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Budget Wedding - Ideas That Work

Updated on May 3, 2013
Some restaurants will throw in a cake with no additional cutting or serving fees.
Some restaurants will throw in a cake with no additional cutting or serving fees.

Organizing a Cheap and Chic Wedding

While planning for my own wedding which is about 60 days away, I’ve found some tips and tricks that I thought would be helpful to share with other brides who are creating a cost-saving, beautiful wedding. Take a deep breath – here’s some time and penny saving ideas!

Avoid Using the "W" word

Most restaurants and venues will charge a lot more when they hear the word "wedding", even though the menu is the same. You’ll find the “W” word makes just about everything just a bit more expensive. Instead, refer to your event as a family gathering, family celebration or reunion.

Time is of the Essence

  • July through September weddings are the cheapest to plan for
  • December through June weddings are among the most expensive.
  • Morning weddings with Brunch receptions are the cheapest to organize - not only is food cheaper, but people consume less alcohol in the morning than at night.
  • You may be able to get away with serving a champagne toast without any additional alcohol served at a morning wedding reception (depending on your guests, of course)

Alternative Invitations

Hand-making elements of your wedding, including invitations and seating/escort cards can be a memorable activity you do with your bridesmaids or family members. Handmade paper items can be cheaper, more meaningful yet often look more expensive… However – I should mention – I am a patient visual artist and am fast on a computer. My wedding invitations without postage cost around $50.00

If you are artistically challenged…and you have no artist friends or relatives to help, consider a discount stationer.

*Also, keep in mind - ENVELOPES can alter the cost of shipping. To save extra dollars, you can save by making a standard sized or smaller invitation. (my handmade invitations cost more to ship because the envelope was 1/8 “ too big.

There is no shame in saving trees - with so many wedding websites available, consider e-inviations. They're not as swank as holding a think piece of paper, but guests will love how easy it is to respond and how tech savvy you are! You'll also probably get your responses back more quickly!

Limit Your Guests

Feeding people will be your biggest expense. Consider the most important people you want to invite. Your uncle’s cousin that you met once when you were 2 years old will still survive even if he doesn't get an invite. And, with the extra money you save from feeding people you see once every 20 years, you can put it toward an awesome honeymoon!

Though it crosses the minds of many brides to invite someone who they *think* won't come, so they can get a gift, the payoff truly isn't worth it! (Especially when you don't know what the gift is!)

Ask Your Friends for Help

I’m lucky enough to have friends who are musicians. I have them playing the welcoming music, the wedding march and even a pop song for when the wedding party walks to their places. It’s personalized and free. (I saved an average of $500!). I have another friend making my flower arrangements, and since the reception is at a restaurant – I only need flowers for the wedding party.

Know your photographer

There are different types of wedding photographers.

  • The classic documentary photographers will be the ones that line up your family in rows and take formal portraits which are posed.
  • A photojournalistic photographer takes “in the moment” photographs that are not posed. This is nice to capture really beautiful moments of people moving through space. They are more artistic and may alter the lighting or the final color of the photos you get to choose from.

Your photographer will be telling the story of your wedding through their eyes – so make sure you like their vision or you’ll end up with pictures you can’t really relate to. A fun website to look at to see different styles of photographers work is: Green Wedding Shoes

Photographers are expensive. There are few options of getting around this. If you have a friend that takes photos, that’s the best idea. However, if you’re like me and don’t want your guests to work, the second best thing is to make a connection with a photographer.

Talk to your potential photographer upfront about your budget. If you find someone who is first starting out in wedding photography (but are still good), they may offer you a deal. Or, they may have an assistant that knows the drill and is looking to add to their portfolio and will give you a lower price.

Don’t use disposable cameras. They are expensive to process and most people do not have an eye for photography or composition. You’ll end up spending a lot of money for something that may not give you the results you had hoped for.

Get a Wedding Website

I don’t know how I would have ever organized information for my guests without a website. is a comprehensive website that charges around $10 a month for a website. (Go for the middle priced packages - it's all you really need). Here I was able to establish an RSVP list for both the wedding and reception. I also put photographs of the wedding party for all to see, and information with links to hotels for out of town guests, driving instructions, a wedding registry and a personal note. It was the absolute most brilliant decision I made through the planning process. And, the best $40 I’ll have spent on the entire wedding!

Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress

Research what type of gown looks good on your figure. If you are inheriting a gown from family or friends, find out if you can alter it. You may be able to shorten it or add sleeves to it to make it your own.

Alternatively, you can find a ton of used gowns in all sizes on the internet. Many women who have just been married and need money to start their lives, or are cleaning out their closets, post their dresses for really great deals. Check out Wore It Once or Once Wed.

There are also several wholesale operations that will take a picture of a gown you send them via email and recreate it in China for less than a couple hundred dollars. These dresses may not be made with top quality materials, but if you’re only wearing it for a couple of hours, you may not care all that much. These wholesale shops can be found on eBay under the heading “Wedding Gowns”.

Research and keep a catalog of photos of wedding gowns, couture gowns and celebrity gowns…after compiling a ton of images you love – or love parts of, whittle them down to your top 10 and consider finding a dressmaker.

I found a dressmaker in Thailand, bought my own fabric and had my gown made from a compilation of 3 photographs. The main body of the gown I chose was from a $16,000 dress by St. Pucci, while the bustle was from another couture dress. I ended up parting with a total of $600. for a custom form-fitting dress made of 100% Thai silk. Deals are out there if you’re patient and creative!


If you book a block of tuxedos at a rental shop, the groom usually gets his for free. If your groomsmen are on a budget perhaps they could just wear matching ties and button down shirts.

