Wedding on a Small Budget Ideas
According to The Knot, the average wedding cost is $33,931 and that doesn’t include the honeymoon.
What if you only have a budget of $1000, $5000 or $10,000?
At the end of the day, the budget doesn’t dictate how wonderful the wedding is.
The couple does. How much fun people have at a wedding is determined by the little touches you make that day.
Here are 20 tips to have a traditional wedding that’s special and customized on a small budget. I’ve included examples from my own wedding on a small budget with recommendations, mistakes, and solutions.
20 Tips for How to Plan a Wedding on a Small Budget
1. Determine your wedding budget
You need to have an idea of what you can afford so that when you’re shopping for quotes, you know what’s realistically attainable.
Here are ideas for how you can estimate your number:
- Look at your savings and investment accounts
- Ask your parents if they’re willing to contribute. Keep in mind if your parents contribute, they might expect to have a say in how the wedding is run.
- Estimate what monetary gifts you’re likely to receive. Be conservative with this estimation because it’s not guaranteed! If you have a family member who recently got married and you’re inviting similar people to your wedding, you could ask them how much they received roughly per person.
When you have a ballpark figure, have a long discussion with your partner about what you feel comfortable spending. Your wedding is just 1 day. It’s a big day, but you don’t have to throw everything you have at it.
Related articles on ways to make money If your number is not quite where you’d like it to be:
- 11 Easy Ways to Make $100 Quickly
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- My Best Money Saving Tips: 12 Moves that Saved $30,000
2. Prioritize what’s important
The way to stay within a small wedding budget is to prioritize what’s important. Here’s how you can start prioritizing:
- Think about the previous weddings you’ve been to and identify the top 3 things you loved most
- Discuss what elements are nice to have, but not necessary
- Pinpoint what things you just don’t care for
Here are the typical wedding categories you can talk through to get you started:
- Food and Beverages
- Cake or other Dessert
- Photography and/or Videography
- Entertainment (e.g. DJ, band)
- Dress and Tuxedo
- Wedding Planner
- Decorations (e.g. flowers, candles, lighting, centerpieces, signage)
We decided early on that the most important aspect to us was food. The least important aspect to us was flowers. Our wedding budget reflected these priorities.
3. Don’t be afraid to have the wedding you want
It’s natural to want to have the big, glamorous weddings you see on television. Fundamentally, the wedding is a day to celebrate the couple’s commitment to each other. The strength of the union is the same whether it’s at the Plaza Hotel or in the middle of the street. Don’t give into society’s expectations.
Also don’t give into your relatives’ expectations. I know what it’s like to go to a relative’s wedding and feel like you have to at least do what they did. Or maybe you’re feeling the pressure from your mother or mother-in-law to have a certain type of wedding…
The ONLY type of wedding you should have is the one you want. Don’t be afraid to stand up to those around you who feel otherwise. It’s not their wedding.
Your wedding should reflect you and what you feel comfortable spending.
You don’t have to do all of the usual traditions like throwing the bouquet.
Be your different self. If they gossip behind your back, that just reflects their character and not yours.
4. Be your own wedding planner
While it’s nice to not handle this large task, this is something you probably want to manage if you’re planning a wedding on a small budget.
After having planned my own wedding, I can tell you it’s not easy!
On the day of, there were a lot of details I didn’t realize would go wrong like…
The tables were not set up according to the table layout provided so the table numbers were incorrectly placed. It rained on my wedding day and the wedding venue staff member was supposed to redirect people to the new ceremony location, but it was never done.
If you’ve never planned a large event before, you might find these Best Selling Wedding Budget Planners and Books on Amazon helpful.
After what happened to me, I wish I would have looked through resources like these ones beforehand.
5. Focus on the highest cost – the wedding venue
Banquet halls that are known as wedding venues will often have a large price tag. However, they will often include a lot of necessary aspects like tables, chairs, linens, food etc.
