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Funny Money: Cut Costs, Not Cake at Weddings

wedding rings with "for richer or for poorer" engravingThe wedding and funeral industries have much in common. Both prey on emotion, sentiment and guilt to separate people from obscene sums of money for one giant, flowery party. One is filled with angst and sobbing, while the other features the atrocity that is the Chicken Dance. One mourns the burial of a loved one, while the other celebrates the union of two souls by burying them in debt.

Despite what the reality shows and glossy magazines would have you believe, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s entirely possible to get hitched without dropping tens of thousands of dollars that statistically, the bride and groom will one day need to pay their divorce lawyers.

Here are my suggestions to get rid of costly extraneous things at weddings.

Stick with regular cakes, not wedding cakes.

Elaborate, multi-tiered monstrosities can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars. You’re paying for beauty and craftsmanship, not necessarily flavor. I’ve been to  hundreds of millions of weddings, and have yet to taste a wedding cake that was any better than something made from a Betty Crocker mix. And none of the wedding cakes I’ve stuffed into my gourd can approach the majesty of even the cheapest frozen cheesecake at a grocery store, let alone the higher-priced but infinitely better Costco cheesecakes, which I’m proud to say my wife and I served at our wedding.

Phase out the DJ with technology.

Terrible wedding music doesn’t require a tuxedo-wearing doofus to play it. Any MP3 player, or even a couple of That’s What I Call Crappy Wedding Music CDs can do the trick. Reassign emcee duties to the best man or father of the bride, who can tell which table’s turn it is to get in line for the rubber chicken and rice chunks a la slop provided by the caterer. And speaking of caterer…

Serve snacks, not meals.

Schedule your wedding at 2 p.m. so no guests expect a sit-down dinner from the affair. You’ll save so much on your food budget you’ll be able to spring for the finest products Frito Lay has to offer rather than the generic stuff. Also, forget about an open bar. If anyone gripes, say it’s because you don’t want to tempt the family drunk.

Invite people by email.

Paper-and-envelope invitations are a relic of yesteryear, when Scott Baio still had a promising acting career and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred in an assortment of delightful romantic comedies. These days, the post office is failing because people communicate by electronic means. Use a service such as e-vite to track who’s in and who’s out, and restrict the licking and stuffing to your bedroom activities.

Don’t have a wedding.

You knew this was coming, right? The biggest way you can save on a wedding is to elope or do the deed at a justice of the peace. You can still call attention to yourselves with informal receptions after the fact and still scam tons of free waffle irons, towels and Keurigs by throwing yourself a party. Some unknowingly scammy friends of mine have eloped and thrown several wedding parties, one in the place they live now, along with others in the places they grew up. Those evil geniuses pulled in three times the swag, and they didn’t even have to suffer through a single wedding. I get bitter when I’m invited to multiple post-wedding parties by the same couple, but mainly because I’m just jealous of the clever ingenuity.

How did you cut costs on your wedding day? If you’re planning a wedding now, do you have any good money-saving tips?

About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.

Comments

  1. This post is clearly written by someone who has never actually planned a wedding and would actually provide almost no help to someone who is trying to do so.

    This might sound crazy, but for some people the idea of having their friends and family around them while they make the biggest commitment of their lives is actually kinda important. It’s easy to be cynical, and assume that all weddings are ridiculous over indulgent affairs for narcissists, but this just isn’t the case. Most people who get married do so because they love each other.

    Also, logistically speaking, the venue or where you decide to have your wedding is your number one place to save money. It usually accounts for the largest part of your budget. Even a ‘free’ venue such as a friend’s backyard has hidden costs including renting chairs, tables, dishes, silverware etc. Not to mention porta potties if the facilities aren’t sufficient to handle a large group. The idea of having several parties instead of one big one is a great idea, but I don’t think those parties are exactly free either.

    • Phil Villarreal says:

      How does overpriced, frilly cake, a dorky DJ, ridiculous invitations and rubber chicken contradict the concept of the idea of having their friends and family around them? Good point on the venue selection though.

      • True, those things have nothing to do with having a wedding. Yes, you can save some money by not having them. However, the conclusion of this post seemed to me to be just don’t have a wedding if you’re actually frugal. Why not just go down to the courthouse and get it over with since it’s going to end in divorce anyways? I just thought that was really cynical and not very helpful.

        • Phil Villarreal says:

          The last point has to do with the elephant in the room that people planning weddings neglect to notice. They are not necessary for a marriage. If your resources are tight you should strongly consider whether or not to have one.

          • That is true. I do think people are often out of touch with how much it costs to have a wedding. Even a modest wedding with a cake and punch reception at a church will still probably run a few thousand dollars.

            That being said, here are some ways that I would recommend people save money on their wedding.
            1. Get flowers from a local farm. It’s more sustainable and way cheaper. If you don’t live somewhere that has farms, consider a grocery store. Bouquets and arrangements easy to make.
            2. Have a long engagement. Not only will this give you time to save, you can do things like buy champagne at New Years for deep discounts. This will also allow you to pick up other people’s decorations or supplies such as tablecloths post wedding season. Check craigslist or garage sales throughout the summer and early fall. Sometimes brides will be willing to give stuff away.
            3. Ask for wine or beer as engagement gifts. That way you don’t have to buy wine for the wedding. We did this and got two cases of wine.
            4. Consider asking friends and family to contribute desserts. Dessert bars are really popular right now. By having friends and family contribute, you will end up with a great selection for little or no cost.
            5. If you have to serve a meal, a sandwich bar is cheap, easy and can be made ahead. Consider offering rolls, trays of meat and cheese, veggies and condiments.
            6. If you’re going to do catering, consider non-traditional sources such as ethnic restaurants. The cost per-person is way lower, and you can often have way better food.
            7. Have a giant guest list? Consider having a wedding at an unusual time, such as a Friday night. I had friends that did this. They were able to invite everyone they had to, but a major portion of the people weren’t able to come.
            8. Consider a public park as a location. Finding a gorgeous park with a picnic shelter can be a great ceremony and reception venue. For the ceremony: Get a few chairs for the older folks, and ask everyone else to bring a blanket. For the reception: Picnic shelter means you don’t have to rent chairs and tables. Also, parks usually have bathroom facilities, so that is one less thing you have to worry about. Granted, most parks do not allow alcohol so this is something to consider.
            9. Get a used dress.

