8 Tips for How to Plan an Affordable Wedding

FT Contributor  | 

For the average American bride, spending a small fortune on the wedding is practically expected. It’s become the norm to spend tens of thousands of dollars on nuptials. From the dress and rings to flowers, favors, photography, and food, American couples are spending as much on their special day as they do on a new car.

It’s not necessary to break the bank to tie the knot, though. In fact, it’s more than possible to have the beautiful, meaningful wedding of your dreams while still practicing good money management and being frugal. From the earliest stages of planning through the big day itself, here are some tips on how to keep your wedding costs from skyrocketing.

Planning a Budget

The first step to planning an affordable wedding is setting a budget. Knowing exactly how much you can spend, and where you want to prioritize your spending will keep expenses from getting out of control. This process should begin even before you set the date.

Assess Your Finances and Resources

Before deciding where you want to spend, you need to determine how much you have to spend. Take stock of your finances and the resources available for your wedding. This includes how much you and your fiance can contribute, how much your families will contribute, and any other sources. For example, perhaps your friends have offered to contribute some resources to your wedding. Some couples have even asked family and close friends to contribute to the wedding in lieu of gifts. Add up all of your resources to determine a firm budget amount, and commit to sticking to that number.

Determine What Is Non-Negotiable

Certain aspects of your wedding are likely to be non-negotiable. In other words, without them, you won’t be happy. These can range from a specific venue or date to a specific band for the reception. Have an honest conversation about the things that you absolutely must have for the event, and put them at the top of the budget priority list. Remember though, that not everything can be non-negotiable.

List Negotiable Preferences

Once you’ve determined what’s a must-have, make a list of the items where you are willing to compromise, or even eliminate from the budget. These are items that would be nice to have, but won’t really make a difference to the overall event or your feelings about it. For example, you might have a preference for a specific flower, but if they prove too expensive, you’d be willing to carry a similar, less expensive option.

Overestimate Rather Than Underestimate

When setting your budget, always overestimate how much things will cost. It’s better to spend less than you expect and have some money left over than to look for other places to cut costs. According to a report by WeddingWire, about half of couples spend more than they intended on their weddings, so overestimating costs can help you stay on track.

Additionally, leave a little extra in the budget for unplanned expenses. WeddingWire’s survey also revealed that 28% of couples spent extra on things they didn’t plan for, but “fell in love with” during the planning process. Even if you think you know what you want, expect the unexpected and put some money in the budget for it. Worst case? You don’t spend that money.

How to Cut Wedding Costs

Setting a budget is the first step to not overspending, but there are many ways you can trim costs without sacrificing the quality of the event.

Limit the Guest List

This is a tricky situation, since anyone contributing to the event (i.e., your parents) will likely have a list of people they “must” invite — even if that list includes their boss’s second cousin. During the budgeting stage, determine how big the guest list will be, and try to keep it as small as possible. The fewer guests you invite, the smaller the venue, the less food you need, and the more intimate the event.

Keeping the guest list manageable is especially important when planning a destination wedding. Accommodating a large group from out of town can be challenging to organize. Even if guests pay their own travel costs, resorts typically charge extra for larger groups, and you’ll incur more expenses when planning activities for everyone.

Choose a Cost-Effective Venue

The venue represents a major portion of any wedding budget, but you don’t have to spend a lot to have a beautiful wedding. Getting married at a private residence, court house, or public space like a park can trim thousands of dollars off your budget, freeing up cash for other expenses. When evaluating different venues, watch for add-on costs such as requirements to use specific vendors, cleaning fees, or cake-cutting fees that drive up the cost.

Beware of Catering

Catering is another major wedding budget expense, but it’s also one you can easily trim. Choose a venue that allows you to arrange your own catering, and explore different options. The most cost-effective option is to plan your own menu and enlist the help of family and friends to cook, but that’s not ideal for everyone. Another option is to talk with a local family owned restaurant about their catering options. They may be able to provide delicious, unique food for a fraction of the cost of a traditional caterer.

If you do opt to work with a catering company, get a full list of the costs up front, and choose the company that’s most willing to work within your budget.

Find a Trustworthy Wedding Planner

A wedding planner can be invaluable when planning your wedding, coordinating details and making sure everything runs smoothly on your big day. However, choose your planner wisely. Many wedding planners work closely with other vendors and earn a commission for your business, so choose a trustworthy professional who won’t steer you toward the most expensive options or convince you to pay for things you don’t need. The best wedding planners understand your budget and will work with you to find the right vendors to bring your vision to life.


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