How to Shave $5,000 Off Your Wedding Expenses

by Mikey Rox on 27 July 2012 7 comments
Photo: j_bouzas

So many of my friends come to me for tips on how to save money on life’s great expenses.

I fancy myself an expert on how to shop for food in a more cost-effective manner, where to find the best discounts on home décor, and how to have an awesome vacation on a budget, but when it comes to cutting costs on a wedding I’m as clueless as the next guy. (See also: Alternative Wedding Ideas for Big Savings)

When I have to answer a wedding-budget question from my friends, I turn to Josie Daga, founder of PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com. If I can't answer my friends' questions about how to save on their wedding, I know she can. Not only did Josie fix her problem of not being able to unload her wedding dress after her wedding by creating a business designed to help other women do it, but she's an all-around wedding genius. And she should be, too. She's attended more than 100 weddings, and she's been a bridesmaid in at least 14 ceremonies. That's a crazy amount of weddings, but they've given Josie inside knowledge on the best money-saving tips and tricks for the big day.

According to The Wedding Report, the average cost of a wedding in the United States is about $26,000. With Josie’s suggestions, however, you can slash that price tag by more than $5,000 in areas where you don’t have to sacrifice quality, and your guests will never know you skimped. Take a look.

Invitations

My husband and I didn’t have a proper wedding, but we did throw a celebratory party for our family and friends about six months after we said our I-dos. The actual party was more important to us than the invitations that our guests would eventually throw away, so we opted for e-invites. We saved many hundreds of dollars by going that route — money that we threw back into the food and bev budget — but I totally understand that many of you (brides, at least) aren’t willing to forgo formal invitations…and you don’t have to.

Josie’s advice: “Invitations are the first impression you give your guests of your wedding. They should signal the style of your event and reflect your personality, but don’t need to cost a fortune. Letterpress will cost you $750 on just 100 invites and response cards, but you can get an equally beautiful invitation with thermography for $400. That’s a savings of $350, and most guests won’t know the difference.”

The Dress

My husband and I saved big here when we eloped because, well, we’re two dudes. Not everyone is so lucky, of course.

Josie’s advice: “The average cost of a dress and accessories is $1,500. You can cut the cost of your dress by 50% ($750) by purchasing a preowned gown. Most preowned gowns have been worn only once, with great care, and many have never been worn at all. Or, if your heart is set on a new gown, sell it after your big day and recoup 50% of what you spent.”

Of course, if you don't like the idea of wearing a preowned dress, there are other ways to cut costs on the gown, which include renting a dress (yep, you can do that) and shopping last-season sales. The latter can save you 30% percent or more off your dream dress.

Venue

My husband and I saved lots of money on the place where we got married because it was at a courthouse in Connecticut, but we did rent a venue for the party. A nice reception venue will never be cheap, but you can save a pretty penny if you put in the time and effort to search various establishments and compare prices and amenities.

Josie’s advice: “Having your ceremony and reception at the same place can save you $1,000 by reducing costs on everything from venue fees to chair rental to delivery fees. And you’ll reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding, which benefits everyone."

Flowers

This is another area where it paid to be two guys getting married because neither one of us are particularly interested in flowers. In fact, we didn’t have any flowers at all because we had a winter party, and I decided to have centerpieces that included white-painted branches instead of flowers. Still, flowers are crucial for some, but they don’t have to cost a bundle.

Josie’s advice: “Wired bouquets can cost 40% more than equally beautiful hand-tied ones because of the time it takes a florist to create them. Spend $100 instead of $140 on a bridal bouquet and $50 instead of $70 on flowers for your four bridesmaids for a savings of $120. You can also use fewer flower arrangements at your reception by creating larger tables. Instead of tables of eight, host tables of twelve; for 140 guests, you’ll need 12 centerpieces instead of 18. At $75 a centerpiece, you’ve just saved $300 on flowers.”

The Bar

An open bar was a nonnegotiable expense at our party — it was a must-have (and I won’t attend any wedding without one) — but we were able to score a win by getting the venue to add an extra hour of liquor service for no additional cost. If you can’t or don’t want to have an open bar, consider select cocktails instead.

