holding hands bride and groom at a wedding

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!


holding hands bride and groom at a wedding

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


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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

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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 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

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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

Were you a frugal bride? Will you be ringing wedding bells on a budget? Share your best tips and ideas in the comments below!

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20 replies
  1. Joanna Miller
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.

  6. de
    de says:

    I want to share some sage advice to all the brides to be. For a great wedding you need good food, good drink and good music. That being said it does not mean it has to be expensive! Now for the advice, it was given by a priest at a friends second wedding: The more time and money spent on a wedding is a big factor on the success of the marriage! The reasoning behind the advice is that more energy is spent on the wedding and there is no focus on the marriage. What a way to start your life off with a huge debt and hurt feelings.

  7. Mindy Sames
    Mindy Sames says:

    I dreamed of a big elaborate wedding most of my childhood years. When I finally met and got engaged to the right man at 37, I was more excited about the marriage than spending oodles of $ on one day. My mom took the bull by the horns and planned all of it, giving me many suggestions making it a Cinderella wedding. We had the wedding in a gazebo in a park with a very small rental fee. We invited only those that knew we had been dating and getting married (long time friends not in touch were updated in our Christmas letter). I rented my dress from a costume supply and it was more gorgeous than I ever imagined. My thinking was that most friends I knew did NOT want to wear their mothers dress, and if I had a daughter, I did not want to put that pressure on her. Friends and family donated the cake, video services, DJ, and singing. A friend did my hair in the motorhome parked by the gazebo where I got dressed. My aunt was the photographer and we had disposable cameras on all the tables at the reception. Unfortunately, her flash had gone out, and she did not realize until after the reception that any evening pictures did not turn out. But God was good, as I went through the pictures from all the disposable cameras, there wasn’t a shot missed. I’m pretty sure out entire wedding cost was less than $5000.

  8. Amy Garrett
    Amy Garrett says:

    We saved by having a small wedding, about 40 guests. We had the wedding in the middle of the afternoon, so no one was expecting a meal, we just had finger foods. We saved so much on food that we splurged on champagne for everyone. There was a bar in the restaurant, so people could go buy themselves something else if they wanted. A good friend who was a hobby photographer took all of our pictures as a wedding gift. We then went through the prints he had made and took the negatives that we wanted and had printed for family Christmas gifts. All told we got away with less than $1000, including my dress. Of course, this was 30 years ago, so, you will have to round up to today’s dollars.

  9. Tammy Harrigill
    Tammy Harrigill says:

    Our daughter is pretty frugal and didn’t want us to go to a lot of expense for her wedding. She had an 10″ cheesecake for her and the groom to cut with a black satin ribbon around it and a silver insert of a double heart. Cheesecake bites for all of the guests were put on 3 tiered displays made with large cuts of wood. Stumps were cut to line the isles and mason jars with babies breathe and a white rose or 2 were placed on these. The bridesmaids carried babies breathe bouquets with a rose or two in them. The bridesmaids wore a black dress from their closets. The groomsmen wore dark pants with a long sleeved white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a black tie, clothes from their closets as well. A taco bar was the food for the reception. Sparkling cider was reserved for the toast. We had about 130 guests. This was an outdoor wedding.

  10. OCJane
    OCJane says:

    We had a frugal wedding nearly 20 years ago. Spent $4K on the destination wedding (planning online) and $4K on the honeymoon. It was immediate family only (30 ppl), with a solo cellist, held at an out-of-state B&B in their garden. Like the article, it was held on a Friday and I purchased a silk beaded (non-wedding) dress in ivory off the clearance rack for $150 (no alterations). The B&B gave us a pricing break on the reception because we paid for everyone’s lodging for two nights (half lived locally). Simple flowers of gardenias for the wedding party (two groomsmen [in tuxes] & two bridesmaids) and the parents. Our photographer & photographs were probably $1K. No party favors. We picked out a simple two-tier cake from a local bakery.
    Wedding was simple, but lovely (think semi-formal, intimate upscale garden affair). The best part of the frugal wedding was that nearly everything was paid out of pocket and we weren’t still paying for it at the end of the year. Planning well & carefully enabled us to have a honeymoon on the French Riviera. We live frugally without having to skimp too much (we travel transoceanic every other year); and now, less than 20 years later, we are still married and have our mortgage paid off.

