Updated on 03.27.09

A Reasonable Wedding

Trent Hamm

This is the third entry in a five part series this week on the stages of a relationship and how you can make financially sound choices throughout. Other entries include courtships;, engagements;, honeymoons, and marriages.

Weddings are a traditional sinkhole of a new couple’s money. In fact, I’ve actually written about it before, denoting eighteen tips for a frugal wedding. In fact, entire blogs are devoted to the topic of frugal weddings – one of the best is A Practical Wedding.

So what do I have to add on the topic? It’s easy to get bogged down in the specifics of wedding planning – and when you start racking up the costs on those little details, before you know it, the entire wedding is out of control and you’re starting married life in a financial (and emotional) hole.

Here are ten “big picture” tactics to apply when planning for a wedding that won’t break your bank – or break your future.

Start your planning as far in advance of the wedding as possible. Set a tentative date as quickly as possible and start planning as soon as you can, even if you’re planning something very simple. The longer you have before the wedding, the more time you have to find sales, discounts, and other opportunities that can shave significant cash off of the total bill. Remember, you can cancel reservations with enough advance notice if you find a better deal.

Be completely open with your partner on what your ideas for the wedding are. Some people want very simple weddings, with just a few friends and family. Others envision huge, elaborate ceremonies with hundreds in attendance. Some people insist on being married in a specific church. Others are happy being married anywhere. As soon as you can after the engagement, talk about both of your expectations about the wedding. You may find your partner wants something completely different. Knowing this early gives you time to find solutions that make both of you happy.

The best place to trim fat for the wedding is the guest list. A long guest list can create a huge bill for your wedding and reception. Instead of inviting everyone you’ve ever known, consider trimming the list down to something manageable. Focus on people genuinely important to you, not merely everyone you can think of. Every additional guest brings a cost – additional supplies, additional food, and so on.

Do as much of the work yourself as you possibly can. You don’t need a wedding planner. Plan it yourself. Poke around online for guides to wedding planning, then move through those guides and take care of them yourself. If you need help with some of the tasks, ask people you trust for advice before you turn to professionals who are usually more interested in selling stuff than actually helping you. You’ll always save money if you go to a place knowing what you want.

Provide as many supplies as you can yourself – go bargain shopping. Minimize the supplies that others are providing and find them yourself. Keep a master list of all of the things you actually need for the wedding, then go bargain shopping. Look at unexpected places like Oriental Trading Company or a thrift store – you’ll be surprised how many quality items you can find for stunningly low prices.

Look among close friends and family for photographers, organists, florists, and other key roles. At our wedding, my sister-in-law (a florist) handled the flowers (at cost) and my wife’s aunt played the piano (for free), plus a close friend volunteered to be photographer (for free) and another friend volunteered to be the DJ (for free). Look around your social network and see what you can find. One great source can be found at the house of worship where you’re getting married (if that’s your choice) – if you have personal ties there, ask the ladies’ auxiliary for help with things like catering.

Hold the ceremony in your home, your parents’ home, or outdoors. Concerned about the fees of renting a place for the ceremony? Think outside the box a bit. Get married outside or in someone’s home. I’ve attended multiple beautiful outdoor ceremonies over the last decade and none of them had any cost.

Make your own invitations. With the quality of home printing, it’s easy to make your own invitations. Get some classy stationery and print them yourself. You can find lots of templates online if you’re unsure about the design. My wife and I designed our own invitations and saved literally hundreds of dollars.

Use a family-owned restaurant for catering. If you are in a position where you have to hire someone for catering, look for a local family-owned restaurant, even if they don’t typically cater. In particular, look for a local restaurant that you have been a patron of so you can be sure of the quality. Family-owned restaurants are usually very civic-minded and are thrilled at the opportunity to be involved – usually at a good price.

Use a good stereo system for the reception music. Don’t hire a band – and don’t hire a DJ, either. Ask around your social circle to find people that have a good stereo system that can be used, then set the whole thing up yourself. Attach it to a computer with a large music playlist and let people DJ by committee – lots of fun and very little (if any) cost.

Got any good, reasonable, frugal advice for people planning their weddings? Please leave them in the comments.

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  1. Joanna says:

    Great post. I’m actually getting married this Saturday and have to say ditto to the make your own invites. I found relatively inexpensive cardstock at lcipaper.com and actually had our Print Services department at my job print it. (It’s outsourced to a vendor & they provide services for personal printing as well.) They print & cut so many pieces of paper I can’t even tell you and I probably spent $40 with them total. And I did a LOT of paper stuff from invites, to programs to making my own thank yous to large centerpiece monogram cards, favor boxes, the whole works.

    Key here, though, start early on your DIY projects and ask for help. Otherwise it can be quite stressful.

  2. Jessica says:

    If you can, get married in winter, since its the down-season for weddings! So much of what we got was at some discount and some items even half off.

    We managed to have two of our friends do photography for free, went with silk flowers instead of real (both because of price and my husband’s allergies), and had a family friend do all of the alterations to the dresses for free, too.

    I had my heart set on a band (sorry, Trent!) but I was able to book them 8 months ahead of time and get them at half their normal price since it was in the winter.

    One tip that I haven’t heard from anyone:
    Think of everyone in your wedding party’s wallets too! Some of those bridesmaids dresses can be very expensive and often times cannot be worn for other occasions, and also can’t be rented like a tux! I made sure to help pick out dresses that they could wear for other dressy occasions as well. They’ll thank you for it :D


  3. Shay says:

    In general, great advice.
    I would add one caveat: please be careful with the friend you get to do your photography and be your DJ. If your friend is a casual photographer, maybe does it part-time, great! If your friend has experience playing events as a DJ, that’s great.

    But these aren’t things that just anyone with a digital camera or iTunes can do. The DJ’s musical choices can make or break a party, and your photos are pretty much the only thing from this huge party (other than your marriage!) that will last. Put some care into their choices.

  4. Shay says:

    Oh – and one easy way to save a bundle? Get married on a Sunday!

  5. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    If you can at all, you really need to get married in the off season. We saved so much money it was ridiculous. In addition, try to avoid the pressure of having a big wedding, especially if you are one of the first of a group of friends to get married.

    My wife and I had almost 325 people come to our wedding and it ended being much more expensive and much less personal. Don’t be pressured by any outside sources make sure you are going with how YOU both feel.

  6. Scotty says:

    I did my own invitations and saved a ton. Unless you need/want stuff like raised ink, there’s not much need to have a professional printing company do them for you. You can buy nice, pre-made invitation stationary at most office supply stores, and a ton more online. Even your cheaptest $49 cheapo printer does amazing photo-quality these days. Even with the exhorbitant cost of ink, it’s still way cheaper. With nice stationary, a $49 printer, extra ink, you’re well below $250.

    I went with an amatuer photographer too. He was more like a ‘professional’ amatuer (not just some kid with an SLR), and actually took great care in his work. Saved a TON there, too.

    The biggest thing we noticed with out guest list, is that it was more or less an all-or-nothing affair. The problem with politics comes into play, because if you invite Aunt X, you should invite Uncle Y.

    But otherwise the Venue is a big place for cost savings. Try to think outside the box, becauyse how boring is your standard rank-and-file hotel reception wedding, anyway?

  7. Robin says:

    If you do want a band or a musician rather than a DJ, check into a music school at a college in town. We had a 4 piece jazz band of college students play at our wedding for much less than professionals would have cost. Of course, get references and/or hear them play, but it can be a great option.

  8. Battra92 says:

    Shay: As a photographer (not a wedding one but a photographer nonetheless) I strongly advise against that. If you must spend money on something you should spend it on a photographer. How many amateurs or friends taking the photos report that “it was a disaster” or that “things happened so fast.” Believe me, for something this important you need a pro.

  9. Johanna says:

    I’m really disappointed with this series. It seems that “A Reasonable (Engagement, Wedding, etc.)” is just a rehashed list of tips of how to save money on your (engagement, wedding, etc.) The implication seems to be that people who want to have a fancier, elaborate, more expensive event are being unreasonable – even if they can afford it. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow you suggested that everyone should go camping in a state park for their honeymoon.

    It ought to be possible to talk about “a reasonable wedding” without having it be such a value judgment. For example, how do you design a wedding budget and stick to it? How do you balance wedding spending with other financial priorities? How much can you expect to spend if you go with catering from a local restaurant? If you’re getting people you know to help you out with flowers, what’s a reasonable discount to ask from their normal prices? Is it, in fact, tacky to ask for help with the wedding in lieu of a wedding present (I’ve heard it argued that it is)?

  10. Battra92 says:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound as if I was pointing that at Shay but it was actually for Trent. I originally intended to point to Shay’s post as a starting point but then got sidetracked.

    TL;DR: Get the pro on the photographer. You’ll save your friends that way.

  11. AD says:

    Elope. That’s the best way to save money. You’ll quickly find that weddings can get WAY out of hand, even when the bride herself doesn’t want something big and flashy. I always envisioned a very small ceremony, but I married a man with a very large (his was 75 percent of the guest list), very close-knit family. I found that it is impossible to cut out people without seriously offending your new family and hurting feelings. So either you invite them all, or you can elope (and still probably hurt some feelings anyway).

    In the end, most people just shell out the money because hurting/offending family isn’t worth it.

  12. liv says:

    i think the best advice is just one word: comprimise. :)

  13. kev says:

    As a video producer, I get asked to do the videography for people’s weddings a lot, friends and family. Never mind that I don’t do weddings. Usually, I ask, will I also be a guest at the wedding? Then no.

    So far, the best arrangement has been, you go hire a proper wedding videographer, I’ll eat and drink and have fun with my family and friends, you tell the videographer to give me the tapes at the end of the night, and I’ll edit it for you.

    I’ve done a couple of those, saved money and made people happy. Nobody wants to be asked to work at a family wedding, especially something that takes constant attention like videography.

    Finally, if there’s one thing you don’t want to skimp on, it’s the photographer. People will forget the flowers and the banquet-hall “food” within a couple months, and more importantly, so will you. But three, five, ten years down the road, those photos will be the only tangible memory of the day (besides your blushing spouse of course)

  14. Stacey says:

    Try having a luncheon or brunch – in many cases, the food is of the same standard but can cost less than half of the traditional dinner menu. We had a luncheon for our (very large) reception and it worked out great.

    Bonus: Wedding at 11 a.m., reception at 1 p.m. We were able to get back home at a reasonable hour and relax with the wedding party for a bit.

    Oh, and we also used an MP3 player instead of a DJ. We had a friend press “play” when he got to the hall, looped 40 favorite songs that we already owned, and no one was the wiser. We got ambiance for free!

  15. Jon Bohlinger says:

    “The best place to trim fat for the wedding is the guest list”

    So very wrong.

    The best place to trim is from the fixed costs, not the variable costs. If each guest adds $50 and you are getting a $5,000 hall, you could get a $4,000 location and have an additional 20 people come. And that is a cheap location with decently expensive guests.

    It’s like trying to cut out a cup of coffee living with a mortgage you can’t afford.

  16. Taybee says:

    I totally agree with Shay and Battra92 on getting a professional photographer. Photos are pretty much the only record you’ll have of the day so it just doesn’t make sense to take that risk. Plus, if you’re asking friends/relatives to be your photographer, dj or caterer then you’re preventing them from being a true guest and really enjoying the party.

    To echo others, my sister’s getting married next year and she’s found that the best way to keep costs down is to have it in the off-season. This way she can have all of the “extras” that she’d like and still come in on budget.

