Top 4 Wedding Budget Busters

They meet, fall in love, and then get engaged. All of these events are leading up to the big day…the wedding day. While many couples see this as a natural progression of their relationship, many don’t consider the financial aspects of their union until it’s too late. Planning a wedding can be incredibly costly, time-consuming and complicated. Many couples and their families maxed out their credit cards for this one day, which is important; however, it shouldn’t put you deeply in debt.

For an average wedding with 125 guests, Consolidated Credit’s Wedding Planner estimates that couples will spend more than $17,500 on their wedding. That’s approximately $140 per person. More than half of the costs are going to go towards:

  • Food & Service
  • Reception Venue/Rentals
  • Beverage & Bartender
  • Wedding Dress & Alterations

However, with a little planning and frugal know-how you can cut your costs and save hundreds of dollars on your wedding.

Food & Service

Cut down your guest list. During the planning process, you need to take a hard look at your guest list and decide if you really need 125, 100 or 75 guests. The more guests you have, the more your wedding is ultimately going to cost. For example, if you cut down your guest list from 125 to 75, you could save $2,300 on food and service for your wedding.

Be selective on your menu choices. Seafood and filet tend to be more expensive than pasta, chicken or vegetarian dishes. If you display the food in an unusual way or opt for more exotic choices, i.e. mushroom ravioli, spring greens or apricot chicken, you can still have the look of an expensive reception without paying the price.

Beware of banquets. Many wedding planners push banquets as a way to save on service costs. However, it’s been shown that your guests tend to eat more and the food costs might end up being more expensive then the extra servers at a sit down dinner. It’s always best to compare your options. Instead of a banquet, consider going with family-style dishes for each table. It will limit the grazing and still cut down on the servers.

Reception Venue/Rentals

Have your ceremony and reception at the same place. Some venues can hold both your wedding and reception at the same place. During the scheduling, see if they’ll offer a discount for doing everything with their venue. In addition, you can save on transportation costs because you don’t have to move the wedding party from one venue to another. Also, some venues provide food and service packages in addition to renting their location. You may be able to save money by bundling everything together.

Be time conscious when scheduling the venue. Typically, a reception will be scheduled for four to five hours. However, if you rent it for three hours, you can save time and money. Don’t worry, three hours is plenty of time to eat, dance and give speeches. Also, you can escape that must sooner to your honeymoon.

Beware of an outdoor reception. While many public parks and local gardens can help you save on venue costs, you also have to consider the additional rentals needed. You might need tents, tables and chairs. Your caterers might have to bring additional equipment for food and service. Your DJ or band might need to make some adjustments depending on the electrical outlets available.

Beverage & Bartender

Be frugal when opening the bar. Stocking a complete bar will significantly raise your beverage costs, even if you don’t use top shelf liquor or choose to do it yourself. Instead serve beer and wine at your event. Make sure that your choices complement the food being served, and consider closing the bar an hour before everyone is scheduled to leave. It will give them time to sober up and save you money on the liquor.

Not everyone likes to drink. Make sure that you have two or three inexpensive, non-alcoholic drinks available at your wedding reception. Lemonade, ice tea and sparkling water with fruit wedges make nice additions to your beverage selection. Try to avoid serving soda. It dehydrates your guests and gets them to drink more.

Wedding Dress & Alterations

Go for a classic look. Buying a simple dress is oftentimes less expensive than buying a dress with lots of beading, bows or other decorations. You’ll have a timeless look that isn’t outdated 20 years from now when you look at your photos. Also, you’ll save on alterations because the tailor won’t have to worry about disrupting the flow of the gown when hemlines or seams need to be brought in.

Don’t buy your dress now; wait for the sales in October, November or December. Usually bridal shops will see a reduction in foot traffic as the holidays get closer. During this time, they’ll oftentimes hold end of the year sales to clear inventory. If you find the dress that you love at a price that’s out of your budget, don’t be afraid to ask questions like: Do you have any upcoming sales? If I buy the display model, can I get a discount?

