55 Ways I Saved (or Considered Saving) Time and Money Planning my Wedding

By Sarah Winfrey on 22 January 2007 (Updated 10 June 2007) 16 comments

Before the wedding...

One gorgeous wedding, one “flashed by so fast I can barely remember it” reception, and one glorious, relaxing honeymoon later, I’m back. It was fabulous. Truly fabulous. Sure, it had its glitches and panicked moments, but the memories I have in my mind are of being surrounded by people I love on one of the most important days of my life, and those I’ll cherish forever.

On a more practical note, I started totaling the receipts from the whole affair yesterday, and was pleasantly surprised by what the numbers appear to be saying. I can’t tell for sure yet (since the bills haven’t gone through for everything yet), but I think we did pretty well. How? Keep reading. Where we used a strategy, I tried to note it. Others were suggestions we pursued, and that would have saved us money, but that we rejected for one reason or another.

(Pictures of our actual wedding are forthcoming. Our photographer moved to a different state right after the wedding and so hasn’t had time to upload them yet.)

 

Before you plan

1. Decide between time and money (wedding planner vs. doing it yourself)

Honestly, that’s the decision you face. You can save your time and hire someone to do most of the legwork for you, or you can do it yourself and avoid paying a planner’s fees. Your time, your money, your choice. I did it myself, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Then again, I also like to be in control. Go figure.

2. Decide what’s important

Where do you want to spend your money? On what? What have you dreamed about having in your wedding for so long that to forego it would make the very event something other than a wedding? For me, these were my dress, my pictures, and my flowers.

3. Decide what’s not important

There’s a lot of hype surrounding weddings. One trip to a wedding convention, or even a perusal through a wedding magazine will give you multiple introductions to the wedding industry, also known as “those people who try to make you want stuff for your wedding so bad you’ll pay outrageous prices for it.” Beat them at their game by deciding what you won’t spend money on. Mine? Cake, church decorations, and the reception.

4. Prioritize what’s important

Even among the important things (or if everything’s important), impose some sort of hierarchy. What is necessary? What would be wonderful but isn’t necessary? What can go, if push comes to shove? My list: dress, pictures, flowers, cake, reception, church decorations.

5. Purchase a “Bargain” book (but only one)

These really are helpful, particularly if you shop wisely and select one that has good information for your area and on the topics that are most important to you. I lost my planning book somewhere in the process (after its main period of usefulness and before I moved), so I can’t tell you what it was. Do only buy one, though…they tend to be repetitive, and could create a substantial hole in your budget. Better yet, borrow one from a friend (or get her to give it to you…like she needs it anymore).

6. Find a planner that will work for you

Depending on what you chose in #1, this either means a person or a book. Either way, choose someone/something you can work with, and whose interpersonal skills/interface works for you. I ended up making my own, out of a 3” notebook and some plastic dividers, because I couldn’t find one that didn’t A) Stress me out entirely, B) Confuse the crap out of me, or C) Make me want to puke with the number of pastel flowers on its cover. Sure, it’s an initial expense, but most of them let you see how much you’re spending in different areas and allow you to budget easier.

7. Decide on the “look” and “feel” of your wedding

This keeps you from buying things that later don’t fit right with what you want. Do you want something casual or formal? Classic or trendy? Carefree or chic? Mine was casual, laid-back, and carefree, while still being simple and elegant.

8. Determine how much you can spend

This can be a little awkward and unwieldy, what with your money, your fiance’s money, any money from parents or other relatives who want to contribute, and any investments you might be including, but it’s worthwhile to do, early on, so you don’t get your heart set on something you just can’t afford or find that you can’t have ANY flowers because you already chose such an elaborate cake.

9. Make a budget…but make your OWN budget

Many bridal services will tell you that you should spend a certain percentage of your available wedding funds on X, another percentage on Y, and yet another on Z. I tried this, but it didn’t work. I spent WAY more on my dress than I should have, given my budget, but WAY less than they recommended for my reception. But I spent based on my priorities, and I was happy with the results.