  17. Penny says:

    I am getting married very soon. The costs of any given item or service seem to vary wildly based upon where you get it from, and how much time you have to kill before you need it, and whether you need quality vs. quantity.

    Chcek out my blog, upcoming brides—I have a couple of articles about wedding junk :)

    Meanwhile, if I had to do it over again….I’d prolly skip town. Wedding planning is cumbersome!

  18. Peter Shirley says:

    My first wife and I spent $2,000 on our wedding in early 1991 — that included renting the hall and hiring the photographer and band, the latter two accounting for some 60% of the total. We were married and had our reception in the same place, and had a pot luck reception (we supplied wine, which accounted for another good chunk of the total). I don’t remember how many guests we had — 200? Many, in any case — we didn’t have to pare down the guest list.

    My second wife and I spent even less in the summer of 1999: We threw a weekend brunch at our home and didn’t tell anyone about the wedding beforehand (this saved our guests numerous expenses, from fancy getups to wedding gifts). We hired a duly-authorized woman to come to our brunch and marry us, to the surprise and delight of the gathered guests. A musical family among our friends provided unique and wonderful music, and then we served brunch (my wife and I had prepared food ahead of time). Our only mild regret was not hiring a photographer (or letting one of our photographer friends in on the secret); we provided disposable cameras, but no one was clicking photos when we said “I Do”. We had perhaps 50 or 60 people in attendance, and a splendid time was had by all — so much so that our wedding has become a cherished story among our friends.

    It’s quite possible to get married — and include your friends and family in a truly memorable occasion — without spending a lot of money. That said, if a large, fancy wedding is important to both parties, and the expense is manageable, then go for it!

  19. ChrisD says:

    ‘and don’t hire a DJ, either’
    I completely agree with this.
    When I go to the wedding of a university friend, all of the old group of friends meet, sometimes after a year. We don’t want to dance we want to talk and catch up. Or likewise at a friends 30th party. DJs think it’s all about them and that you want to listen to their music. We don’t!
    Loud music is a big problem at many bars too (though at bars they might deliberately play music so loud you can’t talk so that you drink more out of boredom!). This is a major bugbear of mine.
    Also I have been surprised at how bad a job some DJs have done. If a certain song brings lots of people to the dance floor, they ought to know what song will keep them there, but too often the next song has sent us right off the dance floor. We would certainly have been better off picking our own songs from an iTunes list.
    Secondly, the music the friends of the couple dance to, and the music the friends of the parents dance to may be mutually exclusive.
    Of course this is not true in every case and at another friends wedding the dance floor was packed, but a live band is not so loud so you could still sit out and hear yourself talk if you wanted.
    At the end of the day it depends what you and your guests want, but you shouldn’t feel that you HAVE to have a DJ.

  20. Rob says:

    Just dont get married. Saves on the divorce lawyer ahead of time.

  21. KellyB says:

    The one place I say to not skimp is the photographer. Long after the wedding, the pictures and the video are the only things you have to keep. Sometimes the day goes so quickly that you don’t even have many memories! Just plan what pics you want and make sure they get them done, make sure you check out their work before you book them.

  22. MichelleO says:

    Focus on the marriage, not the wedding. The wedding and reception only last a couple of hours, but the marriage, hopefully, will last the rest of your lives. The only things you truly need for the wedding are the groom, bride, official to perform the ceremony and a couple of witnesses. Everything else is optional!

  23. Pat Brown says:

    Johanna, unless you have 20% saved for a downpayment on house (that you can afford on ONE salary) as well as zero debt and a six-month emergency fund, you really CAN’T afford that huge, all stops pulled wedding. Sorry to burst your bubble. I haven’t planned or paid for wedding in a very long time (married 30 years this December, and DH and DD-I-L eloped) but my DH and I work with engaged couples for marriage prep through our church. Too many couples, especially brides, forget that a wedding is day, a marriage is a lifetime. no one CARES if you have a home wedding with cake and punch instead of a $80,000 production. In fact, we have a theory that there is an INVERSE relationship between the size of the diamond and cost of the wedding to the length and happiness of the marriage. I’m just sayin’…..

  24. B says:

    Interestingly, if you look at a wedding as a celebration of the joining of two people and two lives into one, the party surrounding it becomes much less important. My wedding was mostly about making the two days my family, my wife’s family and our friends spent together relaxing and fun.

    It was cheap, too.

    Still, we did get married in a castle and had our reception in a Spanish mission-style chapel. We had a concert pianist playing, a professional photographer all day, a custom designed wedding gown and bridesmaids dresses, etc. etc.

    And most of it was free.

  25. MegB says:

    When I was a bride-to-be, I felt like I spent a bunch of my time managing other people’s expectations. I had to politely, but firmly, tell family members “no” when I felt that I was being pressured to include things that I did not think were necessary to have a beautiful wedding. Here are a few things I said “no” to:

    1. Programs (I personally didn’t feel they were necessary)

    2. Bridesmaids (My sister was my matron of honor. I told her to buy a dress she liked that was long and neutral. She looked beautiful, and she loved her dress because she picked it out.)

    3. Altar flowers (Actually, this is something I only wish I would have omitted. In hindsight, the church was so beautiful that altar flowers weren’t necessary.)

    I also ordered copies of most of the photos that were taken by family members and friends, in addition to the photos that I got from my wedding photographer, whose rates were incidentally very reasonable. I recommend keeping all the pictures that you can. Years from now, you’ll be glad you did!

  26. chef says:

    @Rob Quote of the day

  27. econ says:

    I agree that photography is not where you should skimp (though a videographer seems like a bit of a waste), as it’s the one of the few ways you can look back on your special day.

    I think the best tip here is thinking outside the box. Also, many businesses charge more for their services/products simply because it’s a wedding. You may have more luck never telling them it’s for a wedding, and you might get things cheaper.

    For decorations, try renting items and using silk flowers instead of real.

    If it’s a smaller wedding, have an afternoon reception with finger foods instead of a full dinner reception.

  28. Dawn says:

    Discuss the three most important aspects of your wedding with your fiance. Each of you list the three things you feel are most important at your wedding and reception (food, flowers, photography, etc.) and build your budget from there. You can then focus your funds on what is important to both of you and not waste your energy and budget on less important factors.

  29. Tara says:

    I agree with the tip about not telling the vendors it’s for a wedding – they have higher charges if they think it’s for a wedding.

    For me, I thought the extra for the professional photographer and live band were totally worth it. I skimped more on the invitations and decorations, which I made myself. I also found a great dress on the sample sale rack.

  30. Katie says:

    While I thought a lot of this was really great advice, this–“Look among close friends and family for photographers, organists, florists, and other key roles”–gave me chills. Look among close friends and family members to be your vendors ONLY if they are professionals, ONLY if you know they will do a good job that is to your taste, and ONLY if you know they will treat you as a client, not as a friend or family member when it comes to the planning process. I used to do event planning, and I can’t tell you how many times disasters have happened because friends or family members who “donated” their time and services for a wedding because the services did not work out at all or did not live up to expectations, and unlike with a traditional vendor, the bride and groom were unable just to walk away from the situation. One screwed up wedding cake or one bad photography session on your wedding day becomes more than just a nuisance that you look back on in anger or disappointment–it becomes a source of tension that rarely goes away quickly. Sometimes it ends relationships entirely. Silly, but true.

    My advice on asking friends/family to be your “vendors” has always been: don’t do it, unless you don’t really like that person and wouldn’t mind never speaking to them again.

  31. dave says:

    I think one of the best things about planning a wedding is that you get to work together as a couple to plan something before you are married. It’s a major event with a lot of logistics and planning and family squabbles and such. It’s another growing process as a couple and you can learn a lot about your relationship through planning a wedding. I think this is why a lot of engagements end of being broken.

    With that said, I also think part of using these money saving tips are managing other persons (typically familial) expectations. Sometimes family just expects a huge band and fancy invitations and can act very disappointed and ashamed of a “low-cost” affair. Oh well.

  32. Michele says:


    Some people don’t rent halls for weddings at $5,000. At my wedding, the Inn charged by the person – about $50 per head. If I had 50 people, it was $2500. If I had 100 people it was $5000. There was no overhead cost. Everything was included in that $50 – the liquor, the centerpieces, the cake, the dinner. So, sometimes cutting the guest list does cut the cost the most – especially if the variable costs of the wedding are the greatest.

    I also agree not to skimp on the photographer. Get the best you can afford.

  33. Gena says:

    I had a 3 month engagement. Having such a short time to plan FORCED me to find sales and discounts. It also opened up additional opportunities to save on some vendors simply because we were booking so close to a date they hadn’t yet been booked for. However, I can see how this could also work for those with lengthy engagement. From wedding blogs though, I’ve noticed that the longer the engagement, the more concerned a bride gets with tiny details and purchases that brides with shorter engagements simply don’t have time to consider.

    Also, getting married at a home doesn’t necessarily cost less money. Instead of paying a site fee, or increased costs for services you don’t really want…you get stuck with having to rent EVERYTHING, though you do have the freedom to choose everything. We were married on my mother-in-laws yard, with the reception on a lovely round driveway. The total cost for the event was only about $2,000 less than if we’d had it at a country club or banquet center.

    I’m COMPLETELY with you on the guest list item. If my husband and I had our way, we’d have invited half as many guests [and at least 1/3 fewer dollars spent], though luckily it worked out that many of those additional guests couldn’t attend.

    We networked the heck out of friends and family members to provide services as a gift to us, or to help us get discounts from their friends or connections. It saved us a bundle!

    I think one of the best pieces of advice I received was to only invite people you thought you’d still know 5 years after the wedding, and to make sure when you woke up the next morning, you weren’t anywhere near broke.

  34. Amy says:

    I got married last year. When I started looking into costs, they were horrifying. So we radically changed our plans.

    We ended up getting married on our porch, by a close friend. The guests sat on rented chairs arranged in rows in our yard. We had rented tables, and after the ceremony asked guests to take a chair with them to the table. We also ended up buying dining tents to put the tables under, as it was actually cheaper than renting them.

    I had a pretty good bbq place cater the meal. We set it up buffet style for everyone to help themselves. The price was excellent.

    A friend made my cake. Another friend, about my size, loaned me her dress. Hubby wore a tux he already owned (and if he hadn’t had a tux, it would have been a regular suit.)

    The only flowers at the wedding were a surprise bouquet a friend picked up on her way over.

    For music I made a playlist of my favorite music and put it on an ipod. We hooked it to our tv, which we put outside. On the tv we had playing a screensaver of hubby and me with pictures from all stages of our lives. That was hugely popular with the relatives.

    Invitations were blanks bought at Office Depot and printed out on a home printer. They looked great. My mother-in-law was surprised to find out they weren’t professionally done.

    Decorations were made out of ribbons hung strategically on the porch and yard. Guests bought us some solar powered white Christmas lights which we strung up, and it was very pretty when the sun went down.

    We hired two port a potties for the event. They were around the other side of the house for a little privacy. We asked guests to dress casually, both because of the potties and because we knew there would be lots of kids running around and plenty of opportunities to get messy.

    We got Nerds candy and Lego toy kits to put out on the tables for guests, but sadly we forgot about the candy. We gave it away at Halloween last fall.

    I added everything up afterward. For 100 guests, the total cost of our wedding was on the order of $3000. And we still have a ton of supplies left, including enough festive paper plates and utensils to last us several years. I just tossed the last of the microbrewery beer which had started to go bad.

