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47 Cheap Wedding Ideas for the Perfect Day

Nov 15, 2019
By Wedding Spot

More than a quarter of couples in the US report going into debt to pay for their weddings. You don’t have to be one of them! 

Your marriage is about your love and your partnership, and beginning your life together in the red is not ideal. The more money you trim off your wedding expenses, the more you’ll have to launch your happily ever after.  

If you don’t have a large budget for your wedding, you can still host a fun and memorable celebration at an affordable wedding venue without dipping into your savings or maxing out your credit cards. Read on for low-cost planning strategies, and tips to help you start your life as a team on sound financial footing.

Discover 47 tips for planning a low-cost wedding:

1. Know you can have an affordable wedding anywhere 

The average wedding cost in the United States costs just shy of $34,000. The average shifts by location—so the average wedding cost in Idaho is $16,366 while the average price in Manhattan is $96,910. 

No matter where you are, however, you don’t have to spend the average—even in glamorous Manhattan. You just have to get creative with your choices and nab some of the strategies and ideas below.

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2. Know where the money for your wedding is coming from

In 2018, nearly 10 percent of couples paid for their wedding entirely on their own. About another 10 percent had it entirely paid for them. Most couples—the 80 percent in the middle—had a mix of contributors. Sit down with all the financial stakeholders (not necessarily all at once) to establish who is contributing what. 

Kindly establish boundaries at this point too. If your soon-to-be F.I.L. is contributing, it doesn’t mean he can add endless names to the guest list—that will quickly undermine your low-cost goal.

3. Commit to an affordable wedding and clarify your priorities

You’ve said ‘yes’ to each other. Now it’s time to commit to an affordable wedding. Set aside a time to discuss what you will use the money for later. This is much-needed conversation to have anyway; it helps you prioritize and understand what truly matters to each of you. 

Decide together whether you are using the saved money to pay down student loan debt, or simply avoid accruing debt. Perhaps you will put it towards a nest egg to buy a house, or put it towards your kid’s college fund. Maybe you both like the idea of a long, multi-country European vacation more than an extravagant party. 

The two of you will soon face countless decisions on saving and spending: There are a lot of ways to spend money on a wedding, and a lot of ways to reduce costs. Establish a “guiding star” to help you keep things thrifty through planning process. 

If one or both of you are feeling a little sad about not having the budget for a bigger wedding, just remind yourself of the research that finds couples with costly weddings have a higher divorce rate

4. Create (and stay within) a budget 

This is absolutely essential. Almost half of couples (45 percent) say they went over their wedding budget. Nearly an equal amount stayed on budget, and just 6 percent say they came in under budget. 

The takeaway? Once you establish a budget, it’s not likely the final tally will be much lower. Take a good, hard look at the numbers and set a budget you can live with comfortably. 

Spend some time prioritizing again, but this time you’ll rank the importance of different aspects of your wedding. Perhaps music is most important to you both. You’ll allocate extra funds for that expense and find a more affordable dress, borrow the tux, or explore affordable wedding venues. The Wedding Spot lets you filter venue options by budget to help you narrow your options with ease. 

5. Minimize the size of your guest list 

A smaller guest list means a lower-cost wedding for so many reasons. You book a smaller venue (about half the cost of the average wedding). You also have a more modest cost for food, beverages, service, tables and table settings, linens, and invitations. 

There are positives to big and small weddings, but because you’re opting for a small one, let’s focus on those! Smaller weddings allow you to relax and enjoy the day with your nearest and dearest, rather than a sprawling guest list that includes your mother’s book club besties. And while you love your friends from work, they’ll understand that you are keeping the event intimate. 

Some experts suggest making a guest list and cutting it by 20 percent, and then cutting it by another 20 percent. Others start at zero, add parents, siblings, grandparents, and then a couple of close friends apiece—and then shut down the list to new additions without exceptions.

You’ll probably need to talk with friends and extended family who aren’t on the guest list no matter where you draw the line. Most people will understand if you don’t have the budget for a large wedding. 

