How to Plan an Affordable Wedding, According to Experts

Is a wedding really possible on a tight budget?
Woman budgeting for wedding with calculator
Photo: d3sign / Getty Images
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
by
Hannah Nowack
Hannah Nowack The Knot Senior Weddings Editor
Hannah Nowack
Senior Editor
  • Hannah writes and edits articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a focus on real wedding coverage.
  • Hannah has a passion for DE&I and plays an integral role in ensuring The Knot content highlights all voices and all love stories.
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Hannah was the Social Media Editor at Martha Stewart Weddings.
Updated Mar 28, 2024

If you've landed here then you're probably wrestling with the balance between planning the wedding of your dreams while also sticking to a tight budget and spending your money wisely. The good news is that you're not alone–many couples wrestle with how to plan an affordable wedding.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help with planning a wedding on a tight budget. Plus, there are knowledgeable pros who are ready and able to assist and we spoke with four of them to get expert insight on how to plan a wedding on a tight budget. Melissa Caceres is the creative director of Events On A Budget in Miami, Florida. Jessica Bishop is the founder of The Budget Savvy Bride, host of The Bouquet Toss Podcast, and author of The Budget-Savvy Wedding Planner & Organizer. Ellie Durdin is the founder of The Aisle Assistant, an affordable digital wedding planning resource. Mitzi Villalobos is the owner of Bride On A Budget in San Antonio, Texas. The four expert pros opened up about their advice for creating a wedding on a budget.

In this story:

How Much Is an Affordable Wedding?

While The Knot 2023 Real Wedding Study found that the average wedding cost is $35,000, the concept of affordability is incredibly subjective. In addition to the nationwide average, our study also found that from state to state the cost of a wedding varies. In New Jersey, for example, the average cost of a wedding is $51,000 while in Missouri the average cost of a wedding comes in at $23,000. With all of these numbers, some couples may feel that these budgets are affordable while others may consider these costs incredibly expensive. Your priorities and your budget should be the main factors that influence how much you're willing to spend to ensure your wedding feels affordable based on your situation. "Budgets are subjective to everyone," emphasizes Caceres.

How to Plan an Affordable Wedding

Let's get into the nuts and bolts of how to plan an inexpensive wedding that works with your tight budget. Keep this advice about how to throw an affordable wedding in mind as you start planning.

Prioritize Thoughtfully

Prioritization is important with all wedding planning, but especially when it comes to hosting a wedding on a budget. Bishop encourages couples to start by discussing "what aspects of your wedding are most important to you both and getting clear on what you value most about your wedding day experience."

Once you've identified your top-priority must-haves you can designate larger portions of the budget to those items and find budget-friendly ways to save on other elements. Bishop goes on to remind to-be-weds that "your wedding doesn't have to conform to anyone else's expectations. It's all about creating a day that reflects you as a couple and making it meaningful, within your financial means."

Minimize Guest Count

Cutting down your guest count is one of the simplest ways to make your wedding less expensive. Villalobos reminds couples that most wedding costs are "directly proportional to the number of attendees at your event. The first, and most difficult, step to affordability when planning will be minimizing your guest count."

Figure out who really matters to you and focus on inviting those people. As much as you might want to invite co-workers, acquaintances or distant relatives, don't add people to the guest list out of obligation. Durbin echoes this advice: "The number one thing couples can do to help manage their wedding budget is keep the guest list as tight as possible. The guest count has a ripple effect to so many costs, so the smaller the guest list is, the farther the budget can be stretched."

Limit Scope of the Wedding

In addition to limiting the guest list, couples planning a wedding on a tight budget should also be smart about the scope of the celebration. Notably, consider the overall duration of the event. You'll need more extensive menu and entertainment for an eight hour celebration than you will for a four hour one.

Find your kind of venue

From barns to ballrooms, discover reception venues that feel like you.

Make a Budget and Stick to It

"Setting a clear budget before you begin planning is crucial," says Bishop. Not only do you need to decide on a wedding budget breakdown based on what you can realistically afford given your financial situation, but you also need to be disciplined enough to stick to your wedding budget. Bishop shares that "diligently tracking your spending is key to staying on budget. Recording all your wedding purchases, deposits, and payments along the way can help avoid any financial surprises and make sure you're staying on course to come in on-budget."

Hire Vendors Thoughtfully

Listen up: skipping professional vendors to save money is actually the opposite of what you should do. Invest in experienced professionals who know how to maximize your budget. These pros will save you from making costly budget mistakes and can guide you on how to spend efficiently.

Book the Right Venue

Before signing on the dotted line, you need to be thoughtful about where you're hosting the wedding and what's included with your wedding venue. "Couples should be sure they fully understand the costs involved with booking their venue," explains Durbin. "Too often I speak with couples who have booked a venue that seems affordable because the venue rental fee is low, but they booked without pricing out the other vendors they need such as catering and rentals." Bishop agrees, explaining that "it's reasonable to think using a raw space venue could be more affordable than an all-inclusive venue with full service options, but it's not always the case. It's important to really sit down and calculate all the costs so you can compare apples to apples to know which option is more affordable."

