How to Plan Your Wedding on a Small Budget - Practical Tips & Step-by-Step Guide

Every bride wants their wedding day to be romantic, special, and unique. But when you envisioned your fairytale wedding as a child, you probably didn’t imagine the itemized bill.

According to a survey from The Knot, the average couple spent $28,000 on their wedding and reception in 2022. With numbers like these, eloping has never seemed so tempting. But just because the “average” wedding costs $28,000 doesn’t mean that your wedding has to.

So, put your bags away and your veil back on. Today, let’s explore how to plan your wedding on a small budget and other tips to save money on your special day.

How to plan a budget wedding:

1:  Decide who pays for what

Before you begin planning your wedding, you need a concrete budget in mind. But money doesn’t grow on trees, so where is yours coming from? 

Traditionally, the bride and groom’s family members help pay for different aspects of the wedding. For example, the bride’s family traditionally pays for the wedding ceremony and reception, while the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner. But this is the 21st century - the rules are flexible. 

Photo by Aly Blarnett Photography

According to a 2020 survey by Brides, 58% of newlyweds paid for their own wedding reception, while 48% paid for their rehearsal dinner. Yesterday’s traditions are today’s suggestions. You won’t get in trouble with the wedding police if you pay for everything yourselves. On the other hand, if you and your fiance need help to plan your wedding, it’s best to talk to your family about your budget early on. 

Photo by Brittany Nemec Photography

Try not to spring the conversation on suddenly. Instead, start by discussing wedding plans with your family and hinting about your intentions. Conversation starters you could try include: 

  • “Hey Mom, we’ve been discussing our plans for the wedding and wanted to go over a few things with you and dad. Do you want to get dinner and talk about it?” 
  • “Hi Dad, we found the most amazing wedding venue, but it’s a little out of our budget. Want to check it out and see what you think?”
  • “Grandma, I’ve always dreamed about wearing an embroidered wedding gown like yours, but there are a few things we’d like to talk about before dress shopping. Do you have time to meet this Saturday?”

You get the idea. Once you get your foot in the door, you can open the conversation up to finances and ask if they’d like to contribute. 

Photo by karleemikkelsonphotography

Your family might choose to give a set dollar amount or help pay for certain aspects of the ceremony or reception, like the venue or catering. From there, you’ll have a better idea of your overall budget and can plan expenses accordingly.

And if your family does help out, don’t forget to thank them with an extra special favor on your wedding day!

3: Break your budget down

Once you have an overall idea of your total budget, divide different aspects of your wedding and ceremony into percentages. For example, if you’re planning a wedding on a budget of $5,000 and want to allot 20% of your budget to your venue, then you can spend up to $1,000 booking an ideal spot (and that’s totally possible, too! We’ll go over that later.)

Common wedding expenses include:

  • Venue rental - $10,700 
  •  Flowers - $2,300 
  •  Officiant’s fees - $300 
  •  Marriage license - $60 average, varies by state 
  •  Catering - $75 per person 
  •  Wedding cake - $500 
  •  Photographer - $2,500 
  •  Videographer - $1,900 
  •  DJ - $1,400 
  •  Live band - $4,300 
  •  Wedding invitations - $530 
  •  Bridal gown - $1,800 
  •  Groom’s attire - $350 
  •  Hair and makeup - $250 
  •  Travel Expenses - $900 
  •  Wedding favors -  $450

Wait, stop, put your bags down. You’re not eloping! Remember, these numbers are only an average. The only necessary expense is a marriage license, which can cost between $10 to $115, depending on your state.

As for everything else, your dream wedding might include all of these expenses, or only a handful. 

Photo by michellegodfreyphoto

If you’re happy with a Bluetooth speaker playing your song, why spend $1,400 on a DJ? If you’re wearing an heirloom family wedding gown, then you don’t have to allot money for dress shopping. Instead, you can put that money towards something else at your wedding - like the favors for your guests.

To help keep everything organized, try using a budgeting app like Mint to track your expenses. 

3: Keep an “emergency fund”

One of the first rules of wedding planning? Expect the unexpected. Miscellaneous expenses pop up all the time at weddings, like:

  • Gratuity or delivery fees  
  •  Postage for invitations (average $0.50 per invitation.) 
  •  Clean-up fees 
  •  Taxes 
  •  Transportation 
  •  Table and chair rentals 
  •  Cake-cutting fees. (Yes, it’s a thing. And it can range anywhere from $2 to $5 per guest.)

When these unexpected expenses rear their heads, they can cut into your wedding budget and present you with a tough decision - do you overspend or cut back? The best way to answer this question? Don’t put yourself in that situation in the first place.

Photo by Fyke Photography

To help stay ahead of the curve, set aside an “emergency fund” for your wedding. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy - even an extra 10% could give you enough room to breathe. (Just like your wedding dress!) That way, you don’t have to stress when these fees crop up. You planned for it, so it’s no big deal! 

Photo by Madison Grace Photo

4: Rent your venue by the hour 

The average couple spends nearly $10,000 on their venue alone. But if you’re planning a wedding on a budget, the local courthouse isn’t your only option.

