How Much Should a Wedding Cost? Here’s How to Lower It.

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

As the father of three daughters, when you ask, “How much should a wedding cost?” my answer is simple.

Less. A lot less.

Fortunately, there are dozens of ideas that will slash the cost of even the most ambitious wedding. It goes without saying that you should take it easy on engagement ring prices. But after you take care of that, keep on the money-saving track. The following tactics will deliver a world-class experience you and your guests will never forget – and keep you out of the poorhouse at the same time.

Here are 8 top cost-saving tactics you should consider using:

1. Un-friend

The easiest way to realize significant cost savings is to erase some people from the invite list. Think about it. If you are paying $100 a plate, merely cutting out a dozen guests will save you $1,200. This step is cool because it doesn’t mean you have to change anything about the overall experience. If you’re paying for your kid’s wedding, the last thing you want is to spend down all your savings and then go looking for jobs in retirement. I’ve seen this happen more than once. Cut the list.

2. Shuffle Your Big Day

Most people wed on Saturday night. Mistake. It’s the most expensive day to tie the note. Don’t do it. Think outside the box and get married on any other day. This alone will save you 10%. (If you strategically make it inconvenient, fewer people show up, and that reduces your expense too.) So if your wedding is going to be a $35,000, you can put $3,500 back in the kitty.

3. Beat the Clock

Again, by having your ceremony in the morning or afternoon, you’ll save a ton more. The food, venue and entertainment will be much less expensive. Also, most people tend to booze it up a little less during daylight. One caterer I spoke with told me that he charges 40% less because during the day, people normally don’t have appetizers. So, if you figure 150 people are coming at $100 a plate, that’s a cool $6,000 you save.

4. Stonewall Your Caterer

Your caterer is a salesperson. Her goal is to put as much distance between you and your money as possible. Play hardball. Just because other people spend big bucks on food nobody is going to eat doesn’t mean you have to. Simplify your hors d’oeuvres (or drop them completely) and main course. Drop the soup. Use the wedding cake for its intended purpose – dessert. You don’t need more than that.

Your caterer will try to shame you into spending as much money as possible. Don’t fall for it. You don’t have to do anything just because “that’s how it’s done.” Think about every dollar you spend and make sure it’s meaningful.

5. Let Them Eat (Less) Cake

If you don’t go for the idea of using the cake as the dessert, get a small cake. Since nobody is going to eat it anyway, you might as well save the money. Don’t worry about the guests complaining. They won’t. You can serve the guests “wedding cake” from a sheet cake in the back. That way you have a beautiful (small) cake for the ceremony and you’ll still have plenty of cake to go around. Yummy savings! The caterer I spoke with told me that the average cost of a plated dessert is $15 a head. If instead you get a cake for $500, that’s another $1,750 that stays in your purse.

6. Close the Bar

Remember, you’re not staging Mardi Gras. And you don’t need to liquor everyone up. You can offer just beer or wine. Or if you serve more, you can offer a choice between two cocktails on top of the beer and wine. These two moves will significantly save you serious cash. My caterer pal told me this is where serious dollars are saved. Most places will charge you $20 a head at least for alcohol. Find a venue that will allow you to bring in your own booze and it will cost you a ton less. I just had a party for 150 people and used this little maneuver. I spent a total of $800 on beer, wine, cola, water and hard alcohol. Nobody went home thirsty and I saved $2,200. I’ll drink to that!

7. Allergic to Flowers

Choose flowers carefully. If you get married in a garden setting (preferably on an afternoon), you might be able to forgo the entire need for flowers. You can also select less expensive flowers. Use a colorful theme to cut down the need to use flowers to add color. You could spend $50,000 on flowers alone, but please don’t. The average is about $10,000, and unless you absolutely demand it, cut it down to less than $1,000 for some well-placed roses. Savings – $9,000 at least.

8. Clothing

Wedding dresses can empty your wallet – unless you are clever. Buy clothes that have been tried on before. You can snatch these up at huge discounts. Bridal gowns are often on sale in late spring and early winter. You can also save a bundle by renting clothes and shoes instead of buying. A wedding dress could easily run $5,000. That’s plain crazy. You’ll have no problem renting one for under $500. This will save you $4,500.

So let’s pull this all together:

Reduce the guest list – $1,200

Not Saturday or Sunday night – $3,500

Afternoon rather than evening – $6,000

Use wedding cake for dessert – $1,750

Provide your own drinks – $2,200

Flowers – $9,000

Wedding Dress – $4,500

The total comes to a cool $28,150 savings. This assumes you’re spending $100 a plate and inviting 150 guests. This is not extravagant in Los Angeles, but it might be in other parts of the country. But that’s not the main point. Here is the main idea.

In and of themselves, there is no one step you can take that will save you the big bucks. But as you see, taken together, these little steps will add up to some huge bucks that stay in your bank account. If you are paying for your own wedding (and especially if you are still struggling with college credit card debt) does it really make sense to have a large wedding at all?

How did you save money on your wedding? What would you do differently?

 

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