Save on your wedding (if you’re not married already)

By Mir
April 16, 2007

This past weekend I did a massive email clean-out, and realized that I’d lost track of several advice questions, some from as far back as January. I am hanging my head in shame. Just as a general suggestion—if you email a question to me and don’t either hear back or see a post about it within a few weeks, feel free to email me again. I’m human and I’m busy and I often get well over a hundred emails a day (not counting all that delicious spam), and things do get misplaced. I’m sorry.

Frances emailed me a really long time ago, and she’s probably married with three kids by now, but I will address her question, anyway, because it will make me feel less like a slacker. I mean, because I care.

Hello Mir ~

In admiration of your helpfulness to Allanna with her house-outfitting question, I come with another broad request. I am planning for my August wedding with a very limited budget and welcome any tips on finding the essentials at reasonable rates. I know that I am on my own with the local aspects (reception location and caterer, etc.), but do you (and your oh-so-helpful readers) have any recommendations on online vendors for things like flowers, programs, decorations, favors, and other little sweet things?

Thank you!

Hey! August! Plenty of time left! (Oh, Frances, I am sorry I didn’t get to this sooner, truly.) Anyway, let’s see what we can find….

First and foremost—and I can say this, as someone who had a fairly traditional (though thrifty) first wedding, and am now planning an extremely bare-bones second wedding—sit down with your fiance and decide 1) what’s important to you and 2) what your budget is. Some people want the fairytale wedding and all that entails. Others feel that some things must be done a certain way because “that’s how it’s done” and I would discourage anyone from following “rules” that don’t have meaning to you. It’s probably expensive, and besides, this is your wedding. It should be what you want.

Once you know what really matters to you and how much you have to spend, you can sort of fit the puzzle pieces of everything else within that framework.

There are two simple ways to save money on the things you’ve mentioned:

Do it yourself. You can print your own programs, assemble your own favors, and put up your own decorations. Should you? Well, that depends on how much time, help, and energy you have… and also on how you want those things to look. Be realistic in considering what you can and cannot take on. Saving the money is not worth it if you end up hating the results, or—worse—having a nervous breakdown the day before your wedding, y’know?

Bargain. Most bridal-type vendors are counting on pampered Daddy’s-little-girl bridezillas who want what they want when they want it. Those women hear the price and say “What??” and then fork over the dough. Nearly everything is negotiable. Stay calm, be reasonable, and assume that everything is open to negotiation. Horrified at the price the florist just gave you? Suggest an alternative, and/or let them know that you’re going to need to get some other quotes before you decide, because that’s more than you have to spend. You need to be assertive but charming, and as the old saying goes, never let them see you sweat. Wedding people can smell fear. Work on your poker face.

I’ve come across a site several times which I think is probably worth checking out. It’s called Fire Your Wedding Planner! There’s an e-book as well as various charting programs, and the whole shebang can be had for $29.95—if you decide to keep it—but you can download the book for free for 30 days, regardless. (Just pay attention; you do need to cancel before the trial is up to avoid incurring a charge. Though honestly I think a $30 investment in what is likely to be a several-thousand-dollar event is something of a bargain.) I’m not a wedding expert, but she is, so definitely have a look.

Another suggestion I’ll throw out there: Always, always, think outside the box. I know Miss Zoot had a wedding “cake” made of Krispy Kreme donuts, and I know several other people who had pies instead of cake. While things like jordan almonds in netting are lovely, maybe your guests would really love barbecue sauce. I don’t know, but you do, if you think about it. Sometimes bucking convention makes for a more personal/memorable event as well as a cheaper one.

Readers, chime in. Frugal wedding tips in the comments, please, pretty ones.


  1. I cannot recommend the following company enough – they sell B2B and also to the end customer (online only). PaperMart – It is the ONLY place to go for gift boxes, fabric bags, wrapping paper, shred for gift baskets, you name it – even beautiful ribbons. And everything comes in large quantities, for wholesale prices! If you are thinking of doing favors, welcome baskets for guests from out of town – anything, really, consider Papermart. I am a huge consumer advocate for them – I don’t shop for paper/gift products anywhere else.

    Congrats on the wedding – hope it’s a wonderful day for you.

