How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

13 Minute Read

Congratulations, you’re engaged! You’re probably flying high with visions of wedded bliss in your head, but here’s a statistic that’s sure to bring you back to earth: The average cost of a wedding is $35,329.(1)

That sticker price clocks in at an all-time high for an annual survey conducted by The Knot, the nation’s largest print and online wedding planning resource. The survey, which polled 13,000 couples married in the United States in 2016, is up a staggering 8% from 2015’s national average.(2) And that doesn’t even count the honeymoon costs!

Figuring out your wedding budget can be confusing if you’ve never planned an event so large. It’s difficult to nail down a dollar amount if you’re unsure how much bang you can get for your buck. Sometimes the wedding a couple wants doesn’t align with their budget and that’s when couples really start to get into trouble.

Your wedding is one of the best days of your life, so you may feel pressure to plan an elaborate celebration, but there’s no need to go into debt to have an amazing wedding. You can have a wonderfully memorable wedding—no matter what your wedding budget is!

If you don’t want to sink boatloads of money into your wedding, I have some practical tips to plan a wedding on a budget and still help you have a wedding you’ll love!

How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

1. Determine the kind of wedding you want.

When you picture your wedding, what do you see? A swanky reception at a downtown loft? A backyard barbecue with all your friends and family? A classic hotel ballroom reception?

If you need a little more inspiration, think about all the weddings you’ve been to, seen on TV, or scrolled through on Pinterest. What did you like—or not like—about them?

Don’t get hung up on the little details just yet. Instead, think about the overall feel you want your wedding to have. When it comes to planning a wedding on a budget, knowing what you really want matters.

2. Have the wedding budget talk.

Everyone paying for the event (bride, groom and parents) needs to sit down and look at the total wedding budget. This might be your and your fiancé’s first experience budgeting together as a team. What a priceless experience! Learning to talk openly and honestly about how much you have to spend—and how much you’re willing to spend—on your wedding is going to lay the groundwork for wonderful budget date nights once you’re married!

As uncomfortable as this wedding budget talk might be, just remember—it’s a heck of a lot easier than still paying for your wedding cake on your fifth anniversary!

When I say budget here, I’m not just talking about how much money you can spend—I’m talking about how much you should spend in each specific area.

I suggest breaking the total budget into categories and apply a percentage for each area:

Reception: 55%
Ceremony: 12%
Photography: 10%
Dress and Tux: 8%
Miscellaneous: 5%

These aren’t hard numbers; this is simply the ratio Winston and I used. You should set your ratios based on what’s important to you. If you care more about one area than another, weight the percentages in that direction.

3. Decide on your nonnegotiables.

Based on your percentages above, take a moment with your fiancé to decide on your top three must-haves for your wedding day. They can be practical or completely frivolous: an outdoor reception, a plated surf and turf dinner, loads of flowers, a live jazz band—whatever is most important to you.

You can come up with your wish lists separately or together, but make sure to sit down and determine what you both really want. Let that vision dictate your budget.

4. Start spending!

This is my favorite part! Now that you’ve had some honest, budget-related conversations and you know much you want to spend and what’s most important to you and your fiancé, let the fun begin!

The Wedding Budget Breakdown

First things first: Give your budget a little breathing room. Unexpected expenses will arise, so know that your budget will evolve throughout the planning process. Take those surprises into consideration by putting a little bit of cushion into your budget—now you have the flexibility to handle any surprise expense.

A wedding is a huge event to plan, so it’s helpful to know how much "wedding" you can get for a certain dollar amount. What does $5,000 get you? $10,000? $15,000?

Below are budget breakdowns for weddings ranging from $1,000 to $30,000 and some suggestions for how to make them happen:

The City Hall Wedding

  • Venue: $25 to $75 (depending on your state) for a short ceremony at City Hall, officiant included
  • Food and beverages: $750 for a post-ceremony brunch or lunch for 15 at $50 per person
  • Attire: $150 for a cocktail dress; $0 for a suit you already own
  • Flowers: $65 for a bouquet
  • Photography: $0 for a talented friend

