Having a Cheap Wedding is Part Art, Part Discipline, & Work
It’s a nice day for a… cheap wedding (hat tip to Billy Idol, couldn’t resist). I can’t believe I have not written about my super cheap wedding until now. Maybe “cheap wedding” isn’t the best terminology. “Inexpensive wedding” or “humble wedding” or “financially sound wedding” all sound better – so feel free to adopt one of those. And in the COVID era, it’s now easier to pull off than in has been in decades.
A few years ago, my wife and I got married. At the time, we had little money to put towards our wedding. A lot of thought, negotiation, and even a little sacrifice (but not much) went into our wedding planning. The result? We spent a mere $2,500 on the wedding.
Why is that notable? The average wedding cost is now $28,000 – more than 10 times as much! That is down from around $30,000, pre-COVID pandemic. Think spending that much on a wedding will set you off on the right wedded bliss path? Don’t. Data shows that high wedding expenses can lead to lower marriage success rates (more “show” than “substance”, perhaps?). Having an expensive wedding can start your marriage off on the wrong financial footing – leaving you and your spouse with mounds of financial debt and the stress that comes with that.
How did we have such a cheap wedding? I’ll lay out every detail. If you aspire to keep you wedding to similar low costs, you’re going to have to follow many, if not all, of the following steps. And you might stir up a bit of controversy along the way. But that’s OK. It’s your day. And they’ll get over it.
1. Limit your Wedding Guest List
The first step is the hardest. It’s also the most crucial because the majority of your total expenses are going to be dependent on it. You need to limit your guest list in order to have a cheap wedding, or at least limit the reception guest list.
How many times have you been invited to a wedding that you probably had no business being invited to? Maybe it was a distant cousin you barely knew or a friend you had grown apart from over the years. We’ve all been there.
Save those people from the shame of turning you down or the pain of being at another wedding they really don’t want to be at. A smaller guest list cuts down on your food and drink costs and the size of the reception hall you need to rent (which also limits decoration expenses).
2. REALLY Limit your Guest List
If you really want to have a low cost wedding, you’re going to have to take it a step further.
My wife and I kept our guest list to twenty-five.
- our parents (4)
- all remaining living grandparents (5)
- our siblings (3)
- our closest friends and their significant others (13)
That was it. No extended family. It was a difficult decision. Combined, our parents have a whopping 17 siblings. Invite them and their significant others, and we would have instantly doubled the wedding size. Invite their children, and it would have quadrupled. Our costs would have almost quadrupled as well.
Over the years, only a handful of these relatives were still close to us, however, we decided that we should either invite them all or invite none, in order to be fair. We invited none.
This was the hardest part of keeping our costs down. A few of the closer extended family members were upset, but when it was explained that we weren’t picking favorites, it helped. You could pick favorites, but be ready for some drama if you do.
In the end, neither of us regret the choice we made to leave extended family out. It made for a much more enjoyable and intimate wedding in which we were able to deeply connect with everyone vs. being pulled in dozens of different directions at once.
While this was tough to pull off a number of years ago, you have the perfect excuse in the post COVID-era: “we want to keep things small and socially distant to keep people safe”. Sounds responsible… and like a great excuse.
3. Find a Reception Hall that is Flexible
This is key to a cheap wedding, for two big reasons:
- Good reception halls will give you price discounts for non-weekend days. We went with a Thursday night and it cut our costs in half versus a Saturday, to just $500. Most of our guests decided to take Friday off and it gave them a nice 3-day weekend, so it worked out great. Saturdays are usually the most expensive to rent out, followed by Sunday, Friday, and then any other weekday. Some locations will even negotiate on price, so it doesn’t hurt to ask once you’ve found the one you want.
- Perhaps an even bigger cost saver is to find a hall that allows you to use your own caterer. Many reception halls require you to buy their food and catering or they charge you a fee to let someone else come in and do it. Find one that doesn’t.
Another potential cost saver is to find a reception hall that doesn’t have a reputation as a wedding spot. We were married in an opera house (no joke). It was as nice as any other reception location I’ve seen, with an outdoor terrace, gazebo, and spot along the river. But it wasn’t known as a wedding hot spot. It was cheaper than most of the typical wedding reception locations, who will gouge you to no end.
4. Get your Own Wedding Caterer
I hate typical wedding reception food. You get a choice of one or two plates of generic bland food usually pre-made by a mediocre chef at best. And the couple will usually end up paying $40, $50, or $60 a head for that, plus another $10 or so for silverware plates and linen. No thanks!