  11. SonshineLady
    SonshineLady says:

    I was married in 1976 so the prices will not be comparable but I did have a relatively inexpensive but elegant wedding. I hired a wedding planner that turned out to be a fantastic choice. People think they are expensive but I only dealt with and paid one person instead of each separate vendor. The planner worked with specific bakers, musicians, florists, etc.

    My wedding dress was borrowed from a family friend. She paid around $2,000 for the dress in 1974!! I just purchased the veil. We had an hors d’oeuvre buffet, a champagne toast (I think we only needed one bottle of champagne) and punch flowing in a fountain. Although our wedding list was large, the majority of them were people who lived in the state as my husband’s family and we knew wouldn’t come to the wedding. My mother-in-law insisted I invite them since she purchased so many gifts for their children in the past. We had approximately 30 people attend. The music was provided by a man playing an accordian. The wedding was held at the church I attended when I was a teenager.

    It was a beautiful, intimate twilight wedding with reception at a nearby hotel. The entire cost was around $3,000.

  12. Erica H
    Erica H says:

    We planned for our March wedding in less than 4 months. A short engagement helps you focus on the main things and not get caught up spending money on so many trendy extras! Because we married in the off-season we found that simply by asking for a lower price to photographers and Djs, they immediately lowered it by 100s of dollars (never hurts to ask!). We got a simple two tier cake from a donut shop/bakery plus sheet cakes for guests. Bridesmaid dresses were found on clearance at J.C. Penney of all places (20 bucks!). A friend made bridesmaid bouquets and I borrowed jars and dishes for centerpieces filled with baby’s breath. For the honeymoon we found the rental cabins near Gatlinburg to be super affordable yet romantic. We have no regrets about our simple celebration and honeymoon!

  13. ThistleCoveFarm
    ThistleCoveFarm says:

    After six years of courtship and living next door to each other, we bought a farm in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia and were married on the front lawn. Immediate family, both sides, a few folks from our new community and a covered dish picnic on an incredible, no humidity July day was perfect. Mom and Dad drove 5 hours with a sheet cake for a wedding cake, his mom contributed a country ham and others brought side dishes. Girl friends gathered wild flowers, Queen Anne’s Lace, ditch lilies and thistles, put them in canning jars then on tables. The thistles were a lovely touch as we’d name the farm Thistle Cove Farm. My dress cost less than $100, not a “traditional” wedding dress and my sandals were made for me by a shoe maker in Hawaii. The groom wore khaki pants, a denim shirt and dock shoes. Including the $100 we gave the preacher, our costs were less than $200 and people still talk about how beautiful, and tasty, everything was. We opted for memories, not money.

  14. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    My husband and I had a make do wedding 48 years ago. We were both in the Military and didn’t have a lot of money. We held the wedding in the Recruit dining room and decorated it ourselves with silk flowers and balloons. A friend created a Cassette of love songs and played them during the reception and then gave the cassette to us. I had friends as my brides maids and they asked me not to give them anything. (I created invitations to them to be in the wedding). A friend who was the Bakery chef at the Recruit side of the base bought the ingredients and made us our wedding cake with the help of his staff on their time off and gave that as our Wedding gift from them. A friend who was professional wedding photographer gave us our wedding pictures. The only cost of my wedding was about $25 for the flowers and balloons, my wedding gown from Penny’s catalog for $425 and a boys navy uniform for my ring barer who was going to wear a suit so he could match all the men in their uniforms for $15. so for $455 we had he wedding of a lifetime. We are now looking at our 49th wedding anniversary in July

  15. tboofy
    tboofy says:

    I grew up in Utah, so it took a long time to realize that the way we do weddings is very different from other places. Because of the religious culture, engagements are usually short (3-6 months). The wedding itself is often in the morning, a small intimate affair, with a wedding luncheon afterward. In the evening a reception is held, either in a reception center if you can afford it or in a church (free) with some borrowed or rented decorations. You invite pretty much everyone you know. There’s a reception line so you can greet the bride and groom and family and tables to sit and eat snacks–usually finger foods–and punch. No alcohol, no dinner. Not everyone in Utah does weddings like this, but they’re common in the LDS community.


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