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What To Keep in Your Wedding Budget and What To Toss

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TwilightShow / iStock.com

Though the cost of weddings has gone down post-pandemic, they’re not a cheap affair. The average amount couples spent on their special day was $22,500 in 2021. That’s less than in 2019, with the average steadily increasing now that COVID restrictions are easing.

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If spending more than $20,000 on one day seems steep, you’re not alone. Plenty of couples are looking to have a beautiful wedding without spending everything they have. Here are some great tips to plan your wedding on a budget while still having the day of your dreams.

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1. Limit the Guest List

According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the average wedding size in 2021 was 105 guests. That’s a lot of people that you’re paying for food and drinks for. Consider having a more intimate wedding with your closest friends and family members. Not only will you spend less overall, but you’ll be able to spend quality time with each attendee, rather than a quick hello.

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Make Your Money Work for You
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2. Don’t Tie the Knot on Saturday

Sure, you want your wedding day to be special, but don’t squander away your savings on it, especially when you can save by booking a different day of the week. You’ll pay a premium to get married on a Saturday because it’s the most popular day to host a celebration, Cain said.

Consider getting married on a Thursday, Friday or Sunday. You often can get a discount on the venue and other aspects of your wedding on these days, Cain said.

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3. Get Married in the Offseason

The most popular months to get married are June, August and October according to The Knot. Though these months offer warm weather and pretty fall conditions that make great photos, you’ll save money if you choose to get married in the offseason. The Knot reported January-March were the least popular months to get married. By choosing a date in one of these months, you’ll likely save on venue and other costs because the demand is lower.

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4. Don’t Choose a Traditional Venue

Couples spent an average of $10,000 on their venue alone — making it the biggest wedding budget item. You can scrimp on the cost of your wedding venue without sacrificing ambiance by exploring cheaper locations. Consider community centers, historic buildings or a local park for an outdoor wedding during warmer months. Even a nice backyard or a friend’s home can make very an intimate and personal ceremony, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. 

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5. Find a Venue With Built-In Decor and Amenities

“Couples can keep venue costs down by looking for venues that fit their style and offer built-in decor, such as unique art on the walls or an elaborate ceiling,” Gault said. Avoid venues such as lofts or event spaces that require a lot of decor and draping to feel warm and personal, she said.

Also, consider a venue’s amenities. If it includes tables, chairs, linens and dinnerware as part of the rental fee, you won’t have to spend extra for those items.

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6. Choose a Naturally Beautiful Venue

“When looking for a wedding venue, think about how much decoration it will need on your wedding day,” Chertoff said. You can cut the cost of decor by picking a place that won’t require you to spend much money to enhance it.

“Venues like gardens and beaches are already stunningly beautiful and don’t need as much added decoration,” Chertoff said.

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7. Make Your Own Bouquets

Couples spent $2,300 on average on flowers in 2021. One way to have your wedding on a budget is to cut down on the cost of flowers by making your own bouquets.

“Simple bouquets are in, with stems showing at the bottom,” Gault said. She used roses from her yard and from GlobalRose.com for her son’s wedding. Then the roses were wrapped with raffia the day of the wedding.

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8. Opt for Seasonal Flowers

You also can keep down the cost of flowers by opting for local and seasonal blooms, Cain said.

“If a flower doesn’t need to be flown in from the southern hemisphere, it will likely cost less,” she said. Ask the florist about which seasonal or local flowers offer the best value.

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9. Mix Flowers With Non-Floral Elements

You can supplement bouquets and other floral arrangements with lower-cost elements that aren’t flowers.

“Use candles, greenery and other non-floral elements, like seashells or fruit to decorate your ceremony and reception,” Chertoff said. “These elements can make a big decor statement with little added cost.”

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10. Repurpose Floral Arrangements

To get the biggest bang for your buck, use flowers from your ceremony to decorate your reception. “Bouquets can decorate your cake table, altar arrangements can look lovely on the escort card or buffet table, and aisle markers can be repurposed into small centerpieces for reception tables,” Chertoff said.

“Another idea is to consider using vessels that you already own, rather than renting them from your florist,” she said.

