What’s up with weddings?

A few hundred years ago, all marriages except for royalty were done in someone’s backyard with close family present.

At its simplest, getting married is still relatively cheap:
  1. Get rings online for ~$30-40 each (more about that below).
  2. Pay ~$100 to the courthouse and use their court-designated officiator.
  3. Pay whatever administration fees to get marriage licenses printed and name changes.
  • If you do want a large wedding, they only last one day, but wedding debt can last for years.


Propose a few months to a year beforehand:
  • Even if the venue is a surprise, you should both know the proposal is coming before you do it.
    • If she says “no”, seriously reconsider the entire relationship.
  • Men traditionally propose to women, but every marriage proposal should come from the person who tends to have more authority over decisions.
  • Make sure, if you’re buying the rings, you know exactly what your fiancée/fiancé wants.
    • Since this will be the first of many financial decisions together, discuss the costs with them.
  • If you want, record the wedding proposal without them knowing.

Wedding rings are usually over-priced:
  • The “1-6 months of your income” rule was a De Beers jewelry marketing campaign from a few hundred years ago.
  • In fact, wedding rings weren’t even a marriage tradition 300 years ago.
  • Learn the 4 C’s:
    • Cut – shape
    • Carat – size
    • Clarity – purity
    • Color
  • Since they mark up prices simply from their brand, avoid mainstream diamond retailers.
  • Stylish rings sell for less than $100 because diamonds have no intrinsic market value.
    • One additional advantage of cheap rings is that they’re conveniently replaceable.
  • Consider diamond alternatives:
    • Outside of jewelry experts, cubic zirconium and diamonds are completely indistinguishable.
    • Lab-grown diamonds are even more difficult to distinguish from mined diamonds.
    • Moissanite (silicon carbide) is brighter than diamonds.
  • Consider setting alternatives:
    • Most of the time, you can get a cheaper metal as the setting with no visible difference.
    • Tungsten is much more durable than most other metals, and is often cheaply made.
  • Whatever you choose, buy the rings with cash to haggle more easily.
  • An engagement and wedding ring combo usually costs less than individual rings.

Setting a date

Set a date and time:
  • Avoid peak season by setting it in November, January, March or February outside of Valentine’s Day.
  • Setting a nearer date makes weddings quicker and lower-stress, but a far-off day gives you the advantage of seasonal sales.
  • Instead of Saturday, set it on Friday or Sunday or consider a weekday.
  • Set the wedding in the afternoon instead of the evening.
  • Make a daytime reception and serve lunch or brunch instead of dinner.
  • Make the event three hours long instead of five or six.
  • Make the reception after the ceremony and honeymoon to make the experience more casual.

Ask potential wedding party members whether they can participate on the wedding day.

Preliminary plans

Stay organized with a checklist and itinerary.

Set a budget:
  • Work out a budget for the wedding and honeymoon that doesn’t go too far into debt.
    • Wedding costs often go up proportionally to how much time between the proposal and the wedding.
    • Most of your expenses will be on others’ services, specifically the food, drinks, and venue.
    • Expensive weddings are always more stressful than cheaper ones.
  • Consider eloping if money is more important to you than reputation.
    • Try a middle ground by eloping for the ceremony with a huge reception on a different day.
  • To avoid complicating the discussions, only talk about the budget between the two of you before bringing anyone else in.
  • Make a list of must-have things.
    • Clarify any necessary venues, decorations, or food that one of you insists on.
  • Stick to that budget and try to lower the price on everything that isn’t a must-have.

Make a guest list:
  • Cutting down the guest list, for any part of the wedding, is the easiest way to save money.
    • Bear in mind that only 70-90% of the invited guests will attend, but many will bring a partner.
  • Write a list of all possible guests, then prioritize essential guests.
    • Categorize them if you need (his friends, her family, his work, etc.)
    • If you really need to, create a mind-map (write each name randomly on a piece of paper, then draw lines to connect them).
    • Make clear rules for invitations to prevent the list from growing too large.
  • Invite people who matter to you, not people you feel obligated to invite.
  • Calculate the ideal guest range if a venue gives a per-person discount above a certain number.

Planning the venue and services

Make, borrow, rent or buy used when you can:
  • Shop around, compare prices, and get creative for everything.
    • Decorations.
    • Food, drinks, desserts, snacks.
    • Tuxedo and bridal gown, headpiece, veil, gloves, shoes, and jewelry.
    • Bridal party’s and groomsmen’s outfits.
  • Look on sites like Etsy or Pinterest for ideas.
  • Most stores give enormous discounts on discontinued items.
  • When hunting for anything, pay a fraction of the cost by never using the word “wedding” with the vendor.

