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Wedding Expenses

An image of a bride holding a bouquet of flowers

Key Points

  • You can start saving money on your wedding from the engagement ring onward.
  • Through DIY, family help, discounts, and more, there are ways to save money in every aspect of your wedding.

Wedding Expenses

You've found that special someone, and you've even had the courage to bring up the "m" word with them: marriage. But before you pop the question or accept a proposal, make sure you're aware of the various expenses that accompany engagement, weddings, and marriage. Here are some things to consider as you prepare for your special day:

Engagement Ring

Okay, let's face it: engagement rings are expensive, with the average price being over $5,000. This ring is viewed by many couples as a symbol of love and commitment, so it's an expense that many simply choose to take upon themselves despite the exorbitant prices. However, there are several things you can do to lower the costs before you propose:

  • Use a family heirloom.  This is often a very inexpensive option; many families pass down engagement, wedding, and anniversary gift rings through the generations.  Even if you have to pay a jeweler to restore the ring to its former glory, it's often far less expensive than purchasing a new ring.  Check with your parents, grandparents, siblings, or others family members who might have a connection to one of these heirlooms.  Using a family heirloom can also be seen as a meaningful gesture, depending on your fiance-to-be's preferences.
  • Purchase a used ring.  Many jewelers and internet marketplaces sell used and restored rings for far less than the original price.  Just be sure to research the seller (especially if you make the purchase online) to ensure the security and quality of your purchase.  Be sure to ask to see the ring's certificate of appraisal from the seller before you make the purchase.
  • Find an antique or vintage ring.  These rings are also often less expensive than a brand-new ring, and many people find a certain charm in retro styles.  Again, many jewelers and internet marketplaces sell these rings, and be sure to ask to see the ring's certificate of appraisal to make sure you're actually getting what you're paying for.
  • Choose an alternative gemstone.  While diamonds are still the most popular choice for these rings, using a different, less expensive stone in the ring can make your future fiance's ring stand out from the crowd.  For example, using her birthstone in the ring can make her ring meaningful and unique.  Just make sure that you research the quality of these alternative gemstones so you don't pay more than you bargained for.
  • Buy a ring with a lab-made diamond.  If you're still looking for a brand-new ring with a traditional diamond, then look for lab-made diamonds, which can cost up to 50% less than natural diamonds.  It's a great way to get the classic look without the classic costs!

Other Wedding Expenses

The most important thing you can do before you begin planning is to set a wedding budget. Once you know how much money you can work with, you can start looking at your options. Here's how you can save on most of the other aspects of your wedding:

The dress

For many brides, this is one of the most important wedding expenses on the tab. However, there are many ways you can save and find the gown of your dreams. Click here for a great article from The Fiscal Times that will assist you in your search.

The Venue

This is often a very heavy cost in wedding preparation. Here are some things you can do to get more bang-for-your-buck from your reception venue:

  • Use a family member's or friend's property. You may have friends or family who would be willing to offer their house to host your reception for a low price.  Be sure to check with them well in advance before you schedule your reception!
  • Change the date/time.  If you want to book a venue for your reception, having your wedding on a Friday could save you a large percentage of your venue budget; Saturday evenings tend to be the most expensive time to host a wedding reception in a public locale.  December and June are also the most popular months for weddings, so if you choose a different month, you have a much better chance to negotiate prices with your vendors.  Having a morning or afternoon reception can also save you hundreds.
  • Go outside.  Having an outdoor reception at a municipal park or beach is far less expensive than reserving an indoor reception hall.
  • Get complimentary furniture. When considering a reception venue, make sure they provide the necessary chairs, tables, etc. to make your guests comfortable.  You don't want to have to pay extra for rental furniture from a third-party vendor.
  • Get a list of all potential fees.  Make sure you ask your vendor for a list of fees they may charge you for certain circumstances, along with their basic rates.  You don't want to run into any unexpected costs.
  • Use your neighbors.  Ask your vendor what special events are scheduled immediately before and after your reception.  You can often use those events' special equipment (curtains, lighting, etc.) for free or at a discounted price.