Total: $1,040

The Backyard Barbecue

  • Venue: $0 for your soon-to-be in-laws’ backyard
  • Food and beverages: $2,000 for drinks and a buffet prepared by friends and family
  • Attire: $200 for a dress;(3) $200 for a suit rental
  • Flowers: $150 for a bridal bouquet, two bridesmaids’ bouquets, and two boutonnieres(4)
  • Decorations: $1,500 for tent, dance floor, table and chair rentals, lighting, and DIY centerpieces
  • Wedding Planning: $0 for an aunt willing to chip in and coordinate the day-of details
  • Photography: $700 for a talented friend or amateur via Craigslist
  • Entertainment: $75 for a speaker rental; $0 for a great playlist
  • Dessert: $50 to $200 for a sheet cake, cupcakes, or pies from a bakery
  • Invitations: $60, DIY

Total: $5,085

The Barn Wedding

  • Venue: $2,000 for tables, chairs, linens and bridal suite(5)
  • Food and beverages: $4,000 for 100 guests
  • Attire: $500 for a dress; $200 for a tuxedo rental
  • Flowers and decorations: $400 for DIY bouquets, centerpieces and lighting
  • Wedding Planner: $600 for the hour minimum(6)
  • Photography: $2,000(7)
  • DJ: $1,000
  • Dessert: $0, DIY-dessert table with dishes provided by friends and family
  • Invitations: $130, DIY

Total: $10,830

The Museum or Art Gallery Gathering

  • Venue and full-service catering: $10,000 for tables, chairs, linens, food, beverages and staff for 75 guests
  • Attire: $200 for a dress; $0 for a suit you already own
  • Flowers and decorations: $800 for DIY bouquets, centerpieces and lighting rentals
  • Wedding Planner: $1,500 for day-of wedding planning
  • Photography: $1,000
  • Entertainment: $100 for speaker rentals; $0 for a great playlist
  • Cake: $400
  • Invitations: $100, DIY

Total: $14,100

The Small Destination Wedding

  • Venue: $8,000 for a seven-bedroom villa for the week, offset by charging guests $200 per room
  • Flights: $1,000
  • Rentals: $800 for tables, chairs, linens and lighting
  • Attire: $400 for a dress; $150 for a suit on sale
  • Catering: $3,000 for a buffet meal and beverages for 30 guests
  • Flowers: $500 for bouquets, boutonnieres and centerpieces
  • Wedding Planner or Venue Coordinator: $0, included with venue
  • Photography: $2,000
  • Entertainment: $100 for speaker rentals; $0 for a great playlist
  • Cake: $400
  • Invitations: $75

Total: $16,425

The Elegant Loft Wedding:

  • Venue and full-service catering: $12,000 for tables, chairs, linens, food, beverages and staff for 50 guests
  • Attire: $1,000 for a dress; $200 for a tuxedo rental
  • Flowers and decorations: $1,500
  • Wedding Planner: $3,000 for help with the details leading up to and the day of the wedding
  • Photography: $2,000
  • DJ: $1,000
  • Cake: $275
  • Invitations: $500

Total: $21,475

Church Ceremony With Ballroom Reception Blowout

  • Church rental: $400
  • Venue and full-service catering: $17,000 for tables, chairs, linens, food, beverages and staff for 150 guests
  • Attire: $1,000 for a dress; $200 for a tuxedo rental
  • Flowers and decorations: $2,000 for bouquets, centerpieces, other arrangements and lighting
  • Wedding Planner: $4,000 for a full-service planner
  • Photography: $2,000 for a top-rated professional photographer and an assistant
  • Live band: $4,000
  • Cake: $500
  • Invitations: $200

Total: $31,300

How to Save Money on Your Wedding

Now that you have a better understanding of what your budget can get you, how can you reduce the cost of your wedding even more? Here are seven ways to keep wedding costs down.

1. Use discretion when it comes to your guest list.

Less is sometimes more! You might feel tempted to come up with a guest list as long as the Royal Wedding’s list, but think of it this way: Every guest is an expense. It sounds harsh but it’s true, you guys! With each addition to your guest list, you’re only driving up the overall cost of your wedding.

To save money on your wedding, you may want to host a smaller, more intimate affair. If the number of people at your wedding isn’t important to you and your fiancé, try cutting your guest list by 20%, then another 20% on top of that. Or invite more guests to the wedding ceremony and host a smaller reception with your family and closest friends.

2. Host the ceremony or reception at home or outside.

The venue eats up the largest chunk—nearly half!—of the wedding budget.(8) Why not cut back by using your home, a parent’s home or a public park as the backdrop? An outdoor ceremony and reception in a place as meaningful as your parents’ backyard eliminates the need for an elaborate, over-the-top wedding venue.

