On your way to saying "I do," you face a lot of planning and budgeting. Keeping the costs down might seem like the most daunting part of getting married (besides the guest list, of course) because your big day can come with a very hefty price tag.
The average cost of a wedding — including the ring and honeymoon — is $38,700, including $29,200 for the ceremony and reception, according to WeddingWire.
But you can get hitched without going broke.
Take a look at these frugal wedding ideas from brides who have planned, or are currently planning, their weddings. You won't have to sacrifice quality to save money.
1. Ask family or friends to help with design
If you have family or friends with a creative flair, ask them to help design your invitations, signs or seating cards. Some people have naturally nice handwriting or can do calligraphy. They'll be flattered you asked for their help and will want to take as much stress off you as they can.
Alternatively, if you don’t have any creative people in your circle (or you don’t want to ask anyone), use popular sites like Zazzle and VistaPrint to order invitations in bulk, and often on sale.
“Ordering from Zazzle? Purchase half your order, wait for the coupon they send you, and then order the rest at a discount,” Reddit user PizzaRhea91 suggests.
2. Choose a buffet-style dinner
A traditional sit-down, three-course meal can cost upwards of $40 per person. If you have 100 guests, that’s $4,000 right there.
One way to cut costs is to go the buffet-style route. A buffet costs an average of $27 per person, says the WeddingWire survey.
Buffets are great for picky eaters, and the selection is usually much better than a pre-plated meal. Your guests get more options, and you save money and time.
"We were also told buffet saves on time, too, rather than plated having to wait for everyone to be served what they chose," WeddingWire forum poster Meg said.
3. Get married 'offseason'
The most popular time to get married is early summer (June) and early fall (September and October). These are the months when venues and vendors book up the fastest, sometimes a year or more in advance. The popularity of these months also means venues and vendors charge full price.
WeddingWire commenter Rachael says, “Many venues have packages for winter months specifically, so how much you save is dependent on the venue.”
To save money, have your wedding during the 'offseason' when it’s less busy. Lots of couples opt for winter weddings (December or January) or even spring weddings, right when the weather starts to change.
4. Go unconventional with your venue
Since the summer can be a busy time for traditional wedding venues, there are some beautiful and unconventional outdoor options like zoos, libraries, universities and botanical gardens you might turn to.
Reddit user ohhhjessidid says, “I just recently photographed a wedding at a zoo and it was beautiful — minimalistic, earthy, and fun.”
Another great option is a restaurant. This will save you money because most restaurants are already decorated, and you don’t need to rent tables, chairs, linen, utensils and so on. You can save so much on catering costs as well by having the restaurant prepare all food and drink.
5. Get a credit card to earn rewards
Since you’ll be spending money anyway, try to get a credit card with rewards to pay for decor and anything wedding related. Some cards give you perks like air miles, cash back or other incentives that can help with planning or the honeymoon.
Find a card that has rewards that you and your new spouse can use while getting benefits from spending money.
WeddingWire commenter BoudreauToBe says, "I love my Chase Freedom card. You can redeem the points for airline gift cards if you want to travel, or for craft stores, department stores, etc. if you need supplies and clothes for the wedding."
6. Opt for a dress that isn’t labeled 'wedding'
Most wedding dresses cost so much because of the attached label and designer. While wedding dresses are gorgeous, the average bride will spend $1,000 — and easily more.
Check out a store with a wedding shop section that sells other types of floor-length dresses, including prom and pageant gowns. Sometimes it’s hard to tell those dresses aren't for weddings.
WeddingWire commenter Dayna says, “Target has a Wedding Shop on [its] website. I don't believe I saw a dress there over $350, and they were all very nice (they are from outside vendors). Free shipping and you can return it to the store if it doesn't work out.”
7. Use fake flowers
Not only do fresh flowers have an expiry date on them, but some are also really costly, depending on whether they’re in season or not. Use imitation flowers for your bouquets, boutonnières and decor.
“I also appreciate that fake ones will last and not start withering/wilting halfway through the day,” says Reddit user iner-tia.
Fake flowers are great because they won't wither on you, so if you plan to DIY you can get a nice head start. If you’re having trouble deciding what kind of flowers you want, you have time to mix and match different styles from craft stores.
8. Have a morning or day wedding
It should be no surprise that a wedding at night that serves dinner with drinks is going to be expensive. After all, dinner is the most expensive meal of the day.
One way to cut costs is to do a morning or day wedding — and serve brunch.
One WeddingWire commenter, Kenisha, says, “We’re having a brunch wedding complete with a waffle bar & a mimosa bar!”
Having brunch or afternoon tea will be much cheaper than dinner and drinks, but your guests still get a tasty meal. You’ll also cut back on the costly bar tab from partying all night. Just serve day drinks, like mimosas, in a limited quantity.
9. Shop for dresses and decor during big sales
Throughout the year stores have major sales at peak times, including Black Friday and Labor Day. You also find huge sales at the end of every season, as stores try to clear out merchandise.
Finding discount decor is an easy and simple trick to save money.
