A Frugal Wedding: 5 Planning Tips

January 13, 2009

shoestringFor many years my primary income came from writing about weddings. I did this writing for national magazines like Bridal Guide and InStyle Weddings, and also I authored a handful of books on wedding topics.

My book titles have ranged from Plan Your Wedding In No Time to The Balanced Bride to Buying and Selling Your Way to a Fabulous Wedding with eBay.

My last (to have been published) wedding book is called Tie the Knot on a Shoestring: Its subtitle is “Save big $$ while celebrating your special day in style.”

There are two reasons that I’m bringing up this book with you now.

* First, I always called January “ground zero” for wedding plans (that is before Ground Zero took on an entirely different 9/11 reference) because so many couples get engaged during the holidays. According to my own unscientific research practices, I once determined that nearly 30 percent of all engaged couples got engaged in December. That meant that come January, tons of men and women found themselves suddenly thrust into the world of wedding planning.

* And, second, in our current economy, I’m guessing that every couple is hoping to get the most bang for their bridal buck. Which is why a book like Tie the Knot on a Shoestring is even more relevant today than it was when it was published in 2007.

But I’m not writing this blog posting to advertise my books. (Though if you want to buy copies, you’ll find links from my Gifts and Etiquette website.) Instead I thought now would be a good time to take this Suddenly Frugal blog and add a wedding element to it. Because I imagine that some of the people who read this blog could be planning weddings and could benefit from some money-saving advice.

So with that in mind here are five tips for planning a frugal wedding.

  1. Think local and in season. I’ve written in the past about thinking locally and in-season about your grocery shopping, and how  it can help you save big bucks and ensure that you’re getting fresher fare all around. Well, the same locavore principles apply to your wedding. If your food and flowers don’t have to travel a great distance to get to your reception, then you won’t pay a premium to get them. Figure out what food is available locally and in season around the time of your wedding, and plan your wedding around them. For example, lobsters at Maine wedding or crabs at a Maryland wedding should be a no brainer. Think similarly for flowers or anything else that you want to use in your bouquets or centerpieces. They don’t call roses the yellow rose of Texas for nothing–so if you’re tying the knot in the Lone Star State, roses might just be your best bet. Similarly, Washington State is known for its apples (among other things) so a cluster of fresh-from-the-orchard apples used as a centerpiece would be both tasty and affordable.
  2. Use Facebook friends, family and LinkedIn connections to your advantage. Knowing someone in the business is a great way to get a discount on everything wedding related. So as soon as you get engaged, update your Facebook status or your LinkedIn “what are you working on” statement to mention your upcoming nuptials. Feel out family members to see if they might be able to score you some savings on a limo or the band. You’ll never know what kind of money you can save if you don’t ask questions. So give it a try via all of your virtual and real-world connections.
  3. Don’t forget about Freecyle or Goodwill. Do you remember my post before the holidays about how I used Freecycle to get boxes filled with ribbons for free? Who would have thought that someone would be willing to give me ribbons I could use on Christmas presents–or free plants for my garden for that matter–without asking for a dime in return? Well, that’s the beauty of Freecycle. Depending on what you need for your wedding–from ribbons to tablecloths–you just might be able to find it for free from your local Freecycle list. At the same time don’t forget to check in with your local Goodwill or thrift store for affordable options for your wedding. Nearly every time I’ve visited Goodwill I’ve seen wedding and bridesmaid dresses for sale–yes, I would spring for a good dry cleaning before I wore them. I’ll bet that a Goodwill or, heck, even a yard sale might be a great place to pick up affordable thank-you note, place cards, guest books or other little items that always end up on a bride’s to-buy list.
  4. Do as much virtual planning and inviting as possible. While your grandmother may frown on a wedding invitation by email, if money is super tight, using Evite instead of a fancy (and expensively) printed invitation can help you keep your budget in line. Don’t want to offend the older generation? Choose a company with inexpensive options, like VistaPrint to print your invitations. Then save even more money by using a postcard for RSVPs and having your directions online that your guests can print out so you don’t have to pay extra for those to be printed as well.
  5. When in doubt, think Super Bowl Sunday. Most brides-to-be quickly realize that when it comes to weddings, you’ll pay a premium to have your event on a Saturday night–especially a Saturday night in June or September, two popular months in which to get married. Friday nights are expensive as well, though not as much as Saturday is, and Sunday is cheaper still. Move your wedding to a non-traditional day of the week for a wedding, like Monday or Thursday (unless New Year’s Eve happens to fall one those non-weekend days), and you’ll save even more. But the one day of the year when you’re bound to get a great deal on a wedding is Super Bowl Sunday. (That date is Sunday, February 1, 2009 this year, by the way, and Sunday, February 7, 2010.) Now if you’ve got sport fanatics in your family–your fiance included–this suggestion likely borders on heresy. But if your friends and family couldn’t care less about football, a Super Bowl Sunday wedding might be your biggest frugal option!