We went outside the box again on this one in order to keep our wedding cheap.
We were friends with the owner (through being loyal customers) of a Middle Eastern restaurant that we frequented while in school. We asked them if they catered and they did. Not only did this restaurant make great food, but it was astonishingly cheap. For less than $7, you would eat like a king.
We decided on a few different salads, veggies, kibbeh, hummus and pita, spinach pie, lentil soup, and a few offerings for more conservative eaters – chicken and rice. Everyone ate well and loved the food. And it cost us only $14 per head (linens, silverware, and plates included)! We paid an additional $50 for them to clean up everything and gave them a nice tip. Not only did we love the food, but we felt great about giving the money to our favorite restaurant.
For 100 guests, you would normally expect to pay $5,000 or more. For 25 guests, at $14 a head, we only paid $350!
It pays to think outside the box. If you go with the reception hall’s catering service, you’re likely going to get gouged. And the food will probably be run-of-the-mill boring and average.
5. Plan your Own Wedding
Planning a wedding is a lot of work. It’s also a huge cost saver and incredibly rewarding. Planning the wedding yourself allows you to find out what all vendor costs are and get comparisons. And it helps to avoid referral or commission-based conflicts of interest. You control the budget 100% versus relying on the input of someone else. That’s key.
It’s also very rewarding. Every aspect of the wedding – one of the most special days of your life – was decided on by you and your significant other, together. It means more to both of you.
We didn’t even consider a wedding planner, to be honest. I don’t know exactly what they cost, but I know they aren’t cheap.
6. Be your Own Wedding DJ
There are the songs that are typically played at a wedding. And then there are the songs that you wish were played at a wedding. Why not fore-go the DJ and just decide on the playlist yourself?
In this day and age, with mp3s and playlists (based on the various parts of the wedding), do you really need a DJ? Save yourself the $300-$500+ that they would charge. A human CD flipper is no longer necessary. Any time I request a song, it never gets played anyways, so they don’t provide that value. Get an mp3 player (probably your phone) and plug and play.
7. Track Every Wedding Expense & Prioritize What’s Important to you (& will still be in 10 or 20 years)
Perhaps I should have listed this first?
Just like with personal finance, you need to track all of your expenses if you’re not going to break the bank. Here is everything that we spend on our wedding including special notes on how we were able to keep costs down with each:
- Opera House (reception location): $500 (Thursday evening)
- Décor: $100 (later sold on EBay for $50)
- Catering: $350 (went with our favorite restaurant, which also happened to be super cheap @ $14 a head)
- Catering Fee (Clean-up): $50 (because we only had 25 people we didn’t have to hire any servers)
- Drinks: Free (my parents bought beer from a local brewery and wine)
- Cakes: $80 (who needs a bland, expensive traditional cake? We bought two awesome ice cream cakes from ColdStone)
- Flowers: $100
- GE Outfit: $150
- Wife Outfit: $100 (my wife wore her mother’s wedding dress. It needed to be tailored, but that was super cheap in comparison to buying a new one)
- Photographer: $600 (we worked with someone I had met previously and were able to negotiate)
- Videographer: Free (a friend voluntarily did this as our gift)
- Master of Ceremony: $300
- Flute Player: $75
- DJ/Music: $0 (we made our playlists and hooked it up to the reception hall’s soundsystem)
- Invitations: $3
- Thank-You Cards: $20
- Postage for Invitations/Thank-You’s: $20
- Marriage License: $25
- Best Man/Maid of Honor Gifts: $60 (we asked them to dress casually with clothes they already owned)
Total Expenses: $2,563
Final Thoughts on Planning an Inexpensive Wedding:
As I said the other day, this is your special day. Do what you want, invite who you want, plan it yourself, track all expenses, and don’t be afraid to break stodgy, boring McWedding traditions.
We had an awesome wedding, despite it being super cheap. Great food, drink, entertainment, photos, in a comfortable location. We had a number of people tell us it was the best wedding that they’ve been to. We didn’t sacrifice anything. We had the wedding we wanted. And we had ZERO DEBT to show for it. Hopefully, this inspires you to do the same.
Cheap Wedding Discussion:
- How much did you spend on your wedding?
- How were you able to cut costs?
- Did you sacrifice anything you now regret? Or regret paying as much as you did?