A wedding celebrates the joining of two lives and is one of the biggest events in most people’s lives. Something else that can be big about weddings is the price tag. Wedding site The Knot reported that the average cost of a wedding among 13,000 couples they surveyed was $35,329, and this number did not even include the honeymoon.
About three years ago, my daughter, who was 25 and living on her own, told me that she had gotten engaged to her boyfriend of less than a year. He was the one she said, and they didn’t want to wait a long time to get married. Being of rather modest means, they wanted to keep it simple, and my daughter was going to handle all the planning herself.
Well, she tried. But she knew nothing about how to plan a wedding on a budget of $1000 and it quickly became clear that she couldn’t do everything on her own. So I stepped in to help her, and we put together a very nice wedding and reception within the budget that she wanted. Here are some of the things we did to save money, plus some more ways you can get the wedding you want without breaking the bank.
Step 1: Making a List
Most bridal magazines have checklists covering all the things you “need” when you plan a wedding. It’s a good idea to make a list of the things you need. While a ready-made checklist can be a great tool to help you get started, you should also know that many of the ready-made lists in magazines and other places are overly long and filled with things you really don’t need. On the flip-side, you don’t want to get to the big day and realize you forgot about something important that you will really miss.
A basic wedding will need to be held somewhere, will include the bride and groom and at least a small wedding party, you’ll also want to have decorations (including flowers), someone to perform the ceremony, and some type of music. There are some smaller details like a guest book, gifts for the wedding party, and maybe a rehearsal dinner for after the rehearsal the day before. You will need some kind of invitations as well.
A reception will need a location, some decorations, food, drinks, a cake, maybe favors, and usually some music (though not always). Some other things to consider are what the bride and groom will wear to the ceremony and transportation from the wedding to the reception if they are not in the same place.
Step 2: Figuring Out How to Save
Wedding costs can escalate quickly. In my experience, only having a short time to put everything together actually saved us a lot of money because it kept us from making anything too fancy. Here’s how we saved money on a number of aspects of the wedding and reception and had a great $1000 wedding.
I bought basic invitations in Walmart’s party section and printed them on the computer myself. I think they were about $10 a pack and I needed 2 packs, plus stamps to send them out. I didn’t use reply cards, just an RSVP phone number and email address. I got a lot of email RSVPs, it’s easier for people and I liked that as well.
The bride and groom wanted to keep it as casual as possible, which is a good way to keep costs down. We convinced the groom to wear a suit and tie he already owned, and I found an extremely simple cotton white dress for the bride on eBay for around $20–that’s what she wanted. They let the bridesmaids, groomsmen and flower girl/ring bearer choose their own attire based on their chosen colors (grey and mint green). Mismatched bridesmaid dresses are a trend right now so it worked out perfectly.
There are many places to get an actual wedding dress without spending much money. Check with family members and friends, or try secondhand consignment shops and thrift stores or online sites like Craigslist. Another option is to make your own if you have advanced sewing skills, or to have a friend or family member who sews make it for you if they are willing to do so.
Venues, Pastor, and Music
We held the wedding and reception at our church, which as members we were allowed to do for free. We did make a donation to the church anyway, but we didn’t really have to. We paid under $100 to the pastor and the organist to play the music. A guitar player also helped out with the music. (Although we did not have professional musicians, the music was enjoyed by all).
Decorations and Flowers
We spent under $100 on decorations by making our own bouquets from grocery store flowers and keeping everything extremely simple. Most churches are already decorated to some extent, and you can use that to minimize what you have to do. We did order a few flower arrangements from a local florist, which was about $50 of that cost, but if we had planned ahead a little more, we probably could have gotten my mother to make arrangements for less than that, because she has that talent.
I also bought a few rolls of ribbon and made my own bows for the front pews to dress them up a little bit. If you don’t know how to make bows there are tutorials on YouTube–it’s not difficult. For the guest book, I just bought a fancy journal in coordinating colors for about $5 and at the reception, asked people to sign a page each and write some marriage advice to the bride and groom. This was a nice keepsake for them.
