40 ways to save money during wedding planning
Experts give us insider tips for cutting costs without sacrificing style
Ever wish you knew the secret to getting a gorgeous gown sans the staggering price tag? Or how to wow guests with elaborate décor without going into newlywed debt? We went straight to the source—those who arrange the flowers, make the cakes and plan the affairs—for their best insider tips on savvy ways to save for your wedding day.
1/ For weddings with a large guest list, cut the cake cost by having a display cake, featuring your dream detailing, and a separate (but same flavoring) sheet cake hidden in the back to serve the majority. Wedding cake designer Lindsey Gamble of Elegantly Iced advises to also take your venue and how the cake will be displayed into account, “Getting your fully decorated cake exactly how you want it design-wise, but slightly smaller than it would be if it were to serve everyone, can save you a chunk of change. However, if you have a grand, cavernous room that will be holding 300 people, but a tiny little cake for 75 people, it’s going to look very out of place on display in that huge room!”
2/ The rule of cake design is the more fanciful, the higher the cost. If you want a decadent dessert that’s covered in sugar flowers and hand-sculpted lace, it equals to hours of labor on the cake decorator’s part, spiking up the price for you. “A simple and elegant cake with a beautiful kiss of flowers can still be stunning and is much less,” says Gamble. “Or, try to highlight just one or two impactful details to make them stand out instead of having them cover your whole cake.”
3/ Make a big impact at no additional cost just by changing the color of the fondant. Instead of add-ons, show off your style with rich hues from your wedding palette. “Making your cake one of the colors in your wedding instead of white can add a lot of drama without you adding more to your price tag,” says Gamble.
4/ Don’t wait until last minute to book your wedding cake, as it will cost you a pretty penny for a rush order. “A good rule of thumb is to book three to six months in advance, and six to nine months in advance for high wedding season for an in-demand baker,” says Gamble.
5/ Topsy-turvy tiers may be showstoppers but they’re also excessive expenses. “Any tiers that need to be sculpted, such as floating, faux or topsy-turvy, will raise the price of your cake,” says Gamble. Stick with traditional stacked tiers to keep costs down.
6/ For ceremony and cocktail hour music, pass over the wedding pros and hire musicians that don’t necessarily specialize in nuptials. “Like in most aspects of the wedding industry, wedding musicians will charge much more for weddings than other professional musicians,” says Geraldine Boyer-Cussac, a professional pianist and editor of thesuccessfulmusician.com. “Any professional musician can play weddings in the way you’ve envisioned it. Wedding music is not technically hard to play, and pros are used to being reliable and answer to cues, like the ones they’ll get from the wedding coordinator.” For receptions, she recommends going with lesser-known bands. “The reason a new band is cheaper is because they don’t have the track record to command higher fees. It takes a lot of time and energy to start a band, so the musicians in it will really want to please you to get a great review. They know that you are in charge of their future reputation, so you can count on them to do as well, if not better, as any other band.” Just be very clear about the things they’ll have to do that are not directly related to music: introductions of the bridal party, rallying people for the cake cutting, etc.
7/ Boyer-Cussac recommends hiring the same person or band for the ceremony and the cocktail hour. It will be much easier for you to lower the price when you ask for a package deal. You could get anywhere between five to 20 percent off the total price.
8/ The more musicians you have, the more it costs, so if you were thinking of having a string trio or quartet, it would actually cost you less and impress your guests more to have a harp player instead.
9/ Many couples decide on the music regardless of the space. But if you want a pianist, and there is no piano around, you might have to pay extra for your musician to bring along a keyboard and amp. Instead, work with what you have (does the church have an amazing organ?) or hire string instrumentals, since the instruments are much easier to transport.
10/ Don’t hire musicians too far in advance. “This relates back to the idea that you don’t need to hire musicians who specialize in weddings,” says Boyer-Cussac. “Because wedding musicians do only weddings, they get booked months in advance, but in the rest of the musicians world, most things get scheduled within a few weeks.” She recommends scheduling non-wedding musicians between two and six weeks before the big day. “You’ll find a lot of professionals who will be perfect for your wedding, and you can save between $50 and $150 just by waiting.”
11/ Big bands are virtually never hired for weddings, so they tend to be much cheaper than regular wedding bands, even though they have more musicians in them. “They are the biggest kept secret on wedding reception music for cost and wow effect,” says Boyer-Cussac.
