Some of the most charming weddings we’ve ever seen were planned without a ton of moolah, but with a lot of creativity. Which is why we’ve put together THE ultimate guide to planning a wedding on a small budget. Not only is it possible, it’s actually easy to put together your dream wedding without breaking the bank!
“It’s delightful when your imaginations come true, isn’t it?”– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
It doesn’t matter if you have a royal-scale event or a small gathering in the backyard, marrying your partner for life is a magical thing. Regardless of budget, each wedding has a unique personality all its own.
Setting Your Wedding Budget
Stop. Get out your calculator.
Before you do any more Pinterest ogling or watching Say Yes to the dress, you’ve gotta sit down and crunch some numbers. Hey, we get it, it’s not the most exciting part of wedding planning, which is the understatement of the year!
In the interests of saving yourself from a ginormous amount of debt, just get it done. First thing. We promise it’ll be (nearly) painless.
Decide on a Budget Together
You’re going to be spending the rest of your lives together. If you’ve never managed your money together, now’s the time to change that.
Deciding as a united couple on a budget for your wedding is essential to a smooth planning process. Remember that time you signed for an unexpected delivery only to discover he’d bought a brand new TV (or some other expensive item) without discussing it with you?
Yeah, let’s avoid those sorts of situations when it comes to the wedding.
Here are some tips on how to come to an agreement about your wedding budget:
Find out how much each family is contributing
Before you sit down together, reach out to family if they have indicated that they will be helping to pay for the wedding.
A lot of the time, parents may say they’ll help you out, but that’s too vague for your budget planning needs!
Ask them straight up what they are able to contribute (and thank them profusely, of course).
Woot, thanks ma and pa!
Do a little research
The cost of a wedding can vary significantly depending on where in the US (or beyond) you want to say ‘I do’.
For example, according to the Wedding Report, the average cost of a wedding in New Jersey in 2019 was $36,652. Comparably, the average wedding cost in Iowa was $19,583.
We’re not saying you should up and move your wedding to Iowa. Unless, of course, you fancy the idea of getting married in a corn field, in which case Iowa is calling your name!
All we’re saying is that a little research will go a long way to informing your wedding budget. You don’t need to get into the weeds at this point, but a general idea of costs in your area is good to know. If you have friends or co-workers that have got hitched recently, hit them up for intel on what costs they incurred.
Come to the table with a range in mind, not a specific number.
Look, we’re going to level with you: compromise is part of a happy marriage.
Might as well get some practice in from day one, right?!
In all likelihood, you’ve already had some conversations about the wedding budget and what type of wedding you want to host. Now that you’re engaged and eager to start planning the big day, it’s time to sit down and finalize a number.
We suggest you both plan to come to the table with a budget range. For example, from $2,000 to $5,000 (or whatever range floats your budget boat) rather than a specific number.
Hopefully, some middle ground can be unearthed.
How to Keep Your Wedding Budget in Check
Keeping your wedding budget in check comes down to organization, communication, and creativity. Of course, the creative side of planning a wedding on a budget is the most fun part. Yet, staying organized and communicating with your partner is a great way to strengthen your relationship!
Here are some general tips on how to stick to a small budget, no matter where you’re hosting your wedding.
First Determine Your Budget. Break it Down by Category.
Hashing out the financial details for a budget-friendly wedding doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming. One of the best ways to avoid number-crunching stress is to determine your budget, then break down the total into smaller categories. For example:
- Ceremony: 25% or X amount
- Reception: 25% or X amount
- Food: 15% or X amount
Continue for each category, including attire, flowers, decor, invitations, etc. This system will help you allocate costs and give you a roadmap to stay on track. We’ll cover all of the main categories for a wedding in the next section of this post, so you may want to use that as a guide.
Limit # of Guests
One of the easiest ways to cut costs is by limiting the number of guests you invite to the wedding. Try to keep it to only your closest family and friends, if possible. Besides reducing costs, an intimate celebration will allow you to spend more time with each of your guests.
Consider throwing a micro-wedding to help keep your guest list limited. Micro-weddings are really trendy right now, have a look at our guide on how to plan a micro-wedding to learn a little more!
Host Ceremony/Reception at Private Residence or Public Space
The venue(s) for a typical wedding ceremony and reception can eat up a big chunk of change. You can reduce that budget line big time by hosting celebrations at a private residence (yours or that of a family member or friend).
