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10 Savvy Tips for Planning a Wedding on a Budget

Crunching the numbers on how much your wedding will cost? We know planning a wedding can get expensive quickly. There’s a lot that goes into designing your perfect day, surrounded by people you love. Everyone wants the perfect wedding, but many couples have to stick to a strict budget. Still, it’s hard to say no to things you care about!

The good news: You don’t have to break the bank to create the wedding of your dreams. By using these smart tips for planning a wedding on a budget, you can get the things that are important to you without deviating from your wedding budget plan. Keep reading for advice on how to plan a wedding on a small budget.

1. Explore unique venues

Your wedding venue will definitely take up a large portion of the budget. It’s also a great place to start when thinking about ways to save. Instead of a traditional ballroom, look into unique spaces that can accommodate larger groups like art galleries, restaurants, barns or warehouses. With creative decor, you can truly transform a space into something beautiful and memorable. Twinkle lights, table runners or floral pieces can really go a long way!

Have any friends or family members that belong to a local country club? You might be able to take advantage of their membership and get a good rate. Also research venues that allow you to select your own caterer or other vendors so you can price out cheaper options than their standard offerings. It doesn’t hurt to reach out for quotes from a variety of venues in your area to compare costs — you might be surprised at the price differences! 

Before you sign off on a venue, be sure to read through the proposal and note any added fees. A space that looks affordable at first might not qualify if the venue has extra costs like corkage fees, linen and furniture rentals. Be sure to look at the allotted time you have the space for; there will likely be a charge to add more time to it (or if you go over your agreed-upon end time). However, you might be able to negotiate some items to bring the cost down. For instance, you could ask to cut the first or last hour of the event to minimize rental, food and drink costs.

Be sure to communicate budget with all of your vendors, but especially your venue, prior to booking. Your venue manager will know more specifically if and how to customize the proposal to fit into your budget.

Find more tips on selecting a wedding venue here.

2. Be True to You

Just because the typical reception involves cocktail hour, dinner and dancing, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do a wedding. You might find that alternate activities will be more meaningful and cost-effective. If a night of dancing doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe forgo it for something else you both enjoy. Think about activities that you and your future spouse like to do together and how those could translate to some fun with your guests.

There are tons of ways to make your reception special and authentic. If you’re a big fan of lawn games and your venue has some great outdoor space, you could always plan for cornhole and croquette after dinner. If your reception is in a private room of a restaurant, bring out some late-night board games or a trivia challenge. More of a morning person? Follow a ceremony at sunrise with a brunch reception. (Complete with mimosa toast). 

Brainstorm some creative wedding activities prior to choosing your venue. It’ll help you pick out the most fitting location and prevent you from spending money on elements that aren’t important to you.

brideside wedding new orleans parade
Becoming the star of a New Orleans parade might be our favorite wedding activity! Photo Credit: @jbwphotography

3. Get Married During Off-Season

Although warm-weather months tend to be more popular times of year to get married, you can absolutely have a beautiful winter or early spring wedding. Better yet, you’ll find discounts from almost every vendor for wedding in November to April. 

Lean into the chilly weather with cute fur wraps, denim jackets and fun indoor activities. SippiYour cozy wedding will be truly unforgettable. Plus, photoshoots in the snow or rain are totally romantic and glamorous. Need more inspiration? Get some great spring wedding ideas here. 

Many venues will give you similar kinds of discounts for a wedding on a Friday or Sunday. This is another good way to cut down costs, but bear in mind that you might limit the number of guests that can come to the wedding. Some might not be able to take off work on a Friday or Monday.

4. Re-think Your Food

No one expects to be treated to a seven-course meal at your wedding. With smart food service tips like these, you’ll be able to save more money.

