Planning an Inexpensive Wedding...HELP!

My cousin has recently gotten engaged and has asked me to help her plan the wedding. They have a very small budget, so I am looking for ideas for planning an inexpensive wedding.

The bride’s parents are contributing $1K and the groom’s mom has volunteered her large house/backyard on a golf course for the ceremony and reception. The bride and groom will pay for the rest, with the possibility of a little monetary help from the groom’s dad and maybe his mom (aside from letting them use her house). They both have very large families, so the guest list will be pretty big, even with cutting it back to just family and very close friends. Since it has to be at the house, it will have to be an outdoor wedding. They both want a traditional type of wedding (no eloping or Vegas or city hall business) with a brief ceremony followed by a fun but classy party. They definitely want to serve alcohol, so we also need to find a way to have a nice bar without breaking the bank.

Anyone have any suggestions or ideas on how we can plan a wedding on a very tight budget? What should we do or not do? What kind of food/meal, flowers, decorations, dresses, alcohol, etc would you recommend? Any horror stories or happy ending stories about low-budget weddings? Any help or tips you can give me is greatly appreciated!

Well, I’d suggest not serving a meal, just finger foods (simple ones) that can be made in advance. Look at various food sites (I recommend for suggestions…some nice hors d’ouvres can be made inexpensively. Have they tried to count how many people are coming? Also, timing might be important…if the wedding is at 5 pm, people do have a right to expect to be fed…it cuts across the supper hour.

Flowers: price depends on the season. If you want them to be less expensive, do not get married on a date near a holiday.

For alcohol, the only way I know of to really stretch it would be punch…which not all people like. State liquor store, I guess, but even then it can get pricey. Do they have anyone who’s willins to play bartender? Also, have they considered whether they’ll collect car keys? If they host a party with booze, I think whoever’s house it is is responsible if someone drives drunk…I’m not certain.

All that said, best wishes to your cousin and good luck on the planning :wink:

I had a beautiful wedding that was also very inexpensive. I was married outside of my husband’s grandmother’s house (in the woods out front) and had the reception right there. It was wonderful! Many of the people who attended said it was the most beautiful wedding they had attended.

We had an open bar but served only beer and wine.

I designed my own dress and had a dress maker friend make it for me. (I picked out and bought the material).

We had no bridesmaids / groomsmen.

We did not have a wedding cake (I hate cake of all kinds). We had wedding cookies instead. This may not be for everybody.

We did not have a professional photographer (probably my only regret). We bought many disposable cameras and distributed them to the guests and my father in law took pictures with a nicer camera.

We had a local band play and did not have a DJ (this was a great idea. The band even stuck around longer than we paid them for because they were having so much fun).

We did not have to get fancy flowers because the outdoor foliage (summertime) was plenty.

We drove our own car (no limo).

We designed our own invitations and had my sister print them for us (she worked in a print shop at the time and got us a wonderful discount).

It was fantastic and did not feel “cheap.” Instead if felt intimate, unique and as special as it is meant to be. Granted it was not quite a traditional wedding but that wasn’t what I was going for. Hopefully you can use some of the above suggestions.

My husband and I agreed before the wedding that we would rather spend more time and money planning the rest of our lives (a wonderful honeymoon, saving for a house, etc) than on the wedding. We’ve been married almost 5 years so far and I couldn’t be happier.

Well, I’ll tell you how we did our wedding and then you can pick and choose between the ideas. We went CHEAP and I was happy with how it turned out. I’m pretty pragmatic so I’m not the type that would “just die” if I didn’t have certain things in the wedding/reception.

  1. Had it at the church we attended; included use of multi-purpose room and its attached kitchen: $0.00
  2. Had my aunt (who makes wedding cakes) make ours. 3 “storeys”: $150
  3. In-laws bought me my dress from a friend of mine, who was selling hers (I had expressed an interest in it before): $0.00 (to me - $150 to them)
  4. Punch, mints, napkins, etc for reception: $100 maybe
  5. Flowers. We picked out nice bouquets but used the good ol’ stargazer lillies that everyone uses. Cost: maybe $250?
  6. Pictures are the only thing we REALLY splurged on. Mom got them for us as a wedding gift and we got one of the best photographers in town: $1500. Yes, $1,500. It was worth every penny. Our pictures are incredible. My sister’s husband had a family member take theirs (she had gotten married before me) and they are a joke.
  7. Went to a flea market/swap meet and got the bridesmaid/groomsmen’s gifts. They were nice - we just didn’t pay department store gifts.

