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How to Plan Your Dream Wedding On a Budget

Updated on June 29, 2014

Having the wedding you want without breaking your bank!

Congratulations on being in the position of planning your wedding!  Believe me; I never thought I would ever be planning my own wedding.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I was the oldest first time bride in North America!  As it turns out, 43 years old isn’t the oldest first time bride (I wasn’t able to verify who was) but at times I was certain by the looks on some people’s faces when I told them I indeed wasn’t the mother of the bride, but the bride, that I was the oldest first time bride they had ever seen! 

As someone who may be considered to be discriminating in her tastes (I did wait until I was 43 years old to find the right man didn’t I?!) I feel uniquely qualified to write about wedding planning.  I am also known in some circles as “the info-chick” because I have a habit of researching just about everything, especially when it comes to spending money.  So, as a result, you are about to learn some of the best tips that I found to be helpful when planning a wedding.

This article is designed to help you navigate though what can be a very stressful time.  All of the clichés about how this is one of the happiest times of your life, yet the most stressful, is true.  It is also true that your actual wedding day goes by in a flash and you can’t believe that it took months to plan and only hours to experience.   Some of the other things that I learned is that it is true that a bride must take care of herself throughout the process; good eating habits coupled with an exercise plan is a must.  Not just because most brides feel they need to lose a few pounds before the big day, but also because healthy living keeps a gal prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Very few brides have unlimited resources and therefore must find the best way to make her dreams come true on a budget.  I found that opening my mind to possibilities was one of the best ways to make things happen.  Too often, we as women can get an idea locked into our heads and nothing changes our minds.  Sometimes the idea is extremely costly, either financially or emotionally. (Think about a themed wedding with live songbirds and every guest releasing a dove etc. etc.)  I was surprised to learn that what I thought my wedding day would be like (even though I had given up the idea that I would ever find a husband) was not at all what it turned out to be; and I couldn’t be happier!  Simply because I opened my mind to possibilities, I was able to have a wedding that exceeded my expectations.

Your Wedding Experience

If you and your fiancé haven’t done so already, make sure you have agreed upon what type of experience you want your wedding to be.  Remember your wedding is an event for more than just the two of you, so you should also consider what your guests would experience as well.  My husband and I determined that we wanted our wedding to be a mix of tradition and fun (this is not to say that a traditional wedding cannot be fun, rather we chose to put some twists on a few things).  Between the two of us, we had been to countless weddings and talked about what we liked and didn’t like when we were guests as well as members of wedding parties.  This served as the basis of our planning.  We also evaluated what the cost of items were and if we could justify the cost for the experience that it bought. This really became an important part of our planning, as it allowed us to evaluate if something was truly meaningful to us or simply something that we were being talked into by either a merchant or a wedding magazine article or advertisement!

Getting and Staying Organized

Be sure to stay organized.  Your wedding is a big event with many things to consider.  You may want to set up an organizational system such as a three ring binder with folders that clip into the binder and can hold invoices, receipts etc.  Folder sections can be arranged alphabetically by topic for easier handling.  Sections can include (among others) Cake information, Service venue info (place of worship, beach, hall, etc.) Music information; (Disc Jockey, song selections, band/quartet etc.) Gown, tux and other formal wear info, Honeymoon, Invitation info, travel information-local hotels for guests, photography/video, gift registry, etc.  Your organizational system can be as elaborate or as informal as you desire, the main thing is to have one for not only will it keep you on track, but it is also fun to look back long after your wedding day is complete and see what went into making your big day such a success.

