Reader Suggestions For How To Plan A Fantastic Frugal Wedding
My husband and I have had a lot of things over the years: 10.5 years of wedded bliss, two darling children, endless conversations about grocery lists, vacations abroad, tears, exhaustion, and joy. One thing we didn’t have? A frugal wedding.
Yep. You heard it here first: the Frugalwoods did not get married frugally. Mr. FW and I met when we were 18 and 19 during the second semester of our freshman year of college. We got engaged at 23 and married in June 2008 when we were both 24. Writing those ages makes my hands hurt–we we SO YOUNG.
We were so young that I sometimes can’t believe we’ve stayed together because we’re such different people at age 35 than we were at 24. But the key for us is that we’ve changed, evolved, and matured together. At 24, we were not yet the Frugalwoods. While we were thrifty, we weren’t anywhere near as financially woke as we are now.
The reason we didn’t have a thrifty wedding is that my parents paid for it and Mr. FW’s parents paid for our rehearsal dinner and pitched in for our honeymoon. This is a very privileged experience, which is one of the reasons why I meditate on the role of privilege in my life both here on the blog and in my book. If Mr. FW and I’d had to pay for our wedding at age 24, we would’ve been able to afford hot dogs and beer for about five people in our basement apartment.
Our parents are ridiculously generous and they wanted us to get married in a certain style: formal, traditional, and classic. My parents were very involved in the planning process and made choices about the food, the alcohol, the cake, the invitations, the dress, the flowers, and–most importantly–the guest list. My parents (and Mr. FW and I) were of the opinion that since they were paying for it, they got to have a lot of say over how the wedding went, which was totally fine with me!
We invited everyone from both my and Mr. FW’s extended families, which is A LOT of people. We invited our friends and our parents’ friends. Mercifully, they didn’t ALL come or we would’ve had like a 500 person wedding. It was a spectacular, wonderful, gorgeous wedding. It was the wedding of my dreams. I am grateful to our parents every day for giving us the gift of this treasured day and the memory of being surrounded by all of our family and friends. It truly was magical and I cherish the memories and the photos. But it wasn’t frugal.
There were a few things that my mom and I did to trim costs:
While we trimmed around the edges, it was still an expensive soiree that was opulent and pure magic. If Mr. FW and I were to get married again today, we’d do things very differently because we’re very different people. But 10.5 years ago, we had the wedding of my dreams.
Given this, I haven’t known how to help the many, many, many (seriously, MANY) readers who’ve asked me for frugal wedding tips over the years. But that, my friends, is why I have a Reader Suggestions feature!!!! Reader Suggestions tackle FAQs from Frugalwoods Nation (that’s you!) and topics that I don’t have expertise in (that’s why we recently did one on saving money with teenagers). Thankfully, I have a braintrust of Frugal Experts who’ve weighed in on today’s topic to beat all topics: FRUGAL WEDDINGS!!!!!!!
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!
How Frugalwoods Readers Had Frugal, Meaningful, GORGEOUS Weddings!!!
You all had a fire hose of advice on frugal weddings, so we’re going to get right to it today. I tried to separate these by category, but as you’ll see, most of you offered advice in more than one area, so just read the whole thing for a comprehensive overview.
Allison said, “When I was wedding planning, I was surprised by how much flowers would cost. I decided to use my crocheting skills to make flower bouquets and boutonnieres. It took me about 8 minutes to crochet each flower so needless to say, the bouquets were a labor of love. I saved hundreds of dollars making the flowers myself and they last forever! I also loved being able to DIY something that turned actually looked good for the wedding. I also crocheted some flowers to decorate the cake.”
Rita shared, “I wore a secondhand dress (and passed it on to several other brides afterward). Family and friends sponsored or gave us heavy discounts on food, makeup, photography, decor, a violinist, invitations, etc. Our rings are made of stainless steel worth about $50 for the pair, which is fortunate because they no longer fit! I had a bouquet made of wooden flowers that cost much less than live ones, and we decorated using ferns picked outside the church, recycled paper, old jars, etc. We also got married in a church in our old university, so we got a discount on the fee. My husband used his Lego castle set and minifigs for our “cake”, a cream puff tower from my colleagues. He also used one of his 80s love song CDs for our reception. Our community made it possible for us to have a beautiful budget wedding!”
Krista said, “My tip is to never be scared to ask for help! My matron of honor made all of our flowers out of my favorite book, and our friends set up the venue with us. We saved money by combining the ceremony & reception in the same room in the city museum we rented out. We asked the museum if they had tables & chairs from meetings; they did so we got them for free! We set our date right after Christmas so the museum was still decorated. We borrowed books from the library to decorate the tables. My aunts made a shawl & gloves to match my dress.”
Cindy wrote, “Made my own bouquet. One dozen roses, babies breath and some green floral tape. We saved out one rose for the boutineer.”
Chantal shared, “My wedding was certainly a budget wedding, but I really don’t think anyone there would have guessed it! I bought my dress 50% off at a bridal expo. We purchased a wedding package that included our celebrant and wedding venue, photographer and reception venue, 2 course meal and drinks package for every guest and included the cake. We chose to marry on a Friday as it was half the price of a weekend wedding.
We were limited to 40 guests and that was fine with us. All the furniture was provided and decorations including centerpieces etc. I was driven there for free by my cousin who has a fancy car he often hires out for weddings. I made all invitations, place cards etc myself. I purchased the groomsmen and bridesmaid clothes over the previous year as I found great sales. We did splash out and hire a dj for the night. I honestly found by spending the time to do things myself and doing research into the options available I was able to have a fairytale wedding on a budget. Our total cost was $6,200 Australian. The average wedding here costs $35,000 to $55,000.”
Suzanne said, “We got married in the daytime on a Monday. This saved us a lot of money because venues are far less expensive. Also, it was a far less stressful planning experience. We weren’t competing for vendors because everyone is free on a Monday!”