The big thing, I think, is to cheap on the dress and the food. Since she’s having it outside, would she be open to the idea of having a field flower bouquet? I mean, get everyone else the buttoniers but maybe the day of, she can go pick her own flowers from a local field? Just an idea!

I had a very inexpensive wedding, as far as weddings go. IIRC, total cost was around $3000.00.

Here’s what we did:

  • Rented a very inexpensive hall. Something like $400 for the night, I think.

  • My dress was an off-the-rack white dress, not a “wedding dress” per se. Cost around $60.00. Groom rented a tux.

  • Had no bridesmaids/groomsmen.

  • Ceremony was held in my aunt’s house. Had a friend of the family play piano. Cost: $0.00

  • I knew that lilacs were in season in early June, so we planned the wedding at that time. With the exception of maybe $20 worth of flowers, all the bouquets & corsages were fresh lilacs picked the morning of the wedding. Absolutely gorgeous, and free.

  • We had a very nice catered buffet style meal. This was the majority of the expense, about $1500.00. IIRC, there were about 100 guests at the reception.

  • Rather than having a traditional wedding cake, we opted for a flourless chocolate cake served with raspberries. Tasted MUCH better than icky ol’ white cake, and cost less, too.

  • Open bar with Beer & Wine only. Cost about $500.00

  • Paid about $500 for a band

All in all, it was a great time - people talked about what a fun party it was for months afterwards. Doesn’t take much $$ to have a good time. I think the key is to spend money on the stuff that’s important to you, and let the rest go. For example, I’m a cook, so it was very important to me to have good quality food. I found a great caterer, and cut down on costs by doing it buffet style rather than sit-down. Didn’t have a huge amount of expensive meat (maybe one beef roast) so the food costs in general were lower, but had some absolutely wonderful dishes. On the other hand, I couldn’t care less about what I was wearing or hair/makeup/etc. so I spent next to nothing on that.

We did our wedding ourselves (plus the help of a few friends). We served a buffet style meal that we made. Stuffed shells, Swedish meatballs, deli style trays, veggies. Just enough champagne to make one toast. Wine and keg beer, even a better beer is cheaper by the keg. We found a DJ just starting out and were able to get a good price on the hopes of generating business for him. Get you own decorations at a supplier VS a retail shop. Also, like other said, invest in the photographer.

A word to the wise…KNOW YOUR CROWD.

My husband’s fraternity brother handed out disposable cameras to record the joyous event.

He got a lot of pictures of naked butts in the men’s bathroom.

and so…we refrained from providing them at ours.


I’m getting married in July. Originally, we were hoping to bring it all in for about $4000 US. Now it looks like it’ll be closer to $3000 US and frankly it’s getting better, not worse. A few things we did are:

  1. We’re having the wedding itself at 11:00 AM and the reception’s at 1. This allowed us to serve a lighter lunch rather than a dinner. Big savings.

Another advantage to many of our guests in having an afternoon reception is that they can arrive in town and leave the same day; no hotel. A lot of our guests live 2-3 hours away.

  1. We got a reception hall that also catered the food AND supplied the wine. BIG savings.

  2. The supplied wine is the only alcohol provided. If people want beer and liquor they can buy it. Of course, it being an afternoon reception, people will drink less.

  3. Don’t go nuts with flowers. Some elegant, simple arrangements are best.

  4. Shop around for a cake; you can get nice ones for less.

  5. In general, I agree that you absolutely should NOT skimp on the photographer, within reason. Get a pro to do it; you don’t have to pay him a thousand bucks, but $500 is worth the quality you’ll get over having Uncle Butthead doing the photos. Fortunately, one of my old Army buddies is a professional photographer. So call an old Army buddy. If you don’t have any Army buddies, join the Army and get some.

  6. Who needs a DJ? You have a computer. Borrow a burner and make your own CDs, and beg, borrow and steal to cobble together a sound system. If you plan your musical selections well and have a CD changer, you can have hours of music lined up and ready to go with no muss or fuss.

  7. Get simple invitations. They’re cheaper, of course, but I also happen to think the really ornate ones with doves and bunnies and photos of models on them are freakin’ ugly. Nobody remembers your invitations and the only part YOU’LL remember is the face of the card with the announcement itself. You can get simple but very classy and beautiful invitations for absolutely rock-bottom prices these days (all types of printing are cheaper now than they used to be.)

If you can find a photographer who is just starting out (but who has some work samples you can see) he might be willing to take your pictures on the cheap in excahnge for being able to add to his portfolio. My husband and I got a photographer from our local newspaper to take ours, he did a great job and didn’t charge much.
We also found a classical guitarist to play for $50 an hour. We didn’t dance at our reception, we’re not really dancers, but everyone loved the music. I also second the idea about having it in the afternoon to save on food costs.

