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Money expert Clark Howard says although many couples splurge on their wedding day, such a happy occasion shouldn’t put you in debt for years to come.
“The idea that weddings have to be frightfully expensive to be any good is an odd and amazing thing,” Clark says. “I think about my in-laws who married some 50 years ago and it cost them $25. Inflation-adjusted, that would be like a $100 wedding today.”
How Much Does the Average Wedding Cost?
Weddings in the United States continue to get more expensive! The average wedding costs $30,000, according to the latest wedding study from The Knot.com. Just four years ago, that figure was $19,000!
Here’s a list of common wedding expenses taken from The Knot study:
Follow Clark’s Advice To Get Married Cheap and Happy
In this article, we’ll consider the high cost of planning a wedding and how you can save on your big day. Clark was able to help his daughter do just that for her wedding in May 2018. She and her fiancé used a lot of different money-saving strategies to hold down the cost while still putting on a lovely event.
The great news is that you can use those same strategies to plan your own fabulous wedding without going deep into debt.
Clark’s #1 Wedding Advice: Create a Budget
Before you begin spending any money, Clark wants you to create a budget. As part of the process, write down all the elements of a wedding you want — flowers, DJ, wedding favors, etc. — and then start prioritizing them. That way you get a feel for what’s indispensable and what you can maybe do without.
How much you spend on a wedding is entirely up to you, but your decision should be governed by how much you can comfortably afford. Ultimately, it’s your budget that will determine whether your wedding is a courthouse ceremony or more like a coronation. It’s whatever makes sense in your life — or in your parents’ lives.
6 Cheap Wedding Ideas: How To Save on Your Big Day
Without further ado, here are some ways you can keep your wedding day both cheap and classy…
1. Be Flexible on the Venue and Wedding Date
You can save the cost of a catering hall by holding the reception at your home or someone else’s home. Sometimes people who met at college will hold the reception on campus. Or, check to see if you can rent a museum or other public facility for your wedding.
Clark’s daughter and her fiancé looked at a lot of venues and found an event space in a public park. They got married outside and, luckily, had great weather.
You can save a lot if you hold the reception at a place that will let you bring in your own caterer and alcohol. In that case, consider buying the alcohol yourself at a discount store and bringing it to the reception.
Many event spaces have different charges on different days of the week. Saturday and Sunday are typically high-priced days to get married. If you want to go really budget, consider a Tuesday or Thursday. If that’s too extreme, then maybe Friday is the right compromise between scheduling and pricing.
“I have a nephew who got married on Monday because their venue in California was cheaper on that day,” Clark says. “When have you ever heard of somebody getting married on a Monday?!?”
Another way to flex to save money is to plan your wedding for a time of year that’s not traditionally associated with weddings. That could mean considering a January wedding instead of a June one
Never Say the Word ‘Wedding‘
When you call around to vendors, don’t tell anybody you’re getting quotes for a wedding. Call it a ”˜party’ because you’ll likely get a lower quote.
2. Choose Your Guest List and Entertainment Carefully
You may have to make tough choices with your guest list based on your budget.
Since most catering facilities will charge you by the person, deciding how many people to invite will have a greater impact on the cost of the wedding than almost anything else.
Choose DJ vs. Live Band
A DJ will be much cheaper than a live band. Ask about cash discounts or pay-in-advance discounts. It never hurts to negotiate, either. Just be sure to get the final agreement in writing.
If you want at least some live music on your big day, consider hiring a piano major from a nearby college or music school to play at the cocktail reception. Maybe you’ll luck out and even find a student jazz ensemble that will perform for much less than a professional band!
3. Put Your Creativity To Work
If you’ve got a talent or skill that can save you money, using it on your wedding can save you big money.
Make Your Own Invitations
Look for fonts that appeal to you online and use them to create your own invitations with a laser printer. Pinterest is perfect for this purpose.
