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How to Cut the Cost of a Wedding (19 Budget Wedding Ideas)

Are you ready to hear the kind of budget wedding ideas you need to pull off a wedding you can look back on, fondly, but without going into debt? Here's how to cut the cost of a wedding.

According to Bridal Bargains and various other sources, the average 150-guest wedding in the United States costs around $30,000!!

couple just having gotten married with to do planning sign crossed off, text overlay "planning a wedding? cost-cutting strategies"

Of course, this number is an average, so it includes the million-dollar weddings as well as weddings that are $500 (as pointed out by the authors of Bridal Bargain).

But based on this average, where is all of this money spent?

  • Apparel: $2,102
  • Rings: $6,280
  • Music: $1,120
  • Miscellaneous: $2,049
  • Ceremony Site and Officiant: $800
  • Flowers: $1,103
  • Cake: $692
  • Reception/Catering: $12,722
  • Photography: $2,650
  • Videography: $1,450
  • Invitations: $407
  • Limo: $610
    Source: Bridal Bargains, 2009

My husband and I got engaged in 2009 (June 18th, to be exact), and were married on April 17, 2010.

There were many ways we obliterated that $30,000 number – while still having the wedding of our dreams (and an 11-day honeymoon to Austria! Check out how we pay for our honeymoon).

Psst: looking for a really cool idea for how to crowdfund your honeymoon? Sign up for Honeyfund – the honeymoon gift registry. It's brilliant, because so many of us already have toasters, a microwave, and towels. Why not help your family and friends help YOU have the honeymoon of your dreams, instead? You can even link it up to your website on The Knot.

How to cut corners on a wedding…without looking cheap? It takes some strategy and some knowledge. So, roll up your sleeves, and get reading for how to cut the cost of a wedding!

Cheap but Classy Wedding Reception Ideas

According to Bridal Bargains, the average cost for Reception and Catering for 150 guests: is $12,722, or $85 per guest

Probably one of the best ways to save money in this category is by not inviting 150 guests.

That was pretty easy for us though; we have a list of priority guests that we both agreed on from the beginning (or perhaps we don’t even know 150 people intimately enough!). Our guest list was approximately 55, with each guest invited to bring an additional guest.

Because our wedding was out of state, many of the people we invited were less likely to come. In all, we probably had 60 people present in total for our reception.

Here are some cheap but classy wedding reception ideas (including how to cut costs on wedding catering):

  • Plan Your Wedding Reception Out-of-Season: Planning our wedding meant we were able to negotiate a 17% discount from the original cost of $100 per person. That still seems like a lot, but it included a lot as well (reception site, butlered hor d'oeuvres, several course meal, alcoholic beverages, all taxes and gratuities, linens and china settings, fresh flowers centerpieces, candles, and background music). Most places we priced charge taxes, gratuities, and alcoholic beverages on top of the per-guest rate, so this was a good deal.
  • Find a Venue that Includes a Lot of Extras: Save money on wedding costs by finding a place that will throw in a lot of extra stuff you would normally have to pay for. For example, our wedding reception venue also played our first dance music, and songs for dancing with our parents, and then played whatever music we wanted for the rest of the reception – meaning we didn’t have to have a DJ.
  • Host a Hor d'oeuvres-only Cocktail Reception (if your wedding is “local”): If you don’t have much money to spend on the reception food costs, then offer less food, but make it higher quality. This didn’t work for us, because we had a lot of guests traveling several hours by plane to see us get married who also had to pay transportation and hotel costs. So, we wanted to offer them more. But if you’re having a local wedding, with local guests, it’s a great idea.

Small Budget Wedding Tips – Save on Invitations

Invitations: Average Cost $407

Our 75 invitations cost us $29.00. They were utterly perfect and found at a location I never would have thought to look at for wedding invitations: Walmart.

I was in Walmart one day shortly after getting engaged and happened to walk down the wedding aisle. There they were: our invitations in our wedding colors (a light bluish/green with chocolate brown). The invitation set includes the actual invitations, jackets with envelopes, response cards with envelopes, seals, ribbons, and an extra invitation for testing.

We will need to print them – which I have not decided if it would be more cost-effective/convenient to do at home with our printer, or at an Office Max or Office Depot – as well as put postage on them.

Bonus tip for how to save on postage: Consider the cost of postage when choosing your invitation. If you choose a non-standard size, such as a square invitation, then you’ll likely have to pay more.

Cost Savings: Approximately $310

Wedding Budget Advice – Don’t Skimp on the Rings

Wedding Bands: Average Cost $1,980

For us personally, this is a category we did not want to skimp on because even though our celebration of marriage is only one day long, a ring is for life.

Still, we managed to save a decent amount of money on our wedding bands.

Ways to save money on your rings:

  • Shop Online: There are great resources online for wedding bands and many of these sites realize customers’ hesitancy of buying fine jewelry over the internet. So, some online shops encourage you to get the jewelry checked out by a jeweler, and they give you 30-60 days to do this. If you are not satisfied, returning your item and getting a full refund should be an easy task. After all of my research online, Paul and I went to several jewelers to try on different styles and metals and see what they looked like in person. I was not satisfied with anything that I tried on. Then I happened to need my engagement ring resized, so I went back to the original jeweler Paul had purchased from, and there it was!
  • Trade in your Engagement Ring: If you’re really pressed for money, the jeweler we purchased from told me that it’s common practice to trade in the engagement ring and put the money towards the wedding bands and/or wedding (some people sell wedding ring afterward to pay for large purchases, too). I had no idea! We didn’t opt for this, but it’s a great way to maximize your resources.
  • Wait for Sales: Not only was my perfect wedding band, in my size, waiting for me on display at the jeweler where Paul had purchased my engagement ring, but it just so happened that this was the one week out of each year (leading up to Thanksgiving) that all jewelry was on sale for 50% off!! With this sale, our rings were much cheaper offline than online, and we walked out of the store with them.

