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How to Plan a Wedding on a Limited Budget

Andrea planned her own wedding during the pandemic. She learned a few tricks along the way.

It is possible to have a wedding on a tight budget. You'll want to narrow your focus and make sure you're prioritizing the right things.

It is possible to have a wedding on a tight budget. You'll want to narrow your focus and make sure you're prioritizing the right things.

Wedding Planning on a Budget

If you’re planning a wedding on a shoestring budget, there are some tricks you can use so that you can still have the wedding of your dreams. The important thing is to stay within your budget. You don’t want to go into debt over a wedding. You most likely will be dealing with debt when you get married: student loans, car loans, medical bills, and mortgage payments. Saving money is always a good idea. Emergencies will happen.

The keys to having a wedding on a budget are: keep it simple, be creative, and compare prices.

In this article, I’ll go over a few big ticket items for weddings and what you can do to slash prices.

Finding the perfect wedding dress is a deeply personal experience for many brides. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get the gown of your dreams. There are several tricks you can use to get an affordable dress.

Finding the perfect wedding dress is a deeply personal experience for many brides. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get the gown of your dreams. There are several tricks you can use to get an affordable dress.

Wedding Dresses

Some brides will spend thousands, even tens of thousands on a wedding dress. You don’t need a $10,000 dress to look gorgeous. You could find a dress for a couple of hundred bucks.

First, decide on the max amount of money you are willing spend on a wedding dress. Keep in mind: You will likely only wear this dress once. However, this dress will be immortalized in pictures. You don’t want a terrible dress.

Second, you don’t have to buy a dress. You may already have a dress in your closet that you really like. You don’t have to go with a typical white gown. Bucking the Victorian wedding dress trend can be fun. If you’re eloping and going to the courthouse, do you really need a giant cupcake gown?

Here are some options to keep in mind:

  • There are rental services for wedding dresses.
  • Go vintage: Shop online and at thrift stores. You might be surprised by what you can find.
  • Borrow from a friend or family member.

If you want to buy a traditional wedding dress, you can shop at bridal stores in person or go online. If you meet with a sales representative tell them you have a strict budget. You may want to shop online first to see what a store offers and to discern if it is in your budget range. You can explore online and look at dresses from the lowest prices first. You might actually be surprised by what gems you find.

I spent around $400 on my own dress. I got it off Etsy, a hotspot now for beautiful and affordable dresses. Everyone thought my dress was beautiful and original, and they never knew what was the price. There are stores that sell dresses for less than $1,000.

Do plan out your wedding dress in advance; don’t wait until the last minute to buy it. You may end up buying from a seller who lives overseas, and the dress may take more than a month to get to you. If you need to make alterations, you’ll need time to work with a tailor.

Also, yes. If you find a vintage dress you really like but it doesn’t fit, you might be able to get it reworked with a tailor.

Don't let the high prices of venues scare you. There are amazing places at prices that you can afford. If you think a little harder, you may even have a place you frequent that you could get for free.

Don't let the high prices of venues scare you. There are amazing places at prices that you can afford. If you think a little harder, you may even have a place you frequent that you could get for free.

Finding the Perfect Venue

One of the most expensive items on your list will be the venue. Some places sell their event space for astronomical prices, like $50,000. You can drop that number into the triple digits if you get smart.

I originally wanted a destination wedding because it was going to be cheaper than most venues plus the vendors in the United States. I also liked the idea that I could select everything all at once at the place and be done with all the planning. There was one big problem: the coronavirus pandemic. My destination wedding was unfortunately planned for 2020, so my fiance and I had to reroute everything back to the United States to make it work. And we amazingly stayed within our budget during all the chaos.

When it comes to venues, my suggestion would be to look around online at everything that is close to you, look at places that are close to where the majority of your guests live, and maybe look at some destination spots too (I’m serious, destination weddings can actually be more affordable than a typical wedding in your hometown. Plus, you’re bundling it together with a honeymoon.)

