The average cost of a wedding in the United States is $33,931.
If you have that sum (as calculated by The Knot) on hand, congratulations! But failing to have tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars to commit to a wedding shouldn't ruin two partners' ability to celebrate their love.
And don't panic just yet if you're short on change. That cost is likely driven up by particularly extravagant weddings that you probably already knew were out of your price range. There are many different elements to a wedding, and while the costs can rise quickly, many opportunities exist to save money while still providing yourself a wedding to remember.
After all, shouldn't a wedding be to celebrate the love between two people, not to celebrate how much money their families have?
How to Have a Cheap Wedding
There is plenty of extravagance to be found an affordable event - and once you realize the thousands of dollars you can save, extravagance is just a happy perk. Here are 24 different ways to lower the cost of your wedding.
1. Plan for a daytime wedding and avoid Saturdays
Saturday is an understandable impulse for booking your wedding. But it's the most expensive day to have a wedding, and by quite a bit. Certainly if you book your wedding on a midweek date you'll have far fewer people show up to your wedding, but even a Friday or Sunday date can make a world of difference.
Time of day is also important. Venues and vendors won't cost as much for an event hosted in the morning or early afternoon. If a Saturday night event is completely out of the question for your budget, maybe a Sunday afternoon can fit your needs.
2. Pick an off-peak wedding season
Find out the peak seasons for weddings in the area you're planning one. Often that can be the summer. The popularity of having a wedding around that time means more demand, and thus more money.
You may want to look into an off-peak month for weddings, such as November or January. Less demand, lower prices. Then again, off-peak means different things in different places. Summer may be the popular times for weddings in the Northeast, but in the South, where the heat can get sweltering, there may be less demand. That could mean a more affordable wedding date - if you can stand the heat.
3. Trim your guest list
This one is basic math, but can also be tough to swallow for those who can't bring themselves to not invite certain people in their lives. The more people are invited, the bigger the costs will be for the ceremony hall, the reception venue, catering, invitations and nearly any wedding expense you can think of. You'll have to make some tough cuts, but if you're looking for a less expensive wedding, this is possibly the most efficient method of getting there.
4. Bring a DIY flair to the invitations
It costs more money to make wedding invitations than you may realize, but it doesn't necessarily have to. That's not to say you should do everything DIY for your invites, unless you and your friends have a particularly artistic streak. But there are ways to shave the price off of invites, such as picking a different, less expensive cardstock or declining to get them embossed. You can also handle the envelopes yourself.
If having fancy wedding invitations isn't a priority for you at all, you could even opt to send postcards instead, or do everything online.
5. Online RSVPs
Making RSVPs online is also a great money-saver. Requiring everyone to reserve online means less to send inside the invitation envelopes, and avoiding postage for return RSVPs by mail. This may not be the move that can save you thousands, but it could save you hundreds, and every dollar counts.
6. Find a ceremony/reception hall you can negotiate price on
If you're good at negotiating, that's a good start to saving because it's an unavoidable part of the wedding process. There are different ways to work with a decent venue to get a better deal. Them being willing to work with your schedule and your preference for off-peak seasons and times is helpful. Another part is finding a venue that lets you use other vendors. Often, places that can host wedding receptions want you to use their vendors for food and alcohol, and that drives the price up. A place that is flexible about letting you bring outside vendors in can be a big part of saving money.
7. Go with an outdoor/backyard reception
Of course, if you find too many inflexible venues or are still struggling to find affordable places, perhaps the venue is irrelevant. Do you have close friends or family with spacious backyards? Are you near a particularly picturesque park? An outdoor wedding in beautiful weather gives you the opportunity to potentially save thousands of dollars while still providing space for a lovely, memorable day.
8. Use your friends
Don't be afraid to ask your close friends for help sticking to your budget. This could be as simple as asking advice - your already-married friends have experience here and can provide insight into how they cut costs. Perhaps you have people close to you that are willing to help you do some of the stressful and expensive planning that comes with the wedding.
Your friends may also have their own relevant businesses, which could work in your favor. A friend with a restaurant might be willing to cater at a discount, musician friends may be up to playing your wedding for less than other bands and close friends or relatives who work in salons could be of use for hair and makeup.
9. Look for unnecessary costs to cut
In addition to the average wedding cost, The Knot also detailed the average cost of different expenses. Going through them can give you an idea of what you may want to forego altogether.
For example, as important as wedding planners can be, in 2018 people spent an average of $2,002 on their wedding planners. You may be more willing to hand those duties off to friends and family instead. The average cost of transportation is $856. Perhaps cancel the shuttle bus for guests and have them show up themselves, and pick a more tasteful limo for the two of you.
10. Find vendors willing to work with your budget
If you're able to get outside vendors for your wedding, you can save some money. But that remains expensive; catering at weddings in 2018 averaged out to $70 per person.
But food vendors and caterers don't just make money from one wedding; good word of mouth leading to new and repeat customers alike is huge for them. It's in their best business interest to work with the customer, and there may well be vendors that are willing to work with your budget constraints in hopes of getting positive reviews.