“Definitely look at Michael's and A.C. Moore (don't buy anything without a coupon), Dollar Tree, Walmart, Shutterfly when they have free things going on for prints of any pictures of you two, Amazon, etc.,” suggests Reddit user akita2626.
For dresses, try going to sample sales or bridal sales. A word of caution, though: Those events can be packed, and sometimes it’s a free-for-all. Be prepared to wait in long lines, and you may not even find anything in your size.
10. Look for alternative wedding bands
Walking into a jewelry store can end up costing you thousands on an engagement ring or wedding band. One shift that’s becoming more popular is going with antique rings.
Reddit user omnomnomscience says, “Try looking at estate sales or if your local jewelers sell antique/estate rings. You can find some really beautiful rings for way less money than you would pay for the same ring brand new.”
Another popular shift is personalizing wedding bands to fit the couple’s personality. Some even get rings that symbolize their favorite hobby or movie.
Etsy is a great place to start looking if you want to support independent vendors and small businesses — while getting a personal touch on your ring. You can find a wide variety of styles, colors and prices without sacrificing the quality. Plus, lots of jewelry websites use Etsy to sell products, so you don’t have to worry about being ripped off.
11. Ditch the unnecessary details
With all the other things you’ll inevitably spend money on, one way to cut costs is to eliminate any unnecessary details, things like a wedding program or menu. Instead of a programs and menus for each guest, have a single one at each table, or a big sign in the reception area.
“I didn’t do any programs. Just had an old chalkboard painted with the names of the folks in the wedding,” says Reddit user Alpe0
You’ll save so much money and effort in the end. No one takes the programs or menus home anyways, so they end up in the trash at the end of the night.
12. Use digital save-the-dates
If you really want to splurge on invitations and other stationary, one way to save is to have digital save-the-dates. If you know some guests who aren’t computer savvy, either give them a quick phone call or mail them a note with the date on it.
Carmen, a commenter from WeddingWire, says, “I used Canva to design [my save-the-dates]. The account is free and they have tons of free templates along with designs that range from 1.00 to up to 5 dollars.”
Since you’ll be sending formal invitations to all your guests later, this is a nice alternative to cut back on stationary and postage costs.
13. Think outside the guest book
Guest books seem a bit outdated these days. Not many couples — young or old — put their guest book out for viewing after the wedding. The books seem like a nice idea, but then they’re packed away — never to be looked at again.
WeddingWire commenter BohoRN2017 says, “We skipped. Honestly a book would just collect dust. Seriously I have no need to look at a book of signatures.”
A blank puzzle could make a nice alternative guestbook. Have each guest sign a puzzle piece, then put it together and frame it in your home.
Another fun replacement? Have your guests contribute "date night idea" jar or "marriage advice" jar. All you need are popsicle sticks, a mason jar and pens, and the ideas will be sticking with you long after the wedding.
14. Airbnb your honeymoon
Airbnbs are becoming more and more popular. They’re private and like a little home-away-from-home. If you can find an affordable one you like, booking it for a honeymoon might save you some money.
Reddit user TravelingBride says, “I used one on vacation in Venice! Awesome little place, a fraction of what hotels cost, and the host left my friend and I a bottle of bubbly and some snacks!”
Some Airbnbs also offer special perks, like a private chef or culture-specific entertainment that will be all yours to enjoy. Plus, the privacy of staying in a house or villa will make for an unforgettable honeymoon.
15. Limit photographers' hours
Photographers charge by package, but some also offer an hourly rate. If you want to cut costs, opt for the minimum hours required and have them photograph the pre-ceremony, ceremony and only part of the reception. If you do this, make sure to get all the moments you want within the time block, by cutting the cake and having the first dance at the beginning of the reception, two things that are usually saved for after dinner.
“I just booked our photographer. I prioritized the pre-ceremony and ceremony over reception and decided to only have my photographer for two hours,” Reddit user mooeta says.
Another way to save money is to ask for digital prints only. Some packaged deals come with hard copies or photo albums, which you can put together yourself for less.
16. Opt for a relaxed rehearsal dinner
A rehearsal dinner is sometimes a separate affair all its own that can cost you an extra few hundred dollars. Some people go all out and have dress codes and special menus — it’s almost like a mini-wedding the night before.
Instead, you can do something low-key, like a backyard BBQ if the weather permits or just go to a local restaurant. This not only takes the pressure off planning another event, but saves your wallet too.
WeddingWire commenter, Ashlee, says “Casual is fine! We are having a catered dinner at our house. Nothing fancy since our wedding reception is going to be formal.”
17. Ask about hidden fees
One thing that venues and vendors might not tell you upfront about are hidden fees.
Some venues will add a damage deposit on top of the rental fee or a photographer might have an insurance fee.
It’s good to ask about any hidden fees first, so you aren’t caught off guard at the end of the night. This will help adjust your budget.
“I strongly recommend requesting a final breakdown of ALL associated costs to see the actual price. Having an additional Excel spreadsheet is also a great idea to track fees. Be sure to also maintain open communication with management,” says WeddingWire commenter Neffe.