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5 ways to save money on your wedding day

The venue, the flowers and the food all rank as some of our biggest wedding spending regrets. Here's how to avoid them.
by Jean Chatzky /
Image: Wedding ceremony
Too many of us choose the big party and wind up regretting what we spend, according to a new survey by EverQuote.James Farley / Getty Images file
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A second hand dress, no centerpieces, no band, only 25 guests and no printed invitations — that’s the formula Elizabeth Bitterman is using to keep the total cost of her wedding this September under $5,000.

For the most part, everything has been easy — including the $1,000 dress she scored for $150 at bhldn.com and the emailed invites — but cutting the guest list was a challenge. “I had to get over offending people I wasn’t including, which was tough,” says Bitterman, a certified financial planner at John G. Ullman and Associates wealth management firm in New York. “We realized all of a sudden our guest list was going to be 400 people, but we couldn’t do that. I had to call people and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on, we’re keeping it small.’”

With wedding spending, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture — in Bitterman’s view, when you’re looking at spending the rest of your life with your spouse, a single day shouldn’t put you in debt. “I see a lot of people who finance these events with a credit card, or take money from their investment accounts. They see what everyone else is doing, and they assume they need to keep up, rather than talking about what they can really afford. But would you rather set yourself up for a solid financial future together, or have a big party?”

Some of the most commonly regretted expenditures include the venue, the flowers and decorations, the band and the food.

Unfortunately, too many of us choose the big party and wind up regretting what we spend, according to a new survey by EverQuote, an online insurance marketplace. Some of the most commonly regretted expenditures include the venue, the flowers and decorations, the band and the food. “Everything seems important when you're planning, says Amy Danise, senior editor at EverQuote. “You may need to cut back in some places so you can splurge in others.”

Thankfully, there are many ways to have your wedding cake, eat it too — and still not wake up with a with a debt hangover. Here’s a look at a few of them.

1. Stock up on your own booze

Rather than hiring a bartender who will supply alcohol, find someone who is licensed to serve the alcohol you purchase. Wait until there’s a sale at your local liquor store and stock up on your favorite beverages, recommends Mona Desai, growth and events manager at Peerspace event space marketplace, which specializes in affordable wedding venues. Just make sure you check the license for your venue and confirm that you’re allowed to BYOB (and bartender).

2. Keep it intimate

"Gone are the days when your Mom's distant cousin needs to attend your wedding,” Desai says. Invite just your closest friends and family. Not only will you save, your day will be made all the more special when you can spend time with those closest to you.

“I invited old friends I hadn’t seen in years out of guilt, because they invited me to their wedding years ago, or we have friends in common and I didn’t want them to feel left out,” says Mandi Woodruff, executive editor of personal finance education site MagnifyMoney. Although none of them accepted the invitation, she says it would have added hundreds of dollars to her wedding budget if they had. Her rule of thumb: If you haven’t heard from them in 6 months, they probably shouldn’t get an invite.

3. Skip a wedding planner in favor of an onsite event coordinator

Rather than hiring a wedding planner to manage every aspect of your day from start to finish, do as much advance planning as you can via online resources. Then, for the day-of, hire an onsite coordinator who can run the show, allowing you to enjoy your day, Desai says. “They’ll take all the heavy lifting off your hands.” It should cost about 1/10 the cost of a traditional planner.

4. Consider alternate days and times for your ceremony

When it comes to your venue, one of the biggest factors that will impact your budget is timing, explains Kylie Carlson, founder of the International Academy of Wedding & Event Planning.

“Some venues will offer discounted rates for the off-season. For many, Saturday evenings is the peak time so check to see if they have different rates for Friday and Sundays, as well as daytime weddings.”

With daytime weddings, you also stand to save big on food and beverage, since lunch entrees are normally priced less than dinner, and guests generally consume less alcohol during the day. Another perk of having your wedding on a less popular day or time is that it will weed out any guests who aren’t willing to go the extra mile for your big day, Woodruff says.

5. Shop outside the box for your dress

It’s no secret that wedding dresses can be incredibly expensive, so pre-owned is often the way to go, explains Smart Shopping Expert, Trae Bodge. “After all, it was only worn once,” she says. Then, after the big day, you can sell your dress again using a site like PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.

Another option is opening up your search to general formal wear. There are gorgeous white gowns to be had that may not immediately be branded as wedding dresses. “Once you take ‘bridal gown’ out of equation, the price decreases,” Bodge says.

Splurge when you want to, and be smart with money saved

Of course all this isn’t to say that you can’t treat yourself on your big day. There are some things many couples find to be worth the investment, like photography. That’s where Bitterman is spending the majority of her wedding budget, and interestingly, it’s one of the areas where the EverQuote survey showed people wish they’d spend more.

And remember: Any money you don’t spend on your wedding can be used however you like — you can pop those funds into a retirement plan, a 529 college savings plan or something else that’s going to benefit you and your partner. “Home improvements. That’s what we’re saving for,” Bitterman says. “It’s not glamorous, but it’s something we need more than we need a chocolate fountain.”

With Kathryn Tuggle

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