I had always visualized having a Disney fairytale wedding, complete with a horse-drawn carriage to carry us off into our new life.
But when my fiancé and I were finally ready to get married, reality – specifically, our bank balances – dictated a significantly smaller event. We put together a more frugal wish list and budget, but still didn’t have the resources to throw the bash we wanted.
I did some research at sites like theknot.com, realsimple.com and greatceremony.com, and spoke with a lot of vendors. They helped me figure out how to have an elegant ceremony and reception for almost all of our friends and relatives, without going into heavy debt. In fact, the total cost was a bit under my final budget of $15,000. Here’s how I saved money on my wedding:
- Picking a Date: I found that almost everyone, from reception locations to caterers, charges a lot less for a weekday wedding. By picking a Friday instead of a Saturday for my big day, we were able to save several thousand dollars. We also let guests know the date nine months ahead of time, so they could plan to take a day or two off work in order to be with us. We could have saved even more with a winter wedding, but decided against that.
- Guests: It was difficult to cross people off the guest list, but I was able to find a few not-so-close relatives who would understand. Each name that was eliminated saved us about two hundred dollars.
- Planner: We decided not to hire a professional consultant. Planning the wedding by ourselves was a chore (primarily for me, since I did much more of the work than my fiancé), but saved us thousands of dollars in the long run.
- Venue: This was a big one. I had originally chosen a beautiful hotel for the reception, but some online research turned up a gorgeous private estate that occasionally rents the property for low-key weddings. We saved almost two thousand dollars this way (it would have been more, but we had to rent tables, chairs, etc.) and had a much more memorable event.
- Food: I didn’t want to scrimp on the food, but still wanted to save money wherever possible. We spent more than we needed to on appetizers, because the cocktail hour sets an elegant tone. However, we chose a caterer who offered a wide range of pasta and vegetarian entrees, and added a beautiful dessert selection and chocolate fountain as “extras.” The entire package cut about $40 per guest from the prices quoted by other vendors.
- Dress: I was most reluctant to search for a bargain when it came to my wedding dress. With a year’s lead time, though, I looked around and found some designer closeout sales at big department stores and bridal shops. I was able to buy a spectacular dress for $400, with another $400 or so in tailoring costs. The same dress off the shelf would have cost around $2500.
- Bar: We served just wine and beer. Our families aren’t big drinkers, but we estimate this still saved us about $5-10 per guest.
- Music: I was never a fan of wedding bands, so this was an easy place to save. We hired a string quartet to play during the cocktail hour for about $750, and then set up an iPod and speakers to play the music we’d selected during the rest of the reception. It cost around $1500 less than a band, and there was no chance that guests would request “The Marcarena.”
We could have saved even more by eliminating children or “plus ones” from the guest list, cutting corners on the wedding cake and guest favors, and finding a photography student instead of a professional. But those were areas where we didn’t want to compromise.
I estimate that by making choices that actually enhanced our experiences and memories, I not only saved money on my wedding, I saved nearly $16,000. The extra time I had to put in to do it was time well spent.