Our close friends are getting married in October, and their wedding plans are impressing the hell out of me! They are active, frugal people who are planning a unique wedding for 100+ guests that will be an extremely fun, yet simple, celebration of their future together. This has inspired me to throw together some cheap wedding tips that can save anybody some money when planning their wedding or event of any size.
Start with the Guest List
- The fewer guests, the cheaper. But you don’t have to have a small wedding to avoid going broke. Type up an actual list or use a wedding organizer to create a list of who you’d like to see at your wedding. It may be more people than you originally guesstimated. That’s okay! The amount of people who can show up will vary based on all of the specific factors of your event. According to several sites online that popped up on my search, only 30-40% of your guests will show up for special events like destination weddings, and 85% is the high rule of thumb even if everyone you invite is local and your planned day just happens to be perfect for them all.You can make frugal plans around large groups too!
- Sit down with your beloved and decide what is important to each of you. Make it a safe talk – no wrong answers. Then assign priority to each item. Concentrate on the big parts that matter that you can also afford.
Need a Wedding Planner?
I don’t know anyone personally who hired a wedding planner, but it might be something you crave. Given that, here are a few ideas:
- Do you have a really awesome event planner in your support network? You may have a hidden wedding-planner-in-disguise right under your nose who could help out as a gift to you or at least for way less than the $1500+ variety. In my life, my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law are the amazing party planners of the group since they throw get-togethers monthly for different groups of 10+.
- Check out Craigslist or community sites like Nextdoor.com to find planners in your area (that’s my referral link in case you are starting a new neighborhood). Remember to ask for referrals or at least really detailed plans!
- Professional wedding planners usually can be hired just for sessions if you don’t need them for the entire event. For example, instead of hiring them for $1500+ to run the whole event, they may charge $100-$200 to sit down with you to make a budget or very general plan in an hour or two.
Ceremony Location Ideas
The actual location to hold a wedding usually eats up thousands of dollars by itself. I’m going to suggest way less expensive options below as well as a couple of tips to save even on the “classic” options in case you are going that route instead.
- University campuses. My husband and I got married in the non-denominational chapel on campus at the University of Houston a week after I graduated. It was gorgeous – all windows and classic wooden pews. It felt airy and happy. It also only cost $350.
- Parks. Local parks and most state parks allow you to rent space (or sometimes don’t even have a fee for having it outdoors or under free-standing pavilions). Search online for local parks and state parks and click around or call to check into their reservations’ policies. Our friends are getting married in a Nebraska state park in a room set up for 100+ people that will be $600 for the space for the day.
- Public gardens. Most public gardens have a way of renting a space for wedding ceremonies and it usually isn’t as much as it would be to rent out a “real” wedding hall.
- Public beaches. You can host a wedding on a public Galveston beach without a permit as long as you don’t have large equipment or block access to the public to the beach. If you do want to step it up a bit with a tent/canopy or equipment, you just have to contact them for permission.
- Unique locations like libraries. I didn’t know about this one until another one of our friends found the Julia Ideson Building Rooms in the Houston Public Library system. All of the rentable areas are amazing looking and you can get one of their smaller spaces for 100-150 people for $550-$650. You can step it way up from there for $2000-$3000 and have a princess wedding very easily.
- Homes. Have a large home or friends or family (or families of friends) with a large home? One of my uncles and aunts got married at her parents’ home and it was gorgeous. One of my husband’s aunts got married in her own home and it was classy and fun.
- Rent a vacation property. I find great deals through Airbnb ($35 credit for you if you use that link) and Hotels.com, but look into whatever sites you appreciate the most.
- For all rentable venues, Saturdays usually cost more, so ask about pricing on other days if that’s an option for you.
- For all rentable venues, ask for available discounts that may apply to you – military, teachers, public servants, senior, etc.
- ALWAYS ASK ABOUT CASH DISCOUNTS
Food for the Reception
- Potluck. Having everyone bring a dish can be a delicious, fun, and budget friendly way of celebrating with your guests!
- Restaurants. Having your reception in a restaurant can be a cost-effective way of feeding a large group and many restaurants won’t charge you for renting out the space if you can guarantee x amount of guests.
- Theme it up with something fun like a pizza party or burrito bar.
- Make it yourself in advance. Our friend spent 2 days hanging out with her mom and making 7+ varieties of chili, which they froze in advance. They are going to do a chili tasting/cook-off thing at the reception.
- Ask your favorite local restaurant if they would cater the reception at the location of your choice.
- Ask for recommendations from your community (Nextdoor.com, Facebook, organizations, etc) on who to use to cater well but cheaply.
- Platters from Sam’s Club or Costco. At our wedding, my parents brought in shrimp platters, cheese platters, lunch meat platters, veggie trays, and fruit platters from Sam’s Club.
Cheap / Frugal Reception Decoration Tips
- If you need to decorate, party warehouses could save you a bucketful of cash. Here in Houston, we have Arne’s Warehouse, a huge building of nothing but discount party supplies like napkins, center pieces, and cake toppers.
