Hello friends! Are you looking to cut your wedding costs? Wondering where you can prune off a few dollars and thinking – maybe the photography?
As a wedding photographer I am writing this article with, let’s face it, a bit of a bias. But here’s the thing about wedding photography.
What photographer you choose, matters.
I’ve low-key stalked a lot of wedding forums. I have heard the regret from many marriers who are disappointed with their wedding pictures. They skimped on wedding photos, thinking a wedding photographer is just another vendor to book and move on.
Those brides and grooms had made the mistake of assuming that all photographers are the same. It’s just pressing a button, right? I’ll just go with the ‘affordable’ one that fits within the budget so I can get right on with wedding planning.
My honest perspective is that your photographer is not just another vendor. (Just ask Junebug!) The pictures are the only tangible reminders you’ll have from your day.
So here’s an idea: with wedding budgets being tight. You could trim the fat in other areas to afford the photographer whose work you love – and whose style and personality are a great fit for you personally.
A small reallocation of the wedding budget might be the smartest wedding planning move ever – one that will last longer than the 8- 10 hours of your wedding day. So without further ado here are the 40 ways to CUT your wedding costs… so you can hire a GREAT photographer.
PS Want to understand more about wedding vendor pricing? Check out my in-depth article linked below.
If you’re planning a DIY downsized wedding, there are even more ways to save money on your wedding planning. With the current times we’re living through, it’s becoming more common that couples are taking matters into their own hands, and seriously paring down their plans and the vendors they’re using. Read my complete buyer’s guide to what you’ll need for your pandemic wedding!
One of the ways you can cut photography costs straight off the bat is to use an associate photographer, contracted by the lead, to shoot your wedding instead of their premium-priced service. Check it out:
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.
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 to 3 on select dates.
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
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.
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.
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. This curated list has 60 great ideas.
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. This wedding photographer skipped cocktail hour at her own wedding and saved money and time.
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!)
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! Expert wedding planners give their take in this Elite Daily article.
To have or not to have?
15. Live music
Live music is so fun but does represent a higher cost that 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. If you do think it’ll be a worthwhile addition, this Brides article has some fab ideas so you can be intentional with your choices.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 (though you should definitely proceed with some caution). You could even rent a dress! Read more about creative dress options here.
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!
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.
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. 8 alternatives to printed programs are on this Wedding Bee article.
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 “to afford the photographer you want” is my way of saying “figure out your wedding priorities!”
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.
And what to ask them once you’ve made your shortlist!
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!
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