Doing a cocktail hour? Serve two passed appetizers instead of four, or see if your venue has a self-service buffet option. Better yet, if your venue or catering company allows, skip passed appetizers altogether and opt for serving a simple snack to tide over until dinner (which usually isn’t far away). This is a great opportunity to showcase some personality by serving your favorite snack! Pre-packaged snacks like Doritos or Goldfish are cheap and easy to hand out. You could even pass out a local treat or something made by a close friend or family member. Served in a little paper bag, a tag, stamp or sticker with your wedding logo is a nice touch. (Bonus: This easily doubles as a party favor!)

You might be able to save money by doing a buffet-style dinner. Plated meals require more staffing costs; however, you’ll have to pay for more food with a buffet because guests are serving themselves. Either way, you can choose more affordable proteins like chicken or vegetables to offset the price. Keep in mind that kid’s meals are cheaper as well!

The wedding cake is surely an attention-grabber, but we promise that you don’t have to have one. Wedding cake for an average-sized wedding can really add up, and many venues have a cake-cutting fee on top of everything else. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to bring the price down. You could get a nice, small cake for the wedding party and sheet cake for everyone else, or look at other kinds of dessert instead. Cookies, donuts, mini cupcakes, or even chocolates are great cost-effective options. 

wedding cake alternatives for wedding budget
A cake for cutting plus little treats for all: The perfect way to do wedding desserts on a budget. Photo credit: Photos by Cassie

5. Drink (Fiscally) Responsibly

When you hire a professional bartending service or caterer to provide your alcohol for the event, you are typically paying a premium price for drinks. If your venue allows it, you can save quite a bit of money by sourcing the alcohol yourself. You will usually pay less for it by buying in bulk at discount warehouse or big box store and you’ll also be able to control what alcohol is served. (Why settle for the house red when you could serve your favorite merlot instead?!) 

If you must use your venue’s catering services to buy alcohol for your event, there are still ways to get the cost down. Save money with a limited open bar; meaning beer, wine and usually one type of hard alcohol (perhaps a signature cocktail) are served, with additional drinks available for purchase. This is a great option especially if your wedding guests aren’t big drinkers.

Some other things you could do: Skip the champagne toast, close the bar during dinner and/or move to cash bar after a certain hour of the night. Wine lover? There are still clever ways to manage costs. You can serve your best champagne during the champagne toast, nice wines during dinner (when waiters are controlling how much is poured) and then switch to budget-friendly options once the full bar is open for business! 

6. Trim the Guest List

It’s tempting to want to invite all your friends and family members to your wedding, but that can quickly get pricey. Above all, remember that it’s most important to invite the people that matter most in your life now and in the future. 

We recommend making your guest list by adding wedding party and extended family members first into a spreadsheet so you can get exact numbers. Next, add in important friends and people in your lives that you really want there. Many couples also get input from their parents on people they’d like to invite at this phase as well. Once you have a total “dream list,” count it up. If the head count is too high for your budget, think about cutting some people you’re less close to or haven’t seen in a long time. Word of advice: Until you’ve totally finalized your guest list, keep it under wraps. It’s nice to have the freedom to adjust your list knowing you didn’t promise someone an invite.

We recommend inviting people in tiers. Once the rsvps roll in, you’ll have a more accurate understanding of who can actually attend. Then, you might be able to invite more people to your wedding, even if you didn’t send them a save the date.

As far as plus ones go, figure out a policy that is easy to implement. For instance, maybe only people that are married or engaged get plus ones. Or, evaluate on a case-by-case basis who does or doesn’t get a plus one and make that crystal clear on their invite.