Alternatively, look for public spaces where you can host your ceremony (e.g. parks) and more affordable reception venues such as a community hall, restaurant, or other space that’s primary purpose is NOT as a wedding venue, such as a university/college campus.
If you’re able to use your own outdoor space or that of a family member or friend, you’ll find your wedding automatically becomes much more budget-friendly. There’s also the possibility of hosting your wedding in a public area, like a beach.
Of course, with all the suggestions above, you’ll want to take into consideration the freedom you’ll have with the space.
Some venues may have a low rental fee, but require you to meet a certain food/booze spend from their in-house catering services. Other venues, such as community halls, may let you bring in your own food but not be licensed for alcohol service.
If you’re counting on an outdoor private space such as a backyard for your celebration, make sure you have a rainy day plan.
Choose 2 to 3 Top Priorities
We’re not saying you need to ditch your dreams, but you’ll want to get very clear about what matters most if you’re sticking to a budget.
We recommend choosing two to three top priorities (between the two of you). These are your wedding-day must-haves and will eat up the majority of your budget. Then look for ways to trim the excess from things that are less important to you. Is food your ‘thang’? Care less about fancy attire? Then allocate more moolah to your edible spread and consider buying second-hand or renting your wedding day clothes.
Look at Alternative Food and Drink Options
A traditional sit-down dinner is certainly doable, but if it’s not high on your priority list, consider alternative food and drink options for your budget wedding. This could look more like a cocktail reception with finger foods, a potluck buffet, a BBQ, or a grazing table, which is as much a piece of decor as it is a feast.
To keep the booze budget in check, consider offering a limited selection of alcohol, like three varieties of wine and a few types of beer.
Ask for Help in Lieu of Gifts
Does someone you know have a skill they can exchange for a wedding gift? If one of your guests has a creative talent, ask them if they’d be up for “gifting” you and your fiance with their help instead of adding to your kitchen essentials collection (not that you wouldn’t appreciate it!).
Maybe your cousin is a budding photographer, or your future sister-in-law makes cakes that taste like magic. Whatever the case, they may be willing to give their services for free or provide a steep discount. You can also barter your creative talents and skills for a wedding service.
DIY Some Things
Some DIY projects will save you money, and some are more hassle than they’re worth. How do you know the difference? You need to think about what items you want to put your time and effort into, how much the items will cost to make, and which projects are practical.
Areas of your wedding where a DIY approach could whittle down your budget include:
- Handmade decor
- DIY favors
- Thoughtful, homemade gifts for the wedding party
- Flowers (if you or a family member has a blooming garden or access to wildflowers)
When you start scrolling through endless Pinterest projects and pretty DIY tutorials, you might feel overwhelmed and want to do everything yourself. Keep in mind that many of those items were put together by professionals or people who practiced the technique or project repeatedly until it was Instagram-worthy.
Budget Ideas For Every Aspect of Your Big Day
Now that you’ve got some tips on how to keep your budget in check, it’s time for the fun stuff! Trust us when we say that you can still have an incredible, dream wedding on a budget. Many of us here at L&L can attest to that truth!
Here are some fun and fantastic budget wedding ideas for every element of your big day. We hope they give you some inspiration!
And speaking of inspo, we also have a whole slew of theme-specific articles in our Budget Wedding Series.
Check them out for even more creative, wallet-friendly ideas:
- Essential Guide to a Backyard Wedding on a Budget
- Complete Guide to Micro Weddings and How to Plans Yours
Budget Venue Inspo
Backyards, beaches, college campuses, restaurants, farms, rooftops – the venue options for a budget wedding are endless!
Here are a few of our favorite Pinterest-worthy, budget-friendly venues from our real weddings:
- Tamara & Scott’s Real Wedding
- Bridgette & Geoffrey’s Real Wedding
- Breanna & Nic’s Real Wedding
- Erin & Ben’s Real Wedding
- Lydia & Josh’s Real Wedding
Food & Beverages
When it comes to planning food and beverages for your wedding on a budget, it helps to focus on the big picture. It’s not about quantity, but quality. That frame of mind can save you a big chunk of change if you take a couple of tasteful shortcuts.
We mentioned some savings strategies on helping your guests eat, drink, and stay merry- here are some more specific examples of how to cut back on food and beverage costs at your wedding:
- Consider a smaller menu with fewer choices. Instead of going all out on chicken, fish, meat, and vegetarian limit the menu to one or two options. A vegetarian dish and a chicken dish, for instance, should be enough to make everyone happy.
