If you want to learn about saving money on your wedding you’re in the right place.

But also, I want to be very real with you in this article. It may be an unpopular opinion but I honestly think that the wedding industry has peddled a lot of garbage about what they really ‘need’ for your wedding.

These crazy expectations about what a wedding ‘should’ be, have folks starting their married life in debt or wiped out financially. Tens of thousands of dollars on what is essentially just a party, is not everyone’s idea of the best way to start married life.

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. All opinions are my own. Learn more here.

There is something beautiful about simple, affordable weddings

Sure, the pandemic has put things into perspective for everyone concerned. Brides and grooms, as well as wedding vendors who have had to quickly adapt their offerings.

Many vendors have started to offer their products and services at a lower price or adopt different pricing models, as consumer sentiment has been forced to shift.

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This change in the habits of marriers has been nothing but a good thing for me. Not financially – there is a lot less money in weddings now.

But as someone who is married, and has also been to a lot of weddings, there is something beautiful about weddings being stripped down to the bare bones. I find it very freeing.

Why freeing? Well, I have seen the sense of disillusionment many brides have by the time the wedding day is over. They have spent so much money and energy on things that ultimately were nothing more than sources of stress.

A large proportion of my couples were just relieved when the day was over All that stuff you’re potentially stressing over now simply won’t matter in the moment.

So cut your wedding costs by simply discarding the aspects of the wedding that don’t speak to you.

Spending a lot of money on your wedding doesn’t equate to happiness

Another one of ‘Zoe’s anecdotal and unfounded theories’. Though there is some correlation between having a big, expensive wedding and couple staying together longer, it isn’t necessary. And for many, it isn’t worth the stress!

READ MORE  40 creative ways to save money on your wedding

Just getting that perfect dress that’s slightly over budget, or that dreamy cake that so-and-so had… It takes something of a mindset shift to realize that this isn’t the stuff that will make or break a wedding.

And it certainly won’t make or break a marriage!

So be extremely careful where you’re putting your time, money and attention when it comes to wedding planning. This shit quickly gets overwhelming, and before you know it, you’re gritting your teeth and enduring, when you should be savoring every moment.

It’s the happiest day of your life we’re talking about here, after all!

You can skimp on some stuff and splurge on other stuff

Much of the stuff you have on the wedding day will be forgotten about. But what will remain are your own memories. If your memories are of arguing over money or getting decision-fatigue, that isn’t fun to look back on!

The more stuff you have, the more stress it tends to cause. One of the best ways to cut wedding costs also doubles as a happiness hack for life in general: do less. Have less.

Woah, that got deep.

But seriously, if you spend on all this other stuff, you may not be able to invest in the photographer you really want. The one who can create compelling, beautiful photographs that take you vividly back to the moment.

Because guess what, not all photographers can do that.

READ MORE  Why do wedding photographers charge so much?

Cheap out on the photography and there may be little to actually take away from the wedding day. The only tangible thing that will remain are photos.

So, save money on your wedding budget by asking yourself what you prioritize. There is no right or wrong way to trim your wedding costs – there is simply the process of knowing yourselves as a couple.

READ MORE  Should you hire a cheap wedding photographer? Let’s look at both sides

A lot of that means tapping into and articulating your shared values.

The wedding budget hacks I’m going to share here presuppose that you are in the process of knowing your priorities.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying that stuff on this list is unimportant. Far from it. More so that each couple has different priorities. The items on this list can help you refine your ideas as to what you personally could save on, and where to splurge.

creative ways to save money on your wedding by prioritizing what's important

An off-season and/ or weekday wedding can save a ton of money! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Hungry for more wedding planning resources? I’ve compiled all my VERY best blog posts together in one post so you can work your way through absolutely everything when it comes to planning your big day. I love talking about wedding economics and the wedding industrial complex on a micro and macro scale.

READ MORE  Wedding planning resources from Zoe Larkin Photography

Venue & high-level planning

1. Avoid a Saturday wedding

This is one of the biggest cost savings you can make without compromising quality. Sure, you are losing the convenience and conventionality aspects. But you could be saving several thousand dollars marrying on a Friday, Sunday or even more on a Monday – Thursday date. Same goes for off-season weddings – even Saturday ones! Not only your venue but potentially most of your other local vendors may give you a discount. My coverage minimums go from 8 hours, down to 3 on select dates.

