If you’re looking to save money on your wedding, here are several ideas I’ve seen in action:
The menu is probably not the first thing you think of when it comes to your wedding day, but it is probably the greatest cost of the entire day. With venues charging $65-$100+ per dinner plate, $15+ hors d’oeuvres per person per item, etc. a wedding of 150-200 guests can get pricey. Especially if you are planning an open bar for any period of time! (People drink more in the Summer, just FYI). To save on your meal costs:
- Hire your own caterer (don’t get roped into a venue’s pricey kitchen)
- Opt for a buffet style meal vs. plated dinner
- Have hors d’oeuvres on tables, not passed (saves wait staff labor costs)
- Consider using disposable dishes/utensils/cups (there are more upscale options that look nice…saves on the cost of renting dishes and replacing the dishes your guests may break).
- Check into food trucks…mobile kitchens will save you on generator costs, table costs, etc. Being self-contained has a host of advantages.
- Large mobile BBQ outfits are also a great option, especially for rustic/barn weddings.
- Limit food choices (have chicken & vegetarian options ONLY)…There is no rule that says you have to provide an overpriced steak or a fish option. If you call your vegetarian dish “vegetarian” then few guests choose that option. If you call it what it is (ex. Pasta Primavera), then more guests will select that option.
- Really low budget option: pot luck style meal. The food will be a total crap shoot, but at least there should be plenty of it!?
Guests drink more if there is an open bar or if it is less formal (BYOB). Increased alcohol access can be great for some crowds, not so great for others…you know which category your family/friends fit into. It is cheaper to buy alcohol yourself for self-serve than to pay for alcohol and a bartender (you may have to get a temporary liquor license). Kegs are fine for money-saving purposes. You can save on cups/glassware by having beverages served in their containers. Or if you go the keg route, then also have sodas in 2 liter bottles and water dispensers. Some couples elect to give a glass/cup as a party favor to each guest, who will then drink from it all night! Want to save money on booze?…then have a morning wedding or a Sunday evening wedding (people are less likely to get smashed at brunch or if they know they have to work the next morning). Provide non-alcoholic options as well. At some point, someone always wants coffee. It’s not a must, but (older) people expect it.
Cocktail Hour Food and Strange Buffet Options
Depending on your venue, cocktail hour food options may range from a few passed hors d’oeuvres to a full on buffet. The full on buffet may be impressive, but it’s a total waste if you are feeding your guests a meal an hour later. Cocktail hour fare should be light and appetizer-like. You want something your guests can walk with and eat in 1-2 bites, and that won’t make a mess! Some places insist on small plates during this time, while others pass out a napkin with each morsel…plates can be awkward to hang onto but so can a pocketful of dirty napkins. So, make sure that there are either trash cans or a dish tray to dispose of those items (otherwise people leave them anywhere they feel like, which is usually at someone else seat). The left overs are getting tossed, and that’s just money in the trash. Some venues offer strange bar/buffet options that your guests won’t care for, like: candy, cereal, etc….unless your guests are all under 12…then it’s a hit. Having a backyard wedding?…bowls of chips are perfectly acceptable (just don’t let them sit out too long, especially on humid days).
Aside from meal costs, your venue will be your biggest expense. Getting married at a wedding venue will require a minimum charge (regardless of how many guests you have or options you choose). That tends to start at $12,000-$15,000…for a 6-7 hour party. Is your head exploding yet? It’s a wedding, but really it’s just a fancy party…and most people don’t have nearly $20,000 to spend on an afternoon (you could put a down payment on a home or buy a new car or go on an amazing honeymoon for that money). Discount venue ideas:
- A family or friend with a big house and nice yard is the cheapest option.
- Renting a house can be a good option, especially a multi-roomed house that will allow for some guests to sleep over.
- Renting a field from a farmer is cost effective. You’ll have to pay additionally to rent a tent and mobile bathroom/portacans and generator(s).
- Avoid a tent at a wedding venue. You’re being ripped off. They will charge you for the tent rental, but they all rent the same tent all season (unless there is a catastrophic failure). All tents look the same inside. If you are at an amazing venue but you’re stuck inside a tent all night, you’ve been duped.
- Use a function hall or multi-use facility. Anything that says “wedding” in the title is going to cost you double. Barn weddings are growing in popularity.
- Do not have your wedding at a wedding factory (places that only have weddings and typically have 2-3 per weekend day). They offer horrible service on every level. There is nothing more irritating for all parties involved than to literally have 2 ceremonies going on within site/earshot of each other. They’re usually pricey anyways.
There are many venues available at little to no cost. And some of them are in the most picturesque settings. They are your local and state parks/natural preserves. Nearly all of them allow for ceremonies. Some will allow for chairs…some have seating! The only drawback is that you will almost definitely be driving there for the ceremony only. Churches and churches with function hall space are also very affordable options is you’re religious.
