Saving on Your Wedding: The Best Money-Saving Tips from a Poor Grad Student

It’s no secret that weddings can get expensive, but you don’t have to empty your savings to fund the day of your dreams.

It’s no secret that wedding costs have gotten a little out of hand. Every time I watch Say Yes to the Dress I’m shocked at how much people will spend on a single gown. Each time I see Four Weddings I gawk at the priciest events, wondering who has that kind of money.

And the truth is, the amount you spend on your wedding doesn’t really matter in the long run. How tall the cake is doesn’t say anything about how big your hearts are and the length of your train doesn’t show how much you love each other.

Still, weddings are expensive even if you’re not going for a luxury wedding. Costs add up and even the most basic features can really drain your bank account.

I realized first-hand how pricey weddings can get when I began planning ours, and as a poor grad student. The only way we could make it work was  to use my money-saving skills to keep the big day reasonable. I learned a lot about what corners to cut and how to save a few bucks, and in the end, I found a great balance.

Here are my 8 best life-hacks for saving money on your wedding and still having the day of your dreams.

1. Before you do anything else, take account of what you have

First things first: decide on what you need and what you already have.

From flowers, to wedding favors, to your dress, to centerpieces, things can really add up. However, you might not need to spend full-price on every item on your list. Doing some things yourself (instead of using a vendor) can save you a lot of money. But be careful… sometimes DIY can end up being even more expensive. The secret is to use what you’ve got.

I’m pretty crafty and I have a lot of friends that drink wine. So, I looked online for instructions on how to take the label off of empty wine bottles and how to paint them. Then I stuck some flowers in the bottles, added some tea candles, and boom, centerpieces: done.

But maybe you’re really good at baking and can make your own “cookie bar” for dessert at your reception. Or maybe you’re great at sewing and could do the alterations on your dress, or even make the whole thing.

I knew a woman whose family owned honeybees and they gave little jars of honey to wedding guests as favors. It was cute and personal, and cheaper than a comparable wedding favor.

Don’t be afraid to be creative and use what you have.

2. Reach out to friends for help.

When I first started planning my wedding, I wished I had friends in the industry. I thought it would be easier to hire people I trusted, rather than just depending on Yelp reviews to find all my vendors.

As it turned out, I did know some people in the industry, but I had to dig for them. I knew a girl in college who was starting a business as a wedding coordinator. Since she was a friend and just starting to do weddings, I got a serious discount when I hired her. Plus, I got someone I trusted to help me plan the big day.

Later on, I realized through Facebook that another old friend had a floral business. I got a great deal on some beautiful florals and got to connect with an old pal.

Then, I remembered my cousin used to take calligraphy classes. As a wedding gift, she helped me address my invitations, and they looked incredible.

Look up old friends on social media and ask around, you never know who’ll you’ll find.

3. Know which kinds of shops you’re going into. If they give you champagne… run.

I started my dress search at a cute boutique. The shop had lovely decorations and beautiful, sparkly dresses on display all over the place. When I walked in I was given champagne and shown into a giant dressing room. It was such a great experience…until I saw price tags.

Remember that some shops are “premium” shops, with premium prices. You might enjoy the fancy look and the royalty treatment of some stores… but you’ll pay for it.

I ended up looking for more hole-in-the-wall bridal salons near me. It was less like going to Tiffany’s and more like going to a neighborhood jeweler… but it was worth it. I paid a low price for a dress I loved, which is something I wouldn’t have gotten at the glitzier place.

Know what kind of shops you’re going into. If you want to try out one of the fancier salons for the experience, go for it. But don’t think those five thousand dollar dresses are your only option. Also don’t think they won’t have the same dress for a smaller price at another shop.

And when it comes down to it, just remember, you’ll only wear this dress for the one day. While you might want to look perfect, how you feel on that day, and the love you share with your partner, are much more important than what you wear. Your smile and the way you look at your spouse, will make you look perfect no matter what you’re wearing.

4. Use a friend as an officiant.

Usually, the services of a priest or rabbi will only require a donation to the church, but most officiants can cost around $500-$800.

You might need a certain officiant based on your religion, but if not, think about getting a friend to do it. It only costs about $20 to $40 to get ordained online and you could end up having a really great officiant who knows you both really well.

It could make your ceremony as special and unique as your relationship.

romantic wedding couple

5. Forget about the extra flowers.

Do you need flowers on the aisle seats? No. Do you need flowers on the table where people collect their name cards? No.

Look, flowers are expensive and all those extra arrangements can really add up. Many people spend at least five thousand on their flowers…and for many of us, that’s just not realistic.

See if a florist can do an à la carte service for you: just the bouquets and boutineers. It will cover what you need but will also keep your bill low.

As for decorating the ceremony and reception space, you can find some lanterns for cheap online or put together some cute pictures (in fancy frames) of you and your spouse on tables. Don’t be afraid to stray from those traditional flowers: it might end up making your decor even more special and personal.

6. Skip the photo booth: it’s a downgrade no one will notice.

Photo booths are a fun way to get your guests feeling wacky and it gives them a fun party favor to put on their fridge. But photo booths are super expensive, so what do you do?

Try to apply the same idea to something less pricey. Your guests will have just as much fun posing with props in front of a cool background. Put up a poster or some balloons and set out some fun hats and accessories. Or even put disposable cameras on tables. People will have fun posing and posting their pics and it won’t break your bank.

7. Ask for vendors instead of gifts from your close family.

Trust me: you can totally go without that pressure cooker you put on the registry. Or at least, you can wait until after the honeymoon to go get it yourself.

One great way to get the wedding of your dreams is to ask your close family and friends for a special wedding gift: something you can enjoy on the day. Ask your sister for the gift of the bridal bouquet (which usually costs about $100-$150) or ask your aunt for an hour or two of music from a DJ.

Most close friends and family will probably spend about $100 on your wedding present, and if you think they’re close enough, or not too traditional about gift-giving, ask for part of your wedding to be their gift. You get to save money, you won’t end up with eighteen sets of silverware, and your guest doesn’t have to wrap anything: win-win-win!

8. Make it a rule: no plus ones.

When I first made my invite list, I made a rule: no plus ones.

I know this can be unpopular, but plus ones are expensive and if you’re on a budget, this should be the first thing on your chopping block.

Your cousin might be upset that he or she can’t bring a date, but you probably don’t want some stranger (or someone you don’t know very well) at your wedding anyway.

Of course, if your guest is married, invite their spouse for sure. Or, if your best friend has had this boyfriend or girlfriend for many years, consider inviting their mate. Just don’t spend money on a random date someone scraped up for your event.

Weddings can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams of having your ideal day. Use these tips to save money in style, and save up for that honeymoon!