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9 Ideas for a Frugal (Not Cheap!) Wedding

I get a lot of mail on the subject of weddings. I get stories of joy and tales of woe; great ideas and even a blooper from time to time.

In 27 years, I cannot recall a single time I’ve heard from a bride or groom saying who wished they’d spent more money on their wedding.

The best wedding mail comes from frugal brides and grooms who are anxious to share their fabulous frugal ideas with future couples!


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Lean guest list

Our first guest list included everyone we knew. As the list (and grew), we realized that would be a really bad idea. Without intending to do so, we got very close to inviting people who would then feel obligated to attend a wedding for people they didn’t really know that well. We decided to whittle that list, seeing our wedding as a more intimate event rather than a big everyone-we-know blowout.

From where we started, we got the list down to 25%. Best decision ever. Our wedding was manageable, affordable, and exactly what we wanted—an intimate celebration of joy. Debbie

Fiery reception

For a wedding reception that is out of the ordinary, have a bonfire rather than a sit-down meal. My husband and I did this and people still talk about how much fun our wedding was. We changed clothes after pictures and started a big fire at my grandmother’s house. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and had side dishes brought by family members. It was the best potluck ever because we requested our favorite family dishes. By shopping in bulk for hot dogs and buns, we came out to about $200 on food. Rochelle

Go frugal on photos

I had my guests take pictures at the event, and we sprang for a professional portrait session before the wedding. Instead of spending $1,200 to $5,000 on a wedding photographer, it cost us $200 to go to a park to have professional portraits taken in our wedding attire. This would also make a great gift to the couple from a family member who wants to contribute. Diane

Biblio bride

The local library has lots of books on weddings, from making your own dress and accessories to wedding cakes, invitations and writing your own vows. Not only that, but libraries can make beautiful and inexpensive venues for a ceremony celebrating any literature-loving couple. Mary Clare

READ: Even Small Households Can Save Big at Warehouse Club Stores

Balloons instead of flowers

I skipped decorating with flowers at my wedding and decorated with balloons instead. This allowed me to get creative with shapes, sizes, and colors and it saved us a bundle of cash. Kids had a ball with them at the reception. Jean

White brides (maid) dress

My wedding dress was actually a bridesmaid dress in ivory. It was a beautiful designer gown and it only cost $250 including alterations. My guests were surprised when I said it was a bridesmaid dress, not a true wedding dress. When I was shopping for it, I found a wider variety of choices for high-end bridesmaid dresses than wedding gowns, and they were all a fraction of the price. Elizabeth

Make your heartfelt thanks the gift

Sure it’s become customary to give gifts to the couple’s attendants. And that can get very pricey! Groomsmen and bridesmaids gifts are not mandatory. Consider handwritten, heartfelt thank you notes. We did and have no regrets at all. Our attendants were tearfully grateful, too! Janis


Perfect timing

We saved by holding our wedding ceremony and reception at lunchtime on a Friday. We rented out a small restaurant for 40 close friends and family. We arranged to bring in wine and the restaurant made a batch of sangria to serve with the meal. The total cost of the wedding and reception was about $2,500, far less than it would have been during primetime on a Saturday night. Liz

University musicians

Rather than fork out a large sum for professional musicians, consider the music department of a local university. Find out if the school has a student ensemble available to perform music for a wedding. We did this and had the most amazing group of young ladies on stringed instruments. We loved them and their music! They played during the entire reception and it was awesome. While they didn’t come with a set fee, we tipped each member generously and still saved a ton of money on our reception music. Jonette


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  1. Joanna Miller says:

    For both of my daughters’ weddings (2012, 2014), we used the floral department of the local vocational-technical high school for the wedding flowers. The flowers and arrangements were stunning and rivaled any florist shop. The cost was a small fraction of paying a florist shop. Because students did the work, we only paid for the materials, we had to pick up the orders ourselves, and thankfully, the weddings occurred when school was in session.

  2. Phyllis Mitchael Wells says:

    I was married 40 years ago, so planning a low budget wedding was the norm. I made my dress and my bridesmaid dress. I also had a friend design and make my bouquet from silk flowers(popular at the time). But amazingly, my three married children were open to saving money. I did alterations on one bride’s dress (with seed pearls covering the bodice), made another bride’s dress and all the bridesmaid dresses. One daughter designed invitations for all three weddings and had them printed at a lower cost. I made the groom’s cakes for my son’s wedding. One daughter opted for no attendants, but instead had all her close friends light the candles. We also paid for bridesmaid dresses. I have always felt is was so crass to expect your attendants to pay their way and be left with a useless dress and shoes and/or a debt burden. My children have been married 17, 15, and 6 years and counting.

  3. Birgit Nicolaisen says:

    The one thing I wish we had spent more money on was the DJ. We tried to go cheap and it showed. One of the few regrets I have from our wedding day. One of our best decisions was to get 2 sheet cakes from the local grocery store. They were delicious and way cheaper than a fancy tiered cake. And once the cake is cut up, you don’t know what it looked like originally anyway.

  4. Patricia Stariha Roy says:

    We wanted a low-key, tasteful ceremony as it was my husband’s second marriage. My mom made my dress, simple and elegant, and 42 years ago, was made out of double knit. My sisters were my attendants, and she made their dresses as well, out of the same mint green material, but in different styles, to suit them as individuals. And while they were long, they were patterned in such a way that they could be cut off for a different length for later use. My husband has 3 brothers, and 2 were his attendants, and asked to wear a dark suit, which they both had, and his youngest brother was the only usher. With only 50 people, the reception was a sit-down sizzler luncheon, with champagne and open bar. Total cost of the whole affair? $500, with flowers and cake. At that time, typical cost was 10-15 thousand. My dad was ecstatic!

  5. Sharon in Michigan says:

    I don’t remember the cost of my wedding 59 years ago, but it was a simple affair mainly because at 19, I paid for all of it-I don’t regret it one bit after all these years. I made my own simple dress, which was used later in a church women’s style show of wedding dresses, and I had one bridesmaid. Cake reception in the church dining room which I decorated with paper carnations and ribbons, (groom’s parents had an all night card playing party after, complete with drinks, and their close friends, which is still remembered today by those still alive); honeymoon was a road trip out east. Our long marriage has been blessed and loving.

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