Dream Weddings – Cutting the Cost of Weddings to Avoid a Financial Nightmare

A couple standing at the wedding altar with word balloons around them.

Most little girls dream of their wedding day — they plan for it, they play at it, they fantasize about it . . . but most never think about paying for it. And wedding expenses can certainly become a nightmare out of control. Tying the knot may be a life-long dream and commitment, but paying for that special day needn’t be. We had a huge response from readers sharing their frugal wedding memories.

If you’re planning a wedding in the near future, take some notes from some frugal brides. Question every aspect of the day from the dress to dessert and let creativity and relationships reign. With average wedding expenses ranging from $10,000 to $35,000 according to the experts at June Weddings Inc., you can be sure that there is a multitude of ways to save thousands of dollars.

Image Caption: Wedding bargains turn up in the strangest places. Annette is standing next to a rack of brand new, never been worn, wedding gowns while being interviewed for a TV segment on the value of thrift store shopping.

The Invitations

Our invitations were purchased from the cheapest source we could find—a mail order company. We chose the simplest invitations in the book. The plain white cards didn’t look cheap, but elegant. Computers and printers have improved so much over the past 11 years since our wedding, that today I would have probably saved even more money by making the invitations myself. We did print our own tri-fold wedding programs, complete with a photo.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

We went to a commercial stationary company (not a store) and bought blank invitations which we printed ourselves on our computer. You don’t need a special program to do this, any word processing program has enough nice fonts that you can create something beautiful.
Deidre Collins—Glendale, CA.

The Dress

I bought my wedding dress from a discount wedding outlet. Sure it needed dry cleaning and I took it to a local seamstress for tailoring—never have the shop do it, they way over charge! All said and done, it only cost $300 and to this day (a year later) I STILL get comments on how beautiful it was. Janice Zink—Elmhurst, IL.

We purchased my dress at a thrift store for $15. It was very simple and elegant. After we had it cleaned, my aunt offered to attach beads and sequins to make it even fancier—this was part of her wedding gift to us, and cut our wedding expenses a great deal. One of my close friends made my headpiece as her wedding gift. A couple of years ago, I lent the dress to a friend, so she was able to save money on her wedding too!
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

Buying Used Online

eBay is a great place to buy a wedding gown for a LOT less. There are pre-worn gowns, but also a lot of new, never worn dresses. I have also seen many listings for sample dresses, which may have been tried on, but not worn to a wedding. I’ve helped several friends find their gowns and here’s how we’ve done it:

First, get accurate body measurements because wedding gown sizes are different than regular clothing sizes. Then, visit a couple of bridal salons and try on dresses to see what styles look best on the bride’s figure. Remember to try on a variety of styles, not just the one from the cover of “Brides” magazine. Take notes about what silhouette looks best since most salons won’t let you take photos (it’s best to spend a little research time online to educate yourself about styles so you can keep good notes).

After that, start searching for the style and size that works best. If you are open-minded about fabrics and trims there’s an excellent chance of finding the perfect gown for considerable savings. One pal got a brand new Oleg Cassini dress for $50 (retail $499) and the other found a new sample gown by designer Lazaro for $135 (retail tag, $2300).
Paula Anderson—Phoenix, AZ.

The Shoes

I got regular off-white shoes at JCPenneys. After all, the dress covers them for the most part, and you’re only probably going to wear it once. We did a non-traditional wedding (we got married in a castle and did a medieval theme) so my husband ordered our bridal parties’ clothes off of eBay at substantial savings.
Susan Schellman—Winchester, VA.

To save on shoes, I bought plain white satin pumps on sale for $10 and my Mom decorated them with pearl and diamond beads—she had fun being involved and we saved lots of money!
Janice Zink—Elmhurst, IL.

The Hair

My aunt styled my hair before the ceremony and I applied my own makeup, thus cutting one category out of our wedding expenses.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Flowers

My mother-in-law was good at floral arrangements, so we bought dried and silk flowers from craft stores and she put together many of the arrangements, including the flowers that I held (I still have these as a display). Much cheaper than fresh flowers, and it was something we could use later around the house for decorations.
Susan Schellman—Winchester, VA.