  2. I think that what Mir said is exactly right…decide what YOU want for your wedding, even if its what everyone else does or what no one has ever done. I just got married two weeks ago and had my own fantasy wedding for under $1000. Touches that make the wedding ‘yours’ are so important. For favors I ordered little notebooks with our names on them ( They were so cheap, but people can use them and think of us and they are totally ‘me’. I also found it very helpful to Google ‘free wedding catalogs’ and then order a bunch of them. That way I could browse through them at my leisure, get lots of good ideas and comparison shop.

  3. I have three words for you. EBAY! EBAY! EBAY! My wedding should have had a “sponsored by Ebay” sign.

  4. Don’t spend a fortune on a dress you are going to wear once and put in a box for the next 50 years. Find a well-fitting and just as beautiful dress on ebay, your local resale shops, or craigslist. I only spent $200 on my dress, and it was an antique. I got so many compliments because it was unlike any dress they had seen in quite some time.

    I have a touch of caterer in me, so I made all the food for the reception and did all the decorations. We were married in a local park, at sunset, on a little bridge. My dad arrived a bit early, hung a few lanterns along the walkway, and my sisters sprinkled the walkway with flower petals. It only cost to have the JP there, so it was quite inexpensive.

    Overall, including my dress and my husband’s suit (purchased at the resale shop), we were married for under $600. We only had about 50 guests, so I guess the price can go up for a huge guest list.

    Another idea – if someone asks you what you want for a wedding gift, ask them to pitch in by bringing something or paying for something – such as the cake or the flowers. It may be better than receiving another toaster or blender.

  5. This may sound verrrrry cheap, but when my husband and I paid for our own wedding 5 years ago, we went with all silk flowers for the bridal bouquet, grooms boutonniere, bridesmaids, groomsman, and then had fresh flowers only as centerpieces at the reception and for decoration in front of the church.

    We bought a cheap metal arbor, painted it white and laced it entirely with silk flowers, silk ivy & several yards of tulle, it cost a fraction of what it would have if we’d gone with real flowers!

    Also I went with a shorter train on my gown and instead made a cathedral-length veil (detachable from my headpiece so I didn’t have to wear it all night) and used hot glue to scatter rhinestones on it.

    It looked just like one from the headpiece catalog and again cost a fraction. Good thing because it did end up with a few rips & pulls by the time I took it off at the ceremony, but it had served it’s purpose, pulling off the look that I was going for.

    Also look for deals from tuxedo rental shops, often if you have 3 groomsman (or more) renting, they’ll throw in the grooms rental for free. Don’t be afraid to ask! 🙂

    And definitely negotiate as many competitively priced wedding items from bridal shops, florists & tuxedo places are marked up 50% over their cost so research, and comparison shop so you can ask for a better deal!

    Some bridal shops will even “throw in” a headpiece (which could be several hundred dollars) or free alterations or even free costume jewelry. I used to work in the business, and believe me, the deals are out there to be had!

    Good luck! 🙂

  6. We downloaded a template from Microsoft’s website for our program, got some super cool paper from my former employer, and printed them on the color laser at my husband’s work. Didn’t cost us anything but our time. Our wedding coordinator (I know they are pricey, but ours was worth her weight in gold!)told us that our programs were the nicest she’s ever seen. We had already paid her, so I guess she might have meant it!

    We also had pie, instead of cake at the reception. Cost almost half the cost of cake and people remember it.

    For favors, we found a local chocolate shop that we got 2 piece personalized boxes for about $2 each. Less than half that of Godiva. Plus, more options on what you want in the box. And we -had- to have a tasting before we ordered. Free chocolate. BEST. APPOINTMENT. EVER.

    We bought the candle holders for our tables at Joann’s when they were 50% too.

  7. One more thing, we went with an “all inclusive” package for entertainment which saved up a ton… we had a Photographer, DJ & Videographer all from the same company. Made life a LOT less hectic and the prices were excellent. 🙂

  8. Cool Idea for a favor…at one wedding, the couple made a CD of songs that were special to them. Then put a cute label on it with the date and gave it to the guests. I thought it was really unique, plus special and customized to you. Very cool…and something people may actually use.

    For our wedding, we actually bought miniature candy bars and had them wrapped with two kisses and a customized label that was a spin off of a hershey bar…pretty cool, sweet and cheap.

  9. For our wedding, my mom ordered the goblets, the cake server, and the little bottles of bubbles from the Oriental Trading company.

    The glasses (for our sparkling apple cider toast) and cake server/knife set all were engraved. She and my aunt dressed up the bubbles with stickers and little ribbon bows.

    It sounds a little tacky, but was really quite nice.

