How I Cut My Wedding Costs in Half

The average wedding in 2016 cost more than $35,000 and one-third of couples are going into debt to pay for their weddings.

I understand firsthand how expensive a wedding today can be. As you may have seen from my previous post, I am engaged and planning my wedding. Before settling on our wedding location, we looked at many venues, big and small on the east coast, west coast and in Colorado. Each had its own rules, costs and limitations to work within. We chose our venue based on pinpointed questions that we learned to ask and we’ve been saving money ever since. We have applied this approach to our wedding vendors and to date, we’ve brought down bill by roughly $14,000.

With some prudent planning, it’s possible to have a beautiful wedding day without spending half of your salary on that single day. Here are sensible ways to cut down on costs and still get the wedding of your dreams.

1.) Shop for your wedding dress online.

Follow the tradition of trying on wedding dresses in shops and enjoy it. I tried on dresses at various shops on both coasts, and even made a trip to Kleinfelds, soaking up the experience the entire way. Pricing varied by the shop and I followed my natural instinct not to commit to a dress until I was fully prepared. After the “honeymoon” phase of trying on a wedding dress, you may change your mind about it – or its price.

At each shop, make sure to get the designer name, dress name and your sizing for each dress that you like during the appointment. At one bridal shop, I wasn’t given the designer, dress or sizing information on purpose, so I’d have to call back to get info. Be sure to get it while you’re there! With that information, browse the internet for new or used versions of your gown. I found my dress in brand new, unused condition for $1,8000 less than the lowest boutique price. After factoring in shipping and alterations costs, I determined that buying my dress online would be cheaper – and I would receive it far more quickly. The same is true for bridal shoes and accessories as well.

You can search for dresses online at these websites:

2.) Consider student photographers and musicians.

When we were looking for a photographer for our engagement photos, most professional photographers cost at least $500 and had many stipulations on time and travel. We instead chose to go with an amateur Georgetown student photographer. He had never photographed engagement photos, but his portfolio was beautiful. So, we gave it a shot. He offered to photograph us for free as long as he could use our photos in his portfolio. We agreed (and threw in a tip to say thank you) and our engagement photos turned out more beautifully than most of the photo examples sent to us by the professional photographers that we contacted (some are available here).

Best of all, he so was easy to work with and readily available that we booked him as our wedding photographer. He threw in a wedding video, an extra helper photographer and agreed to scout the location with us for just $700.

For ceremony musicians, we are deciding between hiring college musicians or taking up a few friends on their offers to play the guitar. Both options are either very cheap or free.

These options were ideal for us not only because they were significantly cheaper and far less demanding, they also offer talented college students a side gig and a chance to build their resumes.

3.) Browse Craigslist for vendors.

We found our photographers, musicians and DJ via Craigslist. We required that they send us examples of previous work and their pricing upfront to ensure that we were dealing with serious potential vendors who fit our style from the start. Overall, we found that posting on Craigslist offered cheaper pricing than what we were quoted when we inquired with businesses. We contacted some businesses directly and received high quotes. We then posted on Craigslist and those same businesses responded to our post with lower quotes. DJ companies who quoted $1,000 or higher on their websites also quoted $600 via Craigslist.

Always shop around and be open to those with less experience. They may have less experience due to the fact that they have not been around as long or they may not have marketed themselves enough. Don’t assume it’s due to their talent. Review examples and see what you think when you meet them in person.

4.) Provide your caterer with all that items that you can.

One reason that we chose our venue was due to the fact they had very few rules to follow. There are no rules governing noise, alcohol, time, etc. That gave us a lot of leeway when bargaining with our vendors.

Catering is most likely the biggest expense of your wedding. That’s why your bargaining position is important from the beginning. When talking with a potential caterer, don’t ask what you can provide. Instead, tell them what you plan to provide and ask if that is amenable, and if it is, if there are any stipulations. You can always give up things down the road, but it’s difficult to negotiate for more after you’ve signed a contract.

For example, we told all caterers upfront that we were providing alcohol and asked if they had any stipulations regarding mixing cocktails, such as mandatory accompanying drink packages. We also asked what cooking and serving items were included in the pricing and the bare minimum of ware that we’d be required to provide for them to serve the food.

We also found that many caterers charged more for labor than for food, so we asked them to delineate labor costs and how labor costs would change if our guest count were to go or down up by 10 or 20 guests.

Also, ask your caterer about how they handle tipping and payment options. Some caterers charge a flat 15% – 18% service charge to cover tipping on top of all costs (including rentals and taxes), which can add thousands of dollars to your catering bill. Others allow you to tip at your discretion before or at the time of or after your wedding. How you pay and tip could help save you money as well. Some caterers charge a 1% – 2% fee processing fee for credit card payments and others do not. If you use a rewards credit card, you could earn hundreds in points or cash back. So far in planning our wedding, I’ve earned over $200 in cash back – which paid for our wedding favors.

Overall, it’s better to know all of your options upfront and be in the best bargaining position possible, so if anything changes in the future, you already know what to expect and do.

