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Have a Budget Wedding - Without Breaking Etiquette

Updated on March 30, 2014

Everybody wants to save money on their wedding,

but how do you cut the budget without appearing rude or cheap? "Etiquette" makes one think of stuffy, old-fashioned rules, but the heart of etiquette is making your guests feel comfortable and welcome. Nobody cares how great the centerpieces were if half your guests didn't have anything to eat all night. Below, I have tips on how to cut the budget while making sure your guests still have a good time.

That's gonna cost you
That's gonna cost you

Before the wedding - Wedding Showers, Invitations, and More

How to save money on your wedding invitations and pre-wedding events

Good news here: you will be pleased to know that it is not the bride and groom's responsibility to throw a wedding shower, bachelorette party, or bridal shower--in fact, like throwing a birthday party for yourself, it goes against etiquette.

So who can throw the party?

Friends of the bride, coworkers...but not the bride herself nor her close family. Sorry, but them's the rules.

Who should be invited to the wedding shower?

Nobody should be invited to the shower or bachelorette that isn't invited to the wedding. Beyond that? For the shower, as long as you have the moms and sisters of the bride and groom covered, you're good. For the bachelorette though, the moms and sisters don't need to be included :-)

Is it OK to put registry information on the shower invites?

Actually, yes. This is the ONLY wedding-related invitation where it's ok to put registry info with the invites. Bachelorette parties and engagement parties are not traditionally gift-giving events so it doesn't go in those invites. And the wedding invitation? Keep all mention of gifts out of the wedding invitation and save the dates. You can't put registry card inserts in with the wedding invite. What if you want cash, instead of gifts? Or if you want people to donate to a particular charity instead of giving you a gift? You can't put any of that in the invitations. You seriously have to pretend like there's no such thing as wedding presents, as far as the invitations go. Even if you don't want anything, it's rude to mention!

You can: put your wedding registry info on your wedding website, and ask your family to (discreetly) spread the word about your preferences. While you may get a few toasters, most people won't just blindly go out and buy you a gift--they'll either look up your registry or ask you or your mom what you want.

For the wedding, is it rude not to send save the dates?

Save the dates are nice, but they are a recent thing and they aren't a requirement. And they can also get you in trouble if you send them out, then later decide to cut your guest list. If you're in doubt at all, be safe and don't send them.

I have some more specific tips on how to save money on your wedding invites, without offending grandma. Check that out because I ain't trying to be redundant. But here is one very, very important tip regarding your wedding invites: Check your postage. Take a completed wedding invitation, with all the envelopes and inserts, etc, to the post office and get the proper postage. If the envelope is too heavy, or a weird shape, or if it has a big lump in the middle or something, it will cost more than 48 cents to mail. I'm a part time carrier and most of the insufficient postage stuff I get is wedding invitations. I even got one with no stamp at all (?!?!?!?!) and no return address either!

A run-down of what you need--and what you can skip:

Your wedding invitation should match the tone of the wedding. If you are having an ultra-formal, white tie affair, you need fancy invitations and you should ignore this guide. Beach wedding in the middle of the afternoon? You can go more casual, and skip some of the wedding invitation conventions. Not only will you save on the invites themselves, you'll save on postage too if you have a lighter envelope.

Save the Dates - nice if your wedding will have a lot of out-of-town guests, but these are a relatively new thing and they're not mandatory. Not only that, but since they're not the wedding invitation, it's OK to use informal communication for a save-the-date.

Having both an outer and inner envelope - that is, an outer envelope where you put all the stamps and what-not, stuffed with an inner envelope that's prettier. Nice, but not necessary, and you're doubling your guests' chances of getting paper cuts.

Reception Card - not necessary if your wedding ceremony and reception are in the same place. Even if they aren't, you can add a footnote to the invitation itself, instead of using a whole separate card.

RSVP Card with its own self-addressed stamped envelope - yes, that means you're shelling out for double postage. Etiquette-wise, you don't even need to supply the RSVP card at all, much less a tiny envelope with its own stamp. Realistically? If you're having a large wedding and want to save yourself the headache of calling everybody, I would do it. However, instead of a card with its own envelope, you could get RSVP postcards instead. Just like the invitations, I'd get these measured by the post office. On the plus, postcard stamps are only 29 cents.

