How to Have a Million Dollar Wedding on a Thousand Dollar Budget

Are you doomed to miss out the wedding of your dreams if you don’t have the cash for a “million-dollar” celebration? By following these 20 smart wedding planning tips, you can have a memorable ceremony and a fabulous reception without skimping on style and elegance.

Find Your Focus

A lot of thought goes into planning a wedding, and it’s easy to get bogged down by all the details. Your family expects you to follow their traditions, the groom’s family pressures him with their ideas and everyone you know thinks they’re doing you a favor by offering their own tips. Your big day belongs to you and your groom. If you want to pull off a true dream wedding, you need to take a step back from the advice flying in from every direction and decide what’s truly important to you. Is there a venue at which you’ve dreamed of being married? Do you have a specific photographer in mind? Maybe flowers are essential for your day to be perfect? Write down the elements you feel are necessities, and plan to spend more in those areas while looking for ways to save money elsewhere in your wedding budget.

Trim the Guest List

In the spirit of having the wedding you desire, get real about your guest list. It’s only natural to want to invite everyone you know to share in your happiness, but the bigger your list, the more people you have to feed and the more space you’ll need for the ceremony and reception. If you find the guest list ballooning to enormous proportions, sit down with your groom and give it a critical look. Consider whether:
  • You’re inviting anyone out of guilt or obligation
  • Anyone on the list would come solely for free food
  • Unwanted conflicts may arise if certain guests encounter each other
Give yourself the freedom to cross off names falling into these categories. Sharing the day only with those who will appreciate the meaning of the celebration saves money and reduces stress.

Consider What You Already Have

Most people own more stuff than they know what to do with, but this can be a good thing when you’re looking for wedding décor. As you’re brainstorming themes and colors, browse around your house for items you might be able to use in the setup for the reception. Frames, vases, table linens and decorative knick knacks can all be incorporated into the décor so that you don’t have to rent or buy even more things you won’t need once the wedding is over. Don’t be shy about asking friends and family to contribute items, especially if you know anyone who recently got married. There’s a good chance they still have décor hanging around and would be happy to have it put to good use.

Time it Right

If you’re up for a long engagement, planning your wedding far in advance can mean securing lower prices. Booking in the off season is also beneficial for your wedding budget because you avoid peak times when venues charge more for locations and services. Another possible choice for minimizing costs is to get married around a holiday when all of your friends and family already tend to congregate in one place. This not only makes it easier to get everyone together but also saves on travel expenses and simplifies planning since nobody has to make a special trip or arrange for time off from their jobs. Saturday is the most popular, and therefore most expensive, day for weddings, so no matter when you decide to schedule your nuptials, be sure to pick a different day.

Go All-Inclusive

If a traditional wedding venue is on your radar for the big day, consider looking for an all-inclusive option or a package deal. These choices secure not only a space for the reception but also seating, tables and various vendors and services. Some even include a wedding coordinator to help take some of the pressure of planning off your shoulders. Finding the right package requires some research to ensure you get everything you want and hidden fees don’t drive the price out of the range of your budget. Being limited to onsite catering or a preferred vendor list may impose restrictions you don’t like, so keep looking until you find a venue in line with your needs at a price you can afford.

Double Up on Location

Having the ceremony and the reception in separate places means everyone has to take extra time to travel from one venue to another, including vendors you’re paying by the hour. The longer they’re on the clock, the more it eats into your budget. On top of this, there’s the added stress of decorating and setting up two venues for the big day. Look for venue options with space for both the ceremony and the reception, whether it’s an all-inclusive location or something non-traditional like a hotel, bed and breakfast or restaurant with a banquet hall. If there’s also space available for out-of-town guests to lodge, consider it a bonus. Minimizing transportation cuts costs and gives everyone more time to enjoy the day since precious minutes won’t be wasted as the wedding party makes its way between locations.

Get High-Tech with Invites

Between fancy calligraphy, decorative stationery and personalized engravings, simply inviting people to your wedding can cost as much as $100 per guest. At those prices, you could be out of money before you even book an officiant. You could go the DIY route, but doing so puts more pressure on you during a time when you’re already juggling a long list of planning tasks. Online invitation services like Paperless Post and Greenvelope save both time and money, and going completely digital also cuts down on paper waste. For a fraction of the cost of paper invites, you can send out customized digital cards to your guest list, track opened messages and count RSVPs as they arrive. Send reminders to guests whose invites remain unopened to ensure everyone receives notice of the big day and you get a full headcount well in advance.