Caroline said, “So fortunate that my parents paid for my wedding, but the key thing is not to be too set or have too much of a specific ”vision”. Our florist was not cheap, BUT by saying to him ”here’s the budget, I like these colours, each table can be different or similar, we love candles and candlelight, hate balloons” he was able to unleash his incredible creativity and make it stunning, rather than have us pay top dollar for some very specific colour flower. My mom made my dress, we kept the numbers moderate (80 all in), focused on what we really wanted, which was table service (no buffet), a generous bar tab and a good dance floor. We also had it shoulder season, on a Friday, which is easier and a little less expensive than Saturdays or peak-peak season. Churches, even quite grand ones, are often far less expensive than ”wedding venue” type places. Ours was in a cathedral (the chapel!!), and even with bell ringers and the amazing organist, was a tiny, tiny fee, comparatively, for a gorgeous venue.”
Cate shared, “I loved the look of more expensive dresses in North America but couldn’t stomach the price for a dress I’d be wearing one day, so I ordered my wedding gown online from a dress maker in China. Everyone thought I was crazy. It was approximately $500 USD for a beautiful custom made lace gown with matching lace veil. Minor alterations were required for about $100 USD. Overall it was about 1/4 of what I would have spent had I purchased a comparable dress at a store here.”
Trish said, “We were the first couple to get married in our new church so they did not charge us to use it for the wedding or reception. One of the head ladies of the church even worked free to help out. We did pay our pastor $50 for the service. My dress I did splurge $100 on sale at JC Penny’s. A friend of my Moms altered it for free. My Mom and several church ladies made all the food, my Sister in laws Mom made and gifted us the beautiful wedding cake and grooms cake. My Mom made all the decor and flowers. The honeymoon to Disneyland was paid for by my Brother in law. My Matron of honor and bridesmaids made their own dresses. We did not have much money when we started out. I was thankful to everyone for all that hard work.”
Lindsay shared, “Currently wedding planning on a budget and right now my favorite find has been the website Azazie.com. You can order sample dresses that are shipped to your home (affordably), try them on, then order through their site. My dress is $250 vs a very similar one I loved in a bridal store for $825 after their ‘discount’!!!!
Kara said, “I ordered a bridesmaids dress in ivory as my wedding dress, since I wanted tea length anyway, and it was perfect and a small fraction of the cost of a wedding dress. We used as many local vendors as possible, and because our wedding was in a small town it was definitely cheaper than big city prices. We rented the church hall instead of a fancier venue, and dressed up the tables instead of the walls. My MIL sewed beautiful table runners, we borrowed linens and chair covers from a friend of the family who does banquets for his company, and I purchased sets of old pretty China dishes from kijiji, which I sold/donated after the wedding and kept my favorite set as our ‘wedding china’.”
Amanda wrote, “Loved all this advice! Some of it we did at our own wedding a couple months ago. My mom was amazing enough to buy my dress, but I wanted lace sleeves and couldn’t stomach the higher price tags of dresses with sleeves, even with someone else paying, so I chose a simple sleeveless sweetheart neckline dress and found a $10 body suit on Amazon I wore under the dress. It matched so well even the seamstress didn’t realize it wasn’t attached to the dress itself.
We also had the wedding and reception at a beach house we rented for us and the bridal party to stay in for a few nights (in December, so much cheaper than peak season) in lieu of a formal venue and only invited very close friends and family.”
Laurie said, “I asked my ladies to just wear a beautiful dress they loved.”
Laurie said, “I asked people to bring their fanciest appetizer for potluck instead of a gift.”
Megan wrote, “We had a cake reception instead of a dinner.”
Allie suggests, “Ditching the full meal! We did an after-dinner wedding, ended up getting Pizza just to make sure there wasn’t too much drinking on an empty stomach, and asked some great bakers in our lives to do a pot-luck dessert bar. This enabled us to host 200 guests for around $11,000.”
Cindy, “Ordered a cake from the local grocery store asked them to leave off top decorations. $20 to $30 dollars (don’t mention a wedding) added my wedding cake topper.”
Kati said, “Going with a farmers market vendor for our food option was the best decision! We had a morning wedding and brunch reception, so bagel sandwiches were perfect! Not only was the food delicious–I still have people complimenting the food!–but it helped support a local business and the people who own and work for them are wonderful!! They gave us high quality food, added to the fun environment, and were at least half the price of a caterer!”
Ashley wrote, “We did a cake and punch afternoon wedding (no booze) for about 100 people at a wedding venue. I personally baked homemade cookies as wedding favors (not because I felt people HAD to have favors but because I love to bake). I bought my wedding dress off the clearance rack. I purchased fake flowers online and put together all the bouquets myself. We went with a photographer on the cheaper end and while some of the shots aren’t that great, there are still some good ones. It wasn’t extremely cheap, but it was still a lot less than what the “norm” is. Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything.”
The Centerpieces and Favors
Laura said, “We made our own centerpieces. I made flowers out of dictionary pages and then asked friends and family for really old books and set the flowers on the books. Bought little chalk boards from the dollar store for the table numbers and had tea lights surrounding them. I should mention that I had just received my graduate degree in English that year and was a teacher so it reflected a personal side of me!”
Molly said, “I refused to have flowers for centerpieces because it seemed like a silly waste of money. We rented antique birdcages from a wedding rental place for the main focus, then surrounded them with gold votives borrowed from a family friend, pinecones and branches gathered from around town that we lightly sprayed with gold and bronze paint, and fake leaves I found at Michael’s on sale. We ordered babies breath from the grocery store and filled the birdcages with it (only cost about $20 for an entire trunk full!). I also got a toy buck and doe and spray painted them gold for our cake topper.”
KaLynn shared, “Here are my best ideas: Save the date postcards from Vistaprint, cheap (that’s an affiliate link)! Find a dress store that really takes care of their sample gowns. Instead of ordering my dress new I bought the sample gown that I tried on and got 15% off! It was in pristine condition and I’m petite so no matter the size it was going to need major alterations.
Make your own favors (warning this is time consuming). I made tiny jars of strawberry jam. I found a woman who does photography on the side. She was reasonably priced and had her daughter be the 2nd photog. Photos look great and after the wedding she edited them and mailed us a flash drive with all the photos. Patronize a small, local jeweler. Twice a year our jeweler does a buy one get one 50% off weekend for wedding bands. Borrow a veil! Veils aren’t cheap and you don’t wear them for long.”
The Music, Photos, and Videos
Kristin said, “I recommend that everyone make their own playlist. We spent no money on a DJ, loved every song that played all day, borrowed sound equipment from a friend, and asked another charismatic friend to emcee the key parts of the reception. We still listen to our playlist all the time more than two years after our wedding; it makes us happy :).”
