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23 Ways to Afford Your Dream Wedding

Gabrielle Olya

The average couple will spend $33,931 on their wedding, according to The Knot 2018 Real Weddings Study. But for some people, shelling out that kind of cash for a one-day event is unreasonable — or financially impossible. Fortunately, there are ways to have the wedding of your dreams without spending a small fortune. To find the best ways to save on your big day, GOBankingRates spoke to the experts who can help guide the way. So if you’re planning a wedding, take a look at the best money-saving tips from the experts.

Create a Wedding Budget

“Creating a wedding budget is the first thing that a couple should do when starting to wedding plan,” said Lindsey Nickel, wedding business coach and wedding planner at Lovely Day Strategy. “This may include conversations with parents if they are contributing. All too often couples start to spend, and then discuss their budget, only to realize that they are spending way more than they hoped.”

By spending only what you budget for, you’ll also be setting yourself up for a better future with your spouse.

Purchase Pre-Used Wedding Decor -- and Sell Yours After the Wedding

“One of my favorite cost-saving tips is to up-cycle items from previous weddings,” said Nickel. “Start browsing early on sites like Facebook Marketplace. Accent furniture, tabletop decor and cute details can quickly add up. Couples can check out local online communities to find on-trend deals near them on unique pieces for their wedding, such as a funky table for their escort cards, vintage chairs for a lounge or boho rugs for an aisle runner.”

“I also tell couples to take photos of things they bought just for the day, like table numbers or ‘Take a Seat, Not a Side’ signs so that they can use the photos to help resell the items after their big day,” she continued. “These items are very wedding-specific and probably won’t be used again. So instead of taking up storage, I tell them to sell them on Facebook Marketplace and help out the next bride instead.”

Take Out a Personal Loan to Help Cover Large Expenses

A wedding venue alone costs an average of $15,439, according to The Knot survey. If you don’t want to sacrifice the venue of your dreams, consider taking out a personal loan to help cover the cost of renting it out for your special day. Being able to pay back the loan on a monthly payment plan can help you from feeling overwhelmed with the costs and it’ll keep your finances in order as you move forward.

Opt for Budget-Friendly Flowers for Your Floral Arrangements

“Luxury weddings usually feature a bounty of over-the-top floral arrangements. For budget luxury, swap out costly flowers like roses with more budget-friendly peonies,” said Katherine Frost, luxury wedding planner and owner of A Frosted Affair. “Stay with local growers and flowers that are in season. Punctuate arrangements with a few large flowers that lend grandeur. An experienced florist can achieve the look you desire with a reasonable flower budget allowance — usually about 10% of the entire wedding budget.”

Frost said that if you follow these guidelines, you can save up to $100 on reception table arrangements.

Host a Brunch Reception Instead of a Dinner

“Back in the day, people got married in the morning between 10 a.m. and noon — the wedding breakfast was far more common in the 19th century than it is today,” said Frost. “Bring back that Old World charm (and save some money) by hosting a wedding brunch rather than a dinner. A catered dinner will set you back $30 to $100 a person, depending on the meal, but brunch should be between just $20 and $25 per person. And who doesn’t love a crepe station?”

Not only will you save on food costs, but you’ll save on alcohol costs as well, said Frost.

“Another plus of the brunch reception is that people aren’t as likely to drink as much alcohol in the late morning,” she said. “A fully stocked bar for 200 people for four hours can cost $8,000. Mimosas, Bloody Marys and champagne just won’t cost as much.”

Frost said you can save up to $6,000 by hosting a brunch reception instead of a traditional dinner reception.

Choose a Nontraditional Venue

The venue is often the most expensive part of the wedding, so wedding photographer Jimmy of Montreal’s Pixelicious recommends focusing your saving on this aspect of the wedding.

“Why stick to generic hotel chains when you can tie the knot at your favorite local restaurant or night club?” he said. “Not only will your venue become highly unique, you will be dealing directly with the owner as opposed to the manager or coordinator at the hotel, who has no power when it comes to pricing.”

Book Your Venue Early

“Venues are always trying to fill their calendars with bookings in advance, so the earlier you book, the better the price and availability,” said Jimmy. “Besides, popular venues often require one, if not two years in advance for bookings, so don’t procrastinate.”