"I can't say it enough: the biggest mistake I see is couples book a venue with a low rental cost that requires everything to be brought in, often at a higher cost than a venue that provides eveything in house," reiterates Durbin.

Additionally, when considering affordable wedding venues near you, keep potential transportation costs in mind as well. If you book a separate venue for the ceremony and reception you'll be on the hook for transportation between the two venues. Whereas, you'll save on transportation with a venue that can host both events.

Book a Wedding Planner

I'll say it a little louder for the people in the back: "Don't skip a wedding planner because you think it'll save you money." Investing in a wedding planner is actually one of the best ways to ensure your budget stretches as far as possible and is utilizes effectively.

Villalobos reminds nearlyweds that "navigating wedding planning is no easy feat, and even the most organized, diligent, and proactive couples cannot, and should not, coordinate their own wedding day." Caceres adds that "not hiring a full planner, even if on a budget can be a big mistake. A well-seasoned and connected planner that specializes in maximizing budgets, can be a great asset. Not having one can end up leading the couple to spend more than the cost of the planner because of mistakes. Plus, the amount of stress caused may not be worth it on such an important day."

Once you have a realistic understanding of your budget, you can research wedding planners that will realistically align with your expectations and needs. There are a variety of types of wedding planners which means every couple should be able to find a pro that fits with their style and budget.

Still not convinced? Let the data sway you. According to The Knot 2024 Economic Pulse study, roughly 50% of couples said their vendors, especially planners, advised them on how to maintain and work within their budget.

Set Reasonable Expectations

"Couples must understand that there are no magical shortcuts or secrets to saving thousands on an event," explains Villalobos. At the end of the day, "the cost of things is the cost of things," notes the pro. Once your budget is set, it's important to talk with vendors to understand how far that budget will go and what is reasonable. Sourcing inspiration from social media is a double-edged sword since you don't have full visibility into the cost of any given event you're seeing online. Villalobos goes on to emphasize that couples need to ensure their vision fits what is financially attainable for them.

Be Discerning With DIY Projects

Guess what: DIY won't necessarily save you money. "Doing a ton of DIY for the wedding not only can end up costing the same or more than buying, but couples should keep their time commitment in mind too," says Durbin. While some tasks might be able to be handled in a DIY manner, Bishop encourages couples to "make sure to consider your unique situation and circumstances so you know what you can realistically take on and what you can or should outsource to a pro."

Understand Where Costs Come From

Some wedding costs are fixed while others are variable. This is important because most of your budget savings will come from variable costs while fixed costs likely can't be avoided.

For example, having 10 centerpieces will be cheaper than 20 because it's a variable cost. Additionally, the flowers you choose will impact the cost of those centerpieces. You could pay a premium for a very specific bloom or you could trust the pros to source an affordable flower based on what's available and your palette as an affordable option to garner some savings. However, the overhead and labor costs from your floral designer are fixed and you can't cut corners there.

Similarly, with catering, having 100 mouths to feed will cost less than having 200 mouths to feed, naturally. Additionally, the foods you put on the menu will impact price as caviar, for example, will cost much more than chicken. But, like with florists, there are some parts of your catering quote that aren't negotiable, like the aforementioned overhead costs.

Listen to Your Vendors

Listen to your vendor goes for every pro, especially your caterer and florist. Across the board, making assumptions that doing [fill in the blank] will save you money can be a grave mistake. For example, among pros there is often some debate as to whether a buffet dinner is more affordable than a plated dinner. Similarly, a friend might tell you that going with a certain floral design will save you money, but only the pros will be able to tell you what's actually affordable and what isn't. Because of things like equipment and labor costs, it's ultimately best to be transparent with your vendors about what you have to spend and listen to their advice about how to maximize your funds.

Wedding Ideas on a Tight Budget

Now that you know how to have a nice, but inexpensive wedding, here are some specific ways to save money on your wedding to implement for an exceptional event. These budget-friendly ideas will help make your wedding dreams come true.

Plan Seasonally

Shipping in out-of-season flowers from the other side of the world? Yep, that will cost you quite a bit more than using locally sourced in-season flowers.

Hire Local Vendors

In addition to their normal fee, out-of-town vendors will, rightfully, include travel expenses in their quote to you. While you may love the work of a vendor who lives father away, the most budget-friendly option is to hire a local wedding vendor who won't incur travel expenses.

Who is more trustworthy: A random faceless Reddit commentor or a professional wedding vendor? Despite what friends might tell you about "surefire ways to cut costs," it's always best to defer back to the pros.

Be Flexible

While flexibility is important across the board, it is especially key if you're pinching pennies and want to stretch a tight wedding budget. Being open to alternative options, from dates to supplies, create wiggle room where you can save.

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