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The Best Wedding Planning Tips for Staying on Budget

I’ve been married twice. So, for all you one-timers out there, I guess that makes me a bit of an expert at the bride thing, huh? 😉 Both times I dove into wedding planning, these things held true: wedding planning is overwhelming and it’s really easy to go overboard without even trying.

My two weddings were very different in how I approached planning. For my first wedding, I went all out with the details and the venue. I got engaged five months after my mom died, and I poured myself into planning as a way to keep myself occupied. I mourned into the celebration hard. I also didn’t make or do anything myself. Everything at the wedding was purchased, and I had a very wide budget.

For my second wedding, I went all-in with attempting to stick to a much tighter budget. I made a lot of things myself and did a ton of research on creative ways to save money while preserving the ideas of how I’d like the wedding to turn out. In fact, the first thing I think I Googled when I got engaged the second time was something like “how to save money on a wedding” because the idea of spending a ton of money on a wedding freaked me out.

With those two backstories in mind, here are my best wedding planning tips for staying on budget:

Get creative with the venue. I’ve mentioned this one on Conjure before and for good reason: your venue will eat up the bulk of your budget and can add thousands to your bill. A lot of times, some of those costs can easily be avoided with a little out-of-the-box thinking or flexibility on the married-couple-to-be’s part. Do your research. For my second wedding we toured venues and asked for price lists, and really paid attention to what venues were charging for what. One even wanted to charge for every chair they provided over a certain amount! That just wasn’t a cost we were willing to pay.

What we did do, was find a venue in a small town just outside Las Vegas. And while at first blush it seemed silly to host the wedding there, it saved us thousands of dollars, and we were so happy with the result. The overall cost was lower because it was in a more rural town than Vegas, but the venue overlooked a lake on a golf course and the planner was super flexible with our requests. If you’re curious, we booked at Mountain Falls Golf Club in Pahrump and I’d host parties there again and again.

Other options could be regional or state parks depending on your needs and what you foresee for your wedding style. Banquet halls could work, or family homes, too, if you know someone with space who’s willing to help.

Have your heart set on a dream destination? Have a mid-morning or lunchtime wedding. If you know the venue or space you MUST have your wedding at, I get it. Been there. Do it if you can make it happen, but consider having a mid-morning or lunchtime wedding. The cost will be significantly less, and you get to serve fun brunch or lunch-style items. Or go full dinner. It’s your wedding. But having an earlier wedding is also cool for reasons other than money: you don’t have to wait all day to get married, and you have time to continue celebrating after your reception is over in a more relaxed setting with family members who came in from out of town or others you want to see after. Or, you could use the extra time to get that honeymoon started!

Make your go big or go home list then pare it down. I love lists in all aspects of my life, but for a wedding, a list is a must. Make a list of everything you’d love to have at your wedding, regardless of cost. Then start to pare down. Some things you’ll find ways to incorporate them. Others you’ll find that you can create them, and others you’ll see you just don’t need.

Have an intimate wedding and reception. Second to venue, the number of people at your wedding will directly affect the cost the most. Do you really need that many people? Invite those closest to you and keep the list tight. You can always celebrate with others in other ways, but keeping your wedding list tight will help with your budget severely. And, you’ll barely have time to even talk to that small group the way you’d like, I promise. At my first wedding I kept it to just family and immediate friends who were present in my day-to-day. At my second I had a few more people, but still kept it small because of costs. Even with that, I felt as if I couldn’t properly interact with many of the people who came.

DIY what you can, but not to the point it’s too stressful. Some of those items on your list you can make. If you’re crafty or have friends and family who are talented, enlist their help. I created dinner menus and made one of our favors – fortune tellers. We also gave our goodie bags away before the wedding, so the items inside could be used during the events. Other aspects, like the huge flower arrangement I wanted, we paid to have created to avoid the stress and have it done right. Wedding prep is stressful. Don’t make it even more stressful trying to do everything or taking on more than you can do.


BYOB if possible – it’s SO much cheaper. But, most venues won’t let you. I did the math on this one because I’d read this tip somewhere. It’s so much cheaper to BYOB if you’re in a place where you can, rather than using the caterers’ booze. Offering a craft beer and wine bar is an idea I really loved, but it wasn’t in the cards. If you can make it work, do it!