11. Book local vendors
Destination wedding are appealing, and weddings in nearby cities may be, too. But if you're in a small town or suburb, consider staying there for your wedding, both in terms of venues and vendors. Staying local in smaller areas is naturally going to cost you less than in a larger city, and can also be great aesthetically if you're a fan of the rustic style.
12. Hire a DJ instead of a full band
Per The Knot, the average wedding band cost in 2018 was $4,247. The average wedding DJ cost was $1,292. That's a difference of $2,955.
Of course, if you want to save as much money as possible, you're welcome to not even bother with a DJ and just have a phone of iPod playing music. But if you still want someone in charge of music and emceeing the show, you can have it at a much more manageable rate than a full band.
13. Have a buffet
Paradoxically, offering your guests more food via a buffet may cost less than a caterer offering them a set meal. A local vendor willing to offer buffet-style catering could be a good way to save some money on the food - and, depending on where you go, can work great with an outdoor backyard reception.
14. Avoid high-end liquor
You could opt out of doing an open bar, but your guests may revolt. When saving money via the bar, consider whether it's that important to you to have the most impressive, high-end brands. If it isn't, don't feel pressured to stock the bar with more expensive alcohols that may go unfinished. And if you and many of the people attending don't partake in alcoholic beverages at all, don't feel pressured to have an extensive bar - or even a bar at all.
15. Rent tuxes/suits in groups
You don't necessarily need tuxedos for your groomsman. Nice suits could do the trick, and would be less expensive. If you decide to go the tuxedo route, though, look for the group rate on rentals. Often, the company you're renting tuxes from will have a discounted rate on them if you get them as a group.
16. Order the gown well in advance
Ordering your wedding dress early can be crucial to keeping costs down. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that the dress will often require alterations. And the closer to your wedding they're required, the more you'll inevitably be charged for them. If you can, having your dress ready and properly altered in a more timely way is an easy way to save a little money and reduce the last-minute stress.
17. Look at sample sales for dresses
The average wedding dress in 2018 cost $1,631 - nearly 5.8 times the average groom's attire. Surely there are ways to have a beautiful dress without paying exorbitant amounts of money, right?
Be on the lookout for a sample sale. Boutiques and retailers occasionally have their sample dresses on sale, and you may be able to find a dress as much as 70-90% off. There is always a catch with these - they're designer dresses, but have been tried on before, and may have some imperfections. Have an idea of what you want in a wedding dress ready, as well as a general idea of how much it might cost to fix an imperfection via a tailor's alterations. Do your homework, and you may be able to come away with a gorgeous designer wedding dress at a fraction of what you thought you would.
18. Repurpose flowers
So many flowers are involved in a wedding. Florists and flower decorations for weddings cost an average of $2,411. One convenient way to cut down costs on the floral arrangements is to repurpose the ceremony flowers and reuse them for the reception. Working with a florist, you can figure out how different flowers from the ceremony can be best adapted to the design of your reception later.
19. Minimalist flowers
A good florist should be able to work with you on your budget, and be able to make a memorable arrangement with it. Part of that may simply be a minimalist approach - be it fewer flowers or fewer types of flowers. Minimalist designs will cost less and potentially provide your wedding with a memorably unique look you may not have expected.
20. One menu per table
There's just so much paper involved in weddings, and it adds up. A single menu at the center of the table, rather than one per person, is a simple way to shave a few unnecessary bucks off the cost of everything. You're free to get creative with it, maybe have an artistically inclined friend create a lovely looking menu for every table.
21. Book the photographer for fewer hours
Generally, wedding photographers are paid on an hourly basis, and having them around before the ceremony through the end of the reception gets very costly. Unless you feel that strongly that you need 12 hours worth of photos, you may want to consider trimming the amount of hours you'll have a photographer at your wedding. Make sure its enough to get pictures of the most important moments, and even just two fewer hours can save you plenty.
22. Keep the cake simple
Instead of a massive, multi-tiered cake that would feed twice as many people as will be at your wedding, keep it simple. Much like with flowers, there's nothing wrong with going a more minimalist route here. A delicious cake that can feed everyone attending is sure to please, even if it's smaller with a more minimal floral design to it. Also keep in mind the ingredients when determining cost; buttercream is a less expensive form of frosting than fondant.
23. Keep the reception short
Paying for the reception hall by the hour? Perhaps trim the expected time by an hour or so, especially if the reception is earlier than usual. You and your guests will still have a good amount of time to have fun and celebrate your marriage, and afterward is always a hotel or home for an afterparty.
24. Stay on top of expenses
Ultimately, this will end up being the most important thing of all. There are so many moving parts in a wedding that it can be easy to let things get away from you. Stay on top of everything. Make a budget early on and always have it in the back of your head when planning. Keep track of every expense so far and how it impacts the budget. Wedding planning can be as stressful as it gets sometimes, but staying focused can keep it from spiraling out of control, and give you the best chance at getting the wedding you deserve.