Melissa said, “For our video we used a college student. He got to make some money (much less than we would have paid for a seasoned professional) and he got to build his portfolio. We paid for our bridesmaid’s dress. We got her dress and my wedding dress at a post-prom sale at JC Penney’s.”
Gabby wrote, “We had no money when we got married, so we had to be very frugal to make a wedding happen at all. We opted for an evening, after dinner time wedding, with a dessert reception instead of a meal and had about 100 guests. My mom made my wedding dress (not everyone has the luxury of an excellent seamstress in the family, but if you do, this is money-saving and very special!).
For drinks, we served just wine and New Glarus, a set amount that we purchased ahead of time that turned out to be just right. My favorite part was being my own DJ….I worked hard putting together a playlist for dancing (the trick is to arrange the songs in a specific order rather than just shuffle playing…you don’t want to accidentally have five slow dances in a row!) and just plugged my ipod into the sound system I got with the venue. I got so many compliments on the music and people danced all night, without any DJ tricks. Maybe this is tacky in some books, but we skipped the wedding favors…I never really care about them at other folks’ weddings, so I didn’t much see the point. Our wedding was at the local senior center… which is a hilarious thing to put on a wedding invitation, but it was dirt cheap and was a beautiful room that came with everything we needed setup wise and allowed us to cater from anywhere.”
Whitney said, “I called a local music college to see if there were any students that were looking for some extra cash/performance practice. We ended up with an AMAZING banjo player!”
Kristin said, “We did not send traditional invitations via snail mail (though we did send magnet save the dates because we wanted to see ourselves on our family and friends’ fridges forever). My husband, who is a 3D animator, made an awesome invitation video which we emailed to all of our friends, and simply asked them to RSVP via wedding wire, linked in the email.”
Heather said, “My big tips are: Save the dates are just expensive. I designed wedding invitation postcards on Vistaprint– bought 200 for ~$50 and sent almost a year in advance (that’s an affiliate link). Postcards are also cheaper to mail than most heavy wedding invites. And Look into your state parks for ceremony and reception locations. I spent $400 on two day rental of a giant lodge with tables & chairs for 150 included. And my wedding party and family was able to stay in park at gorgeous cabins for $125 a night. They slept 6-8 comfortably. We invited and planned for around 100 people but due to a surprise snowstorm only 60 could make it. Made for good pictures though. I wanted to have the ceremony outside but it was too cold. Luckily the lodge was big enough for a ceremony location and reception space.I bought bulk cedar garland for $200 for 75 feet and used it as my main decorative feature. January wedding in the woods. The theme was sort of a winter picnic with 3 types of soup, sandwiches and a hot cocoa bar. Dessert was mini pies (300 minis 6 different flavors for ~$200). My best advice: a traditional wedding is EXPENSIVE. For almost no reason. If you don’t care about a certain detail, don’t drop money on it. The promise is important not the party.”
Erika said, “I used Zazzle for my save the dates and invitations, I think they are basically always having a 50% off sale! For my save the dates I did them as a postcard to cut down on postage and the cost of envelopes. Other frugal things-I did not give out favors and I hunted around until I found a florist within my budget and she rented me items to put on the tables (lanterns, vases, pillar candles etc) to make it look more “full” so no one would be focusing on my small (but gorgeous) flower arrangements. I did my own makeup, I bought my wedding dress on eBay, bought my shoes at a department store sale I randomly went to. I had the ceremony and reception in the same venue which cut down on costs as well as stress. I had around 100 guests. I also had a set cap amount I was paying for drinks and when it went over that it was no longer open bar.”
Sarah wrote, “I designed the save the dates and invitations myself and had them printed on Vistaprint (that’s an affiliate link). We got married at the courthouse in front of our parents, and went out for a small dinner afterward with family. We wanted to get special clothing for the day, but it was all things we could (and have!) worn again. I used rings from two of my grandmothers and we bought an affordable wedding band for my husband. My dad took pictures. Our joy and priority was preparing food and spending time with friends and family. Most of our money went toward renting two cabins in the GSMNP for friends and family. We spent a long weekend visiting, eating, grilling pork, sitting on the porches, and playing games. All our friends said it was probably one of the most fun weddings they’ve been too, and I think we planted the seed with some folks about what counts as a wedding celebration and that a wedding is whatever you want it to be. Yes, we are toasting in front of a tombstone. One of my ancestors is buried on the site of the courthouse and I thought it would be interesting to commemorate our marriage with her. We technically couldn’t bring the alcohol into the courthouse, but the security guard told me to go back outside and hide it in the bushes.”
Elizabeth said, “Both sets of parents generously offered their backyards, so we had a perfect choice of venues. (It poured, but fortunately we chose the backyard with a roof.) I rented my dress because I didn’t see the point of having to maintain a garment I’d wear once in my life. We kept our guest list to about 30 people and told folks no need for gifts — just to bring themselves. Our activities literally included (a) the ceremony (b) eating and drinking and talking. Our only real expenses were an officiant, renting chairs, buying alcohol and getting catering (because nobody wanted to cook that day). And our marriage license.
The best part of this arrangement was the simplicity. Family offered to pitch in (and did so) but compared to many weddings, there was little for us to worry about. Friends said to me in the days before the wedding, “You must be so frantic.” I said, “No. That’s the point.” This meant I only pulled the difficult-bride card once. Somebody asked me why I was only offering the guests chocolate for dessert, pointing out that somebody may not like chocolate. My polite answer? “Bridezilla. It’s my favourite dessert, and the guests will be well-fed beforehand with vegetarian options, too.” 🙂
… it’s been several years and we’re still happily married. That’s the real point, but what I think is cute is that my parents were so impressed with our wedding that they keep bringing it up every few months.”