Find and Use A Planning Tool

Even a simple three-ring notebook with pocket envelopes will help you to stay organized
Even a simple three-ring notebook with pocket envelopes will help you to stay organized

Top Tips to Saving Money When Planning a Wedding:

Time of day: It’s true; an evening wedding on a Saturday night during the summer or a holiday period is the most expensive time to have a wedding. I never thought I would be married during the daytime, but if I wanted to wait more than a year and spend about $16,000.00 additional dollars, then we could have had our wedding on a Saturday night. This would not have been the best option for many of our guests, as we were married in San Diego, California and many guests came from the east coast. An evening wedding would have seen us eat dinner at about 8:00 p.m., which would have been 11:00 p.m. to the stomachs of several guests (this is due to the time zone differences). We figured if we were going to spend a lot of money to feed people, they better not be ready to go to sleep instead of eat! We chose a Saturday morning to have our wedding because San Diego is quite beautiful during the day with the bright blue sky and ocean backdrop. The wedding began at 9:30 am and concluded at 3:00 pm. We had the rest of the day to enjoy as newlyweds and had the added benefit of being able to change out of our formal wear and hang out with friends and family at different informal gatherings. One of the best-unexpected things that happened that day was that we were able to have a quiet dinner together at a favorite restaurant and no one knew it was our wedding day. This afforded us the chance to bask in the fact that we just got married and discuss the events of the day. After dinner, we stopped by a few places that our guests were staying at and thanked them for sharing in our day.

TIP : Look into having your wedding during off peak times. This typically means during the daytime, or on a Friday evening. It can also mean a weekend during the winter months or in the fall. Summertime is the number one time for weddings in America and vendors are able to charge premium prices.

Location:The location of your wedding is certainly a major consideration. You need to determine if you want your ceremony to be indoors or out, in a place of worship, or in perhaps even at your home. The choice is up to you. Each choice of course comes with some price; either financial or emotional. You need to determine if you have always wanted to walk down a long aisle in your house of worship, or if you want to stand at the water’s edge or on a mountain top or host a trendy “destination wedding” which is a current rage. The thing to consider is that most every location will have some cost. It is imperative to check into rental costs or expected user fees. Check with those in charge of the venue and inquire as to what the costs are. It is better to do this right away in order to factor in what could be seen as hidden costs.

Wedding Resources

  • Your Wedding Gown: There are a myriad of choices and price tags and there are great bargains to be found. Consider sample sales, wearing a dress from a previous season, borrowing a dress, checking out consignment stores as well as Craig’s List and Ebay . I once heard it said that a bride will choose her gown from one of the first ten that she tries on.
  • Keep that in mind when you are looking for the perfect dress you may have found it in the first few that you tried on but were afraid that it was “too easy” to find your dream dress so early in the game. If you don’t believe the statistic ask your friends who are married how many dresses they tried on before they found “the one” and you may be surprised (as I was when I did my own data collection) that many women indeed found their dress sooner (in the first ten) rather than (20 or 30 dresses) later in the process (F.Y.I. the gown of my dream was the fifth one that I tried on!) Keep in mind that many wedding gowns are very heavy and it takes a lot of energy (both physically and emotionally) to try them on and even more energy to try to recreate something similar after you pass on a few but deep down know that you liked a dress that was previously tried on. You may also want to take along a digital camera to capture not only the dress but the excitement about finding your wedding gown.
  • Also, know that unless you are really good at imagining what the finished dress will look like after it has been altered to fit you, it can be pretty stressful to envision just what you will look like in your gown. As far as alterations go, it is wise to inquire about the alteration rates when you purchase the gown and then shop around (by asking friends for references for anyone who does quality alterations) and find the best rate for alterations. There are very few of us (if any) who can simply try on a gown and not need alterations so it pays to have a quality seamstress do the job so you will look your best on your big day.

Gown alterations are a part of the process
Gown alterations are a part of the process
Take a camera along to capture the moment when you find "the dress"!
Take a camera along to capture the moment when you find "the dress"!

