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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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey Walsh January 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

My Husband and I have been married for 18 years. He is from another country and so most of his family and friends were not at our wedding. We had our close family and close friends at the wedding, under 50. We had a ceremony in a beautiful church. We did not spend any money on flowers to decorate the church. We had a sit down dinner at a resturant that had a seperate room for parites. We had the resturant make a seperate menu with options under $20.00 and they allowed us to bring our own wine (they charged us a corking charge per bottle) we paid for beer but not mixed drinks. I bought a dress off the rack that fit with no alterations so I saved a bunch. We had a Maide of Honor and a Best Man and my flowers were beautiful but I only bought flowers for people in the wedding and parents. The table centerpieces were dried flowers and candles. In all we spent less than $5,000. We paid for it and our rings without credit cards. I think by only inviting people that trutly love and know you, you won’t worry about going over the top to make sure its the best wedding in your guest minds and you will make better choices. I also think that you need to remind yourself that it is a special day, but – it is just a day and the special part is what your are doing on that day, not how much you spent on the day.

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Neal Frankle January 13, 2013 at 12:35 PM

I completely agree. My wife and I got married overseas. I was the foreigner and she was the local. In any event, our total cost was about $400 and it was wonderful. 26 years later, we’re still hitched! Glad you are doing great as well and enjoyed the things that really mattered. Cool.

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Sharla July 12, 2012 at 10:15 AM

Skipping out on flowers totally helped me. I liked the tips about centerpiece replacements for flowers.

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mary July 1, 2012 at 1:58 PM

we want a small wedding with our family and friends on both sides so how much would that cost? I really need help planing this wedding, could you help me with that? Or what do you think? please get back to me on this?

Mary Smith

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Neal Frankle July 2, 2012 at 8:29 AM

I think if you follow the ideas it should help. What is your budget? BTW, when I got married I spent a TOTAL of $400! 26 years later….still married! Good investment….

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Steven Lord November 19, 2012 at 7:09 AM

How did you only spend $400??? Im looking to get married and we’re not quite sure where all the money will come fro, but I’m only looking to spend 2-3k tops.

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Neal Frankle November 19, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Got married on a kibbutz and they paid for everything other than the Rabbi. :)

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TBONE September 28, 2011 at 10:54 PM

There just no way I am going to pay the kind of money that some couples pay in the USA. For anyone to shell out over $15,000 for a one day event in their life, when the money can be used for a kid’s college fund, I am glad finally that people are waking up and realizing that you can get married without it breaking your bank account. Beside the money can be better spent on the kid’s education, or a home, or retirement which I think are far more important. If two people love one another and stick together, that is all that counts. To RemyandLina, good for you both, I like your thinking!!! I think in the future your going to see more people like you do this as the economy drags on, the days of royal weddings are going to be history for awhile at least and will go back to the days when having the weddings at Dad and Mom’s house was common sight.

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RemyandLina September 26, 2011 at 5:40 PM

My sweetie and I are covering all costs of our wedding next year. We are saving for a house and I’m also attending grad school, so we need to be frugal. It’s our intention to take on zero debt for our wedding and honeymoon, so we HAVE to keep it simple.

For us, that looks like:
late October ceremony on a Saturday afternoon
renting a city park facility for both the ceremony and the reception
immediate family and very close friends — ~20 guests (this is a hard one for larger families!)
afternoon tea instead of a dinner
no dancing (a personal choice regardless of cost, but it sure knocks off a typical line item)
white sundress as a wedding dress (about $100, then add a petticoat and shipping)
3 attendants each
renting tuxes; asking bridesmaids to find their own dresses in the same color
minimal flowers — bridal and bridesmaids’ bouquets only
2 weeknights at a hotel near a small amusement park where we spent an early date

It’s coming to about $2500 for the whole day, and about another $2000 for the honeymoon (including flights, car rental, theme park tickets, meals). We’re also hosting a coffee hour at our church the day after the wedding, so that local friends and church folks can join us in celebration and cake.

Our wedding won’t be mistaken for one that costs $25,000, but it’s very important to us and the people we ask to stand with us on that day. Most importantly, it serves to keep us debt-free and on the road to success in married life.

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Neal Frankle September 27, 2011 at 5:48 AM

That is fantastic. Just goes to prove you can have a great wedding without selling your soul to the devil…or caterer!

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TBONE September 28, 2011 at 10:57 PM

With the economy dragging on, this is going to be more common sight in the future as people are starting to realize that having lots of debt, big fancy cars, boats, and materialistic things sometimes in the long run does not lead to happiness. All the luck in your marriage and happy life together!!! Sometimes the smaller things in life is better.

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Rinat September 15, 2011 at 2:36 AM

great tips daddy-o!

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Neal Frankle September 15, 2011 at 8:04 AM

Glad you liked them Rinati….always trying to look out for my peeps

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Mor September 15, 2011 at 8:28 AM

haha Rinat!
– see daddy! I read your blog!!!!

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Briana @ 20 and Engaged September 13, 2011 at 10:07 PM

We saved money by having a small, courthouse wedding. When we decide to renew our vows and have a bigger ceremony, we’ll be sure it’s still on the dime.

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krantcents September 13, 2011 at 8:16 PM

Alternative venues such as a public park, champagne and cake or a home wedding work really well. After all the important part is 2 people getting married!

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