Planning a Wedding On a Budget

By Staff

If you are not careful, planning a wedding can lead to acute sticker shock. According to The Wedding Report, a market research publication, the average price of a U.S. wedding in 2010 was over $24,000. While your “Big Day”is certainly a major rite of passage, it’s important to remember that $24,000 is a big chunk of change to spend on a one-day event.

If you have money in the bank, those funds could be used to put a down payment on a home for newlyweds, or to pay off student loans. If you don’t have money to spare, are you sure that going into debt is the right decision for a pair of newlyweds?

But don’t despair: it’s not necessary to forgo the wedding entirely—just approach the planning with a level head and incorporate cost-cutting measures that will result in a memorable occasion for family and friends, without incurring outrageous expense.

Start by discussing wedding expectations with your bride and both families to make sure you are all on the same page—will it be beer and fried chicken at the Elks Lodge or Champagne and Lobster Thermidor or at the Plaza?—and be clear on who will be responsible for payment.

Once the general style is established, get quotes from several service providers, and arrive at a reasonable budget. You may find that your expectations need to flex in order to remain on track financially. Weddings on a budget do not have to be chintzy or cheap; when handled correctly, the guests will never notice your penny-wise choices.

Wedding Gotchas

Industry experts estimate that couples typically overspend their budgets by 15%. We all know about the standard expenses such as catering, music, flowers, rings, attire, decorations, printing, photography, site and equipment rentals, officiant fees, and the cake.

But there are other hidden wedding costs that can add up to foil the best budgeter. These are costs such as dress alterations, tips, postage, delivery charges, gifts for the wedding party, salon costs for the bride, taxes, cake-cutting, corkage and coat check fees, and overtime charges for the band, photographer or servers. Keep these items in mind, and quiz vendors to nail down all costs beforehand.

Top 10 List for Planning a Frugal Wedding

1. Invitations. Never order oversized or oddly shaped invitations, no matter how attractive they are. Postage for a standard size first-class letter is 44¢. Over-sized or over-weight letters can costs as much as $2 each to mail. Consider sending a save-the-date email in lieu of a separate snail-mailing. If you are artistic, you may decide to make your own invitations either on your computer or by hand-writing the invitation cards.

2. Attire. Shop on eBay for the wedding dress. A gorgeous, used-once, designer dress can be had for a fraction of the price and no one will be the wiser. The groom and groomsmen can all wear dark suits from their own wardrobes (if available), meaning that only matching ties need to be purchased.

3. Timing. Avoid high-season (May through October) when prices rise sharply across the board. Avoid Saturdays and evenings to get the best deals.

4. Venue. Go for the non-traditional: parks, museums, sporting venues, private homes, botanical gardens, or beaches. You may incur extra charges for deliveries or rentals such as tents, tables and chairs, but you will probably come out ahead compared to a hotel or other event space.

5. Guest List. Trim mercilessly. This is the quickest way to reduce your bottom line.

6. Music. Consider creating a playlist of songs that can be set up on an iPod and played during the reception. You may have to rent a sound system, but this is a vastly cheaper (and more personalized) option than a band or DJ.

7. Decorations and Flowers. Make centerpieces and decorations with inexpensive, yet eye-catching items such as round paper lanterns, twinkle lights, tulle fabric, seashells, miniature potted plants or fishbowls with real goldfish. Choose flowers that are in season and avoid tropical flowers. Choose simple arrangements and add volume with less-expensive greenery.

8. Photography. Hire a pro for shots before and during the ceremony. Have friends and family take candid shots during the reception.

9. Bar. Stick to beer and wine and skip the liquor. If permitted, purchase your own beer and wine at a discount store, and bring it to the event. Even if you are charged for corkage, you will generally save on the total bar bill. Skip the Champagne toast. Champagne toasts are symbolic, and guests frequently don’t drink the Champagne anyway!

10. Seating. Use fewer, larger tables in place of smaller tables. You can seat 120 at 12 tables for 10 or at 20 tables for six. Using fewer tables saves on linens and table decorations and creates more interaction between guests.

Many blissful couples enter the meat-grinder known as the wedding industry completely unprepared. With research and planning, weddings on a budget are perfectly realistic. Planning a wedding can be a rewarding experience that will provide memories for a lifetime. And for the faint of heart, there is always Plan B: elope!

For more ideas, check out the excellent book Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing A Fantastic Wedding On A Realistic Budget and the following blog posts on wedding budget tips: