How to Be the Ultimate Budget Bride

A bride wearing a vintage dress and hat and standing by a barn door.

Weddings tend to be rather expensive, even if you’re not going all-out. So unless you have the budget to splurge, you’ll want to save money wherever you can. Even if it’s a small discount here or there, the numbers can add up quickly. Believe it or not, budget weddings can also be a sport for some. There are brides who get a kick out of planning a wedding for a penny on the dollar. Whatever your financial situation is, you can learn quite a lot from these “ultimate budget brides” and maybe even become one yourself! Looking for ways to save money on your big day? Here are some useful tips used by financially savvy brides that you might not have heard of.

Get Familiar with Your Finances

You don’t need to become an accountant, but you should have a base idea of your budget. How much can you realistically afford? If you’re taking out a loan (which is really not recommended), will you be able to afford the payments?

To start, make a spreadsheet of all potential expenses and how much of your wedding budget you are willing to allocate to each category. You can follow some basic guidelines such as 40% to the venue and catering, 15% to the photographer, etc., but feel free to adjust it to your preferences. Perhaps you’re having your wedding at home so there’s no venue cost, and the dress is more important to you than flowers. This will also help you adjust your budget as you book vendors. For example, if you scored a great deal on a photographer, you may have a few hundred bucks to spend in another category.

Always leave room for error. Budget brides will leave around 5% (or more) of their allowance for unexpected expenses. You can also have a separate column for gratuities, as they are sometimes included in some vendors’ pricing. Regardless of how you divide it, once you come up with a spending plan, stick to it!

Save on Stationary

A wedding invitation and save the date in black and white paper.

Modern budget brides often skip the stationary altogether and opt for e-vites. Not your style? Get the real thing for a fraction of the price by bulk ordering through an online service such as Minted, Moo, VistaPrint, or even Staples. Custom designs are available on all if you’d like to do your own thing. Should you choose to use a stationer, watch our for “envelope stuffing fees,” which is exactly what it sounds like. If possible, tell them you’ll do it yourself (and make a bridesmaids date out of it) and you’ll get a good discount.

Reuse and Recycle

Reusing and recycling are some of the key skills all budget brides have. (As a bonus, it helps save the environment as well!) For example, a wedding dress can be bought at a secondhand shop, borrowed from a friend or family member, rented, or bought new at a budget retailer such as David’s Bridal. If it’s not your size or you’d like to change one or two details about the dress, you can take it to a tailor and they’ll adjust it. The same goes for wedding decor. You can find many cute items at thrift or secondhand shops. With furniture rentals, however, it can be a hit or miss. Unfortunately, sometimes the cost of a large dining set plus transportation can end up being more than buying it new, so make sure to compare prices.

You can also apply the principle to the wedding itself. For example, utilize the same flowers from the ceremony throughout the reception, and get another life out of them by letting guests take them as wedding favors at the end of the day.

Budget Beauty

A bride applying lipstick.

You can save a lot of money on hair and makeup by either doing it yourself or having a trusted friend help out. Should you decide to keep your style simple, you can even “splurge” on a salon visit. Most low-cost hair salons such as Fantastic Sams or Great Clips will do a blowout or curl your hair for around $20.

If you need to brush up on your contouring, eyeliner, or brow skills, makeup tutorials can be a lifesaver—if you’re willing to put the time into practice. Alternatively, don’t be afraid to make friends with the staff at your department store’s makeup counters. You can often get a free makeover and pick up some tips even without buying a product.

A Not-So Open Bar

Not having an open bar is viewed as tacky by many, but that doesn’t mean you need to set aside half of your budget for booze. Limit the free drinks to only wine, beer, and soda. Have only one signature cocktail if you insist. Everything else? Don’t hesitate to charge for it—just mention this ahead of time to avoid disappointments. Unless you’re using a catering service’s selection, stock up on bottles at a mass retailer such as BevMo or Total Wine & More. You get discounts for bulk purchases, and sometimes they’ll let you rent glasses at no extra cost.

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

A simple wedding cake decorated with flowers.

You can fake a luxury, multi-tiered wedding cake for a fraction of the cost by having your baker slap some frosting over Styrofoam, leaving only the top layer to be the real thing. As far as feeding the guests, order a look-alike sheet cake and hide it behind closed doors. Your guests won’t be able to tell the difference (or care) and it’ll save you a good chunk of cash. But if you or your friends happen to be artsy and talented, feel free to order a basic cake without any fluff and add your own toppers, flowers, and sparkles. Just don’t do it in your wedding dress!

Be Real with the Registry

A registry may not save you money on your wedding, but it can save you money in general. Be realistic in terms of what you want and focus on what you need. Anything you’re planning on using your own money to upgrade should be first on your registry. Not the materialistic type? Create a honeymoon fund instead or ask people for straight-up cash gifts.

Wallet-Friendly Venues

A table at a wedding reception set on a lawn with trees around it.

Having a wedding at home or at a friend’s property is the best option for budget brides. The second? A restaurant, ideally on a quiet mid-week day, where you will just pay for each guest’s meal but save on decor and often other categories.

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