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2. Go for all-inclusive venues for bundled savings

The more vendors you hire, the more the costs can mount up. An all-inclusive venue can bundle in items like catering, floral design, DJ, chairs, tables, flatware, linens, wine glasses, coffee stuff, cake stands, decorations and signage depending on your package choice. What you would lose in choice you’d make up in cost savings. While there is potential for an unscrupulous ‘monopoly’ to arise, this is rarely the case.

More info in this Newlyweds on a Budget article!

3. Decrease the guest count

OK, so with the current situation and its fallout, a lot of weddings are by default, intimate weddings. But global pandemic or not, it’s worth paying attention to whether you really need all those people on your guest list.

A lot of wedding costs are directly or indirectly correlated with guest count. More guests equals larger venue with higher minimums, higher catering bill and alcohol consumption, more items to be rented, more florals and decorations, transportation costs to ferry guests from the hotel, plus the need for most of your vendors to bring a secondary staff member.

READ MORE  18 reasons you SHOULD have a small intimate wedding

4. Beware of upgrades in packages from vendors

This applies not just to the venue, but all vendors. However, the venue is likely the most expensive one. One of the ways a wedding budget gets maxed out fast is by upgrading to packages that you don’t really need, but look good on paper. It’s easy to be upsold – and when there are a dozen or so vendors, this adds up.

learn how to trim your wedding budget by ditching these 40 things

Real flowers are undeniably gorgeous but being savvy is the key to getting the most out of them! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Florals & décor

5. Repurpose décor from ceremony for reception

A lot can be repurposed from one area to another. The florals that grace your ceremony space can do double duty as centerpieces later in the day. The bridesmaids’ bouquets can become part of your reception table décor.  This Martha Stewart Weddings article has a little more detail & some pitfalls to consider. Often, artificial flowers are imperceptible from real ones from a distance.

6. Ditch aisle markers and chair swag

Aisle markers are super pretty but often something super simple works just as well. Chair swag can add a bit of bling, and certainly a pop of interest in the pictures, but isn’t going to be missed.

7. Reconsider fresh-flower boutonnieres, corsages, and floral hairpieces

Boutonnieres, corsages and floral hairpieces have no water source. They need to be made on the same day. The price reflects this. Consider a clip on boutonniere that looks real!

8. Save with non-floral centerpieces

To save both time and money you could also scrap floral centerpieces altogether. There are all kinds of alternatives to fresh flowers which could also provide decoration for your home and holiday displays in the years ahead, or even gifts. Ideas include candles, driftwood, succulents, geodes, coral, fruit, pottery… You could even sell on your non-floral centerpieces later to recoup costs.

9. Stick to in-season, locally grown florals

As well as saving by choosing local blooms, you could also see if it’ll be cheaper to use greenery and other foliage options over actual flowers. Be honest and find a floral designer that’s willing to work within these parameters. Emphasize that you are looking to minimize costs rather than going with the boldest, most extravagant floral options (which they’ll likely be more excited about!)

10. Simple seating charts & signage

A seating chart is a good idea but it does not have to be complicated. Search Pinterest for some budget ideas that you can make yourself well in advance. A wedding planner can also suggest something that compliments your space, or may be able to throw signage in at no additional cost.

How to save money on your wedding by using these wedding budget hacks

Go straight to a lovely dinner and skip cocktail hour! | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Scheduling & logistics

11. Skip the cocktail hour

If you have a later ceremony (5/ 5.30pm) you could even go from the ceremony straight to open bar closely followed by dinner. Essentially, no separate cocktail hour space, drinks, servers and special set-up. If you have champagne, that means you are spending a lot on the actual beverage itself as well as renting the glasses just for that one moment.

12. Hire a wedding planner

Oh, this is a big one and often misunderstood! Sometimes you have to spend a little to save a lot. And you’re saving not just money but time and stress. I have a detailed article here about why even a small wedding need a wedding planner, but in terms of purely financial cost that this article is about, they can negotiate prices with vendors (as vendors really want to get more bookings from in-demand wedding planners who attract great couples!)

READ MORE  11 reasons why even a small wedding needs a wedding planner

13. Schedule a shorter day and don’t have late events

While wedding photographers who are in demand normally have minimum hours of coverage to make it worthwhile for them, you could try to stick to the minimum hours, whether 6, 7 or 8 hours. One simple trick for this to avoid what I call ‘late events’ when you are paying for the photographer to stay longer. Great examples of this are the cake-cutting and a sparkler exit. Plan an early cake-cutting and ditch the grand exit completely (which is often stressful to set up and disruptive to the guest experience).