6. Go to a thrift store for your dress or suit

Wedding dresses and suits or tuxes are often a sizable line item on wedding budgets. But they don’t have to be. You can find beautiful, vintage wedding dresses and tuxes or suits in thrift stores. Make a day of it and see what you can find. Your wedding finery may need a little mending or tailoring, but even with that cost added on it will be much less expensive than a new dress. 

You can also discover affordable wedding dresses online. Visit eBay and Craigslist, or explore Etsy for affordable originals. Nearly Newlywed offers gently worn wedding dresses for resale, and Rent the Runway lets you rent a stunning wedding dress for four days. Even high-end and popular stores have affordable dresses in the mix. Check out Nordstrom, Anthropologie’s BHLDN line, and David’s Bridal. 

7. Pick a wedding venue close to home 

Destination weddings are expensive for you and your guests because they involve travel and overnight accommodations. Sticking close to home is a money saver and seems like the right call for affordable nuptials because “Home is where the heart is.” 

Low-cost wedding venue ideas and tips

The venue is by far the most significant chunk of any wedding’s cost. Consider your venue options carefully to lower overall expenses considerably. 

8. Remember, the lowest-cost venues are free

If have access to a suitable backyard (your own, or a friend or family member’s), consider holding both the ceremony and the reception there. Tent, chair, and table rentals are low-cost options for a beautiful backyard wedding. 

9. Get married at town hall, followed by dinner at a restaurant

For this option, that wedding guest list is going to have to go micro-sized. Invite a witness and a handful of people to the brief ceremony at town hall. If you are marrying in a large city, you’ll often be waiting in line with other soonlyweds, and it can be a uniquely joyful communal experience. 

After the ceremony, everyone heads to a nearby affordable restaurant for a celebratory meal together. You’ll probably want to make a reservation and think about bringing a cake. 

10. Explore wedding venues within your budget  

There are many low-cost venues of all varieties available. You can find the right location for your wedding, whether your theme is rustic, elegant, modern, or ultra-casual. Here, budget filters on the Wedding Spot help fine-tune your search to venues within your price range.  

11. Choose a vacation rental in your area

If you live near a popular vacation spot, you can rent a lovely home for your wedding in the offseason. This option comes pre-loaded with outdoor space plus indoor space and restrooms for guest comfort. Be clear with the owner that you plan to have a small wedding there. 

Bride and groom smiling in snowy field with elk.jpg

12. Time your wedding for the winter

The holidays are a popular and pricey time of year for weddings. But January through March is considered the off-season for weddings throughout most of the country. (This isn’t the case at winter resort towns, such a Telluride, Colorado where snow bunnies pay top dollar to get married with a backdrop of snow and mountains.) In most locations, you’ll likely find the lowest cost venue options during deep winter. You may even be able to haggle down the cost—venues would rather have a low-cost wedding than no wedding on a particular date. 

13. Skip over Saturdays

Fridays and Sundays are typically more affordable days for your wedding. The venue, catering, and vendors tend to be lower cost because most people want to have their wedding on a Saturday. 

14. Consider a mid-week wedding  

It’s not the norm, but there’s no rule against having a wedding and reception on a Tuesday or Wednesday. And these options are even less expensive than Fridays and Sundays. Choose a Thursday and many of your guests can take off Friday and enjoy a three-day weekend to boot. 

15. Hold the ceremony and the reception in one venue

This is typically more affordable because you can skip the cocktail hour as guests travel to the reception site and the wedding party takes pictures elsewhere. It also simplifies the logistics of the day. 

16. Buck the evening reception trend 

No rule says the reception has to be dinner either! Get married in the morning and organize a lovely reception brunch. It’s different, delicious, and usually modestly priced. 

Here are affordable wedding reception and food ideas:

When you compare venues and food service costs, remember to compare apples to apples. All-inclusive packages may have a higher sticker cost, but a site that’s a blank slate means you may need to bring in tables, plates, and linens, as well as the food. Calculate expenses for those items as well so that you’re making a useful comparison.

