How to save money when planning a wedding

These 14 tips will help keep your big day within budget.

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Key takeaways

  • Your first step when planning a wedding should be building a budget. Don't forget to add in a buffer for unexpected costs.
  • Determine what parts of your big day are most meaningful and which you care less about. Spend where it matters, not where it doesn't.
  • Small, financially smart tweaks to your wedding day can save you a lot of money.

Your big day may be priceless to you, but it can carry a very real cost for your bank account. In 2021, The Knot found that the average cost of a wedding ceremony and reception was $28,000,1 and almost 30% of couples planned to go into debt to pay for it.2

But wedding bells don't have to equal big wedding bills. These 14 tips can help you spend less without sacrificing special memories.

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1. Create a wedding budget

It's not the most romantic part of the wedding planning, but it's important to set and stick to a budget at the start of the process. Make sure to include any family (or friends who have offered to provide services, such as photography, as their gift) who are contributing financially to figure out the max you can spend on your wedding—and where the money will come from.

From there, you can decide how much you want to spend on each major type of wedding expense. According to wedding planning expert Alicia Fritz in an interview with Brides.com, you should aim for venue and catering to take about 40% of your budget; photography 15%; music, flowers, and decor 10% each; clothing 5%; transportation 3%; stationery 3%; party favors 2%; and cake 2%.3

And don't forget to budget for your honeymoon, too, though you can also put some of these costs, such as flights or hotel stays, on your registry. A honeymoon fund lets guests' financial gifts go straight to the costs of your trip.

2. Plan for the unexpected

As you're setting your budget, don't forget to build in a buffer so you're prepared for any last-minute expenses, whether they're from extra wedding-dress alternations, an issue with catering, or having to replace wilted flowers.

You can also consider wedding insurance. Benefits vary by policy but can protect you financially if people are injured or if your venue is damaged during your ceremony or reception, as well as reimburse you if your wedding is unexpectedly canceled or postponed. Depending on what coverage you choose, wedding insurance typically costs between $155 and $550.4

3. Pick the right date and time

In 2021, the typical couple celebrated tying the knot in a wedding venue that cost more than $10,000.5 You may be able to cut down that number by picking a less popular date. Wedding venues often give discount rates during their "off season," which is usually December and February, though this varies by location. Peak wedding season, when you're likely to see the highest prices, is usually June through September.

Similarly, not getting married on a Saturday may offer some added savings. In addition to providing cheaper venue rates, a weekday wedding may also help your guests save on travel costs, even if they have to sacrifice some vacation time. Keep in mind, though, that if you do choose to have your wedding on a weekday, you should be prepared for more guests to decline your invitation. But if that doesn't bother you, you'll save even more with a smaller guest list.

4. Look into nontraditional venues

You don't have to head to city hall or have your wedding in a religious space to save on venue fees. Consider unconventional spaces with smaller fees—like outdoor spots (such as public parks and beaches), vacation rentals (if permitted by the property owner), museums, and breweries and distilleries.

5. Be thoughtful about the guest list

Outside of the venue, how many guests you have can make the biggest impact on the overall cost of your wedding. Once you and your partner have agreed on whom to invite, consider your guidelines about kids and plus-ones. You might decide to make your wedding adults only and offer plus-ones only to those in long-term relationships.

6. Go digital with your invitations

Between save-the-dates, invitations, RSVP cards, and day-of stationery (such as menus and place cards), couples spent an average of $530 on wedding stationery in 2021.6 To cut paper costs, consider mailing just one invitation per guest with instructions to RSVP online. You'll save even more if you use digital invitations and mail physical invitations only to friends and relatives you know will expect and treasure them.

Not only can this move drastically shrink what you spend on stationery and postage, but it will also reduce your paper waste and streamline your RSVPs. Instead of tallying individual responses, for example, you can collect them in a spreadsheet.

7. Rethink your wedding attire

We don't have to tell you that wedding dresses are expensive. The average one cost $1,800 in 2021.7 You can rack up savings—up to 85% off the retail price8—by renting. A quick online search can help you find dozens of companies that rent wedding dresses.

If you'd prefer to own your dress, consider buying a secondhand or vintage one. And remember that the dress you get married in doesn't have to be a "wedding" dress. Choose the one you love, whether it's marketed to brides or not. Dresses that aren't wedding dresses will likely cost less too.

Tuxes and suits can also be pricey to buy—ranging from $700 to more than $1,000 for tuxes and $300 to $800 for suits.9 If you probably won't wear your wedding garb after the big day, you may be able to save by renting these too. Run the numbers for buying versus renting to make sure.

8. Plan out your alterations

Tailoring and alterations cost more when you pay rush fees. Try on your wedding wear far in advance to avoid last-minute trips to the tailor or seamstress. It's a smart idea to have a fitting 2 to 4 months before your wedding to make any big alterations, and another final fitting 2 weeks before for small and easy adjustments.

9. Go green with your flowers

The average couple spent $2,300 on their wedding floral arrangements in 2021.10 You can save green by going green. Branches and ornamental grasses are cheaper and trendy.

You can also save by finding ways to repurpose your flowers throughout the day. Bridesmaids' bouquets can double as table centerpieces, and flowers from the ceremony can be brought to the reception for the welcome table.

10. Choose cost-effective meal options

With the typical catering fee coming in at $75 a person, food can take a bite out of your wedding budget.11 Skipping more expensive foods, such as filet mignon or fresh seafood, in favor of cheaper cuts or chicken can help keep those costs under control. You may also save by offering a buffet or family-style dining instead of individual plates.

If you do choose individual plates, you can cut costs by making guests choose their meals ahead of time so your caterer won't have to prepare enough of each option for everyone. You can also plan to offer everyone the same dish, with a few vegetarian options at the ready, of course.

11. BYOB

In 2021, newlyweds spent an average of $2,300 on alcohol for their weddings.12 If your venue allows outside drinks, buy your own beer, wine, and liquor at warehouse clubs to rack up wholesale discounts. You might also be able to cut costs by restricting drink options to just beer and wine, limiting liquor to a signature cocktail, or opting for a cash bar.

12. Get creative with your wedding dessert selections

If you like big wedding cakes, be ready for a big bill. In 2021, the average cost was $500.13 One option for saving is to buy a smaller cake to cut as newlyweds, then serve a sheet cake, cupcakes, or cake pops to guests.

13. Consider disposable place settings

Did you know that a large chunk of your dining costs may not even be going to food or drinks? Your place settings could be eating up a major chunk of your wedding budget. Renting wedding plates, glasses, and flatware cost, on average, $8–$30 per person.14 You can save by ditching fine china in favor of high-end disposable tableware, which can run as low as just a couple of dollars per person but look much pricier.

14. Get creative with your photography

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but a wedding photographer will cost you about $2,500.15 To save money while still preserving memories of your wedding and reception, look into student photographers in your area, ask guests to document the day with their phone cameras, or even go vintage with disposable cameras. And if you plan to have a photo booth, don't outsource the fun to a company. Instead, bring your own props (or buy or download cutouts online) and set up a camera or photo-enabled device.

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