It’s worthwhile to check them out and read the fine print to find out exactly what’s included and what the total cost is. For example, there might be unexpected costs for set up, cake cutting, power for your DJ, corking alcohol etc.
Also get quotes from alternative venues to compare like:
- Universities and Schools
- Court Houses
Another alternative is having the wedding at your home. If you go with a relatively blank space that requires you to bring everything from tables and chairs, your rental costs can add up quickly. You need to factor these in when you’re comparing venues.
If you want to trim the price down further…
Within your network of friends and family, you probably have a connection to an amazing venue at a lower price. Don’t be afraid to ask around for recommendations.
Here are a few additional tips on keeping costs down for your wedding venue:
- Avoid the long gap between the ceremony and reception: If you have a long gap, you often have to pay more for the venue and serve your guests appetizers and drinks during the wait.
- Have the ceremony and the reception at the same place: Not only will this generally cost you less, it’s convenient for yourself and guests and you don’t have to worry about getting a limo for going between venues.
- Time your wedding off-season: The typical wedding season is June-October. Not only is it more expensive to get married during this period, vendors will be booked up quickly so you’ll have less room to negotiate. Book your wedding between November-May.
- Don’t have your wedding on a Saturday: Have it on a Friday or a Sunday. If you prefer to have a Saturday type wedding, you can schedule it for a long weekend Sunday.
- Have a breakfast or lunch wedding: Not only will this bring down the cost of the meal, but it might bring down the cost of the venue as well.
Tip: If you have guests that need high chairs, check to see if your venue has these available or if you’ll have to rent them and factor this cost in. This was something I did last minute because I didn’t have kids at the time and didn’t realize kids would need high chairs. I paid ridiculously high rental costs for high chairs!
6. Be mindful of the second largest cost – wedding food and drink
The traditional 3 course, plated meals are often the most expensive option.
When discussing with the venue or caterer, look into buffet or family style meals. Not only will this give your guests more variety, it’ll be more satisfying and filling for the ones who are often still hungry after a 3 course meal.
You could also use food trucks as they’re often a good deal.
For alcohol, you can bring your own beer and wine. Groupon for Wine Insiders has a great deal on premium wine.
7. Don’t have a traditional wedding cake
A traditional wedding cake can easily cost over $300 at a wedding cake store! You can nix the wedding cake altogether and just have desserts available. My sister-in-law did this and it worked out great! She asked a few family members to make their famous desserts. It added a nice, personal touch to the wedding!
What we did was DIY cupcakes! You could do the same thing with cake pops!
- Ask a family member or friend to make the cupcakes. You can buy them the mix and frosting. If you don’t know anyone who’s a baker, you can contact local bakeries or grocery stores (even Walmart sells custom wedding cakes!) for cheaper options.
- Buy a cupcake stand or cake pop stand (which you can resell afterwards). I got this clear, acrylic cupcake stand. It made the cupcakes look great! When I posted it for sale after the wedding, someone asked if they could just rent it so I charged them a rental fee. When I got it back afterwards, I sold it. I ended up making money on this stand!
8. Negotiate with vendors
Negotiation can be scary. I know the feeling first hand of thinking that if you try to negotiate, you might offend the vendor and he or she might not be willing to work with you OR WORSE – they will give you poor service or product delivery.
The key to negotiating is to be tasteful about it. You’re dealing with a professional who has set their rates carefully based on their services and experience. Treat them respectfully. The key to a successful negotiation is working out a win-win scenario.
When you ask them for their quote, make sure you’ve worked out:
- What you need or envision receiving from that vendor
- What exactly is included and not included in the quote the vendor provides: For example, if you’re dealing with a photographer, the quote should include the number of hours serviced, edited pictures, non-edited pictures etc.
Be upfront with them and explain that you’re looking to stay within a certain budget. Ask is there room for cutting costs. Can they remove a few items from their package to bring the costs down? For example, if all the venue packages come with table and chair set up costs, is the venue open to you doing this yourself and not having to pay this extra cost?
