Today, the average wedding costs nearly $34,000, according to The Knot. But that’s the thing about averages—it means that a lot of weddings fall on the lower side of that number. There are a number of things you can do to shrink your nuptial costs, from culling the guest list to having a brunch wedding to swapping donuts for the traditional wedding cake.
In fact, one of the first places to start is the big picture: Where can you break from tradition? The more you can stray from the path of a conventional wedding, the more you’ll save. For instance, have it on a Friday night or a Sunday morning. (Serve pancakes!) Have it in your friend’s backyard with a catered barbecue or gourmet pizzas instead of a sit-down dinner. There are plenty of ways to go off-trend.
That goes for the details as well. Even if you’re thinking of more typical nuptials, you can trim costs by considering some of the following:
1. Shrink Your Invitation List
This is a tough one because you might want to invite everyone you’ve ever met to your happy occasion. But one of the most powerful ways to control your bottom line is to invite fewer people, particularly since one of the biggest line items on the wedding tab—the reception—can contain a lot of per-head costs.
2. Skip the Mail: Send Digital Invitations
It’s the digital age; not everything has to be sent through the U.S. Postal Service anymore, especially at 55 cents a pop for regular mail. (And you’ll pay more if your invitations are heavier.) Send save-the-dates via postcard or electronic invite. Allow guests to RSVP electronically to save postage on the replies, and include one insert that directs guests to your wedding website instead of including lots of paper with all wedding details.
3. Choose an Affordable Wedding Venue
If you can, get married somewhere with a lot of natural decoration, and you won’t have to splurge on flowers or other décor. Some locations provide tables and chairs while others require you to rent them, so make sure you understand what’s included. If you’re outside, are you prepared to pay for a tent or a dance floor? Is there somewhere that means something to your partner and you—like a local restaurant or museum—that could accommodate you? Do your research.
4. Choose Your Flowers Wisely
There’s probably something local and in-season that’s available for your wedding, so don’t pay extra to have orchids or Hawaiian leis flown in. Don’t be shy about asking your florist what flowers will be the least expensive and what she can do with them. And be smart about how you use flowers: Have bridesmaid’s bouquets double as centerpieces at the reception, use candles or fruit as décor where you can, and consider a few statement arrangements rather than making every centerpiece over-the-top. Also, give groomsmen pocket squares instead of boutonnieres.
5. Rent Your Wedding Attire
The groom and groomsmen can certainly rent their tuxes, and the bridesmaids (and even the bride!) can rent from sites like Rent the Runway. Pros: The bridesmaids won’t be saddled forever with a dress they’ll never wear again—and neither will the bride. You can also save cash by buying a nontraditional dress. (Consider that the average wedding gown, plus alterations, costs more than $1,600.)
6. Keep Your Wedding Party Small
This may not seem like a direct line item, but it can add up. You’ll be providing bouquets for the bridesmaids and gifts for everyone, generally to the tune of $75 to $150 apiece. Cutting two people from each side could save you up to $600.
7. Offer a Limited Bar
Yes, an open bar is nice, but liquor is expensive. Consider offering a signature drink during the cocktail hour and switching to beer and wine for the rest of the night. If you’re set on having a fully equipped bar, see if you can provide the liquor yourself (at cost) and take the overage with you when you leave.
8. Go With a Buffet
A plated dinner costs about $13 more, per person, than a buffet. If you have 150 people at your wedding, offering a buffet could save you nearly $2,000—and you frequently get more food. Plus, a buffet allows you to play with a theme or offer a favorite food, such as a macaroni and cheese bar.
9. Have a Small Wedding Cake
There’s no need to have an enormous cake made that will feed all your guests. Have a small, fancy cake made for the cake cutting, and then have the baker make several sheet cakes that can be cut for everyone else. Better yet, consider a giant platter of macarons or an ice cream sundae table—guests will be happy with any kind of sweet treat. (Frankly, you don’t even have to have a cake.)
10. Cut the Band and a DJ
In the age of the smartphone, it’s not strictly necessary that you have someone professional running your music. If you’ve got a playlist in mind, all you need is a music-playing device and some good speakers. (If you’re not into this, but still want to save money, go with the DJ—they’re nearly $3,000 less than a live band, on average.)
11. Hire the Photographer for Less Time
Really think about how many hours you’ll need a professional photographer, and have friends and family fill in where you can. Some couples have a professional stay until the cake is cut but leave late-night dancing to the amateurs, for instance. If a photographer is super pricey, hire their assistant. And opt for digital-only photo packages—you can always print them later.
12. Skip the Wedding Favors
No one is going to feel slighted sad that they didn’t receive a miniature succulent plant or a tiny bottle of champagne at your wedding. If you must, give everyone a warm cookie or doughnut on their way out the door, or let guests create their own thank-you gift from a DIY candy table full of bulk candy.