Explore creative, low-cost catering options with a lower price tag:  

17. Choose a favorite family-owned restaurant

Vendors outside of the wedding industry may be less expensive. Ask your favorite spots if they cater and see if they’ll cut you a deal as regulars. Even if they don’t typically cater, you can ask if they’ll create large portions of your favorite dishes and provide them with chafing dishes.  

18. Opt for a food truck or two

These popular catering options are half the price and twice the cool. Bonus: Paper plates are A-OK.

19. Ask for help with food instead of gifts

This is an excellent option for backyard weddings or local halls. Reach out to your foodie friends, or your aunt who makes ornate cakes for every occasion. Many people love to help in this way, and you won’t know unless you ask. The key is not to expect positive responses—some people prefer to kick back completely when they attend a wedding.

20. Make it a cash bar

Provide champagne or sparkling wine for the toast, but have guests pay for their own drinks beyond that. It really is okay, and you may not have to deal with guests who overdo it at an open bar. An alternative is to make it an open bar until after dinner, and then switch to a cash bar. Be sure to make this clear in your wedding invites and with a sign at the bar. 

21. Skip the hard liquor

Beer and wine are more affordable options than spirits.  

22. Explore affordable dessert options

The average wedding cake comes in at more than $500. Consider lower-cost options, such as cupcakes, pies, or donuts. You can arrange them in tiers and no one will miss the cake. You can even offer completely alternative desserts, such as an ice cream sundae bar or Belgian waffles.

23. Keep the reception short

Are you having your wedding reception during the day? Consider negotiating a shorter reception at a lower cost. This helps you stay in budget, and gives the venue more time to set up for an evening wedding. 

24. Go for a buffet service

Large buffet-style servings of food in chafing dishes are typically more affordable than sit-down service. Buffets require fewer staff members and fewer timing concerns for the chef and kitchen staff. 

25. Increase the buffet’s vegetable offerings

Meat is costlier than vegetables, and veggie options are often just as delicious. Guacamole. Roasted Vegetable Quesadillas. Macaroni and Cheese, Eggplant Rollatini. No one’s going to be complaining!  

26. Focus on low-cost proteins

If you are serving meat, some choices are lower cost than others. Prime rib, salmon, and filet mignon are pricey. Taco bars, pasta bowls with pancetta, and pulled chicken sandwiches are not.

Explore cheap wedding favor ideas

Favors are a little something special to show your friends and family you appreciate their coming to celebrate your day. They can also add up in cost—quickly. At $3 each, favors for 150 guests will cost $450. 

Guest list control will help you out here, too. The same $3 favors for a guest list of 30 will cost you under $100. Beyond throwing a small wedding, here are some other ideas for low-cost wedding favors: 

27. Caramel popcorn in a mason jar

Another DIY idea. Organize a get together with your wedding party to put these jars together a few days before the wedding. 

28. Gauze bags with seasonal fruit

Send guests home with a ripe apple or pear.  

29. Chocolates from a local chocolatier

Put them in small boxes or bags yourself to save money. 

30. Homemade cookies

Again, gather your wedding party and get baking. You can make iced sugar cookies that match your wedding theme, or simply bake up a few batches of your favorite chocolate chip cookies.  

31. Personalized candy bars or mints

You can do these yourself by putting mini versions of your favorite bar in a decorative bag and personalizing with a tag. Some companies will also add personalized wrappers, or even stamp your name on the candy shell. 

32. Soy candles

It is easy and affordable to make your own scented or unscented soy candles in candle tins. You can then get order personalized stickers to put on the lid.

33. Homemade jam

This is a sweet, down-home idea perfect for a rustic wedding. Gather up your favorite berries and make a large batch of jam. Put the jam in small mason jars and decorate with a lace or burlap bow and a personalized sticker on the lid. 