Most venues have a list of their prices online. Sometimes you have to send an email and inquire about prices. Often a venue will have different rooms and places priced at different ranges. For instance, the place where we held our wedding had a room for $15,000+; we went with their garden area for about $600.

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  • I’ve been to weddings that were held at the couple’s house or at a family member’s fancy house.
  • If you are a member of a religious organization, it will often give its members discounts to use the building. Some churches will let their members use it for free, but you may have to follow certain rules. For instance, a lot of churches ban alcohol.
  • Parks often have affordable prices for events.
  • Elope and go somewhere beautiful and skip the big wedding ceremony.

Food & Drink

Most people when they come to your wedding will expect that you give them dinner. This has become the norm. The ‘90s weddings with a punch bowl and candies is a thing of the past.

As always, shop around and look at different caterers’ prices. We got a great deal on our food, but we didn’t realize how expensive the bar would be and that our guests liked alcohol way more than we knew. You want to read those bar prices carefully, so you don’t get a hefty bill following the wedding. You may want to limit the number of drinks a person can have, so your friend who really likes wine doesn’t go wild.

  • BBQ can often be bought for an affordable price and can be shared among several guests.
  • Pasta tins are often affordable and manageable.
  • The more intensive labor the caterers have to do, the more expensive it will be. This includes tables, chairs, linens, napkins, plates, silverware, cups, and the like.
  • I went to one wedding where the bride had a close friend who was a professional chef. He offered to cook for her for free. The food was excellent. If you have a friend who is a professional with food, they might be able to pull this off. I would research the prices of a private chef, especially if you have a smaller wedding. Your chef will need an exact head count, not an estimate.
  • It’s better to have too much food than not enough. Leftovers can be donated to a food pantry or taken home.

Cake

Cakes don’t come cheap. If you want a fancy one, it will likely cost you hundreds of dollars. For me, it was worth it to have a fancy cake. I spent about $300 for the cake of my dreams. One of my friends said she went cheap with her cake and regretted it. She wished she had gone with something of higher quality.

  • The more labor-intensive your cake, the more it will cost.
  • Cupcakes can get pricey too, but they tend to have a more fixed price than a cake.
  • Each layer of your cake will add more cost.
  • Each new design element you add to the cake will add more cost.
  • Typically, most bakers work with chocolate and vanilla. If you want a different flavor, it could cost more.
  • Book a baker as soon as you can if you want a professional. I suggest booking at least six months out.
  • Walmart could be the way to go. There is nothing wrong with a sheet cake.
  • If you have a friend who is really good at baking, have them bake a cake for you.
  • I went to one friend’s wedding where they skipped the cake and asked everyone to bring a pie instead. There were a ton of pies to try.
You don't have to spend an arm and a leg on flowers. You can get wedding flowers at an affordable price. Flowers can also be used for centerpieces and cut the cost of decorations. Buy flowers natively, buy from a professional, and buy in season.

You don't have to spend an arm and a leg on flowers. You can get wedding flowers at an affordable price. Flowers can also be used for centerpieces and cut the cost of decorations. Buy flowers natively, buy from a professional, and buy in season.

Flowers

Floral arrangements make for great centerpieces. Flowers are generally given to the bridal party. In particular, the bride’s attendants get bouquets. This can all add up really quickly. You want to have a budget for your flowers. You can trade out flowers for other objects that are cheaper or go with fake flowers.

I love flowers because they’re biodegradable, they smell nice, and they’re romantic. Flowers are such an easy thing to put into a wedding to make everything look nicer.

I do recommend working with a professional florist if you use flowers. A home gardener probably doesn’t have the resources to make sure your flowers stay fresh throughout the day and also doesn’t have the variety.