Our biggest issue with caterers was that a few of our favorites were unwilling delineate the biggest cost on the bill – the labor costs. In the end, we went with a well-regarded caterer who charged $3,000 less in labor costs and than our first catering choice on top of lower rental and food costs (totaling a $6,000 savings). Her transparency and willingness to work with our stipulations made it a less stressful and less salesy experience for us.

5.) Serve a signature cocktail or ditch liquor altogether.

Because our venue lets us set the rules for our alcohol, we’ve chosen to serve his and hers signature cocktails, wine and beer along with non-alcoholic drinks. By controlling liquor options and choosing a caterer that does not require any additional drink packages for mixing cocktails, we are reducing costs by at least $2,000. If we did away with cocktails and just served beer and wine, we could have saved even more.

On top of savings, doing away with liquor helps reduce the chances of awkward drunken incidents at the wedding and possible drunk driving. Unless you have a signature cocktail, I’d recommend considering doing away with liquor as an option.

6.) Have you considered a food truck?

If a formal seated dinner is not a requisite, consider hiring a food truck instead of a caterer. For the price of a traditional caterer, you could hire one to three food trucks. With food trucks, your guests can have a few cuisine options and get the opportunity to go back for seconds and thirds.

I loved this option, and really wanted to pursue it, but my fiancé wouldn’t allow it for our plantation venue. If you have a more casual or whimsical wedding, this could be a fitting and affordable option.

7.) Don’t rule out a restaurant for the wedding reception.

Some caterers quoted us menus that came out to $160 per person (not including alcohol). For that price and the number of guests that we were anticipating, we could have easily rented out an entire top-tier restaurant and provided a gourmet tasting menu with wine pairing.

If you aren’t set on your reception location, consider saving the reception site fee and dining ware rental fees and rent out a restaurant for the wedding reception instead. Restaurants are often eager to provide discounts to parties willing to rent out the restaurant for a night. If you plan to have an affordable wedding ceremony at a church, then a restaurant could be a way to provide a delicious meal for less than usual meal prices of caterers.

8.) Is it cheaper to rent or buy your lighting?

If you have an outdoor wedding venue, the cost of lighting can accrue quickly. Our wedding is entirely outdoors, and we’ve experienced firsthand how much lighting vendors try to convince us of how much light is “needed”. We have discussed vendor suggestions with our venue wedding coordinator and discovered that we’re usually oversold. Lighting vendors have quoted us as much as $2,000 just to light our dining area.

After some arithmetic and DIY help from Pinterest, we discovered that we could provide all of the string lighting for our entire wedding reception for just $250. Our venue allows us to store wedding items for up to a week before our wedding, so we have no problem getting everything in place on the day of the wedding. Plus – we get to keep all of the bistro lighting after the wedding. In addition to string lighting, we are adding a few fiery elements to the outdoor wedding providing light using a few torches and fire pits (for s’mores) – all for less than $500.

9.) Is it cheaper to provide your own flowers?

I personally love to build my own bouquets and flower crowns using flowers from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. I plan to make my own floral table runners for the wedding reception as well. Because we have an outdoor plantation venue, we are surrounded by a lot of greenery and don’t need many floral arrangements.

Depending on how many floral arrangements you need to make, you can coordinate with one or a few grocery stores to get the stems that you need. I personally love Trader Joe’s and they are generally willing to reserve flowers for brides if you can guarantee the sale. If you need more flowers than one or two grocery stores can provide, there are online options such as Wholesale Garland or Boulevard Florist. Unfortunately, options that dominate the top of search results, such as Fifty Flowers, don’t offer any advantageous pricing.

10.) Rent your photo booth via mail.

Photo booths can run up to $1,500 due to delivery, setup and attendant fees. With photo-booth-by-mail options, you can get a photo booth, complete with backgrounds, props and everything you need to print photo strips for a little less than $300. If you are set on including a photo booth at your wedding, this may be your cheapest option.

11.) Buy what you can secondhand.

When comparing rental prices from vendors, don’t forget to check what items cost at thrift shops and online “recycled” wedding shops. There are many secondhand wedding shops available online as other brides try to recoup their costs of buying brand new items that were only used once – or not at all. If you want a wider selection of options at potentially lower prices, check out the below websites for wedding items:

12.) Register for less items and more funds.

If you don’t have a new home to fill with plates, stand mixers or embroidered towels, only register for the items that you really need and put the bulk of your wedding registry in funds. For instance, on Zola you can create a wedding registry of various funds for things such for romantic dates, dance lessons, honeymoon airfare, or a home down payment. With Zola and others fund registries, you do not have to use the money that you are gifted for these items – it’s to be used at your discretion. But, it’s important to bear in mind that these are gifts from your friends and family, so it’s not good to use it as a slush fund.

In our case, our home is already completely furnished and there is literally not a single item that we need that we don’t already have (or have room for). However, paying for a wedding makes it difficult for us to afford a honeymoon. So, our wedding registry is a collection of funds that we can use to help defray costs for our honeymoon. And, there are a few other funds, such as date nights, that we can use during our first year of marriage.

These are only a few of the ways that you can save on your wedding day. If you are open to more options, such as an alternative to the wedding cake or a hair and makeup appointment at a school, such as the Aveda Institute, you can find new ways to cut costs even further without sacrificing meaningful details.

how to reduce wedding costs

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