10. Find people to whom you can delegate

If you find them at the beginning, you won’t have to find them at the end. And they’re essential. Give them a little something special for helping out.

11. Laugh a little.

Seriously, relax. I realized part of the way though my planning process that A) I was going to have a wedding and B) I was just going to have a wedding. It wasn’t going to be the social event of the year, but it didn’t have to be. Consequently, I laughed a lot more and did things the way I wanted them done, not the way I hoped others would like. My way was cheaper and more relaxed.

Wedding dresses...all in a row

Clothes

12. Research, research, research!

I got my dress for several hundred dollars less than retail, because I spent several hours (spread out) researching it and the places I could buy it. It was perfect, and I didn’t have to spend a fortune.

13. Gagas.com

The unique idea of this site—to rent children’s formal and dress clothing at a reasonable price and for a reasonable amount of time—fits right in with weddings. There’s not much of a point in spending $80 on a child’s tux you can keep for 3 days, when you can spend $20 or $30 and have it for 3 weeks. My ring bearer wore one of their tuxes, and was cute as anything.

14. Make your own

If you are a seamstress, or know someone who is, make your own clothes, particularly for the flower girls. There are a million cheap and easy patterns out there, and cute material goes on sale quite often. My mom made my flower girl dresses, and they were darling.

15. Shop fabric/craft store sales

At the end of a season, these stores sell all the fabric that’s obviously from the previous season at truly amazing prices. My flower girl dresses are a linen-look fabric from this summer that I purchased at half-price in September. Because I live in LA, it was still appropriate for the wedding.

16. HouseOfBrides.com

I purchased my wedding dress from them and I couldn’t rave more about the service they offer. It’s a “no frills” sort of thing, and you have to give them enough time and trust that it will come. I found bad reviews on the ‘net about them, but my experience was fabulous. If they carry your dress and you’re ordering far enough in advance, they can save you a bundle.

17. Don’t buy boutique…but do try it on there.

Boutique markups are ridiculous (or funny, if you’re me and you already know you can find it cheaper somewhere else) and, honestly, they have to be for the places to make a profit. It’s good business. It’s also good business for you find one that carries your dress, try it on there, and get the size and any other information. It was a relief for me to know that the dress would fit when it came.

18. Look into dresses made out of different materials.

Heavy satin is the most popular and, therefore, one of the most expensive materials right now. I ended up with a dress made out of taffeta, which was lighter (perfect for my more casual wedding) and cheaper, and made me feel like I belonged in a ballroom.

19. Find a seamstress who sews as a home-based business.

People who do this are often cheaper, and can work around any scheduling difficulties you may have. I asked for recommendations at work, and found a woman who did all my alterations for $100! (That’s unheard of, in the wedding world.

20. Don’t go to David’s!

Seriously, it’s tempting, but you can resist. Really. I have faith in you. And you can most likely find what you’re looking for somewhere else. If you truly can’t, buy your dress at David’s, but watch out for any other “special pricing” they may offer you on other items. The fact that your bridesmaids get 10% their dresses because you bought yours there sounds good, but they’ll still most likely be paying too much for their dresses. And David’s alterations? Don’t even get me started!

21. Make your own veil

It’s easy. I promise. If you’re worried, find a friend who can sew and get her to help. But really? It’s cake. My best friend and I even did some hand-beading on mine, and that was easy, too.

22. Rent tuxes as a group…you’ll get one free.

If you don’t, go to another tux shop. Men’s Wearhouse is, by the way, a great, easy place to rent quality tuxes.

 

Cake

23. Sam’s club, anyone?

Sam’s will do all sorts of decorating for you, and their cake doesn’t taste bad (that, from the girl who doesn’t like cake). They won’t stack or do anything fancy, but what with the current penchant for individual cakes on individual stands, their 10” rounds are perfect. I had 3 (with a dessert table…see below) and they were great.