Danielle said, “For us it started with conversations about what it meant to have a wedding and a successful marriage. We decided it was more important to set ourselves up for success beyond our wedding day (and limit stress beforehand). Therefore we spent the months leading up to our wedding having serious conversations about finances, family, etc. by working through this workbook (affiliate link). We ultimately ended up being married on a small local beach that we frequent often each summer, with only our immediate families present. We followed that up months later with a large, casual celebration where we were able to invite everyone we wanted to see, and treat them to good food, drinks, and fun! The total cost for both days was under $10k, and we were able to use savings to cover it fully. For rings, check Amazon. We got ours for 1/2 the price of a local jeweler. Also check etsy for veils – the same one from the bridal shop was $25 on etsy. Watch Vistaprint, snapfish, etc. for deals – I got my invitations for 1/2 off on Cyber Monday. Negotiate with a photographer for only the hours you need (not a package) – I personally didn’t care for getting ready photos – this saved us hundreds (that’s an affiliate link)! We saved a lot by not having a bridal party, no favors, no save the dates, and no professional services except for a photographer for 2 hours.”
Paula said, “I was married 20 years ago in Weathersfield, Vermont. We rented the Weathersfield Center Church. My fiance and I were in graduate school in New Mexico; my family was in North Carolina; his family was in Vermont. Friends were scattered. I bought my dress for $100 from a small bridal shop in NM: It was the undyed (i.e., white) sample for a bridesmaid’s dress. Bridesmaids and groomsmen were housed in relatives houses; family members got hotel rooms (cheap, at the time, in Southern Vermont). Flowers were cut wildflowers (abundant in July in Vermont). We had a simple cake and punch reception at the church, then adjourned to a family member’s home for a potluck party: burgers and hot dogs, sides brought by the attendees, a keg of beer, music from a CD player, volleyball, bonfire. My friends still remember it as the best wedding they ever attended.”
Judith shared, “Bought white(ish) trouser set with reduction as had stain at back of neck (£8) rings £50, and licence (£9). 6 guests, went to pub afterwards, they brought us free food when they heard we’d just got married. Still here after 40 years.”
Skip The Wedding!
Jessica said, “I eloped! And got married in a football jersey. Not for everyone but the cost savings landed me in Antigua in a private villa on the beach for a week— worth it! ❤️”
Lois wrote, “Eloped a week before graduating grad school. 16 close friends, bought flowers around the corner, wore a dress i’d worn to many weddings as a guest, married in a small chapel, celebration brunch plus 2 small wedding cakes at the Fairmont. Whole thing cost < $500 including 1 night stay at the ocean. His aunt and uncle flew up from SoCal to NoCal to be our best man and woman. Would do it the same all over again. No stress over logistics going perfectly.”
Have A Very DIY Wedding
Kristy wrote, “I got married in my church in April 2017. There were about 250 guests. Our last name is Everheart so the day after Valentines Day I went to target and bought decorations like these wooden hearts for 80% off and then hot glued fake flowers I bought from silk flowers factory online. Because I got super cheap flowers online I could get all my decorations made months ahead of time. The church was free since we were members, the pianist was a talented friend and free, our wedding arch was built for free for us by some friends.
I told my bridesmaids to wear a pink dress of any shade. I made tulle skirts out of cheap tulle ribbon for my flower girl for $2 a kid. I saved a lot of money and headache by just saying pink and burgundy were my colors so when making things I could buy whatever shade of craft supplies were on sale. Our arch was just stained 2×4’s with cheap silk flowers and a bridesmaid loaned me their curtain. One of my flower girls wearing her tulle skirt I made and her flower crown. I’m a Sunday school teacher and I had built the giant connect four for a children’s festival a couple years before so we used it again as part of the reception since it was just sitting in the storage room at church. DIY projects made my wedding really special.”
Jess wrote, “Our wedding was a family effort. We had 300 people in a family member’s backyard. We used family member skills to make the wedding happen and the skill was a gift. For example a family friend made my dress as my wedding gift, my husband’s cousin who owns a bakery made the cake. The food was done potluck style. The only out of pocket expenses we had was the minister and the band.”
Chelsea did a “1) backyard wedding (in the country)
2) bought bulk flowers and succulents at the local farmers market the morning of (talk to the vendors a month or so before so they bring extra in the colors you want)
3) have a potluck. Everyone raved about the food at our wedding because my aunts and extended family are great cooks!
4) bought the beer at Costco
5) got a basic wedding cake from market of choice with no decoration and added succulents and flowers ourselves.”
Dieta said “1. We got married in a church and had the reception in the church basement. Very cheap.
2. Bonus was that the church didn’t allow alcohol…which saved us a ton of money.
3. We got married at 11 and had a lunch reception…cost less than supper. And it was prepared by a bunch of wonderful church ladies.
4. My mom made my dress and all the bridesmaid dresses. My aunt did my hair and I did my own make up.
5. We got married in May and picked all the flowers from friends gardens.
6. My cousin offered to do the photography for free.
7. Since it was a lunch reception…no dance was expected so no DJ or sound equipment needed.
8. My other cousin made the cake for free.
9. All costs included, we were able to have 150 guests and it cost under $2,000 And it was so amazing, everyone loved the DIY feel and personal touches.”
Siera wrote, “My husband and I got married in 2015 and spent about $5,000, which was not as frugal as it could have been, but we did save a lot in a number of areas. Having ‘everyone’ there was important to us, so we invited about 230; around 180 attended.
- Ceremony venue: our church ($1,000 for our pastor, wedding coordinator, sound and video guy, janitorial staff, use of bridal rooms, building, chairs, etc. etc.)
- Reception venue: a family member’s backyard on their farm (we rented tables & chairs)
- My dress: I made it myself with about $60 worth of cotton lace fabric from Joann’s. (I also did my hair and makeup myself)
- Flowers: I grew them on the farm where I worked at the time; my bridesmaids, aunts, mom and I made all the bouquets and centerpieces
- Other décor: we bought vintage-looking globe lights, but borrowed or made everything else (lanterns, wooden signs, etc.)
- Food: friends and family helped us put together a pretty simple backyard picnic-style reception
- Our cake: I made it! (The original plan was to have a friend make it, but that fell through. I love how it turned out though!)
- Where we spent extra: live music at the reception (fiddle players for dancing) and a good professional photographer
The moral of the story: Know your priorities and make your wedding your own – don’t feel pressured to copy all the bridal magazines and Pinterest boards you see that tell us we must spend thousands, or tens of thousands on this day! Focus on what the day is really about, and enjoy it.”
