Image of items associated with a wedding: bride and groom attire, arch with flowers, a camera and silverware.
Photo: The Voorhes

Attire

1. Rent a gown. Designer gowns, used and new, are available for a fraction of their original price.

2. Buy a used gown or designer sample. Local thrift stores, including Goodwill, are sources. At The Bridal Garden in New York City, proceeds from the sale of donated new and used dresses go to charity.  

Venue

3. Get a catering estimate for the minimum guest count. You can add guests later, but late in the game it may be hard to subtract, notes wedding planner Michelle Culp, owner of Essence of Events in Seattle. “If you prepay for 100 and then you’re only at 80, you could get charged for a guest count of 100,” she says.

4. Choose a low-demand season or day. In many locations, January and February weddings are the least expensive. Friday night and Sunday weddings are less costly than those on Saturday nights. Weekdays are even better. Sierra Farinas from Elizabeth, N.J., is planning her wedding for Halloween this year—a Monday. “I had vendors pleading with me to make deals,” she says.

5. Party before dinner­time. For instance, Vecoma at the Yellow River, a banquet hall in Snellville, Ga., offers “Over Before 5 p.m.” specials for Saturday events that end before 5 p.m., starting at about $4,330 for 75 people, including the rental of the venue, food, beverages, service charges, and tax. By contrast, the same party on a Saturday night starts at about $7,000. Brunch, which typically has less costly entrées, is another good option. You’ll probably save on alcohol, too.

6. Plan a destination wedding. This works well if it means you can streamline the guest list. The downside: It’s an extra cost burden on friends and family.

7. Head to a restaurant. This is a good choice if the guest list isn’t too huge, and you can opt for a nonpeak time such as Thursday night or Sunday daytime. “They can have bud vases on the tables; they can include the wine, beer, and the bar as part of the minimum; and often there is little to no space rental fee,” says Jove Meyer, owner of Jove Meyer Events in Brooklyn, N.Y. “You can take care of a huge part of your wedding this way, and the space can be aesthetically gorgeous.”



Photography, Videography, Entertainment

8. Send the photographer home early. Pay for an hour less of service at the end of the party. Some guests already may have departed before the wedding is over, anyway. “It’s redundant after a while,” says Tiffany Dumas, owner of The Tiffany Studio in Brunswick, Maine.

9. Limit or skip the videography. Hire someone just for the ceremony.

10. Forgo the lighting. “Uplights,” spotlights, and other extras can add up. At Excel Entertainment in Paramus, N.J., for instance, a full lighting package can add $10,000 to a couple’s bill, says owner Jason Frankel.

11. Shop for packages. Many entertainment companies will give discounts if you sign on for multiple services, such as a DJ and videography.

Food and Catering

12. Compare buffet and sit-down pricing. Though it’s counterintuitive, sometimes a buffet costs more. You may save in labor costs, but people often eat more than at a sit-down meal, and they expect greater variety. “Typically you see people standing by the priciest dishes,” notes Ravinder Kingra, a lecturer in food and beverage management at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

13. Limit entrées. One meat selection, one chicken, and one vegetarian may be sufficient. “Don’t worry about chicken looking cheap,” says Amy Hardin, co-owner and a senior consultant at Details Weddings & Events, in Fort Smith, Ark. “You’re never going to please everyone, so go with the simplest thing that makes you happy.”

14. Go ahead and be creative. That could mean catering from a chain such as Panera Bread or calling in a small fleet of gourmet food trucks. Hardin says she has hired trucks that serve local favorites, including barbecue and “mac-and-cheese balls,” and handmade, alcohol-spiked Popsicles.

15. Order from the “event” or “banquet” menu. In our research, we found that some caterers are willing to oblige. You won’t get as many choices, or extras like a champagne toast, but you can save significantly. But don’t hide the fact that it’s a wedding; the deception could backfire in the form of less-than-stellar service.

16. Shed the tiers. Order a small, decorated “cutting cake” for photos, then serve sheet cake to guests, advises wedding planner Culp. Other delicious but less costly options include cookies, cupcakes, or donuts.

Image of a Champagne glass, a rose, a limo and a quill for a cheap wedding
Photo: The Voores

Alcohol

17. Limit the open bar. Restrict it to the cocktail hour, followed by a cash bar. Or provide drink tickets to guests; once they’re used up, the bar becomes cash-only. “Leave the tickets under each guest’s plate or put them in a gift bag that they get as they walk in,” counsels Tonya Hoopes, owner of Hoopes Events in Salt Lake City.

18. Stick with the caterer’s or venue’s house spirits. And don’t spring for premium brands. “Nobody cares or really knows,” Culp says.

19. Serve beer and wine only. You can supplement with a punch or “signature drink” throughout the event or just during the cocktail hour, advises Lyndsey Calico, co-owner of the wedding planning firm Planned to Perfection of the Bluegrass, in Lexington, Ky. If the drink is premixed, she said, “it can be cheap.”

20. BYOB. Find a caterer that lets you provide the booze. Let them hire a licensed bartender. Then you get to take home what’s not used. “A lot of our caterers are open to that,” Calico says.

Flowers, Invitations, Favors

21. Shop online. Marcy Robles of Yonkers, N.Y., plans to use invitations printed by Vistaprint or Walmart for a spring 2017 ceremony. “I’ve used Vistaprint in the past, and they’re very affordable,” she says. When we checked Costco’s online floral offerings, we viewed bargains, including nine mini-centerpiece arrangements in decorative pots for $119.99, and 18 “European mini-bouquets,” with 15 stems each—vase not included—for $114.99, including shipping.

22. Use free technology. For their wedding in March, Lia Fox and Max Zhvanetsky of Seattle invited friends in person or over Skype but sent double-sided, printed cards to older guests expecting stationery. “The total cost was about $150,” Fox says. RSVPs were delivered electronically.

23. Skip the place cards. Asking a maître d’ or other venue employee to assign seats when guests enter may be cheaper than paying for cards and calligraphy. They end up in the garbage most of the time, anyway.

24. Forget the favors. “They’re often a waste,” Hardin declares. “People rarely take them.” Or give something your guests will really use. Order enough for half of your guests, and still expect to see leftovers.

25. Instead of favors, donate to a charity. Put a card at each table noting your donation. You’ll get a tax deduction, and you may inspire generosity from others.

Transportation

26. Ask for the non-wedding limo rate. In our shopping, some limo services that quoted a wedding rate were willing to bend, either on the hourly rate or on the minimum number of hours required. That worked especially well when we said we needed a ride in only one direction.

27. Hire a car through Uber or another on-call service. Just understand that you’re more likely to get a Prius than a Porsche.

Everything Else

28. Understand the contract before signing. Check for buried fees and requirements. “A venue can put in that you have to pay for two cases of their alcohol,” Culp notes. “Or a photographer can say that he can bring in an extra photographer if he wants to, at an additional cost.”

29. Negotiate. Be brave. “All the vendor can do is say no,” Culp says.

30. Look beyond the venue’s preferred vendors. Unless this is a requirement to rent the space, you may find better deals elsewhere. We found that using the website Thumbtack was an easy way to request and compare bids from photographers, caterers, and other vendors.

31. Be realistic about DIY. Consider the amount of labor and time involved for do-it-yourself tasks before committing yourself or others. “Doing the flowers means getting them at the flower market at 6 in the morning, unloading them, cleaning them, cutting them; buying, unwrapping, and storing the vessels; and bringing them all to the venue,” Meyer warns. “People are like, ‘I’ll just do it.’ But who’s going to get up that early?”

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.