetalPlatinum
Price$$$$$
Hardness4.0-4.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalPalladium
Price$$$$$
Hardness4.8
Tarnishes?No
MetalWhite Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalYellow Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalRose Gold
Price$$$$
Hardness2.5-4.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalSterling Silver
Price$$$
Hardness2.5-3.0
Tarnishes?Yes
MetalBlack Zirconium
Price$$
Hardness7.5-8.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalCobalt
Price$$
Hardness5.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalTungsten Carbide
Price$
Hardness8.5-9.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalTitanium
Price$
Hardness6.0
Tarnishes?No
MetalStainless
Price$
Hardness5.0-6.5
Tarnishes?No
MetalAluminum
Price$
Hardness2.5-3.0
Tarnishes?No

References: Compound Chem: What are wedding rings made of, and how do their properties vary?, Jewelry Depot USA: Metal Comparison, Wikipedia: Mohs scale of mineral hardness

  • Wait for a sale. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the best days to buy rings, thanks to big sales. Bonus savings can often be achieved by bundling the engagement and wedding rings as a set!
  • Get crafty. Go the truly one-of-a-kind route by purchasing handcrafted rings on Etsy, they offer unique cheap wedding rings much less than those a typical jewelry store.

The Wedding Planner

One in three couples2enlist the help of a wedding planner. Some hire a coordinator to keep things running smoothly the day of the event, but some hire a full-service planner to aid the entire process, start to finish. Wondering how much does a wedding planner cost? Not surprisingly, the full-service variety can run into the thousands (average of $1,5002). Unless you have money to burn, it’s probably best to forego the expense and handle the planning yourself. Here’s how:

Planning Process

  • Go online. The internet makes wedding planning easier than ever before. It’s a cinch to get quotes, ask questions, take virtual tours, browse photo galleries and make comparisons without ever needing to leave the house. Don’t forget to read the reviews! Check out tools like Wedding Planning Assistant to get started.
  • There’s an app for that. No need nowadays for a bulky planning notebook. Go paperless and use an app or two to get the job done. There are a ton to choose from, most of which are free and do everything from help you manage the guest list to the wedding budget and beyond. Two options are Zola and Wedding Planner by The Knot.

Day of Wedding Help

  • You know how people are always offering to help? Take them up on it. Figure out what you need to be handled the day of the event, and then enlist members of the bridal party, family, and friends to each take on a small task. Many hands make light work, and all that!
  • Check with the venue. Many venues offer a day of event assistant to keep things running smoothly as part of the overall package. Make this a talking point to discuss as you’re narrowing down locations.

Invitations/Stationery

At an average of $5602, traditional paper invitations aren’t the largest chunk of the budget, but it’s a significant amount, nonetheless. There’s also the cost to post the invites. At 55 cents a stamp it costs $82.50 just to send out 150 by mail. Double that if you’re including a stamped RSVP envelope for each guest to send back. Here are some ways to cut the costs.

  • DIY invitations. Grab some card stock paper and whip up a beautiful invitation from your own computer. Look at other invitations online for inspiration.
  • Go the discount route. Retailers like Walgreens offer customizable and cheap wedding invitations at a fraction of the average invite costs.
  • Go fully virtual. It’s an increasingly digital world. Use an online invitation service like GreenVelope or Evite, or a wedding website service like The Knot or WithJoy to easily send and track invitations, no postage required!

The Venue

It’s all about location, location, location. Particularly where the budget is concerned. The venue is likely to be the biggest chunk of the wedding budget because it often includes food and service. As a result, the total is likely to ring up at an average of $10,500.2 Fortunately, there are quite a few imaginative ways to cut down that huge number.

