Alternative Wedding Ideas for Big Savings

Photo: Laura Layera

I got married in May and I couldn't have been happier with how the day went. At first, there were things I really wanted (or thought I really wanted, based on what I knew weddings were supposed to be like) that would have cost us much more money. But we decided on some frugal alternatives that ended up making the day better than I could have imagined. Yes, those other things would have been nice, too, but considering neither of us are made of money, the alternatives made me just as happy and made the day just as perfect, without spending the fortune. Here's how we saved loads of money by opting for alternatives over tradition.

The Ring

Those who know me already know why I didn't get a diamond engagement ring. I did research eco jewelry and synthetic diamonds, but decided I really didn't want an engagement ring at all. 

The Dress

At the first store I walked into, I tried on a dress I thought I loved. It was a bit above my price range and the lady was a little pushy, so I decided to browse another store. I ended up taking the floor sample of another dress, one I really loved, and because it was the floor sample (50% off), it met my budget! Don't get sucked into buying a dress that's more than you can afford. Just because it's your wedding dress doesn't mean it's a free pass to overspend. You still have to pay for it, and once the day is over, you'll wonder why it was so important for you to get that dress. Take your time and look around. Be open to used wedding dresses or floor samples, as well as renting. Don't bother looking at dresses beyond your price range -- sooner or later you'll find a dress that you'll absolutely love. There is a "perfect" dress at any price range. 


The Shoes

I know someone who spent thousands on a pair of Manolo Blahniks to wear on her wedding day. Even if you have a dress that doesn't cover your feet, it'll still be overshadowed by your hair, makeup, and dress. Unless you're loaded and have the money to burn, it's not worth spending a fortune just for the shoes. If you're willing to spend that much on shoes, go ahead and get a pair that you'd wear down the streets of New York City, a la Carrie Bradshaw. For your wedding, a cheap pair of strappy sandals (I did flip flops), would truly make little difference. 

The Registry

It was a no brainer for us to not register for gifts. Cash is what most Chinese guests like to give (we're practical like that), and for any friends who asked, we confirmed that we weren't registered anywhere and asked for cash gifts if they felt inclined to give something. Cash means we don't get anything we don't really need. Saves us the hassle of having to return anything.

The Ceremony 

We skipped the "walk down the aisle" production. That saved several thousand for space rental and decorations. Instead, we took a weekend trip to San Francisco and got married at their beautiful City Hall. On the wedding day, we went to Caltech to shoot pretty photos. Skipping the ceremony also means I didn't need bridesmaids, and all the costs associated with it (and my friends didn't have to "work" at my wedding either!).


The Centerpieces and Favors

We skipped the fancy centerpieces. Flowers and vases are expensive -- even if you try to DIY. I bought 20 baskets from downtown for $2 each, and filled it up with candy and cookies for the guests to snack on while waiting for the food. We also skipped the favors. We decided guests don't really want or need to bring something back with them that has our name and wedding date on it. Instead, we placed note cards with markers and stickers for guests to write us a note, so we can have keepsakes from each of the guests.

The Entertainment

We skipped the DJ, and asked two of our friends to be MC's to faciliate a game that involved audience participation. Traditionally, the guests request a bride and groom kiss by tapping their chopsticks against their plates (it makes quite a racket). We made it into a kissing raffle -- everytime the guests started tapping on the plates, we picked a couple's name out of a bowl and that couple had to go up on stage and kiss. Then we would imitate them. It lasted throughout the evening and everyone was entertained.


The Banquet

There's no beating the price for a Chinese wedding banquet, and the food is delicious. They provide the seat covers, free. They provide a sound system and microphones, free. They provide a screen (for slide shows), free. There is no corkage fee (we brought Two-Buck Chucks from Trader Joe's). There is no cake cutting fee. It's not necessary to put up a lot of decorations because it's a restaurant -- it's already decorated (unlike most banquet halls in hotels). Our menu: 10 course meal plus dessert.


The Honeymoon

We skipped the honeymoon. We both like to travel and know that we'll plan a trip for the two of us when it's a good time (and a good deal). Granted, we dated for 8 years before getting married, so we don't necessarily need that time away.


