Like I’ve said before, I’m not a wedding professional, but I love weddings, and I had a love/relationship with planning ours. Graham was in Kuwait, I was planning a wedding in Charlotte from Arkansas, and I was doing it with a relatively small budget. Before I moved to Arkansas, my mother was very generous when it came to helping me pay off my credit card debt, so I didn’t want her to have to pay thousands & thousands of dollars for a wedding on top of that. She paid for my dress, but Graham and I paid for the rest by ourselves. Once all was said & done, we were able to stay under our budget (including the honeymoon). I wanted a beautiful wedding, but I didn’t want to go into a crazy amount of debt for it. So, here are some things I did, or wish I had done, to save money.
1) Prioritize. The very first thing you need to do when you’re figuring out what your budget is, and where/how you want to splurge, is to figure out what matters most. Different people prioritize different things. Some people splurge on an $8,000 photographer. For others it’s the dream dress. Some want amazing flowers covering every inch of the venue. Find out what matters most when it comes to your vision of your big day and spend accordingly. For us, it was our cake and our photographer. I was immensely happy with both, and was happy we allotted so much of our relatively small budget to those areas.
2) Consider having your wedding on a day other than Saturday. We wanted to get married on a Saturday like everyone else in the world, but the Saturday in question was New Years Eve. So, we moved our wedding to Friday, December 30th. The cost of the venue dropped $1,000 by moving our date to Friday. I was really concerned that people wouldn’t come, considering it was on a Friday, but nearly everyone we invited still came. The people who didn’t come were really out-of-state (like Texas & California) and wouldn’t have come regardless.
3) Unless gorgeous flowers are the one thing you must have (see #1), consider alternatives to floral centerpieces. We used lanterns from Ikea, candles from Kohl’s and spray painted pinecones. We loved our centerpieces, and so did our guests. We spent less than $20 on each one (12 total) and had planned to sell the lanterns after the ceremony. But a handful of our guests helped us out A LOT, and really loved them, so we gave almost all of them all away (keeping two for ourselves). We also saved when it came to flowers by having a family friend make the bouquets & boutonnieres. She bought fresh flowers at the Farmers Market & and Sam’s Club, and they turned out absolutely beautiful, and cost next to nothing.
4) This one may sound odd, but buy as much stuff as you can, instead of renting. I bought navy blue cloth napkins on Craigslist & eBay. I spent about $75 for 125 napkins, and sold them on Craigslist after the wedding for $50. The main event rental company in Charlotte charged $0.55 for navy blue linen napkins, which would have totaled $68.75. Since I bought my own and then sold them, I only ended up spending $25 for our napkins. Same with glassware. I bought a ton of water goblets from Wal-Mart and wine glasses & champagne flutes from Ikea and spent around $170. I kept enough for my family to all use for holiday dinners & sold the rest to my cousin for her wedding for $90. There are also a ton of websites (i.e. Tradesy) that let you sell your wedding things after the big day. If you can bear to part with your dress (I can’t), you can even sell that.
5) Print your own invitations. Whether you buy a design off of Etsy (like this one) for a small fee to print yourself, or design it yourself, it’s SO much cheaper than buying them from big company like Carlson Craft or Crane. This way, you can get exactly what you want and save a ton of money. The printer I used worked quickly, had tons of paper types to choose from, and I literally ordered 500 invitations (it was the smallest quantity they offered) for $78.85. Now, I know not many people need 500 invitations, but I was able to mail out the 120, frame one, make coasters with a few, scrapbook some, and yeah. Plenty of invitations. (I was very picky about the quality of the paper, and was really pleased with the samples I received from uPrinting. If you’re less insane, you could get out for a LOT cheaper.)
6) Pick a venue with more flexible bar options. Now, this won’t work if you have your heart set on a specific venue which requires you to use their bar service/catering service, but if you’re flexible, it could save you so much money. We close a venue right outside the city limits and they had the most relaxed bar policy. We had to purchase an insurance policy (for $128, but since Graham is active duty military, it was a good idea regardless), but we were allowed to have anyone we want bar tend (like a friend), and buy our own alcohol. We spent maybe $500 on SO MUCH beer & wine, had a ton leftover and got to keep it, and paid our bartender $200 plus tips. The cheapest quote we got for a bartender, wine & beer and glassware was over $1900. And that was for one red wine, one white and one type of beer.
7) Same goes with your food. Don’t pick a venue that makes you choose from a list of their vendors. It takes away from your options and you get stuck spending more than you might have if you got to choose anyone you wanted. Our venue also had no limitations on who catered. We bought our own food (from Sam’s), cooked our own food (my sweet father-in-law was grilling chicken & pork tenderloin the day of the wedding), and served our guests a ton of food and it cost us less than $500. Also, consider a buffet instead of a sit down dinner. The cheapest catering company we looked at charged around $20 per person. With our guest list of 125 people, that would have cost us over $2500.
8) Re-think whether or not you need every little thing you always thought you needed. Do you really need programs? Probably not. Use a chalkboard sign with the details of your wedding party written on it. It’s cute, fun and a heck of a lot cheaper than 100+ programs. Do you really need personalized beverage napkins? Nope. Go to Party City and buy napkins in your wedding colors. I promise, your guests won’t miss having your name and wedding date on them.
9) A great way to save money is to do a virtual response card. If most of your guests are old (like ours were), and you don’t want to do that, consider a postcard instead of a card/envelope combo. A postcard will save time & money. You won’t have to address and stuff 125 (or however many you have) envelopes, and you’ll save a good bit on stamps. Even though the card is small, if it’s in an envelope, they won’t let you use a postcard stamp. The price of a stamp is currently $0.49. For our response cards (if we sent them out with today’s rates) that would be $61.25. For postcard stamps it would be $42.50. Not a lot of savings, but every little bit helps!
10) Or, if you want to save a lot of money and go on one heck of a honeymoon, just elope 😉 A lot of you may not know this, but Graham and I were married legally on April 23, 2011 and celebrated our marriage with a formal wedding on December 30, 2011. He deployed a lot earlier than he thought he would, so we had a quick wedding before he left. We got married in the gardens at my university, with just our parents, our brothers, the minister and his wife. We went to a fabulous dinner afterwards at The Kings Kitchen, and then spent our wedding night at the Ritz-Carlton. It was perfect. Graham is more social than I am, and wanted the big reception, but having an elopement in a pretty place will save you a whole lot of money. I’d pick a place prettier than the courthouse (I have a serious problem with wedding photos with a sign in the background pointing to the jail), dress up, grab a minister and the people who matter most and have a small, perfect wedding without spending thousands of dollars. A lot of photographers offer cheaper packages for elopements and small weddings. Check out this beautiful elopement my social media friend Kate photographed. So intimate & lovely.