The average cost of a wedding in the US is around $30,000. That’s an awful lot of money to spend on one day. If you’re looking for more affordable alternatives, there are many ways to plan and host a frugal wedding without going into debt. These ideas will allow you to do something meaningful with your partner and celebrate your love in a way that doesn’t break the bank.
I got married in 2010 for about $5,000 total. My husband and I were both college students with no money, so frugality was our only option. We made hard decisions, like keeping the guest list small, to be able to afford our day. You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to walk away with a spouse.
The purpose of a wedding is to get married. Marriage is about so much more than one single day, so don’t spend too much time, money, or effort trying to make that day perfect. There will be flaws and mistakes, but you’ll end up together… and that’s what matters.
Can you have a frugal wedding without a wedding planner?
Of course, you can plan a wedding without a wedding planner. You can hire someone to help you organize the event, and that will honestly be easier, but there are many frugal DIY options that will keep your costs low.
Managing all the moving pieces of a small wedding will definitely stress you out. That’s basically what I did, and it wasn’t a great experience.
If you want a larger or more complex wedding, ask a trusted relative or friend to act as the day-of coordinator. I wish I had asked my sisters for more help on the day. They both stepped in and did as much as they could, but I should have asked for their help for my own mental health.
When you decide to forgo a wedding planner, make sure to create and follow extensive planning lists. If Trello had existed when I got married, I absolutely would have used it to organize everything. You can create lists and cards within those lists, to manage all the bits of a wedding.
What is the most expensive part of a wedding?
The venue is usually the most expensive part of a wedding, costing thousands of dollars. Even if you don’t pay a huge amount for the location itself, you’ll end up writing spending more to cover tables, chairs, linens, dishes, etc.
Saving money on a wedding venue
You can save money by hosting your wedding at home, on a college campus, or in a park. You’ll need to check with your city on the rules for hosting weddings in public spaces, but it’s always worth looking into.
You can also host a frugal wedding at an affordable venue by working out a deal or negotiating the prices of items like tables and chairs.
I called local venues and honestly said, “we can afford $500. Do you have any dates available that you could offer that rate on?”
To save money, I gave up control over our actual wedding date. I got our venue for the $500 we budgeted (they charged at least $2000 at the time). But, I didn’t get to choose the date and I had to plan the entire event in just 2 months.
You can also look for a reception hall that doesn’t charge per seat. This will keep the cost of food, alcohol, and space much lower.
Another way to save money is to borrow things. That includes decorations, tablecloths, dishes, cutlery, etc. Family members are great sources for borrowing things they don’t use often anymore. Even if you have to spend some money upfront (to buy something new), it will be more than offset by your savings when you’re able to get free stuff instead of renting or buying them yourself.
How do you have a frugal wedding?
Keep the ceremony small
Have an intimate ceremony with just close family and friends. We only had about 40 guests at our wedding. If we had invited all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins, the guest list would have been close to 300, which we definitely couldn’t have paid for.
Fewer guests mean you can use a smaller ceremony location, reception hall, and parking area. You’ll need to provide less food and drink, so you can either spend less or supply higher-end meal options.
Keep your guest list small and intimate by inviting close family and friends instead of announcing the event publicly or to extended relatives you barely know. It’s more affordable because it reduces the need for things like a cake, a DJ, etc., but still allows you to celebrate with those who are most important in your life.
Find a less expensive wedding cake
Save on your wedding cake by asking a friend or family member who bakes cakes for their home business to create one. Then, have it served as both your wedding cake and your groom’s cake during dessert time at the reception.
Rather than buying a cake from a standalone bakery, order one from the bakery of your local grocery store. It will probably be less fancy, but it can still be decorated beautifully.
Keep food costs down
Save money by cooking your own meal or hosting potluck style so guests can contribute their dish as well (which also provides an opportunity for them to bring over items like wine). It may sound unappealing at first, but many people love bringing dishes from home because they don’t have to spend money on food and can feel more a part of the event.
Remember that frugal weddings don’t have to be potluck events though! They can also incorporate the convenience of catering through restaurants that offer affordable options for dinner reception food (or even just hors d’oeuvres) and a drink bar often offered by venues too.
Plan an inexpensive reception with hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, or buffet-style dinner to keep costs low.
Serve alcohol in cans instead of bottles for less waste at your wedding, thanks to recycling laws in some places. This will also save you money because canned beer is cheaper than buying bottled stuff from the store.
