I was married a few weeks ago, and I can honestly tell you that it was one of the most overwhelming experiences I have ever had. You definitely have something to look forward to!
I don’t regret spending a single penny on the wedding, and I think that holds true for most couples. Nonetheless, it is one of the biggest financial mistakes most couples make.
If you are arranging your wedding on a budget, I am going to tell you how to arrange a cheap and frugal wedding.
My own wedding was anything but cheap – we actually spent a lot of money on it, but I’ll tell you where we could have easily cut corners and saved some money based on the biggest expense categories we had.
What are the cost drivers of a wedding?
There’s two ingredients to look at when identifying the cost drivers of a wedding.
The first and most important one is the number of guests. If you decide to have a large wedding, the costs will increase almost linearly. There’s surprisingly little economies of scale in inviting more guests.
The second ingredient is what you decide to offer your guests. Food? Drinks? Accommodation? Music? You get the point.
The good news is that you can do something about both of these.
How can you arrange a wedding on a budget?
It’s easy to arrange a wedding on a budget, but it all comes down to what you are willing to accept. We decided to spend a little extra to arrange our dream wedding, but we could also have had an amazing wedding without doing that.
I’ll go through our largest expense categories and tell you how to cut down the expenses on each one in a cheap and frugal way.
Wedding expense #1: Food (26%)
Our by far largest expense category was food. We spent more than 1/4 of our entire wedding budget on food.
We didn’t want to go down on quality and we wanted all five courses prepared on individual plates.
We could easily have made food cheaper by:
- Reducing our quality expectations (organic, locally produced etc.)
- Making it a buffet or table servings rather than serving on individual plates
The really frugal way to eliminate food expenses is to ask your guests to bring some food instead of e.g. presents.
This is obviously an expense category that is highly driven by the number of people you invite, so keep this in mind when you decide how many people to invite.
Wedding expense #2: Tables, chairs, cutlery, kitchenware (13%)
The place we rented didn’t have tables, chairs, cutlery or kitchenware, so we had to rent this elsewhere and it turned out to be a quite large wedding expense.
We also decided to rent some nice chairs, fine porcelain etc., which also increased costs for this quite a bit.
We could have made this cheaper by:
- Picking the cheapest tables, chairs, cutlery etc. without considering the looks
- Finding a location that has all the necessary equipment as part of the deal
The really frugal way to eliminate equipment expenses is to borrow chairs, tables, cutlery etc. from friends and family.
Wedding expense #3: Drinks and bar accessories (13%)
Drinks was a huge part of our wedding expenses. Also, there’s quite a few bar accessories that you shouldn’t underestimate, for example plastic cups, fruits, ice, garbage bags etc.
We decided that we didn’t want to run out of any types of drinks or beer, so we also had some leftovers, which will come in handy for future birthdays and dinners.
We could have saved on drinks by:
- Making sure that there’s enough to drink overall, but not that there’s enough of everything for everyone all day/night
- Making our own ice cubes rather than buying them
- Buying cheaper alcohol than we did
The really frugal way to eliminate drink expenses is to ask your guests to bring their own drinks instead of e.g. presents.
Wedding expense #4: Waiters and bartender (7%)
We had chefs, waiters and a bartender for the entire day to serve our guests.
This amounted to 7% of our total budget and we could have easily saved this by going with a different concept.
We could have saved our waiters and bartender by:
- Making a buffet-style dinner instead of individual servings
- Making a self-serviced bar for our guests
The really frugal way to eliminate waiters and bartender expenses is to just skip waiters and bartenders and make your guests serve themselves.
Wedding expense #5: Location and cleaning (6%)
We spent a fair amount on our wedding location and cleaning.
We found a perfect location for our wedding, and we weren’t in doubt when we saw it, but it also came at a significant cost.
Waking up very hungover we were super happy someone else took care of the cleaning for us, but we could definitely have saved some money here.
The really frugal way to eliminate location and cleaning expenses is to have the wedding in your own or a family member’s/friend’s garden, and of course to do the cleaning yourself – perhaps together with some of your best friends.