Make sure to give yourself enough time to comparison shop, and find the best prices. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Enlist a few close friends and relatives to help you shop; however, make sure that they don’t take over the process. Your wedding helpers should know your tastes and respect your budget. This is your day but remember, it’s just a day. Stick within your budget and start your life together debt free, not saddled with wedding debts.


By , on May 10, 2010
Kathryn Katz is a Certified Personal Finance Counselor who works for Consolidated Credit Counseling Services in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Their non-profit agency helps families through financial crisis using credit counseling, debt consolidation and financial education.


Popular Articles


  1. Nick:

    First off let me say this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.

    $17,500 spent total on a wedding does not come down to $140 per person. Your not buying your dress, flowers, photographer, dj and videographer for the guest. You are paying for the reception, food and alcohol for the guests. More like $40-75 per guest not $140.

    So cutting your guest list down to 75 people from 140 isnt going to save you that much. You are still going to pay the same amount of money for a dj, videographer, photographer, dress and flowers.

    I agree with the menu choices and alcohol. You need good food but do you need top of the line? Nope. You need full bellys so they dont get drunk easy and they get up and dance and have fun.

    But cutting your reception time to 3 hours is not a smart thing. Dinner takes an hour or more. Lets face it, there is no way in hell you having dinner any quicker than an hour. Some dinners take 2 hours.

    SO ok dinner is an hour. You now have toasts, cake cutting, first dance, parent dances and bridal party then garter and bouquet. Those all add up to about 30-40 minutes of time. So now your guests only have about an hour and 15 minutes to have fun. I know if i went to a wedding and only had an hour to have fun I wouldnt have fun. I would leave feeling empty.

    Cutting back to 4 hours instead of 5 is ok. or try cutting cocktail hour to 30 minutes instead of a full hour or just forgo it all together.

    And for all you people who say the more you spend now the shorter your marriage will be. HAHAHA yea ok. We spent $38K on our wedding and we are still paying it off 5 years later but it was well worth it. We had a blast and have those amazing memories that we can cherish forever.

    Also for the people who said they spent $3k on their wedding 25 years ago and they are still happily married. $3k 25 years ago on a wedding would be equivalent to spending $20K now. So you had a pretty decent wedding then and spent a lot and are still happily married. Kind of contradicting yourself.

    So go spend the money now people and have the wedding of your dreams. Sure not everyone is going to have a $30K+ wedding. But if all you can afford is 50 guests and a $10K wedding. Then do it and have fun doing it. Dont cut cost and make your wedding look and feel cheap.

    Just stay small and intimate and have good stuff that makes your small intimate wedding look and feel top of the line and you will have memories for life.

    If I could have only afforded $10k for my wedding I would have only had 50 guests and still went with the same items we did instead of 250 guests. But I got what I could afford.

    I know a bunch of you will say O well we had a cheap wedding and then bought a house with the money saved. Well so did we. We got money as gifts and that was our downpayment on our house.

    No im not a millionaire, no I am not rich. I work hard for my money. I cant take it with me when I am dead so why not spend it now.

  2. My only real splurge in my wedding was my dress. I’m pretty short, but a knee-length wedding dress was considered “weird” at most of the shops I went to. When I finally found a shop that had it, it was the cheapest dress there. Now I’m seeing a trend toward short dresses – guess I beat them to the punch :)

    So I’m with everyone else’s suggestion of avoiding booze to cut costs. I didn’t want it at my wedding out of respect for my family’s religious beliefs, but we had the reception at the local American Legion so that guests who chose to could duck out to the bar. The ballroom had a 50s vintage vibe and was awesome.

    And that’s another cost saver – check out your local Legion or VFW. We got that ballroom for five hours, cleanup included, for $150. We came in under $1000 total. The reception was a potluck and I got a local baker who was trying to set up a shop in town to do the cake for free for some publicity.