If you can have a “Meeting of the Minds” with your local florist regarding your floral needs and budget, they may go out of their way to help you. We had a flower ‘crown’ circlet created inexpensively and the bride’s bouquet price dropped dramatically when they agreed to use roses which we brought in — from a friend’s garden. The florist supplied the fillers, ribbon, and wrapping.
Elizabeth Hardisty—Mercer Island, WA.

A friend of my parents provided and arranged the flowers for a much lower price than the local florists offered. Flowers can be one of the biggest expenses for a wedding, so this was an awesome gift to us.   Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Attendants

Instead of choosing a particular dress pattern for the bridesmaids to wear, I chose a color. Two of the bridesmaids were able to wear something they already owned. A talented aunt of mine made lovely dresses to fit the other two bridesmaids.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Cake

We did not do the traditional cake. Instead, we did several cakes, all in different flavors. That way there was something for everyone, and it wasn’t as expensive as a “traditional cake.” Of course, this fit more with our theme, so it may not be for everyone.
Susan Schellman—Winchester, VA.

To save on our wedding expenses with the cake , we used a three-tiered cake for the cake cutting photo. This was not 100 percent cake, only the section we used was a full cake. The other 2 tiers were mostly cake with some kind of fake filler. A sheet cake of the same color, flavor, etc was in the kitchen being cut to serve. That saved over $30 off our cake expense! Most cake bakers know this trick! Also, instead of buying extra flowers to put on top of the cake I asked a close friend to take flowers from our flower arrangement used at the church (which were transported and used at the reception for double use) and decorate our cake.
Janice Zink—Elmhurst, IL.

My husband’s cousin made our wedding cake as her gift. We also asked a couple of friends with experience in baking to make some sheet cakes in a variety of flavors, which they did as their wedding gifts to us.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA

The Ceremony

We purchased about 20 boxes of white twinkle lights for one-dollar each at after-Christmas sales. These added mood lighting and ambiance to the ceremony. We also used a large portico and pillars—part of our church’s Easter drama set.

At a fabric outlet, we discovered a large quantity of white swimsuit lining priced very inexpensively. We draped it between the pillars and across the baptistery with white lights hung behind—it looked so elegant. Of course, no one knew what the material was originally intended for. And the wedding expenses for decorating cost only a fraction of what they should have.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

Instead of purchasing an expensive, decorated unity candle we bought a plain pillar and my aunt and I decorated it with pearl strands, ribbon and fabric flowers. Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Wedding Hostess

It’s hard to supervise friends and volunteers when the actual wedding day arrives. And many folks add to their wedding expenses by hiring a professional wedding hostess. We found that putting together a “Wedding Committee” of a handful of friends or family worked best. We met several times in the weeks before the wedding, dividing up the tasks and deciding who would be in charge of what area. With a few mental “dress-rehearsals” done with the committee, we felt prepared to actually enjoy the meaning and camaraderie of the special day.
Elizabeth Hardisty—Mercer Island, WA.

The Reception

To save money on the wedding expenses for the reception and not go into our honeymoon exhausted, we decided to have a morning wedding. Then we served lunch at the reception, instead of the typical afternoon wedding and dinner. Lunch is about 40% cheaper than dinner. PLUS we went to a local restaurant for the reception, instead of those overpriced banquet halls. The restaurant served family style so it was all you can eat. It was a great hit! Lastly, it was a restaurant that had a frequent diner program, so we were able to use the entire cost of the reception towards points—which turned into $150 in gift certificates for future meals!
Janice Zink—Elmhurst, IL.

The reception tradition in my area of the country includes cake, punch, coffee and nuts. The tradition in my husband’s area of the country was a full sit-down dinner. So we compromised with a pot-luck of sorts. We asked family members and friends to donate food items that each of them is known for preparing well. We served the food buffet-style and everyone enjoyed it.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA

On December 31, 2005, I rang in the New Year by getting married—the frugal way. We had a beautiful celebration that was enjoyed by over 200 of our closest family and friends. To get maximum enjoyment out of our ceremony for the least expense, we had a morning ceremony with a brunch reception. That evening we hosted a New Year’s Eve party. I know that this sounds expensive, but when you cater it yourself and hire a Girl Scout troop to serve everything (they were earning money for an upcoming trip) it works out great! The wedding expenses were kept to a minimum!
Therese Post Hanion—Niles MI.

