Updated on 11.17.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Wedding Favors

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Erin writes in: Making our own wedding favors. It’s so expensive to buy them, so I tried making my own, which ended up costing about as much as just buying them would have and was no where worth the effort even if we had saved a ton of money. I wish we would have just skipped them all together, no one would have noticed and we would have saved a bunch of money.

First of all, I don’t think wedding favors are necessary at all. The vast majority of the wedding favors I’ve ever received wound up in a cupboard within a few days of the wedding and were largely forgotten until I found it a few days later. If you’re getting married and are thinking about giving away a “traditional” wedding favor, I’d just skip it. It’s expensive, not particularly personal, and quite forgettable for the guests.

That being said, I have actually been to a few weddings (or heard of a few weddings from friends) where the wedding favor was quite memorable:

+ At one wedding, where the wedding couple were both writers, they gave every adult who attended the wedding copies of each of their latest books, signed by them. These were very inexpensive for the couple (who just requested a bunch of copies from their publisher) and actually useful for many of the guests, who were almost all avid readers.

+ At another wedding, there were place settings for every person they expected at the reception. At each one, there was a custom-made bookmark depicting the couple on one side. This bookmark was inserted inside of a handwritten card from either the bride or the groom thanking that person personally for attending the wedding.

+ My favorite one was a wedding where a wonderful soup was served at the reception. Then, on the tables, were small jars containing the ingredients for that soup along with a note describing how to make it. This wasn’t particularly inexpensive, but it was very thoughtful and it got used.

+ Another wedding I attended had homemade soap given away as a wedding favor. One of the friends of the couple simply made a bunch of homemade soap bars, wrapped them with a custom wrapper that commemorated the wedding, and left them out on the tables at the reception.

Each of these favors succeeded because of several different factors.

They were inexpensive or free. In some of the cases, the items were truly inexpensive. In other cases, a member of the wedding party or a close friend stepped in to help out with a homemade item.

They were something that the guests would actually use outside of the ceremony. In each case, the memorable favors were items that would actually get used. No more knick knacks, no more commemorative salt shakers.

They were often personalized. Most of these items had some personalization to them. They were either made by someone actually involved with the wedding – or sometimes even by the wedding couple – or they were intimately connected to the couple. Many favors have no such connection.

I’ll run the numbers on two examples.

At one wedding I recently attended, the wedding favors consisted of small sacks of chocolate coins. There were perhaps 100 of these bags sitting around with 20 coins in each one. They weren’t particularly memorable or particularly tied to the couple. I was able to find chocolate coins for $0.20 each. At that rate, the bags themselves cost them $400 – I sincerely hope they found a less expensive rate.

On the other hand, at the wedding where there were personalized cards and bookmarks, I called a local printer who said that he could print a set of 100 bookmarks and 100 cards for about $60 without much trouble. I’m sure that if you shopped around, you could find an even cheaper price.

Stick with personal, simple, and useful if you’re going to make a wedding favor. It will cost you less and it’ll mean more to the guests.

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  1. Joe S. says:

    My wife came up with the idea of brewing a special batch of beer for our wedding. I made the beer, and she designed the labels for the bottles. “Hoppily Ever After.” It was very personal, not very expensive, and people seemed to love it. Most of all, it meant something to us to be able to share one of our passions with our guests.

  2. valleycat1 says:

    At the last traditional wedding I went to, the favors were fill-your-own favor bag at an attractively presented candy ‘bar’ – that way the candies could be purchased in bulk & prep time almost nil, and guests could select among a nice assortment to suit their preferences.

  3. Riki says:

    Edible, or otherwise consumable, favors are really popular at most weddings I photograph. I never take the trinkets or very personalized items (I’m not technically a guest, although I do sit for the meal) but you’d better believe I always partake of the edible treats.

    My favourite was a small package of chocolate-covered potato chips made by a local company. Most of the guests were from out of town so they were really excited. Even after dessert and wedding cake, the chips were devoured before the end of the reception. Yum!

  4. Brittany says:

    I catered wedding all through college and saw a lot of this. I’ve seen the candy bar valleycat1 mentioned–usually with a note on each type of candy about why it was included (bride’s favorite now, groom’s favorite as a kid, the type the bride and groom fight over because one loves it and one thinks it’s disgusting, etc.). It’s cute.

    Another great one I’ve seen involved the bride and groom’s favorite cookies, homemade by the mother of the bride and groom, respectfully, with a recipe card attached to the baggie.

  5. Kristia says:

    My husband and I did book marks for everyone. We ordered bookmarks online, 250 black & white printed book marks cost about $50. We then ordered tassels from an online tassel store (about $30). When we had a party with family to help address all of our invitations we also had help to add tassels to all of the bookmarks. We then named all of the tables at the reception after one of our favorite authors and had stories about why each author was important to one or both of us. People seemed to really enjoy it and we still had about 100 bookmarks left over that we’ve been using since then.