More Resources

  • Consult the bookBridal Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields. This gem of a book can help you to navigate through the maze of wedding planning but most importantly “wedding savings”. This book (as of this writing is in its tenth edition) covers everything you will need to have a wonderful, memory filled wedding while saving you a boatload of bucks. The website also features a very comprehensive wedding planner which is indispensable when you are up to your eyeballs in planning and feel the emotions of the event. Face it, few of us do a stellar job of thinking of every detail when we are consumed with emotion and stress let alone trying to make sure every detail has been thought of. This book and planner does the trick and is worth the purchase. Heck, if you don’t want to fork out the bucks to buy the book you can either head to your local library and borrow a copy, or ask for your very own as a shower gift! (Perhaps a bit tacky but an effective way to get the book).
  • Determine what your budget will be and stick to it. This can sometimes be easier said than done! With weddings costing an average of $20,000 dollars, you want to be sure that you can both afford the wedding and enjoy the experience at the same time!
  • Continually communicate. This means not only should you communicate with your fiancé, but with your bridal party, parents (step-parents) and vendors as well. It is easy to be swept away by emotions during the planning phase but if you haven’t effectively communicated your wants and desires to all parties involved, then your dream wedding can quickly disintegrate into a nightmare!
  • Speaking of communication you may (as we did) find it invaluable to establish a wedding website. We chose to use The Wedding Channel as it helped to have a central spot for our gift registries (a must unless you are fine with your guests deciding what you simply cannot live without!) as well as a great planning guide and forums to learn about all things associated with weddings.

Capturing the Day on Film

  • Invest in quality photography and/or videography. This is one area that you don’t want to skimp on. Your wedding is meant to be a once in a lifetime event and should be captured in photo’s and video’s as the people that attend come together for one moment in time and the results are priceless! Do be sure to conduct a thorough reference check of the professionals that you hire as you don’t want to end up on the local news in one of those “problem solver’s to the rescue” segments because the person that you hired disappeared with your money and your photo’s. Ask your friends and friends of friends who they used at their wedding and what their level of satisfaction was not only with the product but how the crew treated the bride and groom and the guests during the event. After you have settled on one or two picks, interview the contenders and ask them for references and be sure to contact the references. It may also be wise to contact your local Better Business Bureau ( to see if there are any complaints about your potential hires. This step may seem like a needless act to take during such a stressful time (the planning phase) but unless you have rock solid evidence of stellar performances the time invested with the Better Business Bureau may very well be the best investment that you have made since you can only capture your wedding on film just once.
  • Should you be getting married in Southern California (San Diego County) you may want to check out Bob Hoffman Video Productions  as the they do an outstanding job on all levels, from the planning to filming to follow up. We made the decision to invest in both photos and video/DVD of our big day and are glad that we did, as the investment is one that will continue to pay off over our lifetime because of the memories we made on our wedding day.

Videographer at work

Choose a videographer who will do the work with out being in the way of the action
Choose a videographer who will do the work with out being in the way of the action

Tips to Make Your Wedding Day go Smoothly

  • Make sure any bachelor and bachelorette parties are held well in advance of the wedding. It’s not a pretty sight to see members of the wedding party (bride and groom included) looking like the cat just dragged him or her to the wedding!
  • Be sure to eat something prior to the ceremony regardless of the time of day the ceremony will be held. Certainly nerves are a factor (and sometimes can be an appetite suppressant) but a little food can go a long way in preventing a disaster at the altar or the reception. (Think America’s Funniest Video’s where the bride or groom faints at the altar or is tipsy at the reception) You certainly don’t want your special day to be talked about for years to come because of the way that you collapsed during the event!
  • Consider having several smaller cakes using fresh flowers on the top as centerpieces for your tables. This was one way that we were able to save money. By forgoing one large wedding cake, (which also carried a fee for having the wait staff cut into smaller pieces) we placed a smaller flowered cake on each table and our guests could take as much or as little as they wanted. The cakes were very beautiful and served as centerpieces (think “two for one” deal). We also provided a variety of flavors for our cakes and our guests had fun moving from table to table in search of their favorite flavor. Additionally, we had a special cake on our table so that we could keep the tradition of saving some cake for our first anniversary.
  • Try to savor every moment of the event! Take it all in, be sure to smile and remember to visit with every guest even if you have no clue as to who they are because you haven’t met them yet (think Cousin Larry’s new girlfriend). It is polite to meet with your guests, if even for a few brief moments. They want to congratulate you and share in your happiness.