Let me know if you have any additional ideas for planning a frugal wedding.

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20 Responses to A Frugal Wedding: 5 Planning Tips

  1. Carol Oswald on August 25, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Some frugal tips: Rent Ferns from the florist or grocery store. These fill in the area around the alter really well for cheap if you have a groomsman stop and pick them up on the day of and return after the wedding.

    Make non-perishables yourself well in advance of the wedding. For example, use old books for centerpieces, tie both ways with wide ribbon and put one large flower bloom (silk or real) on it for small tables. Use clusters of branch cuttings, tied up in bundles around candles with some greenery and ribbon for a naturey-type wedding. These can be made even by the guys who have nothing to do with weddings regularly. :)

    Silk flower arrangements can be made in advance, during off-season for florists to reduce price if you can not do it yourself.

    If you are using birdseed for throwing you can make any of the little containers with netting yourself. Find appropriate things to put the seed in at Oriental Trading Company online. Have a birdseed filling party with your bridesmaids.

  2. Jen on August 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    This wedding planning tip is great! I have always tried to find budget friendly ways to plan a wedding. Thanks!

  3. […] is a web article I found on this very topic! There are many sites out there these days on how to do it up right for […]

  4. Nick on August 7, 2011 at 9:01 am

    My fiance and I were told we couldn’t book a wedding for much under $10,000. We proved them wrong. Heres how we did it:

    1. Use the church hall as the reception venue. The church generally doesn’t charge much.

    2. Call in any and all favors, and use any and all contacts. A co-worker of mine use to be a professional photographer. He only charged us the cost of development and film. My grandmother’s friend is a catering who gave us a generous discount on catering.

    3. Shop around. There are deals to be had, and take any small victory. We found a really nice guest book on sale for $15, well below our $40 budget for it.

    4. Buffet-style food. This will require less servers. Also, go with beer/wine. This can be purchased in bulk and doesn’t allow the tab to get run up to a crazy amount.

    • Leah Ingram on August 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      Well done! Thanks for sharing those real-life tips.


  5. Spokane Wedding Venues on May 16, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    We really liked your writing, keep it up!

  6. Vermont Wedding on May 12, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    I will follow all the steps that you listed here. And I hope my big day will be very successful even with a small budget.. :-)

  7. Amberdawn on March 28, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Freecycle is a great idea! Since my wedding will be small, I bet some brides will have extras that they’d like to get rid of. I’ll check that out, thanks for the tip :)

  8. Andre Nievo on March 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I’m not really picky for reception venues so to make the expenses less I can have it at my own backyard. It’s spacious anyway. :-)

  9. Laura on January 29, 2009 at 9:45 am

    1. When interviewing photographers, we specified that we wanted a la carte options, not to just buy the typical package. We wanted all of our retouched digital negatives on disc – no prints, no albums. That saved us a LOT of money and weeded out photogs who weren’t willing to be flexible. Then we made our own albums online through mypublisher.com. If you sign up for the e-mail list on their website, they send out 40% and 50% off coupons every few months, so if you time it right you can get great discounts on those, too.
    2. Another inexpensive flower option is to order them wholesale and arrange them yourself. We got ours from fiftyflowers.com.
    3. Discounts for our guests – just by asking, we were able to get a 10% off discount code from American Airlines for our guests to use, and discounted hotel rooms in a reserved block (and our wedding night suite was free because our guests reserved a minimum # of rooms).
    4. We had our wedding in a church and reception in the attached “hall,” which was actually a big ugly gym. We closed in a small section of the gym with homemade curtains, covered the basketball goals with ferns, and bought nice standing lamps (on clearance) that, when added with candles on the table, gave the room a soft glow instead of the glaring overhead lights. The whole effect cost maybe $300 or $400, and then the lamps served as our donation to the church for future events held there (instead of writing an additional check).

  10. Geoff on January 26, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Our wedding and reception was in the stadium of a minor league baseball team. The original plan was to have the ceremony on the 3rd base side of the stadium before it was opened to the public and then go up to the restaurant for the reception during the game. But the night before was rained out and it became a double header that started an hour earlier. So we got married up in the restaurant about the time of the national anthem for the first game. Then in my tux I threw out the 4th ceremonial first pitch at the second game of the double header.

    They provided a buffet and the game was the entertainment so there was no need for a band or dj.

    In other cost saving steps the proof for the invitations was electronic so we were able to send in emails and on the website. The dress was not a regular wedding dress so it can be reused. And we had no official photographer, but did have multiple digital cameras in the crowd at different places.

