Congratulations! You — or your kid — said Y-E-S to one of the biggest questions in life. I don’t have to tell you how significant a decision it is to spend the rest of your life with someone. But it’s no small shakes financially either.
The average cost of a wedding is at an all-time high — $32,641, according to a 2015 survey by The Knot. And although some people have been dreaming of the perfect since before they could walk in heels (and have the Pinterest boards to prove it) that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a one-day event. These days, experts report engaged couples are cutting costs on the big day to save for other goals. “Brides want to put that money into buying a house or going on a really fantastic honeymoon,” says Anastasia Stevenson, the DIY Wedding Planner. Her first tip? Wedding insurance — “worth every penny” — so you don’t lose any money you do put into the wedding, just in case. You can get a million-dollar insurance policy (excluding jewelry) through WedSafe or Wedsure for about $125, she says.
Here are the other ways you may be able to save:
“Your cost increases exponentially based on every person you add to your list,” says Jessica Bishop, creator of The Budget Savvy Bride. If you’re having trouble, use the one-year rule to cut people: If you haven’t seen someone in person or had a conversation with them in the last year, you can probably leave them off. And limit plus ones to couples who are living together, engaged or married.
Some people spend upwards of $500 on invitations, you can save hundreds (with minimal effort). You can print invitation templates (as well as menu cards and RSVP cards) online for about $10 using sites like Etsy or Creative Market. If you’d like something even more unique, you can message an artist or graphic designer on Etsy and ask them to design a template for you, says Bishop. From there, it’s about $60 to get a set of 50 blank paper envelopes from FedEx, Staples or Walmart. If you’re a non-traditionalist, you can send online invitations using Greenvelope.com or PaperlessPost.com for between $6 and $20 (there are also free options).
You can cut $200 to $1500 here, says Stevenson, by having a friend or family member get certified for free as an officiant at the Universal Life Church. It’s not just more personal, it’s trendy — Lady Gaga and Benedict Cumberbatch have done it. If you’re religious, sometimes an official of a religious organization you belong to will officiate for free.
Venue and Bar
Choose a date that’s off-season in your locale and steer clear of key holidays. New Year’s Eve drives up prices, as does Valentine’s Day. Choosing a Friday night or a Sunday over a Saturday night can save you between $500 and $2,500 on the venue alone. And opting for a few signature cocktails instead of an open bar cut your costs in half. That’s because for 100 guests, an open bar costs an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 (even $7,000 for a big city like Los Angeles), while signature cocktails plus beer and wine set you back about $2,000 to $2,500. Stevenson suggests having a champagne hour, then signature cocktails or a beer and wine bar, then returning to champagne for the last hour. Another pro tip: Hire a bartender from a catering company, not a whole bar service.
Grand tiered cakes are beautiful, but are they really worth $2,500 to $10,000? Stevenson suggests opting for a self-serve dessert station instead for about $1,500 to $2,500. You can hire a baker to come in and create handcrafted mini pies, doughnuts and cookies. If you’ve got your heart set on a cake, though, get a “naked cake” with minimal icing — a three-tier one will cost you about $750 to feed 100 guests, and you can add your own flowers on top for a unique touch.
If you’re looking to cut costs, opt for a DJ instead of a band, says Bishop. And if you’re really looking to cut costs? If your venue has a great sound system, you can connect your iPhone or laptop with your own playlist and save between $1,000 and $3,500.
In part one of this series last week, we talked about how to save money on venue, music, bar and more for your wedding. Part 1: How to save thousands on venue, music, bar and more (Anastasia’s Pro tip: Opting for a few signature cocktails instead of an open bar cut your costs in half and save you $2,000 to $5,000). This week, we get into how to cut costs on flowers, wedding planning and photography — as well as “unexpected” costs you should make sure to account for beforehand.
Stevenson says hundreds of favors are often left on the tables at the end of the night, mostly because they’re often awkward to carry and people are in formalwear. If you do go with favors, it’s best to go with something edible, like cookies iced with your monogram for $2 to $3 each. Most favors cost between $7 and $15 per person, so you could save up to $1,500 by cutting them out altogether.
Dress and Décor
The bespoke trend means it’s now easy — and trendy — to shop around for wedding décor. Set your sights on thrift stores, antique stores, eBay, Craigslist and especially recycled wedding items websites like Ruffled, Wedding Recycle and Tradesy. You can find brides who had the same colors and theme you do, and you can also often find upwards of $7,000 wedding dresses for about $500, says Stevenson.
In-season flowers will always be cheapest, but bypassing professional arrangements for ones you put together yourself (with blooms purchased online) can cut your costs even more. “If you’re looking at a simple hydrangea and rose bouquet, you might pay $75 to $250 at a florist, but if you do it yourself you’re paying $25 to $100,” Stevenson says. As for fancy centerpieces, they can cost up to $2,500, but if you decide to go to a regular, small florist, it could be about $250. If you do it yourself, that cost decreases to between $100 and $125.
Skipping the wedding planner and doing it yourself — with the help of a timeline template from TheKnot.com or WeddingWire — will of course save money. But if you want or need the help, go with a “month-of” wedding coordination package. The way these work, the planner steps in after you’ve contacted all the vendors. (They’re better than “day-of,” unless you have a very intimate wedding, because day-of planners won’t be able to make as much of a difference regarding how smoothly things go.) It’ll set you back about $1,500 to $2,500, a huge savings over full service planners that can cost three times that or more.
“Just because a photographer is so expensive doesn’t mean they’re the best,” says Stevenson, so look closely at their work to find one you like. You can save here when it comes to the wedding package — there’s no need to get a printed wedding album, costing between $500 and upwards of $1,500, from the photographer. Mpix, Snapfish and Shutterfly are good resources for DIY online printing, and Mpix’s premium wedding album costs only $39.99.
Finally, when you’re creating your budget, make sure you leave pillow room for unexpected costs. For the venue, these are things like additional cleaning fees, dance floor fees, guest count overage fees for those unexpected show-ups and parking and/or valet fees. Since most venues only provide tables and chairs, some couples forget to budget for table linens, napkins and chair covers. All these costs together can be anywhere from $700 to $1,200, says Stevenson. Most couples also don’t realize that for unexpected additional guests (added the week of the event), many vendors will not only add the quoted price per person, but also an additional service fee (between 15 and 25 percent) depending on the short notice. Bridesmaids gifts are another often forgotten cost, about $25 per bridesmaid, as well as transportation — usually anywhere from $500 and $6,000. Other unexpected costs include flowers for the groomsmen, mothers and grandparents to wear; stamps for the invitations; gratuities; and rain backup for any outdoor part of the event (usually upwards of $500). Making sure you have a buffer of 10 to 15 percent will keep you sane and happy for your big day.