Planning a wedding is all fun and games while you’re pinning away on Pinterest: every pretty thing that catches your eye makes it onto your Pinterest board, and the sky seems to be the limit with the possibilities for your big day. But once things get real, things get tricky. You start checking price tags. You realize how fast the money goes. You contemplate whittling down your guest list and wonder how many friendships will suffer.

While the average American wedding can run upwards of $35,000, it’s wise to stick with a budget that won’t run you into years of debt as newlyweds.  [For some tips on working toward a debt-free marriage, check out our latest blog post]  

To avoid spending too much, set realistic expectations for your wedding budget, then figure out how to stick to it.

Learn how to save and spend for your big day without sacrificing all your dreams with these helpful wedding hacks.

How much can you afford?

In today’s world, antiquated rules about who spends what on a wedding are thrown out the window. As couples marry later in life and often have established careers, many are paying for their own weddings rather than relying on the bride’s parents to foot the bill. To determine how much you’ll spend on your wedding, you first need to decide who will be paying for it. This may include a combination of budgets divided among family members. If possible, have a family meeting with the bride, groom, and parents on both sides, to discuss finances as diplomatically as possible.

Once you’ve decided how much the different parties will be contributing, you can start piecing together your overall budget. To make it easy, there are many wedding budget calculators out there (like this one from Nerdwallet).

We also like this formula from Martha Stewart, the queen of wedding planning herself. Stewart and her team of wedding experts recommend taking your budget and dividing it into portions: 50 percent of your budget for the reception, and 10 percent each to these five categories — flowers, photography, attire, music and miscellaneous — to reach 100 percent.

Decide which traditions to keep, and which to throw out

Your budget can start dwindling away at a rapid rate if you plan everything in the traditional route. For example, a wedding DJ costs an average of $1,000, a wedding dress from a boutique can run $5,000 or more, and the average wedding cake is about $500. This doesn’t even consider the cost of catered meals, fancy venues, wedding guest favors, photographers, and all the other little traditions that rack up your wedding day bill.

But we say it’s time to throw tradition to the wind. Today’s weddings have no rules and are all about the style that fits the bride and groom. Luckily, this means it’s a lot easier to plan a wedding on a budget. With a little ingenuity, you can come up with countless wedding hacks to save you money.

To do so, you’ll first need to decide which traditions are important to you, and which you are ready to do away with. Is having an epic wedding dance party the moment you’ve dreamed of your whole life? Are wedding day photos something you plan to hang, like works of art, all around your future home? Are you a foodie who wants to reminisce on your wedding day meal for years to come?

Once you prioritize what’s important to you, it’s time to get creative with the rest of the traditions — or even do away with them all together. Think about connections you have, friends who may be willing to pitch in, and other ways you can cut costs by doing something less conventional.

Wedding hack ideas

Though there are countless ways to save money on your big day, there are a few hacks that work well to cut down the budget. Here are some of our favorite money-saving tips:

  • Skip the professional florist. Natural-looking, loose bouquets are on-trend these days, so use this moment to your advantage. Purchase pre-made bouquets and rearrange them to look professional by adding more greens and diversity. Or, go for a simple bundle of baby’s breath or roses. Pick flowers that are in season to avoid a hefty price tag.
  • Rent or borrow your wedding dress. A huge way to cut costs is by finding a wedding dress at a low cost. Today, there are many websites or shops that allow you to rent a dress rather than buy it, meaning you can afford the dress of your dreams at a fraction of the cost. You can also find second-hand wedding shops, Etsy shops, or buy a white dress from an online retailer like Nordstrom or Topshop.
  • Crowdsource your wedding photos. While it’s important to capture the memories of this once-in-a-lifetime event, some couples may want to consider crowdsourcing their wedding day photos. Create a hashtag for your wedding day and have guests post their photos with this hashtag so you can see them all. Hand out old-fashioned film cameras to capture unique perspectives from the guests. Or hire an amateur photographer to work for a fraction of the cost.
  • Get creative with your menu. We love what’s happening with wedding food these days. Try a more casual approach by hiring a food truck or catering from your favorite fast-casual restaurant chain. Present the food in an elegant way, and guests will be pumped to enjoy their favorite food rather than a stuffy, expensive, pre-set menu.
  • Plan your playlist ahead of time. Thanks to the power of Spotify and iTunes, you can skip the DJ and instead enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend to keep the jams going all night long.
  • Choose an inexpensive venue. The best way to cut costs right from the beginning is to opt for a free or inexpensive wedding venue. Look into a local park, forest location, quaint gazebo, or town hall.
  • Limit your guest list. Many people feel a sense of relief when they realize they don’t have to invite their parents’ coworkers, elementary school teachers, and their friend’s friend’s friend to their special day. Keep the guest list small and you’ll keep costs down while enjoying time with those you love.
  • Buy invitations on Etsy. The online world has endless options to make your wedding invitations more affordable. Find a design you love, plug in the details of your day, and print them at a local print shop to save a great deal of money.
  • Have a dessert buffet. Rather than splurging on an expensive, three-tiered cake, try getting a small and simple cake to cut. Then have a dessert buffet for guests to enjoy. The buffet should include treats you really love, whether it be candy jars, cupcakes, donuts, etc.
  • Enlist the help of talented friends. Do you have a friend who’s amazing with craft projects? Have them help with DIY decorations. Consider the talents of all your closest friends and family and enlist them to help in their areas of expertise. This may even come down to organizing the seating arrangements, coordinating outfits of the wedding party, planning the dance playlist, etc.
  • Be flexible about the wedding date. Rates for vendors and venues often vary depending on the season. Find out when the rates are the lowest and then try to plan your wedding around that time to score big savings.  [Here are some tips for budgeting as a newlywed couple.] 
  • Skip the huge diamond. Trends in wedding rings today allow for huge cost savings. Look for a unique gemstone or skip the big rock altogether. Diamonds aren’t a girl’s only best friend, after all.  [Here are some tips for planning for an engagement ring purchase.]
  • Crowdsource your honeymoon. If you have the basic home needs covered, opt for a crowdsourcing of your honeymoon rather than a stack of unnecessary kitchen tools. You can set up a website taking donations to a romantic getaway you’ll remember for a lifetime.
  • Vary the bridesmaids’ dresses. Many brides choose to have a bunch of coordinating bridesmaids dresses chosen by each bridesmaid, rather than a lineup of identical dresses. This will save you money and allow each bridesmaid to feel perfectly comfortable on the wedding day.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to learn how to save for a wedding and not compromise on the joy you’ll feel on your big day. Saving money will allow you to enjoy yourself without the guilt.

Be sure you think hard about where you want to spend your money, research all the possible options, and never settle for the first estimates a vendor may give you. Look for affordable and convenient personal loans if you need more funding. Using your budget-savvy skills will go a long way to save you heaps of money, and you’ll be grateful to have those savings in your bank account after the wedding day comes to a close.

For more money saving tips, check out our blog.