75 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding

Have a lavish party-without the price tag that usually comes with it. Here, wedding experts share sneaky ways to scale back.
By: 
Kristen Finello

Think “big picture”

the 75 best money-savings tips

1. Probably the single most effective way to slash the cost of a wedding is to trim the guest list, says wedding planner Charlene Hein of Everlasting Memories by Char, in Lakewood, Colorado. That’s because the biggest expenses—food and alcohol—are figured on a per-person basis and will obviously increase as the number of people you’re inviting rises.

2. Know the value of your business to a hotel and use that information to negotiate a good deal, advises Anthony Milkey, director of resort events at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa, in Dana Point, California. For example, you might be able to get your catering fee reduced if you let the manager know that you expect to have guests renting, say, thirty hotel rooms for two nights and eating most of their meals on property.

3. When negotiating, make sure you’re speaking to someone with the power to make the changes or substitutions you’re hoping for (at a hotel or banquet hall, this would most likely be a director of sales or catering; at a florist’s shop this might be the manager or owner). Lower-level employees simply may not have the authority to change established rates or throw in extras, like a wedding cake.

4. Always ask for a better price than the one that’s offered. Say to a hotel manager or vendor, “I’d really love to work with you, but could you do it for 10 percent less?” The worst the person can do is say no—and even then you can shop around.

5. Stick to your wedding-day schedule. Lateness increases your risk of getting hit with overtime charges from vendors like musicians and limousine drivers.

6. Ask friends and relatives to contribute their creative skills to your big day in lieu of a gift. Perhaps a pal who’s a graphic designer can make your invitations and programs; a website designer could set you up with your own wedding page.

Lower your location costs

7. Hold your ceremony and reception in the same place, suggests Hein. The payoff: one less site fee and no need for a limousine to ferry you between locations.

8. Don’t hold your wedding on a Saturday, which is the most popular day of the week for weddings—and, therefore, also the most expensive. Consider having it on a Friday or Sunday instead.

9. Similarly, choose a date between November and April, avoiding the more expensive “peak season.”

10. Find out if your house of worship has an attached or affiliated hall or room where you can hold your reception. These venues are usually much less costly than upscale hotels or catering halls.

11. Take advantage of any club memberships or professional associations that might score you a special location for a small rental fee. For example, some military sites can be rented inexpensively—but only by members of the armed services.

12. Set your sights on venues that specialize in weddings, as these often offer great package deals that include everything from food and flowers to decorations and a wedding cake.

13. If you’re flexible and adventurous (or don’t intend to have a long engagement), wait until 30 to 60 days before your wedding to book a reception venue. At this point, most sites that haven’t already filled that time will be willing to negotiate a lower price rather than risk having no business at all.

14. Select a reception site that allows you to bring in your own alcohol. Even if you’re required to pay a corkage fee (a charge to simply open each bottle—usually $2 to $5 a pop), you can still save a lot of money, since banquet halls, restaurants and hotels usually have a significantly higher markup on liquor.

Get smart about stationery

15. Have your reception time and place printed at the bottom of your invitation instead of on a separate reception card. You’ll save the cost of the paper and the additional postage, says Hein.

16. Order thank-you notes when you buy your wedding invitations, as some stationers give discounts for bulk orders. If your printer doesn’t volunteer a break on price, just ask.

17. Choose basic black ink for your invitations and other stationery. The price will go up if you opt for colored inks or a deluxe foil-stamp process.

18. Instead of paying an extra fee to have your invitations assembled for you, ask your sisters or bridesmaids to help you put them together.

19. The cost of calligraphy can be hefty—often $2 to $3 per envelope. Save that money by enlisting the help of a pal with pretty penmanship, or using your computer and a good-quality printer, to address your envelopes.

20. If you’re holding your reception at a hotel or restaurant, request that printed menu cards for each place setting be part of the deal, says Milkey. It’s usually not a problem, and it’ll save you the expense of doing it yourself.

Find the look for less

21. Hit the discontinued or sample-gown racks at bridal shops and department stores for one-of-a-kind bargains. "I once helped a client find a couture dress for just $199," says Hein.

22. Another savvy way to save money on your gown: Browse consignment stores and Internet sites for gently worn dresses, or even brand-new gowns that never made it to the altar.

23. Wear your mother's dress, suggests wedding planner Beth Hickman of Storybook Weddings, in Sacramento, California, the author of How to Have an Elegant Wedding for $5000 or Less. It can count as your "something borrowed," and all you'll have to pay for will be the costs of cleaning and any alterations that are required.

24. Order a bridesmaid dress in white or ivory—there are plenty of beautiful styles out there. You'll end up with an elegant look for a fraction of the cost of a bridal gown.