    Something else you might have the option of doing: One of my best friends (a freelance, self-taught photographer) took our wedding pictures. I’m extremely pleased. If was her wedding gift to us. Sure, we could have had someone do it professionally … but these are just so US. (Even after six years, I’m proud to show off her work.) Also, our engagement pictures were taken by another friend. People loved the picture he took of us. It was unique and fun. …And a nice way to spend the day with your future husband. ^_^

    So, in short, I guess my advice is to think outside the box (Oriental Trading Company, feeder goldfish centerpieces, whatnot) and to not be afraid to ask friends or family for favors/networking. Those worked in our experience.

    Still, best of luck! I hope it goes awesomely!

  10. 1. Look online for a gown. I spent less than $300 including shipping on my gown. Then just had a few alterations done.

    2. Make your own centerpieces if you are the slightest bit crafty. I got big round styrafoam balls and clay pots from a craft store. Then I got fake flowers from a $1 store and cut off most of each stem. Next I put the styrafoam ball on top of the clay pot and stuck the flowers all over the styrafoam. They looked beautiful and I got loads of compliments.

    3. Do a google search for anything and everything you are looking for. That’s the easiest way to find the cheapest stuff. Takes some time, but you’ll save loads.

    4. As was already mentioned, grooms tuxes are usually free when there are 3 groomsmen getting tuxes from the same place.

    5. Look around at They have a nice selection of wedding items, such as favors, etc.

    6. Make your own programs & invitations. I did both and they were very easy to do. Again, it takes some time so you need to see if it’s worth it to you. But it will save you sooo much. They will also turn out more personal.

  11. Not only can you buy a used dress, but I sold mine after the wedding on ebay and recouped half my cost. I ended up buying a $4000 Vera Wang dress for $1000 and selling it for $500 on ebay. Otherwise it just sits in a storage box in your attic for the rest of your life.

  12. My best friend got married last year and as her wedding favors, because everyone they know drinks something, albeit sodas or alcoholic beverages, these were the perfect thing for her. I’m actually ordering some for my wedding too! They are koozies, and they hold your canned drinks perfectly. They are inexpensive and if you allow them to advertise (a small website address vertically on a side) they will take $5.00 off your order. And if you choose one of their artworks, there is no cost for that. So can you imagine getting 100 of these at $.79 each then taking off $5.00 and it’s only $11.00 for shipping, you can’t beat that, and they are perfect and under $1.00 per guest (if you need that many). She had extra so she handed out more to her friends. We have enough for everyone at our house and our trailer. They definitely don’t go to waste. Congrats on your big day! Oh yeah, almost forgot the website…it’s

  13. We did the CDs for our wedding favors. A little time-consuming, but we felt it was more personal than jordan almonds.

    We also had a friend do our pictures (which is my only almost-regret, because she didn’t get some shots I had mistakenly assumed she would, so have a list of ones you want).

    I decorated a plain ol’ pillar candle with a ribbon and some rhinestones to make a unity candle, along with doing the flowergirl’s basket, altar decorations, etc, etc.

    But the #1 thing that saved us a TON of money is DON’T GET MARRIED ON A SATURDAY! Choose a Friday or a Sunday, and I guarantee you will save THOUSANDS of dollars (if you’re going with a traditional wedding reception hall/caterer/DJ thing…they hurt for business on off days, so they’ll cut you some deals).

  14. Here’s another radical thought: you don’t “need” a lot of things that you might think you need. Just because it was at another wedding, or that “everyone” does it, doesn’t mean you have to.

    We didn’t have wedding programs or favors, and I no one missed either one. They weren’t important to me, and I asked my friends what we could actually remember about weddings we had been to, and no one mentioned the program or the favors. So, I didn’t do either one (they weren’t important to me, and apparently they weren’t to anyone else, either).

    If something is important to you, make sure you set the money aside at the beginning. Just like a marriage, a wedding is about making lots of compromises, but you don’t want to be disappointed by not having something at the end when the budget gets tight.

  15. Long ago, I wore a wedding dress that was intended for a bridesmaid, and therefore much cheaper than the actual bride’s designs. It was mainly white with pale purple flowers on it. It shocked grandma because it wasn’t all white, but it was perfect.

  16. We got married for about $1000 with ~25 guests. Most of that was food. We had a barbecue afterwards with customizable kebobs that were a big, big hit. Also, we bought our flowers at Safeway (reserved them a week in advance) and a crafty friend arranged them beautifully. I think we paid $75 for several dozen spray roses and greens.

