First, I’d like to say thank you to my Mom and Stepdad for saving diligently throughout your careers and helping to pay for a large part of the wedding. Full disclosure: I wanted to elope, but my mom wouldn’t let me. She was determined to see her only daughter get married, and said she would no longer speak to the Wanderer if he let me go through with eloping. Since that’s not a good way to start a marriage, we decided we had better do the thing. So I guess the TLDR of cheap weddings is “threaten to elope.” How else does one cut wedding costs?
Pick the top three most important pieces of your wedding day, and ask your partner to pick theirs. From that list, pick the top 3-4 to focus on. That’s where the money should go.
Number one on our list was family togetherness. Since literally everyone in my family would have to travel depending on where we hosted, it made the most sense for us to pick a resort or hotel. We decided to stay local so that we didn’t have to travel. We ended up with a beach resort where the whole family could stay together and enjoy. It was a little more expensive, but we felt like it was well worth the cost. We will have our entire family together for as much time as possible, and we’re thankful for that!
Number two on our list was capturing the moments with a photographer and a videographer. The number one regret I seem to read all the time is brides who skimped on photographers or brides who skipped a videographer. When the “best day of your life” passes by in a blur, why wouldn’t you do everything you could to remember it? If all you have are photos from someone who takes photos, you’ve missed out on the skills of talented photographers who shoot weddings for a living. Some people regret not having a videographer, and some people regret “wasting” the money for a movie they never watch, so you really have to know yourself and your priorities when it comes to the expense of a videographer.
Number three on our list was music. We wanted something nontraditional, relaxed, and altogether unexpected. We ended up hiring a guitarist to do the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception. We actually found him at the lounge in the resort. He has been busy learning the song for our first dance!
When it came to the rest, we... well, we kind of didn’t. We just went with whatever was the easiest and/or cheapest, in moderation. We probably would fail the test for wedding planning 101.
Cutting Costs For the Rest
There are a million different ways to cut costs for a wedding.
Always start with a venue. This is what will set the date, the price, and the tone for everything else. What if you find a giant ball gown and farmhouse centerpieces, but end up choosing a sleek modern hotel where they might look out of place? Or you put down a deposit with a vendor and they aren’t available for your date? It’s not the end of the world by any means, and it’s important to do whatever makes you happy, but choosing your venue first is the best way to ensure you won’t regret other choices later. Also, check the final date with your VIP list to make sure they are able to attend before you put down the deposit. It could save serious heartache later.
Consider unexpected places. Do you have a restaurant or bar you love? See if you can rent it out. Do you frequent a park? See if you can put up a tent and have a caterer come in. A museum or gallery you love? They love hosting events! Often, unexpected places are happy to work with you, especially on price.
Ask when the off-season or the off time is. Venues always have slower months and will often provide you with a substantial discount to book. (In Florida, it’s during hurricane season...) Some venues give discounts for a breakfast, lunch, or cocktail hour instead of dinner.
It’s not just about the expenses for you. Consider expenses your guests are incurring to attend the event. If you have a lot of traveling guests who need a place to stay, consider hotels or areas that will eliminate the need for guests to drive far.
Consider all-inclusive places. Often, there is a simple flat-fee structure in place that makes planning a breeze. We originally wanted to do the Sandals all-inclusive wedding, but some of my family members would have been unable to attend due to the cost to travel out of the country.
Food and Beverages
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Most venues charge less for breakfast or lunch. Some venues price a buffet cheaper, and some cut the cost for a plated food, so it’s important to look through the whole menu and compare. Flexibility is key. Also, make sure you are comparing the total cost – including taxes and gratuity.
You might want to find a venue that allows you to bring your own caterer, so that way you have complete control over what you are paying for food. Also, some places allow you to bring your own alcohol and other beverages, which can be a huge cost savings. It depends on their insurance and liability.
If you are getting married in a church, usually the officiant is included. Otherwise, consider a friend or family member who could do it as a gift, although you’d better choose someone reliable. It will be far more meaningful, and it has become easier for anyone to get certified as an officiant. If they are good, they could even turn it into a side hustle. You’d want to make sure your person of choice takes the necessary steps so that your ceremony is legal. If you’d rather your friends and family watch, ask your venue for a list of officiants or go online, and call around. Usually an officiant is an “independent contractor” so their prices vary.
Less is more. Choose impactful pieces to make a bigger statement where it matters. We chose to do a bouquet for me, a corsage for my mom, and two flower arrangements, one for either side of the ceremony. They will move to the reception area with us. Since I didn’t have a bridal party, we didn’t have to worry about other arrangements.
Sam’s club and Costco have great blooms for a fraction of the price, as long as you are willing to put in a bit of DIY. You can save hundreds of dollars going this route. However, there are many aspects to be mindful of: making sure they have water, making sure they get to the venue, and realizing there’s no one who can fix it if the flowers don’t turn out the way you’d planned since it’s literally a day-of or day-before exercise. Make sure you have vases, floral tape, gardening gloves, and anything else you need.
First, ask your venue if they have centerpieces already. Often they have centerpieces purchased for anyone’s use or left behind by a prior event. Second, make sure you know what your tables and arrangement will look like. White linens support almost any centerpiece, but you’ll want to look at the colors and style of the room. A sand-filled vase might not fit a farm-house or modern city vibe.
When you set out to buy centerpieces, the first place to check is Craigslist or a wedding swap. Often, brides have amazing centerpieces they are trying to get rid of for a fraction of the price they paid. My Tampa Bay Facebook wedding swap has new posts daily, and some of the centerpieces I’ve seen are stunning.
If neither of the above work out, then this is really a chance to get creative. You can find all sorts of great ideas online and can put them together at a fraction of the cost. We purchased cylinders and fake flowers, and then we saved wine bottles and spray painted them white.
The cheapest route is an iPod, and that’s perfectly acceptable if you have a small lunch or dinner crowd. It’s all about priorities. If you have a larger group, a good DJ will usually have a better grasp on the vibe of the room and can play a broad variety. Musicians and bands are more expensive, but you are in a better place to negotiate a discount if you book them during their slower time.
A newer photographer who is looking to build their portfolio will usually be the cheapest, but it comes with the risk that your moments may not be captured. A seasoned veteran has experience to handle the surprises, which is why the best photographers are able to charge a premium. If this area is less of a priority, try your local wedding board or a local art school. Often, the photography students are chomping at the bit for an opportunity to capture weddings for their portfolio, and you can negotiate a discount in exchange for the photos.
Something often overlooked is the cost to order prints after the wedding. Many photographers offer discounts up front, but force you to order photos through them at an increased price. Ask a photographer to give you all the digital copies for your photos, and to give you the full printing rights. Printing yourself will likely save the most money in the long run. Videographers can now deliver digitally as well.