As I drew up my first wedding budget, I had lavish plans to keep my cash flow modest. The plans included buying my dream wedding dress for under $1,000 (done!), designing my own centerpieces instead of hiring a florist to arrange expensive cut flowers (in process!) and printing custom-designed invitations on cardstock from the local Michael’s or Office Depot.
Extreme budget planning — without a healthy dose of window-shopping, price-checking reality — is a dangerous thing. It will send your imagination soaring to smug “who-needs-a-wedding-planner-when-I’ve-got-my-Excel-spreadsheet?” heights, only to drop you into the depths of “why can’t I manipulate numbers better than a kindergartner?!” despair. So, girls, don’t try this one at home.
For a slew of reasons, I realized early on that printing my own invitations wouldn’t work out. So I began pricing standard wedding invitations at local stationers and paper specialty stores. Within a few minutes, I realized all the invitations I liked were the high-end ones — that that would set me back around $1,000, substantially more than I’d paid for even my wedding dress.
I had brilliantly budgeted about $250 for invitations. And postage.
We’ve gotten the invitation situation squared away now. Thank goodness! But I’ve been scheming how to save money on wedding necessities (and fun little extras) since before the engagement. While it hasn’t worked out in every case, it’s been a big help to have entered the wedding planning with a money-saving mindset. Here’s my top ten — for now — list of ways to save money on smaller price tag items. I can’t tell you how to secure the Ritz-Carlton for half price, but I do know a few tricks for cutting the detail-oriented costs.
1. Mix-and-match centerpieces give you a chic, eclectic look without forcing you to splurge for matching vases, flowers, candles, etc. Start with a united theme for your centerpieces — colored glass, assorted woven baskets, red candles — and add coordinating but unique pieces. It’s a lot easier to snatch up good deals when you’re not limited to purchasing enough identical items to decorate twenty-five tables! Not to mention that it your reception will look beautifully put together without feeling too matchy-matchy.
2. Shop consignment or eBay for the clothing and accessories that aren’t nearest and dearest to your heart. You can find veils of almost every shape, length, cut, color, size, and state of bejeweled-ness on eBay — and for about a fifth of the price you’ll see at most bridal stores. The same goes for tiaras, shoes, evening bags, and jewelry. Just be sure to buy from a seller whose approval rating is very high, and who has a specified return policy. One of my friends who got married last year purchased her veil and wedding shoes on eBay. She was thrilled with the beautiful look she got for a bargain price.
3. Ask a friend or relative to act as your makeup artist or hairstylist on the day of the wedding. Chances are, girls, you’ve got a friend who’s a wizard with the mascara wand. A college roommate who paints perfect French manicures. Maybe even an aunt whose job at a salon has her creating fancy updos each week. Ask her if she would be willing to put her talents to work on your big day. You’ll get to include her in your wedding in an important way — and you’ll get to save what’s usually a $100 minimum each for hair and makeup.
4. Create your own place cards instead of paying for fancy ones that match your invitations. Honestly, it may seem like a big deal right now, but to your guests, place cards are just there to ferry them to the right table. End of story! Go with printable tent cards available at office supply stores. They’ll set you back only a few dollars per pack, look perfectly acceptable, and you can print them to resemble your invitations if you’d like. Then, display them under a beautiful flower arrangement or on a map of the location where you and your fiancé plan to honeymoon. You can make them look inviting without making them expensive.
5. Borrow jewelry with sentimental value from a family member or close friend instead of buying new pieces for your wedding day. You’ll take care of your “something borrowed” and knock anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollards off your wedding budget.
6. Ask friends or family members to provide music for your wedding. If your sister is a knockout soprano or your cousin plays a breathtaking classical guitar, consider asking them to be a part of your ceremony. Having them participate will be far more affordable, not to mention far more meaningful than hiring a professional. My friend Karlyn’s uncle, a professional opera singer, offered his rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” during the unity candle ceremony at her wedding two years ago, and by the time the beautiful moment ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
7. Borrow a snazzy vehicle instead of hiring a limo package for the day. Before we booked our current reception site, I wanted to party at a yacht club — simply because I liked the idea of exiting the ceremony on Danny’s boat. That got me thinking of all the options there are when it comes to traveling on the big day. See if your father-in-law will lend you his Porsche for your grand getaway. Get your neighbor to hitch up his flatbed trailer and tow you off on your own private hay ride. Step into a rowboat and make your way across the pond. There are a lot of options other than paying for a limo service — and a lot of the options are even more fun!
8. Get smart with flowers by sticking to in-season, locally grown plants. If you’re willing to be extremely flexible about which types of flowers you use, you can even buy your flowers from a grocery store and arrange your bouquets yourself. Or, if it’s the right season, you could snip blooms from a family member’s garden.
9. Reuse accessories from family weddings to make sure you all get your money’s worth! Cut your cake with the same serving set your parents used at their wedding; raise a toast with the same flutes your in-laws drank from at their wedding. Find out if anyone in your circle of friends can let you borrow a ring bearer pillow, flower girl basket and fake petals, cake topper, aisle runner, card box, fancy picture frame, or even an unused guest book.
10. Enter contests and register at bridal shows for giveaways. Odd and impractical as it sounds, it really can work. At a bridal show I attended, I took home a $25 gift certificate to a local bakery, while another girl won an aisle runner, and another girl got a $500 coupon toward a wedding planning package. One of Danny’s groomsmen and his fiancée won a free engagement photo session at another bridal show. And a girl I interviewed even won a full honeymoon in Barbados! The price range of my prize is more in the usual range, but hey, it all adds up. And besides, you never know what Caribbean island is going to present you with a sweet honeymoon for free!
I hope these tips got you thinking.
Best wishes for a bank-account-friendly wedding budget.