24. Decorate the cake with flowers

Why pay extra cash for frosting flowers on the cake when you could have real ones, often at a fraction of the price? If your florist wants to charge an arm and a leg for cake flowers, get them to drop off some extra petals and have an artistic friend arrange these on the cake. It’s classy and tasteful, and you guests won’t have to deal with mouthfuls of that awful frosting (unless, of course, you like frosting…).

25. Have a dessert table vs. cake alone

Originally, I wanted brownies alone. I ended up with brownies, mints, and cake, and it was perfect. And cheaper, because we bought the brownie mix at Costco and my mom made them. It wasn’t too much work for her, and the overall effect at the wedding was more fun than that of cake alone.

26. Make your own cake stand

I used two hurricanes (of different sizes) and a small candle holder (upside down). Classy, cheap, and fun. Just like me.

27. Make all your cakes the same flavor

The more cake flavors you have, the more you’ll pay. Instead, pick your favorite and serve that. Bonus? No siblings arguing over who gets the chocolate!

28. Pass on the fondant

It’s expensive AND it tastes nasty. It looks nice, but not as nice as you would expect it to, for the cost. Other frostings look almost as nice, taste hundreds of times better, and cost much, much less.

29. Cut the round cake, but serve the sheet cake

We didn’t do this, because of the brownies, but it’s a tried-and-true way to save money. Put a smallish, decorated, round cake on the stand to cut. After you smear each other with frosting, have someone disappear with the cake, to “cut” it. A few minutes later, have them reappear with pieces of cake, and no one will ever know you swapped it out. Seriously.

 

decorate!Decorations

30. Accessorize your flowers with bouquets from Sam’s, Costco, or Trader Joes

These stores sell bouquets with great colors, year round. Purchasing flowers for pew decorations, centerpieces, and buffet tables can save you a bundle.

31. See if your church or reception hall has any decorations they’ll let you use.

Often, people leave their decorations behind and a church or hall will save them. You may not love them (ask me about the hideous lace bows…I dare you), but they just might do, either if you get in a pinch, you just don’t care anymore, or you don’t want to spend anything else.

32. Ask your friends (Tulle, anyone?)

As my friends have gotten married, they’ve passed around these two plastic garbage bags of tulle. We’ve all used it at our weddings, and it still looks great. BTW, wrinkles easily steam out of tulle.

33. Shop online

I “designed” my centerpieces in a Michael’s, but I bought them online. Twenty each of table mirrors, hurricanes, blue glass pebbles, white candles, and 5 lbs. of dried lavender, all for less than $30. You just can’t beat that.

34. Buy in bulk

Often, if you buy at least some minimum number, you get a discount. Hence, the above savings.

35. Give your centerpieces away

An easy way to save on prizes for reception games or gifts for your volunteers. Now, I wish I’d thought of it before the wedding.

36. Find out if your church or reception hall has a relationship with a local florist

Often, players in the wedding industry hook up to create package deals, or one will give you a discount if they know you’re using the other. It didn’t work out for me, but it’s worth the time it takes to ask the question.

37. Be willing to substitute expensive flowers for cheaper ones with the same look

My wedding was in California, within a week of the Rose Parade. Many of the flowers I’d planned on having were sold out, because someone used them in a float. I was a little nervous about letting my florist make substitutions, but she did really well and the overall effect was still what I wanted. Also, it ended up being cheaper because she used some more obscure blooms.

38. Let your florist make the decisions—she is the professional, after all

I told my florist the overall look I wanted, my colors, and the fact that I was trying to save money, and then I let her make the decisions. The flowers couldn’t have been better if they’d been all exotic blooms!

39. Simple elegance beats (and is less expensive than) lots of frills, any day

Enter Sarah’s Soapbox: Some florists want to add frills (extra bows, pearls, pieces of lace) at a substantial extra cost. Don’t let them. Flowers should look like flowers, not frosted replicas of themselves. Besides, flowers are cheaper than bows, pearls, and lace.

