7 Things Totally Worth Blowing Your Wedding Budget For—and 7 Places to Cheap Out
Weddings are not cheap. The average spend on a wedding was $27,764 in 2017, according to Wedding Industry Report—and if you live in a highly-populated state like New York, the average price of a wedding skyrockets to more than $88,000, reports ValuePenguin. On the one hand, you don't want to start your new married life living in a cardboard box because you blew your life savings on dendrobium orchids…on the other hand, dendrobium orchids are literally the. perfect. flower. Tough call—but the key to sticking to a reasonable wedding budget and still having the most beautiful event you can imagine is in knowing where to spend and where to skimp. We went to experts and newlyweds for their best advice on everything including wedding venues, wedding photographers, wedding shoes, and more.
Always, definitely, positively hire a quality professional wedding photographer. “This is one area I tell my clients not to skimp on,” says Kim Sayatovic, founder of Belladeux Events, based in New Orleans. “You don’t want to be unhappy with your wedding pictures.” You’ll be looking at your wedding photos for years to come—whether on the wall, in a wedding album, or on your holiday card—so choose a photographer based on their style and professionalism, more than their price.
Some couples really want a wedding video—and why not?—but unless your wedding budget is large, videographers are a huge expense (often thousands of dollars), and “realistically, you’re not looking at that video very often,” says Ashley Brueck, a newlywed and freelance wedding planner in Chicago. If you’re splurging on a photographer, you can have someone create a beautiful video from the still photos for a similar result.
Splurge: Wedding Date
Sure, you might save a little cash by choosing to get married on a weekday instead of a weekend, but if doing so creates scheduling and travel problems for your guests, it’s just not worth it. “Spending a few hundred dollars more for a Saturday makes guests comfortable,” says Brueck. Yes, your wedding day should be about you and your future spouse, but “you don’t want people to be annoyed going into your day or having a chip on their shoulder about having to take extra time off,” she says.
Invitations are a great place to save thousands of dollars. Custom invites look incredible, but at the end of the day, most of them will end up in the trash (sorry!). A lot of cheaper options can look just as pretty and free up your wedding budget for other things. “With companies like Minted, you get beautiful invitation suites at a very small cost,” says Raquel Bickford Oranges of ROQUE Events, based in Napa Valley. Minted also has an option to create a wedding website that matches your invitations, creating a cohesive look that will set the tone for your wedding day. You might also consider tapping any creative pals. Brueck says two friends, graphic designers by trade, designed her wedding invitations as a gift. “They felt like they were part of the day, they saved money on a gift, and they also helped us out,” she says.
You know this: When your feet hurt, it’s hard to focus on anything else. And who needs that kind of distraction on her wedding day? “Make sure you buy good-quality wedding shoes that will keep you dancing all night,” says Sayatovic. Plenty of brands now make wedding-worthy shoes that are as comfortable as they are stylish. Or, really treat your feet right and wear super cute and comfy wedding sneakers.
Under the glamorous lights of the bridal shop, that $500 glittery belt might look like the finishing touch to your wedding dress. But is it worth the money if you’ll only wear it once? Probably not. Instead, Brueck recommends searching online for vintage pieces, or asking friends and family if they have favorite accessories you can borrow—think items like belts, jewelry, or hair pieces. You'll not only save a few bucks, but “including more people in your day this way makes everyone’s experience special,” she notes.
Splurge: Self Care
Leading up to your wedding day, your schedule is probably packed with fitting appointments, cake tastings, bridal showers, parties, and more. It’s important to practice self care during this busy and exciting time, by getting enough rest, exercising, eating healthfully, and even doing a little pampering—whether that means getting facials once a month, scheduling regular massages, getting a blowout before your shower, or investing in nice makeup. “You have the rest of your life to buy bargain lipstick,” says Brueck. “Don't skimp on those things that make you feel good.”
Wedding centerpieces and bouquets can put a huge strain on your wedding budget if you’re not strategic. If you have your heart set on a type of flower that’s expensive in your area or at this particular time of year, ask a florist to show you similar options that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to your wallet. Brueck was able to shave $2,500 off the wedding flowers tab for her Chicago summer wedding by using seasonal flowers (dahlias, peonies) and lots of greenery, like eucalyptus. “Greenery made the space totally beautiful for a fraction of the cost of roses,” she says. Another way to cut back: Use fewer flowers overall. Get creative with less expensive candles, or framed tabletop galleries of family wedding photos from every generation.
Splurge: Reception Signage and Menus
One way to personalize your wedding is to place large-scale signs around the reception, whether it’s a favorite quote from your relationship, a snippet of your vows, a “Family Established” sign or something else that you may be able to use in your home after the wedding day is over, says Oyer. Printed menus are another nice addition to the table settings. “You can select a design to match your invitation suite or something that goes with the look of the room,” says Katherine Oyer, owner of Lucky & In Love, a wedding planning company based in Phoenix. “Guests loves to know what’s coming, and a menu will give them a sneak peek at what to expect once dinner is underway.” (And you'll have one more memento for the scrapbook.)
Save: Ceremony Programs
Want to save a few hundred dollars with one simple decision? Forgo ceremony programs. “Sadly, most guests will take a ceremony program to glance at the details listed, and toss them on the floor once the ceremony is underway,” says Oyer. “When it’s over? All of your beautiful programs go straight in the trash without a second look.”
Splurge: Reception Food
Hire a professional caterer. Food is one area where you don’t want to rely on non-pro family or friends to help out: “It seems cheaper on the front end, but if your friend isn’t trained in proper food handling, you may have a nightmare on your hands,” says Sayatovic. When planning your menus, think about what you and your future spouse really care about, and splurge on those items. “When people think of you when they see the food served at your reception, that shows well,” says Brueck.
Save: Rehearsal Dinner
An unexpected way to save in your wedding budget is to forgo a formal rehearsal dinner in lieu of something more casual and personalized. One couple Brueck worked with in Chicago opted to do a crawfish boil, paying homage to the groom’s Southern roots, and brought in their own drinks and dessert. “We found a caterer and space that could do it, and it ended up being very cheap and fun for everybody,” says Brueck. If you’re set on having your rehearsal dinner at a favorite restaurant, you can significantly save on food costs by serving a few items from the bar menu (think crowd-pleasers like lobster rolls or burgers) instead of the dinner menu.
Splurge: Reception Music
“Music creates the entire ambiance of your event,” says Brueck, who recommends splurging on a great wedding band or DJ. Vet them before you sign a contract by visiting one of their live shows, or asking if you can stop by another wedding reception they’re playing at. Videos may not always show the whole picture, and you don’t want a mediocre performance or poor crowd reading to kill the vibe of your wedding reception.
Save: Ceremony Setup
Sure, those gold Chiavari chairs look picture-perfect—but they come at a high price. Opt for simpler fold-out chairs at your ceremony, and if you really want the Chiavaris, save them for the wedding reception, where guests will be spending a lot more of their time. “Remember that most ceremonies last less than an hour, with some as short as 20 minutes,” says Sayatovic. Unless you have unlimited resources, keep the ceremony décor simple and save your wedding budget for the reception.