12/ If your wedding is at an unusual time, such as a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday evening, or on an early afternoon in the weekend, you will have more chances to see the price be dropped by the band when you bargain. “Normally, bands know that if you try to bargain with them for a Saturday night wedding, they have another couple ready to hire them for that same day at their going price,” explains Boyer-Cussac. “But on a different schedule, there is no one else that will hire them. And most bands will prefer to accept an extra wedding for a cheaper price than no wedding at all.”
13/ Andy Anderson, the spin doctor behind Gotham DJ in New York City, recommends using your DJ for the ceremony, cocktail and reception to avoid costs of live musicians. “It’s surprising, but some clients only think of hiring a DJ for the dancing portion of the night, and avoiding the cost of live musicians for cocktails, dinner or ceremony can be a big help for couples.”
14/ You may think that booking far in advance will secure you a discount, but often the opposite is true. “If someone comes to me at the last minute (three months or less from the wedding) and I’m free on their night, I’m more likely to work with them on price.” Similar to the live music option, DJs are more willing to drop their price in the unlikelihood they’ll receive another inquiry for that same date and time. “Of course, this can be a risky strategy, as the couple may find that everyone good is already booked,” notes Anderson. “But you never know.”
15/ If you’ve discovered a DJ who you think is made for you, don’t be afraid to reach out and simply talk to them. “Even though I have a fairly high-end clientele, every now and then a couple on a budget who seem really great will reach out to me,” Anderson explains. “Often they’ve seen my site and feel a connection. And if the feeling is mutual, I get into the idea of helping them out and then I’m hooked.”
Flowers + Decor
16/ Roses are easily the most popular wedding bloom, but most people don’t realize they are priced by the stem length. The shorter ones are often less expensive for the florist to purchase from the wholesaler, translating to less expensive for you. “Opt for a short-style rose arrangements and centerpieces,” says Margaret Egiziaco, founder of floral consulting company Flower Me Events. “Along with the lower rose price, they are often less time-consuming to construct, and use simpler vessels, so they’re usually less expensive overall.”
17/ If you have your heart set on massive branches dripping with crystals to flank your aisle, renting them from your florist is a great way to get a statement piece at a “non-large” price. “There will be a clause in your floral contract stating your items, if lost or damaged, will carry a monetary remittance,” says Egiziaco. “And, of course, your guests cannot take the pieces home, but at the end of the wedding no one wants to carry a 50-pound branch piece home, I promise.”
18/ Ceremony pieces are an easy area to save on your wedding’s floral décor. Tall standing vases or baskets frequently adorn the sides of the ceremony spot and while they do draw attention and will be photographed, the ceremony is the shortest part of the wedding. Egiziaco recommends cutting costs on pieces, which can range from $150 to $300, by opting for something less ornate, such as gladiolus or snapdragon in a tall cylinder or fluted vase, or rent a simple branch piece from your florist.
19/ Believe it or not, those tiny corsages are very labor intensive, especially when you bring in multiple flowers. More time means more money, so keep things simple. “Two roses or one orchid is plenty,” says Egiziaco. “It will keep the fuss, and price, at a minimum.
20/ Shop seasonal sample sales and trunk shows from designers in your area. “Not only is there a discount often attached to the merchandise, but they also often throw in a free veil during the events,” says Chicago stylist Michelle Jeremias.
21/ As soon as “yes” has been addressed, start signing up for mailing lists for your favorite bridal salons and designers. You’ll be the first to know when they have insider sample deals and preview days.
22/ Admittedly, it’s rare to score at consignment shops, but when you do, you score big, so it’s worth the try. Many bridal shops give their sample gowns to neighborhood consignment stores where the never-been-worn gowns are sold at a fraction of the retail price. You are likely to run into size issues, but consignment shops usually have an in-house seamstress so you’re able to get an estimate on what alterations will cost to see if it’s worth the discounted price.
23/ Everyone knows someone who knows someone important. Tap into your network and see if you can find someone who works in the industry to score some serious discounts. It may even be worth getting a side job at Armani for a stunning three-piece suit …
24/ If you found your perfect dress but your heart dropped when you saw the price tag, check online before you freak out. Just punching in the size, style, and designer at sites such as eBay, preownedweddingdreses.com, recyclebride.com and yourdreamdress.com can land you your dream couture gown for up to 90 percent off retail.
25/ Who says you can’t wear American Eagle down the aisle? If you’re a non-traditional carrier, shop at your favorite stores for your wedding day attire. Many dress-wearing nearlyweds are going this route, opting for a fun summer dress instead of a full gown for their big day. Some retailers are now even offering wedding dress collections.
