13 Tips for Planning a Wedding on a Shoestring Budget

by Jamie Simmerman · 13 comments

I have really bad luck at weddings. I’m talking freaky bad luck. Let me explain.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, Dorothy

At my own wedding, a tornado took the roof of the church one month before the blessed day was to take place — and after the invitations were mailed.

Sorry About Your Shoes… and Your Honeymoon

For my best friend’s wedding, I picked up a nasty virus in nursing school that hit the day of the wedding. I spent the morning in the bride’s bathroom, vomited twice while getting dressed, and snuck off immediately after the nuptials to curl up in a corner and sleep. (The groom’s sister got sick later that night and, to my horror, the groom came down with the same bug on his honeymoon!)

But it gets worse.

Nice Underpants. Are Those Hearts?

When my brother-in-law got married, I prepared to greet the couple in the reception line, only to get my heel stuck in a cobblestone and tumble down the church steps while holding a baby. The baby was fine, but I landed in front of my husband’s family in a heap with my skirt over my head. I broke my foot in three places.

Quasimodo’s Look-a-Like In Pictures

And the ultimate wedding disaster came the day before my brother’s wedding. While picking up my dress, I was rear-ended, causing a three-car pile up. My dress was soaked in antifreeze and fire extinguisher spray, and my face swelled up like a plum. My car was totaled. Did I mention the wedding was a two-hour drive from my home?

Yeah, freaky bad luck.

Through all my wedding miseries, I’ve also picked up quite a few tips and tricks on how to plan a wedding on a shoestring budget. A smaller wedding budget still creates memories and gets you hitched; it just doesn’t come back to haunt you like a bad chili dog when the bills come rolling in.

How to Plan a Wedding on a Shoestring Budget

1. Inexpensive invitations are a great way to cut back on expenses. (Most of your guests will end up pitching the invitation in the trash after the wedding anyway.) To help make the invitation memorable for your close friends and family, consider framing the invitation and decorating the frame with special flowers or keepsakes from the wedding. You can also opt for handmade or scrapbook invitations for a personalized feel without excessive cost.

2. If you’re really pinching pennies for your wedding, the cost of food for the reception can be quite daunting. Instead of cutting out a wedding reception because you can’t afford the meal, try adding a request to your invitations and have your guests bring a covered dish or dessert. A potluck wedding is better than no wedding at all, and you won’t be stuck with a large catering bill.

3. Include the items you need for the wedding on your gift registry for your bridal shower. This especially comes in handy if you’ve already set up housekeeping and don’t need extra measuring cups, bath towels, or cookie sheets.

4. If you’re renting tables and chairs, splurge to have them delivered and set up. This additional cost will save you money in the long run.

5. For decorating on a budget, try going with fewer flowers and adding candles or edible treats for table decorations.

6. If you’re crafty, you can find tons of great instructional videos online to help you arrange your own wedding flowers.

7. Provide disposable cameras for guests to take snapshots at the wedding. You can also ask a friend who enjoys photography as a hobby to do your wedding portraits, instead of hiring a professional photographer.

8. Call your local culinary or vocational school to check out rates for catering and wedding cakes for less.

9. If your wedding dress covers your feet, consider wearing a pair of shoes you already own, or even white slippers for maximum comfort at a low cost.

10. Make arrangements to donate your leftover wedding food to a homeless shelter or church, or ask family members to bring containers to cart the leftovers home.

11. When making your seating chart, appoint one person at each table to oversee the reception. This person is responsible for cleaning up spills and ensuring rental property isn’t damaged. By making sure the facility’s returned to a pre-rental state, you ensure you get your deposit back.

12. Ask your church or social group to make cookies as appetizers for the reception.

13. Serve cupcakes instead of cake. (You can make these easily yourself.)

What wedding planning tips do you have for couples on a tight budget?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Papa Foxtrot says:

    I always recommend making your own decorations or buying them outside of a wedding venue, catalog, whatever. They usually tack on hundreds just for being a wedding item. For instance, a rhinestone strip on our wedding cake would have cost hundreds from the baker. From an arts and crafts store, not even $10.

  • sarah says:

    More and more people are getting themselves in to debt, when me and my partner got married we did everything on a shoe string, my wifes friends all made the invitations, instead of having caters we had fish and chips, all decorations were bought of ebay we saved loads

  • Salome says:

    If you live near a beach or a lake, one idea for a youthful summer wedding reception is a beach barbeque with just hot dogs, salads and an ice cream stand, with cushions and throws for seating on the sand by candlelight. Get a DJ to provide music and all you need to rent is perhaps a dance floor, or failing that, book a beachside cafe for the evening where guests can dance and buy their own drinks – you provide the food.