Plan venues for everything:
  • Have a plan in mind across the whole experience:
    • Wedding reception
    • Wedding ceremony
    • Honeymoon
    • Bachelor/bachelorette parties
    • Wedding rehearsal after-party
  • If you are or know a member of a community organization, you might have access to its venue:
    • Military venues
    • Colleges
    • Churches
    • Community centers
  • Avoid conventional locations like nice hotels or mansion courtyards.
  • To avoid billable vendor travel time, make the reception and ceremony venues at the same location.
    • Consider a package deal that combines the wedding, reception, and honeymoon venues to save on venue fees.
  • Cut down on decorating with a naturally pleasant venue.
  • Consider a non-traditional venue that would need tables, toilets or a kitchen brought in:
    • City-run locales like zoos, civic gardens, and parks
    • Historical sites
    • Favorite restaurants
    • Somewhere personally significant
    • Rural areas not marketed for weddings
  • Consider adapting the venue’s atmosphere:
    • Make a more laid-back atmosphere like a picnic or brunch.
    • Avoid seat rentals with a standing ceremony, but leave a few seats for the elderly or frail.
  • Avoid decorating hastily by showing up at the venue a few days before wedding day.
  • Confirm parking and transportation logistics.
  • Schedule a rehearsal time.

Research wedding services:
  • Take advantage of the bridal party’s, friends’, and family’s talents.
  • Try to avoid high-cost wedding services:
    • Professional calligraphers or painters
    • A destination wedding in a scenic vacation location
    • Specific elements of the ceremony that require additional professional work
  • Determine the wedding professionals you’ll need, get bids, and sample their work that matches your theme and style:
    • Wedding planner or consultant
      • Get a day-of coordinator instead of a wedding planner.
    • Florist
    • Photographer or videographer
    • Wedding coordinator
    • Officiating pastor
      • If you’re not religious, make the officiant a friend willing to get ordained for the occasion.
    • Ushers
    • DJ or musicians
    • Caterers
  • Some vendors are willing to travel for no cost, so search beyond your region.
  • Ask the venue if they have any preferred vendors that give a referral discount.
  • Talk to former brides to find ways to save.
  • Look on classified sites like Craigslist.
  • Negotiate with everyone.
    • Use a non-wedding price for their service as your baseline cost.
    • During the consultation with service providers, don’t look too trusting.
    • Look for sales and discounts by signing up for vendor newsletters and following them on social media.
    • Request discounts for referrals, feedback or bundled services.
  • Examine the fine print on each of the contracts for termination clauses, hidden costs or special conditions.
    • To compensate for overtime charges, book an extra hour than you expect.
  • Try to get bundled services when possible.
    • Get videos with the photographer.
    • Hire the music for both the ceremony and reception.
  • If you know other couples getting married, try sharing costs by coordinating weddings on the same day at a different time.
  • Cut down the billable rate or time:
    • Cut assistants from the package.
    • Find a good servicer’s associate/assistant that charges less.
    • Consider hiring a photography/film school student.
    • Ask a professional videographer to edit amateur footage.
    • Ask for raw videos/photos and edit them yourself.
  • Save on photography/video:
    • Give out disposable cameras for the guests to take photos for you.
    • Make a contest online for the best guest’s photo submission.
    • Only keep the videographer for necessary video work.
    • Ask for digital-only photography, then print them later yourself.
  • Save on music:
    • Stay local to avoid the band’s travel expenses.
    • Make a limited engagement of the reception alone and play a recording for the ceremony.
    • Hire a string quartet from a local music conservatory or a classical music teacher.
    • Scale down the band’s size and use staging tricks to give more presence.
    • Hire a singer who plays an instrument instead of a group.
    • Hire a DJ instead of a performer.
    • Get an entry-level DJ or hobbyist.
    • Have friends email song requests to you and make a playlist.
    • Set up a karaoke machine.

Wedding invites and stationery:
  • Plan for all your stationery needs:
    • Save the Date notices
    • Wedding invites (usually 1-2 months before the wedding)
    • Ceremony programs
    • Menu cards
    • Escort cards
    • Cards with the wedding favors
  • Send out Save the Date notices, then send invites later.
  • Email the save-the-dates or use an online RSVP system.
  • Try a video save-the-date.
  • Save on paper:
    • Look for stationery package deals.
    • If you can get a bulk discount, order thank you notes from the same place as the wedding invites.
    • Instead of magnets or other elaborate invitations, send save-the-date postcards.
    • Use single-page or trifold invites to save on postage and paper.
  • Make them yourself if you can.
    • For the envelopes, practice calligraphy instead of hiring a calligrapher.
    • Use laser printing or thermography to make stationery yourself.
  • Upgrades like colored ink and foil stamping dramatically increase costs.
  • To avoid wasting paper, proofread three times over.
  • Instead of paper programs during the ceremony, make a large one at the venue.
  • Double the photo booth as the guest book by buying a digital camera or camera instant printer with a volunteer running it.
  • Send a wedding invitation to the President to get a congratulatory letter from him and the First Lady.