    One important thing to consider when posing for the official pictures but using 5 cameras, have someone stand next to one camera at a time so everyone can focus on them and actually be looking at the same place. We have almost no pictures where even half of us are looking at the camera.

  11. Amanda on January 17, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I love your ideas! I was a very frugal bride. I got my “wedding” dress at a thrift store for $30, but i also got to use a $5 off coupon….$25 for a wedding dress is awesome! Plus, when i went to get it dry cleaned, i avoided using the term “wedding dress” and got a discount!
    I had my landlord make our wedding cake since she was in a class that was learning how to make cakes…saved a ton of money and looked great.
    In total, i spent $5000 on our wedding (i’ve been married a year and a half). It was elegant and beautiful, but definitely not a budget buster. The most expensive thing…food and my husband’s kilt (which we had to have hand woven and imported from scotland).
    My advice: inquire about cost at your house of worship. My ceremony was free at my church since i was a member there. I also used banners and wedding items that the church had aquired over time to save on decorating cost.

  12. Lisa on January 14, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Actually, no we didn’t get significant savings,though that would probably have more to do with timing. I became pregnant 3 months after we were engaged. Our original wedding date would have put me walking down the aisle at 8 1/2 months pregnant. Um, I don’t think so….

    So we were able to book both the church and the restaurant on short notice, 2 months, or so, before the wedding. That was good enough for us!!

    On the other hand, both the church (since it was Sunday) and the restaurant came pre-decorated with flowers (which saved us some.)
    Our son was born 364 days after we became engaged.

  13. Recycle Raccoon on January 13, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Love everyones stories!
    We did our ceremony/reception at the same location (a historical outdoor museum called Old World Wisconsin). This way we didn’t need transportation until the very end of the night. We also had our wedding on a Friday night. Family members got together to make 21 different desserts for a ‘dessert bar’ (why just have cake?). Centerpieces were made from wine bottles that we reused. We saved all the wine bottles that we had ever drank and then wrote the story of when, where, with who, etc. on the back and put one at each table. We sliced a cork to hold the table number. After the ceremony I reused the skirt of my wedding dress to make a Christmas tree skirt. Those are just a few of the things I did…

  14. Lisa on January 13, 2009 at 8:20 am

    We had our wedding on Super Bowl Sunday. It was fine for most people coming, though I have to say I did have one couple whose RSVP said that they couldn’t come to the wedding and then all of a sudden could, when the 49ers lost in the playoffs. 😎

    I was a hands off kind of bride. I sent my bridesmaids shopping together with a list of acceptable colors and let them, as a group, decide what they wanted to wear. They went shopping at a Jessica McClintock (sp?) outlet and came back with beautiful dresses that suited them for $20. I know that 2 of them actually wore the dresses to parties afterwards.

  15. ~M on January 13, 2009 at 4:25 am

    My [now] husband’s family mailed out rehearsal dinner invites through pingg.com. They are way classier than evites. Pingg allows you to upload a photo so we uploaded one of the two of us from the night we got engaged, at a restaurant. If I remember correctly, you can e-mail the pingg invites for free, but there is a slight cost to have them printed (plus postcard postage). Guests could RSVP online, and we also included my MIL’s phone number for our less Internet-savvy guests.

    My best frugal [and sanity-keeping] tip is to prioritize with your fiance/e from the get go. Actually, as soon as we realized that we’d be getting engaged soon, he and I individually wrote down our top 10 most important priorities; 80% or so matched, and we compromised on the remainder so our final list stayed at 10. We knew that we had not-so-easy-going, very opinionated parentals on both sides, and having a list kept he and I on the same team, and reminded us what was most important to us. We were very happy getting what we wanted, and our parents realized that while this list of 10 was relatively non-negotiable, that we would allows them to go wild with most other aspects of the wedding. Also, it kept the wedding hoopla in check – you know, the bridal magazines tell you need everything and that’s just not true.

    Another frugal tip is to avoid anything with the word “wedding” or “bridal.” My rehearsal dinner dress was a short white bridesmaid’s dress and relatively inexpensive. Friends of my guests thought that was my wedding dress and it could have been for a day time wedding or less formal affair.

  16. leahingram on January 13, 2009 at 10:49 am

    I’ve never heard of Pingg. Thanks for sharing that resource with our readers!

  17. leahingram on January 13, 2009 at 10:50 am

    So did you find that you got a good savings having your wedding on Super Bowl Sunday? So funny about the couple who change their RSVP to “yes” when the 49ers lost in the playoffs. Sounds like you were a dream bride to work with.

  18. leahingram on January 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Thanks for letting me know. Hey, at least you have a happy ending to share all around. Congratulations.

  19. leahingram on January 29, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Excellent tips. Thank you for sharing so many of them!

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