My wife and I got married two years ago and we made it rather inexpensively…

o Want flowers? Plant your own or have someone you know grow them. We hit up our mothers, both big gardeners for flowers. We married in August in South Dakota, so I suspect that what we could have then is similar to what you could grow in California by July.

o Watch for deals - Our stationery came gratis with our tux rentals. It was rather plain, but I suspect that it won’t look so dated in 20 years like those friends of ours who put a ‘Precious Moments’ picture on the front of theirs (gag.)

o We shopped around for the food and got by rather easily. It doesn’t cost much to feed many people in rural SD. :wink:

o If they want booze, get a keg. If they want mixed drinks, make them buy their own. An open bar will kill you if you’ve got relatives like ours.

o What everyone else said…

We cut some costs from our wedding, too, without cutting all the way to the bone.

  1. Rely heavily on friends and family. My mother-in-law made all the flower decorations, and we’ve got a friend who’s a professional photographer. They were flattered to be asked to help, the flowers and photos turned out wonderfully, and it was neat to have the other wedding guests complement the work of people we know, who helped because they liked us (if that makes sense).

  2. Design your own invitations (or use suggestion #1 and ask a friend to do it for you). You can even have them printed at Kinko’s (although we went to a professional print shop; it wasn’t that much more). Much more meaningful.

  3. For a wedding dress, go vintage. My wife bought a wonderful 1920s white sleeveless tea dress for $300. Linen, literally covered with hand embroidery and hand-made lace, it looked wonderful. Much nicer than my sister-in-law’s $12,000 “traditional” dress, IMHO. This goes for bridesmaids, groom, and groomsmen, too, BTW. Why do bridesmaids dresses have to be exactly the same? Answer: they don’t.

  4. Music = CDs.

My husband and I had a very simple wedding. We were paying for it ourselves and weren’t terribly well off, so we just enlisted the help of friends and threw a party.

I made my dress, which cost about $100 (12 years ago) in materials. Because it was outdoors, I went with a fairly simple design (no train) and flat shoes. We were married at my husband’s mother’s house in a field, with a beautiful mountain view. We had the reception at her house. My sister-in-law made the cake. We had beer, wine, and champagne, which we served on ice in a canoe. It was very relaxed and we had a wonderful time.

I would suggest that they each make out lists of what they consider “traditional” and important and, after comparing them, decide what they really want and what they can do without. If having a line of bridesmaids and groomsmen is important, they should be included. But they don’t really have to be in tuxes and identical dresses (unless that is important to them.) Is a traditional tiered wedding cake important? (It wasn’t to us; we had a chocolate cake decorated with fruit.) I have made one (for friends) and it wasn’t all that difficult. It was an all day affair to create, but if they have a friend with decent baking skills, they could probably call in a favor. I had a friend make me a bouquet from flowers from my mother-in-law’s garden. (She even put some in my hair.) If they have friends who grow flowers, perhaps they could ask for help there.

What we actually spent most of our money on was our honeymoon (we went to the Caribbean) but many of our friends tell us that our wedding was the one of the most enjoyable ones they ever attended. Remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun.

Maybe I am just too young to understand, but I never understood why people feel compelled to spend so much money on weddings. Seems to me when they do, they get the dreaded “This is my day and every single thing has to be perfect or else I am going to throw a tantrum like a six year old” attitude. So cheers to you for going the inexpensive route (even if that was involentary).

My mom likes to tell me about her wedding. She was young and didn’t have a lot of money to blow, but she had a wonderful time and has fond memories of it.

The held it in the backyard of my Great-Grandmother’s house. Great-Grandma was a bit of a gardener, so there were flowers growing all around. They also lined the walkways with potted yellow flowers.

The best man owned a blue suit, so she asked everyone in the wedding party to wear the nicest blue dress or suit they could find. Sure they all looked different, but what really mattered was that her friends were all there to share that moment. The funny part is that the best man’s suit ended up actually being brown and the flower girl’s mom sewed her a beautiful dress, that happened to be bright yellow. Instead of looking at these differences as tragic mistakes that ruined “her day”, she saw them as wonderful things that made her wedding special.

My great-grandpa, who was a minister, performed the wedding. Not only was this economical, but it made the wedding extra special.

Finally, the wedding ring was a vintage art-deco style ring of my Great-Grandma’s. The sad thing is that the marrige didn’t work out. The good thing is that should I get married I get to use that amazeingly beautiful ring.

