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Financial Education

How to Plan a Wedding on a Tight Budget

(Yes, a budget wedding can still be beautiful.)

A woman in a bridal gown sitting at a table with money and a piggy bank, wondering how she'll pay for her wedding.
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When it comes to wedding-planning, the bigger your budget, the better odds you have of staying within your limits. But let’s face it: most people don’t have this luxury. Others come to regret spending too much on the event, leaving little left over for other important long-term financial goals like buying a home, starting a family, saving for retirement, and building an emergency fund. The good news is that modern couples are pushing back on tradition and designing their own weddings with their own rules in order to save money, from sending invitations online, registering for honeymoon events instead of gifts, buying wedding gowns on eBay and encouraging fun before formality. Learn how to bring your budget-conscious wedding to life with bargain-hunting, making budget-smart decisions, and prudent and innovative planning.

Can you save money on your wedding venue? Yes!

In a 2022 study by popular wedding-planning site The Knot, couples spent an average of $30,000 on their wedding (including both the ceremony and reception). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the wedding venue came in as the most expensive element at an average cost of $11,200. Top hotels, resorts and country clubs can push the total cost of a wedding well above $50,000 depending on where you live. With that said, you have options.

Book a venue for a Friday or Sunday wedding (or even a weekday!), and you’ll save anywhere from 15 to 40 percent of a Saturday wedding. You could also leave town and schedule your wedding in the country, a bed and breakfast, vineyard or orchard. Those slightly atypical wedding venues command a lower rate because they are not downtown and aren’t as in demand, so you can take advantage of both money-saving elements. For example, an upstate New York country location can cost $40,000 less than a Manhattan venue. Speaking of atypical venues, many public spaces, like parks or beaches offer affordable or even free venue rentals. 

Other money savers include switching from pricey formal five-course dinners to less costly brunches that are sometimes additionally discounted (if they take place during off-peak hours). Also, don’t be afraid to ask about a discount for paying in advance, as some venues will drop the bill considerably for money in hand before the big day.

Finally, consider having your wedding ceremony and reception in the same location. This can save on transportation costs and can be more convenient for your guests, too. Look for venues that offer both indoor and outdoor spaces so you have a built-in backup plan in case of inclement weather.

Do you really need a wedding planner? …Maybe.

Wedding planners offer a network of contacts in venues, bakeries, photography, music and more. However, according to The Knot’s same study, on average they’ll cost you more than $1,900. Planners price services from the start, for the day, or by the hour. For some couples, the stress relief they provide makes it a worthwhile expense.

Destination weddings and some venues provide day-of-the-wedding planning support as part of their fee. Software products like AllSeated or The Wedding Planner will give structure and flexibility to your planning, including meeting your budget goals. Many brides seek planners because they want a central control, but you can also split tasks among friends and wedding party members.

Can you get a wedding photographer for less money? Yes, but there’s a catch.

Compare the work and costs of several providers on a short list. Be sure to read recent online reviews to get a good understanding of what you can expect. Some of these reviews will give you insights on what offerings to pass on and stretch your dollars further.

You can save money by controlling the photographer’s hours and the number of prints, combining or unraveling package offers, and paying with a cash-back credit card. Also, give your photographer a shot list before the wedding and negotiate in real terms so they’ll know what you’re asking for and they can only charge you for what you want.

Don’t be afraid to enlist your guests’ help! A photographer can capture your must-have moments, but your guests can easily grab unplanned fun and unforgettable moments with disposable cameras at each table; encourage them to help you make memories during the reception.

Can you have a wedding without flowers?

The Knot’s study revealed that flowers for the wedding party, place of worship and reception tend to run more than $2,400.

To save some money and to be more creative, many contemporary brides have been opting for non-floral arrangements. They carry wreaths, paper flowers, origami displays, seasonal fruits, fabric flowers or seashells. Fans, umbrellas and baskets replace bouquets. Balloons, candles, shells, crystals, lanterns and random glassware make attractive alternative centerpieces because they add some flair and personality to your event and kick costs way down from a typical affair.

Consider DIYing some, or all, of your wedding decorations. You can look up tutorials online to learn how to do a job that will bring professional results, and with the help of a few friends, and a minimal investment in materials, you can create beautiful, low-cost decorations for your wedding. This can include centerpieces, floral arrangements, favors and more. 

Another way to save on wedding decor is to repurpose items you already own. Mason jars, vintage books, old picture frames and unique vases can all serve as decor elements for your wedding. You can pick up more low-cost decor items in secondhand shops or borrow from friends. 

Finally, consider renting decorations instead of buying them. Many rental companies offer affordable options for wedding decor, such as tablecloths, chair covers and ceremony arches. This can shave lots of money off your budget wedding while also reducing waste.

Is it possible to have a beautiful wedding on a tight budget? Absolutely!

Innovative approaches are shaping a new wedding economy that offer enjoyment, sentiment and memories within any budget. The tools you use to make your wedding more budget-friendly are yours to decide; just remember to make the day your own, without forced expectations that push you to spend money or to follow unwanted customs.

Today’s couples are dramatically changing the traditional wedding rituals and if you want to save money, so can you!

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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