48 Creative Ways to Save on a Wedding

When we showed you how Abigail Dalton planned her picture-perfect wedding for under $4,000, nearly 100 of you jumped in to share your tips, and we were blown away by all the ways you'd saved.

From Ellen, who made her own dress and served a DIY sundae bar as food at the reception (total cost of her wedding: $3,500) to "Shazzer" who had 50 guests in Key West for under $4,000, you all outdid yourselves ... but not your budgets.

And that's a beautiful thing—especially when the average price of a wedding has crept up to $27,000.

At LearnVest we believe you can throw a wedding worth remembering without breaking the bank. After all, it's a beautiful day—but it's one day out of your whole financial future together. (To ensure you live happily ever after, financially speaking, take our Getting Hitched bootcamp.)

In the meantime, to hear tips straight from real-life brides who said "I do" on a budget, whether they were getting hitched in Manhattan, or throwing a three-day affair at a resort by a lake, read on ...

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Tell us: How did you save on your wedding? How would you save on your wedding?

  • Mostlywentzel

    If you want to save money, you can. I found my dress – a silk Calvin Klein – at Ross for $40. My bridesmaid dresses were silk Ann Taylor, found at Gabriel Brothers for $5-30 each. Even tho I didn’t care how much I spent on my shoes (I just wanted the right ones) I found a perfect pair of sandals at Target for $20. My husband’s linen suit was bought at Kohl’s for $150 and we found similar suits for our two son’s at the Children’s Place for about $80 each. I had my makeup done at the MAC counter at Nordstrom for free, I just had to buy makeup, which I would have done anyway. We had a “guerrilla” wedding on the beach with 30 people. We just showed up, had the ceremony, took a few pictures, and left. My brother played guitar for the ceremony, and my SIL was the officiant (in FL, a notary may perform weddings).

    It comes down to who are you trying to impress and why?  I had a big wedding the first time, and the marriage didn’t last. This time, it was small and fun and casual. 4 years in, I know it’s right, no doubts at all. If you’re getting married, not just having a wedding, focus on what matters and you can find all kinds of ways to trim that budget. Less money up front will keep your stress lower later too.

    • Clavdiachauchat

      I agree re: the 2nd wedding. I did the same thing–had a potluck and a tiny, very interactive church wedding. (I had actually had a small wedding planned in England, which fell through due to their requirements, so it was thrown together at the last minute–and was really lovely.) 
      However, my daughter is getting married in August after being proposed to in June (guess we are just a last-minute family :) For a first and presumably only wedding, with lots of family friends on both sides, I think she should have something a little splashier. Unfortunately, we have a small budget and little time, so we are going to have to get very creative. I’m glad to find this website!

  • Gratzi89

    I got married in December, which saved a lot of money.  (Not a lot of New York City weddings in the wintertime.)  But most of these things—Mooching off people? Blimpies? Really?? I would sooner elope and skip having a wedding party at all before I invited guests and served them that slop.  

    • LeAnne

      Although I agree that relying too heavily on friends and family to pitch in for your big day isn’t a great idea, I don’t go so far as to judge someone’s food choice.  I think that at a reception, guests should be fed (or notified that they would not be) and drinks should be provided, but the caliber of the food and drink really depends on the group of people.  If your friends aren’t picky and will be happy with a keg and a sub, then I say “Go for it!”

      • Laura Cutshall

        Agreed.  The people who would turn up their nose at sharing our wedding day because the food, drink or venue isn’t fancy enough are the very people I wouldn’t have as friends long enough to consider inviting along.  Different strokes for different folks, and our particular strokes center more around love, friendship and respect than appearances.

      • kara

         I agree about being notified about the food and drink.  When a person is invited to a wedding, they are expecting the traditional meal, etc.  So many people these days want a big wedding on a small budget that they skimp on the important stuff.  At least prepare people that after hours in a church for the ceremony that it’s only a dessert buffet awaiting them.  Then the couple asks for money as a gift is the kicker.

      • kara

         I agree about being notified about the food and drink.  When a person is invited to a wedding, they are expecting the traditional meal, etc.  So many people these days want a big wedding on a small budget that they skimp on the important stuff.  At least prepare people that after hours in a church for the ceremony that it’s only a dessert buffet awaiting them.  Then the couple asks for money as a gift is the kicker.

    • Guest

       Sounds pretty snobby to me.

      • Clavdiachauchat

        Well, consider the source…NYC residents aren’t known for their tolerance or open-mindedness, which can be annoying. 
        I’m sure her wedding was lovely, though, which is the upside to the “snobbiness.”

  • Chreeuuss

    My wedding was 20 years ago, but I still get bragging rights when it comes to all of my friends weddings. Flowers were cut from my mother’s flower garden, the china and silverware for the reception was all borrowed and mismatched. We had the wedding on my parents deck and borrowed the chairs from a local church. My mother in law made the grooms cake and we bought a simple tiered cake at a local bakery (with cream cheese icing) and placed the topper ourselves that we bought at Wal-Mart clearanced  out at $6.00. My dress was a piece of luck that I bought for $6.67 (clearance rack at CATO with additional 50% off clearance sale). The bouquet cost the most as I love daisies and my wedding was in late September(we chose September so that the weather would be cool enough to have it outdoors). I spent 75.00 on it. I bought my shoes as a buy one get one and bought a hat so that I wouldn’t have to spend money on a new hair do. My make-up was applied by a good friend of mine who is a cosmetologist. My photographs were done by an old boyfriend who was a professional photojournalist. In all, we spent $150.00 on my wedding. It was a lot of hard work for a handful of people but it was very worth it.  Although the marriage didn’t last, that wedding was worth every penny.

