How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

Thousands of couples have incredible weddings every year without sacrificing on style or going over budget, and you can do it too.

By Emily Forrest

Couple holding bouquets exiting outdoor wedding ceremony
Photo by Zola

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With wedding costs averaging at $29K , it can feel like an impossible task for some couples to plan a wedding on a budget. That said, we have some good news: it can be done. Countless couples have incredible weddings every year without sacrificing on style or going over budget, and you can do it, too. All it takes is planning ahead and a little savvy regarding your big day.

Though this may initially come across as intimidating or complicated, we at Zola have the best advice to guide you during the process of wedding budgeting. Read on below for our top tips when it comes to planning your special day on a wedding budget. We may even be able to help you save money along the way.

1. Set Your Budget

The first step to planning your wedding on a budget is figuring out what your budget actually is.

First thing’s first: Determine who is paying for the wedding. More often than not, the to-be-wed couple, themselves, takes on the task of footing the bill. This may be out of pocket or via personal loan. Before taking a single step forward with planning, ask yourselves if this—or an alternative—will be the case for you. Are either (or both) of your families helping? How much does everyone plan to contribute?

Next, crunch the numbers to figure out your total spending limit. Put together what you’re comfortable with and able to spend and how much anyone else is going to contribute and not a dollar more. Be realistic, while also remaining optimistic. It’s never a good idea to acquire debt while paying for your wedding—stick to a budget amount that doesn’t require loans or credit card charges that you cannot repay within a few months’ time. The longer it takes for you to pay off a loan, the more interest you will end up paying on top of initial costs.

Here’s how most couples set their wedding budget breakdown. (Note that this totals over 100%, as not everyone will include every category in their wedding).

Here’s how most couples divide up their wedding budget breakdown. (Note that this totals over 100%, as not everyone will include every category in their wedding expenses).

  • Wedding venue: 24%

  • Catering: 18%

  • Photography: 7%

  • Videography: 5%

  • Flowers: 8%

  • Entertainment: 9%

  • Hair and makeup: 2%

  • Cake and/or dessert: 2%

  • Officiant: 1%

  • Stationary (save the dates, wedding invitations, thank you cards): 3%

  • Wedding dress, suit, or other attire: 7%

  • Wedding planner: 6%

  • Rentals: 5%

  • Transportation: 2%

However, this is more of a general guideline than anything. Your priorities will likely shift these numbers at least a little bit.

2. Trim Your Guest list

After you set your budget, begin to build your guest list. While we understand that you might want to invite many people to your celebration, bear in mind that the more people you invite, the more you spend. Conversely, for smaller weddings, you tend to spend less. Here are a few tricks to help you trim your guest list:

  1. Break down your list into A and B lists. The A list should include people who are the most important to you and whose presence would make your day feel completel. The B list should include anyone whom you would like to invite, but could be removed from the guest list if you need to trim totals.

  2. Host an adults-only wedding. Even if you love children, excluding kids from your guest list will help reduce your overall costs.

  3. Limit +1s. Reserve +1s for guests who are married or in a long-term relationship.

3. Research Average Costs

The average cost of a wedding and vendor prices vary a lot by location. For example, a wedding florist in Los Angeles, CA might be less expensive compared to vendors in Boston, MA or Tampa, FL. Do a little research to figure out typical costs in your area and what percentage of your total budget should be allocated to the vendors you absolutely need to pull off your wedding day. A lot of couples experience sticker shock when they receive price quotes from vendors. Knowing what to expect will help you stay within budget and let you start to hone in on areas where you might be able to cut costs.

4. Determine Your Priorities

Speaking of cutting costs, a great way to scale back on spending is to figure out what’s important to you as a couple and prioritize those areas. For example, your wedding day vision might place great food as a focal point. In that case, set aside a larger portion of your budget for booking a wedding caterer with a great reputation. On the other hand, if live music isn’t going to make or break your ideal celebration, you can explore DIY options like creating your own playlist and broadcasting it over a speaker using a laptop or cell phone.

We recommend that you and your partner each list your top three priorities for the wedding day separately, and then come together to discuss your lists. This will give you the opportunity to think about what’s most important to you without influencing each other, after which you can begin to talk through how you will allocate your wedding funds.

5. Cut Costs Where You Can

A common strategy for couples planning a wedding on a budget is to think outside of the box. Here are a few ways you might find you’re able to save some money:

  • Explore non-traditional wedding venues. Think restaurants, breweries, public libraries, museums, or summer camps.. Non-traditional venues are likely to cost you less than your traditional hotel lawn and ballroom.

  • Host your wedding ceremony and/or wedding reception at home. Likewise, if you have enough space, consider having a beautifully personal wedding at your very own home. If you have loved ones with more space (say, a large backyard), you can also keep those in mind—with their permission, of course. Doing this or similar can save you tons of money on venue costs.

