5 Ways to Cut Wedding Costs

Here's a list of the five ways to cut wedding costs that you might not have thought about. Read up, and get ready to spend smart!

By Kate Lynn Nemett

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It’s not breaking news—we’ve said it in wedding planning a hundred times—that (most) weddings cost a lot of money. The cost of weddings can be one of the biggest stressors of wedding planning, period. But any wedding planner worth their salt will also tell you that, with a few smart moves and some ground-laying decisions, you can still throw an incredible, memorable wedding that guests will rave about for years while sticking to a reasonable budget.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of tips that’ll help you save money and stick to your wedding budget. Read on for useful ways to cut wedding costs that you might not have thought about.

lightness-photography

Photo Credit || Lightness Photography

How Much Can a Wedding Cost?

According to Zola's First Look Report, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. sits between $20,000 - $40,000. That said, this can vary widely depending on state. For example, Kansas’ average is $17,000, whereas DC’s is $44,000. This likely comes down to denser populations, more touristy cities (meaning more demand), and a higher cost of living in any given area.

Money-Saving Wedding Tips

Don’t let the bottom lines frighten you too much. There are plenty of ways you can cut costs and save money throughout the wedding planning process.

1. Prioritize 2-3 Things

Perhaps the most important step you can take in planning your beautiful, budget-friendly wedding is to decide which two or three aspects of the wedding experience are most important to you and your partner. Whether it’s a gourmet meal, a killer live band, or a really incredible venue with a view, determine your top handful of priorities and put the majority of your budget towards those areas. Then, let go of the other stuff—we promise that neither you nor your wedding guests will miss it on your wedding day.

2. Shrink Your Guest List

This is basic math, friends. The higher the number of guests you have to invite, seat, feed, serve drinks, transport, or provide with little extras like favors or welcome bags, the higher your wedding expenses will climb. If you want to include all of those amenities I just mentioned in your wedding weekend (i.e. printed invitations, food, alcohol, transportation, ceremony seating, reception tables and chairs, décor for all those tables, wedding favors, and welcome bags), then do your best to keep your Guest List as streamlined as possible.

Here’s a good tip: if you wouldn’t normally treat this person to a very expensive dinner (the average cost of a wedding per head is currently around $200), then consider leaving them off. Although these decisions can be tough, remember that you can throw a nicer party for a smaller number of really important people, or host a more lax evening for a large group of people that you won’t even get to really spend time with. Don’t forget to use Zola’s Guest List tool to help you manage your guest list, whatever its size—it’ll be one of the easiest parts of your planning, we promise.

arrowood-photography

Photo Credit || Arrowood Photography

3. Book a Full-Service Venue

The average cost of renting a venue for your ceremony and/or reception is over $3,000—and that’s just the rental fee alone. Imagine adding in additional costs for catering, alcohol and bar services, equipment rentals (think tables, chairs, linens, glassware, etc.), and a day-of coordinator. As you can imagine, the total figure can be really overwhelming. For this reason, full-service venues that offer a package deal for all of the above services can actually be cost-saving in the end.

While the combined sum may still leave you with sticker shock, a full-service venue that comes prepared with all the equipment, staffing, food and drink, and planning expertise you need can save you in the long run—we’re talking savings for your sanity as well as your wallet. Cutting the number of vendors you need to hire in half? That’s (almost) priceless.

Pro tip: to get started with your hunt for the perfect venue, be sure visit Zola’s Vendor Directory to search for venues (as well as all those other vendors you still need to check off your list) by location, type, or price range that fit your wedding budget.

corey-lynn-tucker-photography

Pro tip: to get started with your hunt for the perfect venue, be sure visit Zola’s Vendor Directory to search for venues (as well as all those other vendors you still need to check off your list) by location, type, or price range that fit your wedding budget.

alex-marie-photography

*Photo Credit || Alex Marie Photography

4. Rethink Wedding Venues

We mean it literally when we say that your wedding ceremony (as well as the following celebration) can take place just about anywhere. And, seeing as wedding venues are one of the most costly aspects of a wedding, it’s worth it to consider more affordable options. Charming at-home weddings, for example, have been growing in immense popularity since the beginning of 2020. In these cases, couples will decorate and have their vendors present at their own home for their ceremony and reception. This can be extremely lovely, as well as low-stress and inexpensive.

If you’re expecting to invite a lot of people or would prefer to navigate other options, consider the large backyard of a loved one, an Airbnb (check to see if they allow events on property), and local restaurants.

janelle-elise-Photography

Still really wed (word play!) to the idea of a seated dinner? Consider serving your wedding meal buffet-style, which cuts waitstaff (and your final invoice) in half.

5. Have a Destination Wedding

At first, a destination wedding probably seems like the opposite of money-saving. That said, hosting an intimate (read: small guest list) destination wedding in another state or even country can end up costing less than a large affair in your area. This is especially the case when you go the Airbnb route, which can also provide accommodations to you and your guests. If having a smaller wedding in another locale sounds even a little exciting to you, we recommend looking into and comparing costs.