Simplify the Food

The easiest way to spend less on food is to schedule your wedding at a time of day during which your guests won’t want or expect a full meal. As an alternative, consider a buffet of appetizers or a dessert bar. Choosing the latter option also lets you forgo an elaborate wedding cake. Instead, have a “dummy” cake with a decorative foam lower layer and a small edible upper layer for you and the groom to cut and share, and let guests take their pick from a few classic sweet treats like cookies, cupcakes or donuts. Skip the alcohol unless the price of the venue includes an open bar. If a formal sit-down dinner is part of your dream wedding, keep in mind it’s the most expensive way to feed everyone and will require sacrifices in other areas to keep costs down. Utilizing the caterer provided by your venue or shopping around for local catering options can make the dinner more affordable.

Rethink the Reception Style

You don’t need a big venue, elaborate decorations, fancy table settings and a DJ to have a fantastic wedding reception, and you shouldn’t put money into planning an extravagant celebration if it’s not in line with your tastes. Reconnect with your focus for the day, and consider alternative ways to commemorate your union following the ceremony. Some couples forgo traditional reception venues in favor of:
  • A backyard barbecue
  • A local restaurant
  • An outdoor dance party
  • Hanging out at a local club
  • Taking everyone bowling
  • Hiring food trucks
Don’t feel limited by other peoples’ ideas of what a wedding should be. Plan whatever kind of party you know will be the most fun and most memorable for you and your groom.

Get a Digital Photographer

Skip the pricey wedding albums and hire a photographer who will give you a full collection of beautifully edited digital photos. This option is becoming more common for weddings because it allows you to review all the pictures and choose only your favorites for printing. Some photographers deliver photos on discs; others upload them to an online storage site. Regardless of the method, you can save a bundle compared to the cost of a traditional photographer. You also get the added bonus of having photos resistant to the ravages of time. Digital files won’t fade, so if you ever want a new print, all you have to do is order one.

DIY the Photo Booth

Instead of renting a photo booth, give your guests the opportunity to get a little silly and contribute their own shots to your wedding photo collection with a quirky DIY setup. You can purchase an inexpensive backdrop online or create one of your own using basic materials from a craft store. Add some props to the customized setting for guests to use as desired. Some fun ideas include:
  • Costume jewelry
  • Feather boas
  • Humorous signs
  • Silly hats
  • Stick props
  • Stuffed animals
  • Tiaras
If you’re feeling particularly playful, include a few pop culture items for geeky snapshots or a couple of capes for those guests who are itching to channel their inner superheroes. Give guests an easy way to share photos by setting up a wedding app, creating a custom Instagram hashtag or securing a temporary mobile number for texting.

Fake the Flowers

Flowers represent a rather large investment for décor destined to wither and be thrown away. Consider using fabric flowers for centerpieces and decorations and limiting fresh blooms to your bouquet. Buying artificial flowers in bulk online costs much less than paying a florist to create multiple live arrangements, and you can give them away as keepsakes or use them for other celebrations when the wedding is over. As a bonus, you don’t have to worry about accidentally choosing blooms to which guests may be allergic. If you can’t imagine your big day without scores of fresh flowers but can’t afford professional arrangements, ask around for alternatives. Friends or family members who grow flowers for cutting may be willing to contribute, or you could score some blooms directly from a farm instead of through a florist.

Get Creative with Centerpieces

Even if you go with fabric flowers, they don’t have to be the main attraction on every table. Deviating from the traditional floral setup gives you a chance to be creative and surprise your guests with unusual centerpieces. Take it as an opportunity to showcase your personality or interject a little humor if you’re feeling playful. Candles are an inexpensive choice for centerpieces, especially if you order in bulk from an online wholesaler. Use a combination of tapers, pillars and tea lights to add a magical glow to each table. Keep the arrangements simple, or create one eye-catching large collection at the center of the table and use smaller clusters as accents. You may also consider using seashells, greenery or even fruit to add color and flair.

Queue Up Your Own Tunes

Why hire a DJ when you can create your own wedding playlist on your favorite streaming music app? Whether you’re a Spotify fan, Pandora patron or Amazon Music lover, you have access to just about any song you could ever want to hear on your big day. Use the time you would otherwise have spent shopping around for DJs to curate all your favorites into a customized list for the reception. Some apps let you invite friends and family to collaborate on playlists, which can be a lot of fun provided you can trust your buddies not to slip the “Chicken Dance” in right after your first dance with the groom. If you’d rather have someone else handle the music, grab a friend with DJ skills and a good sound system or recruit a few musical friends and family members. Live music adds something special to the reception, and having people you love provide the atmosphere for your big day is more meaningful than outsourcing the music.