    Oh, and we didn’t hire a photographer either. I didn’t ask people to take pictures, but I asked if they did to please get them to us by email or otherwise. We received several hundred digital images, of which a few were pretty good.

  35. CJ says:

    I completely agree with the people that have said not to ask friends and family to be the photographer or the DJ. Yes, you may get them for free, but you get what you pay for.

    I also have an issue with saying the guest list is the easiest place to cut costs. YOU try telling the mother of the bride that her cousin can’t come to the wedding.

    The quickest way to cut costs is to have an off-season wedding. My wedding was on a Friday evening in February (in MA, no less) and cost about half what a Saturday in June would have cost at the same location.

  36. NYC reader says:

    Interesting article on couples’ finances in today’s Wall Street Journal:


    The article is an adaptation of “Financially Ever After: The Couples’ Guide to Managing Money,” by Jeff D. Opdyke, which seems like a book that Trent might be interested in reviewing.

  37. Mrs.W says:

    I would add talk to vendors for ideas, tips and suggestions. I found a caterer that had great rates (that included food, tables, linens, dishes & glassware–the WORKS) for one per-head price and if that wasn’t great enough, they pointed me to a venue that was available at a low cost AND was the home to the city gardening club. Hello! Free flowers!

  38. Reading this really reminds me of my good friend who is about to get married in a year. Right now, he and his fiance are constantly arguing about trying to stay within a budget.

    The girl feels like its being “cheap” while the groom is doing his best to remain realistic and have a good wedding while having money left towards the mortgage for the condo their are moving into around the same time.

    Its hard trying to have a reasonable wedding, but not impossible. And its something everything is trying to help the girl understand. Yes, a lavish wedding would be great, but its not going to change the emotional charge that bonds the bridge and groom.

  39. michael says:

    With friends falling down the aisle over the last few years, I’ve been giving the whole wedding bit a long thorough examination.

    Musts for me:
    Saturday Wedding – It’s really inconvenient to have it on a Friday, because of work commitments, Sunday is really lame(no offense, sorry!!!), because sometimes it will get really late before you see the most important family members for more than 4 minutes.
    No Limit Guest list – I’m not saying invite anyone you want.. I’m saying I won’t cut a friend from the list because of wedding costs. My wedding centers around celebrating with friends & family, cutting someone out that you care about seems to counter the point of having a wedding. That being said, if we work together but we don’t really have an outside friendship, you’re probably not invited.
    Open Bar – I want to raise a pint with loved ones. I want them to raise one to one another.

    There are plenty of things that aren’t necessary, at least to me.

    Wedding Programs; What’s the point? Get rid of them!
    Center Pieces; Instead, make a group donation to a charity for half of what the CPs would cost. a) you save money, b) you give money to something that’s not frivolous.

    that’s all I have for now.. I’m not getting married so I’ll think of more when i attend more weddings!!


  40. Johanna says:

    @Pat Brown: First of all, I have no bubble to burst, since I have no plans to get married any time soon. Second, I do actually have zero debt, a 6+ month emergency fund, and a 20% down payment saved for any house I could afford on my salary. You know what happens when you assume, don’t you?

  41. Amber says:

    These series of posts have really made me grateful that I found the person I did. He had a hard time with not spending on his every-or my every rather-whim at first, but now through talking about these things over the last few years…dating, getting engaged, planning our wedding, we finally are on the same page financially. Sometimes he thinks I’m too frugal, but he is entertained by it and will compromise fairly. After he saw what a wreck I was planning this wedding that I truly did not want (the whole big my day thing freaks me out)we decided to take our parents to my grandmothers beach house and get married and honeymoon there. We’ve been saving a modest amount every month for over a year and since he’s overseas we still have a year to go :(, but I found a dress that fits me perfectly for 24.00 and I think it is going to be the most beautiful day ever. Not because it’s MY day, but because of the guy I’m marrying.

  42. Peter says:

    My wife and I catered most of our own wedding. We bought turkey breasts wholesale and all of the trimmings for thanksgiving dinner for a crowd of over 200. Total cost for all the food: about $720. I baked all but one of the six turkeys the night before the wedding and a Navy chef friend made sure everything was hot when it came time to serve. I would definitely do it again if needed since we were able to invite everyone we wanted as a result. I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone though. :)

  43. Debt Ninja says:

    Thank goodness my girlfriends pops has started a wedding fund for his four daughters when they were born.

  44. Sandy says:

    We had to get married really fast (he was being sent overseas on corporate relocation), my mom handed me $2000 and said that was all that they could afford. We rented a state park facility (a century old Tudor mansion on a beautiful lake) for $150. Flowers were calla lillies (3 for me and 2 for my moh), music was taped by a friend (if we were getting married today, it would definately be i-pod), cheapest invites, had a photography student do our pics (they turned out fine), splurged on the cake (was amazing!), for my bridesmaid’ dress, I asked her which dress that she already owned looked best on her(it was peach, so that was the “color” of the wedding), guys wore suits they already owned,alcohol was a champagne toast and sangria (inexpensive but festive drink!)
    We stayed within the dollar limit. For the honeymoon, we lucked out and since my hubby was being shipped to Europe for the assignment, we sailed (on the company’s dime) on the Queen Elizabeth II.
    Everything was done in 6 weeks.

  45. !wanda says:

    How can I talk to my mom about wedding costs? My mom is insisting that she’ll pay for everything. I’m deeply uncomfortable with this because we’re far more capable of affording anything than she is. All three of us (mom, fiance, me) have ample savings, but she’s approaching retirement age! (although she has no interest in retiring or even giving up one of her 5 jobs). I suspect that she wants total control over the proceedings, especially because she also insists that the wedding should be held in my hometown, where I barely know anyone anymore and which is 3000 miles from where I currently live. Honestly, I’m relieved to have someone else do the planning, but I don’t want the costs to mount, especially because I intend on secretly paying her vendors or reimbursing her behind her back. This sounds like such a dumb question for a finance blog, but how do I convince my mom I should pay for my own wedding? It’s only been a few years since she would scream, slap me, or worse whenever I disagreed with her. (Eloping is out of the question; both families would be incredibly hurt.)

  46. !wanda says:

    @Pat Brown: Anyone who reads the comments here knows that Johanna is both very intelligent and extremely fiscally sound. This blog in general has become very anti-materialistic, to the point where it often does sound like people who enjoy certain consumer pleasures are unreasonable. I don’t know why that is when Trent admits that he splurges on certain items that, in my mind, are a waste of money. Perhaps messages that sound to very materialistic, debt-entrapped people like, “Hey, cheap things are fun too,” sound oppressive to people who are financially prudent and who already choose their pleasures wisely.

  47. I love family gatherings but in the past I have always said that I hate weddings. I’ve recently had to eat my words. Our niece was married last weekend very simply and beautifully in the gazebo in our town park and had the reception in the town hall. Extended family helped make food and decorate, an aunt made the bride’s dress, another family member made the bouquets, a friend brought a sound system and at the reception everyone danced, hugged and had fun. It was the most enjoyable wedding I’ve attended since my own where we used much the same model – simple, fun & everyone contributes.

    I think the things I really hate about weddings & receptions are the rigid and silly expectations that every bridal magazine tells young brides to adhere to; Everyone sits at a table with pre-assigned seating – usually next to people they don’t really know – and waits for the bride and groom to arrive. The couple is introduced with their ridiculously huge wedding party in a game show style call out. The DJ bosses, teases and cajoles the crowd throughout the night in a lame attempt at entertainment. The bride is stuffed into a dress that she either can’t move in or that she spent so much $ on that she is afraid to eat or dance.

    Couples who spend lots of money to meet these expectations, thinking that their guests will enjoy the event are sadly deceived. Most people I know would like a simple buffet, time to chat with friends and family and a chance to dance with the bride or groom. I suppose that there is a segment of society where the expectations are much higher but I don’t run with any billion dollar earning CEO’s or displaced royalty so I’m not really familiar with that culture.

    My personal recommendations – a professional photographer is probably a good idea or formal shots in the chapel and of the families – but our favorite wedding photos were taken on the dance floor by a guest with a cheap point and shoot. I would advise that a couple use the pro for an hour or so and then have friends e-mail them copies of the photos they take. Friends will pay attention to moments that a pro might not think were significant and would therefore miss.

    What to splurge on – the one or two things that are most important to the couple. I splurged on flowers. My husband insisted on fancy tuxes for him & his brothers. Everything else was as cheap as we could get it but the flowers were beautiful and the boys enjoyed dressing up.

  48. Carmen says:

    “Look among close friends and family for photographers, organists, florists, and other key roles.”

    I’d like to add some input to this. If you ask friends/family that have special talents, do not ask them for free. Offer to pay them and if they offer to do it for free as your wedding gift, awesome! If not, ask for a family member/friend discount and you’re still getting a sweet deal while helping a family member/friend out.

    It’s deeply insulting when someone asks me to sing for free at an event, and it’s not even my profession. It’s worse for people like my brother or my father – both are professional musicians and their talent is their livelihood. It’s insulting and degrading when someone invites my brother to a wedding, don’t even offer to pay him, and just expect him to play The Wedding March on the piano when usually he’d be making $100/hour elsewhere.

    My brother and I once played for free at a very dear family friend’s wedding (who offered to pay us but she was such a wonderful friend we did it for free) but then other people (some whom we had never even met before then!) who attended that ceremony have had the audacity to invite us to do their events for free and then have even more gall to UN-invite us from that event when we politely quoted a discounted price.

    If you’re going to ask a family member/friend to offer their services, especially if it is their profession, offer to pay them – if they do charge, it does not mean they do not love or respect you, it is simply a matter of business. Do not try to undermine someone’s livelihood, or you’ll likely lose more than just a free wedding gift.

  49. Carmen says:

    Sorry for the double posts, but I have some general inputs as I’m planning my own wedding!

    Invites – You can find gorgeous sets of print-yourself invitation kits that include EVERYTHING – the invitation, the response cards, the envelopes – in packs of 50 for $10-$25 each; compare this with $3/invitation getting a professional to do this.

    Venues – See if your town has any civic centers; these are usually low cost and some rates even include buffets.

    Photography – Personally, this is the one thing I will not cut back on. The one thing you will also look back on from your wedding day are the photos, and I am willing to pay top dollar for a professional to take, edit, and customize my wedding photos/album, and I will never have a friend/family member do it. I’ve heard too many horror stores if an acquaintance not taking the photo job seriously and producing (or worse, NOT producing) sub par items.

    Flowers – I’m getting all silk flowers from a wholesale website, and once I’m done I’m going to put them up for sale on Craigslist for another lucky bride to be.

    Dress – Craigslist and consignment stores are inundated with wedding dresses! I have over a year to plan for my wedding but I’ve already seen dozens of dresses I’d be happy to wear on Craigslist and at consignment stores that were less than $300. My plan is to buy one used, wear it once, clean it, and resell it for the same price I bought it! No need in keeping it around if I’m never going to wear it again.

  50. Sarah says:

    I would add my words to others’ as a caution about having friends do things like be your wedding photographer. We were married almost three years ago in a very simple, lovely ceremony and dinner reception for 25 people – just our small families and a few very close friends. My best friend’s fiance, who is a semi-professional photographer, did our photography. We still don’t have our wedding photos, and it breaks my heart. My grandmother couldn’t be at our wedding, and she asked for those photos every day until she died last spring. I can’t nag him about it without destroying my relationship with my best friend – but that relationship has become incredibly strained anyway. It’s like lending money to family – I would advise against hiring (paid or unpaid) friends and family to provide services at a wedding without a written document outlining expectations and commitments.