  • Bundle up. Rather than having the ceremony in one place and the reception in another, save money by bundling. Your guests will be grateful not to drive all over the place, and you’ll save big bucks!
  • Choose a church. If you want a church wedding, there may be a fee to use the sanctuary, plus you’re expected to tip the officiant and musicians. Even if the venue is free, it’s common practice to make a donation to the church (average is $1,000).10 But that will still be cheaper than renting many halls. Plus, if you’re a member of the church you may get to use it for free or at a heavily discounted rate. Many churches or other places of worship also have a reception hall available to rent, often for a nominal fee/donation.
  • Hold it in a public park. Many public parks are the ideal picturesque setting for an outdoor wedding. They typically require the user to obtain a permit ahead of time if being used for an event. Many also charge a nominal rental fee. For example, Marietta Square (in Marietta, Georgia) features a lovely, large pavilion in a historic setting. The gazebo and/or stage can be rented by the hour for $125 or $3006, respectively. Before signing an agreement, make sure you understand any time or guest size limitations. Also, bear in mind that there could be wedding crashers or looky-loos, since it’s still a public space.
  • Get beachy. The beach costs more than a park to reserve, but those “toes in the sand” lovers will likely find it to be worth it. It’s also still a major discount from a traditional wedding venue. A DIY affair at a public beach ranges from $200 to $2,000, depending on the particular beach and how elaborate the event is.7 Like public parks, however, there could be random people wandering about your reception, so remember that when making your decision.
  • Have it in the backyard. Backyard nuptials are popular because they’re affordable and casual, but still a ton of fun. Hold it in your own yard or at a family member’s. Rent a gazebo, stage or other structure to make it stand out and enjoy all the savings! Bear in mind that the park, beach and backyard options require you to find vendors for things like tables, chairs, food and such, so figure that into the wedding budget wisely.
  • Hold it on a weekday. Tons of wedding venues sit empty on weeknights. Save a pretty penny by holding your event on a non-weekend day or evening.
  • Pick an unpopular date. Certain dates are less popular for weddings, like September 11, Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day. Same goes for the season — late summer and early fall are the most popular times of year to get married, with September, October and June the peak months.11 Choose a winter date instead and reap bigger savings!
  • Choose an off-brand location. Save big bucks by selecting an event space that’s not traditionally associated with weddings, such as a brewery, nightclub, museum, warehouse or even a ski slope!
  • Negotiate. This is especially important on non-peak dates/times, as the odds of someone else fighting you for the space or services are considerably lower. This holds true for all vendors, by the way.
  • Take it out of town. Suburban or rural weddings are less expensive than events in urban areas, so take that into consideration when picking a spot.

The Officiant

Whether by fee or tip, the wedding officiant usually costs around $2502 for a 20-minute ceremony. Instead:

  • Pick a loved one. A friend or family member can get ordained online quickly and for free from a place such as Universal Life Church. Just make sure to choose someone who doesn’t suffer from stage fright, OK?

Music

Music costs vary widely depending on the type you select for the wedding and reception. The average wedding DJ cost runs about $1,4002, compared with a band at $3,700.2 Ceremony musicians, like a harpist or violinist, average another $1,200.2 Instead of forking over so much, use some cost-cutting measures.

  • Make a playlist. Who needs a DJ to get people dancing? Curate your own playlist. Go online for inspiration and poll your friends and family!
  • Borrow a speaker. If the venue doesn’t provide a sound system simply borrow a speaker from a friend or rent one for a nominal fee.
  • Choose a pre-professional. Contact the local university music program to find a professional grade musician at a fraction of the cost.

Photography and Videography

Second to the venue, documenting the big day is often the biggest cost. The average price tag for photography and videography services is $6,000 (wedding photographer costs will set you back $4,200 on average, video $1,8002). To shrink those numbers:

  • Cut back on hours. “While it is crucial to hire a quality, experienced photographer, one does not need an eight-hour package,” says wedding planner and florist Amy McCord Jones with Flower Moxie. “Photos of getting ready in your hotel room and endless reception photos are nice, but often they are not the ‘framers’ nor do they even make it to the wedding book.” Instead, she suggests booking a three- or four-hour package, with focus on the things that really matter, such as the ceremony, family shots and the beginning of the reception. The same concept goes for videography.
  • Hire a friend. If you have a friend or family member with real photography or videography experience, ask them to do it! Often, they’ll offer a “friends and family” discount.
  • Contact a college. Here’s another opportunity to find a college student or recent graduate who needs portfolio material.
  • DIY photo booth. OK, so this isn’t an alternative to an actual photographer, but it is much cheaper to rent a DIY photo booth than to employ a full-service photo booth company. Marie Kubin, CEO of Rent My Wedding notes that a full-service company charges between $500 and $1,000, whereas a DIY booth rental is only $299. “DIY photo booths can be easily set up in a matter of minutes,” she says. “Automated software eliminates the need for an attendant to run the booth.”