  • LeAnne

    I think a lot of these ideas are creative.   We did our wedding for under $15k, but it was a destination wedding where our guests were responsible for their own travel.  Because of this, we made sure to give extra special gift bags as a thank you for coming.  We also bought the dresses and suits for our 5 bridesmaids ($50 each on sale at JCPenney’s)  and 5 groomsmen.  Because our guys ranged from 5’6″ and 135lbs to 6’7″ and 300lbs, we didn’t think it would be easy to find a store that carried something for all of them, so we had the suits custom made for $99 (or a bit extra for the bigger guys) at StudioSuits.com. 

    Our photographer used to be a crime scene photographer, and although he wasn’t the best ever, he was decent and $300.  We also chose an amazing (but more expensive) photographer to capture a short Trash the Dress session for $550.  We did pay a wedding coordinator $2,100 to pull everything together for us, since we were getting married out of the country.  However, she was able to come in UNDER budget and still provide a beautiful ceremony, a cocktail hour, great food and drinks at the reception AND she put up with my family. :-)

    It all boils down to your priorities for the wedding and for life. Personally, we thought it important to splurge on making sure our guests were adequately taken care of since they agreed to travel so far to celebrate with us. 

  • Emily Smith

    I had a classy $3k self-funded wedding the week after I graduated college. 

    Seven years later I would do it all the same EXCEPT I would have gotten a cheaper dress I could afford with cash (I bought the first dress I tried on…at David’s…with a loan. Ugh.). I also would have been less anal about bridesmaids dresses (sorry, girls).

    Things I’d add to what’s already been said:

    * Consider giving away your dress (on a site like Freecycle) instead of trashing it. There are girls out there DYING to have a pretty dress who just don’t have the money at all. You have to weed out the scam artists but it’s worth it.* Reuse the bridesmaid bouquets during the reception on the tables. Also, don’t even dream about micro-managing the flowers. I picked someone talented and said “I have $400, do whatever you can and include pink.” They were stunning and really helped set the tone.

    * My husband would rather die than dance in front of anyone, so an afternoon reception was awesome for us. No alcohol, no dinner, no DJ, you have the evening to yourselves and your guests can go out on the town together (which is exactly what ours did and they had a fabulous time).

    * Asking people to help you is NOT mooching! Well, at least not if these are people who really care about you and vice versa. To this day I still have people thanking me for asking them to help make my wedding a success and literally dozens who’ve told me how beautiful it was to watch a community come together and make this happen for us. *sniff*

    * If you do have people helping with the food: 1) Be selective in who you ask to help. You’re not doing anybody favors if you are going to be stressed about your food. Go for quality instead of quantity.  2) Be very organized so your volunteers know what kind of thing, how much, when to show up, and what serving wear to bring (and make sure the serving pieces have a theme like pewter or silver, etc.). I could have been more organized and it was inconsiderate, so learn from my mistake. 

    * Book your venue early, at least a year beforehand if possible. This will mean more choices, which means you’re more likely to get a lower cost place.

    Hope that helps. Also, don’t forget to thank everybody who helps and reciprocate when they have a need later on. Happy planning!

  • http://twitter.com/TheLAtable TheLAtable

    Let us help you stick to your wedding budget!  Our disposable tableware looks so much like real china you would not actually realize its disposable until you touched it.  www.theLAtable.com. Many brides have used our stuff to great effect!

  • Judih1

    My husband and I got married in a Hot Air Balloon in Napa on New Year’s Eve morning with a brunch afterwards. Very romantic and intimate with 10 people. We bought our wedding attire at Banana Republic after Xmas when all their winter white clothing was on sale. A friend made wedding bouquets for me and my maid of honor out of silk flowers I bought at a close out sale. Had enough flowers to decorate the high air balloon. All total we spent under $2000 including the photographer.

    On another note, my company rents and sells mannequins and dress forms. A lot of brides rent them from us to display the wedding gowns of their relatives at their wedding reception. It makes for a low-cost, memorable display. Who doesn’t want to see their wedding gown again? I wrote about it with photos on our blog on this link:
    http://blog.mannequinmadness.com/2013/02/impress-your-guests-and-please-your-mom-with-this-wedding-reception-decora/

  • Alanna

    I think a wedding and how much it costs is up to the bride. The thing is that “cheap” or “inexpensive” may not be in someone’s tastes. My wedding this summer will cost around $20,000. I just like what I like. No courthouse, no melted rings, no sub sandwiches. I could never bear that! So I am willing to spend and cut costs my own way to have the wedding of my dreams. (And in everything I am doing I have tried to find a cheaper version, but there are some things I won’t do.) So there is really no issue. Do what you want. If your taste is more expensive, then it is what it is.

  • phyllis whitmyer

    My fiancé and I are getting married in Aug.. I will be 60 and he almost 70. We want a small to medium party (60 people) at a low cost as we both are on disability/SS. A friend has offered her 10 acre home (with gazebo and pond) for our wedding and reception.. Both gazebo and barn are set up with electricity so recorded music will be great for the reception.. My son’s 2nd marriage was casual with a potluck for the meal and it was awesome. We are using the same concept, providing meat and drink. We don’t like cake so will have an inexpensive dessert bar. Dress and shoes are from store sales ($60 and under $20).. Guys will buy a coordinating shirt but no suit or tux. Biggest expense will likely be the rented port-a-john.. And I have friends who are more than willing to help with flowers, decorations, etc. Still haven’t decided on photography, but hoping that I can get some friends to take some nice photos.. don’t need many but want meaningful ones. So our guests’ “gifts” will be contributing to the potluck and enjoying a nice afternoon with us and the other people. My first wedding was organized in 3 wks with only immediate family. Marriage lasted a few years but this time is likely the last so wanted what I want.. More family than friends and casual but happy times instead of “throwing together a last minute mini traditional wedding”.