        • Danielle says:

          Thanks for the great advise, Hannah!

  2. I’m in the process of planning a wedding. (Sigh.) My advice is to do what’s best for you and your better half — both emotionally/personally AND financially — and to ignore what everyone else wants. This is one of the few instances in life when I think it’s acceptable, if not required, to be totally selfish. For us, it’s going to be a small ceremony at a lakefront clubhouse owned by the city with about 50 guests altogether. Quick ceremony, a few basic hors d’oeuvre, cake, and non-alcoholic drinks, probably 2-3 hours altogether. The total cost will be about $2,500.

    The biggest struggle I’ve run into is family members (i.e., mom) being offended about the suggestion of eloping or not having a huge, all-you-can-afford ceremony, as though I owe my family a wedding. My parents offered to help pay to make all that happen (which would lead to nothing but trouble, since money = decision-making influence), but that’s not what we want, so we declined and will cover the tab for the wedding WE want and WE can afford.

    Stick to what you want and can afford. It’s just one day, and everybody else will get over it. And if they won’t get over it, then there are probably deeper issues going on that a wedding would never solve anyway.

  3. Yea, this article does have a cynical tone to it. The biggest saver seems to be venue and flowers – I plan on buying my flowers wholesale and doing them myself. I am splurging on a DJ bc I want a professional, and I am splurging on a photographer bc I want good pics to remember this day.

  4. Woooah there Phil, can we turn down the bitterness a notch? I can appreciate poking fun at the wedding industry as much as the next person, but this was a bit much. A lot of people enjoy the traditions and sentiments of a wedding, and chances are those are the people who will actually want to read an article on saving money while wedding planning. I usually enjoy reading articles on Money Under 30 even when I don’t necessarily agree with the advice, but this piece was so littered with backhanded insults that it distracted from what valuable advice there was.

    • My apologies for making my backhanded insults of wedding cake, wedding DJs, the chicken dance and rubber chicken. I intended the insults to be forehanded.

  5. Thanks for the tips, though I think it would it be possible (and perhaps more effective) to make your point about electronic invitations without sexual innuendo; there’s simply enough of it elsewhere.

  6. This article is sickeningly cynical and offers no real tips. Having just planned a wedding last year, here are a few real pointers:

    1. You can still save on a cake without giving up the beauty of a fancy traditional wedding cake (not to mention the fantastic photo ops). Consider asking your baker to make a smaller cake that is decorated the way you want and have them make a less beautiful sheet cake and keep it in the back. When guests receive their cake slices, they’ll never know it didn’t come from the “real” cake. Also, many bakers offer the option of fake tiers. This creates the illusion of a large cake, without a lot of extra money.

    2. Plan your wedding date in an off-peak season. Don’t get married May-July because prices are always higher during this time. As another reader mentioned, Friday night affairs are a great way to save money, too.

    3. Hire a wedding coordinator. While this may seem like an unneeded expense, they often have close relationships with many vendors and are able to negotiate deals on your behalf. My wedding coordinator ended up saving me money in the long run (and relieved a lot of wedding day stress!).

    4.Make your own centerpieces and favors with materials from wholesale craft sites. Don’t use flowers as table centerpieces- candles are much cheaper and just as pretty and romantic! Many venues also have a stock of centerpieces and decor to choose from. This is often included in your venue rental fee.

  7. Phil…..No. Just no. Did you even read this to yourself? What father-of-the-bride would want to DJ his child’s wedding? Don’t feed your guests? They are traveling, investing their time/money/interest in your wedding, and you can’t even give them a sandwich? Are you nuts?

  8. Yikes! I was so excited to read this article as I’m currently wedding planning, but it was terrible. These are tips to get married on the super cheap, not plan a wedding. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but I have to believe there are tips out there that don’t involve making your father run the show and serving your guests snacks.

    Actually, the commenters have had much better suggestions already!

    • Hannah Smith says:

      Kate, that’s exactly what I thought. I’m also planning my wedding. I recommend A Practical Wedding as an amazing resource.

  9. Danielle says:

    As a newly engaged bride to be, I can wholeheartedly say that Hannah’s advice is invaluable, and Phil’s advice is abysmal. I think Money Under 30 needs to offer Hannah a job, and tell Phil to steer clear of the subject.
    Thanks, Hannah!

    • Hannah Smith says:

      Glad I could help! I’m also planning my wedding right now. Maybe they will let me do a post about all the *REAL* ways I actually saved money on my wedding after this September. :)

  10. David, I love your site but please be more selective with what content you post on it. This post is a bitter harangue with no value. The piece itself was bad enough, but the author’s responses in the comments are even more inappropriate and unhelpful.

    • David E. Weliver says:

      This post has definitely hit a nerve, but Phil’s posts are intended to be tongue-in-cheek, hence the the name “Funny Money”. Whether you liked the post or not, he’s started some good conversations here in the comments.

  11. Melissa says:

    Honestly, I did not think this post was at all offensive. The focus in a wedding needs to be on the couple and their commitment, not the quality of cake, drinks, or food they serve. I thought these were all valid points, as were Hannah’s above. To each his own, right?