Particularly if the vendor is new to weddings, you could also ask if they are willing to reduce prices for an honest testimonial on their website.
If you are still uncomfortable with negotiating, learn from a negotiation book. Getting to Yes is an international bestselling book about how to negotiate. It’s based on the work from the Harvard Negotiation Project. It can be applied to every type of negotiation.
Tip: When searching for vendors, don’t just Google your location + the service. Look outside of your local area, but be sure to ask if there are extra charges for the added mileage. Search the keywords in local Facebook groups. You might find cheaper rates.
9. Use digital wedding invitations
You can use evite.com.
You don’t have to pay for printing and sending invites. It’s also more environmentally-friendly. It’s easier to track RSVPs and send reminders.
If you prefer to use a printed invite, you could also buy a wedding invite template on Etsy and then print it on card stock at a local print shop. Usually if you go with a wedding invitation vendor, the high costs are in the printing!
10. Skip a theme
You don’t need to have wedding colors or a specific theme. Having a theme limits your options and usually costs more.
Say you have a blue and white theme. Yes – this was me! Now you have to get blue candles, blue uplights, blue ties etc.
When you shop around, you realize there are so many different shades of blue! So you have to pay extra to customize the color or spend lots of time looking for the exact blue item you need. When you’re planning your own wedding, there are a lot of other details you could be spending your time on that are more important!
Keep it simple and classic! Just choose the pieces you like. At the end of the day, the theme is the couple. That’s all the theme you need!
11. Limit music time or DIY this
Music can eat up a chunk of your budget! If it’s important to have a DJ or a band, limit their time. Have them come after dinner.
- Upload songs to your computer and pay a friend to monitor this and be your DJ. This would work for both the ceremony and reception music. This also allows you to customize the playlist!
- Contact your local high school, college or university and ask about the possibility of asking music students or teachers (particularly for the ceremony music) to play music at your wedding. This will probably be at a significantly reduced fee!
Tip: You can get Amazon Music for 30 days for FREE for your playlist. This gives you unlimited access to 50 million songs on demand without ads. You can cancel it before the 30 days is up if you don’t want to pay for the subscription.
12. Don’t get the top of the line photography
Photography can be one of the largest quotes you get from a vendor.
While it might be tempting to get free or significantly reduced rates from an amateur photography student or someone looking to build their portfolio, I highly recommend not doing this. In a survey of 500 people, EverQuote pinpointed that photography is one of the top 3 categories people wish they spent more money on. The other 2 are food and drinks, and the ceremony.
That said, you don’t have to pay for the largest package with the most expensive photographer in town. You can get a basic package. If it’s not on a Saturday or off-peak, you might be able to score a discount!
You could also ask guests to share photos:
- On social media like on Facebook or Instagram and tag you or a specific #
- Through disposable cameras you can leave on a table at the front. You can ask guests to leave the photo and a note in a wedding guest book as a keepsake!
Tip: Hire a photographer that doesn’t watermark their images – that will give you a CD of all of the images unedited as well as the ones that are edited as per your agreement. That way, you don’t have to go through their photography studio and pay high fees each time you want to get a photo printed. You can get it printed at a local store.
13. Don’t do the traveling hair and makeup
If you’ve ever been a part of a bridal party, you might know there are hair and makeup specialists that will do your hair and makeup at your house or hotel on the day of your wedding. While it’s convenient, this is the most expensive way to go.
Consider doing your own hair and makeup. You know your hair and face best. If you’ve been doing your own hair and makeup for work and other events, you might even do a better job than a professional.
If you don’t want to DIY this, just go to a hair and/or makeup salon. You can book a FREE makeover at Sephora (when you spend more than $50 on products). I love this option! I’ve used it to get a professional look done for attending weddings.
