Save Money With a Frugal Wedding

These days the average cost of a wedding in the United States is between $18,000 and $21,000. $21,000 is more money than I made my first year out of college!

Fortunately for those who don’t want to spend the cost of a new car on their wedding, there are options. When my husband and I got married almost 13 years ago, we spent less than $5000, and we have no regrets about our wedding. Here’s what we did to trim the costs.

Utilize People You Know

People love to help out for a wedding. We enlisted the help of a lot of people. We found that when we hired people we knew, they would often give us a discount or provide their services free of charge as a wedding gift to us. To be clear, we didn’t ask for or expect discounts, but we accepted services that were offered as wedding gifts.

A friend’s aunt made the bridesmaid dresses from fabric I found on sale. The bridesmaid dresses cost much less than they would have, if I’d used a bridal shop. That saved my bridesmaids a good deal of money.

A woman from our church made our wedding cake. It was absolutely gorgeous, and it was less expensive than the store-bought counterpart.

A friend of my husband’s took our wedding pictures. We got tons of pictures for a minimal price, and we got to keep the negatives. Most professional photographers won’t let you keep the negatives, so you’re stuck paying exorbitant prices if you want to order more pictures.

Friends and family donated their services in running the sound board for the ceremony and videotaping our wedding.

Saving On Decorations

Consider making your own decorations. That’s what I did, and I’m not even that crafty. They turned out great, and it saved a lot of money. I did splurge on flowers, because they were important to me (and my mom).

We also used balloons for the reception. Balloons are inexpensive, fun, and festive. They’re also easy to put up and take down. And kids love them too, so any children at your reception will be easily entertained.

We made our own wedding favors by wrapping Jordan Almonds in tulle and tying them with a pretty bow. And the birdseed that was thrown (in lieu of rice) was also wrapped in tulle by my friends and me.

We have friends who saved on decorations by holding their wedding in December. In December most churches are beautifully decorated with lights and red poinsettias. No other decorations are needed.

Saving on Food

Timing is important here. We held an afternoon wedding, so we didn’t have to provide dinner. If I remember correctly, we had some snack food for the guests and plenty of wedding cake and punch. And that’s all. Our reception was short and informal. We knew we’d want to move on to the honeymoon after the wedding was over. :)

For our rehearsal dinner, we had a barbeque in our church’s fellowship hall. It was my dad’s idea, and I was skeptical, but it turned out great. Some distant relatives ran the grill, friends of mine brought side dishes, and the meal was delicious. We also had room for everyone we wanted to invite to the rehearsal dinner, and we were in a relaxed atmosphere. My husband and I got to visit with every person at the rehearsal dinner without feeling rushed.

After the rehearsal dinner, friends and family pitched in to decorate the fellowship hall for our reception the next day.

Our wedding definitely wasn’t the high society event of the year, but that was OK with us. We wanted a relaxed time to celebrate with family and friends, and we didn’t want to begin our marriage deeply in debt. And we accomplished both of our goals.

The important thing to remember is that a wedding should be about marriage, and you don’t want to put your marriage in jeopardy by starting off in debt from your wedding. Stick to your budget, don’t go into debt, and have a great time.

Do you have any money-saving wedding tips? I’d love to hear them!


By , on May 6, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. This is very true, and I find that with the economy more and more people are trying to cut costs. The main thing for me is if a couple just asks, can you work with us on price. as a wedding photographer I’m more than willing

  2. Kaye:

    I did a VERY similar post. It (with all of the ways we saved) can be found here:


  3. Navillusette:

    Those are all great tips, thanks for sharing them

  4. Kelly:

    Last summer, we finished our master’s degrees, got married, and moved so that I could start my PhD: all in the span of a week. Crazy! Since my parents were traveling to the Midwest from Oregon, we did not want them to spend excessive amounts of money for the wedding. They ended up spending around $1000. It was simple and very meaningful, and I would not trade that for all the money in the world.