Cheap wedding decor ideas that don’t look cheap

After the venue, the decor you choose sets the theme and mood of your wedding, whether you’re going for rustic, winter, refined, or a unique alternative. Choose decor ideas that match your theme and shop smart. There are almost always low-cost options for the exact decor accent you want. And remember: the smaller the venue, the less space there is to decorate.

34. Get used decor from recently-weds

Other couples with a similar aesthetic may sell their wedding decor on eBay or Craigslist after the honeymoon. You may get fortunate and get a great price. 

35. Visit the dollar store

This can be a treasure trove of affordable items you can use to decorate your wedding ceremony and reception—vases, jars, candle holders, pretty materials, faux flowers, and more. We won’t tell, and no one will know.

36. Buy decor items in bulk

Tulle. Burlap. Ribbons. Lace. Mirrors for table runners. Votive candles. You can bring the cost down significantly if you buy your wedding decor in bulk. Have a DIY friend who is getting married within the year? Consider increasing the order and bringing down the price even further.

37. Get fresh flowers on the morning of the wedding

Choose beautiful, affordable flowers from the flower shop on the morning of your wedding. Ask for a discount on flowers they would toss soon anyway. Arrange these flowers in the vases you picked up at the dollar store. (Wedding day tip: Give this job to a trusted friend with an eye for flower arrangements who would like to do this for you in place of a gift.)

38. Consider what’s seasonally available

Pinecones make a lovely addition to centerpieces, and you can usually find them on the ground in the fall and winter. They’re also always on hand and affordable at craft stores. Arrange them as is, or gild them with metallic paint or glitter.

39. A bike with a floral arrangement in the basket

Ask around to see if any friends have old bikes lying around the garage, or check out thrift stores too. The bike may already have a pleasantly rusted, vintage vibe. If not, you can paint the bike white, off-white, or to match your wedding colors. Then arrange an overflowing bouquet inside the bike’s basket, or a wicker basket you attach to the front yourself.

40. Mismatched china

Make multiple trips to your local thrift store and snap up any pretty, patterned plates you see. You’ll often find vintage china. Use the plates as chargers, table runners, or for the food service. Clean the plates and guests can take them home as a lovely and sentimental favor.  

41. Substitute greenery for flowers for garlands

A long garland of ivy adds a verdant pop of green over a trestle or a doorway. A mix of greenery is more affordable than flowers and makes an impression. 

42. Ribbons or lace chair decor

Add sophistication to your low-cost wedding by adorning aisle chairs for the ceremony and dining chairs for the reception with ribbons or lace. Simple bows or bold wraps around the back of the chair are both elegant options. 

43. Brown craft paper table covering

A fun choice for a rustic wedding. You’ll have to make sure the paper stays in place with double-sided tape, or even tie it down with twine! Then write each guest’s name at their place setting. Throw out some packages of crayons so children can color during the reception. 

44. A photo display

Order black and white prints of some of your favorite photographs—of you and your fiance, as well as extended family members and friends if it’s a small wedding. Order them in a single size or a range of sizes and display them on a bare wood pallet or attached to a length of twine with wood clothespins.

45. Paper or fabric bunting

Create paper flags using cut-out craft paper in your wedding colors. Or collect lace or colorful fabric napkins from thrift stores. Attach them to twine for lengths of bunting that can crisscross the ceiling or hang across the reception entrances.

46. Paper lanterns

In white or in bright colors. Giant-sized, tiny, or in a mix of sizes. Whatever combination you choose, paper lanterns are affordable and make a dramatic addition to your wedding decor. 

47. Fairy light lanterns

Collect mason jars, or seek out glass lanterns in various sizes at your favorite thrift stores. Order battery-powered fairy lights in bulk and fill the glass jars or lanterns with the lights. They make big magic with their warm, delicate lighting and barely make a dent in your wedding bank account. 

No matter your wedding budget, you can plan a stunning wedding that stays within your well-thought-out financial boundaries. If you get creative, ask for help, and know whether to look, frugal can be fantastic. For affordable assistance with wedding planning and organization, check out the top no-cost apps to help you plan a wedding next.

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Wedding Spot

Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.