The most important thing to remember is to not make the wedding bigger than the marriage. I'm very proud that my wedding didn't cost a fortune, yet I thought it was a perfect day. There's nothing I was left wanting for, nothing I felt I sacrificed.

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Alternative Wedding Ideas for Big Savings

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Guest's picture

Congrats on having a frugal wedding! Looks great. Good point on not making the wedding bigger than the marriage. It always amazes me how much women love to focus on the wedding, where's guys are just ho hum.

I just wrote about Diamond Engagement Ring Buying this morning coincidently. I think you'll enjoy reading this topic, even if you didn't get a diamond.



Guest's picture

Where can I read your article?! :)

Guest's picture

Congrats both on the wedding and the frugal choices! Wish you a long life full of happiness and respect for each other...

Guest's picture

For our wedding reception, we hired my high school's jazz band and culinary programs -- both of which I knew to be really top notch. For a reasonable donation, plus the cost of food, we got a full jazz band and sit down dinner.

I'd only recommend flip flops for the MOST casual wedding, like one the beach and *maybe* someone's back yard. And it sounds like your wedding was very casual, so I'm definitely not criticizing you. And of course, it's your wedding and you can wear what you want. But I'd hate to see people show up as guests in flip flops to someone's wedding unless, again, it was super casual. And even then, some nice sandals would be a much better option.

As for my wedding footwear, I had the long white dress and don't need any more height (5'10), so I wore a pair of bridal slippers. They look a bit like white Satin Isotoner slippers but had enough extra beading and sparkles on them that they didn't look like they were regular house slippers. They were super comfy! One of the best choices I made for that day!

For more of my wedding tips, you can check out: the FruWiki weddings page.

Guest's picture

I bought a lot of my wedding stuff of ebay including my dress. If you decide to buy special shoes look at Nordstrom Rack, ebay, or DSW. You can find designer brands at smaller prices.
Don't get sucked in to you have to buy because it's your wedding. It's your wedding so make it how you want it.

Guest's picture

my engagement ring any more - actually I removed the stone (was my grandmothers) and put it into a setting for a necklace. We definitely could have skipped the engagement ring part though at the time I thought I had to have it.

Guest's picture

Prom dress season is a good time to look for a wedding dress. I found my white dress among the prom dresses in a Jessica McClintock store for $48.62.

Guest's picture

Shoes that I've found that would ROCK for a wedding - mohops ( Granted, they're not that cheap, but they are frugal - in that I wear them everyday and can change them as needed. They're wooden soles that you lace ribbons into so that they match you mood/clothes. SUPER comfy. And the owner can make weird sizes, which is quite awesome (and very helpful for the ladies with oddsized feet who have trouble finding appropriate shoes!)

Myscha Theriault's picture

Are those your wedding favors, Lynn? Your hair looks phenomenal!!!

And that snack basket centerpiece idea? Seriously fantastic. Really, kudos.


Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture

Your wedding photos are lovely! Really love the dress. And the Chinese buffet is a great idea!

Guest's picture

I spent NOTHING on my wedding. Other than the cost of flying my fiance out and the license, we had no banquet, no dress, no rings, and no honeymoon, very cheap, very easy, and no house downpayments wasted.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Very cool!  I thought that background at Caltech looked familiar.  My husband went to that school.  That's actually a really good idea to just take pictures at places that look nice and forget about renting a huge mansion or winery.  You definitely have more choices that way! Congrats again! 

Guest's picture

Love these. Our wedding was pretty frugal - consignment-store dress for $250, plus they bought it back from me afterward for $150. Worked out great and I didn't have to figure out what to do with it.

Also, I wore sneakers. White Sketchers, and I beaded the laces in blue since that was our "color."

I did have my sisters as attendants, but they were allowed to wear whatever dress they wanted, as long as it was blue; my now sister-in-law ended up being able to wear a dress she was wearing as a bridsemaid in ANOTHER wedding that month, and my other sisters found prom-style dresses for under $50. It was awesome.