  • Buy flowers that are native. There are many reasons why you want to go native and in season. It will cost you more to outsource flowers. Buying tropical flowers in the Midwest will make the price go up.
  • Ask the florist to help you to keep the price down. Ask them what are the lowest priced flowers rather than trying to create flowers based on a color palette or aesthetic.
  • Limit the flowers you buy. Do all your attendants need bouquets? Does your flower girl need fresh petals? Cut down on the number of corsages, boutonnieres, and other arrangements.
  • Use house plants and succulents for centerpiece arrangements instead.
  • Keep it simple: Instead of a bridal bouquet, carry a couple of roses.
How can you afford multiple bridesmaid dresses if you plan to buy them for your attendants? (1) Limit your bridal party size. You don't need to make all your friends attendants. (2) Shop around and compare prices; Etsy is your best friend.

How can you afford multiple bridesmaid dresses if you plan to buy them for your attendants? (1) Limit your bridal party size. You don't need to make all your friends attendants. (2) Shop around and compare prices; Etsy is your best friend.

Bridal Party Attire

It is customary to buy dresses or suits for the bride’s attendants. There are some ways you can lower this cost and make it easier on yourself.

First: Keep your bridal party small. You don’t need all your closest friends up at the altar with you. You don’t want an army surrounding you. 3–4 bridesmaids are manageable. 8–9 bridesmaids can turn into a circus. Each bride will add up in cost with shoes, clothes, hair, and makeup.

Second: I recommend buying things new or as a collection. If you have your bridesmaids all pick out their favorite black dress, their favorite pattern, etc., it could look like a mess. You might get various shades of black. You might get various patterns. You don’t want your team of bridesmaids looking like a mess.

I used the company Cocomelody for my bridesmaids. Their dresses were beautiful, affordable, and I could help bridesmaids pick different styles in the same color. This was really helpful. They also have accessories for men, so we could get ties, pocket squares, and other items in the same color.

Etsy is also another great place for shoes, bridesmaid dresses, and suits. I had one bridal attendant wear a suit that she already had, and she matched it to the color I picked through Cocomelody.

You also want to get the dresses early so that there is enough time for alterations. You don’t want your bridal party to look shabby. They may only wear the outfits once, but they will be immortalized in pictures. Even if you don’t get a professional photographer, your guests will likely take pictures and put them on social media.

  • Shop around on Etsy. Read reviews closely to make sure you’re not falling for a scam.
  • Be on the lookout for discounts.
  • Don’t buy all the bridesmaid’s dresses all at once. Space it out, so you don’t deplete your funds.

Hair & Makeup

My suggestion is to enlist the help of a friend or close family member who is really good at these things. Hair and makeup can cost a fortune, but surely one of your bridesmaids or guests has a deep love of making people look pretty. This was the route I took.

You can drop a ton of money on a stylist, and sometimes that person doesn’t entirely get you. I’ve seen a lot of people opt for a professional hair and makeup artist, and they didn’t get the results they wanted.

You have to do extra work with a stylist: you need to look through their portfolio and see if their looks match what you desire.

Practice with your friends in advance and see if you can make yourselves look pretty without a stylist. If you can pull it off, you’ll save a lot of money. I’ve also gone to weddings where they amazingly skipped the makeup, and believe me or not, it worked just fine. Not all of us can rock the natural look, but if you never wear makeup it might be because you’re naturally pretty. You might also be uncomfortable with makeup if you never wear it.

I will admit, however, in photographs it is easier for your photographer if you’re glammed up. It makes it easier with lighting.

  • Look for discounts if you use a stylist. Look for affordable, but not so affordable that you look like a disturbing pageant queen.
  • I would rather you spend the money on nails and getting massages than sitting in a hair salon with lots of hairspray.
  • Read some books on hair.
  • See if your regular hair stylist can cut you a deal.
  • Don’t make any huge changes to your hair in the months ahead of your wedding. Avoid chopping off all your hair or dying it. Making drastic changes before the wedding, especially if you never do these things, could spell regret. Now is not the time to experiment with new hair looks.
  • A professional stylist could set you back $300–500 or more.

Pro tip: Brides don’t do your own hair or makeup. There is a chance that you could burn your veil or get makeup on your dress. You need someone to do these things for you.

© 2021 Andrea Lawrence

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