8 ways to save on wedding costs, avoid debt

Have a Pin-worthy wedding without going into card debt

By  |  Published: May 10, 2017

8 ways to save on wedding costs, avoid debt

Ask any soon-to-be bride about her wedding plans, and she’ll pull up elaborate Pinterest boards on her smartphone. With so many amazing ideas accessible at your fingertips, it’s no wonder why today’s engaged couples are under pressure to spend more than ever on their big day.

According to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study, the average wedding in 2016 cost $35,329 (and that’s not counting the honeymoon!). Besides rising prices, part of the reason may be the desire for custom guest entertainment has more than tripled, from 11 percent to 41 percent since 2009, with couples adding special touches, such as photo booths (78 percent), games (18 percent), musical performances (12 percent) and even fireworks (8 percent) to their events.

With good planning and creativity, however, it’s still possible to have a Pin-worthy wedding without going into debt (or over the top), as these experts reveal.

Take a look at some frugal chic strategies to help you save money on your nuptials:

1. Say ‘I do’ to credit rewards.
If you’re a couple with strong credit, the pre-wedding period is the best time to open a rewards credit card. “If you don’t have a credit card that offers hotel discounts, airline miles or other rewards you should get one,” says Anne Chertoff, WeddingWire’s trends expert. “I signed up for a cash back card before I got married and put everything on it from lunches to bigger ticket items like my photographer,” she says.

 

Video: Score a free honeymoon using rewards points

Some things to keep in mind: You’ll need a good to excellent credit score to qualify for the most generous rewards credit cards. When comparing cards, look for ones that align with your spending style, and that have good sign-up bonuses (you’ll have to spend a certain amount within a time frame, such as $1,000 in three months, in order to get them banked). Then, figure out what type of redemption will benefit you the most. If you don’t travel much, look for a card with points that can be redeemed for anything from rental cars, hotels, airfare or gift cards instead of one just focused on airline miles.

Here’s an idea: “You can use points to purchase gift cards for stores that carry products and supplies you might need to create the centerpieces for your wedding reception, or to buy bridal party gifts,” says Dawn-Marie Joseph, president of Estate Planning and Preservation, and founder of Williamston is Your Wedding Destination, a group of wedding vendors in Williamston, Michigan.

Of course, rewards cards only benefit you if you don’t carry a balance month to month. Once you start paying finance charges on purchases, you’ll cancel out your earnings.

You can use points to purchase gift cards ... supplies you might need to create the centerpieces for your wedding reception, or to buy bridal party gifts.

— Dawn-Marie Joseph
Founder, Williamston is Your Wedding Destination

If you can’t pay off the balance right away, you or your intended may want to look into getting a card offering an extended 0 percent promotional rate on purchases; just be sure you have a repayment plan set up to get the balance paid off before the promotional rate expires.

2. Minimize wedding-day travel.
If you find a venue that provides space for both your ceremony and reception, you can save a lot, says Sharon Naylor, author of 35 wedding planning books including “1001 Ways to Save Money and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding.” “For instance, your floral designer will only need to travel to and from one location, so that cuts down on their travel charges,” she says.

It might also mean that your photographer and videographer will spend fewer hours with you. Also, paying for an officiant is often less pricey than ceremony fees in a house of worship. Plus, if it’s all in one place, you can reduce your limousine costs, or maybe not hire one at all.

3. Scale down the food.
You don’t want to risk your guests going home hungry, but you might be able to lower the menu price per head by working with your caterer, says Naylor.

“You can skip the raw bar and just have seafood accents on some dishes, such as a lobster topping for the mac and cheese station. Or, instead of offering a buffet bowl of shrimp cocktail, have shrimp cocktail hand-passed by servers,” says Naylor. You can also opt for noodles, salads, pastas and other lower-cost selections and reduce the number of meat-carving stations.

For your cake, stick with simpler designs and classic cake flavors and fillings. “Some cakes triple in price when you opt for specialty ingredients,” says Naylor.

4. Fine-tune your flower budget.
“The majority of people don’t know how much flowers cost,” says Joseph. While she recommends going online to get ideas about the bouquet shape and colors you like, don’t get hung up on particular types of flowers unless they have a special meaning to you.

