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How to Save Money While Planning a Fabulous Wedding (Plus: A Free Wedding Budget Spreadsheet and Guest List)


With a little thought and preparation, you can save big money as you plan your wedding.

I’m in the homestretch of my engagement. My wedding is 99% planned: loose ends are coming together, I’m attending wedding showers thrown in my honor, butterflies are fluttering around in my stomach, and I’m this close to gaining one new last name. I’ve learned a lot along the way, too – about how to save money, how to stay organized, and how not to pull your hair out in utter frustration.

Planning a wedding is an interesting adventure. It can get stressful if you let it. If you’re not careful, it can take over your life, your relationship, even your wallet. But taking an organized and prioritized approach to wedding planning your can help move things along in an orderly fashion.

Speaking from very recent experience, below is my advice on how to plan a fabulous, organized wedding and, hopefully, save a little money along the way. (And that’s a good thing, considering the average American wedding costs more than $28,000!!!)

Note from David: As wedding posts—specifically wedding budget posts—are among this site’s most searched for content, I decided to serve up something I hope many will find useful. Near the end of Amber’s article I’ve posted a free wedding budget spreadsheet and guest list. This wedding budget worksheet will help you sketch out how much you want to spend on your big day and also includes a convenient way to organize your guest list and track RSVPs.

FIRST, PRIORTIZE

First and foremost, before you plan anything, set your priorities.

This is important because priorities are different for every person. Although ice sculptures and a string quartets are a MUST for some couples, unlimited kegs of beer and an awesome DJ are on the top of the list for others.

More than likely, you’ll have a set amount of money to spend (more on that later), so you’ll have to figure out how much of your pot of cash to divvy out to each vendor. If you’ve never planned a wedding before, you’ll be surprised by just how many vendors there are.  This is why you’ll need to set your priorities!

Re-order this list below into which are most important to you:

  • Attire (wedding gown, tux, accessories)
  • Music (band/DJ)
  • Food (caterer)
  • Photographer
  • Cake
  • Drinks
  • Honeymoon
  • Decorations
  • Paper goods (invitations, save-the-dates, place settings, thank you cards)
  • Ceremony (location, décor)
  • Flowers

For me, flowers, decorations, and paper goods fell to the bottom of the list, so I spent the least amount on those items. The caterer fell somewhere in the middle, so I chose a middle of the line caterer.

The things that were most important to me?

  • My dress.
  • The bar.
  • Music.
  • Our honeymoon.

Even though I was willing to splurge on those items, I still sought out good deals. I approached it with this mentality: “these things are important to me, so it’s okay to splurge, but let’s do this smart and look for good deals, too.”

This approach didn’t put a lot of pressure on me, but it did help to guide my spending.

Prioritize first, then plan.

SECOND, SET THE NUMBERS

After prioritizing, you should set these two numbers:

  • Your total budget.
  • Your guest list.

Wedding planning revolves around these two things. You cannot be your best money-saving self unless you can rattle these two numbers off before a vendor can even finish his sales pitch.

To decide on these two numbers, you’ll need to rally together anybody who is willing to contribute to the event. (For example, your parents, your fiancé, and your fiancé’s parents.)

The Budget

In many situations, the parents will help pay for the wedding, but these days the rules are bending on who pays for what. No matter if you’re going the traditional route or not, it’s best to sit down with everyone involved early on in the process so you know from the very start how much money you’re working with.

After everyone has agreed on a budget, take time to divvy your budget out among your prioritized list of wedding expenses. As a general rule, the average wedding reception (caterer, bar, music, decorations, etc.) will eat up 50% or more of your wedding budget. Allocate the rest to things like the honeymoon, your attire, flowers, photography and invitations.

The Guest List

If you’re paying for the wedding, you might decide to give the parents a set number of guests that they’re each allowed to invite. Or, if your budget is more flexible, you’ll just need them to provide you with their guest list. Most guest lists are derived from these sets of people:

  • Bride’s family
  • Groom’s family
  • Bride’s friends
  • Groom’s friends
  • Mutual friends
  • Co-workers

The number of guests you are inviting will drive your catering and bar/drinks costs. So, it’s important to know these numbers before you go into meetings with potential caterers, bakers, and other vendors.

THIRD, PICK YOUR VENDORS

Once you’ve set your priorities and your numbers, it’s time to get to work! I knocked the big vendors off of my wedding to-do list early on in the game

Wait, let’s back up – if you’re new to this wedding planning game, you probably have NO idea what is even on a wedding to-do list. Luckily, there are tons of free online resources to help you. I found the check-list on theknot.com to be quite helpful (free membership required). I even downloaded an app on my phone that allowed me to check things off on the go. Most of these checklists look pretty similar, so no matter which one you use, it’s bound to have the most important items included.

Start scouting the biggest vendors first:

  • Photographer
  • Caterer
  • Venue
  • Ceremony Site
  • Music
  • Florist
  • Decorator

This is where you priorities come in handy. Here’s how to pick a vendor from the above list based on your priorities:

  • High Priority Expense: Pick the vendor that does the best work, has the best reputation, is very experienced, etc. Go with your heart on this vendor.
  • Low Priority Expense: Pick the vendor that can get the job done and that charges the least amount. Stick with your budget on this vendor.

For example, flowers were very not high in my list of priorities. I visited with a couple professional florists before deciding to hire a grocery store floral shop for my wedding flowers. It didn’t matter to me one way or another how the flowers looked, but my floral bill ended up being about half as much.