Erin said she, “Made my own invitations. Mom made my dress. No flowers. No cake. Friends were photographers. Ceremony at church. Reception at a brand new restaurant with ornate decor so we didn’t even use centerpieces. Beer and wine only, buffet style dinner. No party favors. Sister did my hair and makeup. Plain bands for rings, no diamonds. Went to Yosemite for honeymoon, stayed at bed n breakfast and went hiking. Bachelorette party was at my friend’s house, did a scavenger hunt. No gift registry. Picked out our favorite charities to accept donations in lieu of gifts. Total cost of wedding, soup to nuts, including all I just listed for 105 guests: $7,000. Ten years going strong!”
PHOTO Katherine wrote, “We are fortunate to have some acreage and a pond, so we hosted our wedding at home. In order to DIY a lot of it, we limited the guest list to about 60 people. I knew from a previous holiday party that 60 was about the limit on what our septic/water system could handle in one day, so any more than that would have required renting port-a-lets, which are either gross or pricy if you want the nice ones. I did rent a tent because September weather in NY can be unpredictable and I didn’t want that many people in my house if it rained. I also rented a dance floor, tables, chairs, and dishes. This was surprisingly affordable. (Less than $2k all in.)
I ordered my flowers from Costco.com They offer both pre-arranged bouquets as well as loose bulk flowers. I went with loose flowers and made my own arrangements as that was the cheapest option and I enjoy flower arranging. I made three bouquets, three corsages, five boutonnières, six table arrangements, the arrangement that hung over the structure we stood in front of for the ceremony, and several other miscellaneous decorations with about $400 worth of roses and calla lilies. (Supplemented with a few bouquets of sunflowers from the grocery store.) A local florist quoted us five times that much for lower quality flowers. The caveat is that it was a *lot* of last minute work, so you need to be organized if you’re going to do it. Plenty of tutorials online on how to assemble bouquets and store them overnight. Costco provides info on when to schedule delivery for an event. I received mine the morning of the day before the wedding and was prepared with buckets and coolers of water standing by and a couple of tools (floral shears, tape, wire, pins, floral foam bouquet holders) that I picked up at Joann’s. The quality was great.
For music, we purchased a Bluetooth speaker with a microphone on Amazon for less than $200 (it was called Tailgater but I don’t think they make the exact one anymore) and I created a series of playlists in iTunes (carefully labeled so that my friend who acted as MC would know when to play them.). We had a brunch reception, one benefit of which is that a lot of the food could be served cold. (Fruits, cheese, veggies with hummus, an assortment of pastries purchased from a bakery.) We supplemented that with a roast beef, a ham, and roasted potatoes that my mom made. We served bottled beer, sparkling wine (picked up a case at $3/bottle from Trader Joe’s), and an assortment of juices and coffee. We paid two of my teenaged cousin’s friends $20/hr to work the buffet table and clear away dishes. We served pie (purchased from bakery) instead of a fancy cake for dessert.
For other decorations and party favors, spray paint and a hot glue gun were my friends. I took a bunch of old, cheap vases from floral bouquets past and used mirror spray paint to make them look like mercury glass. I did the same with cheap votive candle holders (my MIL had a huge box of them but a thrift shop would be a good source otherwise) some of which I further decorated with bits of lace and ribbon, some I left plain. Dollar store picture frames were spray painted gold and held printed out table numbers. I did splurge on lanterns for each table but I picked ones I like and I still use them around the house today. For a sign at the road to direct guests to the wedding, I spray painted a piece of scrap plywood with chalkboard paint and had my artistic sister write on it with regular school chalk. It was so beautiful that we preserved it (hairspray!) and it hangs on the wall in my office.”
Bec wrote, “We got married at the courthouse and then a year later had a reception in our backyard after we purchased our home. We rented a tent and were able to have it Friday – Monday, which allowed us to have a welcome reception on Friday, party on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. Many of our guests had traveled a long way, so it was wonderful to be able to help bring down some of their costs as well. We DIYed nearly everything. A friend put together arrangements from Costco flowers. I cooked our food (PNW BBQ + mac & cheese in crock pots + more make ahead appetizers + local brews iced down in a wheelbarrow) and my aunt was in charge of keeping it organized.
I bought a lot of things on sale and with coupons from JoAnn fabric. Nice platters and serving ware came from Salvation Army’s half off days. We used bamboo disposables to make cleanup easier and eco friendly-ish even though it was slightly more expensive than regular disposables. My dress was purchased online during a sale and with coupons and my husband wore clothing he already owned. We made a DIY Photo Booth in our garage using an iPad, an app, and a tripod. I took cake photos from Pinterest to our local Safeway store to see if they could make them, and we got so many compliments on the desserts that cost less than $15 apiece. We splurged on a good photographer and I paid someone to do my hair and makeup. If you do decide to DIY, be sure to give yourself about twice the amount of time that you think it will take and be ok with things not going exactly as planned. I have never felt more beautiful or loved as I did on this day even though so many things went hilariously wrong.”
Kimberly wrote, “Ours was also a DIY wedding. I made everything except the cake, even the centerpieces, my bouquet, and corsages etc.
We held ours in the middle of the day in the early spring (off season here in Canada). I found a space at a historic building – since it wasn’t a typical wedding space it was really cheap!
My favourite part of the day, besides marrying my husband, was an hour before the ceremony. I went out in my dress (which I scored for $100, last season off the rack sale), and asked if anyone wanted to help decorate. Everyone jumped in to help, and it was so much fun. 🙂 <3 Been married almost 9 years now! Altogether ours was $3,000.”
Karla said, “We had a summer mountain wedding in Colorado with 60 guests. Rehearsal dinner: pizza and grocery store veggie trays/snacks on a back patio at the rec center with a beautiful mountain sunset. Wedding: rented a combination venue from YMCA of the Rockies, wedding was on a Thursday. No bridal party. Reception: Trader Joe’s $3 wine, Costco sheet cake, Spotify playlist, barbecue caterer, cheap throw away plastic table clothes. I donated my $250 new, consignment shop dress to a bridal shop for another frugal bride (manufactured 6 years earlier, it was too old to consign). We did free electronic invitations/RSVP’s. Both our rings were from Amazon; mine was moissanite (cheaper, more fire, and harder than a diamond!) and his was $20.