To save money, reduce the number of vendors you have. Or at least the number of vendors the are present throughout the entire event. For instance, I can provide live music and DJ service. That will be cheaper than hiring a musician and a separate DJ. You can also hire a caterer that provides a waitstaff, for example. Shopping around is your best bet when it comes to vendors. Never go with the first vendor you meet right off the bat. Get a feel for all of the options within your budget, then make a choice.
Musician vs. DJ
A solo musician or a DJ may run you the same cost, depending on options. Don’t pick the cheapest DJ…you will regret it. Get someone with references. Don’t go crazy paying for upgrades like uplighting, photo booths, etc. They aren’t worth the money in most cases. If your crowd isn’t going to dance, don’t waste money on a DJ…hire a solo background musician or use an iPod and a friend with a good speaking voice as the MC. Most solo musicians are surprisingly affordable in comparison to your typical professional wedding DJ. Have a favorite local band? Hit’em up! Invite them to play a party…”wedding” may scare them off.
Money spent on wedding dresses and men’s suits can get out of hand easily. Be practical and purchase items you can reuse in your daily life. A simple white dress with a few well-placed accessories can be just as stunning (and from what I hear, way more comfortable) as a wedding gown. Suits can be purchased or rented…see what is more economical in your area.
Take on the responsibility yourself. Even if you hire a wedding planner, you’ll still be doing most of the legwork, whether you realize it or not. Ditch the planner all together. Have a trustworthy friend or family member step up to make sure things are coordinated on the day of your wedding.
Hire 1 photographer. You don’t need a team. Between 1 pro and all of your family/friends, you’ll have plenty of photos. Ditch the videographer…you’ll probably only watch your ceremony over again once in 10 years…and cell phone cameras are on par with low budget video cameras anyway! If you have a friend who is a photographer, maybe you can work out an exchange for services that will save you money.
Location and Destination Weddings
Choose a location that is convenient to get to for your and most of your guests. Save yourselves and your guests the costs of staying in a hotel. Weddings you are required to fly to, drive 6 hours, have no convenient lodging options, or require your guests to miss work can all be seen as inconvenient/less enjoyable. In general, destination weddings are pricey because everyone is traveling, everyone is paying for a hotel, and you have much less knowledge of local vendors. That’s a perfect storm for getting ripped off. However, if you are a couple with families from 2 different countries, a destination wedding may make more sense, since at least half of the guests are traveling anyway. States like Massachusetts are great for this because there is an international airport fairly close to many ideal locations (within 1-3 hours of beach, lake, or mountains). You’ll save money here if you rent a large house for everyone to stay in for a week (choose a place with a nice yard that can host the whole wedding).
Choosing a wedding day Mon-Fri, in an off peak season (a beach in the spring/fall, ski lodge/mountain in summer, etc.) can save you thousands. In New England, July-September offer the highest prices (it’s prime weather…areas with beautiful foliage remain highly priced through Columbus Day weekend). Saturday evening is the most expensive time to have a wedding. Saturday morning or Sunday weddings can offer significant savings. The Monday on a holiday weekend can often be a more affordable option without making your guests take off a day of work. Ask venues you’re interested in, even you aren’t considering off-peak options, just to give you an idea of how much you’re being ripped off! It’s also cheaper to rent tables/chairs/tents during the week. Actually, all of your vendors will be cheaper (and the ones that get booked up 2 years ahead of time for Saturday events can be surprisingly available for any other time slot!).
It’s Not a Wedding (*wink, wink*)
The easiest way to save money with just about every vendor is to tell them you are throwing a party. When you say “wedding,” prices have a tendency to double or triple. In some cases it’s because the vendors know you’ll pay it. Mostly, it’s because there is significantly more prep involved for weddings vs. typical parties for certain vendors. A good way to save money here and still have live music is to have pre-recorded music (iPod) for your walk down the aisle and for any special dances. Then hire a live musician to just play appropriate party tunes! Don’t tell your caterer that you’re even engaged. If you are renting a hall or other multi-use facility, don’t mention the “w” word to them either. I played a “surprise wedding” a few years ago, where the bride and groom didn’t tell anyone until halfway through the party! Suddenly a JP showed up and then the celebration took on a whole new life!
JP’s, Ministers, and Novices
You can save yourself $100-200 by having a friend or family member perform your ceremony. The hardest part of that process is usually convincing them to do it. The internet easily allows them to become certified to perform your ceremony. Either way, you’ll still have to do the legwork to obtain the marriage license. If you have a novice do it, rehearse a couple of times, have everything typed out, put in page protectors, and put into a binder. That way the actual ceremony will go smoothly. I’ve seen this go awry on several occasions. Also, do not choose your most emotional family member to perform the ceremony. The “class clown” is usually the most entertaining…so pick your hilarious uncle.
Time to Dance!
If you expect your guests to dance, you’ll need a dance floor. Folks may dance for a bit on a lawn or in the middle of the room, but there is something about having a square of different colored flooring that beckons people to wiggle. Dance floors are easily assembled and very affordable to rent. It’s also a great idea if you are out on a lawn. Having a muddy hole in your yard after the reception or having a guest twist an ankle on unlevel ground are the risks you avoid.