- Online shopping like Amazon or Ebay can help you find inexpensive items, especially if you have an easily searchable theme.
- Check out resold decoration packages on Craigslist.
- Ask your neighbors on Nextdoor.com or your neighborhood website if they have any stuff that goes with your design or theme that you could borrow and bring back.
- Dollar stores like the Dollar Tree are amazing for throwing together side items and decorations like centerpieces thanks to cheap vases, sparkly fillers, and fake flowers. A few Dollar Tree vases with some Costco roses looks like it costs WAY more than the $10 or less you put into it. A bud vase and a single flower on each table along with a throw away doily or some metallic confetti will look tasteful and gorgeous for less than $3 per table.
- If your venue doesn’t have tables and chairs, remember to look around for budget-friendly local options. Then make sure the rental place you use includes transport in its costs unless you have a way to move all the tables and chairs and whatnot yourself.
- Remember most venues have service fees like cleanup costs, taxes, and tips are expected for the wait staff if you have any. Factor in these fees when you are making your decisions.
Cost Cutting Cake Tips
- Even purchased cake doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. Grocery stores usually have very nice wedding cake options that range from $50-$300 depending on how many layers you want. Ours was $125 from Kroger.
- Make the groom’s cake or use that baker in the family or friend group. My mother-in-law made a fantastically fun groom’s cake for us with a sports official theme (my husband loves reffing varsity football). My mother-in-law has also made another groom’s cake for a friend that was race car themed.
- No bakers? No problem, ask your community. Nextdoor.com or your community’s Facebook page will probably pop up at least one neighbor who makes great cakes for way less than “normal”. Normal is boring.
- Think outside of the box. Do you and your betrothed like cupcakes or cake balls more than actual cake? Don’t be afraid to have what you want!
Wedding Dresses that Won’t Break the Bank
- Consignment shops usually have entire sections just of nearly new wedding dresses.
- Thrift stores like Goodwill also carry wedding dresses for $75 or less.
- You could rent a wedding dress (as well as the norm of renting the tux).
- Discount stores like David’s Bridal can save you hundreds. My wedding dress was from a discount rack at David’s Bridal for $125 plus an additional $40 to bring the hem up for me since I’m 5’2”.
- If you need alterations, ask the shop you use about its alteration costs before buying your dress. Or ask around (again, Nextdoor.com or your support networks) to find an affordable local place or person known for doing great alterations.
- Online shops like Ebay, Amazon, and Etsy have thousands of wedding dress options. Just look up “custom wedding dress” and drool.
- Online or physical vintage shops carry all sorts of dresses.
- Veil or no veil? If you want a gorgeous veil, can you make your own or have a friend or family member that could? The long veil I wanted would have cost $150 from David’s Bridal, but my mom made mine instead for around $30 in materials. That included the simple $15 tiara I found (similar to this one but thinner) at one of those pop up stands in the middle of a mall with fake pearls and rhinestones that my mom used to attach the veil to my head. She even used a hot glue gun to add extra sparkles throughout the long part of the veil that layered well over my $125 wedding dress from David’s Bridal.
- For your hair and makeup, try looking into local college beauty shops or beauty schools in the area. Usually you can get your hair done, receive a manicure, enjoy a pedicure, and get your makeup done for less than $100.
Rings that Don’t Cost a Fortune
- Family heirlooms. My engagement ring was my hubby’s grandmother’s first engagement ring 60 years ago. And my wedding bands (they are two thin ones that sit above and below the engagement ring) were from my mother-in-law.
- Pawn shops. Our friend’s engagement ring was gorgeous, matched her personality, and was found in a pawn shop for a few hundred dollars.
- Estate sales are great places to find the perfect ring for way less than jewelry stores.
- Online shopping like Amazon or Ebay. They have options in every style. You should check out a guide like this one about the pricing of engagement rings at online versus physical stores.
- Smaller diamond or no diamonds from a regular jeweler. Diamonds are shiny, strong rocks. Maybe you or your significant other appreciate a different look or type? I love opals and blue topaz way more than diamonds, so if I wasn’t wearing family heirlooms, I’d most likely have this blue topaz engagement band. And when my husband first proposed, he did it with a $125 white gold band with a really small diamond that I liked from Zales. His family offered their own rings as upgrades for the wedding, lol.
- Roses and other types of flowers are cheaper at Sam’s Club and Costco.
- Ask several local florists for quotes.
- Some locations have built-in décor like the parks I mentioned above.
- Move the arrangements from the ceremony to the reception so that they are useful twice.
- Create gorgeous arrangements yourself or buy one with faux flowers. And here was my faux flower bouquet made by my mother-in-law.
Frugal Photography / Videography Tips
- Find recent graduates. Post on local college sites, reach out on Craigslist, and ask around on community sites like for your neighborhood or through Nextdoor.com.