25. Buy a well-fitting, simple gown that doesn't require a lot of alterations. Even little fixes—like shortening a hem, or letting out or loosening a seam—can add up quickly, since most wedding dresses have more complicated constructions than "regular" clothes.

26. Make like an A-list celebrity and borrow a few baubles for your big day. Ask a jeweler you've worked with before (perhaps the one who sold your fiancé your engagement ring) if you could rent a few pieces instead of buying them.

27. In fact, borrow whatever other wedding accessories you can. Perhaps a recently married friend will lend you her veil, tiara or shoes.

28. Organize the groomsmen and fathers to rent tuxedos from the same shop. Many businesses will throw in the groom's formalwear for free.

Serve up food and beverage bargains

29. Don't assume a buffet dinner will be less expensive than a sit-down dinner, since buffets generally require more food overall. Get estimates on the price of both serving options from your caterer before you commit to one or the other.

30. Have a luncheon instead of a dinner reception—it can result in a huge savings, says Milkey. The reason: Lunch prices are based on smaller portion sizes, plus guests tend to drink less alcohol in the afternoon than in the evening.

31. Have an hors d'oeuvres- or dessert-only party. You'll get more bang for your buck by concentrating your funds on top-of-the-line finger foods or show-stopping sweets rather than a full meal.

32. Skip the traditional, pricey steak and seafood entrées in favor of ethnic fare such as Mexican or Indian dishes. Not only is cultural cuisine trendy, it’s also pocketbook-friendly.

33. Ask your catering manager to make sure the champagne flutes get filled only two-thirds of the way, suggests Hein. There’s no sense in paying for full glasses when most guests will just take a sip or two.

34. Limit the number of courses you serve. Rather than offering five courses, present your guests with either a salad or an appetizer (not both), an entrée and only wedding cake for dessert. Most guests won’t eat more than that, anyway.

35. Pare down your cake bill by having the baker prepare a small cake for the cutting ceremony and a large sheet cake (which is less expensive to make) to be served to your guests. Have the cake sliced in the kitchen and your friends and family will never know they aren’t eating the confection they watched you cut.

36. Save money on the cake ingredients: Ask your baker to use buttercream frosting instead of fondant, because the ingredients required for buttercream are less costly, and this type of frosting is less time-consuming to make. Also, it’s cheaper to decorate your cake with fresh flowers than ones made of frosting. Just make sure you pick inexpensive blooms like daisies or orange blossoms instead of pricier ones like roses, orchids and stephanotis.

37. Serve beautifully decorated cupcakes—or even a variety of doughnuts—instead of an ornate cake that requires many hours to create. You can stack these sweet treats on a large, cake-shaped, tiered tray.

38. Instead of an ultraexpensive open bar of top-shelf liquor, offer just beer, wine and a signature cocktail.

39. Make “last call” an hour before the reception ends. At that time, switch to those gourmet coffee drinks you enjoy at your favorite café—they won’t put a damper on the fun, but they will lower your bar bill.

Pack some flower power

40. Get the most from your floral fund by using each arrangement in more than one way. “Altar pieces can be used to decorate the buffet and cake tables or beside the band or DJ,” says Hein. “And flowers that decorate the pews can be put in vases and turned into centerpieces.”

41. Cut down the number of flowers you need in bouquets and centerpieces by using plenty of inexpensive greenery, like ivy and baby’s breath.

42. Instead of labor-intensive bridesmaid bouquets, opt to have each gal carry a single exquisite flower, like an orchid or a calla lily.

43. Elevated floral centerpieces require lots of blooms simply because they tend to be bigger than the average arrangement. Conserve cash by opting for low centerpieces, which can look great with fewer flowers.

44. Rather than buying or renting vases from your florist, purchase your own affordable vessels at a discount crafts store. Bonus: You can use them in your home after the wedding.

45. Skip expensive floral centerpieces in favor of other creative arrangements. For instance, place a lily or rose in each of three bud vases (preferably of varying heights) and surround them with inexpensive votive candles, says Hickman. You can also scatter rose petals on the table for a romantic look.

Embrace inexpensive décor ideas

46. When choosing ceremony and reception locations, opt for places that don't require additional decorating. Venues like museums or botanical gardens are often available for a small fee.

47. Hold your wedding around the holidays, when houses of worship and reception venues are already decorated for the occasion.

48. "Ask the person in charge of your ceremony and/or reception sites if there's an event on either side of yours," suggests Milkey. "If there is, you and the other hosts may be able to share the costs of things like tents, tulle draping on the ceiling, chair covers or any other extras that you both want."

49. Instead of spending a lot of money to rent special tablecloths and napkins, simply use the house linens at the hotel, restaurant or catering hall where your wedding is being held. They're usually perfectly adequate, and you'll save rental, delivery and pick-up fees.