We did hire a photographer, but we chose a single shooter (much cheaper), and only hired her for a number of hours (end of getting ready through the first dance), rather than through the entire reception. We also had a send-off brunch at a town meeting room, and I brought all the food from Costco and grocery store deli trays. Grand total for our Colorado wedding was $7,817, which included the Colorado rehearsal dinner, wedding/reception, and send-off brunch with about 60 guests at each event. Since it was a destination wedding, we invited everyone to each of the three events.
Biggest single expenditures were photographer ($1,700), catering ($1,473), and venue ($1,313). We also spent a separate $960 to have a reception in Ohio with elderly grandparents and 60 other family members, that included flights/rental car/food/cake. I had a 6 year-old consignment dress with tags ($250) and my wedding bouquet was made by a friend. Costco half sheet “wedding cake” ($18!). Cheap throw-away plastic tablecloth in blue gingham to match our Colorado mountain wedding. ”
Codi wrote, “My husband and I got married at city hall, my Dad bought my dress. Costco for my flowers, no wedding party, just our close family was invited, used a friend photographer for about a hour and a half: 2 at most to get our ceremony and after pictures. And my last boss from work made my cake. I also encouraged guests to take pictures as well. City hall provided decorations and music. We then held a lunch at our house with chicken and hamburgers. From food, photography, city hall, dress, flowers we spent $3,500.”
Jill shared, “We got married in a family home backyard. We borrowed chairs and tables from a church that was a couple doors down (we made a donation to them but it was such a wonderful deal that it felt ‘free’). We borrowed white Christmas lights from all our friends and my father-in-law strung them up all over the yard and barn. We bargained with local fishermen to get a good deal on lobster, borrowed two BBQs to add to our own and served lobster, burgers, sausages, hot dogs, baked beans, and a whack of other sides, and had pies for dessert, from a local bakery.
The alcohol was homemade wine from one of our friends, and store-bought beer that we picked up a couple days before the wedding. We used an ipod hooked up to a borrowed sound system for the dancing, and had a big bonfire with s’mores later in the evening. We asked my family’s minister to do the ceremony, and paid for her hotel room and gas. We had purchased tents for the event, and rented a portapotty. The tents ended up being recalled weeks later so we were reimbursed (they worked fine for our event!), and the day after the wedding, the family home toilets stopped working (150 year old house) and everyone was THRILLED to have a portapotty in the yard. I think we came in around $6,000 for the whole event, thanks to the generosity of family and friends loaning us stuff.”
Cadence suggests, “Have it at a place where you can BYOB and just pay a bartender. Have it in a local place – I had mine in a historic house in my hometown and it was $700 for 6 hours (much more if you live out of that town). Don’t worry too much about the food. Buy flowers at a warehouse and have someone you know made the centerpieces.”
Carrie said, “We did Facebook invites and got married at the courthouse in Santa Ana, CA (gorgeous venue with seating for 100ish) on a Thursday afternoon. Had a taco man cater our reception. Big spend was on our photographer who captured every bit of glamour and joy in the day. My dress was under $40, wore shoes I already owned.”
Laurie wrote, “We were married at a local ski resort that did weddings during the off season for a great price. We were married at the base of the mountain and had the reception inside. I bought my wedding dress on Black Friday. We also had a local baker who made everything out of her house make our cake. I think back now and we could have even made it cheaper. Friends of ours were married at city hall and had dinner with good friends and family at a local restaurant. So beautiful!”
Lisa suggests getting married in the, “OFF SEASON! We had an off season daytime wedding and it saved us 30% on food and drink and $5,000 on the hall. You heard that right. The same hall during June is $5,000 to rent and during off season it’s free.”
Kelee shared, “Our wedding cost $6k (AU) & there was no DIY in sight. In fact, besides organising our outfits, rings, vows, invites, song to dance down the aisle to & booking a restaurant for lunch – I did nothing!
We signed up to for a ‘pop up’ wedding – they booked the venue, bouquet, flower pin, celebrant and photographer (and we booked a time slot, sharing the cost with other couples across the day). There were a lot of things we didn’t bother with (cars, favours, bridesmaids, groomsmen, wedding cake). All we did was turn up & get hitched! We had 20 guests & enjoyed a 3 course al la Carte lunch with local beer & wine. Great conversation & lots of laughs! It was simple, elegant, stress free & didn’t break us financially! Here are the 4 of us (me, hubby & our daughters) dancing down the ‘aisle’ towards our guests 😊”
The Guest List
Kelsey said, “I think a large part of the reason we were able to have such a frugal wedding was that we kept our guest list very low. My rule was, “Do they have to be there for me to get married?” If I could imagine getting married without them there – they didn’t get an invite. The low numbers allowed us to self-cater which saved us a lot of money.
We didn’t send out save the dates, our invites were on old postcards, I altered my mother’s dress, groom’s suit was bought from Vietnam (online), I made my flowers from crepe paper, and we bought alcohol from Aldi (no one could tell). We used VRBO and rented a large cabin in the mountains which housed all our out of town guests and served as our venue/reception. It worked perfectly for an outdoor wedding and I fully recommend that as a non-traditional venue option. We rented the cabin for four days which meant we got to spend real time with our guests and that was by far the best part.”
Katie suggests, “Keep it simple. Guest list was under 30 friends and family. I did my own hair and makeup, my brother took photos, a friend preformed the ceremony. We were married in a park and did not need flowers or decorations. We went to a BBQ joint after for food and dancing sharing the venue with patrons.”
Frugal Boss Weddings That Cost $600 and UNDER
Madelyn wrote, “Our wedding cost us around $600. Things we did included:
- I got my “wedding dress” on clearance at JC Penney for $16. So a big tip is to not buy an actual wedding dress. You can find really nice white and off white dresses just about anywhere. (Especially during spring!)
- Another thing we did was get married in my grandmother’s backyard. No cost for the venue, and we were able to cut the guest list down to just immediate family. If anyone else asked why they weren’t invited, we just explained there wasn’t room! It cut down on hurt feelings, and cut down the costs! (And drama!)
- We bought our rings for cheap! My set was $70 from Walmart, and my husband’s was $14 from online. Skip the diamonds. We went for cubic zirconia and opal for my ring. White sapphires are a good middle of the line as far as budget goes.”