The other great part - my mom made our cake. And we LOVED it. Best cake ever. (I have food allergies and couldn't eat the commercial cake, so it didn't start out as a "frugal" move but rather an "I want to eat" one, but it worked out great.)

Guest's picture

My husband and I had a cheap Vegas wedding. We decided two days before the event we were going to do it. Our wedding bands were only 50 dollars- that was for BOTH! Our wedding was quick, simple, and cheap. I think we spent 400 dollars for the entire event. My in-laws kept saying stuff like, "we wish you guys would have had a nice wedding..." Hey ten years later we are still married & madly in love- unlike my husbands two siblings who are now both divorced (they had the big wedding)...Go Figure!

Guest's picture

Giving cash is definitely a cultural thing, and it wouldn't go over well in all circles to ask for cash presents. However, just because someone registers doesn't mean you have to buy gifts from their registry.

I have looked in my friends' registry, written down their china pattern, and then purchased pieces (or entire settings) from the manufacturer's outlet for 1/2 the price of a department store.
You can also buy items they registered for at discount stores... although then there is some risk of duplicate gifts, since the purchase is not recorded in the registry. Still, I think this is a small issue.

We found that department stores were very liberal in giving store credit without a receipt as long as they carried the item, even if we weren't sure it had been purchased in that store. We got many hundreds of dollars in return credits that we were able to use towards things we could use. Not as efficient as cash, but still not a total waste.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

Great list of ideas for wedding savings!  Congrats on the wedding.  The photos are beautiful.

Guest's picture

I think gift registries are a lovely tradition, from the days when a registry might have less than ten items -- usually just china, flatware, and glassware. In our small town, the local china shop still has a shelf displaying place settings for couples registered there. In the old-fashioned, pre-craigslist way, when one didn't register for everything from towels to condoms (I have seen this), it was a way to help people who wanted to buy a gift know what basics a couple wanted to have to start their lives together. It's not a bad concept, really, and I myself am not offended by a reasonable list.

Guest's picture
Amy K

An excellent list, and beautiful pictures!

My husband and I married in October, and followed many of the same ideas:

- no engagement ring
- inexpensive dress & shoes (I bought mine at actually, though they no longer carry wedding dresses)
- small wedding
- wedding dinner in a restaurant
- honeymoon was a trip we had already planned
- Gold band wedding rings (just over $100 each at
- no invitations

Our wedding was a package I found online, and included the flowers, cake, officiant, and location. The room we married in was the same room where we ate dinner; the staff reset the room while we were taking pictures outside and in the lobby/bar of the restaurant. We actually planned the date of our wedding around that trip - without a deadline we might never have gotten married :-)

The wedding day festivities ran from 3pm to 9pm, and there were a total of 14 participants. The following day we hosted a large luncheon for the extended family. It was WAY less stressful than having everyone at a huge production wedding, and gave us a chance to catch up with family we seldom see. The wedding was in my hometown, but we're a plane ride away. At the luncheon we had a slideshow of pictures from the wedding the night before. I have to admit I still feel a little guilty about not having a huge wedding with the extended family, but I'm glad there was no stress in planning the wedding.

My parents paid for a huge chunk of the wedding expenses, but I think all told it still came in under $5K USD total, for

dress, shoes, tux, tie, alterations, pressing, shipping
Luncheon (food & hall rental)

Maggie Wells's picture

Secondly, Bravo for pulling it off cheaply and elegantly at the same time.

We had a very cheap wedding ourselves--it was great to walk into married life without any bills hanging over our heads.

At my cousin's wedding last year in lieu of party favors a donation was given to the SPCA and a little card said just that at each table. I love the leaving a note for the bride and groom! At my sister in law's wedding the girls arranged fresh cut flowers they'd purchased that morning at the flower market.  You can always make a preparation activitiy into a bonding moment at a wedding.


Love your photos!



Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

It looks like you really sprung for the photographer though. The pics are beautiful, and I actually love the flip flop idea because your wedding was pretty nontraditional anyway.

I LOVE the basket centerpiece idea. So creative. I wish I was getting married again so I could do it.

I borrowed my wedding gown from a friend of mine. I loved it, it fit me well, and in the end, only cost me $60 to have it cleaned before returning it to her.