Get creative with dessert. Okay, I have an issue with wedding cakes in general because they cost a ton. Let me throw out this disclaimer though before I continue – I’m a huge sweets fan, and cake happens to be one of my favorite things in life. At my first wedding I had a beautiful, expensive wedding cake that I was proud of and I can’t remember now what flavor it was or if anyone enjoyed it. At my second wedding, I decided to forego the cost and I’m incredibly glad we did. Instead, we picked a beautiful cake from Whole Foods to cut, the chain’s famous Berry Chantilly Cake. I ordered it with no berries on top, and asked my talented friend Monica to help me add flowers to the top to make it look wedding-y. I loved it. And, it was perfect. My husband and I cut it, ate a little, and it cost us about $30.

For our guests, we purchased crazy donuts in all sorts of flavors and placed them around the wedding cake on risers. I’d envisioned it coming out a little differently in my head, but at the end of the day our guests were happy to have something sweet to eat, and the cost was significantly less than an elaborate wedding cake. For us, it was also a nod to Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut, as we met in Portland and tried to incorporate a few details from Rose City into our big day.

Have a talented friend? Fancy a Pinterest challenge? The sky is the limit for your own wedding dessert. It’s cake. At the end of the day, it’s cake. Or something else sweet.

Makeup and hair – I go both ways on this one. Once I had my makeup done and the other time I did it myself. I had my hair done professionally, though, for both weddings. If you enjoy buying products and doing makeup, I think it’s safe to do your own. I watched a couple YouTube tutorials for tips, practiced a few times, and felt confident doing it myself. If that’s not you, pony up the cash for a professional. Just make sure if you are going the DIY route that you keep in mind you’re having photography done, and there are a few makeup tips that can help avoid what I like to call flash face and other issues that can come up with makeup.

As for hair, I am not talented or patient enough to do my own ‘do for big events. That said, if you are or have a friend who is, do it! I also like a little luxury and pampering if it’s in the budget. It is, after all, your wedding day, which can be a perfect excuse for a little me-time.

One more thing: You could also get crazy and not wear makeup. Again, it’s your wedding, friends.

Use a local restaurant to cater. The venue had an on-site caterer both times, so this wasn’t an option for me. But if it is for you, it can be a lot cheaper and you might get to incorporate some food that’s special to your specific relationship.

Really consider your wedding favors. I don’t think people cherish them the way you think they will. Keep in mind – it’s YOUR wedding. Maybe your closest friends and family will cherish a favor, but most are just there to support you and your honey on your big day. So, when spending in this category, I urge you to really consider what you’re spending money on. I did want to provide favors, and had fun doing so, but I really considered cutting it out altogether. Don’t get caught up spending a ton here – make it cute and simple, and maybe even something they’ll use. Or, do you really even need a favor if you’re on a super tight budget?

Shop around for your services, and choose where you really want to focus your spend. Think about what details are important to you in each category:

Photography – I’ve done this two ways. The first, I had a traditional wedding photography company that provided finished photos and was very expensive. It was worth every penny. Then, I enlisted a photographer friend who provided unfinished photos that was a moderately priced service. If I’m being honest, I’d pick the first way 100 times over after having both experiences. The photos I received from both are beautiful, but I’m not a photo editor, so it has taken me longer than I’d like to admit to sort through the photos and choose those I thought would be nice to share.

DJ/music – You need a DJ or Emcee at least to keep things flowing. Whether that’s your Uncle Jay or a pro, it’s up to you. A pro will keep things moving and play the music you like and is used to hosting weddings, whereas Uncle Jay may flounder. But shop around on this one big time. I had a couple uncomfortable conversations with DJs who thought they knew better than me what we wanted for our wedding. We finally chose Doug, who was great, listened and was priced very affordably. Here’s his site if you’re in the Vegas area and looking.

Flowers – I planned my second wedding around the bouquet I wanted. I’m not joking. So that was my priority with flowers, then the centerpiece to our wedding ceremony. But, I wanted to create the reception centerpieces myself using painted mason jars and cut roses to save some cash. Luckily, I found a florist who was amenable to all that, and very reasonably priced. I can’t say enough about her. If you’re talented, flowers are easier than I thought to put together, although I didn’t want to even attempt the main arrangements. But if you can do it, I say go for it. You’ll save a ton creating as many arrangements of your own as you can. Greenery is cheaper than flowers, and lavender makes a lovely addition that’s less expensive too. You can get as creative as you’re willing to here, and save money in the process if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Those are most of the main tips I have for you. Do you have questions? I’m happy to answer. Was there something I left off that you wondered about? Just ask. I’m happy to share.

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