Catering

Whether the catering is included in a venue package, or it’s from an independent contractor, it can cost some serious coin. In fact, the average is $70 per head!2 For a 150-guest wedding, that comes out to $10,500! Fortunately, there are some options to cut costs on this inflated expense.

  • Cut back the guest list. It might be tough and require some difficult conversations, this is the most effective way to cut costs. Instead of a 150-person affair, pare the list back to 75. It’ll still be a ton of fun but at half the price! This will have a ripple effect on the rest of the budget because you won’t need as many tables, chairs, drinks, and so on.
  • Host at lunchtime. Dinner is much more expensive to host than lunch, so consider a time shift in the cost-cutting approach.
  • Handle the catering yourself. If the venue allows, hire an outside caterer, often at a steep discount. You can also use a restaurant or grocery store that does group catering, such as Outback Steakhouse, Rubio’s, Whole Foods Market, or Chipotle. Many will deliver the food to the venue, or you can enlist the help of family.
  • Apps only. If you choose to go the appetizer-only route be sure to note it on the invitation so that guests know what to expect. Sometimes, though, an appetizer-only reception can cost as much as serving a meal, so price it out carefully.
  • Break out a buffet. Buffet-style receptions are still delicious but are far more economical than a plate-per-head meal.

Cake and Desserts

Wedding cake is a time-honored tradition, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. The average cake cost is $500.2 Cut down on those costs before you cut the cake.

  • Go faux. Cake-cutting pictures are fabulous, but the bill for the labor-intensive confection is not. “The reality is that most wedding cakes are made days before and frozen for your event,” says Arjita Shrimali, founder of The Desi Bride. “We suggest getting a one-layer cake that can be placed on top of faux Styrofoam layers. Then, have delicious sheet cake (from the same baker as your wedding cake or Costco) sliced in the back and served to your guests. Your guests will never know that the sheet cake wasn’t the same cake you cut!”
  • Be creative. If the cake isn’t a make-or-break item for you, consider less expensive desserts, like pies, cupcakes or a doughnut tower. Or, set out an ice cream sundae buffet with all the toppings.
  • Have a potluck. Encourage guests to bring a potluck dessert to share. You can even “judge” the desserts and give a prize to the best one!

Alcohol

When it comes to an inflated reception bill, blame it on the alcohol, which averages $2,300.2 “A couple can go into bankruptcy trying to provide a full hosted bar with alcohol and mixers,” laments event planner Greg Jenkins with California-based Bravo Productions. So how do you get around that?

  • BYOB. “Find a venue that allows you to bring in your alcohol yet will still offer bartending services,” suggests wedding planner Clara Bakhshi. “This tip can easily save you 50 percent off the venue’s own price.”
  • BYOB and self-serve. Buy beer and wine at a discount store like Costco or Sam’s Club. Put out ice (if needed) and set up self-serve stations for guests, who will probably appreciate the fact that they don’t have to tip a bartender!
  • Limit the offerings. Bakhshi also notes that costs can be cut further by offering a select menu of drinks and signature cocktails, rather than a full bar. “Signature cocktails not only add a certain charm to your event but are also cost-efficient,” she explains.
  • Make it a cash bar. It’s a wedding reception, not a frat party. It’s fine to give each guest, say, two drink tickets and have them pay if they want more than that. “By adding in the cash bar for the reception, you are still giving guests a chance to purchase additional drinks throughout the night,” Beaman says. “There is no need to buy your guests an endless amount of alcohol for the entire night.”
  • Cocktail hour only. Having just one hour of open bar will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
  • Tell guests to BYOB. If the venue allows, tell guests to bring their own drink of choice. Provide mixers, cups, garnishes and bar tools. Be sure to note this on the invitation!
  • Don’t even bother. It’s not unusual for daytime and/or church weddings to not serve alcohol at all. The point is to start a marriage, not for everyone to get plastered. Instead, serve a sparkling nonalcoholic punch.