- Skip the sit-down dinner altogether. As long as everyone stays fed, no one’s gonna be mad at you for serving little bites throughout the event instead of a traditional meal.
- Canapes and hors d’oeuvres can be simple yet elegant. Also, there’s no reason you can’t shop wholesale for pre-made nibbles. Warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s have a wide selection of frozen appetizers that, when served with a little panache, will come out looking like you hired a caterer.
- Get some help. Depending on the size of your gathering, making it a potluck affair can be a really fun way to cut costs and create a more intimate vibe.
Amp Up the BBQ or Buffet Option
One of the coolest ways to please everyone’s palate on a budget is a craft burger bar with veggie patties and turkey burgers in addition to regular beef burgers. Or a gourmet pizza buffet with meatless options alongside traditional pies.
For a little inspo, scroll to the bottom of our article about Casper and Carin’s wedding to see how they pulled off burgers and a make-your-own pizza station!
Get strategic with libations
The first rule any wedding planner would recommend when it comes to budgeting your booze is to buy it yourself (if your venue allows). Second, stick to beer and wine (we know a thing or two about picking wines for a wedding on a budget), or serve a signature cocktail or two instead.
Again, depending on how casual you’re planning to go, there are plenty of ways to cut back on what you and the wedding party will wear.
It may sound risky, but we promise that buying a wedding dress online doesn’t have to be a gamble AND you can save tons of money going this route. Don’t believe us? Check out a few of our posts featuring exceptional wedding dresses at ridiculous prices:
Plus, you’ve got to check out our guide to the Best Online Shops to Buy an Affordable Wedding Dress.
Or Ebay, or trunk sales. Even checking out thrift stores or clearance racks at retail stores can offer up dress options you’ll fall in love with just a few alterations.
Loosen up the rules
For bridesmaids and groomsmen, why not make a request regarding color and style then let them choose something from their own closet or something that will be inexpensive to find elsewhere? Check out our article on mismatched bridesmaids’ dresses and you’ll see what we mean.
Get by with a little help from a friend
If you don’t think you have an eye for DIY arrangements, recruit a friend to help you. Alternatively, go half and half by using a non-traditional florist to send you the flowers. They’ll give some advice on how to arrange them to get the look you’re after, then you and your helpers can get to work arranging.
Not on numbers, but size. Focal flowers like hydrangeas and roses take up a lot more space in arrangements meaning less flowers needed with the same visual attraction.
Buy seasonal blooms in bulk
Limit your variety of blooms to just a few seasonal flowers and order those in bulk. With a little more zhuzh, less blooms can be just as impactful as a huge handful of eight types of flowers and a ton of accents.
Use your flowers for double duty
We’ve heard this one from experts all over the place. Using the bouquets and ceremony flowers for your reception is a great way to save some money, and it’s more eco-friendly, so win-win.
If you’re saving on floral by repurposing from the ceremony to the reception, there’s no reason why you can’t pull the same ol’ switcharoo for your decorations, especially for larger stuff like rental chairs, arches, etc.
When it comes to accessories like vases, runners, table linens, wine glasses, etc., shopping around pays off. Depending upon your look (mismatched and/or minimalist decorations are both lovely and on-trend!), thrift stores, yard sales, or estate sales are a great way to find some gems for less. Oh, and don’t forget, you can always spray paint vases and other decorative touches.
If you’d really prefer to match, check out clearance racks at spots like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, or hit up your local Dollar Store. Restaurant supply wholesalers also carry sets of flatware, glasses, and tableware for less.
Here’s some fabulous inspo for decorations on a budget:
- Wedding with DIY Invitations
- Christmas Wedding Lights
- Non-floral Altar Decorations
- Lauren & Jackson’s Wedding
Set up an account on a wedding planning website and use online wedding planning guides
There are tons of resources on-line to help you manage your own planning and guest coordination.
We organized this one a while ago and have gotten great feedback on it, so peruse at your leisure. We’ve also reviewed some of the most popular planning websites, with details on what they offer for your reference.
Most sites will help you organize everything from seating plans to registry information to wedding party coordination and communications.
If you’re confident you can manage a couple of friends without turning into a bridezilla rage-monster, by all means, do so. See if you can find someone who can help with guest direction, decoration management, etc. who isn’t part of the wedding party. ‘Cause you’ll need those guys for other stuff.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you’re asking friends to help: it isn’t an easy job, and miscommunications happen. That’s why wedding planners make the big bucks (usually).
