You could spend $32,641 on your wedding, which is the national average according to The Knot 2015 Real Weddings Study. Or you could be like Anne McAuley Lopez of Mesa, Ariz. She paid a little more than a third of the average price for her March 2016 wedding.
She was willing to go without some traditions, such as a program, and looked for ways to scale back on other costs such as alcohol and guest favors. “I’m not the kind of bride where every single thing was important,” says McAuley Lopez, a writer.
Since weddings have traditionally been once in a lifetime experiences, some people may be inclined to spare no expense. However, that’s dangerous thinking, says Alison Pettine-Hecker, a senior financial advisor at 1847 Financial in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. “If you spend $70,000 on a wedding, that’s like buying a Range Rover,” she says. While a SUV may be with you for years, the wedding is done in a day.
For the budget-conscious bride and groom, here are 10 ways to drop the price of a wedding.
Shop around for an all-inclusive venue.
This was McAuley Lopez’s secret to an affordable wedding. She booked the Antique Wedding House in Mesa, Ariz. for $8,000. At that price, the venue provided a florist, cake, photo booth, bartender, DJ and catering for 75 guests. Plus, a professional photographer was on-hand for three hours and sent McAuley Lopez 400 photos of the event. The only reception item not included was alcohol.
Book a beautiful non-traditional locale.
While all-inclusive venues can be convenient, not everyone wants to be tied to specific vendors. If you think you can plan a cheaper wedding on your own, consider starting with an inexpensive setting.
Use an online RSVP system.
Pettine-Hecker, who was married two years ago, sent traditional invitations to her guests, but didn’t include an RSVP card. Instead, she set up a webpage where invitees could respond. “It saved us from getting the [RSVP] card,” she says. Plus, there was no need to spend money on stamps for cards that may never get returned. “Fifty cents per person … really adds up.”
Bring your own alcohol.
Both Pettine-Hecker and McAuley Lopez had the same idea when it came to alcohol. They both brought their own to the reception and then returned the unopened bottles for a refund. Depending on your state’s law, you may be able to buy alcohol inexpensively at warehouse clubs such as Costco or Sam’s Club even if you’re not a member.
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Simplify the process of sharing photos.
Collecting candid photos from guests is popular at weddings today. While there are dedicated apps, such as WedPics and Wedding Party, designed to let guests share photos, Greg Cohn thinks he has a better idea. Cohn is the CEO of Burner, an app that lets people set up temporary mobile phone numbers. “Instead of purchasing disposable cameras or asking your guests to download a new app, you could put a Burner number on each table for guests to text their photos,” Cohn says. Then the app can automatically deposit those pictures into a Dropbox account. While some wedding apps have a fee attached, Burner is free for the first seven days.
Skip the guest book.
Although not a major expense, McAuley Lopez decided she could do without a guest book. Instead, a friend manned an area at the reception where guests could draw on a canvas to record their attendance.
Another alternative to a traditional guest book is an audio guest book. “Ask guests to call your Burner number and leave a voicemail with their well-wishes,” Cohn says. “[The app] will collect your loved ones’ messages on a private SoundCloud playlist.”
Buy your flowers wholesale.
The Knot found couples spent an average of $2,300 on a florist and décor in 2015. However, John Tabis, founder and CEO of The Bouqs Company, says people may be able to spend as little as $700 and get the same amount of flowers. The key is to buy wholesale and make arrangements yourself.
Wholesale flowers may be bought through local flower markets, warehouse stores like Costco or online retailers like Bouqs. Although making your own arrangements is significantly cheaper, Tabis cautions this money-saving tip is not for everyone. “It really does come down to [whether] you have someone who is comfortable and knowledgeable about flowers,” he says.
Make flower arrangements do double or triple duty.
Whether you decide to create your own arrangements or enlist a florist, you can make your flowers do double duty by using the same ones at the ceremony and reception. Then, after the reception, use the flowers as favors or gifts to save even more.
Tabis had the flowers from the arch at his wedding ceremony transferred to a reception location. He says the move “absolutely added stress” to the day, but it also cut flower costs significantly. To minimize any potential stress, call on a trusted friend or relative to oversee the transfer.
Create a DIY photo booth.
Rather than spending hundreds of dollars for a photo booth, you could make your own. Set up a backdrop and buy some party supplies or props from the dollar store. Then have a designated person available to take photos and text them to guests or let people use their own cameras to take photos of one another.
Photos taken this way look best when there is lots of light. If your reception is at night, consider putting the photo booth in a separate room or partitioning it off from the main reception area.
Encourage friends to gift their talents.
While it’s poor etiquette to ask for gifts, friends and family often ask what the happy couple would like. When that happens, you may want to encourage gifts of service that can cut down on wedding costs.
For instance, the friend who manned the canvas guest art for McAuley Lopez did it as her wedding gift. She wasn’t the only friend to offer a service gift either. “My best friend since first grade did the favors,” McAuley Lopez says. While family and friends are often happy to help, be sure they will also have plenty of time to enjoy the ceremony and reception themselves.
Weddings can be expensive, but they don’t have to be. Focus on what is important and remember you don’t have to have every amenity outlined in the wedding books. “You don’t want to be paying for your wedding three years later,” Pettine-Hecker says.