The Rehearsal Dinner

The average rehearsal dinner runs about $1,900.2 Instead of spending a small fortune, consider these options:

  • Skip it. Everyone’s probably going to get a nice, big dinner at the actual wedding reception. Save yourself the moolah and everyone else from having to get all dolled up another night and forego the rehearsal dinner altogether. “You honestly don’t need a pre-celebration party,” explains Clara Bakhshi, certified wedding planner and personal finance blogger with Blue World Dreams, Inc. “With fewer parents covering the cost of weddings these days, the rehearsal dinner can become another added expense for the couple.”
  • Have it on a weekday. “Consider a weekday rehearsal dinner, two days before (Thursday perhaps) instead of Friday,” says Kayla Hoey, founder and lead planner of Not Your Basic Bride. “Weekdays are significantly cheaper for room rentals.”
  • Make it low-key. Instead of a sit-down dinner, make it a party! Get some catered barbecue and hold it at someone’s home or even do it potluck style. The wedding is likely to be a fancy-dress event, so let everyone cut loose and be casual at the rehearsal dinner.
  • Limit to family. Instead of inviting dozens of people to the rehearsal dinner, make it an event only for immediate family and the bridal party, instead.

The Wedding Dress

There’s the cost of the gown, plus all of the add-ons to consider, like alterations, shoes, special undergarments and bridal accessories to consider. Even though it’s the most special dress of your life, the average wedding dress cost of $1,6002 is an awful lot to drop on a one-time garment. Here are some helpful ways to cut costs and still look like a dream on your big day.

  • Buy used. Why pay full price for a brand-new frock when you could pay half that with no one the wiser? “The best way to save is to buy a dress on Stillwhite.com for around 50% of the retail price. Wear it, pay for the dry cleaning and then sell it to another bride after your wedding,” says company co-founder Ingrid Szajer. Stillwhite is the world’s largest online wedding dress marketplace. Brides-to-be can buy both worn and unworn dresses there. “This is also a great sustainable decision for those brides concerned about their impact on the planet,” she adds.
  • Find cheap wedding dresses online. Other online options include eBay, AliExpress, and David’s Bridal, among others. Even if the dress doesn’t fit like a glove when it arrives, all it takes are a couple of alterations to make it perfect!
  • Go “off the rack.” Visit discount bridal stores and buy a dress off the rack. Don’t forget to check the sale and clearance sections for big savings.
  • Just look for a “white gown.” Instead of limiting your search to bridal-specific wear, look for white or ivory pageant, prom or special occasion gowns at department stores, which are often cheaper without the “wedding” label.

Bridal Hair and Makeup

It’s your wedding day, so you’ll be glowing no matter what. Don’t pay for the privilege! Instead, take in a few makeup and hair tutorials and give yourself the makeover you deserve for far less than the sticker price (combined around $2102, but that varies widely depending on location). You know what looks best on you and the look you are going for anyway. If your not a beauty guru, practice the look first or enlist a friend for help. Here are a few suggested tutorials:

Wedding Hair Tutorials



Wedding Makeup Tutorials



Groom’s Attire

The cost to purchase a tuxedo typically ranges between $500 and $1,000.5 This isn’t such a bad deal if the groom plans to wear it a bunch of times, but many choose instead to rent a tux for about $300.2 Here are some tips to keep this expense to a minimum.

  • Make it a group thing. Many tux rental stores discount the fee if the groomsmen, father of the bride and so on rent from them.
  • Suit up. Instead of springing for a tuxedo, the groom and his party can purchase or wear a nice suit or blazer/slacks combo which can be much more affordable. They’re more likely to use these again down the road than penguin attire, so it won’t seem like a frivolous expense.

Flowers

Fresh, beautifully arranged flowers are oh-so-lovely, but they’re also oh-so-expensive at an average of $2,000.2 “Using real flowers for your bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces will easily cost you thousands of dollars,” says Karen Norian, wedding planner and photographer at Simply Eloped. Cut down on this significant cost by using one or more of these easy options.

