A lot of people start thinking about – and planning – their weddings from a very young age. I sure did – when I was a kid, I’d already created a whole scenario of what my dream wedding would look like. It involved maybe 500 guests, the perfect dress, a candy apple bar, a full sit-down dinner service, a full bar, and a honeymoon to Mexico.
My real wedding had one of those things. But it was perfect, and it was exactly what I wanted.
The wedding industry is frustrating. Everything is expensive and it’s darn near impossible to have a “cheap” wedding that doesn’t look… well, cheap. Folks across the internet have their own ideas about how you can make a wedding more inexpensive — from not mentioning your flowers are for a wedding to finding a dress at Goodwill — but those suggestions often tend to be unrealistic or put quite a bit of pressure on the bride.
And there are often suggestions that reveal unacknowledged privilege. I’ve heard some women claim they DIYed their way through the whole wedding, only to learn they had the support of a crafty mom, or a dad who bakes, or friends willing to spend night after night tying twill and designing place cards. I certainly had help from my family and friends, but I’m aware of how lucky that makes me. Not everyone has two parents, or crafty friends, or the luxury of a part-time job during grad school that allows for flexibility to put plans together.
So I’m wary of columns sharing their foolproof ways to cut a wedding cost in half, and I’m sensitive to their biases. And yet, here I am sharing some simple tricks and tips on how to make the wedding process more manageable — and affordable. My hope in sharing these is to invite you to new or different ways of thinking that reduce the stress associated with wedding planning —not ways that make it worse.
It’s different for everyone, and at the end of the day, you’ve got to do what’s right for your family. But these are the three big rules I used throughout the wedding planning process to knock a few thousand dollars off the price tag — without sacrificing a good time for my guests.
DIY — to a degree
I have always wanted to be craftier than I actually am. But I found some simple DIY projects each step of the way that let me bring to life some of the big, expensive ideas I had. The most important investment I made in this process was a Cricut — a cutting and drawing machine someone gave me that completely changed the DIY process. I used it for everything from sign making to crafting my own versions of the adorable pint glasses I’d found online. It helped me make the things I couldn’t with my own hand but certainly could with a computer.
For you, maybe it’s putting that painting or drawing skill to work. Or pulling together simple centerpieces that don’t require you to fill an expensive bouquet — like my spray-painted gold bottles filled with one stock flower each. Or maybe it’s getting your own linens so you don’t have to pay a markup, or decorating a normally sparsely adorned space to make it your own instead of choosing the fully-ready-to-go ballroom. Either way, these little choices to say, “Hey, I think I could make this myself” can add up to a major deduction in cost.
But of course, that choice to spend less money comes with a huge investment of time, which can lead to frustration that isn’t always worth it. For example, about a week before our wedding, my fiancé came home to me sitting on the floor in desperation after my third attempt to put together a physical seating chart sign. He took one look at me and asked, “What do we need to throw money at to make it go away?”
I’ve never loved him more than I did at that moment.
But seriously: It wasn’t that we were willing to throw money at things willy-nilly or waste where we could do things ourselves — the point is, we DIYed as much as we could, but chose to know our limits and make the call to spend money within reason when we could. When you’re able to strike that balance between what’s possible and what’s reasonable, you’ll end up with a result — and a pocketbook — you’re happy with.
Find corners to cut
The most important part of planning the wedding you want is to know yourselves, know what matters to you, and know what doesn’t. Everyone around you will have an opinion on what you must do or what no one is ever going to notice.
But here’s the thing: you’re going to notice — and remember — the things that you care about, dreamed about, thought about. And you know the things that you don’t want to waste time and money on. These are different for everyone, but there are simple ways to scale down and save a lot of money – or spend it somewhere else!
In our case, we made the decision to not have an open bar. It was a bit of a tough choice because we worried if people would think we were being stingy. Was it rude to our guests to not provide whatever they wanted? But we also knew that an open bar came with a dollar amount per person per hour, and that a lot of our guests wouldn’t drink. So we landed on providing beer and wine.
Guess what? No one cared. A few people got other drinks from the inside bar, but the lack of vodka cranberries didn’t ruin anyone’s night. For you, maybe it’s whittling down the guest list, or printing your own invitations, or foregoing fresh full bouquets for centerpieces. Either way, pick the things that matter to you and walk away from the ones that don’t. You’ll save money and stress.
Make a budget — and some hard choices
Probably the most important guiding force in planning our wedding came well before the others and made it much easier to cut corners and make choices down the road. We did some real research on what to reasonably expect in terms of cost. Then we put together a strict, detailed budget for everything from venue rental to napkins to decorations.
We knew we needed to be able to say “yes” and “no” to things we wanted, but we had to have a baseline — an objective standard to guide us along each decision we could make. And we didn’t stick to it 100 percent, but we knew exactly where we stood at every decision.
That budget certainly did not make things easy on us. We knew what we were willing to spend and what we weren’t, but that made for a lot of really tough choices. It didn’t make it easy to go to the place we thought was going to be the perfect venue, and find out their 20 percent service charge made it impossible. Or to go without an open bar. Or to lose the peace of mind that comes with hiring a designer or wedding coordinator, and instead do all the setup and decoration ourselves (with a huge hand from our family members). Or to forego a European vacation, instead spending our honeymoon simply at my in-laws’ vacation home.
These choices were not easy to make, and they were certainly sacrifices. But they were sacrifices that put us in a position the day after our wedding to go on a nice trip alone. They were also choices that let us decorate our home the way we wanted to, come home debt-free, and start saving to create the future we want.
I’m not saying any of this was easy, and there will never be a stress-free way to create an inexpensive wedding. Though it looked a little different than I’d imagined, we had our perfect day after all.