  51. MB says:

    For flowers for my (summertime) wedding a few years ago, I found a farmer’s market flower vendor and worked with her. It contributed to a family farm and the local economy, worked fine for my bridesmaid who is allergic to pesticides used on commercial flowers, and was fairly inexpensive.

    Just one thought.

  52. @ Pat Brown,
    In my experience planning my own wedding, other people do care very much. I would have been happy with something small, but I got a lot of pressure from my family to do the traditional big wedding. Lots of people have their weddings for other people.

    Your “theory” sounds like jealousy.

    I agree with Johanna, I wish there had been some advice about how to set and stick to a budget, with ideas of how much catering would cost, etc., when I had started planning my wedding. Instead I get advice on holding it on your front porch or not having flowers.

    Johanna, I am not having a frugal wedding but I do post our budget pretty regularly on my blog. It might be a good starting point, although I’m sure you could cut down on costs!

  53. Katie says:

    I am willing to skimp on everything BUT the guest list. I don’t want to spoil the people I absolutely need to invite at the expense of the people I want to invite. And as other people mentioned, sometimes it’s not worth the drama to axe the list. I’m closer to many of my friends than I am to some relatives, but they need to be on the guest list. I’ve gone to their weddings, parties, etc.and can’t snub them without looking (and feeling) like a total tool. I’d rather have a bigger party with less ornamentation and a happy family than drama drama drama and resentment. But my family may be odder than most.

    That said, I’m not inviting random celebrities… unless they offer to cover some costs ;)

  54. kaitlyn says:

    The problem with having close friends/family take care of part of the wedding is everyone I would ask to cater/photograph/whatever, is so close they would be insulted at being asked to work it! My good friends are amazing chefs, have their own restaurant and everything, but I can’t ask them to cater it. Such is life.

  55. Quatrefoil says:

    I catered my sister’s wedding this time last year. She and her husband were married in their garden, and had a celebrant and about 25 guests – all close friends and family. They were very short on money having just bought their house, but the total costs for the wedding came in at around $1000 (Australian) including the dress, cake, champagne etc. I spent about $300 on the ingredients and serving platters (plain white from a budget shop), plus about $100 for the wedding cake ingredients and decorations. My sister set a budget of $100 for her dress and came in $11 under budget – she didn’t wear a ‘meringue’, but a lovely dress that really suited her. Her bridesmaid didn’t have a special dress for the occasion either. They decorated the garden with balloons in the same colours as my sister’s dress, and we hung coloured cloths along the fence to form a backdrop. Music was provided by the couple’s own stereo system, and the celebrant lent them an extra table and cutlery. They hired chairs, and other people lent tablecloths. Guests took photos and videos and sent copies to the couple and their families after the event.

    I made a series of canapes, little sandwiches, salads etc. and there was a barbecue for meat. I also made about 5 deserts. There was a lot of food and drink left over – enough for family staying after the wedding to eat for several days.

    It was a lovely wedding – a beautiful ceremony and the bridal couple were radiant. The focus was on the couple as they started their new lives together, not on the dress or the food or the cars or the venue. I think that’s as it should be. I think it’s worth remembering that big weddings in western culture are a very recent tradition for ordinary people – in my grandparents generation most weddings were much more like my sister’s. This wasn’t a compromise, by the way – it was the quiet, intimate wedding they wanted.

  56. Oskar says:

    Like with anything else spend on the things that matter to you and spend less on the things that do not (e.g. for us music and a good DJ was important) but fancy food less so as long as the guests had enough to eat and drink.

    Our party wasn’t over until 7.30 in the morning!

  57. Elizabeth says:

    I love articles like this one. One of the things I’m proudest of in our 14-year marriage is the wedding itself. We had a very “traditional” wedding in the sense that almost everything we did was based on the family in some way. My wedding dress was my mother’s wedding dress, which had been hand-made by her mother and was redone to fit me by my father (a tailor). The wedding cake was designed to fit the antique wedding topper from my mother-in-law, a lovely ornate thing of two filigreed wedding bells in an arch.
    The wedding itself was in the same church my parents got married in, the pianist was the same one who played at my parents (a family friend who did it as her gift to us). The greenery to decorate the church was all grown ahead of time by my father’s mother, (mostly ferns and some few roses). My mother and her sister did the ‘catering’ themselves for the afternoon luncheon reception. It consisted of chicken, fingerfoods, fruit, nuts and the cake, but it was plentiful and very tasty, no one even noticed it wasn’t “professionally” catered.
    Various friends and family members pooled their respective china hutch contents to help decorate, so there was a large silver punchbowl and ladle, several silver serving trays, and three silver candlesticks all displayed on linen tablecloths, and *all* of it was simply ‘donated’ for the day. The people who offered the items were glad to see some of them actually being used instead of sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. I had only one bridesmaid and she chose her own dress (a lovely deep blue). There was a professional photographer and two cousins videotaped for us. It was a picture-perfect day and I loved every minute of it, not just because of the beauty (though it was truly beautiful) but because it was a beautiful day given to me by the people I loved. If I had been handed $50,000 and told to design my own wedding, I could not have come up with anything as meaningful. It was a few years later that my dad told me that the whole thing totaled about $2,000. The wedding should *never* be about the price, it shouldn’t even be about the guests (which is what I feel a lot of wedding planning is geared towards, ensuring the guests ‘get a good show’), it should be about family and the couple themselves.

  58. Beth says:

    I disagree that the best way to trim costs is to cut guests (although do you really have 200 CLOSE friends?). The best way to trim is to have a modest reception (tea and scones) and HAVE all those cousins as opposed to a $100 per person sit down dinner, dancing, DJ and cut out Aunt Annie cuz she didn’t make the cut. I recommend the book “Bridal Bargains.” I got my dress off Ebay, had the reception in a garden in spring, so I didn’t have to buy many extra flowers, Served a high tea with lots of petit four, sandwiches, scones–tons of food for $20 per person.

  59. Battra92 says:

    @Peter, I hope that you roasted the turkeys. Baked turkey sounds like some sort of bread or something. ;)

  60. Beth says:

    Photos: Go to the best photo/camera shop in town and ask the employees who there does weddings. You will get a pro for a fraction of the cost and they let you buy only what you want, not PrePlanning packages that cost hundreds. They’ll also let you keep the negatives, which monst Wedding Photographers in the Wedding Industrial Complex Will NOT let you do. Just ask to see a portfolio and for some recommendations and you’ll do great.

  61. Beth says:

    Avoid companies that get all or most of their businss from weddings: their prices are inflated and take advantage of the situation. My reception was in the garden of a restaurant and they charged me their usual private party rate, not a trumped up wedding rate.

  62. Beth says:

    Sorroy Joanna, but a website based on HOW TO SAVE MONEY *HAS* to discuss how to save money on a wedding. It is what it is: an article on how to save money on weddings. If you want validation for your high cost choices, there are plenty of websites for that. but this site IS ABOUT SAVING MONEY, we can’t have an article that goes against that very fundamental philosophy. WE all make our choices, and you’re welcome to yours, but you can’t expect a website about SAVING money to go against it’s belief system just to make you feel good about yourself. That’s your job.

  63. Beth says:

    If you have your reception at a restaurant, they rarely charge a room fee, they just charge for the food. I didn’t pay a rental fee to use their garden. The prices some brides pay just for the space is crazy: one poster here said $4,000 to $5,000! I paid nothing. Use your city’s local park and you’ll pay $500. Use your chuch’s activiy room and you’ll pay zero. Have a local river cruise boat? Most will charge a low or no use fee and a standard fee per person. And the captian really IS qualified to marry you!

  64. Beth says:

    Not cost savings, but will help kids keep from getting bored: Have a basket of smalls toys the kids can play with (paddle balls, bubbles *if allowed by venue*, etc). We had happy kids who didn’t whine or get bored cuz we had a few toys for them, and their parents could enjoy some catching up with friends and family.

  65. Beth says:

    “Is it, in fact, tacky to ask for help with the wedding in lieu of a wedding present?” YES!!!! OMG

  66. I’m kind of horrified when I think about how much money people will spend on weddings. It’s just a day, for heaven’s sake, and whether it’s a $25K wedding or a 2K one, you’ll still be married.

    I’m really practical, though…I just wanted to get married already, darn it, and I didn’t really care about the flower or the food or really much of anything.

    We got married at our church in the evening, had some hors d’ouevres and ice cream and cake in the fellowship hall afterwards and then headed off to our bed and breakfast. And we’re still happily married, almost 12 years later. :D

  67. didi says:

    My husband and I eloped a couple years ago and loved it!! It was just the two of us… very intimate and romantic at a cute little chapel. we then just had a small family get-together at a beautiful restaurant when we returned from our honeymoon. Our family and friends were thrilled for us and the whole wedding was less than a thousand dollars! I wouldn’t have changed a thing and knowing that we started our lives together debt free was priceless. As for the pictures we were lucky in that a friend of my husbands is a pro photographer and the photos were his gift to us. Totally agree that you should use a professional for that.

  68. EngineerMom says:

    What I would add to the list: Look at alternatives to wedding cake. We found a local cheesecake shop that was cheaper per serving than inexpensive wedding cake, and a lot tastier. Our guests loved it, and since my husband adores cheesecake, it was very “us”. Instead of a traditional tiered cake, we had three of the cheesecakes on a 3-tier stand with the sides of the cakes wrapped in ribbon in the wedding colors (cream, chocolate, and copper).

    @the many people who seem to think that an affordable wedding means a cheap wedding: My husband and I had one of those $20,000 weddings two years ago. We came out of it with no debt and our emergency fund still intact. Due to many moves in our future, we have no plans to buy a house for at least another 5 years, so we made a concious decision to spend the $20,000 we had sitting in our “house fund” to pay for a wedding that we BOTH wanted. After two years, we have rebuilt half the savings. By the time we plan to buy a house, we should have at least $30,000-$40,000 for a downpayment.

    My in-laws paid for the alcohol at the reception, and my parents gave us $2,000 to use for our honeymoon. We ended up spending $2300 on the honeymoon, including travel, for a week in a cabin on Lake Superior.

    It is very easy to hit that $20,000 mark without having an over-the-top wedding (and by over-the-top I mean super-expensive dresses, hundreds upon hundreds of flowers, elaborate arrangements on every table, etc.). We wanted a dinner-dance reception, which of course is more expensive than an afternoon tea or hors d’ouevres, but it was a choice we made while remaining in our budget.

    The important thing in planning a wedding isn’t to make it as cheap as possible. It’s to figure out a reasonable budget for you and your partner, figure out what is important to both of you, then use those priorities to stay within your budget. Both my husband and I wanted a great party. We ended up with 113 guests who literally danced the night away until the DJ had to pack up – he even stayed an extra half-hour without charging us because HE was enjoying the party so much!

    Also, be careful with having a friend or family member do the photography. If you don’t like the results, it can mean hurt feelings and a rift. My best friend from college had her husband’s uncle do their photography. He had tons of pictures of the groom’s family, and almost none of the bride’s – he even missed the father-daughter dance, which she had specifically asked him to catch.