Reception Alcohol – yes or no?

Serving alcohol at the reception is a must for some families, but eliminating the wedding expenses of this, can save lots of money. As a student, I worked at a reception facility and spent several years observing receptions with and without alcohol. I never worked at a wedding where hard liquor was served where people did not get extremely “stupid” because of overindulging and do something to ruin the reception for everyone else. You are far more likely to have the reception enjoyed by all if nothing stronger than beer or wine is served. My boss would beg potential brides and their parents not to serve liquor (even though she obviously made much more money from having an open bar). She did this because she had seen too many weddings ruined by alcohol.
Deirdre Collins—Glendale, CA.

After the Reception

Instead of renting an expensive limousine, after the reception, we dressed in black leather and left on my husband’s motorcycle. The guests loved the change from the usual wedding vehicle and the motorcycle was easier to hide from would-be pranksters.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Decorations

Instead of using expensive flower arrangements for centerpieces on each dining table, I bought a few bags of different colored rose petals from the florist (very inexpensive) and it turned out beautiful! The centerpieces were simple and saved a ton on the wedding expenses.
Janice Zink, Elmhurst, IL.

The table centerpieces for our reception were goblets with blue water and floating candles with metallic confetti, blue ribbon curls and Hershey’s hugs and kisses scattered about.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Music

Ask any musically talented friends or friends of friends to play at your ceremony. They may be happy to play or sing for whatever donation you can afford. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for musicians way ahead of time. Elizabeth Hardisty—Mercer Island, WA

A talented friend played the piano as her gift to us. And once again saved a ton in wedding expenses for this area of the ceremony and reception.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Photographer

A college professor whose hobby is photography took our pictures. He told us ahead of time that his photography would not be as “artful” as some, but that he would provide us with a good remembrance of what happened. He did just that, and we were pleased with his work and his price.  His price was much lower than any of the professionals we interviewed. The price included the purchase of the negatives, so we have been able to make more copies whenever we want to. Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

Although you could get a friend to take pictures, there is significant value in hiring a professional photographer because you will get significantly better pictures. However, most photographers insist on keeping your negatives, which means you will pay a great deal more for copies of the photos you want. We found a freelance photographer who was willing to take our pictures for the cost of his time and the film. After the wedding, he gave us the film and we took it to a large photo lab that had been recommended to us. They processed the film and printed the photos for much less than we would have paid at a studio. This one decision saved us several thousand dollars on our wedding expenses.
Deirdre Collins—Glendale, CA.

The Videographer

We asked four friends and family members to videotape the wedding as their gifts to us. They captured a variety of shots and angles, and we have many viewpoints from which to see our ceremony and reception.
Aimee Lenger—Renton, WA.

The Honeymoon

To save on our honeymoon we cashed in some frequent flyer miles for our trip to Europe. And to save on the hotel, we used credit card “points.” Upon getting engaged, we began using a credit card from a major name hotel to secure everything for the wedding. Soon we had enough points to cash in for gift certificate dollars that covered several nights of lodging.
Janice Zink—Elmhurst, IL.

Wedding Expenses We Didn’t Do

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we found that many other couples were spending a lot of time looking for inexpensive ways to purchase items that were not, in fact, even necessary. The cheapest way with a lot of wedding items is just not to buy them at all. We did not get any paper goods stamped with our name and the date (the banquet hall provides napkins, etc., anyway). We also did not do favors, and we chose a beautiful historic church which did not need any additional decorating by us.
Deidre Collins—Glendale, CA.

Simplicity Pays Off

We have been married 14 years and we did many things to save on our wedding expenses. We did such a good job, in fact, that my parents decided to give us a cash gift of $2000. This was money that they said they would have spent if, “We had gone overboard with the reception.”
John and Hazel Cotton—Texarkana, TX.

For more great money-saving ideas get the book Bridal Bargains—it will stimulate your frugal thinking.

Finding creative ways to make a wonderfully memorable day and still stay within budget is a great way start a lifetime together. You can have a dream day without the nightmare of humongous bills afterward.

For more frugal wedding ideas, visit our Money Saving Tips page on our website.

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