Map and Directions Cards - etiquette-wise, you are not required to provide these, and in the age of Mapquest and GPS, they're not as necessary as they used to be. I'd do them only if your wedding is in a hard-to-find place.

Did you register? - What for?

What did you register for?

See results
you don't even know half these people!
you don't even know half these people!

Who's coming?

One of the best ways to cut the wedding budget is to slash the guest list. But who gets the cut?

If you invite Angelina Jolie to your wedding, you have to invite Brad but do you have to invite ALL 30 or 50 of their kids? You have to invite your mom but do you have to invite your mom's boyfriend? Unless you're a Rockafeller, you can't invite everybody you've ever met to your wedding, so here's how to cut your guest list--without offending.

Is it rude not to invite kids?

No, and in fact many weddings are not appropriate for young children. However, this can be tricky because in some families, weddings are more like a family reunion. Even if you just address the invitation to the parents, some people will assume their kids are invited too, so you'll have to spread the word. No matter what you decide, keep it universal to avoid hurt feelings: either no kids at all, or everybody can bring their kids.

Do I have to invite my sister's beau?

Even if you've never met the guy, if they're married, engaged, or live together, you have to invite him.

Do I have to let my single guests bring a date?

Oh, the "Bob and Guest"? No, this is not required.

Remember the golden rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules. If your parents are paying for the wedding, they do have a say in the guest list, but if you're footing the bill yourself? Don't get bamboozled into inviting your mom's bridge club.

Can I invite guests to the ceremony and not the reception?

No way! A good rule of thumb is, as the day goes on, you can add people but not subtract people. For example, say you are getting married in a small church, or your church has restrictions on who can come in--you can have a small ceremony, for just close family, then have a large reception for everybody afterwards. That's ok. But you can't have a large ceremony, then only invite certain people to the reception. Or invite some guests to the cocktail hour and sit-down dinner and other guests to just the cocktail hour. That's rude.

Anybody can understand that weddings are expensive and you can't invite everybody. They will understand not getting invited. They will not understand getting invited to part of it and then being told to leave while others get to stay.

Or are you?

That's more like it.
That's more like it.

How are you cutting your guest list?

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The big money-saving tip:

Have your ceremony and reception in the same place.

One way to save tons of money on your wedding is to find a single venue, maybe even a single room, that can accommodate both your wedding ceremony and your reception. There are tons of advantages and virtually no downsides:

* Save money right off by renting only one venue instead of two

* No limos or transportation from the ceremony to the reception

* Easier on your guests - now they don't have to get in the car and schlep on over to the reception.

* Because your guests can't get lost, you're virtually guaranteed your reception can start on time, saving you on your DJ, caterer, etc, charging you for going over time, and general headache.

* Your lovely decorations can serve double-duty, saving money.

One thing that works out well is to rent one large room, set up one end for the ceremony (with the arch, rows of chairs, etc) and the other end for the reception, with a fabric wall dividing the space. After the ceremony, get a couple of the ushers to move all the ceremony chairs and candelabras out of the way and bam! Instant dance floor.

You can even skip the chairs bit, and have everybody seated at their tables for your ceremony.

Dang it, Aunt Julie!
Dang it, Aunt Julie!

The Myth About Wedding Gifts

Many believe the fallacy that "the wedding gift must cover the cost of your plate at the reception." They think good guests must do this, or else they are rude.

Not only is this not true, it can set the bride and groom up for failure. I have heard many a venue manager tell a prospective couple this lie. "Don't worry about the cost of your reception venue, because your wedding gifts will cover it!" All they are trying to do is sell you on something you can't afford.

Even if it were true, how the heck are your wedding guests supposed to know how much they are costing you, unless you go around blabbing about it? Unless Aunt Julie holds large events regularly, she has no idea what a big event costs.

If Aunt Julie writes you a big check before your wedding, put that into your wedding budget. Otherwise, don't assume you will recoup any of your wedding costs with the wedding gifts.

Yeah, not bringing this home
Yeah, not bringing this home

Other Ways To Save

Skip the favors - Favors were invented by the Wedding Industrial Complex to generate extra cash during the slow months. It isn't poor etiquette to not have favors. And honestly, I've never gotten a wedding favor (except for candy!) that I'd keep.

Don't use flowers for centerpieces - use anything...literally ANYTHING save for solid gold bars...and save big. Unless you've got a massive deal on flowers, near anything will be cheaper. And don't think your centerpieces have to be those huge things you see in wedding magazines. Those sure do look cool, but nobody wants to talk around a giant vase all night.