- New arrivals in your area. Our photographer was a friend-of-a-friend with 15 years experience who only cost $450 for the 6 hours he spent documenting everything from us getting ready to the end of the reception with his high class digital cameras. This included ten 8×10 prints and several cd’s of pictures (one with all 400+ pics taken, one with the blurry ones and mistakes edited out, and one of his top 30 shots). He gave us an awesome deal because he just moved to Houston from California and was trying to establish a few great recommendations in our area. I found him based on asking our friends if they knew anyone who does professional wedding photography. I have recommended him to at least a dozen people since he worked with us and wrote him up a very nice recommendation to use on his website. It pays to ask around for ideas!
- Ask friends and family about photography talent. You can even provide disposable cameras for everyone and have a turn in box at the reception.
- Ask for recommendations from your community (Nextdoor.com, Facebook, organizations, etc). It’s easier to trust someone referred.
- Ask about package deals for photography and videography.
- Ask about cash discounts
- Remember to plan in for some extra time in advance since overtime charges can be steep!
- If you or your betrothed are religiously affiliated, ask the leader of your church. If not, decide who you would want to officiate the ceremony.
- A friend or family member can be ordained online to do the ceremony. There are very well rated guides for wedding officiants.
- A friend or family member may have their own preacher, priest, rabbi, etc. to use. Our officiant was my in-laws Baptist preacher though he didn’t mind being a part of our non-denominational, Christian ceremony. He was $100 and had a good time with our families.
Let There Be Music!
- If you’re hiring a DJ or band, make sure the space is discussed in advance so you don’t have pop up costs for extra equipment like speakers or microphones.
- Set up an easy system with an iPod/mp3 player and speakers.
- Hire a college student or a DJ new to the business who you’ve heard and liked. Newly graduated musicians make up an awesome band.
Inexpensive Rehearsal Dinner Ideas
- Like with the reception, you could host a potluck.
- Grill up some hamburgers or hotdogs at your place.
- Ask your favorite local restaurant if they could accommodate all of your guests.
- You could have the reception and the most centralized home.
Wedding Invitations on a Budget
- How big is your guest list? Can you call or personally reach out to everyone on the list?
- If not, how about an online site for the Save the Date announcement and RSVP’ing for the ceremony?
- If not, keep the invitations simple since it’s less postage for less weight.
- Make your own or ask a computer-savvy friend or family member if they’d mind helping. My mom made our invitations and they were really pretty.
- If you want “real” invitations, check out the many online options (like this popular $25 set to make 50 invitations that includes it all) – you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on pieces of paper that will just be tossed anyway.
Honeymoons on a Budget
- Staycation, but actually get out of the house. Think about finding a local bed and breakfast or unique love nest on AirBnb ($35 credit if you are new and use that link).
- Look for inexpensive hotels or all-inclusive getaways on sites like Groupon.
- Look into the night life in big cities near you. You don’t have to go far to feel like you are sneaking away together.
*BONUS* – Ways to Make Some Extra Money for Your Wedding
- Start a blog about it. I bring in $1000-$2000 a month just from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. I’ve seen dozens of successful blogs just about weddings and wedding planning. Everybody enjoys reading about the struggles, accomplishments, and sweet moments of others. Check out my free step-by-step guide to starting a blog. You can save money and help me too by using my referral link to Bluehost if you go that route (I use them for hosting for 6 of my sites).
- Start a side hustle. You can bring in $20 an hour in spurts through pet sitting, baby sitting, house sitting, house cleaning, lawn care, resale on Ebay, bar tending, sign spinning, phone sex operating, checking out the “Gigs” section on Craigslist, etc. You name it, I’ve either tried it or can find someone who has for you to talk to. 🙂 No, I haven’t been a phone sex operator or bar tender…yet. You can check out my free post about starting a pet sitting business (that has bloomed into a $2000+ a month job for me).
- Find a part-time job. I dealt poker for company parties for $14 an hour for my last year of college because it only happened on Friday and Saturday nights. That fit right into my schedule since I took my last set of classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, worked in the on-campus bowling alley for $6.50 an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays after class, and then I was a receptionist for a tax office on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays for $7 an hour. A few years later, I was also a mascot Kid Cow for Chick Fil A for $10 an hour. And I worked in a used book store for $8 an hour through a Christmas season when we first bought a house.
To wrap this monster up, you can avoid wasting unnecessary cash on a wedding of any size. The key is to only plan and pay for the wedding that you and your loved one WANT (and can afford, please). Our frugal, fun friends that I mentioned in the beginning are holding their ceremony and reception in a couple of rustic, yet air conditioned, buildings located in the middle of a Nebraska state park. Cheap but so pretty!
Don’t spend a ton of cash on anything just because it’s expected. Screw expectations – you do you, boo boo. 😉
What other money saving tips and tricks do you have in your bag of holding? Please share!!!
FYI: I worked at a dead end cubicle job from 2005-2011 for about $30,000 per year. I went self-employed in July 2011 and make between $70,000-$90,000 through blogging, professional pet sitting, hubby's reffing, and our rental home. If you’d like to start your own site (link to my free step-by-step guide), I highly suggest checking out Bluehost (my referral link with a nice discount for you, PLUS a free custom header banner from me!). Please contact me any time at budgetingfunstuff*at*gmail*dot*com with questions or just to brainstorm! I’d love to help!