Wedding registry:
  • Set up a honeymoon registry online with a retailer or with Honeyfund.
  • Fill the gift registry with things you want to get.
  • Make multiple registries to give guests a wider selection of choices to save money.
  • Instead of gifts, direct guests to give toward the down payment on a house.

Bachelor/ette parties, bridal shower, and wedding rehearsal:
  • Make the rehearsal dinner a shrimp boil to cut down on utensils.
  • Have afternoon tea, brunch or backyard barbeque instead of a rehearsal dinner.
  • Make the rehearsal dinner a casual or social group activity.
  • Limit the party to a one-day event.
  • Instead of a fancy event, do something more fun like paintball, go-karts, stand-up comedy or a spa day.
  • Bring food yourself and have the event at home instead of at a hotel.

Flowers and decorations:
  • Check if the venue is already decorated.
  • Shop off-season for decor:
    • Black vases after Halloween
    • Pink vases after Valentine’s Day
    • Green decor after Christmas
  • Get decorations in the party and home decorations section of big-box department stores.
  • Flower selection:
    • Use more greenery than flowers and include non-florals like lanterns, fruits, and vegetables.
    • Swap out expensive flowers (e.g., peonies) for less expensive ones (e.g., roses).
    • Only buy local flowers in season.
    • Stick to 1-2 kinds of flowers.
    • Pad out the arrangements with carnations.
    • Grow succulents and other flowers yourself as displays and favors.
    • Use artificial flowers instead of real ones.
  • Flower arrangements:
    • Have a florist only arrange the most photographed flowers and self-arrange the rest.
    • Buy the flowers wholesale, then pay a florist to arrange them.
    • Go to a flower farmer instead of a florist.
    • Save on florist fees with straightforward arrangements (e.g., avoid cascades).
    • Avoid buying flowers on high-demand days near Easter, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and prom season.
    • Hollow out fruits and vegetables as inexpensive vases.
    • Use mismatched arrangements to fill in gaps.
    • Reuse the ceremony flowers for the cake table.
    • Combine the bridesmaids’ bouquets into a centerpiece or for the bar and escort table.
  • Centerpieces:
    • Get larger tables to use fewer centerpieces and tablecloths.
    • Opt for very few or non-plant centerpieces.
      • Gather branches and put them in vases.
      • Frame artistic photographs or personal photos.
      • Place shells, candelabras or dessert.
  • Place settings:
    • If it fits your theme, try wooden silverware.
    • Avoid assorted stemware to cut down on glasses.
    • Skip individual place cards or printed menus on the tables.
      • Or, print the guest’s names onto the menus.
      • Some venues will print the menus for you.
    • Get more photographs by setting disposable cameras on the tables.
    • Use fabric poms, bubbles, sparklers or flower petals instead of rice.
  • Favors:
    • Make wedding favors or favor packaging yourself.
    • Place a handwritten note and a bulk-purchased bottle of wine instead of a large welcome bag.
    • Buy the favors in bulk or wholesale instead of with vendors.
    • Give out one favor per couple or double the favors as escort cards.
    • Give useful favors to avoid people wasting them.
    • Skip wedding favors and place a bowl of candy in the center with a notice.
    • Make the wedding cake the favors.
    • Instead of favors, give a card indicating that you’ve donated to a charity with a certain amount.

Outfits and stylists:
  • Where to buy:
    • Wedding outfits must only look good for several hours, so prioritize appearance over quality.
    • Bridal store samples are often in excellent condition.
    • Designers hold annual sales and sample sales with extreme markdowns.
    • Rent or borrow a dress.
    • Buy a dress through an online auction or discount gown retailer.
    • Secondhand dresses are usually only worn once.
    • Check out trunk shows for dresses.
  • To be original, don’t get a traditional dress:
    • Convert a standard dress into a wedding dress with a vibrant sash, wrap or piece of jewelry.
    • Look at independent designers for wedding dresses.
    • If the dress isn’t a priority, consider a white bridesmaid’s gown or off-the-rack white gown.
  • Get or make the dress nearer to the wedding date.
  • Buy shoes from outlet malls or discount department stores.
  • Let the bridesmaids have mismatched dresses with a color and style requirement.
  • Get an affordable hairstyle:
    • Hire a recommended student from a reputable cosmetology school.
    • Find a hairstylist friend who can help out as a wedding present.