  6. Wes says:

    My wife likes to grow things, so she bought a bunch tiny little pots, painted them our wedding colors, and planted different herbs in them. My sister gifted us her artistic talents and wrote our names and the date on these tiny wooden hearts that were also painted and glued to a popsicle stick as a little garden sign.

    Maybe not the cheapest favor (cost was the pots + sticks and hearts + paint + soil + seeds); but we still get compliments on that aspect of our wedding, and everyone said they put it on their kitchen windowsill to take a pinch of whatever herb they got when they cooked.

    My favorite favor from another wedding was a bag of dark-chocolate peppermint bark. That was several years ago, but my wife and I still talk about it.

  7. Katie says:

    I went to a wedding recently where there was a note on the menus saying that a donation had been made to X charities in lieu of favors, which I thought was nice.

  8. Maureen says:

    My daughter and her future mother-in-law made strawberry jam and put it in 4 oz jars. Wasn’t the cheapest thing out there, but everyone enjoyed it. Even my aunt who ate it at the dinner table!

  9. jim says:

    I don’t see any need for favors but I assume its something some people consider mandatory out of tradition.

    I honestly don’t remember any wedding favors at the weddings I’ve been to. They either didn’t have them or they were so trivial and unmemorable that I forgot they even had em.

  10. Sara says:

    For my son’s reception, they found quotes about love that they liked, and printed them on parchment type paper in a stylized font. We cut them in strips like fortune cookie fortunes. Bought small plastic boxes, swirled the quote around the inside of the box and filled with M & M’s. We made them quickly, it wasn’t expensive and people really seemed to like them.

  11. CNM says:

    We ordered several dozen cookies that are traditional to our area from a local bakery. I can’t remember how much they cost but it was less than $50. We then put two cookies in a cellophane bag, tied the bag closed with some ribbon, and attached a card (those printable business cards) with a stamp of our names and wedding date. The rubber stamp cost $20 or so. It took about 2 hours to put them all together with my sisters and sister-in-laws helping. It was fun and cheap.

  12. Carole says:

    No wonder so many couples live together instead of getting married–it’s so much trouble and work, not to mention expensive to get married the way people seem to think is necessary.

  13. Ashley says:

    My husband and I met when he was a radio DJ because of a song playing on the radio. We listen to a lot of music and enjoy a lot of local artist. For our wedding favors we made a mixed CD of our favorite love songs from various indie artist that would please the masses. We had 100 people and we spent $100 on a CDs. Several of our guest have told us it’s their favorite CD and thank us for introducing them to their new favorite band.

  14. Ash says:

    I love the donation to charity katie suggested. That’s the favour I’d like to receive and also less trouble all round!

  15. Becca says:

    My sister bought miniature galvanized buckets online, and then planned to do the herb thing as both favor and centerpiece. Well, the herbs failed to grow. It happened that our parents’ blueberry bushes were just starting to produce, so we filled the tiny buckets and put one at each place setting… they were very popular.

    Remember to check out the dollar store, which has cute and low cost items, like little wedding boxes in the shape of wedding gown and tux, I used those, filling them with little bottles of bubbles, and also some candy. They were attractive on the table.

    In all of frugality, the best plan is to work backwards. Don’t think of what you would like, then go try to find that thing. Think about the resources available to you that are very cheap or free, and plan around them.

  16. Jane says:

    We were married in early December and purchased lots of poinsettias to put on the window sills of the reception hall. We had people take those home as party favors. Some people took us up on it and others didn’t.

    Honestly I don’t get party favors, either at weddings or childrens’ birthday parties. They are nice but really unnecessary. It’s just one more thing to stress over. But I think some people genuinely enjoy doing them. My new sister in law, who married my husband’s brother last month, made baked goods and candies, and also wrapped local soaps for people to take home. It was lovely, but mainly because I know she enjoys that kind of thing. I say if you enjoy it, do it. If not, skip it.

  17. Emma says:

    Party favors are sort of waste. If you can eat them at least they are not not ending up taking you space or in a waste basket. I went to a wedding where fresh brownies were given wrapped neatly is a cooking paper and put is flat boxes. Two servings. Kids liked them in the morning. Good for sombody who travels by car the next day. Free snack or breakfast. Other winter wedding had hot coca powder with big mashmallows in a plastic cone. One cup serving.
    Maybe party favors should be just for kids. They do cost.

  18. Vivianne says:

    Anything in the wedding aisle gets a big markup, so don’t get your supplies from there. We did “hugs and kisses”. I got several yards of tulle from the fabric store for about $1 a yard, and spools of ribbon rather than the precut ribbon lengths and tulle circles. Bought the candy at the grocery store on sale with a coupon. Printed out the tags using a fancy font on our home computer.

  19. Janis says:

    As a wedding guest, I don’t expect or need a favor. The best ones are personal, meaningful and perhaps even practical.

    We had a small wedding on the Maine coast. We wanted the food to reflect the location and, because the wedding was small, were able to serve lobster. For favors, I purchased metal, lobster claw-shaped “crackers” that guests used when eating their meal. I was able to get a good price from an engraver I did business with, and had our initials and the wedding date engraved on them for a reasonable price. Years later, those crackers are still used and commented on.