Guest's picture

With hubby #1, we went all out. $12K in 1984 dollars blown on the dress, 2 limos, 8 bridesmaids, 8 ushers, custom gown, fat photo album, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, we took out 90% financing on a $120K mortgage because we didn't have 20% to put down (talk about being STUPID!) That $12K would have saved us a bundle in PMI insurance. Needless to say, largely due to constant financial stress, that marriage quickly failed, the pricey dress donated to charity, and the photos are sitting molding in the basement.

With hubby #2, I refused to make the same mistake. Our grown children, our only combined living "elder" (my grandmother ... both our parents are deceased), and one close friend each (to be a witness) tied the knot at a friends pretty decorated room (it was supposed to be on the beach, but it poured so we made an impromptu scenery change). We spend $12 on a plain pale pink long-skirted dressy suit for me, $45 for a nice clearance suit for him, $220 on wedding bands, and gave the friend who performed the marriage ceremony for us a modest gift for her effort. Then ... we all went to a friends restaurant for lunch. All told (including treating everyone to lunch) it cost less than $500. Oh ... and a decade later we're still happily (and frugally) married ...

Guest's picture

Hi Lynn, I would love to feature your wedding on my blog Wedding Budget Secrets which is all about how couples can have a great wedding without spending a fortune. Couldn't find a way to contact you other than by leaving a comment though. Are you interested?

Guest's picture

$30k is a drop in the bucket, I'm Indian and our weddings cost easily $100k+ even for middle class families. I think it is a waste of money, but try telling that to any of my parent's generation.

Guest's picture

Totally understand about the generational thing. My mom was very concerned about making sure that everything was done the "right way." She is very old school and wanted to make sure to "save face" in front of everyone.

Guest's picture

Oh yes, I have two family members who married Indian women - their weddings were HUGE! Lots of fun, especially to me the outsider who had never been to an Indian wedding before - but what a waste of money!

Hope they don't feel to jealous when they are at my wedding this fall - registry office & pot luck reception in a family home :)))

Guest's picture

"Traditionally, the guests request a bride and groom kiss by tapping their chopsticks against their plates (it makes quite a racket). We made it into a kissing raffle -- everytime the guests started tapping on the plates, we picked a couple's name out of a bowl and that couple had to go up on stage and kiss. Then we would imitate them."

That sounds amazing! I'm definately taking tips from this. I love the flip flops idea!

Guest's picture

Did somebody say $2 Buck Chuck?? I love that stuff!! We got diamond rings (matching) from for really good prices! Take a peek!! And if you don't know what $2 Buck Chuck is go to Trader Joe's and ask for it! Haha! No, Really!

Guest's picture

Lynn, I love your wedding! I just got engaged and starting to plan my wedding. Friends told me that a typical wedding is 20-30K. My budget is 5K, so tips from your blog is really helpful. (I'm also not getting a diamond ring)

Would you be willing to share your budget of each catergory? Where you got your dress? (It's really stunning.) To be honest, I want the exact same dress. Where you got the cake, the flowers, etc...

Thanks in advance!


Guest's picture

My wife is Chinese and we had a traditional Chinese wedding. Nine dresses with a nine course meal. I had so much fun that night from the shark fin soup to the red bean dessert.

A couple things we did to save money was:

1. Pick out a nice spot on the beach to hold the ceremony. I wonder if we broke some laws by just showing up and having the ceremony quickly.

2. Got a pair of tungsten rings from and saved a bunch of $$$ there.

3. We got a friend to take our pictures too. He's professional photographer so it was nice of him to help out.

4. No music at our wedding, but there was a lot of singing around the table.

5. I agree, it's best to establish a budget early and stick with it.

Welcome to life after the wedding. Now that you've tied the knot, now it's time to build the nest :)


Guest's picture

congratulations! and wishing you happiness. The ring is very beautiful.

buy cheap tungsten ring from china tungsten wholesaler dropship -, these tungsten rings are also very beautiful.

You can see cheap tungsten ring at

Guest's picture

Another alternative to a wedding orchestra or DJ is a one man band. This is a service I offer my clients and it allows for a more spontaneous sound than a DJ which sounds like what you already hear on the radio.