    I put the leftover flowers in little vases I found at the thrift store for a quarter each. I bought red glass hearts and put them in the bottom, and put them all around. The guests each took one home.

    It’s very, very do-able to have a cheap wedding, and you don’t have to buy into all the “traditions” if they don’t seem essential to you. The day after the wedding, no one is going to care how much you spent. They’ll just remember how happy you looked 🙂 Congratulations and good luck!

  17. I got married last summer and had a lovely wedding of my dreams with minimal expense. As many others have said, first decide what is important to you. I wanted a simple dress and could not find anything I liked. So I wound up having one made by a local lady for less than $200 with garter and all! She did my cake too and I was delighted. Get your friends to make recommendations!

    I wanted favors but not your traditional type thing. I decided on flower seeds ( so I bought small clear envelopes, printed stickers with different “flower” sayings plus our names, the date and planting instructions. I used daisies and picked that up as a general theme. Not expensive AT ALL.

    I asked two friends with a knack for photography to take pictures. I was delighted with the results AND the cost.

    I, too, made a lot of the food. Many things you can freeze in advance.

    I bought all kinds of things like ribbons and whatnot when I saw them on sale in the right colors. I gave all that to my girlfriends the day of the wedding and it turned out so wonderful. For table centerpieces, I found small metal candle boxes with cut out sides, filled them with small rocks and stuck a tealight in them. Sprinkled confetti around it and it looked so cool!

  18. We had a wedding with 110 guests for $8000. My number one money saving recommendation: instead of dinner, serve appetizers and cake only.

    A large cheese/veg/fruit display and a series of hot appetizers will fill the peckish, and cake, well, you probably want a wedding cake. 🙂

    We also warned our guests that we were doing appetizers and cake only, so they knew to eat a more substantial lunch. But really? Who remembers the food at weddings? I only remember the food from 1 of the dozens of weddings I’ve attended. (They had a mashed potato bar! I’d never heard of such a delight before then!)

  19. Another tip–in addition to Ebaying to find things like your veil or other headpiece items, check out Ebay for the slip you’ll wear under your dress. The ones with some heft to them (intended to go under gowns with fuller skirts) are incredibly expensive to buy from wedding boutiques, but can be found quite cheaply online. Or, do like I am and find a local seamstress or used dress boutique and ask if they rent their slips. I’m renting mine for a total of $20 for as long as I need/want it! Can’t beat that!!!

  20. My number one tip for saving money on weddings is to attend bridal fairs, as many as you can, before the big day. I won my wedding dress at a bridal fair (which saved me $1000)! It was from a really nice and popular boutique where I live and I of course got to pick it out. It was awesome and so exciting! With that much saved, I was able to put some of that money towards a more expensive photographer, and I LOVE my pictures!

    I didn’t even do favors at my wedding, I think I kind of forgot about it, but I don’t think anybody really noticed or missed out. I love favors at other people’s weddings though…even something like a tiny box of candy or a piece of chocolate.

    Flowers from grocery stores or Costco are much more affordable than a regular florist.

    Making your own invitations is also a good way to go to save some money. Like the others said, make sure it’s something you have time (and patience) to do, but I’ve seen lots of really cute hand-made invites.

    For food, we did desserts/sweets. We had eclairs (which a baker friend of my MIL’s made for us at cost), cookies (real cookies, we’re not talking Nabisco or anything), yummy sweet breads (cinnamon struesel and banana), cinnamon rolls, cake (of course), and a yummy fruity drink. It was much less expensive than doing dinner or appetizers and there was a big variety.

  21. My super-cheap and perfect wedding:
    Jessica McClintock bridesmaid dress in white: $130
    Reception food (for 25 people): Made by mother-in-law. Paid a friend about $100 to make appetizers and salads and help clean up.
    Venue: rented farmhouse on the ocean for a week $1000
    Flowers: Picked wildflowers that morning and put in random collection of vases. My bouquet I made from an arrangement that was a gift from a flower farmer friend.
    Pictures: 2 family members, who are hobby photographers, took pictures as a gift to us.
    Music: Mu husband and I made tapes (8 years ago) of all the music for before, during, and after the ceremony and during dinner.
    Invitations: I made them. Color copies of a Marc Chagall painting attached to hand made paper and hand-lettered by me.
    Favors: We spent a little more on these, but we didn’t need many. We gave little boxes of lily bulbs.
    Rings: antiques from eBay.

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