Planning a Wedding? You Don’t Have to Drain the Piggy Bank

By Dante Hosseini Published on April 14, 2024

Inflation stings. If you’re about to get married, you may be tempted to elope just to avoid starting married life with a bankruptcy, since according to Nerdwallet, the average American wedding in 2023 cost more than $30,000.

And you might want to consider spending less for other reasons, too: Research shows that the cheaper the wedding, the less likely the marriage will end in divorce.

So should you just elope? Not necessarily. The same research shows that the more guests you have at your wedding, the less likely you are to divorce.

Fortunately, you don’t need to choose between an expensive wedding and a solitary one. I got married four years ago, and while, yes, inflation has gone up since then, it’s still possible to have a traditional wedding without spending anywhere near 30 grand. (Mine cost about $1,500.)

Let’s look at how to spend less on each item.

The Venue

Your own church is the most traditional option. There still may be a fee, but likely one that’s measurable in the dozens of dollars, not the thousands. And you can decorate it with things you and your friends already have on hand, like white Christmas lights, as well as flowers (more on those later). You can also buy a 40-yard bolt of tulle for less than $10.

The Dress

I got a lovely white wedding dress with lace and a train, selected from dozens of options, made to my measurements, for $109 from Amazon. (The bridal boutique in my town would have charged $100 just to try on dresses.) Allow time for overseas shipping, and make sure you provide accurate measurements.

You can also consider buying a gently used wedding dress from sites like preownedweddingdresses.com and eBay. However, if you buy used online, leave time for alterations or to shop for a different dress (just in case). You could also consider altering a relative’s wedding dress to fit you, if she doesn’t mind!

The Groom’s Clothing

Though many grooms wear tuxedoes, it is perfectly normal to wear a suit. Use one you already own, buy one (you’ll probably need one sooner or later anyway) or rent a tux.

The Bridesmaids’ Dresses

I found that the best place to find affordable bridesmaids’ dresses was eBay; there, you’ll find lots of beautiful and affordable new dresses. Some brides pay for their bridesmaids’ wedding attire; if you choose to go another route, you could ask each bridesmaid to wear a dress of their own choosing that falls into a certain color palette or pattern. Either identical or themed dresses are good choices for the wedding party.

The Groomsmen’s Suits

Just as with bridesmaids, it’s okay to ask your groomsmen to wear a nice gray, black, or navy suit; they probably already own a suit in one of those colors (and if not, they will probably need to buy one eventually). 

The Flowers

If you or a friend are willing to try your hand at flower arranging, you can save a lot of money by buying your flowers from a supermarket instead of a florist. (My flowers came from Sam’s Club.) Look at different stores in your area and see which ones have good flowers for good prices. And remember: Some flowers that are available now may be out of season in a few months. If you have a specific flower in mind, ask the store if it’ll be in stock the month of your wedding.

I knew someone who prepared for her daughter’s wedding by asking all her friends to give her cut peonies from their gardens (which are common in Michigan, where they all live). She dried them and decorated the church with them for the wedding. I’m sure it was a lot of work, but it was free.

Photography and Videography

It’s notoriously tacky to ask your friend who’s a professional wedding photographer to record your wedding for free or in exchange “for exposure.” But you can ask a relative or a friend who is an amateur to do it as a favor.

Also ask a couple of other friends to get backup footage on their smartphones (just in case something goes wrong with the primary photos and videos). A friend’s videographer thought he’d turned the camera on, but hadn’t, so there was no wedding video.

Music

Instead of hiring a live band, make good playlists. I made one for my wedding ceremony and another for my reception, and asked a kind friend to play it through the church’s sound system. This doesn’t cost a dime, except maybe on a Spotify membership. Keep the playlists for anniversaries and other romantic moments.

The Reception Venue

Your church is the most inexpensive option here again. Admittedly, it might not have a suitable room, but most decently sized churches have something that will work. In the right weather, an outdoor reception in a nice backyard can serve nicely. 

The Cake

I got lucky: My twenty-one-year-old brother decided he was going to learn to make wedding cakes just so he could make mine. He did, and it was seriously impressive. Since most brothers probably aren’t going to do that, you can save money by doing two cakes: a small one, beautifully decorated, for the cake-cutting ceremony and photos, and a big white sheet cake from somewhere like Costco so everyone can have enjoy a piece.

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If you (or your brother) don’t know how to decorate cakes, try either buying a small, fancy one (which is much cheaper than a large, fancy one) or ice a small cake and decorate it with edible flowers like roses, pansies, lavender, and more. Surprisingly, many flowers are edible. (Do note that hibiscus, though edible, may not be safe for pregnant guests.)

Other Food and Drink

Don’t worry about people’s expectations for food and drink at the reception. There was a time not long ago when cake and punch was the norm (at least in Texas, where I live). Full meals may be nice, but any guests who love you surely don’t want you (or your parents) going into debt to feed them.

If you feel compelled to provide a full meal, here’s an idea: The same lady who made the dried peonies also made a lot of soups in advance and froze them. She then borrowed her friends’ crockpots to heat them up at her daughter’s reception. Add rolls and/or salad if you want. Or you could offer something like a baked potato bar where people can serve themselves.

My mother served grapes, cheese, and finger-food desserts (pretzels dipped in chocolate, etc.) that she made herself for my reception. We served coffee and had ice water with fruit in it (one dispenser had strawberry, one citrus, and one cucumber).

Rings

Now that you have (I hope) ignored all advice about how much you must spend on engagement rings, here are some tips for your wedding rings.

A plain wedding band is less likely to break than a ring that holds gems — remember, it should last the rest of your life — and a bride’s wedding band can match the groom’s. A low-karat gold ring is both more affordable and will get scratched less (and therefore stay shinier) than a softer, high-karat gold ring. Silver is also an option. You don’t need to go to a jeweler, either; you can buy from Walmart or online (but if you buy online, leave time to exchange the rings if they don’t fit).

Invitations

You don’t need to buy save-the-date cards; wedding invitations are sufficient. Now, you can even buy digital invitations and email them, which saves the cost of postage. If you want to send printed invitations, you can design your own and utilize print-on-demand places like Zazzle and Walmart Photo for a good price.

Miscellaneous

Wedding favors for guests are optional, as are bachelor and bachelorette parties. You can make corsages for the men in the wedding party when you arrange your flowers.

Volunteers are crucial. It’s fine to ask family, bridesmaids, or other close friends to spend an evening helping you decorate or perform other duties, but don’t ask professionals for free services, and don’t ask people to spend their own money on your wedding.

I didn’t include here the cost of a honeymoon — partly because I don’t have any insights about it that would apply to most couples, and partly because the cost of the honeymoon isn’t associated with the odds of divorce. However, going on a honeymoon is actually associated with a lower risk of divorce, regardless of what you spend on it. I guess that’s another reason to have an affordable wedding: it will help you pay for a honeymoon afterward.

Of course, you don’t have to do anything that costs money (though I do recommend paying for the marriage license!). In my book, the most romantic thing you can do at a wedding is trade the traditional vows used for centuries by millions of our ancestors — committing yourself to each other, not because you know the marriage will make you happy, but because you are stepping into something bigger than the two of you, older than history, a divinely wrought image.

A wedding means you and your fiance have enough love, honor, and courage to commit yourselves to each other “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, till death do us part.”

That’s something to celebrate. And celebration is possible, whatever your budget.

 

Dante Hosseini is a freelance writer living in Texas.

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