  • Go to the grocery. A few beautiful blooms go a long way. Pick up some inexpensive bouquets at the local grocery store, put them in some vases and scatter throughout the reception tables.
  • Get wild. If wildflowers are available during your wedding season, consider gathering some for the big day. Delphiniums, daisies, orchids and hydrangeas are just a few options, although what’s available depends on location and time of year. Just be sure to test them in advance to make sure they hold up for hours in water.
  • It’s easy being green. Fresh greenery is far less expensive than flowers, but still adds a pop of color to tables. Even better, greenery can literally be gathered around your neighborhood! Eucalyptus, myrtle and leatherleaf fern are a few popular and attractive options.
  • Do double-duty. After the ceremony, have bridesmaids place their bouquets in vases at the reception. Then, there’s no need to pay for centerpieces!
  • Embrace artificial. “One of the more popular trends going around now is using silk or wood flowers in lieu of live flowers,” says Norian. Using an artificial bouquet, she notes, ensures it remains in perfect keepsake condition. Plus, you can use the other flowers to decorate around your new home.
  • Omit altogether. Skip the pricey boutonnieres, bouquets and arrangements. Most people won’t even notice! If you want the ladies to have something to hold while walking down the aisle, pick up a bouquet of daisies or another bloom and give them each a single stem with a bow tied around it.
  • DIY. Flower Moxie’s Amy McCord Jones says, “On average, brides spend $3k-$5k on wedding florals and often experience regret. In the hustle and bustle of a wedding day couples rarely notice details or floral arrangements.” For that reason, she suggests DIY wedding flowers, doing a combination of florist and DIY flowers or scaling way back. “The bar sign does not need a floral swag,” she says. “DIY’ing your bouquets and centerpieces can be done with your friends and family in the three days leading up to the wedding and will save over 60 percent of what you would spend with a traditional florist,” she says. There’s no shortage of DIY tutorials online, so be sure to check out one or more if you need help!

Lighting and Décor

Lighting and décor sets couples back an average of $1,500.2 And guess what? Most guests don’t even notice these special touches. Here are some easy ways to save:

  • Borrow, borrow, borrow. Poll your friends and family to find out what they have. Borrow everything from tea lights to tablecloths to barware and so on. It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy if that’s not the look you’re going for! Be sure to keep a detailed list of who loans what and check it off once returned. Label each item in an inconspicuous location, as well.
  • Don’t even bother. Sure, the candelabra is a nice touch, but is it necessary? Same concept goes for other odds and ends. Sometimes, less really is more.
  • DIY. If you want “wow” lighting without absurd expense, turn to a DIY setup to get the job done. Marie Kubin with Rent My Wedding says that a full-service lighting company costs between $2,000 and $5,000, depending where you live. By comparison, Rent My Wedding’s DIY Lighting Kit is only $299 and includes a monogram light, cake spotlight and uplighting.
  • Check out the local dollar store. They have tealights, mirrors for centerpieces, vases and more to add pizazz on the cheap.

Guest Entertainment

Extra entertainment has seeped into modern weddings, but can cost up to or more than $1,000!2 Remember that these add-ons are just an extra perk for guests to take the fun up a notch, so there’s no need to break the bank! The type you provide is dependent on the style of wedding, however.

  • Yard games. Don’t spend a penny! If it’s a casual, outdoor event, borrow some fun games like cornhole, ring toss and horseshoes from friends.
  • DIY photo board. Who doesn’t love a Polaroid picture? Find a vintage camera or two and plenty of film. Set up a table and bulletin board with all the necessary materials (stickers, markers, props, etc.) and encourage guests to decorate like crazy!
  • Video guest book. Find a quiet corner and set up a video camera for guests to record a short message to the bride and groom. Edit later and enjoy for years to come!
  • Set up a kiddie corner. Keep kids occupied with an area just for them. Provide coloring implements, board games, cards and other fun time-wasters.
  • Find a venue with built-in entertainment. Many venues are aware that guest entertainment is common, so if it’s a big deal to you, pick your spot based on the extras they have to offer.
  • A choreographed dance. This option is both free and fun. Coordinate a dance with your friends and family. It’s a great way to connect and will be a very memorable part of the reception. Who knows, it might even go viral!
  • Fireworks or sparklers. As long as you’re not in a fire zone and fireworks are permitted, they are a cheap way to add some literal sparkle to your special night.