Have the wedding on an off day, off-season - having the wedding on a Friday or Sunday will save you tons on your venue, catering, and DJ. Off-season weddings--this is going to vary based on where you live--are also a great way to save money, and if your wedding is indoors, the season doesn't even matter. Why pay May prices when you don't have to?

If you have your wedding at dinner time, you have to serve dinner. Having a 5pm wedding with no meal is rude and inconsiderate. Would you invite somebody to your house at 5pm and not feed them? If you cannot afford to serve a meal, have an afternoon, or late night wedding, and have appetizers.

I've got some tips on how to save money on your wedding chairs.

Skip the bar entirely, or see how to save money on your wedding bar.

If you are having a tented outdoor wedding, I've got loads of tips on tent weddings here. Beware: while a tent wedding in your back yard seems like a cheap, low-key way to do it, it can be MORE expensive than renting an indoor space if you aren't careful.

Gotta Have Favors but Can't Afford Them?

Give away your centerpieces. Great ideas for giveable centerpieces include: several tiny bud vases, cute candles, small snacks like almonds in little cute baggies...the more personal this is the better.

Cute Centerpieces that Aren't Flowers!

Don't believe me? Here are some cool centerpiece ideas that aren't flowers and aren't fake flowers either!

You can also get more value out of these than out of flowers that will die in a few days. Or, pick something you can use around the house, in the garden, or as a holiday decoration.

Luxury Lane Hand Blown Red Art Glass Pitcher Vase 15" tall
Luxury Lane Hand Blown Red Art Glass Pitcher Vase 15" tall

Just a vase itself is a good centerpiece. Don't think you need to get 15 matching vases--do a different one for each table. After the wedding you'll be set for home decor.

 
Hinterland Trading Air Plant Tillandsia Bromeliads Terrarium Kit with Pebbles and Moss Great Little Houseplant
Hinterland Trading Air Plant Tillandsia Bromeliads Terrarium Kit with Pebbles and Moss Great Little Houseplant

There we go, we have a beautiful, living plant, that can also serve as a favor or can be used in the home post-wedding.

 
It ain't gonna write itself.
It ain't gonna write itself.

Wedding Don'ts

No, no, no! Money-saving tricks that DON'T work and just look tacky and rude.

Don't skip the thank-yous: You don't need to spend your honeymoon sending thank you notes, but send them out in a timely fashion. It's a myth that you have a year to send them--the truth is that the guests have a year to send you a wedding present, not that you have a year to send a thank you note. Send a thank you note for all shower and wedding gifts, as well as to anybody who's done you a solid. Your uncle loans you his Ferrari to use as the get away car? Yeah, send a thank you note for that.

However, the thank you notes don't have to match the wedding invitations, or even be fancy. A nice, handwritten thank you note on ordinary stationary is always appreciated.

Don't use the wedding as a fundraiser: Dollar dances, wishing wells, cash bars...skip that tacky mess. Asking your guests to pay for anything at your wedding is rude, rude, rude. You won't generate much money, plus many of your guests are already going to give you cash or gift cards.

Honeymoon Fund: This is the practice of registering for your honeymoon. For one, no. And for two, it's not a good idea practically. If your guests don't contribute, you could end up paying for the rest of a honeymoon you can't afford (unlike registering for china, if nobody buys the china you're not still on the hook for it). Many couples delay the honeymoon or go on a nice trip their first or second anniversary. It's not like you're not going to have the rest of your lives together, right?

No chairs at the wedding ceremony: So unbelievably wrong! Even if your ceremony is "only twenty minutes", nobody rolls in right when "Here Comes the Bride" starts playing. Your guests are going to get there earlier than that, usually twenty or thirty minutes early, and if the wedding is delayed at all, that's even longer that people have to stand. Elderly and disabled people can't stand for a long time like that. Having a couple of chairs set aside for those folks doesn't solve the problem, as inevitably some able-bodied jerk will take it and granny will have to stand. Seriously, you can rent folding chairs for less than $2 each. There's a lot of things you can cut, but you can't cut that.

Thank You Note Help

Writing TY notes has always been difficult for me. No, I'm not ungrateful, I'm just terrible at writing stuff like this. I worry that I sound phony or not pleased enough. If you're like me, you might need help.

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