In fact, ask your florist to recommend “nonwedding flowers,” says Naylor. “Gardenias, stephanotis, callas and some other traditional bridal blooms cost a bundle. Your floral expert can suggest some blooms that are not only in season and more affordable, but are super-pretty and can often be acquired in larger masses for more effect,” she says.

Bonus tip: Bridal bouquets can pull double duty as centerpieces or to decorate the head table when placed atop clear cylinder bases or pedestals, says Joseph, and florists often have these inexpensive items on hand.

5. When it makes sense, do it yourself.
“A lot of people think they can save with DIY, but test before you invest,” says Chertoff. She’s seen many brides attempt to do their own wedding accents, and end up paying for professionally designed items at the last minute.

Here are some DIY dos and don’ts:

A lot of people think they can save with DIY, but test before you invest.

— Anne Chertoff
Wedding Wires trend expert
  • Do consider DIY favors. If you have an idea that’s nonperishable or can be done well in advance of the event, go for it. Whether it’s creating a custom USB of music or packaging up food that will last (like chocolates), you can find discount supplies and enlist your bridesmaids to help you package them up, says Chertoff.
    But don’t try to DIY anything that needs to be done during wedding crunch time. Making baked goods or trying to create your own bouquets the day of the event can turn into a disaster.
  • Do a DIY photo booth. Guests will have a blast if you put up a backdrop poster, and set up a prop table with a few selfie sticks (Etsy.com has lots of customizable and affordable ideas). Then, you can ask guests to use a custom wedding hashtag when they post photos so you can see them.
    But don’t … try to get away with not hiring a professional photographer or videographer, says Naylor. “Your wedding photos and video become so much more important in the years to come. Hire a reputable pro, even if prices are higher than some hobbyists you may see advertising out there,” she says.
  • Do create your own signage. There are lots of great ideas online to create customized table seating cards, table numbers, and ceremony and reception signs. If you’re crafty and have the time, you can pull these off with low-cost supplies.
    But don’t … think that doing invitations or programs on your own will save you money. “You might not be aware of just how much ink goes into your invitation, program and other print items until you get started, and by then it’s too late,” says Naylor. Still, there are large price variations based on types of paper and print processes, costs for inserts, and whether you bundle your invitations with your programs, so shop around.

6. Don’t be a designer snob.
For many brides, it’s all about the dress, but finding one that flatters you is more important than the name that is on the label. “There’s nothing wrong with looking at stores like David’s Bridal. Dresses are totally affordable and fashion forward. And high-end designers are creating selections that are stunning,” says Chertoff.

She also recommends shopping sample sales, but only after going dress shopping to try on different styles and see what you like. Otherwise, you’ll end up settling for a gown you’re not crazy about, and cave in to buying a second dress you find later on.

Although it’s unconventional, Joseph says it’s possible to save a lot of money by considering a consignment dress purchase, which is sometimes offered in her boutique, The Wedding Gallery. “I just took in a $2,500 ballgown dress in perfect condition – there’s not one bead out of place,” says Joseph. If you can get past the fact that the dress was already worn – literally for a few hours – you can save a lot.

7. Learn how to manage extras.
Many couples go over their wedding budget by at least 10 percent, says Chertoff. To not have to rely on credit cards, she recommends putting $1,000 into a do-not-touch fund for last-minute surprise costs – such as having to buy large umbrellas if rain is in the forecast, or items for guest hospitality baskets in the restrooms.

Of course, don’t forget that extras are optional. “Your wedding is not the last party you’re ever going to throw,” says Chertoff.

8. Read your contracts carefully.
Another way to get in over your head with wedding spending is by ignoring the fine print. “Make sure you know what’s included, such as if you have to pay extra for valet service; what the payment schedule is; and if credit cards are OK, or do they charge a processing fee,” says Chertoff.

A bit of haggling can go a long way, too. “Ask for a discount if you pay in cash, or are buying in volume,” Joseph says.

There’s no getting around the fact that planning an elegant affair is expensive, but by employing some of these frugal tactics and sticking to your budget, you’ll start your new lives together with not only a grand celebration, but on the right financial footing.

See related: Video: 4 ways to finance an engagement ring, 5 tips to cut wedding party costs


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Updated: 10-22-2017

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