  3. Erika:

    For me it is not about the wedding but about the marriage. Doesn’t matter if you spend $50,000 or $500 you both end up being married and spending the $50,000 doesn’t make it last any longer. My opinion is the more you spend on the wedding the shorter the marriage is. Husband and I got married in Tahoe, a “destination” wedding and my dad paid the $1,200 to do it. About 25 people came they paid for their own accomodations, we paid for dinner and cake and everyone had tons of fun!

  4. Hope:

    Thank you for posting this! I’ll be needing this fairly soon and its nice to have extra input on the frugal side.
    We plan to use the church they attend for the ceremony and are hoping to use ours for the reception. We will enlist a sound person from the church to be the DJ. Our main splurge will be the photographer but we know that his quality and professionalism will be well worth it.
    For the reception we will be serving two types of pasta with two types of sauce so we already have chafing dishes for that. We’ll serve bread, antipasto platters and Caesar salad.Family members will help with the food and the groom’s sister does cakes so we are hoping she’ll get to come to town.
    The main thing we have learned over the years for keeping costs down at special events is the amount of “extras” that won’t be noticed anyway. Does anyone remember the engraved napkins (I still have a drawer full) and matching plates? Matchbooks? Personalized candy holders? Like my good friend always says “Sometimes more is just more.”
    My brother in law was married in 2005. It looked as if she had ordered every possible trinkets and bridesmaid’s gift known to man. Full sit down dinner, bar, wedding chapel and hotel banquet room. Cost estimate was $30,000. This was not just a lavish wedding, it should have been a red flag to out of control spending habits. Sadly, the marriage lasted less than two years.
    Ours cost 10% of that total and we enjoyed our twentieth anniversary last year. One lesson is that you will hopefully have plenty of married years ahead to enjoy all of those things that many try to pack into one day! Less really can be more!

  5. My daughter’s wedding was two years ago today. It was a frugal celebration because it HAD to be, but it was still a lovely occasion.
    Eliminating alcohol is, I think, one of the biggest money-savers. In this case it was a requirement: Her future MIL could get them the use of a venue for free but it had a no-booze policy. We purchased soft drinks, juice, bottled water and sparkling cider (for the toast) as they went on sale in the weeks before the wedding date. (Watch those expiration dates, though.)
    If money is a big issue, consider having an early-afternoon wedding and then just serving appetizers, cake and punch. In my daughter’s case, we bought cold cuts, rolls, salads, fruits and vegetables from a warehouse club, and my sister, my stepmother and I made up the platters.
    A niece who used to work at a florist shop made the bouquets and boutonnieres. We shopped a couple of different supermarket floral departments for the “ingredients” — you’d be amazed at the variety of flowers available. (It helps if you got to stores in more affluent areas. We didn’t mind the commute!)
    If you don’t belong to a warehouse club, find a friend who does and shop there.
    Once you’re engaged, watch social buying sites like Groupon or Living Social — photographers sometimes show up. No, they probably won’t do your wedding for $50, but they might be willing to work with you on price. Can’t hurt to ask.

  6. Carrie55:

    We found some really helpful ideas for saving money on our daughter’s wedding at http://www.celebrationideasonl.....dding.html Great tip for saving money on invitations at costco plus a creative, thoughtful as well as inexpensive wedding favor idea.

  7. Attila:

    When we got married 14 years ago, we had a very tiny budget; everything was DIY and I did lots of it! Our friends helped out, my mum helped out, everything was cut price, cost price, frugal or donated and it was fantastic. Our dear friend who introduced us in the first place organised it and we had the pleasure of helping in the same way at her wedding to another one of our closest friends a couple of years later! (They met the week of our wedding.) Both of us couples are still happily married and still very close friends. One of the things we all remembered at the time was this: your wedding day should only be the best day of your life SO FAR; what happens after the wedding day is far more important. And don’t fuss when things go wrong; when they got married, the electricity went off, the weather was atrocious, there was a loud noise during the ceremony as the nearby lifeboat put out to sea and I was laid up with a prolapsed disc for 3 weeks prior to the wedding, but I got there, we all had a fabulous day and the things that went wrong make great memories.