    Believe it or not, we found our four beautiful single-layer cakes at Sam’s Club: they cost around $15 each, and looked like wedding cakes. They even had those gum paste flowers on them! To display them, we used different heights of cardboard boxes underneath the tablecloth, and everyone thought we’d spent a fortune on a wedding cake!

    The only flowers we used were for the attendants and our mothers: also bought at Sam’s (they have great deals on long-stem roses). My dad has experience with floral arranging, so he did the bouquets and bouttonieres himself!

    Also, another potentially expensive item we skipped was a wedding guestbook. I figured I would be like most people, and put that thing in a box somewhere, and never look at it. Instead, we used a 40% off coupon for Michael’s and bought a frame with a large mat, intended for autographs. We had our guests write notes on it, and now we have it hung on the wall, with one of our favorite wedding photos in it.

    I definitely agree that a gorgeous wedding does NOT have to cost a fortune. We borrowed things from the church and from other people, decorated very simply, and did NOT pay a professional photographer, and it was wonderful! In the long run, it made planning–and the big day–a LOT less stressful. :)

  5. Your wedding sounds alot like ours! :-) I think our total cost (including my dress and the tuxes) was around $2200.

    One major way I saved money was by finding a florist who let me buy flowers from her at wholesale prices. The rest I bought from a local grocery store, using flowers out of the mixed bouquets. Then a good friend put them all together. We also used lavender and greenery from my aunt’s garden. The flowers were exactly what I wanted, and alot of love was put into them. :-)

    We also saved money by getting a basic photography package, and having my cousin take more black and white photos with her nice digital camera. (The b&w photos are actually my favorites!)

    One more way….my roomate and I made all of our invitations. It is so easy these days with computer programs and scrapbooking materials. They were simple but exactly what I wanted. Plus, everyone throws the invite away, so who cares how fancy it is! We also made the programs.

    I loved our wedding and I love planning them for others. It can be a special day, without the stress of overspending added to it.

    Thanks for the fabulous post!!!

  6. Beth:

    My wedding was 12 years ago this week, and it cost 3000k for about 80 people.

    Here is a few things that I did.

    I got married in a backyard. That was free, this was more than just a backyard. The owner was a main member of the Rose parade.

    I had a lady from my sisters church do the cake. It was yummy and cheap.

    I asked three people to take pictures, then I left cameras on every table, I got the best pictures from the throw away cameras.

    My husband had just graduated from college, so his we bought is suit at three day suit broker so he could wear it for interviews.

    My wedding was perfect for us.

    Three years ago this week I had to put on a wedding for a friend. The wedding was at my house, and I have a four hour notice that this was going to happen. Crazy I know.

    One thing I did, because of time it I went to my grocery store to get flowers. The lady was so happy that I was letting her do a bouquet and a few other flower so was so happy, that I got the bouquet for $7. Roses and all.

  7. Bonnie:

    I have plenty of money, I can choose to be frugal or even to waste money. I read because of the values that this blog represents. Keep up the wonderful posts.

    I am now married to a man who was married before. My husband’s first wedding was all about his wife and her family. They didn’t care anything about what he wanted. He was a Marine and wanted to be married with an Honor Guard (wife said no swords at my wedding). The marriage finally ended when he realized 10 years later that they never would care what he wanted, thought or felt and no amount of counseling would make it change.

    I knew him through the last 5 years of his first marriage.

    Almost 5 years later, I asked my my best friend of 10 years to marry me (making me a first time bride but a second wife), and then planned an elopement in a week, justice of the peace, bouquet for me and corsage for him, new off white silk and beaded designer dress on sale, new tie for the groom (we picked it out together for the occasion) and 3 day honeymoon in Portland, OR (all for $629). Grateful husband, priceless.

    It’s been 2 years and people still think we are newlyweds.

    I always say, when my single friends ask me how we are so happy. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your wedding, where you live, what you do for a living, how much stuff you have, or where or if you vacation. It matters how much respect you have for your partner and your shared values, how much time you save out of every day just for showing each other that you love one another, and embracing gratefulness for your marriage and all of the blessings of G-d.

