The average wedding costs an arm and a leg---but that doesn't mean you have to go broke to get married. Here's how to say "I do" in style and on budget.

I’m in the homestretch of my engagement. My wedding is 99 percent planned: Loose ends are coming together, I’m attending wedding showers thrown in my honor, butterflies are fluttering in my stomach, and I’m this close to gaining a 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 frustration.

Planning a wedding is an adventure. It can get stressful—but only if you let it. If you’re not careful, it can take over your life, your relationship, and even your wallet. But taking an organized and prioritized approach to wedding planning 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 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.

Set your priorities

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

Everyone’s priorities are different. Although ice sculptures and a string quartet are a must for some couples, unlimited kegs of beer and an awesome DJ are at 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 to divvy up your pot of cash between vendors. If you’ve never planned a wedding before, you’ll be surprised by just how many vendors there are.

Re-order the following list according to your priorities:

  • 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 a “these things are important to me, so it’s okay to splurge, but let’s do this smart and look for good deals, too” mentality.

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

Prioritize first, then plan.

Set your numbers

After prioritizing, you should set these two numbers:

  • Your total budget
  • Your guest list

These two numbers should be at the heart of your wedding planning. You cannot be your best money-saving self until 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, parents will help pay for the wedding, but these days the rules are changing on who pays for what. Whether you’re going the traditional route or something more unconventional, it’s best to sit down early on with everyone involved in the process so you know how much money you’re working with.

After everyone has agreed on a budget, take time to divvy up your budget among your prioritized list of wedding expenses. As a general rule, the average wedding reception (caterer, bar, music, decorations, etc.) will eat up 50 percent 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 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 invited guests will determine your catering and bar costs. It’s important to know these numbers before you go into meetings with potential caterers, bakers, and bartenders.

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 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:

  • 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. 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 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.
  • Negotiate for good prices
  • Look into grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and even online

Here are some tips for picking 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.

Find little ways to save money

Booking vendors is exciting and each vendor you book means one less thing 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 percent 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 percent 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.


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 »


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 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!

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

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About the author

Total Articles: 16
Amber Gilstrap is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money.