Here are some tips for picking out your low-priority vendors:

  • Compare prices and make offers instead of being told how much to pay.
  • Look into entry-level vendors or people that are new to the scene. Often, they’re eager to build experience and charge much less.
  • Haggle/negotiate for good prices.
  • Look into grocery stores, warehouse clubs, or even online.

Here are some tips for picking out your high-priority vendors:

  • Choose this vendor based on their work, not their price.
  • Make your decision based on the vendor’s portfolio, experience, or tasting-sessions.
  • Be sure to compare prices, but if your heart is set on a more expensive vendor, go with it.
  • If your dream vendor is out of your price range, work with them to see how you can still book them for less. Think of things like less hours, less food, less expensive supplies, etc.

FOURTH, FIND LITTLE WAYS TO SAVE MONEY

Booking vendors is exciting and each vendor you book is a huge check-mark on your wedding to-do list. It will set the “foundation” of the wedding. Once you’ve got your vendors booked, you just have to put it all together and start tying up loose ends.

Since there are so many ways to save money on weddings, here are just some of my favorite and/or mort helpful ways to save money:

  • Borrow. You’ve probably attended tons of weddings for your friends or family. They’ve probably got lots of leftover goodies lying around—things like bubbles, ring bearer pillows, flower girl baskets, vases, rose petals, decorations, pew bows, card boxes, envelopes, and on and on. Don’t waste money on new items when you can borrow! There are even a few wedding borrowing websites that allow you to swap with other brides and grooms.
  • Use your friends’ skills. Your friends and family probably have skills that you never even knew about! Ask around about everything! One of my friends is making custom ring bearer pillows in the colors of my wedding and others are spending hours slicing limes to put in our centerpiece vases. It’s free man power, so use it!
  • Online wedding templates. I created my save-the date magnets and my wedding invitations online. I spent shockingly low amounts on both items. Plus, I came away with unique announcements instead of generic ones. Try googling “wedding invitation templates”.
  • Drop the word “wedding”. Speaking of those save-the-date magnets, mine were actually “business” magnets. The magnets just needed a picture and words, so I just add an engagement picture and the words “Save the date!” to the business magnet. The business magnets were 75% cheaper than the save-the-date magnets. Drop the word “wedding” and you’ll likely save lots of money.
  • Craft store coupons. You’ll spend lots of time at the craft store over the next several months. You might think you won’t, but, trust me, you will. Many craft stores offer weekly coupons at 30, 40, or even 50% off. Hoard these coupons. Do not pay full-price at those places when you don’t have to.
  • Go with your gut, get a discount. You know how you can often get a discount when you “look and buy”? Meaning, you go to a store to look at an item, and – lucky you – if you buy it that day, you’ll get a discount. This isn’t usually a wise choice, but if you’ve done your homework, you know what you’re after, and you know what competitors’ prices are, then this trick could work out well for you. I saved $200 on my dream wedding dress this way and couldn’t be happier with my decision. Sometimes when you know, you just know … and that could just save you some money.
WEDDING BUDGET SPREADSHEET AND GUEST LIST

We’ve created a free spreadsheet to help you set a budget for your wedding and track expenses as they add up to make sure you don’t go over what you can afford to spend on your big day. On the spreadsheet’s second tab, you can also organize your guest list and keep running tally of RSVPs and a final guest count.

Here’s a preview:

The wedding budget spreadsheet and guest list provides a simple way to track wedding costs and manage your guest list.

Download the Money Under 30 Wedding Budget Worksheet and Guest List here »

FIFTH, GET MARRIED!

Being engaged and getting married is a very exciting time in anyone’s life. However, it can also become very stressful and put a damper on things if you and your fiancé get too overwhelmed.

Tackling to-dos one at time and prioritizing has helped me stay sane during this wedding planning process. That’s important because you should remember your engagement as a happy, loving time – not one where you’re pulling your hair out.

Saving money and throwing a fabulous wedding can be done! Use these tips above to save a little money during your wedding planning process so you can start your marriage off on the right financial foot!

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Have you planned a wedding? How did you budget for expenses and keep costs in check?

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @ambergilstrap.

Comments

  1. I have been engaged for over 1.5 years now, and we haven’t started planning yet because its so expensive… which is counterproductive, I know, but its a little overwhelming. So this post is awesome – thank you!

    -K

  2. I personally never liked the idea of spending a ton of money on a wedding. I don’t begrudge anyone for doing so, but for me, I think the money could be much better used on something else.

    I’m thankful my wife agreed with me. It made the saving part of our wedding plan an almost non-issue.

    We were planning (and saved for) a vacation anyway, and decided to go to Vegas and get married there. We let our family and friends know they were more than welcome to join us, but would not hold it against them if they didn’t want to go to the expense. About 30 people decided to make it out, so we booked a place for a small reception out there. They didn’t charge for the room, just the food and drinks, which surprisingly turned out much much less than we expected.

    All in all it was the best wedding I have been to. (Yes I know I am biased because it was mine.)

  3. Interesting article! I’ll keep that in mind.

  4. Julie in Houston says:

    Great article. I’m not engaged (soon, hopefully) but my boyfriend and I have talked about it and how much a wedding may cost. It’s never too early to start planning for it and budgeting for what’s important. Photographer/videographer will be first on my list of priorities.