  8. I also had a small-budget wedding. We had a local person do a cake (the main portion was white and two chocolate sheet cakes); I bought decorations at craft stores after Christmas (silver and fake greenery kinds of things); ladies from the church decorated the church gym; we made the food because we are as good as any caterers; a florist from church did the flowers and decorations; my brother videotaped it. My bridesmaids’ dresses cost $10 apiece and were PERFECT — exactly what I wanted (bought at a catalog close-out shop). Our rehearsal dinner was Chicago pizza (my husband is from there) — we bought them half-baked and he drove down with them still frozen, and his mom and others baked them while we were rehearsing. The reception had a lot of food, but it was a church wedding in a dry county, so I didn’t even have to feel guilty about not offering alcohol. I might have done some things differently, and I know I bought too much (decorations and food) so could have had the same effect for less money; but I still bet I spent about $5000 total, and probably less. I’m a pretty simple gal, so the wedding was perfect for me.


  9. Lisa R:

    I think we spent about $2,000 on our wedding 2 years ago. I bought some basics like fake flowers and ribbon and some ladies from the church decorated very beautifully (I’m the world’s worst decorator). I even got parts of the flowers that had fallen on the floor for free! I just had to ask.

    We saved a LOT on the reception by having people from church bring food pot-luck style, kind of. My coordinator arranged in advance who would bring what, and I provided the beverage. This might not work at all churches, but mine was a Spanish church, so I was able to get away with a lot of things!

    I also made my own dress for about $120, and also had a friend make my bridesmaid’s dresses.

    I sent evites for most of the invitations (in hindsight, this didn’t work very well, but it might work better now that you can use sites that do evites). I made very simple invites, too, which fit on a quarter of a sheet of paper, and we printed them on nicer paper on both sides. No picture, no fancy tissue paper. We couldn’t afford it!

    We didn’t have a rehearsal dinner, either. Couldn’t afford it, and a lot of people didn’t show up until just before the wedding.

    I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I can think of now.

  10. Kristen:

    I mentioned in an earlier comment that I am having a friend take photos. I should have mentioned that my friend is a professional photographer who works for the newspaper I used to work for. People getting married should scope out the names of photographers in their local paper. Many of them also do weddings on the side. Using a news photographer is an especially a good choice if you are into a lot of candid shots because that is an area where they should excel. And many of them are a lot more affordable than going through studios.

  11. Stacey:

    Whoever said “flowers last a day, photographs last a lifetime” hit the nail on the head. that’s the one area you shouldn’t skimp on – those are the treasures for later. photography should take center stage to “the dress” because that will sit in a box for the rest of your life.

    if you know you’re going to get second rate photos by having a friend take the pics, then go for it. but so many go “cheap” in this area thinking the high prices aren’t worth it only to regret later that they didn’t understand that they get what they pay for…

  12. Elaine:

    I forgot a couple!

    – we’re making our own invitations, it’ll still cost us $175 or so, but that’s compared to buying them for $300.
    – it’s on a Wednesday, but that is only indirectly saving us money. The beach is free anytime, but the restaurant which was our first choice for the reception, and also the best priced, is only available for rental on weekdays.

  13. Great tips…we have four daughters and it’s not college costs that scare my dh…it’s the cost of weddings! :)

    We saved money by having a close friend make our cake (this was her part-time business), I made my veil and centerpieces, and friends did the photography and video.

  14. Elaine:

    I’m planning a wedding this August.

    re: photographers, most of them are using digital now, and all of the ones that I’ve asked for quotes include the “digital negatives” (i.e. the uber-high resolution copies), so no worries there. My fiance is voting for the family friend route but I am really hoping to have the photography be our big splurge.

    Our main money-saver is inviting fewer people – our absolute maximum for the venue is 50 people, including us, the officiant, etc. We’re having it on a public beach so that is free. Chairs, aisle runners, arches, etc. are not permitted so we don’t have to rent those either!