Food and drinks:
  • Provider:
    • Instead of an official caterer, get catering from culinary schools.
    • Instead of formal catering, try food from food trucks or large-scale takeout from a restaurant.
    • Try to negotiate children’s meals out from the service cost.
  • Selection:
    • Instead of a five-course meal, cut it down to three courses.
    • Skip the dinner table bread basket.
    • Have an entree duet to avoid more administrative work from RSVP either-or selections.
    • Serve one meat entree with less expensive secondary options.
    • Substitute expensive food ingredients for cheaper ones.
    • Limit the attendees’ options to cut down on preparation time and costs.
    • Serve fun and affordable comfort foods like barbecue chicken, mac and cheese, and corn.
    • Skip the meal altogether and make it an appetizer, tea and snacks reception or a candy buffet.
    • Create a potluck wedding instead of wedding gifts.
  • Serving:
    • Instead of hiring servers, have the attendees serve themselves.
    • Serve a buffet instead of a sit-down multi-course meal.
    • Keep boxes to store the leftover desserts.
  • Drinks:
    • Skip the champagne toast, use non-alcoholic sparkling cider, or use whatever the attendee is drinking.
    • If the guests don’t drink much, ask for alcohol as it’s used instead of a flat rate.
    • Offer beer, wine, and a signature cocktail or just beer and wine instead of a full bar.
    • Bring store-bought alcohol to the venue.
    • Add plenty of non-alcoholic beverages to lower alcohol costs.
    • Create a few signature cocktails instead of premixed drinks.
    • Cut down the bar to only a few hours of the event.
    • Leave bottles on the table instead of a bar.
    • Have servers pour wine instead of bottles on the table.
    • Cut out drinks entirely.
  • Cakes:
    • Don’t go to a wedding cake specialist.
    • Hire a baker, an online vendor, or go to an ethnic bakery.
    • The top layer is traditionally for the couple’s one-year anniversary, which means you can take it out if you want.
    • Use one cake/filling flavor to avoid the varying cost from different types.
    • Use unstacked instead of tiered cakes.
    • Use simple cake styles to cut down on decorating costs.
    • Use cheesecake instead of traditional wedding cake.
    • Use buttercream or cream cheese frosting instead of fondant.
    • Keep the add-ons simple and add the finishing touches yourself.
    • Decorate with fresh flowers instead of sugar flowers.
    • Skip the exotic fillings like guava and mango and use seasonal fruit or no filling.
    • Make cupcake wedding cakes instead of one big cake.
    • Change the cake out for a dessert buffet with pastries, cakes, brownies and other sweets.
    • Order a small one or two-tiered cake and then supplement with a huge sheet cake hidden in the back.

Venue transportation:
  • Get a limousine instead of a stretch SUV.
  • Have as few stops as possible for the limo driver.
  • Have the whole party meet for pickup at one location.
  • Have the wedding party drive themselves or hire only one bridal car.
  • Get rid of the limo altogether:
    • Hire a private chauffeur to drive your car.
    • Have a friend drive you.

Honeymoon destination:
  • Plan the vacation well in advance to save on costs.
  • Consider original and unique honeymoon escapes.
    • Make the honeymoon a road trip or a camping trip.
  • Book the vacation at a nearby location or an off-season destination.
  • Learn to have a great vacation to have fun.
  • If you tell the hotel you’re staying at that you’re on a honeymoon, they might give a free bottle of wine.

The wedding day and onward

During the wedding:
  • Stay on time throughout the wedding day to avoid the service workers incurring overtime charges.
  • A wedding is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, so make sure you’re having fun or you’re wasting your money.

After the wedding:
  • Sell the things you don’t need, especially anything that will go out of style in a decade.
  • As you consolidate your possessions with them, sell anything you have duplicates of.
  • Make a joint bank account together and make it the primary paycheck cashing account for both of you.
    • If you can’t trust each other with money, you’re on the way to a divorce.
  • Make a First Fight Box:
    1. Put handwritten love letters to each other with a bottle of wine.
    2. Seal the box on the wedding day.
    3. Open the box after the first marital fight.
    4. Both sides read their letters in a corner, then enjoy wine together.
  • Change every public record to your new last name.
  • Send out thank you cards for the wedding.
  • Memorialize and archive the marriage ceremonies.
  • Combine both your possessions into one home.