  69. Matt says:

    I know for my wedding in 2 years my future fiancée and I will end up with a large guest list because we both have large families and would want to invite them. We both think this is worth it. We’ll save in other areas such as invitations and “forgetting” to mention to some vendors that things are for a wedding. We will look at our budget and if things are getting too expensive, we’ll decide whether we want to spend the money on the wedding or wait 6-12 months longer to buy a house.

    I take it as a good sign that we’re not even engaged (yet, I’m working on that) and we’ve discussed this much. I think it’s about maximizing the value of your money to you. We’d rather have all our families at a cheaper place with less costly catering than trade dear Aunt Sally for some filet mignon at a country club.

  70. KoryO says:

    Vegas, baby, Vegas! Any bizarre thing you want (Star Wars wedding? Knights and damsels? Everyone dressed like characters from Twilight? In a helicopter over the Strip at night? Or even completely traditional? You betcha!), and it will be far cheaper than doing the exact same thing at home, wherever you live, and that includes transportation/hotel.

    Tell people you’re eloping, ask them to come along if they want, give them a $5 gaming chip as a wedding token (if they don’t gamble, they can cash it in and get a couple of Cokes, what the hey), and go to a nice restaurant afterwards.

    Did that nearly 5 years ago. Planned the whole thing in a weekend over the phone. No running around to different vendors to see if I liked their white chocolate ganache, etc. No regrets, and the people who were there had a blast.

    Second choice…..beachside at sunrise/sunset. You won’t find a prettier location, and you generally don’t have to pay a site fee. Decorations courtesy of Mother Nature. (If you can’t see the romance in that, you’re hopeless.)

    Did that for a vow renewal, and a friend of mine will be doing that for her wedding in January in Florida.

  71. Shelly says:

    I got married two years ago. We were engaged for nearly a year before we decided we just need to get the actual wedding over with, and ended up planning our wedding in three months. In some cases, I think a shorter amount of time can be beneficial because you don’t have the time to fall in love with something that could break your budget.

    As others have said, get married in the off-season. We did, and got a good deal from many of our vendors. They also had more time to dedicate themselves to our day instead of juggling multiple events.

    Also, I can agree with some of the concerns here regarding the use of friends and family instead of professionals. A wedding is a very special occasion, and if your friends/family don’t do a very good job, you may regret your decision AND have unnecessary tension between you.

    That said, there are still ways to save while keeping friends/family out of it.

    For my photography, I hired a recent college grad from a photography program. She was looking to build her portfolio. Her work was as good as the more experienced “professionals” I considered but at half the price, and she gave me a copy of all the high-res digital photos so I could use them however I wanted.

    For most of my other vendors, I worked with small, family-owned businesses who were willing to make less money just to get the business. My florist worked out of her house and did it as a hobby, yet her work was stunning.

    We only splurged on one thing — the DJ — because music is very important to us and we wanted someone who wasn’t going to be too cheesy. However, he also coordinated our entire event and worked with the party house coordinator to make sure everything went smoothly, so I didn’t even have to think about anything other than having fun. For me, eliminating my anxiety like that was worth every penny. :)

  72. Jen says:

    I think that Dawn’s advice is best, to think about what’s most important to you and make sure that your wedding includes those things. Let the other stuff go if it isn’t in your budget.

    I had to smile when I saw this list because it pretty much describes my wedding. We did everything on this list except trim the guest list. Our priorities were that we wanted to invite all our friends and family (and we have large extended families), we wanted an open bar for the entire reception and that we wanted everyone to have fun. We made a budget based on how much we could afford and saved a certain amount each month from when we got engaged until we got married and we paid for the wedding in cash equivalent. When I look back at my wedding day, it was perfect. Not because everything went perfectly, but because everything that was important to me about the day happened the way I wanted it to.

    We had a backyard wedding catered by a family restaurant. Our wedding cake was a 10″ round cake with a topper + a sheet cake. We DIYed the rentals, the beverages, the bar, the music (we made an ipod playlist and roped a friend into pressing play and making a few announcements), the ceremony music, the favors, the table settings, the invites, the appetizers. A friend of mine got internet ordained to be our officiant (we paid for her hotel room and made a decent donation to a charity in her honor) and another friend who is an artist did the photos (we paid for film, development and her plane ticket/hotel room). We used a local florist who was really, really affordable and minimized the flowers we used. The ceremony was perfect and the photos came out great. We had everything in one place so there was no need to arrange transportation. At the end of the night, the MOH gave us a ride to the hotel we were staying at.

    It took A LOT of work on our part to keep costs low and DIY stuff and a small army of friend and family helping out on the wedding day itself to pull it off and I’m really grateful.

    My tips are to: rent a tent if you are having an outdoor wedding. It really is worth the cost. And make sure that on the wedding day, someone besides you has your lists so that you don’t have to be worrying about details while you celebrating your marriage.

  73. tightwadfan says:

    great topic for discussion! everyone feels strongly about weddings! :)

    I have to echo Carmen about asking for free professional services. I work with photographers and unlike Carmen they don’t find it insulting, I guess they’re used/resigned to it by now, but it’s not really cool to ask them to work for free. Same goes for singers, caterers, etc. Remember that this is what they do for a living. Also, when you ask them to work the wedding, they aren’t able to sit and enjoy themselves like the other guests. They might be happy to do it for free but at least offer to pay and let them make the decision.

    For anyone planning a wedding, I recommend Miss Manners’ advice on weddings. A lot of the crap that the wedding industry comes up with isn’t traditional at all and you can save money by skipping it, and Miss Manners’ guides will let you know what is traditional and proper or not. (like programs, which several commenters have brought up. they’re a bogus, unnecessary invention to make printers more money). It’s perfectly proper to have a cake and punch reception if that’s what you can afford. Catered meals are NOT required. I wrote letters to my guests inviting them to the wedding because that is technically the proper way for the informal wedding that I was having. (I only had 50 guests, if you’re having 200 that’s probably not feasible. But Miss Manners saved me money again!)

    A major way to save money is by having an informal wedding (no tuxes and a simpler dress for the bride). That way the men can wear suits they already have and not waste money on tux rentals. In England, brides pay for the bridesmaids dresses, which I think should be the tradition here, since it might help curb the excess. I completely agree with whoever said to please be considerate of your bridesmaids. Some women make it a burden not an honor to be a bridesmaid. Some women do try to find dresses that could be worn again, but you can always tell it was a bridesmaid dress. When it was my turn I too asked my bridesmaids to wear whatever they wanted that was appropriate for the occasion.

    If your family doesn’t dance much, definitely skip the DJ and do the background music iPod thing. It’s probably the easiest way to save a bundle. DJs are so annoying if nobody’s dancing, which is probably 4 out of every 5 weddings I’ve been to.

  74. Julia says:

    Having had a big wedding myself by most standards and having all the pomp and circumstance (which btw– this was paid for by my parents, his parents and partially by us and therefore NO debt involved), I find there are two areas where one should never skimp:

    – Music– yes, a band is a wonderful, wonderful thing and you can always negotiate price

    – Food– flowers, decorations are all pretty and add ambiance, but people will mostly remember if your food was great, stunk, there was tons of it or not enough

    I will add that I the bride would have opted for a much simpler wedding, but my husband was actually the one who wanted the full deal.

  75. Sarah says:

    I’m nowhere near marriage (5 years, probably), but I already have the dress planned out (what kind of college girl doesn’t?). I’m going to buy a used quinceanera dress, since most are white and have enormous ballgown skirts (which is exactly what I want). It’ll cost around $300 at the most.

  76. Matt says:

    “I already have the dress planned out (what kind of college girl doesn’t?)”

    The kind that’s my girlfriend, all 3 of my sisters, and most of my female friends? I know the girlfriend and sisters, but I guess a couple friends could be hiding it from me since I’m a guy.

    However, kudos to you for pre-planning a less expensive route (cheap has such a negative connotation nowadays…)

  77. Amy B. says:

    We had a frugal gathering ourselves.

    We got married in the off-season in a beach town. We were able to rent out an entire restaurant for the evening for our party. They served great food for the same price that they would have charged us off of the menu, and gave us a break on a wine and beer selection at the bar. The managing chef told us that she was easily going to make more money off of our party than if she opened for the public that evening, without charging a premium for having private use of the space.

    This restaurant (which didn’t generally do catering) also catered our post-rehearsal gathering. When the weather canceled our plans for a dockside gathering, we were offered a few-hours private use of the bar at the restaurant, again at no charge.

  78. Stacey says:

    when it comes to photography, you get what you pay (or don’t pay!) for… that’s all i’m saying…

  79. et says:

    I agree with the others that this article was not what I expected from you. Each couple (& their associated families/friends) have their own expectations about what the wedding should be. Two recent weddings in our family – one with the emphasis on having a big guest list & paring down on some of the other expenses; the other where the reception (& food at same) was the highest priority & pared down other expenses (doing own invitations, table numbers & place cards). One found a great venue where a portion of the fee was a donation to a cause the couple supported. Wedding & bridesmaids’ dresses were new, but a reasonable cost; getting the entire wedding party’s attire through one source gained a substantial discount on the prices (which weren’t that high to begin with). The professional photographer’s photos were definitely better than anyone else’s candids & we had a wide range of cameras there! It was worth the $ to have someone else dealing with flowers/decor, so the bride didn’t have that to worry with at the last minute.

  80. mary says:

    Please, please don’t do a destination wedding to save money expecting your guests to literally “pay” for your dream wedding. Elope, that’s fine. But expecting your friends and family to join you on vacation because they think it will be fun for themselves and their guests is an imposition.

  81. Ro says:

    I agree with those who advise to not skimp on pictures. Great options for this were listed in previous comments, choose one of those, but don’t just get a friend with a fancy camera to do it.

  82. Kevin says:

    I just wanted to throw in 2 cents about photography.

    Cent number one: Don’t ask a friend or relative to do it if they’re someone you’d invite to the wedding anyway. They’re either a guest, or they’re the photographer. They can’t do both well. Either you’ll get decent photos, and they’ll miss out on a chance to socialize, or they’ll spend too much time catching up with old relatives and you’ll miss a bunch of important shots.

    Cent number two: Don’t bother buying a bunch of those disposable cameras for the tables at the reception. Say you have 100 guests, 5 guests per table, that’s 20 tables. 20 cameras at $15 each (you’d HAVE to get the ones with the built-in flash. Receptions are dark), plus another $10/camera for developing and printing, that’s $500. And I guarantee the vast majority of the photos will look like grainy snapshots that were taken in a coal mine. You’ll get FAR better photos for your $500 if you just use it to hire your pro photographer to stick around for a couple more hours and cover your reception.

  83. IRG says:

    There are dozens of articles to be written on how to save money on a wedding.

    Trent has addressed his thoughts in this post. It’s just one way of looking at the costs and ways to offset them. They clearly will not work for everyone.

    I agree with fellow posters who note that it’s not always wise to have relatives who are not professionals do things like the photographs, videos, etc. that are NOT replaceable if they don’t work out. (Bad music? Eh. not the end of the world. No photographs? No video? A lot worse. Food that makes people sick? A wedding cake that falls apart hours before the wedding? Oh, boy. Worse, people who can’t meet deadlines, which frequently happens with family members who “help” decorate, etc. You get what you pay for and the atitude is often, Hey, I’m doing what I can. Professional are paid to stick to contracts.)

    It’s also important, as several have pointed out, to not assume that anyone, friend or family member, who is a professional, provide their services for free. Ask them what their rate is and most of the time it will be nothing or very reduced. These people are professionals. And really, often they are giving up paying gigs to peform/help you! (So there loss is a double one, not a single income loss. Consider that, please).