If you do plan on an outdoor event, make sure you have a good backup plan. Rain or even extreme heat can put a damper on your day, so just make sure you have plan B handy.

3. Ask friends and family to exchange talents for presents.

If you have friends and family with creative or organizational skill sets, ask them to use their talent at the wedding in lieu of wedding gifts. Would you rather receive a gourmet stand mixer or live music, free of charge?

Tap into your network. Is your aunt an amateur florist? Does your friend have an eye for photography? Is your neighbor a restaurant owner who could lend you their space? Even if they can’t provide services for free, you could still score a major discount.

Don’t overlook your own skills either. Use your talents to barter for wedding services. Exchange your graphic design skills for a free wedding cake or trade your accounting skills for free dress alterations. Get creative!

4. Do-It-Yourself whenever possible.

You and your fiancé can save big money by doing things yourselves, but a word to the wise: Only DIY when you know the outcome will be worth the effort. Believe me, you don’t want to be up until 3 a.m. the day of your wedding frosting cupcakes or putting together table centerpieces.

Pretty wedding invitations are nice, but do you really want to spend $800 on something that’s ultimately going to wind up in the trash? Save money by making your own wedding invitations. All you need is a good home printer and an invitation kit from a stationary shop or an office supply store.

Sites like Moo.com offer fairly inexpensive wedding invitations you can create and order online. It may not be as fancy as gold leaf or an invitation printed on a keepsake tea towel, but it will be way less expensive.

Instead of hiring a caterer, take care of the food preparation yourselves! Join forces with your families to draft a menu and buy food and supplies at a wholesale store. Make bouquets and table centerpieces using supplies purchased from a dollar store. Visit the flower mart or clip flowers from your own backyard.

Try using seasonal décor, too! Winston and I got married in December, and we used a lot of seasonal items like berries and holly in place of flowers. Décor was one thing I really had to cut back on while trying to stay on budget with my own wedding.

5. Use a dummy wedding cake.

Wedding cakes are expensive, you guys! Save money by decorating a dummy wedding cake. A pastry chef—or someone you know who has icing skills worthy of a spot on a reality TV baking competition—can decorate a stack of Styrofoam just as elaborately as a real wedding cake. Serve guests slices from a sheet cake you bought at the grocery store. They’ll never know the difference!

If you’re set on the cake cutting tradition, just have a smaller cake made for you and your new spouse. You could even use it as the cake topper so it looks like the real deal!

6. Time your wedding wisely.

The average price per person for a plated meal averages around $71.(9) Avoid the expense of a sit-down meal by scheduling your wedding in the afternoon, and planning a reception that’s more like an extended cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres.

Consider day of the week, too. You could pay up to half the price for your venue if you hold your wedding on a Friday or Sunday. Plus, you’ll have more options for vendors like bakeries, photographers and DJs, which tend to get booked up pretty quickly on Saturdays.

And keep in mind time of year. September and October are the most popular months to get married.(10) So you’re likely to pay more in the fall when wedding resources are limited.

7. Scout out vendors.

Take time to shop around for different wedding vendors. If you’re looking for a pastry chef, don’t immediately pick the first person you meet. Schedule time to meet with more than one vendor to make sure you’re getting quality service for the best price.

There’s nothing like a good recommendation from someone you trust! Don’t forget to ask your friends and family for vendors they’d suggest. Once you’ve found one who seems like a keeper, scour the internet for online reviews just to be sure you’ve picked a winner.

A beautiful wedding on a budget is possible!

It is completely possible to throw a wedding that’s as beautiful and stylish as it is affordable! Remember: Your wedding is about your marriage. Spending a ton of money on it won’t prove your love for one another, but it will leave you with an empty bank account.

You can have the beautiful, affordable, debt-free wedding of your dreams, but only if you have a plan! Create your wedding budget today. It’s fast and easy with our free budgeting software, EveryDollar!


Local experts you can trust.

Find an ELP

More from the Blog

New to Dave? Start Here!

Sign Me Up (It's Free!)

Bye Bye Money Stress!

Sign Up (It's FREE)

Bye Bye Money Stress!

Get the world's best budget app, EveryDollar and start taking control of your money. Create your first budget in 10 minutes!

Take control of your money this year with the world's best budgeting app.

Sign Up (It's FREE) Everydollar website

Thank You!

A confirmation email is on its way to !

Next: Start Your Year Off Right!