Planning a Wedding You Can Afford

As I pass my one year wedding anniversary (9/8/18) I felt it important to reflect back on my wedding day, as many do. Unlike most people, however, the finance nerd in me also reflects back to the expense of the wedding. Was it all worth it?

To me, absolutely. I hope each of you have the same thought one year later when the craziness has died down and you are just another married couple with new milestones to look forward to. There is no right or wrong day to have a wedding. I have friends who spent $100,000+ on their day and others who went to the court house in a wedding dress and brought along a photographer. Some of you may decide to go to the court house in sweats. Go get’m! I hope, however, if marriage is important to you, you are able to at least get married... #progresstakestime

So what about the cost of weddings? How do you reign it in and try to make sure you don’t go broke over one 6-8 hour party. MAGDA, how dare you call my wedding DAY a party. Listen folks, you can call it whatever you want but planning and putting on a wedding is a several month, in-depth affair that involves expenses of which you will only use one time except the photos and video. If you’re lucky, maybe you can use a hair piece, shoes, suit, and jewelry again. So yes, it’s a party.

Before we jump into how to be more practical about your wedding let’s play a little game. Raise your hand if you’ve been to a wedding before. (If I had more than two hands I’d raise them because between my husband and I we’ve been to over 30 weddings #popularIguess) Now, pick one from two years ago – what did the centerpieces look like? What were the floral arrangements? What about the ever expensive chairs? Comfy?

It makes me laugh and you should too. No one gives a shit about that stuff except you…which is OK! But remember that…

So what do people remember from weddings?

1. Did they have a good time?

Yup. That’s it. Seriously. People don’t even really remember the food assuming no one got food poisoning. And sure, you may remember some details from recent weddings because, well you’re planning a wedding. I remember going to 8 weddings the year before we were married and looked at every chair, every napkin, place setting, decoration, cake…the list goes on. Now, I just make sure I head to the bar and the dance floor and I’m having a great time (not that you need alcohol to have a good time, I just find that enjoyable at weddings personally ;))

OK, let’s boogie into this whole planning thing and how to save. (Theknot and Zola are great sites to browse for advice on all things wedding so feel free to scan there as well.)

Figure out your budget before you start

Under no circumstances should you go into debt for your wedding. If you do, it should be for no longer than a few months just so you can move money around. No one needs a wedding that hinders you from hitting other life goals. Remember if you put this on a credit card you could double or triple the cost with interest accrued.

  1. First things first, how much do you have today that you can put towards the wedding and still live life?

  2. How much can you save monthly starting today? Set up an account for your wedding and put auto contributions into it ASA. Most payments come in the last few months after you’ve paid the down payments.

  3. Ask your family if they wanted to/plan to contribute so you can factor this in. My family was nice enough to pay for our food cost.

  4. Buffer for an extra 20% above budget because things come up, they always do. How do you buffer? Find a way to cut back on expenses that help you save an additional 20% above your budget just until the wedding!

Make a list of all the things you’ll need to buy/spend money on for the wedding (yes, even stamps)

Men, don’t be alarmed at how many details are listed here, especially related to a beauty regiment… This link has a nice check list that you can convert based on what you might want.

Talk to your friends who have already paid for weddings to get an idea of what some things cost or for referrals. You might want to check with your friends who love finding a deal…

The big factors you should start with are the ones that cost the most:

  1. Where do you want to get married? My husband and I decided to get married in Sonoma, CA (I never said we went the economical route… J) which as you can imagine is not cheap from a venue perspective but also increases the cost of other services because the cost of living is more expensive there. Things like rehearsal dinner, beauty help, catering, hired help all cost more.

  2. Destination weddings are significantly cheaper. There are two main reasons for this – (1) generally if you leave the country things are just cheaper when it comes to weddings. The US likes to mark up anything that might have a white dress associated with it – get that frustration out early because it’s not going anywhere… (2) When you require friends and family to travel you will have a lower turnout which ultimately makes for a cheaper wedding. Decide if attendance is important to you.

  3. Referrals are always great because you (1) know the quality of their work and you know what the all in cost might be from their experience.

Determine what needs to be well-done, exist, and is not needed. Here are examples of how I’ve seen this done or did it ourselves:


  • Food. We had only two options for caterers and we thought both were great so we picked the cheaper. Bringing in a food truck or a small local shop can me much cheaper. Buffet style also tends to be cheaper than plated dinners.

  • Open bar. We wanted to make sure the venue allowed us to bring in our own alcohol so we could cut the cost almost in half for our open bar. There’s a huge mark up on that service at venues. You run the risk of not buying enough or having left over though… To cut even more, no alcohol or beer and wine only.

  • Unique. We paid more for our venue so that we could get a unique experience without paying to spruce the place up. We spent almost nothing on flowers and décor because our venue was outside and didn’t need more plants. I also spent a year crafting my little heart out. Find friends like me who will do this for you for free. To my husband’s annoyance we also made all 300 thank you gifts (wooden coasters)

  • Transportation to the after-party bar. Ok, this wasn’t necessary but we found a deal and decided it’s something we wanted to do. You don’t need to, folks will find a way home.


  • Wedding dress. Yes, I wanted it to be nice but I didn’t care that it was the fanciest thing in the world so I had a company make my dress for $1000. Turned out to be more stress than I needed but hey, I saved $2000 from what I wanted. Shop trunk shows and head to the non-designer studios to save even more.

  • Photographer. You can evaluate their work in advance. Find someone good but they don’t have to be top of the line…

  • Videographer. We wanted a video and found the cheapest around. We are still editing a year later but I’ll get it eventually J. Sometimes you can find a better deal with a photographer who also does video.

  • Chairs, napkins, plates, centerpieces. People needed a place to sit and something to eat on. We asked for the cheapest available to rent.

  • Music. People like to dance. A DJ is much cheaper than a live band and this way you don’t have to worry about the cover not being as good as the original… You can save a good amount here.

  • Rehearsal dinner. We were fortunate to have the in-laws put this on, otherwise this is an area you can save money by skipping all together or making it very small and even doing it at a public place to keep costs low.

  • Wedding planner. I’ve been told people can do this without one so feel free to put this in you “don’t need” section but we found a cost effective 3 month planner that worked perfectly for us since we had so many vendors. If your place is “all inclusive” you likely don’t need a planner.

Don’t need

  • Cake. This comes with additional expenses like a cutting fee (no joke), cake stand, plating fee and the expense of a cake.

  • Beauty regiment. While it’s hard not to get your make up done you can save by not doing lash extensions and just doing day of lashes, skipping a spray tan if you’re not as pale as me, and not getting hair extensions. Have any friends great at makeup? See if they’ll take an invite to the wedding for free makeup…

  • Fancy invitations. Print them at work… there are settings to print envelope addresses on the nice printers. Sure it takes 2 hours to figure it out but saves you several hundred dollars…

  • Menu cards. You can definitely do these cheaply but if you want to save money skip this.

I laugh thinking about how complicated planning this was but how fun the day was. That said, everyone will have different memories of their wedding day and make sure it’s right for you. Just know, if you are in debt from your wedding you’ll be thinking about it in a completely different light then if you didn’t.

Do you best not to keep up with the Jones’s here. Your wedding will be beautiful no matter how you do it because it’s YOUR FUCKING WEDDING!

Ok ok – so here’s a bit of what it looked like…

Happy marriage,

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