Josie’s advice: “An open bar is a big expense that can easily reach $2,800 for a party of 140. Instead of stocking a full bar, offer your guests beer and wine along with one or two signature cocktails. Make the signature cocktail fun by creating it in your wedding colors, or offer a 'Bride’s Recommendation' and a 'Groom’s Recommendation.' In addition to injecting your personality into your event, you’ll save at least $800 on the bar tab for those 140 guests.”

Music

Not only is a DJ far less expensive than a band, but a DJ also provides a mix of tunes that everyone is sure to enjoy. Also, you get into very dangerous territory with a band because some guests might not like their style, which can bring the party down if the guests start dozing off after dinner.

Josie’s advice: “The music at your wedding is a big part of setting the tone — and creating the fun of your party. Both a band and a DJ will do a great job, but at very different rates. You’ll spend at least $3,000 to hire a good wedding band, but only $1,100 for a DJ. So pocket the savings and let your guest hear 'Party Rock Anthem' just the way LMFAO sings it.”

The savings so far:

  • Invitations: $350
  • Dress/ accessories: $750
  • Venue: $1,000
  • Flowers: $120
  • Centerpieces: $300
  • Bar: $800
  • Music: $1,900

Total Savings: $5,220

More Smart Ways to Save on Wedding Expenses From Josie

  • Use your bouquets on your cake table. They’ll look gorgeous and you won’t need to spend money on any other decorations.
     
  • Opt for passed hors d’oeuvres instead of stations. Guests tend to eat less of the passed version — which can add up to savings.
     
  • Skip the champagne toasts. No one will even notice.
     
  • Use table runners instead of expensive tablecloths. The look is just as elegant.
     
  • Order a smaller cake. Order a “show cake” big enough to feed 75% of your guests, and serve the rest from a less expensive “kitchen cake." No one will even know and your cake cutting photos will look just as silly.

Where did you cut corners on your wedding costs? Were you able to reduce your budget in a big way for your big day? Let me know all about your savvy spending in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Mrs PoP

How about saving a whole lot more than $5K? Our wedding was one of the most perfect nights of my my life and it cost less than $250. That's less than the "savings above n just the invitations! http://www.plantingourpennies.com/2012/06/11/what-did-our-wedding-cost/

Guest's picture
Guest

"I won't attend any wedding without [an open bar]"

I don't even know what to say to this. I'm just glad you aren't in my family or friends. I'd be really hurt if someone don't attend my wedding on the sole basis of not having alcohol.

Guest's picture
James

My brother and I saved a lot on our respective weddings because we had a double wedding. We basically shared expenses for everything.

Guest's picture
Nancy

My husband and I were in graduate school when we married. We both also worked but needless to say money was tight and we refused to go into debt for a party even it was our wedding. We didn't think that was the way to start our lives together. We had the ceremony in the amphitheater of a beautiful public park (free) and the reception in the community center over looking the park (very inexpensive). We served only beer and champagne, and an abundance of hor d'oeuvres rather than a dinner. The music was provided by a medieval quartet in costume who included some fun bawdy songs. One member was the son of a friend so we they gave us a nice discount. A DJ might have been cheaper but the music made our wedding unique. And our friends would rather talk than dance anyway. We've been married 33 years now. After all, it's about the marriage, not the wedding. Spending thousands of dollars more on the celebration could not have made our memories any better than they are today.

Guest's picture
J.

Wise Bread readers know that it's not "how much you save" but how much you *spend* that's relevant -- and you're implicitly advocating spending $21,000 on a wedding.

(As an aside, I assume the $26K figure is the mean and not the median cost -- presumably the number is inflated by a small number of million-dollar weddings. And it's in the interest of the wedding industry for you to believe that "most people spend $26K", even if this is not the case.)

Guest's picture

That is a great point. I expected to see some really frugal suggestions here, but saw a lot of tips about spending "not quite as much" money.

For our part, we bought our invitations at a garage sale, spent $300 on a used dress, and kept our guest list small. I think we spent a total of $3,000 on the whole thing - and it was beautiful, not cheap looking. It can be done if you are willing to sacrifice a bit. The most important thing to us was not starting our marriage off $21,000 in debt!

Mikey Rox's picture

I totally understand where you're coming from, but some people do want to have a semi-extravagant celebration but cut costs where they can. This article is to inform those people on how to do it. Thanks very much for the comment. I appreciate it!