    I’m not planning on buying a standard bridal dress either, I will probably make or buy a nice beachy tea-length dress that may or may not be white. I’m pretty much planning on not visiting any wedding-specific stores at all, really. My fiance will get a nice-looking but beach-appropriate linen suit, though he probably won’t wear the jacket. And neither of us need shoes! :D

    The reception is at a restaurant, so they already have tablecloths, silverware, napkins, votive candles, vases, etc. They’ll also make the cake which will be about $100.

    Other things I am not having:
    – bunches of flowers (probably just corsages/boutonnieres, plus whatever flowers the restaurant normally keeps in their vases)
    – limo or rental getaway car, we are planning on riding our bikes just like we do every other day
    – bridesmaids
    – liquor (the restaurant only has a beer/wine license)
    – fancy rings. Neither of us ever wear them really, so I don’t have an engagement ring and we’ll get our wedding bands from a local art/jewelry studio. They probably won’t be gold and they probably won’t match (why should they? we have different tastes), but they will be awesome and unique :D

  15. Lee:

    Wonderful post! I enjoyed hearing about your wedding, sounds like such a special time. My husband and I married in 1991, just a couple of months after my younger sister. She had a large, formal wedding after planning for a year. Needless to say, when my sweetie and I decided to marry after only a month of dating, everyone wanted to keep it simple. We put things together in a week, doing all the preparations in record time. I was scheduled already for the week off work and decided that’s all the time I needed. It was a crazy week, but it was a beautiful wedding.

    To save money, we had friends do the photography and videotaping, had a local bakery shop do simple catering. The church we married in already had wedding decorations. I had a maid of honor and my husband had a best man, so that kept it frugal and simple, with fewer people in the wedding. I shopped for my wedding dress in a local store that weekend and found a beautifual antebellum style gown for 300. I felt really blessed.

    It was a sweet time for us, and we had probably 100 guests show up, with word-of-mouth invitations. (My husband now laughs and says that so many people showed up because he was 30 years old, and they wanted to see him actually get married; they never thought he would! He’s a sweetheart…He was just waiting on me. I had to grow up enough…I was 24;)

    Well, your post got me reminiscing… thanks. It was fun.

  16. Chiara:

    Hi! Our parents help us pay for the wedding but we still ended up making lots of things by hand. Most of our vendors were referred to us by our wedding coordinator and I do calligraphy so for almost 6 months, my living room was filled with paper, ink and ribbon pieces! It was a mess but it was worth the time spent.

    I got my dress at David’s Bridal and I loved it! I got it during their big sale and I went on Halloween for my first fitting (hey, no one else was out at David’s Bridal on Halloween!). It was a simple dress and it fit perfectly so no adjustments needed.

    Many people here (Southern California) like having a hair and makeup person go to them at their hotel and pamper them. I, on the other hand, went to a high-end make up counter at the local mall, had them do my make up and I buy some items. In the end, yes I spent money but I get to keep the makeup instead of just paying someone $200 per hour for their service. I also went to my hair person’s salon :) It took a bit of planning to fit all these things in the morning of the wedding day but with a bit of organization and some work, it was worth the money we saved :)

  17. Lynnae, that’s a beautiful picture and a great story/tips that you shared. Thank you for supporting the giveaway on my blog. :-)

  18. Kristen:

    My wedding is less than 3 months away! We have stayed within our budget, I’m happy to report. But, we gave ourselves a pretty big budget, and it’s a rather large, more formal wedding. However, I insisted that we not charge anything. I did not want to carry wedding day debt into our marriage. We’ve been on a strict savings plan for the last year, and we’re lucky that our parents are pitching in.

    Some ways we did scale back:
    1) Using a friend who is a photographer. He will cost about 1/3 of what the going rate is in our area.
    2) We got recommendations on djs (no expensive band!) and found one who was about half the cost of the all the others.
    3) No flowers or decorations in the church. It’s already beautiful.
    4) No big cake. In western Pa. cookie tables are a big thing. Our families will bake dozens upon dozens of their best cookies for our guests!