After taxes, we spent $1261 for both of our bands and left very satisfied.

Cost Savings: $719

Best Wedding Ideas on Budget

I’m about to offer you the best wedding ideas on a budget, ones we tried out for ourselves.

Save Money on the Wedding Cake

  • Save Lots on the Wedding Cake with this Trick: The average cost for your cake is $692. You can definitely cut this without cutting quality by doing what we did – going to the bakery section of a nice grocery store. Seriously! I was just as surprised, but we ended up spending just $200 and some change on a beautiful, 3-tiered wedding cake with cherry blossoms cascading down its edges (we met in Japan).
  • Small Tier Cake + Sheet Cake: Even if you are not fortunate enough to know someone with great baking skills or you don’t want to go to the grocery store, you can save money in this category by having a small tier cake that you cut in front of everyone, then serving cake to your guests from a cheaper sheet cake kept in the back. Your guests will not know the difference (or care), and this could save you hundreds of dollars.

Save Money on Apparel

  • Have Enough Groomsmen: Did you know that many tux rental places will gift the tuxedo rental to the groom if there are enough groomsmen making rentals? Make sure you call ahead of time and find out what the number is – you might want to plan accordingly.
  • Ask for a Discount: Seriously – you can ask for a discount. I got my gorgeous gown for $500.10 at David’s Bridal. What’s even better is that they let me take it home that day (usually you have to order your gown and wait up to six months to bring it home). My budget was $500, and the dress was actually $550; I asked if there was an upcoming sale, and the woman went to her desk to look it up. When she came back, she said “surprise!” and gave me a discount of $150! After taxes, I came in just over budget by ten cents. Not bad.
  • Make Your Own Veil: The veil can actually be a simple ensemble with some lace and beads. In fact, my sister created mine! I bought some tulle (lacy fabric) from Hobby Lobby craft store at 50% off, paying about $3.99 for 3 feet. I will pick up a hair comb with some rhinestones from Claire’s, and viola.
  • Choose a Venue with Flowers: Flowers for your reception can cost a small fortune. So, do what we did and choose a location that orders flowers each week for their own use anyway. Our wedding and reception venue put their first round of mulching and spring flowers down the week before our wedding in order to spruce up the grounds. Because they run a restaurant business, they also have a florist who puts fresh flowers in vases as centerpieces on all of the tables each week. Therefore, we are only going to purchase flowers for the bridal party, parents, and grandparents in the form of bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages, etc.
  • Get a Photographer-in-Training: Wedding photography is SO important…and SO expensive. I can clearly remember Googling over and over again “how to cut costs on wedding photography”. Well, I've got an exciting tip for you that we used, directly from the Bridal Bargains book mentioned above. Boy, did it save us money! I contacted the art department chairperson at a local university and asked if he/she could recommend a photography student to be a photographer for our wedding. We offered a rate of $200, plus asked for the rights to all digital photos on a CD (so that we can print out whatever we would like). Sure enough, I was put in touch with a former student who does occasional freelance photography. They brought another photographer friend as well – they did a beautiful job!

How to Plan a Wedding on a Small Budget in 6 Months

Are you planning a wedding, on a small budget, that’s taking place in 6 months?

Whew – you’ve gotta dig deep here to come in under budget.

Here are my ideas for you:

  • Borrow from Someone Who Just Got Married: All those things you buy for your wedding? Are pretty much useless the day after. So why not borrow some of the items you need from someone who recently married? My friend Aurora got married two years ago and offered to give us an unused cake-cutting knife someone had given her, as well as a beautiful ring bearer’s pillow her mother made, and a handmade flower girl basket. We will never use these items again, and it makes it more special knowing that it is coming from a friend than just purchasing these items from a store.
  • Borrow Your Bridal Jewelry: Instead of purchasing new, expensive, jewelry to go with your gown, borrow sentimental pieces. I happily borrowed a pearl necklace that my father gave to my mother while they were married, as well as matching pearl earrings that my grandfather gave to my grandmother! These match my gown perfectly.
  • Liquidate Your Past to Invest in Your Wedding: Now is an excellent time to pawn the jewelry your previous boyfriends gave you. I did when I was engaged, and I put the $50 towards our honeymoon! Great way to save for your honeymoon, or to pay for part of your wedding.
  • Accept a Blemished Product: I found the most perfect shoes (last minute) for my gown…but there was only one problem. One of the shoes had a blemish on it. The sales clerk told me that I could just scrub it a little with a toothbrush and it would come out (she was correct) – and she gave me 15% off. Can you do something similar? Especially if you’re doing things last minute and have to potentially buy floor models. If you see one that you’re in love with but that has a minor blemish, then ask for a discount.

I hope you loved these tips on how to cut the cost of a wedding – they literally helped make our wedding happen (since we paid for most of it). And if you've got more budget wedding ideas of your own? PLEASE share in the comments below to help out other couples.

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.


Wednesday 28th of November 2018

We got married on a Friday evening instead of Saturday, not only was the pricing less expensive for our venue, but a lot more of the vendors we wanted to work with were available. I've heard the same thing for Sunday weddings.

And we also bought a lot of items from previous weddings, I joined an online wedding planning forum and it was common for people to sell off wedding items after their big day, things they'd only used once!

Amanda L Grossman

Wednesday 13th of February 2019

Hi Rebecca! It just makes SO much sense to sell off most of those one-use items, right? I'm glad to hear there's an online forum for it.