According to the popular bridal website The Knot, the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was $35,329. For reference, this amount of money would be the same as putting 15% down payment on a home in Phoenix, AZ, where the median home price is between $215,000 and $235,000. With a wedding costing the equivalent of a down payment of a home, it’s no wonder others may choose to elope, but you don’t have to.

Plan & take your time

After the question has been asked and the answer celebrated with champagne, you may be ready to get this show on the road! The chances are that you and your significant other have been together quite a while, so why not move on already? But, by rushing the deadline of your pending nuptials, you may have financial blinders on since you are in the moment.

After celebrating, talk with your significant other about an imposed yet flexible timeline and what you want out of your wedding. Do you want a big party or a more intimate affair? Who will be paying for it and if it is you, how long will it take you to save? In the past, families have helped pay for their relatives big day, but that is no longer the case with so many people facing financial hardships themselves.

Taking time to iron out the details and plan will save you not only money but frustration in the future.

Reconsider the time of year & venue

When trying to save money on your wedding, the venue and reception hall will typically be one of the bigger costs associated with your wedding besides food and alcohol. Venues, where special events are held, like weddings, have busy seasons depending on where they are located. They also have certain days that are more popular for events, like Saturday. If you are flexible with the time of year and day that your wedding is to be held on, you can easily save thousands of dollars. For example, think of having your wedding in the winter on a Friday.

Reconsider the time of year & venue of your wedding

Non-traditional venues may be another money saving route.

Many parks will allow you to have a wedding on their premises if you consider a donation or permit for the day. My friends held their ceremony on a Saturday at a local park, and by keeping it under 50 people, they were able to use the space for free. Bonus? They had a great backdrop for photography after. Parks, libraries, and museums are all up for consideration.

Think outside the box for food

Many couples choose a formal sit down dinner as their option of choice for catering their big day. Along with assigned seating and mailed in food requests, the food usually comes out cold & bland. I had never had a good dining experience at a wedding until a few years ago when my friend chose to have a taco truck cater her evening affair. That night I had not only a fresh warm meal but the best carne asada as well.

  • When considering a venue, be sure to inquire about food options and what those costs will be.

Some sites will not allow you to bring in outside food or caterers. It’s important to research all of your options before falling in love with a location that may look good in photographs but will not budge on food. 

Consider if you can have friends and family bring sides instead, hire a food truck or skip a heavy meal and just do appetizers instead. Another friend of mine did light appetizers and wine options in the afternoon for her wedding reception at a small Italian restaurant and spent less than $500.

Put a limit on the booze

An open bar is something that is heavily discussed when planning a wedding, for a good reason. As mentioned above, it can easily be one of the most expensive items in a wedding budget. Open bars at many venues are not cheap since drinks can cost easily between $5-10 each depending on where you are, and the type of alcohol served. Not everyone has the same tolerance to alcohol, and one person may drink ten while someone else drinks two. Alcohol can also cause problems in a group setting for other reasons.

If you don’t want everyone to get drunk on your dime, consider the following options:

  • Try limiting drinks to one per guest then opt for a cash bar;
  • Pick a wine and beer only option with a signature cocktail;
  • Skip alcohol altogether or keep it for just a toast. It’s your big day, and your loved ones should care about celebrating you and not whether you have liquor.  

Do everything yourself (or don’t)

Doing It Yourself (DIY) is very popular for a significant reason: usually doing it yourself saves you money. And while this may be true for a lot of items you need for your big day, it may not be necessarily true for everything. Pinterest can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It shows elaborate decorating ideas that people seem to make with just yarn and twine. While you may be creative, sometimes DIYs are misleading in both skill required and time needed to accomplish the individual project itself.

Consider what your venue and reception area need regarding decorating or if you can make it work with minimal interference.

Ask a crafty friend if they wouldn’t mind chipping in to make decorations or a photo booth instead of a gift.

Rethink your décor

If you are considering decorations, as mentioned above in the DIY suggestion, do not limit yourself to what the venue has or is willing to make for you. Consider the following for frugal yet personalized suggestions:

  • The dollar store. In the party section of dollar store chains, they often have a wedding section with things like balloons, banners, bubbles and little party favor boxes for candy. All of the party items are usually eight to ten in a package for one dollar. Bubbles would be a great alternative to rice or other items used for a wedding toss;
  • Thrift stores. Thrift stores such as Goodwill carry unique, and one of a kind items such as teacups and cake stands. Both would look beautiful when used in a center piece with candles or fresh flowers. One of the most unique centerpieces I have seen was a stack of books with candles because the couple were avid readers. See if any of these individual pieces speak to you;
  • Big box stores. Target and Walmart now have bridal aisles in their stores to help you with your big day. Like the dollar store, they carry a lot of decorations and party favors and a few other wedding staples as well, such as a cake cutter and champagne flutes. They also carry tulle and ribbon that you can use for decoration for a cheaper rate than an expensive craft store;
  • Skip it all together. You do not have to have decorations or party favors if they are not important to you. The only wedding favor I have ever kept from all of the weddings I have ever attended was a mason jar. Mason jars are very versatile but framed photos, not so much.

Skip traditional wear

According to an article published earlier this year in Cosmopolitan, women are spending an average of $998 on their dress for the big day, which has declined from the previous year’s average of $1,334. That’s a hard number to swallow for a dress you are only going to be wearing once. This figure doesn’t include a tuxedo for the groom or any additional wear for the rest of the wedding party.

Skip traditional wear

Examine other alternatives in addition to a traditional dress and tuxedo from a major retailer.

Think a nice tailored suit for the groom, which can be used again and again, both in business and formal settings. Consider a simple white sundress off the rack or something a little fancier you can find in a formal dress section of a smaller department store. Think about having a custom made gown from a local dressmaker. You can work one on one to help ensure you have the dress of your dreams for a fraction of the cost.

If you have to have a big fancy dress, consider buying used. eBay is a great alternative for brides looking to buy slightly used wedding dresses from other brides who do not need them. Another idea is to consider a second hand or consignment shop specifically for brides.

The bottom line

Getting married doesn’t have to break the bank. While your wedding day may seem like the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s just a small part. Every day you must wake up and love your significant other and honor the vows you have made together, not just when your friends and family are watching.

Taking time to plan out your wedding and making sure you and your partner are on the same page is an important first step in planning your upcoming nuptials. After that, the rest will be a lot easier. Saving money and following our action plan isn’t going to be as hard as finding out you both want different things in the end.