The Food

This is an expense that seems, at first, almost completely contingent on the length of your guest list, but there are also several other ways to save on your wedding refreshments. First, ask yourself what kind of setting you would like for your reception. Scaling down from a full-size banquet to a dessert buffet will instantly lower your food costs. Depending on the size and setting of your reception, you might even be able to avoid catering costs. However, if you do need to have your reception catered, try to keep the staff as low as possible. Talk to your friends and family who love to bake or would be willing to bring a vegetable tray; this can also dramatically drop your catering costs. Also consider the kind of goodies you're providing: for example, using gourmet candy to supplement the baked goods at your dessert buffet can add a charming touch to the table and save you time and money.

The Cake

Here's a simple way you can save and still have a beautiful cake to cut at the ceremony: have your baker create simple sheet cakes to serve your guests from the back, along with a smaller, decorative cake you can use for your special moment.

The Groom's Attire

While it is more and more common for the groom to don a suit, many men still prefer the traditional route of wearing a tuxedo for the big day. (HINT: It really depends on how formal the bride's dress is.) If you are in need of a tux, consider renting or purchasing a used one rather than splurging on a brand-new tuxedo. If you would rather wear a suit, you can often purchase them for almost the same price as you would pay for a tux rental (and you can re-use the suit for job interviews and other formal events to get more for your money).

The Photographer

In this day and age, many of us know someone who is a professional photographer, even if they do it just as a side job. Whether it's for your engagement photos or your wedding day, reach out to your talented friends and family; many will give you a discount on their photo packages. If you end up choosing a photographer outside your inner circle, select his or her smallest photo package at first, with an option to upgrade if you change your mind. Don't hire your photographer past the cake-cutting and bouquet toss; you'll likely just get repetitive photos of talking and dancing after that. If it's a more intimate wedding, don't hire more than one photographer.

The Music

If you would like a live performance at your wedding, reach out to the musicians among your family and friends. Chances are, they know other musicians with whom they could perform for your big day, and they might be willing to do it for free or a discounted price! If you don't know any musicians willing to perform, look for a talented local band that hasn't made it big yet; their prices are usually fairly reasonable. If live music isn't important to you, then make your own playlist and ask the venue if they can stream it from an ipod or other mobile device (at no additional cost!).

The Flowers

Always purchase your flowers in-season; purchasing them off-season will cost you far more. If your favorite flower doesn't bloom at the time of your wedding, search for similar flowers that are in-season for your special day. (Hint: roses tend to be affordable year-round, and carnations are a beautiful, extremely cost-effective option.)

The Decor

Many brides tend to peruse Pinterest for its myriad ideas on seemingly inexpensive "Do-It-Yourself" wedding decorations. While it may seem like a big money-saver at first, going overboard with DIY decor can actually cost you far more than purchasing pre-made decorations yourself. Look for decorations online and at your local craft stores to find these options that will save you time and money in your decorating frenzy. You can also purchase used decorations from wedding vendors at a great discount to you. However, if you are set on going the DIY route for your wedding, make sure you find simple projects that go a long way rather than creating elaborate ornaments which require a lot of time and expensive materials. (Tip: "fake it 'til you make it." For example, if you want to fill jars with colorful sand for your table centerpieces, place an empty plastic cup upside-down in the jar to limit the amount of sand you use.) Again, reach out to talented friends and family for their help to save time as you get the decorations ready for your big day.

The Invitations

Couples tend to overspend on these. Don't worry about sending elaborate invitations that must be shipped in a package. Instead, stick to traditional paper and do a lot of comparison shopping to get the best price. In some cases, DIY invitations can save you money. Reach out to talented friends and family who would be willing to help you create them.

The Guest List

One of the simplest things you can do to lower wedding costs is to shorten your guest list. Planning a more intimate reception for family and close friends can immediately save you money on invitations, food/catering, even decorations and the reception venue.

The Bottom Line

All in all, there are many ways you can save money on your wedding celebration. However, your dream wedding may include one or two more expensive aspects that you feel like you need to have for it to be your perfect day. If that's the case, don't worry; you may still be able to include it! Take a look at your wedding budget and see where else you can cut costs. If you can bring down costs in other areas, you may be able to add more money to those areas that you'd like to be extra special for your wedding. Have fun, and good luck!

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