6. Choose a Less Popular Wedding Date

Peak wedding season throughout most of the U.S. runs from April through October, with June, September, and October being the most popular months to get married (hello, summer breezes and crisp foliage). To save some beaucoup bucks, book a date that falls during the off-season for discounted rates at venues. Winter weddings can be truly spectacular, and open up a whole new avenue for unique attire, décor, and weekend guest activities.

7. Explore Days Beyond Saturdays

We know, this one can be tough. But for even greater savings, explore a day of the week outside of Saturday evening. Venue rentals on Fridays, Sundays, and even other weekdays go for a lot less money, as they’re less in-demand. If this isn’t appealing to you, consider a daytime celebration, such as a brunch wedding, which will help offset costs by allowing you to serve a smaller meal and less alcohol, as well as book more low-key entertainment than what’s typically expected at an evening affair.

8. Reconsider the Traditional Wedding Party

Some people can’t picture their big day without the traditional wedding party, complete with maid of honor, best man, bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girl, ring bearer, and the parents of the couple. But, as you can likely tell, this portion of a wedding involves a lot of people. And where there are special groups of people, there tend to be extra expenses.

Take the bridesmaids and groomsmen, for example. A standard American wedding may involve sending each of these individuals a wedding party proposal gift, footing any travel or accommodation bills, covering attire costs (as well as hair or makeup), and/or presenting special gifts on the day of the wedding. We know that your closest loved ones mean the world to you. That said, if you aren’t especially in love with the idea of a wedding party, it’ll save you money to skip the formalities—or keep your party fairly small.

9. Go Digital for Wedding Invitations

It seems that many things wedding are starting to turn to the internet. Wedding websites and digital RSVPs are just a couple examples of convenient online tools that have largely improved the wedding planning process—for both hosts and guests. To save some cash, ask yourself if you can also switch out paper invitations for digital ones. Gauge your guests’ preferences and likelihood to respond via website or email. If you see this being convenient for everyone, explore some online options. Pro tip: You can also use this method for save the dates and other invitations, such as those for your bridal party or rehearsal dinner.

10. Shop Far and Wide for a Wedding Dress

Wedding dresses aren’t exclusive to wedding boutiques and designers. There are plenty of more affordable places to look for your dream gown. From sample sales, to less expensive retailers, to preowned wedding dresses (more on that below), there are a variety of stores and sellers that can provide you with your ideal dress without breaking the bank.

11. Buy a Preowned Wedding Dress

Wedding gown expenses tend to be all over the map, from surprisingly affordable to jaw-droppingly expensive. For the bride that wants a higher-end dress without paying the usual price for one, consider purchasing a preowned wedding dress. Websites like Still White and Nearly Newlywed allow former brides to list their new and gently used gowns for others to purchase. Not only is this good for the environment, but your wallet, too.

12. Rent or Borrow Jewelry

You best wedding attire doesn’t require you to drop tons of money on new accessories. However, if you prefer to be wearing some eye-catching jewelry with your wedding dress, jumpsuit, or suit, look into jewelry rental companies. Many online companies will rent out pricy jewelry at a much lower cost—the only downside is that, after the fact, you’ll have to send it back. Otherwise, ask a loved one with impeccable style if you could borrow something of theirs, also fulfilling the something borrowed tradition.

13. Rethink Bridesmaid Bouquets and Boutonnieres

As we’re sure you’re aware, any and all florals can be pretty expensive. If you’re looking for areas you can cut your budget, look to your bridesmaids’ bouquets and groomsmen’s boutonnieres. Bridesmaid bouquets can be parred down and minimal, consisting of a few fuller flowers and some greenery for a minimal and cost-affective result. Likewise, groomsmen (as well as the groom) can skip the boutonnieres and instead purchase less expensive pocket squares or pins.

14. Skip Cocktail Hour

This money-saving option won’t always be ideal—or even possible—but it shouldn’t be taken off the table entirely. Some weddings, especially those that are smaller, can actually benefit from going from the ceremony straight to the reception. This is often the case if you plan on having food and drinks of some sort (dinner or apps) immediately available to guests upon arrival. This will ultimately save you money on food, alcohol, and service. If you choose to do this, just be sure to notify your guests both on your invitation and wedding website.

15. Skip the Open Bar

There’s a large misconception out there that the one thing your guests are most looking forward to on your wedding day is an open bar. This couldn’t be more false! The thing those closest to you are most looking forward to is celebrating your love. While an open bar may be very convenient and loosen people up, it’s by no means required at your reception. Less expensive options include limiting your bar to a few wines and beers, offering select signature cocktails, and purchasing your own alcohol to bring to your venue (check to see if this is allowed, first).

16. Consider Plated Entrée Alternatives

There are other ways to approach your wedding meal beyond plated dinner entrées, which tends to be the most expensive catering option. Sit down with your caterer and discuss some alternative ways to feed your guests that might cut down your catering bill. For example, opt for a cocktail-style reception with plenty of heavy hors d’oeuvres (which can help lower table and chair rental costs), or go for interactive and/or DIY food stations that will keep guests both entertained and well-fed.

Trust us, no one ever left a wedding with a mashed potato bar or made-to-order crêpe station unhappy. Also consider skipping the traditional wedding caterer altogether by hiring a food truck or two to serve guests throughout the reception.