14. Take the honeymoon a long time after the wedding

Having the honeymoon months or even years later means it’s not so much a ‘wedding cost’ but simply a special vacation! It’ll make sense to build up a dedicated fund slowly and only splurge on the once-in-a-lifetime trip once it’s financially viable. There’s no time pressure like there is with the wedding day. And it’s fun to have something to look forward to after the flurry of the wedding!

novel and practical wedding budget hacks for brides who want to cut their wedding budget

A DJ (or two!) is almost always much more economical than live music | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

To have or not to have?

15. Live music

Live music is so fun but does represent a higher cost than you might think, especially when they’re in demand! Typically you’d have 5 or 6 musicians, maybe more. You’d have to provide meals for them as per their contracts. Most caterers will have a cap of 4 or 5 vendors in total that they’ll provide meals for – anything else you’d be paying as if those vendors were guests. A professional wedding DJ can be a more affordable option. Many have contract DJ’s on their team so they can keep costs low.

16. Custom rented dancefloors

Custom dancefloors are only really required when you are faced with grass lawns + heels, which do not go together. In almost all other cases you won’t ever need to rent your own floor. If your venue or DJ suggests it, make sure you’re clear on why it’s required. It could just be one of those not-strictly-necessary upsells that makes no material difference on your wedding day.

17. Lawn games

Unless they’re included with the venue rental, they can be an additional cost (no matter how small) that provides little benefit. Yes, kids sometimes end up playing them, but for the minimal amount of time they’re play-able they won’t be missed. Be intentional with your choices and never kowtow to custom!

18. Kids’ table and games

A kiddie entertainment table seems like a good idea but often kids don’t end up using them. Don’t ask me why! They are often more interested in running around with the other kids playing than sitting at a table coloring in.

19. Engagement photos

Hey, I am super in favor of engagement photos but if you need to cut something, this can save you a few hundred. I keep my engagement photos separate from the wedding package, so you only pay for what you need. Don’t think you really want to bother with the shoot, or don’t think it’s a worthwhile investment? No problem!

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20. Second photographer

Same again – a second photographer is a great idea for the reasons in this post below but ultimately is a nice-to-have. I’d definitely want to take you through some of the pros and cons, and each wedding is different. For most weddings, when it comes down to it you only need one great photographer who can bring the goods.

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21. Videographer

Wedding videos are amazing and bring your day to life so vividly. However if you don’t think you will watch back your highlight video very much you have options. It may well be sufficient to ask guests to shoot little recordings here and there. You can edit them together later using free software. It won’t look like a movie trailer but it’ll bring back a few memories in a personal way!

Another fantastic option is to livestream your wedding! This way, not only will you have the ability to broadcast the wedding to friends and family that can’t be there in person – you’ll also get the full recording to keep forever! Read more about LoveStream (the best wedding livestreaming service IMHO) at the link below:

READ MORE  How and why to livestream your wedding (+ LoveStream review!)

Get 10% off your wedding livestreaming with my LoveStream.io code ZOE10 

22. Photobooth

Photobooths are more of a current obsession, but their popularity seems to be on the wane. Often I hear that guests didn’t know there was a photobooth because of where it has to be set up in a forgotten corner of the venue. It can be a nice touch for guests to use on social media and stick in your guestbook, but no one will be disappointed if there isn’t one. The simple, budget-friendly option is a Polaroid and a simple backdrop. Be warned, Polaroid film isn’t cheap!

23. Guestbook

Not a huge expense, but this article is about how the little things can add up. Some guestbooks are simple, off-the-shelf affairs; others are custom-made and luxuriously designed featuring your engagement photos. On a budget, it could definitely be skipped. The reason? Not all your guests will sign it in all likelihood. A lot of couples don’t look at their guestbook again after the wedding!

surprising ways to save money and trim your wedding budget

Serve food family-style to cut down on the costs of serving staff, plus waste and waiting time | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Food & drink

24. Consider informal wedding catering

Catering and venue are where the lion’s share of the budget is allocated. Regular wedding catering is counted per head – expect it to be much higher than a regular restaurant meal. For a cheaper but great quality option, consider food trucks, café catering or other casual catering options. Serve family-style for the best savings.

This Moneycrashers article has 50 ways to minimize food costs at your wedding reception.

25. Ditch the bread

It may sound trivial but adding a first course of bread rolls to the meal can add a lot to your catering bill. When we’re talking about feeding 100, 150 guests it certainly adds up. Likewise you lose the formal dessert from your caterer and have the wedding cake (or donut wall/ cupcake stand/ pie bar) be the dessert.