Wedding expense #6: Rings (6%)
Rings come in all shapes and forms, qualities and prices. We decided to go for rings that will last us a lifetime and require little/no maintenance (i.e. pure metal, classic looks).
My wife ended up choosing a ring with a few diamonds in it, which of course increased the total ring costs a bit.
We decided to spend a little extra here, since we will be wearing them every single day for the rest of our lives.
We could have saved some money on rings by:
- Choosing a less precious metal than gold
- Choosing a lower carat of gold
- Skipping the diamonds in one of the rings
If you decide to cut down on costs, make sure that you don’t get a ring that requires high maintenance (e.g. gold plated rings that would need maintenance regularly when they lose their color).
The really frugal way to eliminate ring costs is of course to skip the rings.
Wedding expense #7: Bride clothes (6%)
My wife found her dress early on and it was absolutely amazing. The amount of joy she and I have had on the day and looking back on pictures has been immense, so I’m not sure we would have chosen to save money on this one.
We are considering selling it, which might lower the actual costs drastically.
We could have saved some money on bride clothes by:
- Choosing an off-the-shelf dress
- Buying a dress on sale
- Buying a secondhand dress
- Using an untraditional wedding dress (all wedding dresses are somehow twice as expensive as normal dresses)
The really frugal way of reducing bride clothes costs is of course to use a dress you already own or borrow one from a friend or family member.
Wedding expense #8: Band (5%)
We decided to have a band at our wedding for a few hours.
We love live music and the atmosphere it creates on a dance floor.
However, it is easy to get a dance floor going without a band.
The really frugal way of eliminating band costs is to skip it and use your favorite music subscription service to put on music.
Wedding expense #9: Photographer
We wanted photos and a bit of video from our wedding day, so we had a photographer following us the whole day and a bit of the party too.
We could have saved money on the photographer by:
- Shortening the time we wanted him to document
- Choosing a student or inexperienced photographer
The really frugal way of eliminating photographer costs is to skip a professional photographer and make a friend or family member responsible for documenting the day instead. You could also ask everyone to take lots of photos and share them with you afterwards instead.
Wedding expense #10: Groom clothes (3%)
My clothes on the day were also an expense, and I decided to buy a new suit, shoes, socks and tie.
We could have saved money on my clothes by:
- Buying all the items on sale
- Buying lower quality/unbranded items (e.g. my tie was from a famous brand and high quality silk)
The really frugal way of eliminating groom clothes costs is to use something you already have in your closet (I could have done that) or to borrow some items from friends and family.
Miscellaneous wedding expenses (12%)
… and then we have all the other costs.
Weddings are expensive, and there are many costs that arise – especially in the last few days – so make sure to have a buffer.
Our miscellaneous category included decorations for the walls, ceiling and tables, party accessories, disposable cups, church decorations, car rental, gas, printed menus, candles, invitations, postage, sound equipment, duct tape, plastic bags etc.
I’m not sure how you can eliminate these, but of course, it is always a prioritization exercise. We could have skipped menus, sent invitations online, borrowed sound equipment, skipped party accessories, skipped decorations etc.
Regardless, you will have some expenses in this category, and it is impossible to eliminate entirely, so make sure to allocate some money to this.
What should you do to get a cheap wedding?
I hope the above tips gave you some inspiration on how to arrange a cheap wedding on a budget.
If I had to arrange a wedding again on a budget, I would:
- Start by strictly prioritizing how many guests to invite as this is the biggest driver of costs
- Identify the things that you really don’t want to compromise on and scale down on everything else
- For the large expense categories, make sure to get a lot of offers from different providers and compare prices – this can save you tons of money (I believe we save at least 25-50% on our wedding by choosing cheaper providers)
- Ask your friends and family to help out – people love to help you at your wedding, so don’t be shy in asking for help (you will get a very personal touch to your wedding and save money at the same time)
Don’t ever put yourself in debt to have a wedding (I really mean this!), but apart from that, remember that it will be the most amazing and overwhelming day, and in the end, you won’t regret spending a single penny on (most likely) the biggest party in your life.