50. Ask to visit a hotel or catering hall's "prop room," where items for theme events like Mexican buffets or country barbecues are stored, suggests Milkey. "For instance, the Laguna Cliffs Marriott is located on the coast so, as a beach theme, we fill glass bowls with sand and shells to use as table decorations for luncheons," he says. "We're happy to lend the bowls to couples getting married here."

Make music deals

51. Rather than hiring outside musicians, ask whether the organist at your house of worship would perform at your ceremony for a small fee or donation.

52. “Instead of paying a professional string quartet to play at your ceremony or cocktail hour, contact the classical music club at a local college,” suggests Hickman. They likely have top-notch students who would love to earn a few bucks for their services—and get practice performing in front of a live audience.

53. Enlist a friend or relative who plays an instrument well, or has a good voice, to lend his or her talents to your wedding day. Chances are, he or she would be honored to be asked.

54. Book a DJ, since these pros generally cost a lot less than bands, says Hein. “Plus, you only need to provide food for one person instead of a group.”

55. For an informal event, skip the band or DJ and play your favorite CDs as background music during dinner and for dancing. (Put a good friend in charge so you can focus on the party.)

56. Have your heart set on a live band? Call large entertainment companies and ask to review several of their newer groups, which usually cost less than the more experienced acts that have built up a name for themselves.

Snap up big photo and video savings

57. Hire your photographer and videographer from the same company—you may be able to get a discounted rate for doing so.

58. Save on the cost of ordering additional prints from your photographer by using your proofs for framing or in an album. Most proofs look just like normal photos.

59. Find a videographer who will sell you the raw footage he films at your event. That way, you won’t have to pay for editing. If you don’t like the way it looks, you can hire a local photography student to edit the tape for you for a lot less than a pro’s fee.

60. If your videographer does edit the tape, steer clear of special effects like slow motion or inserts of movie clips. Extras like these will boost your bill.

Have fun with favors

 

A Helpful Idea: Consider making a donation to your favorite charity in honor of your guests. The I Do Foundation offers a simple way to donate to your charity of choice, and you can purchase place cards to let your guests know about the special gift.

61. Shop post-holiday sales for gifts for your guests. For example, after Easter you’ll find pastel-colored candy (perfect for a wedding) at rock-bottom prices; stock up on red candles in the days following Valentine’s Day or Christmas.

62. Are you the crafty type? Shop local discount stores for all sorts of supplies—like chocolate or other sweets that you can put in pretty bags and tie up with colorful ribbon—which you can use to create homemade mementos, rather than paying for store-bought items.

63. In place of flowers, turn favors into centerpieces. Ask your friends to help you wrap each gift in a box with paper and a ribbon. You can stack the boxes on a cake stand in the center of the table.

64. Choose wedding favors that do double duty, like small silver or gold frames that might hold guests' table cards.

65. Another option: Say sayonara to favors completely. "You can end up spending several hundred dollars for something your guests won't really remember," says Hickman.

Snag some excellent honeymoon savings

66. Book an all-inclusive resort. This way, you won't be caught by surprise if food, transportation and sightseeing prices are higher than you expected—or by those "hidden" fees, like tips and taxes, that can really add up.

67. Buck travel trends and plan your trip around a destination's off-season. For instance, prices drop in the during summer and in during the winter months.

68. Plan your meals to maximize your money. Some hotels include a large breakfast buffet as part of the rate—if you take advantage of it, you probably won't be hungry until dinner. Or, if an a.m. meal's not included in the cost of your stay, make lunch your main meal of the day (it's almost always cheaper than dinner) and have a light snack for supper.

69. Don't even open the hotel mini bar to see what's inside—you can purchase the same beverages and snacks just about anywhere else for a lot less. And to call home, use your cell phone rather than pay the hefty hotel surcharges for international (and local) calls.

70. If you're having your wedding reception at a hotel that's part of a large chain with a property in your honeymoon destination, inquire whether you can get a night or more there for free, suggests Milkey. Some companies offer rewards like this to customers who bring them a lot of business.

71. Hit the local markets for food instead of paying inflated restaurant prices. A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and some cheese make a tasty and inexpensive meal.

72. Get the "early-bird special": You can often gain great deals on both hotels and airfare by booking your room and airline tickets far in advance.

73. Hit the open road. Driving to a resort or inn is much more affordable than flying—and it can be a lot more fun (no unplanned delays!).

74. Embrace a new trend and register for your honeymoon in order to defray some of the costs. Websites such as thebigday.com and thehoneymoon.com, and of course, bgregistry.com allow guests to contribute money toward your airfare, hotel, meals and activities.

75. Play the honeymoon card—shamelessly! Tell everyone you encounter—from the airline gate attendant to the front-desk clerk at your hotel—that you're on your honeymoon. You just might be able to get an upgrade or other free stuff, like a bottle of champagne.