  • Buy used whenever you can. Now, more than ever, is the time to go thrifting or vintage shopping. If you’re skilled in the area of DIY, this is an opportunity to upcycle and create some beautiful, unique decor. Think seating, centerpieces, linens, dinnerware, and decor. You can even thrift or purchase gently used bridesmaids dresses and groomsmen attire. Similarly, don’t forget to consider rentals.

  • Ask your wedding party, talented friends, and family for help. Likewise, if you happen to have any skilled friends or family, try asking them for some help. Odds are they’ll be thrilled to have some help in your special day. Just don’t request that they take on the job of a wedding vendor (musician, photographer, etc.), as they should be a guest at your wedding.

  • Have a small wedding cake or alternative dessert. Though we love a grand wedding cake, they’ve fallen a bit out of Vogue. This is great news for those on a budget, who can easily afford a more minimalistic cake or alternative dessert, such as cupcakes or doughnuts.

  • Look outside of traditional wedding attire. Who says you have to wear a bridal gown or tuxedo to your wedding? If you’d prefer to wear something that feels a bit less traditional, go for it. Odds are it won’t be nearly as expensive.

  • Send digital wedding invitations. If your loved ones are more likely to read a text or RSVP while they’re already on their phone, consider sending entirely digital wedding invitations. Not only will this save you money, but it creates less paper waste.

  • Create a Wedding Website. Your own wedding website can help you manage RSVPs, share your registry, and get information out to your guests. It, via your registry, can also host a cash fund, which can help you receive gift money for your honeymoon.

  • Host a potluck wedding. Family-style meals continue to grow in wedding popularity. Host a truly intimate and community-created wedding by asking each of your guests to bring something they can contribute to the celebratory meal. Think appetizers, mains, sides, drinks, and desserts.

  • Choose an off-season or weekday wedding date. Due to not being as in-demand as weekends or peak on-season, you likely won’t be stuck with highly competitive pricing seen during more popular times of year.

  • Limit your bar to beer and wine only. Having a limited selection at your bar, rather than an open bar, can drastically cut your alcohol costs. If your guests are likely to be just as satisfied with beer and wine as they would be with a slew of cocktails, there’s no need to include all of the frills.

  • Explore alternatives to fresh flowers for your table decor. Your centerpieces and table settings can truly be created out of anything you like—not just your standard wedding flowers. Think potted plants, fruit bowls, stacked books, vintage tea sets, paper flowers, or DIY floral arrangements.

  • Repurpose ceremony decor at the reception. Think aisle markers that can double as centerpieces or a floral arch that can be moved to frame the couple’s table. Plenty of decorative accents (florals, candles, etc.) can work for both your ceremony and reception.

  • DIY your ceremony and reception music. If you know you and your wedding guests’ music tastes very well, opt to create a DIY playlist. Renting a couple large speakers and hooking them up to a phone or laptop will save you a large sum of money where entertainment costs are concerned.

  • Have a friend of family member officiate the wedding. If you aren’t having a religious ceremony, consider asking a friend or family member to officiate your ceremony. In many states in the U.S. they don’t even need to be professionally certified. Plus, it’ll be a lovely experience and memory to look back on.

  • DIY your photo booth. Purchase a phone tripod (even better if it has a ring light), DIY a nice backdrop, and you have yourself a homemade, money-saving photo booth that everyone is sure to enjoy.

  • Host a breakfast, brunch, or afternoon wedding. Weddings that take place earlier in the day have been gaining immense popularity. In leu of hosting a costly evening affair, consider instead having a garden party brunch or afternoon tea. This is likely to save you money on your venue and food.

  • Skip wedding programs and favors. While many wedding extras can be beautiful and have a nice impact, they aren’t really necessary. Make some room in your budget by skipping these smaller details.

Wedding Budget Breakdown

With all of this information at your fingertips, you may still be desiring some hard numbers. For that reason, we’ve put together a budget breakdown, complete with price ranges for many portions of a wedding.

  • Wedding venue: $6,500–$12,000
  • Catering: $6,500–$10,000
  • Band or DJ: $2,000–$7,000
  • Wedding planner: $1,500–$4,750
  • Photographer: $3,500–$6,500
  • Videographer: $3,000–$6,000
  • Flowers: $2,500–$6,000
  • Transportation: $700–$1,200
  • Cake: $600–$900
  • Ceremony music: $500–$800
  • Hair and makeup: $550–$850


The wedding planning process can be overwhelming as it is. Moreover, the discussion of wedding expenses isn’t exactly fun. However, with a little bit of research and some dedication, you can work through your wedding budget and stick to it with ease.

Luckily, you also have us at Zola to help you through it. With our help, you can create your wedding website, registry, and coordinate all of your wedding planning in one convenient place. Not only that, but you can search through a variety of wedding registry gifts—from household items, to gift cards, to cash funds—in our Shop.

Your dream wedding is only some hard work (and a few clicks) away.

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