14. Have minimal wedding decorations
If you’re having the ceremony or reception outdoors in the garden, you might have all the decor you need.
If you want to add to the scenery, the first thing I would focus on is good lighting for photos. I rented uplights, which was a mistake. It was still way too dark in the room.
I wish I had gotten brighter lighting like using these white Christmas lights. I saw the effect of these in another wedding later on and they were gorgeous and tasteful! They were hanging across the ceiling, but I can see this being used for a backdrop for the dessert table.
Here are other ideas for simple and inexpensive lighting:
- Paper lanterns and battery-operated LED party lights that you can hang from the ceiling.
- Solar mason jar lids with mason jars that you can hang on a tree branch
The second thing I would focus on is flowers and leaves. You don’t actually need this. I skipped having flowers and I have no regrets!
I know fresh flowers add a nice fragrance and touch to a wedding. My sister-in-law had her wedding on a Sunday and bought her flowers from a bride who was getting married on a Saturday. I thought this was such a great idea! You could advertise that you’re looking for flowers on a local buy/sell Facebook group or other local community site.
She just placed the flowers in the middle of the tables. They weren’t in a holder. It was a nice centerpiece that didn’t block you from seeing and conversing with people across the table. If you have room in your budget, you could also add a wide glass bowl and add floating candles and the flowers to it.
You could also go with artificial flowers. There are some flowers that look quite real! There are also silk flowers. If you’re having a Fall wedding, you might even be able to gather leaves outside to go with them without paying a dime!
15. Don’t buy your attire from wedding clothing stores
Don’t buy the wedding dress or tux from the wedding stores. Here are a few places you can find wedding clothing:
- Department stores: Check out the prom or formal sections. Instead of getting a tux, you could get a suit, which is formal and can be worn at more events.
- Used wedding dress or tux stores in your area: That’s where I got mine! It was in great condition. Nobody could tell it was used. After I finished using it, I sold it online. Here are a few used wedding dress stores online – StillWhite, Wore It Once.
- Your mom’s or relative’s former wedding dress: If you don’t like the style, get it altered or ask an alterations expert to give you advice on how to freshen it up.
- Wedding attire rental store: You could rent your wedding dress and tux for a fraction of the price. You’ll probably only wear it that day anyways!
- Wedding dress sample sales: You might be lucky to live in a city that has the occasional wedding dress sample sale.
If your heart is set on a particular piece at a wedding clothing store, sign up for their email newsletter or website so you can get on the list for upcoming deals.
Tip: Borrow jewelry from family. Not only is it nice to wear jewelry from your family, it can be your something borrowed!
16. Have a limited wedding registry
It’s nice to have a wedding registry to give guests the option of buying you a gift vs. giving cash.
There are other benefits to creating a registry. For example:
If you create an Amazon Wedding Registry, you’ll get up to a 20% completion discount on any items left on your registry. When guests buy select items from your registry, you’ll get a free gift. It’s FREE to sign up.
If you prefer to receive cash:
- Keep the wedding registry limited to under 10 items and/or
- Don’t list your registry (don’t link it to your wedding invitation or website), but still create it (to receive the registry benefits and to give people who prefer to buy a gift and will go to the extent of searching for your name on a vendor registry).
We kept our wedding registry limited and unlisted. We did get a handful of gifts, but we got the majority cash. After putting the cash towards the wedding costs, we actually ended up making money! It was an unexpected, welcome surprise.
17. Skip all the wedding extras
Wedding extras are the activities you do that are nice to have, but not necessary. Here are a few examples:
- Rehearsal dinner or party to welcome out-of-towners
- Ceremony or reception programs
- Bathroom baskets
- Monogrammed signs
- Wedding cake knife
- Projector for showing pictures
- Welcome bags
- Photo Booth and props
I spent way too much time and money on some of these things. When I look back, many of them didn’t matter. If you want to add wedding extras, pick just a few and make them great!