40. Dried flowers are perfect!

My favorite scent is lavender, so I used dried lavender as one of the unifying themes of the wedding. The flower girls threw it, the church and hall were decorated with it, and the guests threw it at us as we left. It was cheaper than using real flowers in all of those areas, and united the different parts of our wedding festivities in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible.

41. Find people who grow the flowers you want in their yards, and ask several of them if you can cut 2 or 3.

True story: my friend got married in Seattle, where purple hydrangeas grow well. Her florist wanted to charge a ton for them, so she and her sister went door to door where they saw them growing, asking if they could come back and cut two or three blossoms the day before the wedding. So many people agreed to it that she had more flowers than she needed, all for the expense of a little legwork!

42. Go for a “different” look (aka, Don’t use roses).

Because roses are commonly associated with weddings, they tend to run much more expensive than anything else (that’s not exotic or imported). For my boutonnieres, I used baby gerbera daisies, because I like them. What I didn’t know when I chose them was that they’re also dirt cheap.

 

Invitations

43. Costco.com

Dave and I more than paid for our entire year's worth of membership in the deal we got on our invitations. And we got it all, down to the envelope liners and the little pieces of tissue paper between the invitation and all of the goodies that come with it. I got so many compliments on them, and people were shocked to find out I'd purchased them at Costco!

44. Skip the engraving

Unless your wedding is as formal as it possibly can be, engraving is an expense you can spare. There are several other (cheaper) kinds of lettering that look and feel like engraving, and create just as exquisite an effect.

45. Print reception cards yourself

Because they involve a whole 'nother folded piece of paper, reception cards often add a lot to the price of the invitation. I printed ours on vellum i purcased at a local paper store, and they fit right in with the rest of the invitation without pushing the cost up too much.

 

HoneymoonHoneymoon

46. Ask your friends…and their friends

Dave and I went to Sayulita, Mexico, which is a small town about 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta. We stayed in a small condo with a full kitchen. We never would have heard about the place if it weren’t for a friend of my mom’s, who vacationed there last year. She knew that the condos were nice, but cheap, and where to get the best food for the least dinero. So ask around…what you really want just might be available.

47. Decide what kind of honeymoon you want

Dave and I knew we wanted something where we could choose to be alone or among people, and where activities were available but not necessary. We almost spent a bunch of money on a package deal, until we realized that the small-town atmosphere Sayulita offered was more “us.” No matter what you want, you’ll be able to find the best deals if you know what you’re looking for.

48. Look into all-inclusive packages, especially in the off-season

This is what we almost did, and we almost got a killer deal and a 5-night stay on the Mayan Riviera.

49. Look for privately-owned condo-style housing

Often, you can rent condos by the day or by the week, with the week’s price being cheaper than 7 days would be. Way to save yourself some serious money!

50. Plan the honeymoon way ahead

Like with any travel, good deals are often available ahead of time. If you find one you like, snatch it up before it runs and gets away. We didn’t have this option, as we were engaged for less than 6 months.

51. Plan the honeymoon last-minute

A little contrary to the above, but also true. When things don’t sell, they tend to go on sale. If you’re adventurous and not picky about where you go or what you get, you very well might stumble upon something fabulous!

52. Find a place where you can cook your own meals

Food is expensive. In some areas of the world, it’s less so, but it still costs money. If you can cook for yourselves (and don’t mind doing it), you may pay a little extra for the kitchen, but you’ll save overall. We did this, and found that it came in very handy when I had food poisoning too badly to eat anything even vaguely Mexican.

53. Get off the beaten track

Why? Because you get to see more local color. And? It’s cheaper. At Sayulita, we got all the beach, watersports, and surfer vibe we could handle, without Puerto Vallarta’s prices. Yahoo!

54. Kayak.com

If you haven’t used Kayak, you should. For any plane tickets. I did some site comparisons when we were purchasing our tickets, and found that they matched or beat any deal I found anywhere else, including with the airline itself. Puerto Vallarta, anyone?