Ask the Venue for Freebies

“Try asking for a free upgrade for the cocktail, appetizer or drinks menu,” said Jimmy. “These items cost very little to the venue so if they can convince you in signing, they will do so. The worst case is [they’ll say] ‘no,’ but you lose absolutely nothing by trying.”

Get Your Hair and Makeup Done at the Salon

One way to save on hair and makeup services is to “do your services in-house,” said Corey Mania, marketing director at Mania Hair Studio. “If possible, have your hair and makeup services done at a salon. Prices add up if stylists are sent on location.”

Another money-saving tip is to get as many people in the wedding as possible to get salon services to score group discounts.

“The more hair, makeup and spray tan services that are booked, the better the price,” said Mania. “Get your bridesmaids, mother, mother-in-law, cousins and heck, even your neighbors to book under your party.”

Choose Food and Alcohol Offerings Wisely

Greg Jenkins, professional wedding and event planner and partner at Bravo Productions, shared several tips for saving on food and alcohol costs.

“Review the big picture, and put your dollars into what is really important,” he said. “An example is spending money on expensive appetizers, whereas simple cheese and fruit platters might very well suffice.”

He also suggests doing a single champagne toast instead of having expensive champagne as part of the open bar, and skipping the prime rib and jumbo shrimp, and opting for more inexpensive fare such as chicken, fish and mini appetizers like mini crab cakes.

Don't Splurge On a Cake

Wedding cakes can cost upwards of $1,000 — and this is likely a waste of money, said Jenkins.

“Most guests take two bites of dessert, and the remainder is tossed,” he said.

Jenkins said you’re better off having a faux wedding cake created for photo ops and serving guests an inexpensive sheet cake that you can purchase for around $400.

Hire a DJ Instead of a Band

According to The Knot survey, the average reception band costs $4,247, while the average reception DJ costs $1,292. You can save thousands by opting for the DJ, and you can give your guests just as fun of an experience.

“You can [ask for] music requests from your guests to be played at the reception,” suggested Jenkins.

Nix the Traditional Wedding Party

Choosing who to include in your wedding party can be anxiety-inducing — and it can also be expensive to have one.

“I’m seeing a trend for many couples to either downsize or eliminate the traditional wedding party,” said Elaina Pires, owner and lead planner of Revel and Joy Events. “Between the cost of hair and makeup, flowers, and gifts and accessories, the average couple tends to spend between $250 and $500 on each member. Especially if you’re having a hard time keeping the wedding party to a reasonable size while not offending anyone, forgoing a wedding party will save you money and the stress of choosing. If nixing altogether is a no-go, consider downsizing to just the maid of honor and best man roles.”

Reassess the Guest List

“This one is tough, but it’s the quickest way to slash your wedding budget significantly,” said Pires. “With wedding catering costs typically starting at $150 per person, keeping things on the more intimate side — family and close friends — is the No. 1 way to save. Venue and catering costs eat up 30% to 40% of the average wedding budget, and most couples will create their dream guest list without considering the true cost per person. By asking your venue/caterer for a proposal based on your guest count and catering desires at the outset, it will likely influence who ultimately makes the cut on your guest list by the time you send out save the dates.”

Send Electronic Invites

The cost of traditional paper invitations can add up quickly.

“Paper invites and response cards can cost you upwards of $1 per invitation — and often a lot more — and you also have to pay for postage at 55 cents per envelope. If you’re providing addressed, stamped envelopes for response cards, you can double that postage amount,” said Logan Allec, CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right. “And if you send out save-the-dates, that’s at least another $1 in materials and postage per item sent. Even for the most economic of paper invites and save-the-dates, you’re looking at $3 per invited household. For a 150-person wedding, that’s $450. But here’s some good news: you can take care of the whole save-the-date, invitation and RSVP process for free online at sites like Evite.com.”

Choose a Venue That Allows You to Bring Your Own Food and Alcohol

“Venues that provide catering add a major up-charge to those services,” said Katie Elder, owner of the upscale wedding venue Overlook Barn. “By choosing a venue that allows outside catering, couples can save thousands. They also get more flexibility with the type of food they want and don’t have to go high-end.”