Same goes for children. Kids’ meals are cheaper and they (hopefully) don’t drink, which can bring down food and beverage costs. At the same time, if you have a lot of kids on both sides of your family and friends, having an open invite policy can really hike up the head count. If your guests have more kids than your venue (or budget) can support, consider setting an age limit. There’s also no shame in just having the ring bearer or flower girl at the wedding (or skipping this too!)

brideside flower girls
 But we do love cute flower girls! Photo Credit: @mcconvillestudio

7. Save on Pics and Video

Established wedding photographers can be expensive, but you could save money by hiring photographers and videographers who are trying to break into the game. Many offer discounts for recognition and word-of-mouth references. You may even be able to find a talented photography student at a local college or university who will take your pics for less money. If you choose to go this route, we definitely advise that you do a test run. Have your photographer shoot engagement pictures or another party to see what their style is like. Ask to see lots of samples of their portrait and event work. Good event photography is an art!

We generally recommend staying away from asking close family or friends to photograph your wedding. For one, you’ll want them to be able to enjoy the day as a guest. Secondly, it’s harder to give constructive feedback to someone you have a personal relationship with.

Photo and video packages often come with lots of extras like albums and prints. One way you can save is by not purchasing these right away. For instance, ask your videographer to send you the trailer video, but wait until your one-year anniversary to purchase your full wedding video. Buying a wedding album as a gift down the line is a nice way to relive your favorite day and offset costs for a while. 

8. Ask Around for Service Providers

Your network is a powerful money-saving tool when you’re looking for wedding service providers! Have a friend who loves making floral arrangements? Ask them to help you put together bouquets rather than going to a professional florist. If you know someone in the bakery business, this could be a great time to ask if they can provide any desserts! Your recently married friends are also a great resource when it comes to finding great vendors at a good price.

You can totally ask your friends to help with the wedding ceremony too. If you’re having music, see if your musical friends could sing or play instruments (usually in lieu of a wedding gift) so you don’t have to hire musicians. You might have some friends who are ordained or would become ordained to officiate your wedding. Not only does it cut on costs, but it makes your ceremony far more special to have loved ones involved!

9. Save on Hair and Makeup

A professional hair or makeup stylist can be an expensive add to any budget. However, you can always save money by allowing a talented friend to handle those tasks. You could even call a local cosmetology school about lower-cost services from future professionals. Word to the wise: Definitely do a trial session a couple of months in advance to make sure you nail down a look you love! You don’t want any surprises the day of the wedding. Come prepared with pictures of hair and makeup examples that resonate with you.

wedding makeup and hair for brideside wedding
This mirror helps creates the perfect lighting to get your makeup done flawlessly! Photo Credit: Joshua Grasso Photography

10. DIY Smarter, Not Harder

Doing DIY projects for your wedding is certainly a way to decrease costs, but be sure to set realistic time, resources and expectations for yourself. Pick projects you know you can complete ahead of time and with assistance. Pro tip: DIY is easier when you can get items in bulk. Research bridal garage sales in your area. You’ll be able to get gently-used vases, votives, signs, glassware and more at a super-discounted prices. Plus, reusing is such a great way to eliminate waste.

Another cost-saving DIY is to make floral arrangements for table centerpieces yourself. Instead of ordering these from a florist, buy all types of flowers you want from a local shop. Employ some capable hands to help put them together with ribbon or vases from you wedding garage sale expedition. Florals can be done a day or two before the wedding, and they’re best done while sipping a glass of wine. 

Another wedding cost that flies under the radar is printing items like invitations, table cards and programs. Save money by printing them yourself instead of paying for engraved invitations. All you need is cardstock, a good printer and a little time. Know any graphic design experts? They may be able to help you develop printed materials, or at least format them for a printer.

Make your own table cards or name tags with the help of a friend that knows calligraphy. Wedding invites can be a lot of work to do by hand, but these smaller items are nice personal touch. 

Budget like a Boss

Planning the perfect wedding on a budget can be done with the help of these tips. Brideside can also assist you in planning a wedding on a budget, especially when it comes to wedding fashion! Visit us at Brideside Bride in New York or Chicago for gorgeous, unique wedding dresses that are easy on the eyes as well as the wallet. You’ll get the expert help of a free stylist that will be with you every step of the way. It’s a luxury experience at a price that will make you smile!

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