55. Bookit.com

If we had purchased the fabulous “honeymoon in a package,” we would have purchased it here. Again, I did the price comparisons, and they’re the best. And no, I don’t have any idea why they aren’t more popular.

 

Yepa! That’s a lot. Let me know if any of this helps you, or if I bored you out of your wits. Either way, I’m back, and there’s more where this came from.

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Will Chen's picture

Thank you Sarah for such a detailed analysis. Sayulita sounds amazing. I hope we get to see some pictures. =)

Andrea Karim's picture

Super list there, Mrs. Frugal. My sister did some similar things with her wedding - we made the invites and the programs, which rocked, she had her dress made by our favorite aunt, and we got the huge chocolate cakes from Costco for, like, $13 each.

She hired a wonderful woman from our hometown farmer's market to do the bouquets, so for a couple hundred bucks, we were decked out in all kinds of fragrant lillies. Each centerpiece was a bouquet in a stainless steel bowl (bought at Target for, like, $5 each), and it looked awesome. Not reusable, mind you, but gorgeous, and good gifts for the staff that helped serve the wine at the venue they had hired.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Andrea, could you get your Costco to do round cakes, or did your sister have sheets? I ask because I like Costco so much more than I like Sam's, but they wouldn't make my round cakes ;(

Andrea Karim's picture

These were just the premade chocolate cakes that you can buy out of the bakery section; I think they are called "triple chocolate" or something like that - very dense chocolately cakes. We got there as soon as the store opened the day of the wedding and bought two big ones. The flower lady decorated them with pansies and viola! And there were still leftovers; they are that big.

Guest's picture

Great list there Andrea! I think the main thing we can learn from all of that is plan, plan, plan ahead :)

Many couple (especially younger couples) end up leaving all manner of things till the last moment, which inevitably drives up the cost for many services. Human nature I suppose.

Guest's picture
Jen

I don't suppose you have a picture of the centerpieces? I love blue and lavender, but have no artistic skill. ;o)

Guest's picture

Sarah! Thank you so much for writing this. I feel that people spend way tooo much money on their weddings. If you aren't financially creative enough to have a great wedding on a budget, then wait until you try to have a great family on a budget.

Guest's picture

Your tips are so practical, especially with the way the economy is today. Good job!

Guest's picture
Roshni

Hey very good info out here. Also see my favorite Indian fashion website www.kaneesha.com. They keep amazing uncommon dresses from India. Check it out at http://www.kaneesha.com/churidar_index.cfm

Guest's picture
kayduh

Would you be willing to share what website you used to buy the stuff you used for your centerpieces?

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Kayduh, I wish I could. Unfortunately, I mislaid it somewhere in the past 4 years. If you search for what you're looking for, though, I'm pretty sure it won't be hard to find the pieces to assemble yours.

Guest's picture
Meg

I saved a bundle getting flowers wholesale. If you're in St. Louis, there's a place called Floral row. I got all a sweet deal on roses. You have to have an account and it takes some elbow grease- they don't put everything together. You can rent workspace for the day before the wedding and they provide the tools and advice when needed. You and some willing helpers (in my case, my three sisters and my mom were gracious enough to help) put together the centerpieces. I had them do my bouquet and we put together everything else. We even got some extra flowers for the cake. It looked amazing.

Guest's picture

I was looking for tips on decorations and found your post. I love the tip about asking people who grow flowers in their yard to cut a few. Such practical advise. Thanks!

Guest's picture
Alaina

I'm planning my wedding for next June, and I'm wondering what the exact website is that you used for the ring bearer's tux. I went to Gagas.com but couldn't easily find what you were talking about. I'd really appreciate it! Thanks.

Guest's picture
Guest

This is what I'm doing and it's working pretty well so far. tradingforwedding.blogspot.com

Guest's picture

What a helpful post for engaged couples! The most memorable parts of a wedding are the personal touches - and they can definitely be done on a budget. I look forward to seeing the pics in a future post.