If you’re getting ready to tie the knot, you’re probably also getting ready to drain much of your savings — or worse, charge up your credit card. The average wedding budget for 2016 was $35,329, which is a ton of cash that could instead go toward key financial goals, like saving for a house down payment or repaying student loans — which, at an average of $37,172 for students graduating in 2016, costs about the same amount that the average couple spends to say “I do.”
If you have less than a few million in the bank, then throwing a lavish wedding is one of the biggest money mistakes you and your spouse-to-be could make. In fact, a 2014 study by a pair of Emory professors found that women whose weddings cost more than $20,000 were 1.6 times more likely wind up divorced than those whose weddings cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
Spending less on a wedding doesn’t have to mean eloping or getting married in a Taco Bell (although there is a chapel in one of the Las Vegas locations). There are plenty of ways to have a Pinterest-worthy wedding without spending big bucks.
Choose the best date and time
Most people get married on a Saturday — and thanks to the basic laws of supply and demand, wedding locations and services cost the most on this popular day. Opt for a Friday or Sunday ceremony to benefit from big savings.
Speaking of strategic timing, you could hold your reception at an unconventional time to spend less cash. Brunch food costs much less than dinner, and if you’re providing an open bar, your friends are less likely to get sloshed on your dime at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning than they are at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Mimosas are delicious, you don’t need to buy expensive (or even real) champagne to make them, and they go great with a wedding brunch. Plus, if your Sunday wedding is over by mid-afternoon, your friends will be home in time to recuperate before work on Monday.
Be smart about location and decoration
Most couples spend about half their wedding budget on the venue. Be smart about where you tie the knot, and you’ll spend a lot less.
If you have a friend with an awesome backyard, ask if they’d offer up their digs as your wedding destination in lieu of a gift. They’ll likely be honored. If your circle is made up of apartment dwellers, look into state parks or beaches where permits cost less than $500. If you’re looking to get hitched in the city, then look into a local park, where a wedding permit may cost little to nothing. In Washington, D.C., for example, you can get married at the beautiful Jefferson Memorial for just $90. Also consider getting married at your alma mater, as universities often have low event fees.
Further, a naturally beautiful spot can be spruced up with just a few flowers or homemade decorations, saving you the thousands you might otherwise spend on luxe décor.
Dress your best on a budget
With all eyes on you at your wedding, you’ll want to be well-dressed — but this doesn’t mean you need to spend more than $1,500 for a dress like the average bride.
I got my wedding dress on Etsy for under $200 by searching “vintage white lace dress.” Estate sales and thrift stores are another great place to find beautiful old dresses that make a stylish statement for a fraction of the cost. Or, if you have your heart set on a traditional gown, rent your dress for less than a third of what you’d pay to buy.
As for the groom’s gear, consider a slacks-and-vest combo instead of a traditional suit if you don’t already own one, or shop discount stores for suits and ask your local dry-cleaner if they have an on-site tailor who will do alterations on the cheap.
Get creative with your food options
To save big bucks, skip the traditional caterer and opt out of the big white wedding cake. Local food trucks may be willing to serve unique offerings at a fraction of the cost of a traditional caterer, or you might ask a cafe you love if it can whip up some food for your guests.
We hired a local crepe-maker to serve both meals and desserts at our wedding, and our friends are still talking about it. Another of our friends had a pie buffet, which meant multiple dessert options and something for everyone. Bonus: When you serve a bunch of pies, crepes, or cupcakes, you avoid the awkward and unnecessary spectacle of smashing cake in each other’s faces.
Put your friends to work
Do you have a friend who makes killer playlists on his iPod who could DJ the wedding? A friend with awesome handwriting who’d be willing to write handmade invitations? Draw on the talents of the people you love to make your wedding personalized and special without spending a fortune. If you have cash-strapped friends, they may be happy to share their skills instead of buying a big gift.
Speaking of your friends, did you know they make great wedding photographers? Go old-school and hand out disposable cameras that your friends can drop in a box at the end of the night. Or set up a Dropbox account and ask all your friends to upload their digital pictures after the night is over. You can hire a wedding photographer for an hour to get the big stuff photographed, but relying on your friends to handle most of the picture-taking should net you more entertaining photos anyway.
By thinking outside the box, you can easily have a wedding everyone will love for just a few thousand dollars. Your wedding won’t be another cookie-cutter affair if you follow these savings tips, and you and your spouse will be free to enjoy your new married life without worrying about how to pay your wedding debt for years to come.