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Planning a Penny-Pincher Wedding

Updated on May 16, 2021

Weddings are quite simply one of the most expensive events that happens in anyone's life and what almost every little girl dreams of. A girl grows up, meets a guy, falls in love, and now has to plan the best, most unique wedding ever that will signify the happy couple's undying love... All on a shoestring budget.

Fortunately, I have written this article to help organize, prioritize, and energize any wedding plan.

Set a budget

As you approach your wedding plans, you have to ask yourself some tough questions. How much are you comfortable spending? Are you willing to eat Ramen Noodles for every meal while you plan this shin-dig? Will there be money left when you are done? This is your chance to sketch out the framework for the wedding.

First, make a list of wants and needs. You need someone to officiate the ceremony, but do you really need the chocolate fountain or the white doves? You need to entertain your guests, but do you need an orchestra?

How many guests do you expect? The more guests, the bigger the venue and the more food and alcohol you will have to provide. Do you need to invite your coworkers in accounting? Don't forget your aunt from Toledo. How many people will be in your bridal party? The bigger the wedding party, the more bouquets and thank you gifts you will have to buy.

As you shop and book services, keep track of everything. If you are not the type of person to keep receipts, use a notebook, a spreadsheet on your computer, or an app on your phone. This will keep you conscious of how much money is really leaving your wallet.

  • Google Keep lets you include pictures and doodles with your notes. This is great app to plan out details.
  • Our Wedding Planner allows you to track to-do lists, guest lists, vendors, and budget. It allows you to set a budget and track your purchases, and calculates what is left of your estimated budget.
  • Wedding Planner by Noeeva tracks budgets, appointment, and guest lists, suggests vendors, and even has Facebook integration to share your planning journey and get feedback from friends.

Make friends

Friends are great, not just for the support they give, but also for the help they provide and connections they may have. Friends make the best "free" labor. Friends can help with everything from preparing and sending invitations to crafting wedding favors and decorations. Who can resist the chance to point at a flower centerpiece and say "I did that"?

Friends can also provide an invaluable link to some of the professional services you will need on your big day. Who doesn't have a friend of a friend who is a closet photo bug or deejays on the weekend? Often, if you have some sort of personal connection, these friends will give you a deal or maybe even free service as their wedding gift to you.

Always remember to be thankful for the help and not to be a bridezilla. If a friend has given up their Saturday (and possibly a paying gig) to photograph your wedding, you need to give him respect. Come up with a list of the things you need from from your friend (a group shot of twenty of your closest relatives, intimate shots of the cake cutting, a poignant shot of the flower girl sitting on the step) and then let them do their job. They have probably been through this before, and you would probably like to remain friends after the wedding is over.

Set a Theme

Setting a theme, whether it be a color scheme or "today I marry my friend" or wild west, will help keep your focus from drifting. Is the pink flamingo going to fit with the wild west theme? Not unless he is wearing a cowboy hat. As excited as you may be about your theme, don't go overboard. Just because you see the most darling cowboy boot shaped drinking glasses online, does not mean you have to buy them for every reception guest. Keep wedding favors useful and/or small. If the item will wind up in a garbage bin or garage sale in less than a year, skip it. Maybe you can use the glasses in the centerpiece instead. Choose items that have the most impact and best convey your theme.


When it comes to the venue, it pays to think outside of the box. It seams like everyone gets married in June, and in fact, April through August are the busiest wedding months. Some venues offer special rates for off season weddings. The exception to this will be the winter holiday season because of holiday parties and Valentines Day.

You might also consider unique places such as your local parks or zoos. Many parks and zoos have built in pavilions and might even have event coordinators or caterers for their charity events.

Ask about packages that include food and decorations, and weigh out it's cost versus it's value to you. If the package includes everything you need for one low price, you are ahead of the game, but if the package has a lot of frills that you don't want or need, move on and do things a la carte.

Food and Drinks

A current trend in wedding reception dining is trimming down from full-blown, multi-coarse meals to brunch or cocktails. If you do this, make sure you specify on the invitation that the occasion will be brunch or cocktails so that your guests will not show up with growling bellies.

As for drinks, do you want the expense of an open bar, or do you want your guests to pay for their drinks? One way to minimize the cost either way is to provide your own bottles of wine for toasts, mimosas for brunch, or another signature mixed drink to represent your wedding. This will allow guests to get appropriately snookered without having to hit the bar and rack up tabs.

The cake tends to be the largest single expense aside from possibly the wedding dress. Many people are going non-traditional with cupcakes or even pies, or if they want to appear to be traditional, they are faking out guests with non-edible Styrofoam layers of cake to give the impression of bigger cakes and giving out slices of sheet cake to eat.

The Dresses

Men have it so easy. They pick out the color and style of suit or tux, they rent it for the day, and they take it back the next day. Their biggest problem is making sure they don't ruin it by ripping it or staining it.

On the other hand, women need to buy the dress they will probably only wear once, have it tailored to their exact fit, and try to stay the same size so the dress continues to fit even though they are exercising to reduce arm hang or any other issues.

One way to limit this issue is to pick a dress that may possibly be worn more than once. Depending on the ages and body types of the bride and brides maids, you may be able to shop at non-wedding shops or websites to pick dresses that are still dressy enough but are also more versatile or less expensive than something that is found in a bridal boutique. Also, take shoes into consideration. I have seen some Spring brides go bare foot and some Summer brides have flip flops. Use this as an excuse to show your individuality.

The Flowers

Flowers don't have to be the big expense that many people make them. Remember the saying "Keep it simple." Sometimes, something understated can have a bigger impact than a giant bouquet of roses or the gargantuan peony centerpiece. Pick flowers that are in season or possibly even something home grown. For example, if Grandpa grows the best roses, maybe you can include a couple of his in your bouquet with some baby's breath and some greenery. This will also hold some sentiment and meaning. However, if Grandpa's roses don't look right or have bugs this year, be prepared to buy another bouquet anyway.

Shop Around

The real key to planning a wedding is shopping around. Compare venues, wedding services, decorations, and even bridal party gifts. You may feel like you need to get each of your brides maids a Kate Spade handbag, but you may only be able to afford a Target handbag. Once again, think outside the box. Visit craft stores, outlet stores, and even resale shops to find steals and deals that will make your wedding complete. Remember that not everything for your wedding needs to say "wedding" on the box. Sometimes, that is just an excuse to add to the price tag.

Use the internet. Search Groupon and other similar sites for deals such as manicures, spa treatments, hair, and facials. Remember to call the spa ahead of time to make sure any coupons purchased can be applied to wedding services or group parties. Websites like offer discount coupons for restaurants. This may be used for any bachelor/bachelorette parties or engagement dinners. Once again, read the fine print for minimum purchases or not valid toward alcohol clauses.

Let Your Guests Do Some of the Work

Finally, get your guests involved in the reception. In the past, couples have placed disposable cameras around the guests' tables to ensure that happy memories have been captured. The modern version of this is to set up a website or an online photo account for guests to send their pictures. Once a guest has uploaded a picture, anyone can go back and download it or print it. Also, have a place for guests to write down their memories and well wishes for the happy couple. These books or posters or whatever you decide to have signed will be invaluable mementos of the joyous day.

© 2012 Liz Woodward


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