How To Have a Dream Wedding for Less Than $5,000

wedding couple in love with confetti
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The pandemic may have reshaped the way we plan weddings and caused a shift in our priorities, but it didn’t make them any cheaper. In fact, the cost of weddings has gone up in the U.S. since 2020, in part because of surging demand and, of course, swelling inflation and supply chain disruptions. Weddings in 2022 cost an average of $27,000 — up from the pre-COVID-19 average of around $24,000, according to market research firm The Wedding Report.

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For the majority of Americans who are slammed by rising costs of essentials like food and gasoline, $27,000  — and really, even $24,000 — is simply a no-go. Does this mean everyone who wants to get married should just elope without much ado? That’s certainly an option, but for those who want the hustle and bustle of a proper wedding, there are other tricks and savings tips to consider. Not only can you keep your wedding under $20,000 — you can potentially keep it under $5,000.  

Make Your Money Work for You

Create a Budget 

So you know you want to throw a wedding for under $5,000? Great! Let’s sit down and create a budget for all planned expenses. 

“This should include everything — from ceremony expenses to thank-you notes, tips for any professionals providing services, and gifts for attendants,” said consumer finance expert Tanya Peterson, vice president of brand with Freedom Financial Network. “Reviewing this against the priorities will guide in determining what percent of the total budget to allocate to each item. For example, for one couple, some type of reception might be most important, so they may set aside half the $5,000 budget for that, and only 10% for the dress. For another couple, the honeymoon or dress may be most important, so they’ll divide up the budget differently. The idea is to figure out what’s most important and budget accordingly.”

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Wed on a Weekday 

More and more couples are getting married on a weekday, so if you decide to do this, you certainly won’t be the only ones.

Joy found that weekday weddings increase by 116% in 2022 compared to 2019,” said Katie Brownstein, the resident wedding expert at Joy. “Since venues charge a premium for Saturday weddings, opt for a weekday or daytime event to save on venue costs. Couples can save 15-20% off the cost of a Saturday night wedding by choosing an alternate night.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Use a Nonprofit Venue 

“The biggest expense for most weddings is the venue, and this is also where you have the most room to save big,” said Nina Larsen Reed, an elopement photographer and planner. “Instead of privately owned for-profit wedding venues, look into public venues owned by your local city or state. State parks, national parks, and even parks and recreation services often have beautiful venues available for just a few hundred dollars.”

Snag a Sample Dress 

“One of the most expensive items on your list will be the wedding dress,” said relationship coach Laura Doyle. “By buying your dress off the rack at a sample sale, you can save 20 to 90 percent. You will still have a range of designers to choose from and since sample dresses run a little bigger to accommodate more body sizes, take a friend with you that can hold the gown in any loose areas. This will give you a more realistic view and idea of what can be tailored.”

If there isn’t a sample sale coming up before your wedding, Doyle recommends contacting bridal shops directly and asking if they have any sample dresses for sale.  

Hire an Emerging Photographer 

“If you’re willing to take a gamble, try looking for photogs who are still building their business,” said Jocelyn Voo, owner and wedding photographer at Everly Studios. “Just be sure to ask for full wedding galleries to get an accurate idea of their style and consistency. Oftentimes you can find emerging photographers online, such as in local wedding photography-oriented Facebook groups.”

Make Your Money Work for You

DIY the Flower Arrangements

“If you’re envisioning a bouquet and centerpieces that fall on the more minimalistic side, flowers are relatively easy to DIY, thanks to YouTube tutorials and online vendors that will send you coordinating florals,” Voo said. “Even big-box stores like Costco have gotten into the wedding flower game (and their table-length garlands are nothing to sneeze at!).”

Ditch the Wedding Favors

“I can’t even tell you how many people leave their cute novelty wedding favors on the table to be swept away during clean-up,” Voo said. “If anything, give your guests something edible — for instance, a to-go bag of sweets — that will also be affordable and easy to buy in large quantities.”

Cut the Cake Cost 

“If the cake isn’t one of your top priorities, but you still want a beautiful one, consider bakeries at warehouse clubs and supermarkets,” Peterson said. “At many, you can even design your own cake. Or be different, and do a cheesecake or cookie buffet. Have a friend who loves to bake? See if they would be willing to help as their gift.”

Get Married in a Cheaper City, Abroad 

“In the Kakheti region of Georgia, the birthplace of wine, [my spouse and I] found a beautiful winery that offered inclusive packages that had everything we could have wanted,” Bryan Duc Truong said. “We then asked them to itemize the costs of the package and they were willing to reduce items that we didn’t need or want. It turns out that a lot of the wedding extras we didn’t need at all, and we were able to reduce the extras that we didn’t want. The total dropped from $6000 to about $3,000 for the entire wedding.” 

Hold a Small Pop-Up Wedding

“This has got to be one of my favorite [ideas],” said Gigi Lehman, the editor of Living on the Cheap. “While visiting the San Antonio Botanical Garden on a Friday morning last month, I happened upon a group of about eight people attending a wedding ceremony under a shady tree near the rose garden. They hadn’t rented the venue; they had just given their friends a time and date to show up. The Botanical Garden has a lovely patio restaurant; I don’t know if they held the reception there, but it would have been easy to do — just make a reservation and let everyone order what they want off the menu. Total cost would have been well under $1,000.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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