Be a Sale Shopper

Seeking out bargains is a smart way to shop for anything, including what you need for your wedding. Sign up for newsletters or text alerts to get advanced notice of upcoming sales from bridal shops and other pertinent retailers, or download apps for access to special coupons. Take advantage of the best discounts to secure everything from dresses and shoes to jewelry and decorations. Refer to your wedding plan to ensure you don’t miss out on key items. Shopping at generic stores instead of wedding retailers is another great way to save. No one will know or care if you go to Target, Wal-Mart or even the dollar store to grab supplies, and party stores will be happy to hook you up with balloons, inexpensive favors, fabric, streamers and more. If you’re planning DIY projects, hit up craft stores or online wholesalers to get discounted materials.

Embrace All Things Secondhand

Discounts are great, but free stuff is even better. In the spirit of the old adage of one man’s junk being another man’s treasure, online swap sites like Freecycle and Swapace provide platforms for people looking to get rid of old belongings. Some items are completely free; others require bartering or negotiation to secure a reasonable price. You might even be able to make an exchange with something you’ve been hoping to get rid of. You can find other free or low-cost items by browsing:
  • Antique shops
  • Consignment shops
  • Craigslist
  • Garage sales
  • Selling or swapping groups on Facebook
It’s not unusual for your efforts to pay off in the form of amazing deals on just about anything you could want for your wedding. Borrowing items from friends and family is always an option to fill any gaps or put the finishing touches on your wedding décor.

Dress Your Way

Shopping sales or going secondhand for your wedding dress can also save you a bundle. Far from being tacky, a discount dress is a smart choice for a bride on a budget. You don’t even have to get an “official” wedding dress; prom dresses can be just as attractive and are available at deep discounts when prom season is over. What do you do if you want an elaborate gown but can’t afford the price tag? Get something simple and accessorize it yourself. Team up with a few skilled friends, hit the local craft store and go all out to create the dress of your dreams. Instead of shopping around for ages in search of the perfect dress to match your personality, take the opportunity to be as original as you want and enjoy rocking the finished product on your wedding day. Of course, you and your groom can always skip the traditional dress and tuxedo getup altogether and wear whatever you want. It’s your wedding, after all.

Have a Makeup and Hair “Party”

Why hire someone for hair and makeup when you have the chance to pretend its high school all over again and giggle with your girlfriends as you put together your looks for the big event? Silence the pre-wedding jitters and save money at the same time by bringing the bridal party together and helping each other get ready. Put on your favorite “old school” tunes, break out the makeup bags and get as fancy as you like with hair accessories. Everyone will appreciate the time to unwind and prepare for the ceremony, and you’ll all feel more relaxed because of it.

Recruit Everyone for Help

As you’re turning wedding plans into reality, don’t forget you have a network of family, friends, colleagues and local connections. With a little creativity and the willingness to ask for help, you could easily pull off the entire celebration without having to hire a single professional. Take a look at the list of what needs to be done for the big day, and start getting in contact with people you know who have the skills and talents to fill each roll. Building a network of reliable helpers takes some of the stress out of the planning process and gives everyone a chance to contribute something special to your wedding.

Skip the Extra Embellishments

Once word gets out about your upcoming nuptials, every vendor or store you deal with will try to sell you on extras. You can’t blame businesses for using this marketing tactic, but you have to be ruthless in saying no if you want to have any chance of staying within your budget. You can go without any of these embellishments and still have a fabulous wedding:
  • Elaborate wedding favors
  • Engraving on invitations
  • Food served on sticks or arranged on towers
  • Monogrammed anything
  • Save the date cards
Guests won’t notice if you decide not to include some of the bells and whistles with which other couples dress up their big days. In fact, all you really have to do to get married is to meet the minimum legal requirements for your state. Everything else is extra, and you have the freedom to choose which “extras” are worth the money. Whatever you picture when you imagine the wedding of your dreams, you can have it all if you have the right mindset about wedding planning. Remember a wedding is about bringing people you love together to celebrate the union between you and your groom and the life you’re about to share together. When you put this thought first, there’s no reason to stress over budget or whether you need to incorporate every wedding tradition in existence. Instead, you can focus on creating lifelong memories of your special day in a way reflective of your tastes and without spending a fortune.