So be prepared to either pay them with cash or a really fancy thank-you gift, and write out what they’re responsible for so you both have a visual list. In writing.
A few other resources for you. From us. Because we want to help.
Use friends and family
But… remember this: your guests should have the opportunity to kick back, celebrate and enjoy the party (and pose for their own pics with you).
That said, if you know someone who really wants to take the pics and you know they’re awesome, have at it. Make sure to compensate them for their time with a little cash or a great thank you gift.
Use a professional, but ask to pare down the package (if possible)
Be upfront about the fact that you’re on a budget and are looking for ways to cut back.
If you don’t need a whole day’s worth of photo ops, see if they offer hourly rates. If they use an assistant, see if there’s some way you can cut back enough so they don’t need them. If they include an album as part of the gig, see if you can nix it.
Ask a friend to lend their talent
Again with the help: there are so many ways this could go wrong, but so many ways it could go right! If you’re not sure about your friend’s chops, check out their YouTube channel if they have one, or drop in on their next gig to make sure you’re on the same page, taste-wise.
Besides, if you know someone who’s a great musician or DJ, they may be insulted if you don’t ask.
Check out social media and ask around
Some of the best entertainers are found by word-of-mouth, so start asking around early. There are plenty of sites on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and especially LinkedIn where you can find local entertainers looking for gigs in town. Just don’t expect your entertainment to work for free: negotiate a price up-front.
Dessert and Cake
Expand your cake vision
There’s no reason to have a four-tier wedding cake if you’re holding a smaller wedding! (Unless that’s all you’re gonna eat, in which case, go for it.) But a huge cake is a beautiful sight to behold, and it’s just as much a part of the visual vibe as the other decorations, so think about using faux tiers on the bottom and incorporating your real cake up top.
Order fewer slices than the number of guests you’ll have
You know how it goes. You get a big ‘ol cake, carve it up to serve, and half your guests leave it on the table. The same is true for any dessert, some people are just full by then. Or they have self-control. We don’t get that. The only thing more blasphemous than wasting wedding cake is not drinking all of your booze for the champagne toast.
Since wedding cakes are usually priced out by the number of slices, this can also save you some serious dough. (Ha! We’re so punny.)
Serve a sheet cake
Order a small cake for your photo-op (and do what we suggested with the faux tiers) and have a sheet cake waiting in the wings to serve instead. As long as it’s not obviously from the day-old bakery section of your local supermarket, no one’s gonna even notice.
Whether it’s your dessert offerings with the meal or the cake, the less fancy the better. Serve small tastings of things like tiramisu, lemon chiffon, or chocolate lava cake in tiny jars or cups for the guests to pick for themselves after the meal if you really feel the need to serve desserts.
Naked cakes and minimal embellishments are super on-trend right now. Consider minimal decorations or get a “naked cake” instead of a huge, elaborate number.
Let them eat cake
In lieu of serving a dessert with the meal, just offer cake. Because at the end of the day, cake is all you need. (In our humble opinion.)
Invitations and Stationery
If you’re looking for ways to save on your wedding stationery, we got you! Check out our article “10 Tips to Save Money on Wedding Stationery” for all of the advice you can handle.
Shop around. Here’s another category we’ve done some serious shopping for. Check out our article on inexpensive wedding favors to see what we found.
Make your own favors. If you don’t have time, skip this advice and send out sweet thank-you cards after the dust settles.
If you do have the time and/or love crafting, check out these posts on great favor ideas for some inspo. Some of the things you’ll see are simple, memorable favors you could easily make on your own.
- Candle Wedding Favors
- Honey Wedding Favors
- Succulent Wedding Favors
- Coffee Wedding Favors
- Chocolate Wedding Favors
Here’s to Forever, Without the Debt!
Money can’t buy you love, and you sure as heck don’t need loads of it to celebrate your love either!
Sure, having a wedding on a small budget may take a bit more creativity and legwork, but it’ll be worth it when your big day rolls around and you pull off a spectacular event without putting yourselves into debt for the next ten years.
Despite her dreamy wedding blogger lifestyle, Meredith's day job is running ClassicVeils.com and a full-time mom to an active toddler. If she could, Meredith would spend her days taking cruises, helping animals in need, and watching Big Brother!