  19. Karen (Angelsong):


    Like yours, our wedding in 1998 was less than $5,000. We kept the guest list small (fewer than 75 people) and shopped very carefully. We had a mid-week wedding, which is a lot cheaper, as professionals usually do weekend weddings. I had a brand new wedding gown and veil…and spent less than $600 for everything I wore because I shopped at a consignment shop. The one bridal shop I visited wanted to sell me a bridesmaid’s dress for my wedding gown, and one florist wanted to sell me funeral flowers, which I declined quickly. I chose sneakers for my shoes, as I am unable to wear heels. We had a catered barbecue dinner at the reception, and got a great deal on the food. We had balloons also, and made our own favors using clear plastic spoons, tulle, and hershey kisses. I even hired a wedding consultant, who helped with errands, since I am disabled. Our table decorations were dried flowers in heart shaped vases in our wedding colors that I found in a garden center. We did not have alcohol, but none of the guests minded a bit. We had sparkling cider instead. My husband and I planned the wedding for nine months, paid for it ourselves, and had no outstanding wedding bills afterward. It is possible to have a wonderful wedding on a budget. Our friends still talk about the special spirit at our wedding, and how much fun the reception was.

  20. Foxie:

    I think I had the cheapest wedding of all: The only cost we had was the $65 or whatever it was to pay for the marriage license. :) My hubby and I were married by the Justice of the Peace, only one witness and no big fuss. I always joke that instead of having a wedding, we bought our S2000 instead. :) (Which, of course, is paid off.)

    It was more of me having to let go of all the fuss and realize that sure, a wedding would be great, but it doesn’t make my marriage any less real than anyone else’s. (And hey, it’s been over a year and we’re still going strong. We know a lot of couples that got divorced in that first year.) I figure if I still want a wedding, we’ll renew our vows and have the big party for our 25th anniversary. That way, not only can we probably afford it then, but it’ll also mean more since it’ll be a celebration of our existing wedding. But that’s just me. :)

  21. Charlie Park:

    Our wedding was a lot like yours: simple, beautiful, inexpensive, and wonderful. Our opinion was (and is) that people spend way too much time, energy, and money thinking about the wedding, and not enough thinking about the marriage, and that if we just inverted those, we’d be doing great. We’re coming up on 7 years, and each one is better than the one before.

  22. Laura:

    Got married in 2006. We wanted a “destination wedding” but didn’t want to inconvenience guests terribly, so we had the wedding in a small, historical town about 3 hours away. Seriously cut the budget: prime rib for $20/plate! And it was great (of course, we were in the midwest). Most guests appreciated a weekend away, and the hotel was quaint and reasonable, especially compared to Chicago area hotels. I decided on one attendant, which also cut costs. Found a local woman who made cakes from her home for some 20 years, and it turned out beautifully, and for much less than a bakery. I found table centerpieces to minimize the cost of real flowers ($10/piece at Michaels, no assembly required!). Also comparison shopping is key and the Internet is a fabulous resource.

  23. I think giving someone help with their wedding is more fun than giving a standard wedding present. One time I even made the dress, she just bought the pattern and supplies and I gave labor. It was great! :) Not everyone is close enough or has the time, but I think it’s an awesome option.

  24. Kathy:

    Lynnae great topic! Many brides are in the planning stages right now. I bought my dress for $100.00. It was a designer original. Once a year bridal stores have a huge sale to clear out old styles. You have to be a regular size, but there are bargains galore!

    I also spent almost nothing on my flowers. I had a very expensive photographer though. My theory was flowers last a day, photos last my lifetime. So I had fresh calilillies in season, and the arrangements were simple in nature. The simpler the cheaper. The shorter the reception the cheaper the photographer.

    Many ways to do it cheaply!

  25. Great tips Lynnae! We spent way too much on our wedding. Looking back I could have done a lot better! Although hindsight is always 20/20…

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I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

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