  8. Jenna:

    Like the commentators above – family and friends can help lower the cost of weddings. Ask a friend to DJ, take photos or make the wedding cake. They have natural skills, can boost their own business, and don’t have to get you a wedding present!

  9. Katelyn:

    We actually had a Sunday afternoon (noon-3pm) wedding. We served finger foods/appetizers and then cake. No alcohol at all – it was a personal preference plus it was Sunday afternoon. We also used an all in one venue – ceremony, reception, food and flowers. We chose not to have a DJ/dancing. Instead of spending time dancing, hubby and I spent our reception visiting table to table with our guests. My dress was purchased online for about $200 (only one I found I actually liked) and my mom hemmed it for me. I also did the favors myself – small “wedding bells” with a cute poems tied to them with ribbon and little bags of personalized M&Ms. (The fun part about the M&Ms is you can buy them in lots of colors and get your names or wedding date on them.)

    Even though our wedding was fairly small and simple, we still received complements on it from family and friends several years later.

  10. Similar story here…we only spent about $1000 on our entire wedding; made my dress and the bridesmaid dresses, got an inexpensive florist, got married near Christmas so the church sanctuary was already beautifully decorated in our colors! It’s sad to go to very expensive weddings and they get divorced 12 months later…wow. Our wedding was beautiful, too, but we and our close friends and relatives made wonderful pre-planned dishes for our buffet, so we spent very little even on food, although we compensated people for their food costs. 16 years later, we still think fondly on our beautiful, simple, and inexpensive wedding and are so glad we did it that way!

  11. AngelSong:

    This post brought back so many memories of planning our wedding!

    We paid for the wedding ourselves, and all bills were paid by the wedding date, so we had no outstanding debt. We had a very small wedding, but it truly was special. We had the wedding and the reception in the church/fellowship hall, and we got a discounted rate for the reception/cleanup because we are members. We chose a catered barbecue dinner, which was inexpensive but really good.

    The florist was a small shop down the street from my apartment, and she listened carefully to what I wanted, unlike a larger shop in a more expensive neighborhood. We had seasonal flowers, which were also less expensive, and she helped us decorate the reception hall as well.

    We made favors ourselves, and I used my computer to print keepsake programs. Table decorations came from a local garden outlet store. A friend did our video for no cost, and we hired a photographer who was very reasonable, after quite a bit of shopping around. We put disposable cameras on each table so that guests could take candid shots also, and those were as special as the professional ones.

    I bought my wedding gown, veil and undergarments at a consignment shop, and alterations were included in the price of the gown. I will never forget watching the seamstress lay that gown on the floor and cut several inches off the bottom. I told her I would be scared to death to do that. She did a wonderful job on the alterations, and she even cut the dress so that it was slightly longer in back, so I had the “look” of a train without the expense. Everything I wore was brand new, absolutely beautiful, and cost less than $600. All told, we spent around $5000 (or less) and had the entire wedding planned and paid for in nine months.

    Yes, it is very possible to have a lovely and frugal wedding.

  12. I am not sure if this would work for everyone, think it depends on the area you are from (and the family), but one thing we did to save money that is common where we are from is to have an afternoon wedding rather than an evening one. We avoided the sit down dinner altogether! At the reception we served appetizers and of course the cake

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer and Legal Mumbo Jumbo

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.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, I state that I have a financial relationship with companies mentioned in this website. This may include receiving access to free products and services for product and service reviews and giveaways.

Any references to third party products, rates, or websites are subject to change without notice. I do my best to maintain current information, but due to the rapidly changing environment, some information may have changed since it was published. Please do the appropriate research before participating in any third party offers.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.