Guest's picture

Just was reading through your Ring section and saw that picture of that huge fake CZ or Diamond ring! LOL. My aunt has one of those too, they weigh a bunch, because its so enormous. I saw a huge ring on this other site too. but they sell real diamonds only. Not like fake CZ rings.

Guest's picture

This is unreal! I just got engaged and am starting to think of wedding planning. I want it to be simple and fun, and not extremely expensive. Thanks so much for writing this article! I am going to take quite a few ideas from here and make my wedding my own- not the way everyone else thinks it is supposed to be (unless they are doing the planning and paying for it, which won't happen) We have already decided to tell our guests that we are requesting gift cards to our favorite stores, and skipping the favors that everyone tosses at the end of the night anyway. Thanks again, this was very helpful!

Guest's picture

Hi - Congrats! I just thought I'd share with you a few things that I am doing for my wedding (May 2!). My wedding is a Catholic wedding, so it had to be at a church. Given that, I decided to go with the bridesmaids, etc. I went with a Friday wedding date so that we could have an evening mass and go straight to the reception afterwords. Friday also meant that the reception venue was half the cost. I am using dollar store planter tins filled with assorted nuts, truffles, tea bags and tea candies - all individually wrapped. Doubles as favors and centerpieces and a late night snack. I bought in bulk off amazon, giving the total as under $3 per person for decor and favors. I have ceiling drapings, but it came free with the Friday booking. For my dress I wanted something with sleeves, and for the bridesmaids I wanted something with a higher back. This left just a few choices and made for an easy decision. Color scheme is grey, black and white. No DJ - just an iPad running Spotify with song selections that we both liked (Free Premium Trial or $10/month, ad free). Hope this helps and have a wonderful time planning. In the end, its the marriage that counts - the rest are just details :)

Guest's picture

My husband works in construction and him and a few guys he works with all have tungsten rings. His still looks like new even thought it gets banged up a bit. We bought it from and it came with a good warranty so we don’t have to worry if anything happens to it.
We love this tungsten wedding ring so much. Great free laser work.

Guest's picture

Taking the money instead of signing up for a registry is such a good idea. I mean who really needs a gold plated tea kettle anyways?

My wife and I skipped our honeymoon as well. The only thing we gave each other were two great rings from and a great steak dinner. The though of that garlic butter filet still makes my mouth water.

Guest's picture

I love the sandals and the old school chucks! Why go about things the way "society" says we have to? Where did you get the grooms ring? It looks just like one I saw on the other day.

Thanks for the refreshing reminder how great it is to be married!

Guest's picture

I think younger brides tend to have bigger (costlier) weddings than older brides. I am getting married for a second time. Because my daughters have requested to be a part of our vow exchange, we are doing a bit more dressier with them carrying bouquets. Our dresses were bought at a consignment shop, and the owner and I have already agreed that I can take the dress back!! Which btw IS NOT a traditional wedding dress. As a union to bring together two adults and their children together, we are not having a "wedding", but a private exchange of how we feel about each other, with children verbally approving. We just have to have 3 other adults present to make it legal in our state, and officiant and two witnesses. My fiancee and I do feel like celebrating with our extended family and friends afterwards so we are having a small reception, no favors, the backdrop of a fall afternoon as our decorations, and a cd player for background music.

Guest's picture

I just wanted to say that I have a lot of respect for you because you are not afraid to have it your way even if it is different. Most brides "have it their way" but don't defer much from regular traditions. Not having a standard diamond ring is unheard of for brides. Congrats on being yourself.

Guest's picture

Yea, I think no registry is the way to go. Not sure how it all started that cash as a gift was taboo. Economic theory says in-kind gifts are almost always equal to or less than cash.

Guest's picture

We decided to get our wedding ring from We got a tungsten wedding ring for both of us. They last a long time and are really hard.

Why spend so much money on rings when we can put the money our honeymoon or the downpayment on our new home?

Good idea on the 2 buck chuck from trader joes! Its so delicious. You just reminded me to go pick some up from the store on the way home from work :)