Another thing you might consider is a used dress. Vintage dresses are wonderful and even contemporary used dresses can be a great deal. Wedding dress makers have such a hold on the industry that bridal magazines and shows arn’t allowed to even mention used dresses, but there are a lot out there. It can be just as beautiful and a lot cheaper.

Best wishes to your cousin!

Just a couple of additional suggestions.

We had lots of out-of-town guests who arrived the night before, the night of the traditional rehearsal dinner. Not wanting to leave the guests not in the wedding party without food or company that night, we ordered pizzas and ate at my mom’s house. There were probably 40 family/friends there, many more than we could have afforded at a restaurant, so it was almost like an early party.

For the reception, we had a small hall that let us bring in our own liquor; we did buy a variety, but the keg beer turned out to be the drink of choice. For bartenders, we invited several friends of my brother’s who I knew but was not close enough to to invite to the reception. They gladly showed up after everyone had eaten and took turns bartending and partying–they got to go to a great party with my brother and other family friends they mutually knew and were very happy to help us out.

Alan & Denise Fields wrote a book called “Bridal Bargains” which has a lot of tips about cutting costs. I think a lot of the advice might be how to have a $10,000-type wedding for a lot less, but there’s gotta be some useful stuff in there.

Also, email me privately. I keep a site on small weddings, and have some input from other brides–I’ll give you the URL. Sometimes reading about the stuff they did to make their weddings special spark some great ideas. I think that’s key: Have enough special things that your cousin doesn’t think about what she’s NOT having. We get the “typical wedding” model drummed into our heads so deeply, sometimes it’s hard to break out of the mold. It’s all too easy to focus on what you’re cutting out, instead of what you’re gaining, when you do things differently.

Actually I’m planning an inexpensive wedding right now for me. So far we are well within our budget. The dress being the most expensive at teh moment. $350 for material but there are several very good seamstreses in my church. Teh cake is going to be done cheaply by another lady in the church. All the flowers are going to be fake silk for the decorations and real for the boquet. One thing that is saving us is having only one person on each side. We decided to go ahead and concentrate on us instead of worrying about hurt feeling of others. The pictures are going to be the most expensive thing. So far it looks like about 800-1500 just for them. Other than that we are renting most of the stuff. The food will be cooked by family and other ladys in the church. Our church is packed with old ladys that have nothing to do and can cook wonderfully. All total it looks like it will only cost 2500-3000. Compared to some of my freinds weddings, this is a bargain.

My wife and I had to plan our wedding on a low budget; we found that, unfortunately, saving money sometimes takes up lots of time. I can’t add much more to what other people have said here, but there were some particular things that helped us to save money.

We printed our invitations and Order of Service sheets ourselves. Instead of paying a musician at our service, we had a friend (a concert singer) sing. We shopped around for every detail and drove hard bargains on everything. My wife bought her dress at an antique store (like zut’s wife, it cost a lot less than it looked like it cost).

But our biggest saving was, ironically, the one thing that made our wedding look incredibly expensive. We held our reception at Jesus College, Oxford. Now, normally it would cost a fortune to hold a reception in a place like that, but, because we were both students there, the college only charged us what it cost them–which was one-third of what the hotels we checked out cost.

Moral: Look beyond hotels and restaurants for your reception. You may be able to find something just as nice and cheaper, which is important as the reception’s going to be the most expensive part of the wedding.

Oh, I so agree. I am embarrased to tell you where our rehearsal dinner was ::cough::Country Buffet::cough:: plus it’d be so much more fun to be able to just take it easy after the stree of everything leading up to the wedding. Pizza, what a great idea!

Thank you all so much for your great ideas!

My cousin has been saving up for her dress, but hopefully we will be able to find an inexpensive one and put the rest of her savings toward other things.
Good ideas on the bar too–sounds like it should be pretty simple to get a keg, some wine and pop and call it good.

I am definitely feeling more hopeful that we can put on the kind of wedding and reception she is dreaming of. Please keep your ideas and tips coming! Thanks again.

And Cranky, thanks! Look for my e-mail soon.

A friend who is a church organist/choirmaster and a music teacher at the local conservatory often gets queries from couples who want a soloist or some kind of “special” music at their ceremony.

While does what he can with keyboards and classical guitar, if he needs, say, a flute soloist, he either calls another professional (expensive) or gets a capable student (much less expensive). The student gets some performance experience and the couple gets a break on the cost.

It’s true that live music can be a luxury, but if there is a piece of music that would make the ceremony that much more special to the couple, perhaps a music teacher can line you up with a reasonably-priced music student.