To save money, you could also DIY some of these things, but be mindful of the amount of time you spend doing this as your time is worth money. I DIYed stuff up until a few days before my wedding. It was a totally unnecessary, added stress that I shouldn’t have put myself through.
Tip: If you do get these types of extras, don’t forget to sell everything that’s sellable afterwards!
18. Have a small bridal and groom party
It’s nice to have people you love stand next to you on your big day. They will be just as happy for you sitting in the audience AND…
It won’t make a dent in your budget.
There can be many costs associated with a bridal party when you decide to have one.
The couple often pay for their bridesmaid’s hair, makeup, dress, and bouquets, their groomsmen’s boutonnieres etc. The bride and groom often get their wedding party small gifts as a thank you. There’s also the costs associated with the stag night or weekend.
This could amount to $1000’s. The more people you have in your wedding party, the higher the total costs are.
If you want to have a large wedding party, you can cut down on what you pay for e.g. ask your bridesmaids to wear dresses they already own, ask them to do their own makeup.
Alternatively, you can just limit the number of people in your wedding party. We had 7 people in our wedding party…gulp! If I could do it all over again, I would have just had 2 people in it – the maid of honor and the best man.
If you have more than 1 person you’d like to be as the maid of honor or best man, have 2 people be the maids of honor or best men. You can do whatever you’d like. It’s your day. The less people you have involved, the less money everyone has to pay.
19. Limit the guest list
The larger your guest list, the more your overall cost will be. You have to pay for each guest’s food, drinks etc. If you know the cost per person, you can have a rough idea of the number of people you can have at your wedding.
Here are a few ideas to limit the guest list:
- Only invite people you are presently speaking to: For example, if you have friends from high school or university that you haven’t spoken to in a year, don’t invite them.
- Limit the number of your parent’s friends: We actually didn’t invite any of my parent’s friends. We couldn’t just invite 1 or 2 people without offending everyone else, making my parent’s lives difficult. Our families are large so we decided to just include our family and friends.
- Eliminate plus 1’s: While plus 1’s are nice to keep your friends company, usually there will be other people they know at the wedding anyways. If you’re uncertain about where to make the cut, you can include plus 1’s for common law and married partners only.
- Have a kid-free wedding: This not only avoids the possibility of hysterical outbursts, it also means the parents can stick around for a little while longer and not have to put their kids to be early.
20. Ask your friends and family to help with the wedding
There are a lot of little details like set up, placing decor and signs on tables, designing the seating chart etc. You’re going to want to ask family and friends to help!
I know it can feel awkward to ask people for favors. They’re probably more than happy to help and will feel privileged to play a role on your special day. It also adds a sense of belonging and community to a wedding.
Just make sure the people you ask are:
- Produce good work
- Actually want to help
You don’t want to force anyone into this. Give them an out and let them know it’s okay if they don’t want to participate. Communicate the expectations so they know what’s involved.
To thank them, you can give them some monetary compensation, a small gift, buy them a meal or make what they’re doing into a fun activity as opposed to work. For example, you can ask a few people to come help set up and decorate the venue the night before. Put on some music and make it a party. You can order pizza for everyone as a thank you.
Recap of How to Plan a Wedding on a Small Budget
- Determine your wedding budget
- Prioritize what’s important
- Don’t be afraid to have the wedding you want
- Be your own wedding planner
- Focus on the highest cost – the wedding venue
- Be mindful of the second largest cost – wedding food and drink
- Don’t have a traditional wedding cake
- Negotiate with vendors
- Use digital wedding invitations
- Skip a theme
- Limit music time or DIY this
- Don’t get the top of the line photography
- Don’t do the traveling hair and makeup
- Have minimal wedding decorations
- Don’t buy your attire from wedding clothing stores
- Have a limited wedding registry
- Skip all the wedding extras
- Have a small bridal and groom party
- Limit the guest list
- Ask your friends and family to help with the wedding
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