  • Patty says:

    One thing that recently came up was a second wedding. Instead of a whole new wedding and the cost, they had a small simple ceremony. The bride and groom hit flea markets and sidewalk sales for tableware instead of renting dishes, cups. Each person got to choose their own cup and plate as a remembrance of the day and something to eat and drink from! Very cute and worked really well.

  • Umbrella says:

    This is a really useful post. I think the key, like most things in life, is planning. If you plan then unforeseen costs can be reduced. Over in the UK a lot of married couples are taking out payday loans to help cover the costs of the weddings and the necessary items. Asking friends and family to help with cake-making and card distribution and buying second-hand goods online can also help.

  • Daisy@Everything Finance says:

    I love these tips! I may get married in 2013, and I’ll have to bookmark this because they all make sense. We’re planning on making our own invitations and I’ll probably wear shoes I already have, but other than that we aren’t sure how else to cut costs.

  • Shawn says:

    These are all great suggestions. One of the biggest places to save money is on invitations. Go to partypop.com and you can get them for free. My fiance and I ordered ours from there are were impressed with how classy they looked. There is some limit to the amount of control you will have on printing names (my fiances father is a pastor and we weren’t able to put that on there.) If you want more control but still low cost vistaprint is a good choice. Make sure to look for a coupon code and you will save even more money. I wish everyone the best.

  • MoneySmartGuides says:

    These are some great tips. I’m not married yet but my girlfriend and I have talked about sitting down and figuring out what is important to us. That way we know where to spend money from our budget and where to cut corners.

    I like the idea of renting your wedding dress. You only wear it once so why spend so much money on the dress. Of course this comes from a guy!

  • melanie says:

    i took care of the wedding decorations and organization for a friend. i found a lot of things at yard sales like candles, candle jars, flowers, ect… mints for guests were little cardboard boxes i made, i simply printed a pattern off of google was really neat. you can ask a friend who’s crafty to make a bouquet, the internet has a lot of ressources. calculate how much it would cost to get a wedding dress hand made is also an idea. if you are pregnant and don’t know the size you will be, definitly go for a corset style dress so you can lace the back.

  • Marcia says:

    My friend just got married on a budget a year ago. She got married at a local organic farm for a small rental fee.

    If you want a catered reception, don’t use the word “wedding” when making the arrangements. Her fiance got the caterer and the quotes were outrageous. She called a couple of other caterers and got quotes for a “party”, including their own caterer. It was about 1/2 to 2/3 the original price quoted. She used that to negotiate down the cost of the caterer.

  • ChrisCD says:

    We lived near a city that had a thrift store where wedding dresses were donated after modeling shows. We paid a fraction of the cost for a beautiful dress that had only been worn once.

    Don’t serve alcohol or don’t pay for it if you do.

    We did a simple buffet style reception and the cost was about $7/ person (20-years ago). We also kept the wedding small.

    We lived near an apartment complex that was off of a lake. We new the manager. As long as someone stayed in one of the executive suites for a night we had access to the pool area.

    cd :O)

  • Patty says:

    You can also just do a cake and drinks instead of a full blown meal. If it is just family and friends, cook out, bbq for after the wedding.

    Family can pitch in, like brother doing the music

    Have it early in the morning and a brunch for your guests

    No liquior in the mornings.

    Limit the bar (just beer, wine and soda)

    Contact grocery store for flowers, bouquets.

    Consider just buying the bridesmaids dresses instead of gifts.

  • Stephanie says:

    Think about renting the dress or only looking at the sale racks when shopping. Or buying a dress from another bride. Do NOT try on the full price dresses thinking “I just want to find a style I like then I will look for it on eBay (or similar site)”. You will find a dress you love and spend a lot of money buying it! Also really think about why you are keeping the dress after the wedding. Could you sell it and recoup some cost?

    Look for decor items at thrift shops. Ask what they have in the back. I planned a friends wedding recently and we needed dozens of mini light strings to complete the decor vision. Buying them new would have been very costly but when we asked our local thrift store if they had lights in the back they were happy to look and we got all the lights we needed for $30. Sure the string was dingy looking but once the lights were turned on there was no way anyone will notice that. We also bought the class containers and vases for the candy bar there for the fraction of the cost of renting them or buying them new.

    If there is something that is really important to you though, don’t go too low cost. Photography was the most important part of my wedding (other than the groom of course 🙂 ) and I made sure that I had someone I felt comfortable with and would do an excellent job. He cost a nice amount of money but even now, 10 years later, I feel it was worth it. I sacrificed other things in the wedding to get what was most important to me. Maybe your priority is the food or the decor or the dress. Whatever it is, decide what it is worth to you and then think about what you could cut that doesn’t matter as much.

    And my most important tip? Don’t get so caught up in the minutiae of the wedding day that you don’t enjoy the celebration. Because, whether your wedding costs $5000 or $30,000, if you don’t enjoy the day, was any amount of money worth it?

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