26. Liquor and cocktails

Unless cocktails are your jam, it’s possible that wine and beer will suffice! As long as there is some alcohol to imbibe, no one will complain about the lack of a signature cocktail or the champagne. It’s a personal decision that will depend on your crowd but you’ll know if this cost-saving option would work for you. In any case, a full bar is probably needlessly expensive.

27. Don’t serve a champagne toast

Venues will often charge quite a markup on the champagne itself which is reserved for this one moment. Plus the special rental of champagne glasses and a staff of servers to serve at just the right time is certainly a sizeable expense. This bride wrote on the Kitchn about her dislike of the champagne toast tradition, though she loves champagne!

28. BYOB rather than venue alcohol

Alcohol provided by your wedding venue will almost always carry a mark-up. Be sure to ask about bringing your own if you want to save money. You can also have fun with it by sticking your own ‘branded’ stickers over the label as they’re served. That can add some humor or style. Many liquor stores will deliver alcohol and later refund you for unopened bottles.

29. Forgo the fancy ‘wedding’ cake for a simpler cake

You can get a nice cake for the ceremonial cutting, then sheet cake to serve. And if you can bear the idea of an off-the-shelf cake and can have someone go pick it up, Costco and Safeway have some amazing options. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference between a custom designed pro-wedding baker and the supermarket version. And to be fair, your guests are drunk by this point.

30. Don’t have a wedding cake at all

A multi-tiered, towering wedding cake is an expensive wedding day item that some couples only get because it’s traditional. Skip cake completely and have pie, donuts, cake pops, ice cream or something with a non-wedding price tag that you can pick up yourself from a local spot. This Brides article has 45 alternatives to traditional wedding cake!

40 ways to cut costs at your wedding

There are so many ways to go with finding a wedding dress – do some research before rushing to your city’s bridal boutique | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Gifts, details & attire

31. Select the type of wedding dress and store carefully

There is something to be said for the fairytale wedding gown, but ultimately no one will know whether you sported a $1k dress or a $7k dress. You can find something comfortable, stylish and flattering by shopping sample sales, second hand (Craigslist or online), or even some of the cut-price Chinese stores, just make sure you do your due diligence as often corners are cut to bring you a low price. You could even rent a dress!

I’ve curated a bunch of my absolute favorite 20 boho wedding gowns available on Amazon right now, and all under $200. Yep, you’d better believe it!

READ MORE  20 boho wedding dresses under $200 - on Amazon in 2024

32. Special bridal shoes – yes or no?

Bridal wedding shoes are big business and Pinterest is great at selling this idea they’re essential! But unless you have a shorter wedding dress, no-one’s really going to see them and they’ll likely hurt your feet. Since when was anything pretty ergonomically designed? The only time we may see the shoes is for the details pictures and the obligatory lifting-the-dress-to-show-the-shoes pictures.

33. Go easy on the sentimental details

Photographers love details, but you can probably skip that customized dress hanger, fancy ring box, bride-tribe getting ready outfits / robes, garters, monogrammed underwear! One thing I would advise keeping is the vow book – it looks better than looking at your phone or piece of paper, plus makes a meaningful keepsake!

34. Ride the wave for mismatched wedding party attire

OK, so this is more a money-saving tip for your wedding party, but consider opting for a color palette or type of dress (jewel-toned, animal-print, summer florals) rather than a specific model. Not only does it instantly elevate the mood, but can save money because goodbye, wedding industry mark-up. They can choose something they’d personally feel comfortable wearing again and that suits their skin tone and body type.

35. Wedding favors

Something that will be meaningful but also cost-effective is tough, given that you’ll be spending anywhere between $5 – $15 per unit on favors. You can see how it quickly adds up. You’d be surprised how many of those darling favors are left on the table at the end of the night! Or consider a charitable gift on behalf of your guests – a chance to do good, make a meaningful difference and still save!

READ MORE  Ethical wedding ideas for your SF Bay Area wedding

Another great option is using a simple gifting service like Greetabl which allows you to send small, cute and highly personalized gifts by mail across the US. Use my code ZLARKIN for 20% off your first Greetabl!

36. Do something instead of wedding party gifts

Gifts for your wedding party can add hundreds to the wedding costs depending on the size of your crew. Keep the wedding party small to begin with and consider honoring them in different ways. You could make handmade gifts or take them out to a special meal rather than the engraved hipflasks that they probably already have.