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11. Dazzle Guests With Inexpensive String Lights

A cheap wedding doesn’t have to look cheap. You can create an impressive outdoor wedding venue for next to nothing with string lights. “White lights in trees make a huge difference in ambiance and wow factor, and cost nothing since most people have them,” Gault said. If you don’t have enough, borrow from friends and family.

Chinese paper lanterns also are an inexpensive way to decorate outdoor weddings. Gault recommends opting for elegant white lanterns.

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12. Borrow Decor From Friends

“Everyone knows someone who’s had a wedding, so start borrowing,” Gault said. She reached out to friends and family who had spent a fortune on wedding decor, and borrowed Roman columns for the altar, 14 round tables, vintage china, antique silverware, silver chargers and more.

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13. Stick To a Simple Dress

On average, brides spent $1,800 on a wedding dress for their big day in 2021. “The more embellishment, such as handmade lace and hand embroidery, the more the dress is going to cost,” Cain said. “Go for a great cut but less embellishment to look your best.” If you follow that advice, you might be able to spend less than $1,000 on your wedding.

There are tons of lowkey options that you can get for $400 or less from places like David’s Bridal or Lulu’s. 

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14. Shop For a Nearly New Gown

“Shop sample sales and secondhand shops for designer dresses at a fraction of their original retail price,” Chertoff said. She recommends calling bridal salons to find out if they have sample sales. Some stores, such as Fabulous Frocks, even specialize in sample or used gowns. You can also shop online at PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com and NearlyNewlywed.com, Chertoff said.

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15. Rent, Don’t Buy

Another way to keep down costs when you’re planning a wedding is to rent the wedding dress. You can find designer dresses for at least 50 percent off the retail price at sites such as BorrowingMagnolia.com and RenttheRunway.com. Not only will you save money, you won’t have to worry about storing the dress after the wedding.

Cain also recommends renting accessories — such as jewelry and handbags — to save money. You can find rental accessories at sites such as BorrowLoveReturn.com.

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16. Cut the Cost of Invitations

Like dresses, the more embellishment you add to your wedding invitations, the higher the cost, Cain said. “Printing techniques like engraving and letterpress as well as materials like gold foil cost more than digital printing,” she said. “That’s huge savings right there.”

Plus, the weight and size of the invitations you choose will affect price. “Thicker card stocks and larger or oddly shaped invitations will cost you more to print and ship,” Cain said.

Consider nixing paper invitations all together and emailing your invites instead. You can use sites like Canva to browse plenty of free designs to edit and send along. Also think about setting up a wedding website through sites like Zola that give guests all they need to know once they have the address to the site. 

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17. Skip the DJ

The average cost of a wedding DJ was $1,400 in 2021 according to The Knot. Instead of dropping that cash, consider creating a playlist and just paying for something like Spotify Premium so you can stream the music over speakers

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18. Don’t Assume a Buffet Is Cheaper

To save money on food for your reception, explore your options. “Once you know what you want to serve, ask your caterer the least expensive way to serve it: plated, family style or buffet,” Chertoff said. “Sometimes a buffet can be the same or almost the same cost as a plated meal because you have to have enough for everyone to get at least one and possibly two servings, and you still need a staff to work the buffet and clear tables.”

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19. Make Your Own Food

Use your Costco membership to save on food and drinks for the reception. “If you have help and a kitchen, you can get fancy stuffed mushrooms, mini quiches and more at warehouse club stores,” Gault said.

You also can find frozen entrees, such as large trays of lasagna, at a warehouse club. Simply add a salad and bread to round out the meal.

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20. Skip Caterers But Hire Helpers

You can avoid the high cost of catering by making your own reception food but you will need help serving it or keeping dishes replenished. Gault said she hired four people for $600 to serve and clean up after guests. She said she saved more than $8,000 by hiring helpers rather than caterers and bartenders.

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21. Set Out Self-Serve Appetizers

Keeping appetizers simple can help keep down food costs. Choose finger foods or items guests can pick up with a toothpick, rather than anything that requires a fork, Gault said. For example, you could make platters of cold appetizers — such as cheese, salami, olives and crackers.

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22. Keep the Cake Simple and Small

Wedding cakes aren’t cheap. The average spend on a wedding cake in 2021 was $500, according to The Knot.