    What should be said first is that the focus should always be on people and ways to enjoy each other’s company on the special day and focus on the celebration of the marriage. So, to my mind, you cut back on whatever to accommodate having the guests you want. PEOPLE FIRST.

    People have gotten far too crazy with what they spend, regardless of how much they have, on this one day.

    Friends of ours eloped. About a year later, they sponsored a trip to Hawaii (got discount rates for everything, arranged all kinds of special stuff) for family and friends and held a party in Hawaii. It was great, but not over the top. Everyone took their vacation (plenty of advance notice) and, because the bride/groom wanted it, spent money on themselves, and not on gifts for the bride/groom. (And yes, they actually paid for a few people to come. They would rather have spent money on people, then things like invitations, flowers, cakes, etc.)

    The memories are priceless and 20 years later, we’re still talking about it.

    I’ve been to (and helped plan) posh weddings at upscale venues as well as much more modest (quaker weddings). What really matters is the spirit…I recall one wedding of a 20-something friend at her college chapel and a reception in a fraternity house (incredible Martha-like makeover).

    All the friends and family helped with decorating, etc. It was memorable because it was all about the people and everything made it easy for people to be there and have fun.

    People get caught up in the “stuff.” It’s not even the money. A wedding is ONE day. it’s the marriage that matters and more time needs to be spent on planning for a life together and rather than a one-day party, no matter how great.

    Too many people are playing “we’ll show them” when it comes to weddings and it’s really sad.

    Another issue about having friends/family help: That means they have to take their focus off the sheer enjoyment and worry about things. You can’t really enjoy any event when you’re a part of it.

    That’s a REALLY important consideration. I helped a friend who did photography at her friend’s wedding. She did a fabulous job but she worked the whole day/night and really wasn’t “present” at her own friend’s wedding. She was WORKING. (See that is the difference with professionals versus people who just “help.”)

    You need to be clear on what really matters. And it’s having the people you love come together to celebrate. And not become more in debt to either give, or to attend.

    I’ve known people who didn’t ask people to be in their wedding party because they knew they could not afford it. Friends were unnecessarily hurt.

    You don’t need a fancy dress to be a real participant and people need to keep the focus on how to INCLUDE more people, not exclude because of costs.

    In many families, the bride/groom would rather pay to have people attend than waste the money on the trappings/decor. THEY have the right attitude.

  84. CindyC says:

    Acutally, I would just set a budget and work on your guest list from there. Everyone has a different idea for their wedding. Some people really want something upscale, but can’t afford to invite 300 people. Well, I would advise to just invite 30-50 of their closest family and friends.

    Being able to invite all of our families (I have 70 first cousins and my husband has 40) was important to us, so we went the budget wedding way. I loved it because it reminded me of the weddings I went to as a kid.

  85. Judy says:

    Buy preowned wedding gown and bridesmaids’ dresses. No matter how much you planned to spend, you’ll save aroung 50% off that.

  86. kz says:

    I’d like to add my voice to the group expressing disappointment in this particular article. I think it falls short. While the tips are handy for people to think about, they’ve already been covered in your previous article (which you actually linked to, so it’s not as if you forgot).

    I’m also really disappointed that I never read what I consider to be the single, most important aspect to saving money on your wedding: determine a budget before you do *anything* else.

    Whether you are of the mind that you want to spend as little as possible or of the mind that you want to have x, y and z for your wedding, a budget is an aboslute must. Within one week of our engagement, my husband and I sat down and figured out exactly how much we could save between the current date and when we wanted to get married. That was our budget for everything (location, food, alcohol, dress, tux, gifts for parents and attendants, wedding-day appointments, flowers, wedding bands, honeymoon, the whole shebang). Then, we prioritized. Photography was a big deal to my husband, and he was willing to spend more money there to get what he wanted. Location was a big deal to me – I didn’t want a church, because we’re not religious, and I wanted wherever we were to reflect us, as a couple. The only other thing that was important to us was being able to invite everyone who was important to us. Once we settled on those priorities, we fit everything else in around it, compromising in areas that didn’t mean as much to us (we spent $40 on invitations, thank-you cards, programs, and favors, for one example).

    Sure there were plenty of areas in which we could have spent a lot more money for something, but because we figured out our budget *first* it was easy to decide if we could afford it or not.

    Our wedding was decidedly not cheap (in appearance or in actuality) – it cost us $10,000. However, we paid for the entire day in cash and still had our reasonable mortgage and healthy emergency fund intact at the end of the day. I wouldn’t have changed one detail about that day, because it was exactly what I wanted. I think that’s the point Johanna was trying to make: not everyone will be happy with the backyard wedding, or whatever. And that’s okay. That’s why you figure out (1) what you’re willing to spend (and make it something you can actually afford to spend) and (2) what your priorities are. Everything else works itself out.

    And for whoever said that “next you’ll be telling us to take our honeymoon in the state park,” I found that really funny. That’s exactly what my husband and I did (well, it was a Canadian provincial park, but still). I started researching some ‘nicer’ places and realized that we could either spend two days at a hotel and come home with no money, or spend a week at a park and have money to spare. It was a no brainer, and I had more fun that I would have ever anticipated. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’m so glad we did that, rather than stay at some resort or something. I’ll never forget it.

  87. Stephanie says:

    We got married in the fall & had a relatively large wedding but trimmed a lot of $$.

    Marry in a church!! For $800 they provided all the nice decorations, the talented musicians, printed programs, and even recorded the ceremony, plus donating for the facility. We had to do nothing.

    We graduated from Georgia Tech and asked the GT Facilities Mgr if we could have the reception in the football stadium’s alumni hall. They were thrilled! Since we’re alumni, it cost $1000 for the entire hall with ALL the tables, chairs & the facilities manager. She prepared the space $ coordinated the DJ & caterers. BONUS: it had great view of the stadium, plus a panorama city skyline & access to the box seats outside. Plus, in the wings were museum-like rooms full of Tech history, displays & photos.

    B/c of the views, we decorated only w/ sheer fabric wrapped around Christmas lights and inexpensive silk leaves in fall colors. Including the centerpieces (we borrowed clear vases from friends and filled w/ water, cranberries & floating candles), all of it cost maybe $400.

    My sister’s a photographer, but she’s in the wedding so we hired a colleague of hers for the event. Her present to us was processing the pics & the wedding book.

    The food was a buffet-style German – bratwurst, Weiner schnitzel and breads, which cuts down on staffing. Beer and wine only, provided by the restaurant for a bulk deal. They also have a fine bakerery, & they did the cake for a discount!

    My advice is to FIND A GOOD DJ who is focused on pleasing a crowd. That’s where you should splurge. 3 years later, people are still talking about how much fun they had! Kirkley was able to take requests, tell when people were not interested in a song & kept the whole crowd pumped for 4 hours!! He M.C.’ed everything, so everyone was aware of cake cutting, the garter toss,etc. He held contests, played the slideshow, teased the crowd & told jokes. He created a really memorable experiences for everyone and added WAY more than an extra $900 of decorations or trinkets ever could!!!

    On trinkets – WE SKIPPED THE FAVORS and no one missed them! Everyone just throws them out. If you must have a favor, set up a “candy bar” full of color-coordinated M&Ms, chocolate almonds, jelly beans and lollipops in large bowls or vases. Provide small clear party bags w/ twist ties and scoops so guests can take home a treat.

  88. Sydnee says:

    This was 15 years ago.
    We got married on a Tuesday evening. Great idea because we had a really great photographer and got 10% off because he never got bookings on weekdays.
    My mom made the dresses for myself and my attendances.
    The restaurant we had the reception at was normally closed on Tuesdays but we asked and They said “yes we’d love to help”. So we had the whole place to ourselves.
    My husband and I wore matching hiking boots which we used many times after the wedding too.
    We asked a newly opened bed and breakfast to hold the ceremony. They gave us a great deal, plus served drinks and gave my maid of honor a room. All for $150.
    We started planning our wedding 3 months before we got married. And got great deals because we did it during the week.

  89. Melody says:

    Just wanted to say that I agree with those saying that it is all about your priorities – and obviously Trent’s priority has become saving!! Nothing wrong with that – he could have even had a rediculously posh wedding back in his spending heyday and now be writing a ‘wish I would have done this, instead’ post.
    As for me, I have been married for 10 years and we had our ceremony at the county clerk’s office. My maid-of-honor ran late and was still wearing her work uniform! LOL Bright yellow shirt, can’t forget it. :-) I had on a light purple dress I already had. My MIL was there, but my mom probably wouldn’t have showed-up even to a ‘normal’ wedding (arthritic, doesn’t travel) so no loss there. It was beyond cheap, but as others have pointed out you can have the most expensive wedding in the world and still get divorced! I don’t even *have* a wedding ring. We never got one. Again – we’re still married and scads of folks out there who followed the 3-month rule are divorced. So I’m not really upset about it!

  90. Gwen says:

    I am one of those girls who wanted a very pretty diamond ring. One of my husband’s friends had a friend whose mother made jewelery. This friend let my husband purchase a diamond with her because she had access to wholesale prices. I got a very high quality, beautiful diamond that is worth at least $2K more than my husband paid for it. If you know someone who will let you take advantage of wholesale prices it is a great way to buy a nice diamond.

  91. Jackie says:

    Great article! We set a budget for our wedding and actually came out under budget. One thing that worked well: using people who were just starting their business, but were quality vendors (my florist and caterer gaves us good deals, they did a stellar job and we STILL recommend them to friends). One word of caution, sometimes you get what you pay for. One of our vendors was a friend of a friend and was 1/3 of the cost of other vendors of that kind, so we used her. Big mistake. She was horrible and we still joke with our friends about it. Make sure you get value from your vendors, especially for the aspects of the day that are most important to you.

  92. Joanna says:

    Re: Photography

    I have to respectfully disagree with those who state that photography is not an area to cut costs. I’ve had several friends who married and had professional photographers and found that they preferred the candids that folks shot with their own digital cameras to the professional photos. IMHO the “amateur is going to ruin your wedding” argument is another version of the “you only get married once” argument, both of which increase anxiety for brides in particular and make them feel they need to spend more money.

    To each his own. We also are having a videographer (despite my initial reluctance to do so) because DH’s parents cannot make it. We worked very hard to have the ceremony reflect both cultures (DH is Puerto Rican) and we wanted my inlaws to be able to “experience” it as well.

    At the end of the day, the best way to save money is to figure out what *you and your fiance* care about and stick to that. Don’t let others’ priorities & ideas steer you away from your path.

    I think that advice fits whether you’re marrying for $2k or $200k.

  93. John says:

    Agree 100% on those that said not to skimp on photography. Think about it…the day after the wedding, the tux goes back, the dress goes into storage, the food is eaten, the DJ has gone home. What are you left with. The photos. Fifty years after the wedding, your grandkids are going to pull out those photos to show at your anniversary party. Do you really want them shot by Uncle Bob with his digital rebel and pop-up flash?

  94. Great article! Very insightful and practical. This will definitely be a help for brides form the engagement to reception, wedding photography and honeymoon selection. Thanks for sharing!

  95. Pat Brown says:

    It is GREAT if one wants and can afford an expensive wedding, having planned well finacially otherwise. Just make sure your intended has managed his/her money as thoughtfully.

    In addition, if a couple lacks the maturity to set up their wedding to suit their needs and avoid pressure from friends and family, perhaps they need to focus on becoming a functioning unit as a couple before the march down the aisle.