Elder said that bringing in your own alcohol can also help a couple to save big.

“Couples can literally go to their local big club store like Sam’s or Costco, and get bulk pricing on alcohol rather than the major up-charge that venues charge,” she said. “Just remember, it’s always best to hire professional bartenders for safety and sanity during the reception.”

Select a Venue That Doesn't Require Much Added Decor

“Choosing a venue that has a lot of natural beauty or decor that’s included can help save tons,” said Elder. “We hear from our couples all of the time that they didn’t need to do much with decor because our scenery and barn are so beautiful on their own. For instance, we have bistro lighting pre-strung throughout Overlook Barn which makes for really gorgeous photographs, and doesn’t cost our couples a thing.”

Although venues can still be pricey without needing extra decor, getting a small personal loan like a $500 one from a credit union like PenFed could help ease the financial strain, allowing you to pay it back over time instead of all at once.

Get Married During the Venue's Off-Season

“Research the venue’s ‘peaks and valleys’ in deciding when to host your reception,” said Jenkins. “You can negotiate a better price during a less popular season or time frame. June, July and August weddings will cost you more.”

Of course, the peak season will vary by the venue.

“For example, that winter wedding in Telluride will cost a fortune, and that summer wedding in the Hamptons can also break the bank,” said Jenkins. He estimates that you can save up to $2,500 on wedding costs by booking a venue during its less popular times.

Get Married Outside a Major City

“If you want a deep off-season discount, be willing to have your wedding an hour or two outside your major city,” said Allec. “For example, when my now-wife and I were looking for a venue for our off-season January wedding date, we found little luck getting any discounts in the city of Los Angeles itself. However, we found a beautiful, deeply-discounted venue in more suburban Ventura County — about an hour’s drive from Downtown L.A. — and ended up saving at least $5,000 on our venue.”

Consider Transportation Costs When Choosing Your Venue

Planning for transportation is something couples often leave off their initial wedding checklist — but it can be a major expense.

“Many couples underestimate the cost of transportation for their guests and factor it in at the last minute,” said Pires. “Transportation costs can average $2,000 to $4,000 depending on your timeline, guest count and location. By opting for a more accessible venue where Uber, on-site accommodations, public transportation or walking is an option, you can either save that money or re-invest it in upgrading your venue, florals or catering.”

Have Your Wedding on a Friday That Most People Already Have Off

Having your wedding on a Friday rather than a Saturday can help you save on venue costs, but it can be a major turn-off for your guests.

“Most people frown on Friday weddings, and for good reason — they’re inconvenient,” said Allec. “Not only do people have to incur the expense of traveling to your wedding and bringing you a gift, but they also have to take time off work. One solution is to book your wedding on a Friday that many people have off work anyway, such as the Friday after New Year’s or the day after Thanksgiving. Many people will get this day off or be taking this day off voluntarily, so your Friday wedding may not be viewed as an inconvenience at all.”

Buy a Pre-Owned Wedding Gown -- or Sell Yours After the Event

“A new trend in wedding gowns is buying and selling used gowns,” said Elder. “Brides can get designer gowns at major discounts by doing this — or they can also make money back on their new gown if they’re willing to sell it after.”

Be Realistic About How Long You Need Your Photographer For

The average cost of a wedding photographer is $2,679, according to The Knot survey, but you can cut down on this cost by being realistic about what parts of the day you really need a photographer on-site for.

“Think about your day-of timeline and consider how much photography coverage you’ll really need,” said Keith Phillips, director of business development at Classic Photographers. “For example, apart from the obvious coverage of the ceremony and reception, is it really important to you that your photographer is present for breakfast with your wedding party, or even the entire time that you’re getting ready? Is there any time that you can potentially shave off? Doing so can save you a considerable amount, potentially hundreds depending on your agreed-upon photography package. Discuss this thoroughly with your wedding photographer and be sure to outline what’s important to you on your big day — they’ll work with you and ensure that they’re present only for the timeline that you set.”

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 23 Ways to Afford Your Dream Wedding