According to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings survey, an annual roundup of wedding trends and costs, the average U.S. wedding cost more than $35,000 last year. That figure represents a huge jump from the previous year, when newlyweds shelled out less than $33,000 for their nuptials.
The good news? According to Cost of Wedding, an online wedding cost calculator for U.S. couples, most American newlyweds spend less than $10,000 to tie the knot.
Cost-conscious couples can find a lot of fat to cut from their wedding budgets. Brides.com recently published an exhaustive list of 50-plus ways to save money on a wedding, and you can find plenty more suggestions in the same vein. If you and your partner are serious about reducing the cost of your wedding and keeping more money in your bank account for whatever comes next, the sky (or the basement) is the limit.
These eight tactics are particularly fruitful; each can slash hundreds or even thousands from your wedding budget. How many work for you?
1. Buy Gently Used Engagement and Wedding Rings
Bought new, even a modest engagement ring can set you back thousands. Wedding bands aren’t quite as pricey, but they’re still costly enough to do damage.
Traditional jewelers take huge profits on every wedding and engagement ring they sell. You’ll find far better deals when you cut out the middleman and buy directly from individuals looking to sell gently used rings that they no longer need.
“So many of the pieces [on our site] come directly from individual sellers motivated to make a sale,” says Joshua Opperman, founder of online jewelry resale marketplace I Do Now I Don’t. “That attracts buyers looking for something different, and perhaps a deal, too.”
Resale marketplaces also tend to have more choices at the lower end of the price spectrum. If the first deal you see doesn’t strike your fancy, the second or third just might.
2. Forgo the Fancy Paper
Blasphemous? Hardly. In a connected world, paper invites seem stiff (not to mention eco-unfriendly). Instead, use a digital invitation solution like Paperless Post and accept RSVPs electronically. You’ll save hundreds on printing and paper costs—and the environment will thank you too.
3. Skip the Fancy Venue
Tying the knot in an ultra-fancy event space means paying ultra-fancy event prices. If formality isn’t a top concern, skip the rigmarole and look for a more casual spot: a park, a friend’s backyard, even a public beach. At a publicly owned facility, you may need to purchase a permit or pay a facilities use fee, but those costs are paltry in the grand scheme of things.
4. Buy Your Own Booze
Full-service catering is a big help for your mental health on a super-stressful day—not so much your financial health.
One of the biggest catering line items is alcohol. If you’re doing a partially or fully open bar, you can expect to pay between $5 and $10 per drink, depending on the venue and type of drink. Multiply that by several hundred drinks consumed over the course of the evening and you’re looking at a huge, wholly preventable hit.
If your venue doesn’t allow self-catering, consider finding one that does. If it does allow self-catering, buy a discount club store membership (Costco, BJ’s or Sam’s Club will do) and buy your wedding booze in bulk. (You can also stock up at a discount liquor warehouse.) You’ll immediately slash your per-drink costs by upwards of 50 percent, and your guests will never know the difference.
5. Have Friends Help on the Big Day
If you make it worth their while, your friends will be more than willing to chip in to help on your wedding day. Self-catered weddings need volunteer bartenders and food servers. Weddings held in low- or un-staffed venues need manpower to set up and take down equipment and fixtures. Ceremonies and receptions held in parks and other public areas need extra folks to direct traffic, manage parking and keep the festivities cordoned off from everyone else.
At a minimum, you should absolve your wedding volunteers from bringing wedding gifts. Tougher tasks demand some additional form of compensation—a thoughtful favor, comped hotel room, an I.O.U. dinner date. Even pricey favors are better than paying a team of caterers to wait on your guests hand and foot.
6. Call in a Favor With a Qualified Officiant
Officiating a wedding is very different than driving tent stakes or mixing cocktails. Your officiant needs to be competent, composed and capable. That doesn’t mean you need to hire a professional—just that you need to think carefully about which of your friends or family members is best suited to the job.
If you know any members of the clergy or folks endowed with unusual eloquence, they should be at the top of your list. It’s not too hard to get an officiating license, though you’ll want to check that your top choices are qualified and, if not, that there’s not too much red tape in the way.
7. Keep the Dress Code Casual
Casual weddings are all the rage these days. Why not take the trend one step further and drop the dress code for your bridal party? You’re still free to enforce a coordinated color scheme or matching accessories—you just no longer need to spring for matching dresses or suits.
8. Choose an Off-Peak Wedding Time
Step one: Don’t get married on a Saturday. Step two: Don’t get married in June. Step three: Don’t get married in the middle of the afternoon.
All three of those steps will likely reduce your ceremony and reception costs. In four-season climates, winter weddings are particularly cheap. In places with super-hot summers, like Arizona and Texas, July or August weddings may actually be the way to go. And morning weddings are almost always cheaper than afternoon and evening affairs.
What steps are you taking to cut your wedding costs?