    However, I firmly stand by my assertation that a focus on the wedding rather than the marriage does not bode well. I say this after observing hundereds of couples up close and personal over three decades, and having been blissfully married to my best friend for thirty years.

    BTW, jealousy as a factor in any of this laughable to the extreme!!! DH and I had a High Mass wedding and a sit-down dinner with an open bar and live band, and it was lovely and meaningful. My dear parents footed the entire bill, out of love and because they could afford it thanks to my earning a full scholarship to a private college. Mt sole expense was my $190 gown and our plane tickets. I am saddened and amused by some of the clearly emotionl reactions posted here to a matter-of-fact post.

  96. This is a great series Trent…

    I love this installment because it makes me think of my wedding… we negotiated a discount on the reception hall even though they held all the cards – we met at that hall following a friends wedding… there was no way we were not using that location!

    We negotiated discounts on almost everyting just by asking…

    My wife’s mother and her friend did most of the decorations. We had a family friend’s family (who ran a restuarant) handle the catering. We hired friend to serve as DJ… and we tons over other stuffs…

    But most importantly – nearly without regard to how much we spent – we saved and saved and saved and paid cash for everything!

    We loved our wedding but we’re thankful we’re not reminded of it everytime a visa bill comes rolling in!!

    Love your work Trent!

  97. Emma says:

    I am agreeing with everybody in the “don’t get married” camp. These days, common-law is equal to married in terms of tax-filing and everything else. If you “really love somebody and want to spend your life with them”, you will. If you need to be forced into it with 250 witnesses; well, what does that say…

  98. Ilah says:

    How we saved on my daughter’s wedding:
    Dress-$75 at JC Penney Outlet. I spent a couple hrs remodeling it. Much cheaper and a lot less time than sewing it from scratch. I used the ripped off sleeves to make bodice decorations for the flower girl dresses I made. She still gets compliments on her dress.
    DJ-Grooms 15 yr old cousin and lots of borrowed CDs. She did a better job than paid DJs. She paid attention to what people were dancing to and played more of the same. The DJ’s didn’t change their lousy agendas.
    Friends gifted the photography, cake and main meat. My sister and I cooked the majority of the rest (for 350 guests) and some other relatives brought dishes.
    Bridesmaid dresses: Cost $50 at TJ Maxx and they could wear them again. We added matching strawhats and gave them a more bridesmaid look.
    We did our own decor. $1 baskets with some ribbon and 99 cent mums from Walmart.
    I made the invitations and programs for less than $100. My sister did the flower arranging. The bridesmaids carried a single rose.
    Everyone had a great time and it all looked great-people were shocked at how little we had spent-and no one was paying for a wedding for the next 5 years!

  99. Jen says:

    You don’t need professional photos to capture an event and remember it. You just need a halfway decent photo. If photography is really important to you then hire a professional, by all mean, but you’ll be just and married and just as able to look back at your photos and remember your wedding without professional photos. If you don’t hire a professional, then your wedding photos will not look like they could be printed in a magazine, but that’s okay for plenty of us.

    We had a friend do our photos and she did the formal shots before the wedding, then photographed the wedding ceremony and then she was off the hook to enjoy the reception – except that we asked her to get a few shots of the cake cutting. So yes, she did some work on our wedding day, but she also still had plenty of time to enjoy the party.

  100. Sharon says:

    I got a dress that was “out of style” for about $90 (31 years ago), we married in our church, which was still decorated for Christmas, and used the social hall for the reception. My mom cooked turkeys, ham and roast beef, ground them and made sandwich filling with them, and put them on loaves made in wedding colors, and cut them into finger sandwiches. My folks bought some wine, we made a non-alcoholic punch, tea and coffee. There were probably mints and nuts, too.

    Because I am hard of hearing and if we were to have music I would have been deaf at my own wedding, so there was no music. Amazing–people could actually TALK to one another! Flowers were bought wholesale and done by my mom’s friend. Photographer was a professional who was a friend of my father’s.

    My bridesmaids and junior bridesmaids (all very good friends) made their dresses, with fabric and notions that we bought for them. They wore their own black shoes.

    A good time was had by all, except for the many who were either getting over the flu, had the flu or were getting the flu.

    This is the downside to getting married in January!

  101. flutter says:

    Trent, I am really enjoying this series. I’m a bride-to-be (two year engagement, though, so the wedding is still a ways away), and any tips on how to keep my wedding budget sane are wonderful. The entire series and how finances affect couples in all stages is so refreshing; it reminds us of things we may have forgotten and informs us of things that perhaps we ought to remember.

    Thank you!

  102. plonkee says:

    @kz (#56):
    Your comment is an outline of the post I’d have liked to read on this topic. Thanks. :)

  103. I agree that weddings can be great at low cost.
    Our wedding was veery cheap, but I still get a thrill of satisfaction by how nice it was – and people still talk about the food (the only thing they really care about!):

    -I told friends and family to tell my boyfriend (now hubby) that I had a family heirloom diamond ring that he should use as the engagement ring, and save the money for a house down payment. If you don’t have a family heirloom, then vintage jewelry can be bought for a comparative song, and can be really cool and special. Also think outside the diamond box (it’s artificially expensive anyway) and go with sapphires, rubies, opals, pearls (opals and pearls will need to be replaced occasionally, since they’re soft and jump settings – but really, just buy 5 $100 gems and be ready to replace). Or go totally conflict-free and go with a lab-created jewel (a coworker’s fiance did that, and she was so happy with her enormous, suffering-free, cheap sapphire).

    -We invited immediate family and “attendants” (they didn’t walk up with us, but had roles in the wedding like reading). Very small guest list – 50 or 60 – and I still found we had very little time with each person!

    -We got married in my parents’ church’s side chapel ($300 covered officiant and music too), which was beautiful and in beautiful rolling horse country so the outside shots were great too.

    -Had our reception in a restaurant – best decision we made! We had piping-hot filet mignons and gourmet food from one of the top-rated area restaurants (they had a banquet hall that looked a lot like other weddings’ banquet halls, which was free due to the number of guests, and the servers were free other than the generous tip, since they were already with the restaurant). Total was probably $4K, and was the biggest expense. But so worth it!!

    -Got 2 amateur photographers who taught photography at the local high school. Honestly, this was not the best idea. They didn’t do a very good job except outside, where their simple digital cameras (why didn’t they have better cameras?? I never understood that!) worked better – but my uncle, a photo enthusiast, took photos too with his sophisticated camera, and those shots were great. So I would say that it worked out ok for us, but our expectations were low – I wanted one really fantastic photo for our wall, and we got that. If I had wanted a complicated wedding album, I might not have been so happy. So I would consider going with higher-grade amateurs if I were to do it again. But if you go with amateurs, I recommend getting 2.

    -I don’t really like looking like a gigantic poofy meringe (I’m pretty white-skinned myself!), so I bought a simple but beautiful blue bridesmaid dress. My husband wore a suit we bought for the event (and he uses it still). We color-coordinated our looks and the wedding based on our two favorite colors (red, blue), and told all the guests that *if and only if* they wanted to, they could wear either red or blue to the wedding. The pictures turned out great with all that subtle color coordination – who doesn’t have something in one of those two colors?

    -I’ve had other brides set a store (usually Michaels) and a color, and have her bridesmaids get any dress they want. That way they’ll at least be happy with the style, and it may be worn again. Especially if you pick a very neutral color like black, grey, or red.

    Anyway, as you can see I’m a big fan of non-traditional weddings.

  104. ceo says:

    I and several friends of mine have found another way to save on the reception: Make it a potluck. This really only works if A: you have a lot of local friends and family who, B: are the kind of people who will be happy to contribute something rather than thinking it’s tacky, and C: there is someone whose job it is to coordinate what people are bringing so you don’t end up with 30 salads and 20 tuna noodle casseroles (or, indeed, any tuna noodle casseroles).

    We went with a professional bakery for the cake, however.

  105. Matt says:

    I’ve been to weddings that have been frugally wrong — horrible DJ who played “as a gift”… ruined the atmosphere of the bride and groom’s day, for example. I’ve been to weddings that have been horribly overspent — leading to a very informal, uncomfortable atmosphere.

    I’m not sure I like this post — to me, a lot of your posts are becoming the same… “Save money by skimping out on anything and everything.” I agree with other posters… photographers are the most important part of the wedding expense. But you don’t need to spend thousands. But you shouldn’t get your best friend with their point-and-shoot taking pictures. Hell, I wouldn’t trust a friend taking pictures with their dSLR, personally. An amateur in charge of your memories? WTF?

    And the same with a DJ — the frugal trend these days is to just iPod your DJ. You think people just want to mingle and talk at a reception? A reception is 4-6 hours long… after a few hours (including dinner), there’s nothing really to talk about. The whole point of alcohol and dancing is to lighten the moment.

    Now, maybe Trent’s post was aimed at people spending $25K+ for their wedding, which is the going average these days. In that respect, I agree that it’s an overspent day. For me, my wedding is expected to cost around $6K, including hall, food, DJ and photographer. A wedding is just one day, and a marriage is a lifetime, completely true. But I’d spend the extra money for reassurance that you never look back and think about what could have been a great day, and instead was chinsy because you wanted to save $100. If you want to be that cheap on your wedding, just get eloped like other posters have mentioned.

  106. @ Pat Brown: It’s nice that you claim that making others happy is showing a lack of maturity, especialy if it’s a decision that a couple came to together.

    I would think having an expensive wedding without having to pay for it and then mocking others who might have to pay for it themselves shows a lot less maturity.

    By the way, self-righteous judgement is not the same as matter-of-fact. Why do you hate people who choose big weddings?

  107. Pat Brown says:

    I don’t. I dislike people who choose cheap marriages.

  108. Good post! People would be well served to think about smaller more intimate gatherings. Will keep you out of wedding factories and get more quality for you wedding buck.

  109. speedy says:

    I completely agree with DDFD.

    My new hubby and I opted for a small intimate ceremony, choosing quality over quantity. I found a lovely dress, we rented a small stone cottage in a nearby park. The ceremony was in front of a fireplace in the sitting room, and we had a really nice dinner for a small group of friends in the adjacent dining room. Easy for us, because neither has a lot of family, we don’t like large gatherings, and we wanted to do something really special.

    We bought invitations and thank-you cards at VistaPrint (www.vistaprint.com). We could go online and choose a style to suit us, then were able to edit our own text and move it around, and it was not expensive at all, even with matching envelopes.

    We went with simple candle trees and votives for decoration, and our only flowers were a two nice orchids. We brought the table linens ourselves (we shopped around and found some on sale), but we rented china and glassware because we didn’t have enough of our own.

    We had a Friday evening wedding in March, and the caterer and photographer were happy to take care of us at a reasonable price, since it was a week night and our group was small. That left them free to take larger weekend gigs.

    We wrote our own wedding vows and a friend performed the ceremony for us, so it had a personal touch. We chose our own music and had it playing before and after the ceremony.

    When having a small wedding, you can get really creative about the venue: bed and breakfast, historic homes, art galleries, park pavillions, cafes, or other interesting spots.

    Our guests all told us we have set the standard for what a wedding should be, so I know we did something right!

  110. The “cost” of having boring, bad or unusable photos taken at your wedding by a friend or family member that doesn’t know what they are doing is huge! Look for a value priced photographer that

    1. shoots digital
    2. will sell you full-res digital photos so you can make your own prints and album
    3. that wont behave like the uninvited guest at your wedding

    hit up flickr and do some google searches to find up and coming photogs that are hungry to shoot your wedding for less than your area’s standard rate. most importantly, if you don’t like their style, don’t hire them.