How to save money on your wedding budget by Zoe Larkin Photography

You can cut out printed paper items easily, or trim it down significantly by not having one per person | Photography by Zoe Larkin Photography

Printed items

37. You don’t need physical invitations or save the dates

This is a big one! Do you think ‘it’s not a wedding without beautifully designed wedding invitations that arrive by mail and set the tone for the wedding’? If so, carry on! But if your guest list is largely millennial and you’re not excited by luxurious invitations, consider a simple wedding website or e-invites. Guests can easily RSVP through the site, with a special wedding email address or through an app. You can update the website with engagement photos and more details as planning progresses.

38. Menu cards

These are certainly a sweet touch! As they are printed materials and probably quite luxurious with heavy cardstock, it adds up. You could have one station set up with all the information about the meal and reception proceedings, or one menu per table. Most people are honestly just happy they’re going to be fed. If they’ll be making their meal selection when they RSVP there’s little need to be reminded of their choice when they sit down.

39. Printed programs – one per guest?

One big sign can suffice. Or consider digital programs! Considering many guests will not look at programs at all, it does make you wonder whether you need any program unless there is a specific reason, like everyone joining together for prayer or song. Just search for alternatives to printed programs and invitations and you’ll find a wealth of creative ideas.

40. Overly fancy escort cards

Escort cards (place cards) are still a good idea if you want to avoid a free-for-all at the dinner table! But they don’t need to be anything fancier than a folded-over piece of card with a handwritten or typed name. Search ‘cheap escort cards‘ on Etsy for some great ideas if you don’t want to do them yourself. They start at less than a dollar each.



And there you have it! I hope these money-saving wedding tips helped. The idea behind saving money on your wedding budget is really to say ‘prioritize what you need, trim off the stuff you don’t and never compromise on the handful of things that are truly important’.

I’m of course hoping that photography is one of your top priorities. I have a few tips on how to choose the wedding photographer that’s right for you.

READ MORE  10 tips for choosing your wedding photographer

You’re probably reading this right at the beginning of your wedding planning process. You should now have an idea of the many costs that are associated with weddings.

It’s fun to plan a wedding and figure out the values and priorities that will set the tone for your marriage. Far from being overwhelming, it’s my hope that this article gives you some great ideas for saving money on your wedding!

Like this article? Pin to your wedding budgeting Pinterest board! 

40 actionable ways to cut your wedding budget so you have more funds left for amazing wedding photography! Let's face it, wedding budgets can spiral out of control. You need ideas to trim the budget down so that there's more left to work with when it comes to choosing a wedding photographer. With this guide, I have 40 ideas of how to trim down your wedding budget to what really matters. #weddingphotography #weddingbudget #weddingplanning | Zoe Larkin Photography

Things to cut from your wedding budget – pin this graphic!

Looking for a wedding photographer? I am based in San Francisco and serve the Bay Area, Norcal and beyond. | Bay Area Wedding photographer – Info, pricing, about & portfolio

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how to save money on your wedding - creative wedding budget hacks

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40 creative ways to save money on your wedding

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  1. Fotograf Nunta Bucuresti says:

    Excellent article & a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Skye says:

    A well-written article with many helpful suggestions. Regarding favors, when my sweetheart and I married in 2005, we kept our favor very simple and reasonably priced. We bought bulk sized variety bags of miniature candy bars at a warehouse store and sprinkled generous handfuls of the candies around the centerpieces on the guest tables. Our guests chose what they liked and the added bonus was it acted as an impromptu icebreaker as everyone began visiting other tables and trading for their favorites. Everyone had so much fun!

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      Thanks Skye, great idea! I love the fact that your favor idea was inexpensive, interactive and I’m sure people actually *used* (aka devoured) the candies!!

  3. adelina de brito says:

    Thank you Zoe for this honest article. As a bride to be I needed this confrontation. I got so nervous to the point it was’t fun anymore!
    Keeping it simple.

    • zoelarkinphoto says:

      oh my gosh thank you Adelina! I’m glad it was helpful and you found my point of view honest and maybe even refreshing! I want you to know there’s nothing to be nervous about – your wedding is a reflection of the values that you and your partner share – it doesn’t have to look like a Pinterest wedding (which most of them are not even real anyway!) or cost the earth! The best weddings have been simple, in someone’s backyard or in a forest or something, and it’s all about the attitude of the couple being in-the-moment, welcoming and having fun.

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