Decorate for less
Make frugal centerpieces and other decorations, by looking for sales or coupons at craft stores, like Michael’s. Craft your own decor and centerpieces, even if you have to recruit friends or family.
- Use fake flowers that are easy on your budget and able to be reused again by family members when they hold their own weddings
- Create floral arrangements using things like fruit baskets that won’t cost as much as fresh blooms
- Get crafty with materials found, like tree branches, wild grass, or pinecones
- Make your own centerpieces using materials purchased at craft stores and assembled by friends and family
Rather than buying flowers from a florist, use a grocery store that has a floral department. You may have to make the arrangements yourself, but the flowers themselves will be much less costly.
Keep the clothing costs reasonable
When searching for the perfect wedding dress, look through the sales racks first. Looking at the dresses that are on sale first will help avoid falling in love with a full-price dress. It’s a lot easier to like the cheap option when you haven’t seen the more expensive alternatives.
Visit smaller wedding dress stores as well. They tend to have more flexible pricing and better sales than chain stores. My dress came from the only wedding dress store in a town with 4,700 people near my in-laws’ home. I walked away spending only $425.
For the men in the ceremony, select more affordable ensembles to rent. Rather than a full tuxedo, choose slacks, a shirt, and a vest. Honestly, few people pay attention to what the male attendants are wearing.
Find a frugal wedding officiant
Make sure to research the laws in your state first, but you may be able to save significantly on your officiant’s fees.
I paid $100 to have a local judge officiate my wedding. My brother has officiated weddings for his friends in the last few years. You can find a legal and cheap option with a little investigation.
What are frugal alternatives to a traditional wedding?
If you don’t care about a big ceremony, just get married at your courthouse. The whole cost of your wedding will be equal to the fee for the marriage license itself. You can spend a little more to bring a photographer with you, or simply host a reception afterward to include your family and friends.
You can plan an elopement ceremony that’s more adventurous, leaving the country altogether for a destination elopement in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico.
I’ve seen so many beautiful photos lately of elopements in the mountains near me. They seriously make me want to renew my vows… or just have a photoshoot in one of these beautiful spots.
Even if you take a few close friends or family members with you, the travel costs won’t come close to the expense of a full wedding.
On the day of my wedding, when I was stressed out and overwhelmed, I absolutely wished that we had eloped. Today, I am happy to have the photos (which you can still get with an elopement), but I don’t think skipping the big ceremony and party would have ruined anything. The point of a wedding is to get married.
A destination wedding might not save a lot of money, but it would definitely be an experience for you and your guests. Keeping the guest list on the smaller side, due to the distance, will help reduce some costs, although you’ll still have travel expenses.
Have a small wedding and larger reception
This was the route my husband and I chose. We had a small wedding, followed by a reception with wedding guests. Later, we had less formal (i.e. potluck) receptions in each of our hometowns. Since we got married in the town where we attended college, this reduced travel time and expense for our guests.
Having a less fancy reception at a later date reduces “wedding reception” costs like linens, venue fees, and more expensive catering options.
How I personally had a frugal wedding:
As a broke college student, I worked hard to have a frugal wedding. Now, 11 years later, I wish I had stressed less, but it really was a fun day.
To save money, I:
- Offered $500 to local venues and asked if they had any openings for that amount (it worked!)
- Bought my wedding dress during a sale
- Limited the guest list to 40 people
- Had my husband’s grandparents cook beef my dad donated for the main meal. They did an amazing job and even helped serve at the buffet
- Bought flowers and the cake from a grocery store
- Made the centerpieces and arranged the flowers
- Served box wine & keg beer, in order to offer an open bar
- Cleaned up the next day, with the help of family
- Had our dog serve as a flower girl. She was obviously special to us, but that also meant we didn’t have to buy a dress.
- Hired a non-professional DJ who had a speaker system. He just played CDs we had created.
If you’re looking to save money on your wedding, it can be done. You just need to know where the most expensive parts of a wedding are and what areas you can cut back in order to not spend as much. Use these tips for saving money on your venue, food costs, ceremony size, and even finding an inexpensive cake alternative. And if you really want less stress around planning a big event with lots of people who will demand their own creative input? Elope!
It may seem like selecting from one or two options is limiting at first but when it comes down to paying for things outside of those few choices there’s plenty more room for creativity without breaking the bank.