Matching colorful socks are pretty cool too!


Off-beat venues used to be the best bargain – but theatres, farmers with empty barns and galleries have all caught on – some of them are even more expensive than a church or estate venue.

First try to figure out if you have any friends that can offer their space for free. Most theatres close for the summer and may have extra space to rent.

A friend that had a tiny wedding of 15 people, had the wedding party meet up at a “scenic overlook” for a 10 minute long ceremony during sunset that was absolutely beautiful, then we moved on to the party. A fantastic free location for a gorgeous wedding ceremony!

A wedding on a scenic viewpoint on a mountain.
A wedding on a scenic viewpoint on a mountain.


Outdoor weddings cost more because chairs, tables, silverware, stemware all need to be rented and caterers usually need to be hired.

Restaurants on the other hand, are already decorated. There’s no need for centerpieces or candles. This saves a tremendous amount of money. The waiters are already trained and are permanent, rather than catering companies who oftentimes have mediocre wait staff because they were hired that day to serve at your wedding.

Haggle before you sign any contracts! Though people are still spending money on weddings, if you are having your reception at a restaurant, they want your business. Even if they throw in a free cake with no additional serving fee (which my venue did) or if they throw in a glass of champagne to toast with (mine threw in a free ½ glass of champagne), it’s better than having to pay extra for these things. Negotiations end when a contract is signed.

Rehearsal Dinner

Consider a themed rehearsal dinner.

  • Mexican is a great option for cheap cocktails – most restaurants serve pitchers of sangria.
  • Diners offer a casual and fun space to meet up with family and friends.
  • Many restaurants will offer party menus. Friday and Saturday nights are the most expensive – so try to book on a weekday to save money.

Cupcakes look amazing, but cost more than a cake!
Cupcakes look amazing, but cost more than a cake!

The Cake

See if you have any bakers in your family that want to make a cake for you.

Also, check out local baking classes - some students that have just learned to decorate cakes would love the opportunity to build their portfolio by making your wedding cake in exchange for you purchasing the ingredients.

Cupcakes have been very popular with recent brides. They look great, but are more expensive because instead of decorating one big cake - the decorator has to decorate several tiny cakes. Whatever you would have saved in cake-cutting and serving fees, is absorbed into decorating the tops of cupcakes.

Check to make sure that your reception area allows you to bring in a cake and find out how much they charge to serve it before you make final decisions. The restaurant my reception is at would have cost me more to have my sister make a cake for free because of their serving charge per plate, than what I eventually got - which was a free cake made by the restaurant's baker.

Party Favors

Find something special, inexpensive and unique at etsy . It's a great place to surf through for artistic creations to give your guests.

Alternatively, if you have a baker in the family, see if they’d be willing to make your great-grandmother’s cookie recipe to share with your guests. Pop them in clear cellophane bags and tie a ribbon around them – it’s beautiful and is the price of ingredients and ribbon.

Or, ask your guests when they RSVP to donate their favorite family recipe and compile them into a photocopied book to give out as favors – this would make your wedding more meaningful for everyone and is the price of photocopies. Everyone loves food – maybe more than shell-shaped soaps!

Hotels - Save Your Guests Money Too!

Check around for hotels that offer a wedding group rate. Most nice hotels will create a “wedding block” which is a group of rooms at a cheaper price. The hotel I chose for my “Official Wedding Hotel” offered rooms at $89 instead of their usual $159. They created a contract for me to sign to verify the block of rooms until a specified date. And, they gave me a direct link to a website for my wedding party to make reservations. It only takes a few minutes to set up and your wedding guests will love you for it. Also, if enough people make reservations at the hotel, the bride and groom get a free suite!

I hope that all of the months I spent researching and stressing out about my own wedding, will save you time and money on yours! (Besides – who wants to start out their new married lives in debt anyway?)


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    • Janellegems profile image


      5 years ago from United States

      These are all great tips to save in every area for a wedding. Love your ideas. Definitely pass this on for my friend's upcoming wedding. Thanks.

    • Laura Spector profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Spector 

      8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much! The morning reception wasn't so bad - as far as a party goes...what it did do, was keep the cost down, then AFTER the reception was over, we went out with friends to a few restaurant/bars around the city - which was really a lot of use out of the wedding gown and got to narrow my focus down on just a handful of friends to party with through the rest of the day into the night!

    • Laura Spector profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Spector 

      8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks so much! The morning reception wasn't so bad - as far as a party goes...what it did do, was keep the cost down, then AFTER the reception was over, we went out with friends to a few restaurant/bars around the city - which was really a lot of use out of the wedding gown and got to narrow my focus down on just a handful of friends to party with through the rest of the day into the night!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh, congrats!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You have a lot of great ideas! I especially loved the idea of having a gown made in Thailand. The only strategy I really don't think I would use is the one about having a morning wedding. I want my (inexpensive) reception (some day) to be a party!!!!

    • Laura Spector profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Spector 

      8 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Mimi, Congrats on your upcoming wedding! I'd be very happy to share tips with you. Come back and visit with questions and I'll let you know if I can help!


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Congrats! I'll probably ask you some tips on my future wedding. :)

    • Laura Spector profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Spector 

      9 years ago from Chiang Mai, Thailand

      Thanks Linda! Thanks for giving a read-over. And, please do pass it on to anyone that needs it. Congrats on your vintage marriage license - that's always inspirational to hear!


    • profile image

      Linda Myshrall 

      9 years ago

      Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! This is a terrific article that covers everything. I've been married so long that our license would require carbon dating, but I will certainly recommend this to anyone who is getting ready to tie the knot. Best of luck, Linda


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