Is It Possible to Plan a Wedding on a Tight Budget?

Weddings are glorious, right? Well, it usually depends on who you ask. For the actual newlyweds, they are a massive dent in their savings. So in order to plan a wedding on a tight budget, one needs to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of daily luxuries — and even save on the main event!

Unfortunately, determining which parts of the wedding matter the most may be challenging. Women often grow up with the idea that it should be a luxe event where every single detail counts and is of the highest quality. What’s more, men are following suit nowadays and demanding perfection as well — but at what cost?

According to The Knot, a major all-things-wedding resource, weddings used to cost $33,900 on average back in 2019. Depending on the newlyweds’ preferences, wants, and needs, that number could rise fast!

But is it possible to keep finances in check while dreaming up a fairytale wedding? As with everything in life, it pays off to be frugal now and then, especially if the industry as large as the wedding one allows for some DIY. Still, it’s useful to have an overview of all the things that truly matter — and all those that won’t really jeopardize the greatest day of one’s life.

First Things First: Budgeting Is Still a Necessity

In order to plan a wedding on a tight budget, it’s better not to rely on the regular budgeting plan the couple might be currently using. At the very least, a wedding is a short-term, rather expensive goal. Thus, it might be necessary to dip into other budget categories to accommodate it. 

Up until the wedding, there are bound to be some sacrifices. The happy couple should try to save as much as possible, so they might have to forget about taking a short trip each month or drinking $7 lattes. Everyone can agree that $33,900 is quite a lot of money, and that’s only if they’re the average John and Jane who aren’t looking for all the bells and whistles.

So how can they lower their expenses before starting to plan a wedding? The fun money fund might have to take a hit here to accommodate for the most fabulous party ever in just a few months. Additionally, if they haven’t already curbed their shopping, now is the time to start practicing self-control. Planning a wedding in and of itself is extremely stressful, and occasional binge-spending could only make matters worse. 

How to Plan a Wedding on a Tight Budget: Splurge vs. Save

Before delving further into the splurge and save categories, it’s good to note that not every couple will spend money (or pinch pennies) on the same things. Some will want their venue to look like the interior of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Others may be happy with a family member’s barn!

That said, if the happy couple has a somewhat limited budget, it’s best to pick just a few things to splurge on and save as much as possible on others. They should talk about what matters the most to both of them to avoid stepping on each other’s toes. 

What to Splurge On

In general, couples who are looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget will not want to compromise on:

  • Food
  • Music
  • Photography

The first two will make an excellent impression on their guests, while the third will let them capture the memories. Thus, they ought to save up for these and splurge if needed (but still ensure the prices are reasonable!).

The Music

On average, a couple will spend around $4,500 on a live wedding band. Some may even decide to get a DJ as well, adding around $1,000 to the total costs. But really — all things considered, that is money well spent. 

Weddings are, in general, huge parties, so quality tunes are practically indispensable. If the music is dull and the singer is beyond horrific, the guests will start leaving early, not even waiting for the cake. If it’s fantastic, they’ll talk about it for months to come — and that’s what every couple wants, right?

The Food

With some hungry guests by one’s side and receptions lasting for at least four hours, it’s easy to see why it’s crucial to make sure the food is delicious. Aside from music, this part is the one most guests will keep describing for years to come to anyone who wants to listen. Thus, it’s best to give them an amazing food experience.

But how much will it all cost? In general, food and drinks will account for a significant deal of the budget. Most couples spend $1,800–$7,000 on tasty appetizers and entrees, elaborate main courses, and delectable desserts. 

However, there is some hope if one is looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget. It’s best to focus on the appetizers and the main course, as the guests will grow hungry over time, especially once they start sipping on cocktails. No couple wants drunk guests, so it’s essential to give them enough food to help them pace themselves. Best of all, if there are appetizers, the first course may not even be needed!

Reconsider Dessert

As far as dessert goes, the costs come down to how much couples truly love cake. 

An average wedding cake amounts to around $445–$631 for 150 people. Nevertheless, it all depends on how elaborate the design is and how many details there are. If the couple wants fondant instead of buttercream and edible flowers instead of real ones, the price may surprise them, and not in a good way. 

Therefore, if the cake is not an absolute must, it’s smart to consider alternatives, such as a delicious dessert table. That way, even those non-cake-eaters will satisfy their sweet tooth, and the price may be a tad lower since pastries, cupcakes, muffins, and chocolates don’t require as much work as a wedding cake.

If, however, the couple needs a cake, they ought to keep the design minimal to save money. It’s all in the taste, after all. So does it really matter then if there are delicately colored flowers all over or just a few here and there?

