With the average American wedding costing brides, grooms, and their families $33,931, it’s normal to experience sticker shock when planning your wedding on a small budget. 

Fortunately, there are numerous budget friendly unique wedding ideas. Before you walk down the aisle, make sure you say “I do” to making your celebration affordable, so you don’t start your marriage journey in debt. 

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Once the rosy glow of the engagement has faded a bit, You are probably wondering how to plan a wedding step by step.  One of your first questions might be: Who pays for what?

As The Knot points out, tradition “dictates” that the bride’s parents will pay for some items, while the groom’s side will pay for others.

However, these etiquette rules have eroded over the years. These days, it’s typical for the bride and groom to handle wedding expenses on their own, with maybe a little help from mom and dad.

As you plan your wedding day on a budget, it’s a good idea to create a budget that includes a list of your expenses. From there, figure out how much you want to spend and who will contribute the funds for that item.

If you want to go the traditional route, the bride’s family typically covers the following costs:

  • Invitations
  • The ceremony
  • The bride’s attire
  • Flowers
  • Reception dinner and decorations
  • Wedding photos

Traditionally, the groom’s family pays for:

  • The groom’s attire
  • The bride’s bouquet
  • The rehearsal dinner
  • DJ services
  • Alcohol
  • The honeymoon

It’s also customary for wedding attendants to pay for their own attire and accessories, such as makeup and hair-styling. However, many modern brides and grooms offer to help their attendants cover these costs.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to communicate as much as possible. Make sure everyone involved in footing the bill has a good idea of how much they should expect to pay for the items they’re covering.    

There are definitely bargains to be had when it comes to wedding dresses. Different stores have different categories of low key budget wedding friendly dresses. 

David’s Bridals sometimes has cheap wedding dresses under $99. Modcloth usually has dresses for as low as $300.  Preowned Wedding Dresses and Once Wed let you purchase used wedding gowns at a discount.  You can get wedding dresses between $500 – $1,000 from Tradesy, Stillwhite among others.

If you’re a fan of simpler styles, you can also save by buying a non-wedding dress in cream or white. You can usually find formal dresses around prom season, with many styles available in white or off-white.

Amazon  has all affordable bridal accessories to complement your dresses well as your bridesmaids’ dresses. 

Check out your local Dollar store, Party city, HomeGoods, ACMoore, Amazon and the website Zulily for low budget wedding decoration ideas. Things like candle holders, artificial flowers and string lights. 

On a side note, Amazon has very affordable items in their wedding registry. Sign up here to get started on your registry. 

Keep an eye on your local buy and sell groups and Facebook marketplace for good deals . Sign up for alerts and emails from stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby. 

Michaels sometimes has lanterns that many people use in wedding decor, you buy two get one for free sometimes. 

Look on sites like Pinterest and Instagram for DIY wedding receptions decorations, then search for tutorials that show you how to assemble decorations step by step. 

You can even make a party out of it by inviting your bridesmaids over for a night of crafts and pizza.

Considering you and your guests will spend the majority of the wedding at the venue, you want it to be a nice one.

However, traditional wedding venues like big halls and hotel ballrooms do not come cheap, when you look hard, you will find good low budget wedding venues.

 Here are some affordable options to consider: Libraries and museums, parks and beaches, cafes and local restaurants.  Many couples have done gorgeous backyard weddings on budget.

Most brides and grooms pick a Saturday to get married, and the wedding industry knows this. As a result, you’ll find that everything gets marked up on Saturdays, including the venue. 

If possible, plan your big day on a Friday or Sunday. Because wedding venues have a harder time booking these days, they might be willing to offer a discount. 

Avoid the typical wedding venues, such as halls and hotels. These might be lovely places to tie the knot, but you’ll pay a premium when you book them.

By contrast, non-traditional venues might be easier on your wallet. Just about any place can be a wedding venue. Think campsites, a friend’s backyard, or a local park.

 Just as most people get married on Saturday, the majority of brides and grooms tie the knot in the evening.

If you don’t mind shifting your celebration to earlier in the day, you might save big on your venue. This can also reduce food costs, as brunch and lunch menu items are often less expensive than dinner meals.  

Food is typically a big ticket item even on a wedding budget. While it might take some careful planning, there are ways to cut your food costs. 

For example, consider a buffet rather than a plated dinner. Guests get to choose what they want, and you trim the cost of waiters and staff. While some people frown up it, other cultures do potluck at wedding receptions as a way to minimize costs. 

You can also save a bundle by bypassing a big wedding cake. Believe it or not, you can purchase a fake wedding cake for as little as $50 on sites like eBay and Etsy. The outside layer is made of real fondant, so guests won’t know the difference.

If you opt for a faux wedding cake, bakers recommend using a real cake topper if you wish to cut it for photos. When it’s time to serve your guests dessert, have a couple of yummy (and much more reasonably priced) sheet cakes handy.

Consider changing the time of day of the reception so that you can serve brunch, or afternoon tea, these options are less expensive. 