Lisa shared, “My husband and I had a simple wedding that cost under $200, even though almost a hundred people attended. My mom and I collected acorns and pressed autumn leaves for decorations, and used her marigolds (heirloom seeds from my maternal grandma) for the flowers. My best friend’s mom made a dress for me and I wore my other grandma’s veil, and my husband bought a nice shirt and pants at a thrift store for ten bucks. Our bridesmaids and groomsmen wore black, clothes they either owned or thrifted. We had a ceremony at our church and a potluck reception in the gym. My brother played piano, a friend took the photos, and we all danced to an iPod shuffle playlist and ate homemade cake. It was fun, meaningful, and very “us,” and I often look back feeling happy that we didn’t get caught up in the pressure of what you “have to do” for a wedding. Even the “fun stuff”– like buying presents for your bridesmaids or making goodie basket for out of town family– can turn stressful very quickly, so I’m glad we kept things as simple as possible. (Incidentally, with the money we saved, we were able to take a six-month backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail a year later!)”
Amanda said, “We got married at a park we rented the lodge within the park for reception for $135. My brother in law married us. My dress was borrowed. We made our wedding bands from coins. All of flowers were artificial. My grandmother is a florist so she did all for free. The rest of wedding decor bought from 2nd hand on Facebook $100 total. Reception was potluck. My niece was the photographer for free.We had a 150 guest total. My wedding cost less than $500.”
Julia wrote, “We had a civil ceremony followed by a tea-and-cake party at our house. I got my dress for £19 in a sale and even with some simple flowers and all the cakes the whole thing came in at under £200. One of my VERY rich friends always says it was the nicest wedding he has ever been to. Because it was Friday the 13th we were the only couple to marry that day at the registry office and got as much time as we wanted in the gardens afterwards.”
Crystal said, “No more then $500 spent…no reception, summer dress no wedding dress, no tux for him just simple clean clothes, small direct family ceremony, cake and sister took candid photos, includes simple wedding bands, no engagement ring! Our wedding was not about a party, gifts or celebration. We’d been together/lived together and didn’t want to spend the money on ONE day!”
Katie said, “We got married in our front yard. 3 dresses and 3 shirts were bought at consignment or goodwill, 1 adult shirt was bought on clearance at Walmart. Spent about $50 on snack foods, borrowed extra crockpots. 2 guests brought canopies in case of rain. My best friend officiated. Made bouquets using assorted fake flowers from Hobby Lobby. We bought rings at the flea market (but replaced them with silicon rings, $60 for the pair). Used cash received as gifts to spend a night away from home and a gift card we received for dinner. We had about 30 guests. It was beautiful and cost about $150.”
Kay advises, “My best wedding tip is to remember that the wedding is NOT the important thing, it is the marriage! I wore a creamy-white wool dress I got for $2 at a thrift shop, we had only a few close family members attending, and my future mother-in-law baked the two-layer cake. The “honeymoon” was one night at a local motel (we had to be back at work on Monday). And here we are, nearly 50 years later, happily married and recently returned to the city where it all began for retirement. Plenty of those acquaintances of ours who spent fortunes on fancy weddings with long lines of bridesmaids, many-tiered cakes, dancing, etc. ended up divorced. Make the wedding about you and the person you’re marrying, ’cause that’s what it’s all about in the end. There will be plenty of other celebrations over the years; I’ve had many days I could describe as the “happiest day of my life,” and some of them were just simple, homey, ordinary days!”
Rebecca wrote, “I’m a musician who has played countless expensive, over-the-top weddings — and just as many frugal celebrations (cold cuts in their original packaging!). They are all joyous events. The most memorable reflect the couple’s values and personal style. I can’t quite recall the weddings I’ve played in fancy hotels, but I never forget the quiet wedding by the lake, the backyard barbecue or the wedding of the daughter of a regional burger baron — where everyone ate burgers from the food truck (before food trucks were a thing)! The most memorable weren’t the most expensive at ALL.”
JT suggests, “Before you even start budgeting forget everything a wedding is “supposed” to have and consider what exactly is important to you as a couple. Don’t let people pressure you into doing things you do not want to do. We had a semi-private event at a local brewery, made our decorations (table runners, lanterns, bought flowers and vases), hired a food truck to provide the main course, purchased additional sides and snacks to supplement the truck, and bought our cake from Whole Foods (Berry Chantilly cake forever). We also leveraged credit card rewards (about $2,250 cash back, mostly through sign up bonuses) and bought all of our disposable items from an online restaurant supply store using only store credit earned through reviewing their products so it was all free.”
Erin shared “I used to be a professional wedding photographer in Orange County, CA so I photographed many weddings that were over the top. Like a six figure wedding! Usually those brides and grooms were more stressed out bc they wanted everything to be perfect and they didn’t seem to really enjoy the day very much. Then I photographed simple backyard weddings on a small budget and the couples seemed genuinely happy and enjoying themselves. When I got married I’d already decided I didn’t need the over the top princess wedding to be married. We scheduled our wedding in the off season and on a Monday for a deep discount. Since it was on a Monday the people who really wanted to support us made the effort to be there on a weekday. We enjoyed our day with 48 people so we were actually able to visit with everyone, give them a nice dinner, and host an open bar. We also didn’t have a wedding party to reduce stress and costs. Overall I loved our intentional choices for our wedding day and wouldn’t change a thing!”
Melinda wrote, “My only advice: Remember that people who truly love and support you and who you want to have in your life in the first place will be thrilled to be at your wedding whether it’s in Buckingham Palace or a county park.”
Spend On What Matters MOST To You
Hazel said, “My overall tip is to prioritise what’s important to you and go cheap on everything else. I would also add, though, to beware of cost shifting (i.e. putting the burden on your guests). For example, having a weekday wedding is cheaper for you, but the overall ‘cost’ if 60 guests each have to take a day off work to attend is astronomical. Or if a photographer friend takes your photos for ‘free’, that represents thousands of dollars in opportunity cost to them. Not to say these ideas don’t have merit, just to bear in mind the hidden costs!”
Julie wrote, “We paid for what was important for us; a nice meal and cake and a lovely venue. No photographer; a couple of friends and family took pictures. I made all of the favors and table covers. A friend did our invitations with calligraphy on paper from Staples. My dress was purchased from black and white market for $80. We did have nice flowers. We had 80 people and it cost around $4,000 and it was lovely. This included the cost of the rental tuxes for my sons to walk me down the aisle since they didn’t own suits and matching dresses for my daughter in-law and flower girl granddaughter and tux for my grandson as the ring bearer. You may share the photo.”