26/ Bridal salons have a number of sample dresses in their storage rooms, so don’t be shy to ask, even if it’s not a special sample sale event. “Your bridal consultant is your friend, not the enemy. They want you to walk away with your perfect gown, and will try to give you a small discount if possible. All you need to do is ask. The worst that will happen is they’ll say ‘no’” advises Jeremias.
Beauty + Grooming
27/ It’s always more expensive to have the artist come to you. “Certain salons charge hourly to send staffers on location and going to them can be a more economical depending on how large your [wedding] party is,” says makeup artist Kristen Arnett.
28/ Ask for the stylists to waive the trial free when you book their services. Oftentimes, they will.
29/ If your intention is to have gorgeous skin, begin a regimen that works for you four to six months in advance instead of getting an expensive facial right before the big day. It’s less risky, too, as facials could cause your skin to break out in reaction to the deep cleansing.
30/ The most economical way to approach hair and makeup is to learn to do it yourself. “I’ve taught several brides who were getting married in remote locations how to recreate a beautiful look for themselves with great results,” says Arnett. Not only does it actually cost the same, if not less, to pay for a lesson and buy the recommended items, but you will acquire skills to last you for a lifetime. Arnett recommends practicing your hair and makeup at least twice before the big day and take test photos of yourself to ensure it exceeds your expectations.
31/ When it comes to beauty, you get what you pay for, but if you have a talented friend who wants to offer their services as a wedding gift, take it. “Very cautiously I will say that sometimes a friend who is skilled at makeup or hair can be a budget-friendly resource,” says Arnett.
32/ If you plan on leaving your hair down, head to a nice salon with your favorite stylist and get a shampoo and style (or blow out) the day of your wedding—just keep the fact that it’s your wedding day to yourself, or they’ll immediately charge you triple. “You should go in at least once before to make sure they do the kind of style you like,” Arnett notes.
Food + Drink
33/ Negotiate with your venue for special bar items before you book. “If there’s a rum or vodka or microbrew, you can often get it ‘thrown in’ if you ask before you sign a contract,” says New York City wedding planner Karen Bussen. “There is always more leverage before you book.”
34/ If you’ll serve a seated dinner, you can eliminate pricey food stations from your cocktail hour fare by opting for chic passed hors d’oeuvres. “Heavy pasta and carving stations only slow down the dancing later, so keep your menu light and sophisticated, and your wallet will be the only thing full at your party!” explains Bussen.
35/ Instead of a full bar, opt for beer, wine and a signature cocktail. Not only is it budget-friendly, but it adds a personal touch to your libations.
36/ Once you found a stationer you like, make it a one-stop shop for all of your wedding paper needs. “Many stationers offer discounted prices for ordering multiple items,” says Erica Henriksen, director of marketing for Bella Figura and Smock stationery.
37/ While we love the crisp look of letterpress on ultra-thick, two-ply paper, it can get costly. Offset printing on one-ply paper is a nice alternative. “You still get quality printing, but at a more affordable price than letterpress,” explains Henriksen. Offset printing is the highest quality flat printing option available, so it’s a step up from digital but not quite as pricey as letterpress. “It’s a nice middle ground.”
38/ Many of the traditional stationery items aren’t necessary, and in today’s modern world, are no longer a faux pas to skip. Instead of reception cards, opt to include the information on your invitation, or even on your envelope flap, and direct guests to a wedding website for directions, maps, lodging information and other traveling details. “Other ways to cut down include sending a reply postcard instead of a reply card plus envelope, or having guests reply electronically (you can use that website card for replies, too),” explains Henriksen.
39/ Design can definitely make a difference in pricing. If you’re looking for something that needs to be created from scratch, expect to be hit with some custom design fees. Be sure to talk with your stationer about all customization options—the orientation of a design, ink colors, fonts, adding a cartouche, border or monogram—as some could be included in the cost of ordering.
40/ Keep in mind that the larger a set gets, the more the envelope will weigh which will result in higher postage costs. Oversized or square envelopes will also require additional postage, so if you’re trying to keep costs down, stick with a standard size.
Photos: Elegantly Iced; Real Weddings Glenn and Michael, photography by Kyle Bromley; Our Labor of Love; Flower Me Events; Bebe; Real Weddings Kelsey and Leigh, photography by Carla Ten Eyck; Bella Figura