How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

Young couple embracing in garden during wedding reception

A wedding is a life event that many look forward to, but when you start adding up the cost of the venue, catering and more, you could be shocked at how expensive it can be. The average wedding cost $28,000 in 2019, according to The Knot. And while the pandemic may have forced couples to scale back on festivities in 2020, the average wedding still cost $19,000 last year. If you're hoping to spend less, planning a wedding on a budget could help you save money.

How to Create a Wedding Budget

The first step to crafting your wedding budget is coming up with a number you feel comfortable with spending for the occasion. Starting to plan with an unclear spending limit could lead to overspending since seemingly small expenses can add up quickly.

When making your wedding budget, consider how much you've saved up so far, your wedding timeline (and how much more you may be able to save between now and then), and any outside money, such as from one or both families, you plan to have. Be as specific as possible.

Once you have the budget number in mind, write down (or add to a spreadsheet) all of your potential wedding expenses in order of priority. Here are some expenses that may be involved when planning a wedding:

  • Ceremony space
  • Reception space
  • Catering
  • Photography
  • Flowers
  • Wedding attire
  • Wedding planner
  • Officiant
  • Rings
  • Wedding cake
  • Transportation
  • Hotel rooms
  • Makeup artists
  • Hairstylists
  • Videography
  • Decor

Next, allocate funds from your budget to different areas of the wedding. You may want to do some price shopping for flowers, catering and venue space at this stage to figure out a ballpark price for each expense.

If you don't have the funds to cover every wedding cost on the list, you may have to make a few tough decisions about what's necessary and what you can sacrifice to stay within budget.

Typically, caterers, photographers and other vendors require a deposit upfront to secure the date, and you pay the balance later. Saving up before the final bill is due can help you avoid relying on credit. To build up your wedding savings, you could consider opening up a separate savings account and contributing to it every week or biweekly when you get paid.

Keep Track of Your Spending

Creating the budget is the easy part—sticking to the budget can be a bit harder as you start buying decor items and choosing between catering packages. After all, it can be hard to say no when your favorite flower arrangement or cake costs more than you budgeted for.

If you spend more money in one area—perhaps your attire or flowers come in higher than expected—try to make adjustments to other wedding categories to balance the budget.

Each time you spend money, be sure to write down the expense or log it in your spreadsheet so you're aware of what's left in the budget to spend.

Ways to Save Money on Wedding Costs

A bit of creativity and savvy wedding planning could help you have a beautiful wedding without busting your budget. Here are some potential ways to save money on wedding costs:

1. Be Flexible With Your Date

Ceremony and reception venues may be less expensive on a Friday or Sunday when there's less demand for events. Having your big day during off-season times, such as during winter, might also be cheaper.

2. Limit the Number of Guests and Plus-Ones

Inviting many guests can increase your catering and rental costs quickly because it means you'll need more food, more tables, more chairs and more drinks. Putting a limit on plus-ones or hosting an adults-only wedding could help keep these costs more manageable.

3. Host a Minimony or Microwedding

Intimate affairs were trending in 2020 out of necessity, but it's a budget-friendly option you could consider even after the pandemic. A minimony is a ceremony with up to 10 people and a microwedding has up to 50 guests, according to The Knot.

Catering for such a small gathering could cost a fraction of what you might spend on the average-size wedding. That savings could go toward your new life together, a honeymoon or other areas of your wedding budget, such as the perfect location or five-star catering.

4. Host Your Big Day Outside of the City

If you live in a major city, hosting your wedding outside of the metropolitan area may offer some savings. Expand your search for venues, and consider having your ceremony and reception at the same place to help reduce transportation costs.

5. Consider Having the Ceremony at Home

Holding your wedding at a home owned by you, a friend or a family member could lead to big venue savings as well. Just be sure to factor in the cost of a tent, chairs, tables or any other additional items that could be necessary when hosting an event at home.

6. DIY Where You Can

DIYing your own flowers, centerpieces, cake topper and decor could make wedding planning easier on your wallet. You could even consider practicing your own makeup and hair looks instead of shelling out the $150 to $600 it costs to hire a wedding makeup artist and hairstylist.

Benefits of Planning a Wedding on a Budget

One advantage of planning a wedding on a budget is being able to devote money you save to other goals. That money could go toward your honeymoon, a down payment on a home, future baby costs or household items that weren't purchased off of your registry.

Sticking to a budget can also help you avoid racking up wedding-related debt, which would give you one less thing to worry about as you start a new life together.

Tie the Knot Without Breaking the Bank

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of wedding planning. There may be an engagement party and bridal shower to attend with your favorite people. You may be trying on dresses or tuxes and looking through wedding magazines. If you don't track spending, expenses can creep up and your wedding could end up costing more—even thousands more—than you planned.

The good news is that the wedding experience can be enjoyable without costing a fortune. Start a budget by figuring out how much you're willing to spend. Then, write down all of your expenses and keep track of your spending as you sign contracts with vendors.

Lastly, you could consider alternatives like a microwedding or minimony. If you're hosting fewer people, you may have more space in the budget to splurge on the food, decor or attire that you really want—or ensure that you don't start your life together saddled with extra debt.