Look into a BBQ, Italian, middle eastern food or wedding food trucks. Food trucks usually have delicious food and are reasonably priced. 

Just keep in mind that with drop off catering, you will still need someone to set it up and keep it at the proper temperature. 

Look for service organizations that might do this to raise funds, like an honor society of teenagers, or women’s groups at churches.

When everything is over, you remain with your wedding pictures and rings of course. But the average budget for a professional wedding photographers ranges in the thousands of dollars, it may not fit in your budget. 

Hiring family members is tricky because if something goes wrong the line between professional and family becomes blurry.  With a little creativity, you can still make memories with your pictures. 

Hire a professional photographer for a short period of time, as compared to having him or her around all day.  The less time you have the professional photographer around, the less money you pay. 

Your bridesmaids/groomsmen and friends can take pictures  of pre-wedding celebrations.  Keep a list of all the poses you want to do to make things smooth. 

Set up photography props, in different areas at the wedding venue, ask friends or family members to take pictures of you- the couple, and other guests in-front of those different props using their phones and cameras. Many mobile phones take really pictures in good lighting. 

Do you know anyone who is recently married? Ask them for the contact details of their photographer. You may get a good deal, just mentioning that you liked their recent work. 

Put usb sticks and self addressed envelopes on all the tables for guests to save photos on and mail back them back to you.  

Include a cute instructions cards with email addresses and details of the moments you would like them to take pictures of e.g when the newly wed couples is looking at each other lovely, holding hands, groom dancing with the bride’s mother, etc.  

Have the guests email you those pictures. You will get hundreds of lovely pictures of friends and family members to choose from. 

Traditionally, out of town wedding guests pay for their own hotel. However, there are things you can do to make their stay more budget-friendly. 

Many hotels offer group discounts if you reserve a block of rooms. If you plan on sending a save-the-date to your guests, include hotel booking information in your mailing. 

In most cases, hotels don’t require you to pay anything up front to block off a certain number of rooms. However, your hotel will probably ask you to commit to filling a specific percentage of the rooms you book. 

This stops brides and grooms from grabbing up half the hotel and then only using a dozen rooms.

It’s also normal for hotels to ask you to sign an agreement or contract in which you agree to set aside a certain number of rooms and then pay a penalty if you don’t end up booking a target percentage.

If you’re worried about hitting your reserved room target, it’s best to start with a smaller number of rooms, then add more rooms down the road once RSVP responses start rolling in.

  • Although you are planning your wedding on a small budget, you definitely want cash left over to pay for a fun and relaxing honeymoon. While it’s okay to splurge a little, there are also several ways to save on your first vacation as a married couple. Here are some ideas to keep in mind:
  • You can score an entire honeymoon for free if you book your wedding at certain venues. Martha Stewart Weddings lists 10 venues that offer a complimentary or discounted stay on the property after the wedding.    
  • Research your destination — and then figure out when it experiences a dip in visitors. You’ll likely save on flights and hotel rooms, and you’ll get to take in the sights without fighting the crowds.
  • The world is a big place, there are a lot of underappreciated destinations out there. For example, rather than spending a bundle on an Italian getaway, consider nearby Croatia. 

It’s a Mediterranean country filled with ancient castles, gorgeous scenery, and much more affordable prices. 

  • Many couples put off honeymoon planning until shortly before the wedding. By starting early, you give yourself a chance to take advantage of discounts and deals on flights, hotels, and other items. 

Most wedding experts recommend kicking off your honeymoon planning about a year in advance.

  • Sites like Zola let you build a registry, order invitations, and start a honeymoon fund all in one place. That way, guests can contribute to your honeymoon as a wedding gift.

The site recommends breaking up requested cash amounts into specific items or excursions. 

For example, rather than asking for $100, invite your guests to cover the cost of a romantic dinner at a specific restaurant while you’re on your honeymoon.

When you create a registry on Zola, your guests can shop for any gift on your list without leaving the site. 

Zola also offers free returns, and you can even return gifts before they ship, so you get exactly what you want. After the wedding, you’ll also get a 20 percent registry completion discount.    

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the right time to start planning your wedding. However, “as early as possible” is a good rule of thumb. 

Even if you’re committed to saving money on wedding expenses, the reality is that 40 percent of couples underestimate how much their nuptials will cost. 

When you fail to plan ahead, it can be tempting to reach for credit cards to finance last-minute wedding expenses. Not only does this saddle you with interest, it means starting off your marriage in debt.

If possible, start planning at least a year in advance. This gives you the ability to incorporate your wedding budget into your normal household budget. 

While you might need to tighten your belt in some areas, such as dining out and entertainment, you’ll avoid accumulating debt as you plan the big day. 

Weddings are exciting, happy, emotional, they bring out the best in most people but they can also be financially stressful. With thorough planning, it is possible to have the simplest wedding ever, or the nice wedding on a small budget without incurring debt.

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