    Other favors that were given to guests at the end of the reception included tabletop items such as the frames that showed the table name, oil lanterns, and rustic baskets that held the floral arrangements.

  20. lurker carl says:

    Because party favors are tokens of appreciation from the host/hostess to guests attending their event, don’t disrespect your friends and family by giving thoughtless crap. Most brides would be insulted if someone wrapped up a box of trash bags for a wedding gift, so think of your guests in the same vein. Come up with party favors to commemorate the event or show you’ve put some time and thought and effort into it.

  21. kristine says:

    For my first wedding, we did not have a pot to…well, we had nothing- just starting out. We had pencils engraved with gold lettering of our names and wedding date. One black pencil, one white pencil, tied white satin ribbon. It was a huge hit, as both families are full of artists and kids. It was personal- I am an artist, and he was an architect/3d software writer (20 years ago!), so it was perfect! It was fun going to family and friends’ houses years later and some still had the pencils- either not used as sacred, or others asked us if we had extras! We used the mis-print (wrong color) pencils as silly stocking stuffers at the family holiday, which quickly turned to reminiscing about all the weddings. (He was one of 14, so Christmas was usually 50-60 people).

  22. kristine says:

    If you want an inexpensive and elegant way to package candy- buy glassine envelopes from an art supply or camera store. Better- get them online in bulk. They are wax-coated vellum- a translucent milky white. They come in long skinny sleeves for negatives, or 3 x 5, etc. for photo prints. Put the wrapped candy in, then tie with a satin ribbon. (Even ample twirled party ribbon looks OK, as the envelopes are so lovely). The long ones look amazingly sophisticated all pointed upward in a large crystal bowl, for taking on the way out. Or put one in each glass. Glassine envelopes are gorgeous. Resist the urge to put a sticker on it (ruins the elegance), instead, tie round gift tab w/ aluminum edging (you can anywhere around Christmas) with names and dates on the ribbon. Or any lovely tag you can print from our computer. Marthastewart dot com always has nice templates for tags.

  23. kristine says:

    Someone commented on how expensive wedding supplies are (tulle, ribbons, satin flowers, etc.). YES. I buy a ton of tulle and ribbon for my school, and after much research, I can share that efavormart dot com skips the middle man, and a ton of money. You do not need to buy large quantities. Found them this year- they beat the pants of JoAnnes. They delivered from CA to NY quickly as well, and accepted a purchase order! No- I am not getting any kickback. Just found a great source, and as it is the topic, thought I would share. If I can save anyone a buck- that’s great!

  24. Jean says:

    One young couple I know spent the year before their wedding growing bamboo pants–lots of them! They got clear containers (mostly odd glasses) at thrift stores and yard sales, and grouped them in the center of each table at the reception. Saved on flowers that would be tossed in a few days, and each guest took home a plant. It was lovely and very green, and a true reflection of them.

  25. Carmen says:

    Our daughter got married this past summer. The photographer brought an old-time photo booth–the kind where you get four photos on a strip–and we provided various props–things like Groucho Marx glasses, top hats, feather boas, safari hats, clown noses, as well as wipe off boards to write messages or captions.

    The guests could take as many photos as they liked and got copies to keep, as well as a plastic frame to hold the photos. The bride and groom got digital copies of all the photos as a keepsake. It was a very fun part of the reception, and everyone I know has kept the photos out someplace to look at since the wedding. Maybe not inexpensive, but at least something that isn’t shoved in a drawer,

  26. Stacy says:

    We did bookmarks. I designed them myself with our photographs and love verses plus a poem I wrote, then printed them on our printer (cost was cardstock + ink which was reasonable because the picture was small). I cut them apart and tied ribbon through the holes. Personalized, inexpensive and not hard to make.
    My SIL rented a photo booth (don’t know cost on this one) and then everyone got their photos in a small frame. Ours sits on our nightstand.
    One of my friends married a man with the last name Jones. They put a bottle of Jones soda at each place setting with stickers that said From Mr and Mrs Jones. Everyone took a bottle home or swapped until they got one they liked.

  27. sewingirl says:

    My daughter and new hubby gave away 5oz. bottles of his “special recipe” BBQ sauce. They just sat on a table by the cake, with a small sign for guests to please help themselves. My SIL is a huge BBQ griller and fan, and I’ve had several people ask me if there are any extras! Thats one wedding that will be memorable!

  28. Lisa says:

    We had a fall wedding, which is when you plant tulip and daffodil bulbs- and that’s what we gave away. I bought mini peat pots at 10 for a dollar, placed a bulb in each one, and wrapped it up in tulle. Our invitations (print-your-own kind from a craft store) came with ribbons which we thought were too fussy for the invites, so we used the ribbons to tie the tulle around the bulbs. We heard from several family members and friends about how pretty the flowers were when they bloomed the following spring.

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