Keeping your cake simple and small will help keep costs under control, Chertoff said. “Even if you’re having a lot of guests, your cake doesn’t have to be an eight-tier tower,” she said. Instead, be upfront with your baker about your budget. Consider a simple sheet cake rather than one with an odd shape, intricate designs and a custom flavor combination.

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23. Consider Alternatives to a Bakery-Made Cake

A wedding cake from the grocery store or warehouse club will cost much less than one from a bakery, Gault said. Or, you might be able to find an individual who makes cakes as a side business who charges less than the local bakery.

You also could opt for a small cake to cut and offer a selection of lower-cost treats for guests, like cupcakes or chocolate-dipped cookies.

“The Costco bakery is great for pies, cobblers, cakes, muffins, cookies and almost anything you could want to set up a lavish dessert buffet,” Gault said.

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24. Serve Beer and Wine Instead of Mixed Drinks

Don’t feel compelled to have a full bar at your reception. Serve only beer and wine to keep down the cost of alcohol, Gault said. To get the best price, buy your beverages from a warehouse club.

There’s an added cost benefit to sticking with wine and beer. “Without mixed drinks, you won’t have to hire a bartender,” Gault said. You can set up a self-service bar.

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25. Opt For Prosecco Over Champagne

Even making toasts at your reception can be done on a budget. “Choose Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine, in lieu of much pricier champagne,” Gault said. You’ll pay about one-third less for this type of bubbly, she said.

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26. Put a Package Photography Deal Together

You’ll want photographs to document your special day. However, the average spent on a wedding photographer was $2,500 in 2021, according to The Knot.

To make it more affordable, negotiate a package that includes everything you want — from photos of the rehearsal dinner to shots of the wedding and reception, Chertoff said. You’ll save by bundling everything rather than adding items a la carte after the wedding, she said.

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27. Ask the Photographer To Leave Early

If you have an evening wedding with a reception, you might not need the photographer to stay until the last guest leaves. “One easy way to cut costs is to have the photographer leave before the end of the night,” Cain said. After all, the photos you get of late-night revelers might not be ones you want to share or keep in an album.

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28. Video the Ceremony Only

Cut the cost of videography by having only the most important aspects of your wedding filmed, Cain said. “If you can cut hours by having the filmmakers skip filming you getting ready or guests eating, you’ll save on cost,” she said.

In fact, consider filming only the ceremony. “That’s often the part couples and their families want to re-watch or share with guests who couldn’t attend,” Cain said.

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29. Hire a Video Editor, Not a Videographer

You could skip hiring someone to film your wedding and ask several friends to do it instead, Gault said. “You’ll get plenty of candid shots that may not have been captured by a professional,” Gault said.

Then, hire someone to edit all of the footage together. “You could be thrilled with the results and happy with the cost,” she said.

30. Favors Are Not a Must-Have

To keep your wedding on budget, look for costs you can eliminate. “You don’t have to pass out favors at the end of the wedding,” Chertoff said.

Instead, you could make a charitable donation in honor of your guests. “You don’t have to share the exact amount you donate, and it’s a tax deduction,” she said. “Add a line to your wedding program that reads: In honor of all of our friends and family, we are making a donation in their names to X charity.”

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31. Skip the Limo

A limousine might seem like a classy way to arrive at and depart from your wedding. But it’s a cost that can be cut.

“Unless you need the space to fit your bridal party, you can skip the stretch and reserve a nice town car,” Chertoff said. “It will be stylish and have enough room for two to sit comfortably in the back.”

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32. Don’t Hire a Wedding Planner

There are enough resources online that you can find plenty of checklists to make sure your wedding has everything you need and want. If you are concerned about having someone there to keep events on schedule, have your most responsible friend step in to keep things in check.

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33. Keep a Cushion in Place

“There are always last-minute purchases that brides and grooms may not think of when allocating their budget initially,” Chertoff said. Relatively small expenses such as a manicure for the bride can add up.

“Make sure to leave at least $500 to $1,000 for last-minute purchases so they don’t catch you off-guard,” she said.

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Sam DiSalvo contributed to the reporting for this article.