When my husband and I first got engaged we immediately realized that everything in the wedding world is so expensive! We knew we didn’t want a lavish wedding, we simply wanted a fun and beautiful celebration of our marriage that we would remember for a lifetime. We tried to put into perspective that our wedding was just one day, and what really mattered was our marriage. With a short, five-month engagement, we had to make a lot of quick decisions while trying not to break the bank, which wasn’t always easy but we proved that it is very doable if you’re willing to put in a little extra work. Here are five smart things you can do to save a TON of cash on your wedding day. We did all five of these things and were still able to have the elegant, yet laid-back wedding of our dreams.
1) Think outside the box when selecting a venue.
I can’t stress this one enough. Most wedding experts suggest that when you first get engaged you should book your venue right away. This was the first thing I did in my wedding planning process, and I quickly learned that many venues used exclusively for weddings come with a hefty price tag. Traditional venues often require that you use either their onsite catering service or one that they’ve pre-selected, so you have less freedom in deciding how much you want to spend on food and often end up getting gouged.
Even on the low-end, many venues charge a few thousand dollars just to rent the space, plus anywhere from $60-$150 or more a head for dinner. Instead of paying an arm and a leg for the rental fee, plus astronomical catering costs, look for a venue that allows you to bring in an outside caterer. Parks and historical landmarks, museums, arboretums, and community centers are just some of the spaces that allow this practice and you can rent many of them at a steal.
We were married at the Heritage Park Village and Museum in Oceanside, CA which had a darling gazebo, a beautiful green lawn, and several historic buildings on the property (which made for some great photo-ops). We were able to rent the space by the hour so we didn’t have to pay for any extra time we wouldn’t be using, AND were allowed to bring in our own caterer. It was an absolutely gorgeous venue and we literally saved thousands by choosing it.
2) Choose a unique catering option.
First I want to say that this really depends upon your personal taste and what you’re willing to compromise as far as the “traditional” wedding meal goes. Maybe you’re a bride who feels that her wedding dreams won’t be complete without an elegant, three-course steak and lobster dinner served on Edwardian China and you’re completely willing to accept the expense that will come with it. In that case, you go girl! You have to be true to your vision and your budget. I knew off the bat though that we would go a different route since we had to feed nearly 200 guests and wanted to be able to allocate more in our budget for photography and floral design. Plus, we wanted a casual and laid-back atmosphere at our reception, so we were open to less conventional options.
After a little Googling, my husband and I chose a company that caters Mexican street taco cart fare. The tacos were carne asada and chicken, grilled onsite with rice and beans, salad, and an assortment of tasty salsas and toppings, including chips, guacamole, and quesadillas for the kiddos. All of it was served buffet style on (gasp!) paper plates–for $12 per person. This saved us thousands compared to what a sit-down dinner would have cost.
It wasn’t a fancy dinner but it was incredibly delicious and almost a year later, our friends still rave about how much they loved the food at our wedding. But seriously, who doesn’t love tacos?! This choice added a ton of personality to our special day and was something memorable for our friends and family to enjoy. Both the refined and the casual dinner options can be great, you just need to go with the one that you really want, that fits the feel of your wedding, and that you can manage financially.
3) Be imaginative with invitations.
The absolute best source for invitations is Etsy. There are so many amazingly talented designers who sell extremely pretty invitations that can save you hundreds of dollars. However, if you really want to save money, don’t buy just any invitation on Etsy. Instead, look for invites sold in a digital file format. Invitations sold as digital files are magical and will be a lifesaver for your budget. Designers sell single invitation JPEGS usually at much more affordable price-point than the average wedding invite because you only pay for the file and print the actual invitations yourself. For our invitations, we found a design we loved in an Etsy shop, purchased the file and sent off the precise wording we wanted on our invitations and RSVP cards to our seller. She then sent back our completed JPEG file ready to print. We bought some shimmery cardstock and envelopes for the invites, took a memory card loaded with the invite file and the cardstock down to our local printer, and an hour later, badabing-badaboom, are invitations were ready! Many sellers will also print the invitations for you, but we found it was more cost-effective to do it at a local print shop.
4) One word: sales! Take advantage of them.
I found my dress at an upscale bridal boutique, in my size, for $350. Seriously. Although I think I was very lucky, bridal stores do have sales throughout the year, you just need to keep an eye out for them and be smart about your choices. Don’t buy something that looks like it was stepped on with a dirty shoe 75 times, but if the dress is in good condition but not exactly what you had in mind, remember that you can alter a dress to your specifications. For example, I had long dreamed of an all lace dress with sleeves. But when I tried on several lace dresses I realized that many were not figure-flattering on me. The dress I found for $350 was satin with beautiful beaded-lace applique and made me look and feel great–but it was strapless! I had a seamstress add custom lace-beaded sleeves and alter the neckline into a sweetheart, and it turned out exactly how I wanted!
5) Use word of mouth to find the perfect vendors.
I spent hours searching the internet for the perfect photographer, florist, DJ, etc., but it was difficult finding ones that fit my main criteria: that they would be affordable, make my wedding pretty, and wouldn’t suck. Through talking to different local people however, we found the most wonderful vendors of all time and it all started with a phone call to a florist whose work I loved the moment I saw it online. When I contacted her, she quoted me a price I could never afford and my heart sank. Discouraged, I sheepishly told her I would have to talk to my fiance and “let me get back to you,” yadayada just so I could get off the phone. It was then that she said something to the effect of, “I sometimes work with a really great florist and right now she doesn’t have a minimum. Would you like her information?” Um, yes!
I jumped at the chance. I figured they might have similar styles if they worked together, and sure enough I was right! I looked at this new floral designer’s website and immediately fell in love with her creations even more than the first florist’s. Her flowers were one of the highlights of my wedding. She also referred me to the photographer of my dreams (whose prices just happened to fall within our budget).
We found our DJ by chance through a city worker my mother-in-law just happened to speak to on a whim. As a favor to his friend, the DJ offered his services for our wedding at a reduced price and did a spectacular job! I never would have found these amazing vendors had I not been open to the suggestions of others. Sometimes your first choice for a vendor might not work out, but many times the second choice could be even better, so don’t give up!
I hope this post has been a helpful read! If you’re planning your wedding right now and totally stressing out because you think you’re going to have to spend an arm and a leg, remember that you absolutely can cut so many costs if you exercise that creativity muscle to think outside the box, do a little searching, and stay open to sometimes more unconventional options. You can do this! Now take a deep breath and go own that wedding planning like the boss I know you are!