Or, as an alternative, use online discount sites that can also make your Save the Date cards and invitations. This works especially well if you have a discount code that can bring the price down further.
Create Your Own Décor
A member of Team Clark got married back in 2011. He and his bride staged a very inexpensive wedding, working within the $12,000 budget from her parents.
They had fun creating the décor for the wedding. She crafted flowers out of paper instead of dedicating money to a huge flower budget.
(If you do opt for real flowers, ask the florist if you can buy the vessels in which to display them yourself. That could be a savings of $20 or $30 per vase or bowl right there if you find ones you like at a discount store.)
They liked the creativity behind the whole process and the saving money part just kind of fell in line with that. For their rehearsal dinner, they opted for catered BBQ and kept prices down that way.
4. Save on Food and Alcohol
Trim the fat on your food budget by opting for disposable dinner plates and smaller portions for the wedding guests. While you might not want to go the full finger-food route, using smaller plates could save you some cash.
Opt for Beer and Wine — But Not Liquor
It’s much cheaper to serve just beer, wine and maybe one signature cocktail at your reception than to have an open bar serving liquor.
Sheet Cake From a Supermarket Is a Money-Saver
A sheet cake rather than a multi-tiered cake will net you big savings. Top off those savings by buying the sheet cake at Costco, Target or another grocery store bakery.
Clark’s daughter had a regular white icing cake from the Publix supermarket bakery. She bought four different sizes of round cakes and stacked them to dramatic effect to make one giant cake. The price tag? Under $40!
5. Say Yes to the Dress (Off the Rack)
Buying a wedding dress off the rack is a great way to save money on this centerpiece of any bride’s wedding. H&M has wedding dresses for just a couple hundred bucks or less online. J. Crew and Ann Taylor sell wedding dresses, too.
Sample dresses at bridal stores are often discounted. You also shouldn’t rule out buying a dress secondhand or using a hand-me-down, particularly if you’re into either vintage styles or family heirlooms.
Renting a dress is another great option because then you don’t have to worry about storing or preserving the dress after your wedding. The reality is most people can’t tell if your dress is designer or from a chain. So, if you aren’t attached to a specific dress or designer, try a rental site like BorrowingMagnolia.com.
If designer is the way you want to go and you want to own, you can buy a name dress at a deep discount from NearlyNewlywed.com.
6. Work With a Canceled-Wedding Broker
It’s always a great idea to see what services you can pick up on the cheap. For instance, when engaged people break up and don’t make it to the altar, what happens to those non-refundable services they booked?
If they’re smart, they’ll sometimes sell the services they’ve paid for to a canceled-wedding broker. That helps recoup at least some of the cost.
But here’s the neat thing: Their loss can be your gain!
A site like CanceledWeddings.com buys broken contracts and offers them at a discount. This recent snapshot of their Twitter feed shows venues you could pick up on the cheap in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and California for summer and fall 2018 weddings:
Don’t Financially Strap Your Bridesmaids
For the bridesmaids, try telling them a color (like navy or black) and encouraging them to wear an existing dress, rather than having them buy a one-time use-only dress.
Does a glitzy wedding make the marriage? Not by a long shot. The lavishness of the ceremony means nothing. It’s about who you’re marrying.
“Remember that your vows and having a great life with your spouse are the most important things,” Clark says. “A wedding can be very tasteful and it does not have to blow the budget.”
Whatever financial decisions you make for your big day, “just don’t do what I did to save money on the vehicle we drove off in [after getting married],” Clark warns of his marriage to wife Lane.
“My mother-in-law will probably never forgive me for renting a subcompact purple Mitsubishi that was $16 a day. I also remember the wedding photographer was so angry at me for ruining his exit shot. He wanted me to leave in his car, which was a Cadillac convertible. I said, ‘Nobody’s going to believe that it was really me leaving in a Cadillac convertible!’
Ultimately, instead of focusing on how fancy your wedding day is, how you live your life during your marriage, including planning for your retirement, will determine your happiness.