Stock the Bar

As for the drinks, although an open bar is a fan-favorite among wedding guests, it will drain the budget. So it’s time to get resourceful. Some venues allow couples to stock their own bar, so getting a few types of beer and a selection of red and white wine should be enough. If it’s necessary to have other drinks too, couples may be able to add standard liquors, such as gin and whiskey, and a few mixers for cocktails (juice, for example).

In most cases, everyone overestimates how much their guests can drink, so paying the venue to provide beverages could be quite wasteful. If one stocks their own bar, they can actually take the remainder home and get the most value for their money overall.

The Photographer

Capturing that beautiful moment between couples when they finally say “I do” requires not only talent, but rather expensive equipment. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the photographer makes a dent in the wedding budget; couples are paying for their time, talent, and cameras, not just the photos.

The national average price for a photographer back in 2018 was $2,679. Still, don’t be surprised if the costs rise in 2020. The technology is changing, and every year, more and more photographers are investing in their craft. As such, it’s best not to expect to save on it, unless there’s a family member or an acquaintance who dabbles in photography and would give a discount. 

But which couple would want to risk it, even if they are looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget? Wedding photographs will last them a lifetime, not to mention that they’ll serve as proof of how incredible the party was and how they felt that day. In the end, memories may fade, but they’ll have the photos to remind them of the love and joy. That’s definitely worth almost $3,000!

The Ambiance 

If one is looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget, they may disregard lighting in general and just go with what the venue offers. However, there’s a good chance their wedding might not have the right ambiance in that case. The whole atmosphere can become all the more romantic by adding a ton of candles and some string lights. Alas, that costs money too!

Overall, indoor weddings may only need some uplighting, which could cost up to $2,500, according to Junebug Weddings. Still, that always depends on the venue and the light fixtures it already has. A lighting designer is a necessity in that case; they’ll know which parts to illuminate and, more importantly, how.

Outdoor weddings, on the other hand, might not need any fixtures or anything too elaborate. Candles and some string lights ($3–$5 per linear foot) are an excellent choice, for example, and would make the whole wedding ooze with romance. But even then, no couple should DIY it; outdoor weddings are notorious for their lack of power sources, so proper planning is a must.

As always, the more elaborate the wedding theme is, the higher the chance extra lighting will be necessary. Yet the happy couple should never settle for anything less than warm and inviting. Just like the food and the music, perfect lighting will leave a lasting impression on the guests. Besides, there’s no reason not to splurge on it if they’re saving on other, less important stuff.

What to Save On

The Guest List

Making a guest list is the biggest concern any couple will encounter when looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget. With parents trying to squeeze in a few relatives more, to family members bringing boyfriends and girlfriends, the list can easily become quite long in a blink of an eye.

Thus, it’s best to limit it all immediately. Both the bride and the groom should decide which guests have to be there. They ought to focus on the people that they cannot imagine their wedding without. All the rest can be cut out if there’s not enough money in the budget.

On top of that, if the couple is paying for the wedding, they should remember that no one else should have a say when it comes to the guest list. If they let others add people, the wedding won’t be so intimate anymore. Besides, they might end up paying for people they haven’t even met, which could tarnish the overall experience.

The Date

From late spring until early fall, the wedding season is in full swing. In most parts of the U.S., the peak months are June and September. The costs also rise in December because of all those holiday parties.

As one can imagine, having a June wedding would mean that everything is bound to cost a lot more than it usually does. Because of that, couples who are looking to plan a wedding on a tight budget may need to reconsider their options. Even though they have their hearts set on September, it would be a smarter financial decision if they were to have the wedding in, say, April or even November. Plus, changing the season would allow them to splurge on some other things that may matter more at the end of the day, such as the food.

The Stationery

From invites and RSVP cards to table numbers and menus, wedding stationery could unnecessarily put a dent in a couple’s budget. Most people throw these away at some point. It’s basically like flushing money down the toilet — it is just not worth it.

To save funds here, if the couple has a DIY streak to them, they could make their own. Designing the invites and all other extra stationery won’t be that difficult if they know the basics of Adobe InDesign. Additionally, they could opt to print them at home and use partially recycled domestic paper instead of expensive imported options. 

Another fantastic idea would be to forgo the tradition and step into the 21st century. The environment has suffered enough, and keeping the wedding paperless with some email invites might be just what the couple needs to protect them from overspending.