Venue rental platforms like Peerspace allow you to book wedding and reception venues by the hour instead of by the day. Think of it like an Airbnb for event venues. People from cities across the United States, Canada, and Europe use it to rent out their unique spaces  - and set competitive hourly rental fees.

Photo by ryannwinnphotography

Say you find a gorgeous Victorian-style home with a backyard gazebo straight from a magazine spread. The hourly rental fee is $150. You book the house and yard for 6 hours total - enough time to get ready, say your vows in front of the gazebo, then dance inside the ballroom until your feet get sore.

At $150 for 6 hours, you’ve spent a total of $900 on your venue, plus any cleaning fees. (Remember that emergency fund!)

Photo by PaigeDaniellePhoto

Of course, the hourly price will vary depending on the type of space you rent and your city. But there’s serious potential to book your venue for under $1,000. If you’re allergic to math, that’s a 90% savings over the national average.

Try to look for venues that combine both ceremony and reception areas in a single location. Not only does that help you save money on transport expenses, but you can also spend less time in the car and more time enjoying your wedding day. It’s a win-win!

5: Ask your friends and family to help

It’s cliche, but your wedding day isn’t only about you. Your loved ones will be right there beside you when you finally tie the knot. So, why not invite them along on your wedding planning journey?

Photo by karleemikkelsonphotography

Ask your friends and family to enlist their talents at your wedding ceremony and reception. For example, you could ask:

  • Your beauty influencer sister to do your hair and makeup (Average savings, $250) 
  •  Your future brother-in-law with a sweet tooth to bake your wedding cake (Average savings, $500) 
  •  Your ordained minister uncle to officiate your ceremony (Average savings, $300) 
  •  Your younger cousin with a SoundCloud to DJ (Average savings, $1,400) 

That’s $2,450 in savings right there. Will the quality be as good as a professional? Let’s be real, probably not (unless you have wedding pros in your family.) But it’s hard to beat free when every penny counts.

Photo by Brittany Nemec Photography

Another option? Ask your friends and family to help with aspects of your wedding that fall lower on your priority list, then use the money you save to hire a professional for something more important to you - like a wedding photographer or videographer.

Just don’t forget to thank your helpers at your reception! After all, they’re donating their time and energy to your dream wedding. That definitely deserves a toast.

6: Rent your Gown

Your bridal gown can make you look and feel like a princess. The problem is, princesses have expensive taste.

Photo by Aly Blarnett Photography 

A new wedding dress from a bridal salon can range between $500 to $4,000, depending on various factors - like the type of fabric, the detailing, or the way the gown was made. Was it made in a factory, or did a professional seamstress sew it by hand? Little details add up fast - we’re looking at you, hand-embroidered beads. 

But if you’ve always dreamed about walking down the aisle in a handmade silk bridal gown, you don’t have to put that dream to bed just yet. Instead of buying a gown, why not rent one for the day instead?

If your favorite dress in a bridal salon costs $1,800, a rental site might have a similar style for a $180 fee. Once again, that’s a 90% savings over the national average.

  • Rent the Runway 
  •  Lending Luxury 
  •  Poshare 
  •  Primavera Couture 
  •  Etsy (For real, some sellers offer rentals on their handmade gowns. Go check!)

Photo by Quetzal Photo

With rentals, you can broaden your horizons to entertain gowns that might otherwise have been out of your budget range. And who will know it's a rental unless you tell them?

While you might return the dress after the wedding, the memories you made while wearing it will last forever. Plus, you don’t have to worry about storing it afterward and can save your closet space for honeymoon outfits.

7: DIY as much as possible

Vendors are some of the biggest expenses in a wedding ceremony. For example, if you pay for a professional florist, then you’re not just paying for the cost of flowers and greenery in a bridal bouquet - you’re paying for the time it took for someone to arrange it.

Instead of commissioning a florist to design the arrangements for your ceremony, consider DIYing your own decorations with artificial flowers. Faux flowers can look (and even smell) just like the real thing. None of your guests will know the difference, but your wallet will.

You’ll also get to customize your floral arrangements to your heart’s content. There’s a serious opportunity to get creative with unique floral arches, centerpieces, and even floral chandeliers. (Yes, really, flowers from the ceiling!) Plus, no one else will have a bouquet like yours since you made it yourself.

Photo by sonphotoandfilmco

Similarly, before you commission a pro to make and send your invitations for $530, give DIY invitations a try. Seriously, Canva is free, and they have literally thousands of wedding invitation templates you can customize with your names and wedding dates.

If you want to skip out on postage fees, you can use a service like Evite to send your invitations digitally. You can even track them with online RSVPs, so you don’t have to pay return postage. Isn’t technology the best? 

Conclusion

Photo by Gricelda's Photography

Fairy tale dream weddings don’t have to stay dreams. It’s still possible to plan a beautiful day on a small budget with time, effort, and creative ingenuity. And with all the money you saved, maybe you and your fiance can afford a special treat after the wedding -  like a tropical honeymoon.

Ok, now you can finally pack your bags. You’ve earned it! 


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