Transportation

Guest and wedding party shuttles are a nice touch, but they get expensive really quick! Save yourself an average of $8002 with these tips:

  • Stay in one spot. If you host the wedding and reception at a hotel (or somewhere within walking distance), there’ll be no need for shuttle service. Sometimes, hotels even offer a complimentary one.
  • Have guests handle their own transportation. They’re big boys and girls — they drive themselves all the time! Do provide information for cab companies or rideshare services to encourage safety at the reception, though.

Favors and Gifts

Some people really appreciate the thought. Others couldn’t care less, and as a result, will shove that wedding favor into a drawer and forget about it. Avoid dropping $400 or more2 on such items. Instead:

  • Skip them. Save yourself the money and energy and skip the favors and gifts. A thank you card is more than enough or buy bridesmaids a round of drinks the next time you’re out. They’ll like that more than a candle.
  • Make your own. If you’re the crafty type, use your skills to make something special to show appreciation like a personalized button, embroidered tea towel, bath salts, homemade candles, etc.
  • Raffle off flowers. At the end of the evening, randomly choose people to take home the beautiful centerpieces.
  • Make it sweet. Treat bags filled with sugary goodness are an inexpensive favor option. They can even be done in your wedding colors!

Wedding Insurance

A wedding is a huge financial commitment, so some couples choose to have it insured. The average cost is $353.2 There are two types of wedding insurance:

  • Cancellation insurance protects you if something prevents the wedding from happening as planned, such as a weather event or pandemic. Note that few policies cover a change of heart; the ones that do relate to a third party paying for the wedding and not the couple.
  • Liability insurance covers you if someone gets hurt or injured at your event.

Do you need insurance? Before you sign on the dotted line, go over the venue contract. What is their weather/pandemic policy? What if someone gets hurt on their premises? They may already include insurance in their fee. Do the same with catering, photography, and so on. Even if they don’t include insurance, ask about their policies. Most contractors are reasonable, as no one wants a bad Yelp review out there.

The Honeymoon

The average honeymoon costs $5,000.2 Avoid forking over a small fortune by employing a few tricks.

  • Take a mini-moon. The longer the vacation, the pricier it gets. At around $2,2008, a mini-moon is a great option for people who need the getaway, but don’t want to spend as much money. Such a trip is typically a long weekend or up to five days.
  • Stay local. Keep the honeymoon close by and save big on airfare, passport fees, and other financial pitfalls. Plus, less travel means more one-on-one time together, which is always a good thing for newlyweds!
  • Use reward points. Many credit cards offer travel rewards, redeemable for flights and hotel stays. If possible, charge everything wedding-related (as long as you can responsibly pay it off) to the same card or two. Then reap the rewards in the form of big points!
  • Purchase a package. Look into a travel package to save big, versus purchasing everything separately. All-inclusive vacations are also great because there are no hidden fees.
  • Consider the dollar. In some places, the American dollar goes further, so you literally get more bang for your buck. This changes frequently, however, so make sure to do current research on exchange rates.
  • Flaunt your love. When booking your trip and while you’re on location, tell everyone with ears that you’re honeymooning. This could result in special gifts and upgrades that you wouldn’t get otherwise!

Health and Safety Costs Due to COVID

Don’t be a super spreader: Make sure your guests are protected from illness by employing a few measures.

  • Have an outdoor wedding. You might have to worry about the weather, but you won’t fret over germs continually circulating indoors.
  • Provide sanitation stations. Set up a couple of tables with hand sanitizer and masks to help people stay safe and protected. The typical cost of these is around $280.8
  • Wait it out. Although it sometimes feels like it will last forever, eventually the pandemic will end. Save the wedding for when that day comes.
  • Hold a “minimony.” This is a wedding with 10 guests or less. Compared with a huge event, a minimony only costs an average of $1,400!8

Wedding Budget Cost Variables to Consider

Weddings are not one-size-fits-all, by any means. Consider the following when planning your nuptials:

  • Should you elope? If your guest list is way out of control and there’s no easy way to cut it back, consider taking the easy (and cheap) way out. You won’t get many presents, but you’ll still save a ton of money.
  • Destination or local? A combo destination wedding/honeymoon is a great way to cut costs. See below for the average destination wedding costs per country compared to the U.S. to see which countries are the cheapest:

Average Wedding Cost by Country

  • U.S.A $29.2K
  • Spain $23.4K
  • Italy $22.5K
  • Canada $21.9K
  • U.K $19.2K
  • France $17.6K
  • Portugal $16.7K
  • Mexico $8.6k
  • Peru $7.7K
  • Chile $7.4K
  • Brazil $6.6K
  • Argentina $3.7K
  • Colombia $3.3K
Country Costs
U.S.A 29.2K
Spain 23.4K
Italy 22.5K
Canada 21.9K
U.K 19.2K
France 17.6K
Portugal 16.7K
Mexico 21.2K
Peru 21.2K
Chile 21.2K
Brazil 21.2K
Argentina 29.2k
Colombia 29.2k

Reference: Wedding Wire: 2019 Global Wedding Report
  • Consider where you live. The same wedding costs more in certain states, like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.9 If you live in a big-ticket area it might be a good idea to move the event to a cheaper location. Certain countries12 also spend more on weddings than others.

Average Wedding Costs by State

State Costs
Alabama $25,500
Alaska $16,000
Arizona $29,400
Arkansas $21,800
California $39,000
Colorado $30,000
Connecticut $41,000
Delaware $34,900
District of Columbia $40,600
Florida $30,600
Georgia $30,900
Hawaii $32,900
Idaho $19,800
Illinois $39,700
Indiana $22,800
Iowa $22,600
Kansas $22,400
Kentucky $23,900
Louisiana $33,900
Maine $33,500
Maryland $33,800
Massachusetts $43,600
Michigan $29,700
Minnesota $28,800
Mississippi $23,800
Missouri $26,600
Montana $23,000
Nebraska $23,300
New Hampshire $32,100
New Jersey $53,400
New York $48,600
North Carolina $29,500
North Dakota $29,200
Ohio $29,300
Oklahoma $21,200
Oregon $22,400
Pennsylvania $35,900
Rhode Island $49,800
South Carolina $30,600
South Dakota $29,200
Tennessee $26,900
Texas $30,200
Utah $19,700
Vermont $38,300
Virginia 33,300
Washington $25,600
West Virginia $26,500
Wisconsin $27,800
Wyoming $19,800

Reference: The Knot: This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2020

Other ideas to save on wedding costs:

  • Plan, plan, plan. Really take time to develop a meticulous wedding budget and stick to it!
  • Talk to your betrothed. What aspects of the wedding will really matter to you 10 years from now? Focus efforts and money on those two or three elements, and cut back on the rest.
  • Negotiate. It never hurts to ask for a better rate, right? The worst thing they’ll say is “no.”
  • Broaden your horizons. Don’t confine your searches to things labeled “bridal” or “wedding.” Instead, search for “white gowns,” or venues not known as traditional wedding spots.
  • Do it your way. Non-traditional ideas can save big money. Don’t be afraid to try something new and innovative!
  • Enlist help. Need assistance preparing or on the day of the event? Ask family or friends for wedding help, in place of wedding gifts.
  • Offer a trade. Market vendor services to guests in exchange for a discount. Allow them to leave business cards or other information at the reception.
  • Clip coupons. Look for coupons and rebates for anything you purchase.
  • Return or Resell. Consider returning or reselling items as gently after the big day to save even more.

It’s your day. Do it your way!

Just because other people spend small fortunes on weddings doesn’t mean you have to. After all, it’s only one day of your life, and the money could be spent in so many other ways, like paying down student loans, saving for retirement, buying a car, or a down payment on a home to share with your beloved. Done right, you can have your dream wedding on a budget at any price point!

Alia Hoyt Writer

Contributor

Alia is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who has contributed content to WalletGenius. She’s has been published by HowStuffWorks, TLC, Animal Planet, and a number of corporate clients. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!), and might someday get around to setting up a professional website. Until then, check her out on LinkedIn. She and her husband are proud parents to three handsome, too-smart-for-their-own-good boys. Alia is a passably not terrible tennis player, lover of all things dance and music, brownie-obsessed, avid reader and off-key car singer. Her two favorite types of people are those who have a healthy sense of humor and those who actually read articles in their entirety before posting comments.

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