Simple plastic tablecloths for the reception were extremely inexpensive, and I made centerpieces with pages from books (my daughter has always loved books). I also used love and marriage-themed books on each table along with mason-jar candle holders with cut-out book page inserts in the shape of a heart. It was simple and sweet, and my daughter loved them, and the only thing I had to buy were the mason jars and some battery-operated tealight candles.
Keeping the guest list small helps hold costs down. We had about 50 people at my daughter’s wedding, but you can have more than that and still do all right on costs. You have to consider who you really want to be there. Sticking to close family and friends is fine to do. For some people that may be 50 people, while for others it may be 100 or more.
The reception was held in the church’s fellowship hall. It was a Baptist church so we didn’t have dancing (except for a bride and groom dance which we got an exception for). If you want to have music and dancing at your reception, some frugal options are to use a friend if they will donate their skills, or just make a playlist on your phone or device and hook it to the venue’s speaker system.
My husband and a few helpers cooked all the food for the reception, which saved us a ton of money. We kept it simple and included a lot of the bride and groom’s favorite foods – some of which could be made ahead of time, which meant that my husband didn’t have to miss the wedding events. We used the church’s kitchen facilities for the cooking.
Another way to handle food is to make the reception potluck in lieu of gifts. Reception dinners can cost thousands of dollars, so this is a major savings. Having alcohol will increase your costs greatly. This is another thing we did not have to worry about since we were in a Baptist church, but if you want to have it, maybe some guests can bring it as their potluck contribution.
Because our wedding was fairly small, for about $70 we were able to get a very nice tiered wedding cake from SAMs Club that fed everyone. I have also seen tiered cupcake stands used instead of a cake, in which case you might be able to make it yourself and save even more than that. Alternatively, you may have a friend with baking skills who can do this for you as their wedding gift.
We did not need transportation since the wedding and reception were held in the same place, but there is no need to rent limos or anything like that. Sometimes you can borrow a nice car for the bride and groom to ride in, but using your own cars is perfectly fine.
Photography and Videography
My mother has a fancy camera because she is an artist, so we had her take pictures after the ceremony and I took some as we were getting ready and at the reception. They were definitely not as nice as a professional would have done, but they were fine. If you want more professional photos, use your contacts and see if you can get someone to provide their services at a low cost. Some photographers just starting out may be willing to take photos at a discounted rate. These days you can just have them put all the photos on a flash drive or CD and then you can print what you want.
There are several apps where people can upload wedding photos, including the official photographer and guests who take pics. You can download all the pics that are uploaded for free. We used WedPics but there are several options.
We didn’t do a video but it’s so easy to do that with a smartphone now. You can just designate someone ahead of time to have that responsibility, or even several people so you get different perspectives you can edit together later.
One of the biggest ways to save money on your wedding is to ask guests to help you with things for the wedding instead of gifts. If you know the right people, you can get everything you want and need without spending money you don’t have.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Wedding planning is full of temptations to spend more than you had planned or budgeted. People rationalize that it’s their special day and they need certain things to make it a good one, but ending up with a lot of debt from your wedding will probably sour the memories of the day in the end and make you wish you had stuck to your budget. The goal of the day is getting married, and you will get that same result no matter what you spend. My daughter was thrilled with her wedding and its cost, and she has no regrets about its simplicity whatsoever.
Whether you want to plan a wedding for $10,000 or $5,000, or your mission to how to plan a wedding for under $1,000 – the first step is to make a list of what you need and what you want to include on that special day. Determine the budget you have to work with and then find affordable ways to get or create what you need for the wedding.
As for me, I found out that frugal weddings mean doing a lot of the work yourself. I made decorations, invitations, centerpieces, and my husband made lots and lots of food, but it was fun to do and is now part of the memories I have of the event, which turned out to be a wonderful, happy day.