Still really wed (word play!) to the idea of a seated dinner? Consider serving your wedding meal buffet-style, which cuts waitstaff (and your final invoice) in half.

17. Have a Wedding Cake Alternative

Thinking of your wedding reception might conjure images of a multi-tiered wedding cake, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Wedding cakes can be unexpectedly costly (with the average price usually landing between $120 and $700). If cake isn’t your favorite type of dessert and/or you aren’t committed to tradition, consider instead ordering something else. Some alternatives we love are croquembouche, cannolis, macarons, doughnuts, and cupcakes. Even more out of the box (without being as expensive) are ice cream sandwiches, cheese wheels, rice krispies, and pancakes or waffles.

18. Buy Local, in-Season Flowers

Similar to rethinking your wedding menu, saving money on your wedding flowers is all about thinking outside the traditional box. Sure, mountains of roses and armfuls of peonies are as romantic as they come, but there are so many other, less pricey stems that will make just as beautiful a statement (without blowing your wedding budget). If you love the look of petal-rich blooms, consider garden-grown dahlias or the peony-lookalike ranunculus. Most importantly, stick to flowers that are in season when and where you’re getting married—you’ll pay considerably more for flowers that have to be flown in from other regions or countries. For a gorgeous, fresh-picked-from-the-fields look, consider using locally grown wildflowers and foliage; inquire with your florist about local farms that sell flowers at farmers’ markets or for wholesale in your area.

nikki-morgan-photography-llc

19. Consider Herbs Over Florals

For a wedding budget-friendly way to incorporate lots of greenery, texture, and fragrance into your bouquets and arrangements, ask your florist about incorporating fresh herbs. Everything from basil to rosemary to mint is fair game, not to mention more floral herbs like lavender. They’ll add a note of organic elegance, not to mention uniqueness, to your wedding décor that will make roses seem ho-hum.

rubysky-photography

Photo Credit || RubySky Photography

20. Go the DIY Route With Centerpieces

Your reception centerpieces aren’t limited to vases packed with densely petaled flowers. In fact, your centerpieces don’t need to be composed of florals at all. Because professional floral and greenery centerpieces can be fairly expensive, one way to save money is to go the DIY route. The options here, creatively, are virtually endless. A centerpiece can be a single candle, a stack of some of your favorite books, a beautiful bowl of fruit, or a single-stemmed flower in a small glass vase. With your wedding theme in mind, brainstorm table decor that you can make yourself (with the help of some loved ones, of course).

21. DIY Your Signage

We know, those custom acrylic welcome and seating signs are absolutely beautiful. That said, they can also be a bit pricy. If you’re even a little crafty—or have a friend who is and is willing to help you out—you can easily create your own signage for the cost of supplies. This alternative can be especially appealing to those hosting cottagecore, barn, or shabby chic weddings, as the homemade look will seamlessly fit into your celebration.

22. Skip the Videographer

This one truly pains us to say, but if organizing your budget comes down to choosing either a photographer or videographer, always opt for a photographer. Wedding videos can be incredibly beautiful and fun to watch, but chances are you won’t look back on one as much as you will on photographs from your wedding. If skipping this popular wedding vendor can save you some much-needed money, do it.

Pro tip: In this case, ask a social media or video-savvy friend to take videos of key parts of your wedding you’ll want to watch back (e.g. walking down the aisle, first dance, champagne toast).

23. Make a Reception Playlist

Though DJs and live bands can be wonderful for managing the night’s timeline and encouraging the crowd, they aren’t always necessary. If you’re hosting a wedding that’s on the smaller side and have a good ear for crowd-pleasing music, consider instead going with a playlist. You know your loved ones best, so odds are you know just the kind of music that’ll get them out on the dancefloor, anyway. Just make sure you avoid harsh transitions.

Pro tip: If you go this route, ask a tech-savvy friend to be on music-duty throughout the reception. Someone who can press play on your first dance song or switch it up if something goes wrong.

24. Skip Insignificant Details

While it may seem important to you, chances are your guests won’t remember your hand-painted envelope liner, heavier cardstock, or custom napkins. These small details are fun to find and plan out, but will ultimately end up adding significantly to your bottom line. Truly ask yourself throughout wedding planning if small, added details are necessary or very important to you. If not, skip right ahead.

15. Skip Wedding Trends You Don’t Love

The month’s or year’s hottest wedding trends may seem to be everywhere right now, but don’t feel pressured to include any that you don’t genuinely love. For example, if a wedding reception photo booth set-up just isn’t something you’re into (or, say, it doesn’t go well with your venue or theme), don’t feel the need to spend money on one. While it might seem like something huge right now, odds are your guests won’t even notice one of these passing trends isn’t present.

Is that your wallet or credit card we hear releasing a sigh of relief? We hope so. If you follow some of these tips for how to cut costs, you can still throw the stylish, cohesive wedding of your dreams while sticking to your wedding budget. No need to splurge. Now that’s a cause for celebration (but your enduring love and devotion is also totally worthwhile).

Looking for ways to save big on your honeymoon trip, too? We’ve got you covered.

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