The Flowers and the Decor

Now, elaborate wedding decor is a must for some couples; most believe that it adds to the ambiance and the impression the guests will take home with them. However, with limited funds, it’s best not to go overboard. Less is more if one wants to plan a wedding on a tight budget, and especially if there are many guests. The longer the wedding list is, the more decor the wedding will need; all those tables and chairs shouldn’t be bare, after all!

So couples ought to be reasonable since flower arrangements, bouquets, and other flower pieces will die anyway. Is it really worth it to splurge on something that cannot be used anymore after the wedding? Most people don’t think so.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the overall decor should be scarce. Flower arrangements can be tasteful even if they’re small and consist of seasonal flowers only. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with having small bouquets and ribbons on the chairs instead of full covers. 

The Wedding Favors

Although wedding favors are incredibly popular, at the end of the day, they are an unnecessary expense. Splurging on favors won’t truly add much to the wedding, and some guests may not even appreciate them.

Therefore, if they are attempting to plan a wedding on a tight budget, couples should definitely reconsider their generosity. Instead of doing goodie bags, for example, they could give each guest a small token of appreciation, such as a plant (succulents are a great option) or a bag of cookies. Alternatively, they could donate to a charity in honor of their guests!

Splurge or Save: It’s Up to the Couple to Decide

The Venue

In general, the venue will cost couples the most and set the tone for the whole wedding. Thus, most of them are not afraid to splurge on it; everything, from the logistics to the entire vibe of the event, depends on how incredible the place is.

That said, with some crafty lighting and decor, almost any location could add to the overall fairy tale. Therefore, the money the couple can save on the venue can be allocated to splurge on better flower arrangements, for example, or tiny details that improve the overall impression.

In the U.S., it’s not uncommon to have a wedding in someone’s backyard or the bride or groom’s parents’ home. However, that may also turn out to be quite expensive; since it’s expected that the backyard or the house isn’t ready for an event, the couple may need to invest in landscaping and home renovation.

The Wedding Planner

If a couple wants to plan a wedding on a tight budget, hiring an expert to keep track of the expenses is a sound choice. 

The upfront cost may take quite a bit out of the whole budget ($5,000–$10,000+, depending on the experience and level of planning). Nevertheless, the wedding planner will be able to not only find affordable vendors, but ensure everything is up to standard. They offer a lot of value since their industry know-how cannot be compared to what the couple has read in magazines and online. 

However, some brides and grooms think that they can do it themselves and may decide to save their money here. And really, if someone is rather organized and has planned events before, there’s not much that could go wrong.

A wedding consultant/coordinator, on the other hand, might be indispensable. Having someone who will be there to answer questions, oversee the whole event, plan out the timeline, and ensure vendors have all the information they need could give the couple some much-needed peace of mind. Fortunately, they cost less than planners since they start working about four to eight weeks before the wedding.

The Style

Finally, in order to plan a wedding on a tight budget, the happy couple might need to make specific compromises when it comes to their attire.

To some, that may be out of the question; everyone knows how vital a wedding gown is to the bride! Nevertheless, it’s a smart idea to research first before spending the bulk of the budget on a brand-new gown. For instance, websites such as OnceWed list used dresses that brides can pick up at drastically reduced prices. As a result, they could save hundreds of dollars. 

If the attire has to be new, though, the couple may save on other stuff, such as makeup and accessories. Veils are notoriously expensive, yet so fragile and easily ripped. Thus, brides may be able to avoid them entirely and opt for flower crowns, for instance. Alternatively, they can always pick simpler, more affordable designs. 

Jewelry can be borrowed from family members, so there’s no reason to sacrifice elegance for a few extra dollars. The bride can also do her makeup. There are plenty of tutorials online that explain how to look natural but polished in great detail. 

However, the couple should splurge on alterations and some incredible shoes. The right fit could change how the bride and groom feel on their special day entirely; they’re bound to ooze confidence and bliss if nothing is pinching them or making them tumble over. Furthermore, no one wants blisters at their wedding, and since they are likely to dance the night away, it’s imperative to be comfortable at all times. 

Budgeting for the Big Day

Splurging when needed and looking into alternatives whenever possible is the right way to plan a wedding on a tight budget. There’s no need to risk financial ruin for a few hours of blissful dancing and some cake. After all, the happy couple has to survive after the wedding as well!

However, that doesn’t mean frugality should be the focus. Yes, it’s entirely possible to stay under a limited budget while planning a wedding. But wanting to shave a few dollars off the potential costs mustn’t overshadow the whole point of the day. 

Everyone can have the wedding of their dreams if they do their research well and shop around. Being intentionally cheap could tarnish some beautiful memories, though — and that’s something no couple would ever want to be remembered for.

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