Rebecca said, “I highly recommend the book A Practical Wedding. It’s all about thinking about what you value and want out of a wedding and about what doesn’t matter to you. That way you can make sure you’re spending time and money on what’s important to you and not do things just because you think that’s what is done.” (that’s an affiliate link)
Rebecca shared, “We got married last year and, like everyone else in these comments, tried our best to figure out what was most important to us and save money where we could. We ended up with a Sunday brunch wedding for 80 guests, outside Baltimore, for ~$15k. We could have spent less, for sure, but we loved our wedding and don’t regret any of it. Here are a few things off the top of my head:
- We figured out which date our venue switched from the cheaper winter rate to the more expensive spring/summer rate, and picked the last weekend before that (end of March).
- We got cupcakes instead of a tiered cake, and we got them from the bakery at Whole Foods – delicious and affordable!
- We ordered flowers from Costco and put the bouquets and centerpieces together ourselves. This was a pretty big DIY project but it saved us a lot of money.
- I got my dress for $150 on eBay from someone who bought it and then changed her mind and got a different one.
- For bridesmaid gifts, instead of buying expensive matching robes or jewelry, I gave each one a handwritten letter about all the reasons I love her and am glad to have her as a friend.”
Hope shared “A few tips:
1) I actually work in the wedding industry, so I thought it would easy to plan, and I was wrong. So if planning seems kind of stressful, no worries it’s not just you! Turns out coordinating a party for 100 people just isn’t all that simple.
2) Costco flowers are amazing. Also we bought our booze from Costco. And we had a very casual rehearsal dinner with about 70 people and served them the finest Costco pizza, salad, cake, beer, and wine. Also, we did Costco pies and ice cream instead of cake. Highly recommend.
3) Pick a few things that are important to you, and put your budget there. For us that was: food, drinks, and hospitality. We wanted people to have a good time, be comfortable, and be well fed. That meant we paid extra to have a tent in case of rain, for everyone to have chairs, and to have plenty of food that none of the guests had to prepare. We did not have a professional photographer though, or favors, or bridesmaids bouquets, or a cake, or a DJ.
4) It’s ok to spend money on your wedding if you have the money and it’s important to you! I hate when people imply that it’s a foolish use of money. We considered skipping the wedding, but decided it felt important to have our union recognized publicly, formally, with all of our families and friends, and that we wanted to throw a great party. Of course we could have used the money for other things, but it felt more important than those other things. We have no regrets about prioritizing it.”
Kirsty said she’s, “Less than a month married 🙂 Early in our planning process we identified what was important to us on our big day. Everyone having a great time was key, so we decided that location, food and drinks held the highest value. We managed to save thousands on ways similar to what everyone else has said. Our general frugality in life meant we were willing and able to spend money on what we valued. On reflection this really highlighted the value v. cost discussion. We firmly belief that frugality is not simply spending as little as possible but spending on the things that are most important to us. We loved our day, it was worth every penny and we owe our frugality in other aspects of our lives for being able to spend money on the things we care about without having to worry about finances.”
Karlee wrote, “#1 Do what makes you happy and don’t go into debt for what others want for your wedding or what is the norm. (My MIL wanted food and I honestly could’ve gotten married a little later and had finger foods to save $… my husband was starving and frustrated by the end of the night that he didn’t even get to sit and eat)
#2 all of the little details you see in gorgeous social media pictures can add up to and expensive cost and no one notices them.
#3 We sold all of our decor afterwards to a cousin for her wedding and then it was sold again to a friend… it’s nice to see things repurposed!”
Stephanie shared, “We held our wedding in a state park in VT and kept guest list limited to friends and immediate family. We catered some of the food but decided to make much of it ourselves (with the help of family). We bought our wedding rings off etsy and I bought my dress online from a normal retailer (not a wedding dress shop).
We kept the decorations to a minimum and made many of them ourselves because we knew that we had picked a venue that was perfectly scenic. I chose not to buy any flowers because it seemed unnecessary. I think the biggest lesson I learned through the process of planning and paying for a frugal wedding is that every wedding is different and you shouldn’t pay for anything unless you think it will actually add something of value to the wedding. The list of things that we chose not to do or include was enormous and we walked away from our wedding thinking that it was a perfect representation of our values. Everything that was important to us got done and the rest wasn’t needed.”
After The Wedding
Liz said, “A frugal woman who donates her dress will help another frugal woman. Don’t let it hang in your closet forever. Bless someone with it, and anything else accumulated for the wedding. Select a small keepsake box and what does not fit in box, donate.”
This was a whopper of a post, but I just had to include all of these wonderfully frugal ideas and fabulous photos! I am deeply grateful to everyone who shared their advice and invited us into their lives with their photos. Thank you. I’ve tried to summarize a few high points that came up repeatedly in the collective wisdom above:
- Limit your guest list. Fewer guests = fewer expenses.
- Get married in the off-season or on a weekday.
- Get married at a non-traditional wedding venue. Frugalwoods readers have gotten hitched everywhere from at a senior center to their backyard to city hall!
- Use something other than real flowers: crocheted, artificial, wood, book pages, or something other than flowers altogether!
- Buy a dress that’s not a wedding dress. Or buy a used dress!
- Buy your own food, alcohol, flowers and more at Costco or a similar warehouse/discount store.
- Buy used vases/candle holders/picture frames, etc at a thrift store and decorate them yourself.
- Barter and trade for wedding services.
- Recruit your family and friends to help plan and execute the big day.
- Have a potluck! We recently attended a potluck wedding and I thought it was GENIUS. This is totally what I’d do if Mr. FW and I decide to marry each other again ;).
- If you’re not interested in the DIY aspect, sign up for a pre-paid “wedding package” that includes everything you need and then limit your spending (and guest list) to what’s included in the package.
And finally, the theme we so often come back to in our conversations about crafting a thoughtful, frugal lifestyle: spend on what matters most to you. Prioritize what you want on your wedding day and only spend in service of those priorities.
Did you have a frugal wedding? What are your tips for celebrating the day without breaking the bank?
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