    – Chris (part time wedding photog)

  111. JC says:

    I agree with Matt that Trent’s posts are becoming very similar and I think I might be outgrowing them (at 26 no less!). There are many books and sites you can go to for great wedding saving advice that is FREE…and yet this short post attempts to come up with, sum up, or un-cover some great money saving ideas. I think it might have been a waste of time to write this post in the first place…any person with a little sense who is getting married is already aware of the options you mentioned (these options show no innovation) and probably has 20 ideas that are more interesting from just doing some basic research (I know, I got married last October). In a nutshell, this post seems a little lazy.

    Maybe it’s just me…but after reading that you bought a car that you didn’t (whether you could or not) pay for in cash, I’ve found myself losing interest in your blog.

    I guess my point is that I want ideas and methods to strive towards, which are innovative and make me think how I can keep being frugal. Without the innovation, it just seems like a waste of my time and yours…

  112. Bill in Houston says:

    I had a brother who eloped. While I was disappointed (I got the “what are you doing tomorrow” call from him so I couldn’t get away to Vegas), I understand why he did it.
    My other brother had about twenty friends and family for the official ceremony, and had a “come if you want” re-do in Mexico. His “reception” was a month later and 150 folks turned up. He did all the cooking himself and the bar was four big coolers with beer and cokes.
    My wedding had a hundred guests. We budgeted everything, married in church, bought the decorations, found a nice venue for the reception, had a beer/wine/soda only bar, and my stereo system. Our caterer was a local restaurant. Our photographer was a student who advertised on Craig’s List. We spent the week before the wedding assembling bouquets, putting up decorations, setting up the bar. Our two semi splurges were convenience oriented. We hired a bartender and a cleaner to minimize the mess.

  113. BK says:

    I got married 3 days after this post was written and I’d have to say that some of Trent’s advice is outdated. Especially the bit about holding the wedding and reception in your home. Has anyone seen Father of the Bride? This route generally costs more than hotels or reception halls because you have to hire all the vendors yourself.

    I realize that many of the commenters had very simple weddings, but some of us (generally, women) still dream of having that fairy tale wedding. I did and I got exactly what I wanted for about half the price of what a similar wedding would normally cost. So, my advice will pertain to those people who want their dream wedding, but don’t want to go into debt to have it.

    First of all, the number one most important thing is to sit down with your fiancee (or mom, if fiancee doesn’t care to do so) and come up with a budget that you feel comfortable with. Then, stick with it to the very end, regardless of how many times your family says you “have to” do/have this or that at your wedding. You don’t “have to” do anything. It’s YOUR wedding. When budgeting, figure out the three most important aspects of your wedding that you’re unwilling to compromise on. For us, it was flowers, photographer, and food. Then, figure out ways to cut down on costs in other categories. We had a Saturday brunch wedding (because my DH and I love brunch), which significantly cut costs on alcohol and food. But, if you want a Saturday evening wedding, you can still cut costs by keeping alcohol to beer and wine (no hards). I also agree with previous posts that, in many parts of the country (not mine), receptions cost less if held at a restaurant rather than a hotel ballroom or reception hall.

    If you’re crafty, there’s a lot of DIY that you can do for a wedding. Basically, anything paper-related (i.e. all stationery/invites/TUs/reply cards/Table numbers, etc.) Papersource.com, paperandmore.com and bluedotpapershop.com are good sources of paper on sale. Decide whether you want to bother with programs, escort cards, place cards, and other extraneous items. They seem to be necessary/expected only in New England. You can also DIY your favors and certain reception decorations. If you don’t want to do favors (not really necessary anymore), that’ll cut down on costs even more. I also DIY’d my wedding jewelry, both mine and BMs. I learned some simple techniques from a “Dummies” book and firemountaingems.com, which also has bulk jewelry materials for cheap.

    For wedding attire, don’t bother with the traditional wedding boutiques. JCrew and Ann Taylor have a beautiful line of wedding/party dresses that go on sale all the time. You can also try Craigslist, eBay or the many second-hand wedding gown sites online. Some of the gowns were never even worn (oddly, some brides buy two gowns and then decide shortly before the wedding which one to wear). Also, day weddings generally require less formal attire, which cuts down on costs.

    Regarding hiring friends and family, I wouldn’t hire anyone who will be a guest at the wedding to work the wedding for you. The only friend I asked to work was a friend who video’d the ceremony and that was it. You can however, cut costs by asking around for recommendations from friends and family and, depending on how close the vendor is with your family member, you may be able to get a discounted friends/family rate. This is what I did for my wedding and received discounted rates from every single vendor. I would have to say that, aside from having a non-Saturday evening wedding, this saved us the most $. Photography was really important to us, so we budgeted a little more for it. It’s true that photos/video are all you’re left with after the day, so you should get what you want there. If professional photography isn’t important, then by all means do the “disposable camera on each table” thing. However, professional photographers generally know which moments you want captured and are sure to capture them. Wedding guests simply capture the moments they care to capture. And remember, your wedding day is about the two of you. If you don’t like those posed shots, then don’t bother with them. Hire a photographer who specializes in photojournalism.

    I agree with previous posters about the importance of a good DJ/emcee (whether amateur or professional). Where I live, we have them both (i.e. DJ’s don’t emcee). After the day, your guests will only remember whether they enjoyed the wedding or not and the DJ/emcee has a lot to do with that. A good DJ/emcee will also be able to move the reception along in a timely manner.

    In terms of how long to spend planning your wedding, we spent 9 months, which allowed us to shop around for the best deals while assuring that we weren’t too stressed out. Simpler weddings can be planned in a shorter period of time and more elaborate weddings may require a longer period of time (average nowadays is 12-18 months).

    Lastly, I’d like to comment on wedding planners. Most people think they’re a waste of money, but depending on where you live (esp in a large metropolitan city), they may be able to save you a ton of money, often more than the fee you’re paying them. Because they have relationships with the local vendors, they can get you deals that you wouldn’t get otherwise. I didn’t use one, but a friend of mine who is a planner saved one of his clients $10K on catering alone. We did hire a day-of-coordinator, though, a peppy, extremely organized gal. Even though it was an extra cost (which still fit into the original budget), her services were priceless, because I was able to completely relax and enjoy our wedding day.

  114. Jenny says:

    I had the wedding of my dreams for $2000 in November. It was perfect. We started planning a 300+ affair but then realized that with full time jobs and community involvement, we didn’t have the time. So we invited our parents, siblings and grandparents to an intimate 12 person ceremony and dinner. We hired a budding new photographer who gave us a DVD with the photos to print as we please. We did dinner in a private room at Ruth’s Chris (their service was excellent, everything was perfect, cannot say enough good things about them).

    I’m the last of my friends from college to get married and at their large weddings, they didn’t have time for their families. We weren’t rushed, and spent quality time with the ones we loved. And we enjoyed delicious food at a spectacular restaurant. I planned it in a day and will cherish the time with our families for a lifetime.

  115. Molly says:

    It’s true shaving the guest list down is not such a good option. My cousin got married and we got shaved off the list and we were very unhappy because our family’s have always been close. My Aunt had told us about the engagement and she said of corse we could expect an invitation. She had no idea that we would get the ol’ shave. My father and I planed a flight from where they live in New York to Ireland. A trip we planed as a promise he gave me since my birth. We ended up driving 8 hours to go to that airport when we could have booked the trip out of an airport one hour away. The cousins youngest sister even said she was upset we couldn’t be there and she said someday when she gets married she will invite everybody, even if she has to serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Well she got married and she did no shaving of the guest list. At her wedding she served delicious sandwiches and wraps, but she didn’t have to resort to PB&J.

    Sometimes the bride that has big wedding dreams and reads the latest bridal magazines can get disappointed when she actually looks at her funds and starts considering alternatives to her big dreams. Although it may not seem like it will be any fun at all to get married in a discount dress, with people you already know filling the jobs of the hired help, and a pot luck buffet table, but don’t worry. It’s you wedding day! Your building a life long marriage and having your family around to celebrate with you will be the best part.

    My wedding day was 06/20/09 and we cut costs here and there but it seemed like a pricy upscale wedding and I had the best day of my life marring the man I love. We were married at the church I grew up in and still attend, but we had my Dad as the efficient. Not for economical reasons, but it happened to be much less costly. We had someone we know drive us to the reception in a year 1940 ford. Beautiful car. We arranged to pay 40 dollars but they said it was their wedding gift to us. The reception Hall was our local Grange Hall. A beautiful building. The grange members were so happy we wanted to use it they said we could for free, but we didn’t we contributed 200 dollars to the Grange. A friend of mine was our DJ and he only charge us 200. Our cake wasn’t cheap but it was reasonable. The tuxes were expensive but worth it, and the food was mostly pot luck. We did cater sandwiches. Big fat tasty gourmet sandwiches, not little finger rolls. Plus our photographer was also someone I know. She is in the process of opening up her own studio. She was reasonable and very good.

  116. Megan says:

    This is a great post, very much along the lines of my own sensibilities on the matter.

    I have a friend who is actually starting a business to help people have small, frugal weddings. Wedding planning for the economically conscious, if you will.

    She and her business partner are planning (last I heard) to have different levels for their clients: if you just want to sit down with them for a few hours to figure out the major hurdles, and then never hear from them again, you could. Or if you wanted to have someone be there a week before the wedding (or even just the day of, to make sure that everything was running smoothly) you could do that instead.

    She told me that they’re hoping to get the business really up and running by the first of the month. I’d be curious what you thought of it when they do.

  117. Christy says:

    We have been married 20 yrs and the entire affair cost $1200, rings, photos, everything. We did not have a sit down dinner, where did that come from anyway. We were married in a 4-H building for $35 for two days. We made our own cake, my dress cost $30.00, that was for material, my mom sewed it, my flowers, $24.00. Everyone, including me wore their wedding clothes after the wedding. No gifts for the invitees, we made our invitations on the copier at home (20yrs ago people yes a copier) I hand drew one and we placed it on the copier. I spent the most money on a professional photographer ($700) and stamps for the invitations ($40.00)

    I am currently employed with a printer and no just because it is for a wedding we don’t charge more and yes don’t go crazy on the invitations, many times we print the invitation on the paper the bride has bought for just the cost of copies and big weddings don’t make perfect marriages. Usually the bigger the wedding, the less time they are married. We sell many things for weddings where I work and these are very reasonable in price and one way to save alot of money, MAKE UP YOUR MIND!. When ordering invitations, napkins, or anything else from one spot, get it all at once, saves in shipping and don’t change your mind and do it early, saves in time charged and rush charges.

    And always ask, we sold our display items to a bride that was in a hurry and she got all of them for half off the original price and because she took the whole set we took off another $50.00. She got a guest book, cake topper, serving set, ring pillow, flower girl basket, champagne glasses, attendee gifts, a unity candle and a card box for less than $150. ASK if it is for sale, we sold it, she wanted it.

  118. Ashley says:

    Two of my friends have been married recently, one paid $1,000 for their photographer.. not including any prints. The other paid $4,000 for their photographer.. not including any prints.

    Both of those couples are unhappy with their choices and believe someone at their wedding took better pictures than the photographer did..

    From their experiences I will not be spending a huge chunk of my wedding budget on some fancy photographer..

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