One Way to Save

Combining a small cake at each table and adorning them with fresh flowers  will  save money as it serve as both the centerpiece and dessert and guest can help themselves!
Combining a small cake at each table and adorning them with fresh flowers will save money as it serve as both the centerpiece and dessert and guest can help themselves!

Honeymoon Ideas

  • Consider a honeymoon that will provide some quiet time for just the two of you. If you go on a honeymoon right after your wedding, you may wish to consider something simple that doesn’t involve lots of planning or work on your part. You will be both exhausted and exhilarated from your wedding and will enjoy some time where you neither have to plan or be concerned about the schedule of events.
  • A friend suggested to us that we should consider taking a cruise as they had done so as newlyweds and enjoyed just kicking back and being able to “leave the driving” to someone else. We took them up on their advice and were glad that we did. We enjoyed a seven day cruise that left from our home town of San Diego (no planes to catch and some of our wedding guests were at the dock to see us off) and sailed to the Mexican Riviera.
  • We sailed with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and enjoyed the honeymoon package complete with our suite decorated with welcome streamers, Champaign and a honeymoon cake. In the cruise line tradition of sitting with others for dinners we were placed with another honeymooning couple who were also married on the same day we were. Even though we were strangers, we had much in common and were able to share and compare our respective weddings. This was a nice bonus because we were able to share the excitement of our special day and knew that we were not boring others, rather we could relate to their stories and share in their joy and they did the same for us.
  • The best part about the cruise was that we could disappear into our cabin and take in as little or as much of the cruise experience as we wanted and the biggest decisions we made were what to eat and what, if any, shore excursions we would go on. This was a welcomed relief after months of planning and stressing over our big day.

Final Thoughts

No matter what you decide for your wedding day and your honeymoon (should you decide to take one) be sure to be true to yourselves, plan a budget within your means and stick to it as your wedding day is just that- one day, and not something that should take years to pay for.  Enjoy the planning and the events leading up to and including the big day. Most of all, have fun!

Have fun on your special day!
Have fun on your special day!

This article was written by Judy Richards Hunsberger and cannot be copied without my expressed written consent.


Submit a Comment
  • Judy HBerg profile imageAUTHOR

    Judy HBerg 

    6 years ago

    Natesphotos-Thanks for stopping by and leaving feedback.

  • natesphotos profile image

    Nathan Petty Photography 

    6 years ago from San Diego, CA

    Thanks for sharing this. So much good advice!

  • Judy HBerg profile imageAUTHOR

    Judy HBerg 

    8 years ago

    Ripplemaker: Thanks for the nomination and for your kind comments.

    Denise: Your comments are greatly appreciated a vote as is your vote of confidence on the hubmob contest!

    Elayne: thanks for reading and leaving such positive feedback.

  • elayne001 profile image


    8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

    Such great advice and very well written. Congrats on your nomination and good luck.

  • Denise Handlon profile image

    Denise Handlon 

    8 years ago from North Carolina

    Wow! Great budget minded tips. You could have easily participated in the hubmob contest with this one last week. Welcome to hubpages and good luck with your nomination.

  • ripplemaker profile image

    Michelle Simtoco 

    8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

    Great wedding tips. I agree about sticking to the budget and not having to live the next years of your life paying for it! :)

    Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination! Follow this link and see for yourself! Enjoy!

  • Judy HBerg profile imageAUTHOR

    Judy HBerg 

    8 years ago

    Thanks for the kind feedback!

  • edelhaus profile image


    8 years ago from Munich, Germany

    A very nice hub and a beautiful wedding!


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