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How to Have a Free Wedding

Pani is a graduate in the field of biomedical sciences and future housewife.

Here's how to have a free wedding.

Here's how to have a free wedding.

Over Your Budget?

You want a meaningful and beautiful wedding. The only way to have that is to spend $2,000 on your wedding gown, at least $10,000 on food for your 200 guests, $5,000 on the venue, $5,000 on the flowers and decorations, $1,000 on the three-tiered cake—the list is neverending.

Halfway through your wedding preparations, you both sit down to figure out where you both are in your budget. After happily clicking the calculator keys for an eternity, you finally have the projected cost.

Alas! You are already $5,000 over your budget. How did this happen?

This sets off a heated conversation filled with finger-pointing. Every single cent from the purchases after that is inspected thoroughly and can easily set off another round of the blame game and accusations.

Then comes "the day" itself. We expect a calm bride, but instead, we have a bridezilla walking down the aisle. The hope for a meaningful and beautiful wedding is gone, replaced by the apocalyptic ambience of a wedding fraught with arguments and debt.

Weddings Are Expensive

Banks can offer high lines of credit. They are happy to do this because they want you to borrow more. It is simple, really. The more you borrow, the more the bank earns (from the processing fees down to the interest you have to pay). A wedding founded on debt is doomed to a lifetime of monthly repayments, and this is the worst way to start your life together.

This usually means you get to spend tens of thousands of dollars that are not really yours in the first place. The average American wedding costs around $27,000. Imagine spending all that on a one-day event.

It is especially vital nowadays not to follow the trend of impracticality and spending beyond your means. Modern-day marriages are often disposable. "'Til death do us part" has now become "'till debt do us part."

A Wedding Cannot Really Be Free

I have a confession to make: a wedding cannot be entirely free. You will have to pay for the wedding papers and registrar. A Catholic couple like us cannot skip the church ceremony, so we factor in the fees for that as well. For other Christians, you would also have to pay for the officiating minister's time.

However, you can still have the rest free—if you follow the advice in this article.

Get hitched without breaking the bank

Get hitched without breaking the bank

How Can I Plan a Free Wedding?

  1. Have a small, intimate wedding.
  2. Find free wedding and reception venues.
  3. Have free food.
  4. Find a free wedding dress.
  5. Find a free photographer.
  6. Get a free DJ.
  7. Have a free bouquet.
  8. Design your own wedding invitations.

1. Have an Intimate Wedding

This is probably the best tip I can give you to start your wedding preparations. Let's get back to what a wedding really is. It is a ceremony where two people are ritually or legally united as one. I initially wanted a grand wedding, but after realizing how it could affect us—crippling us financially for at least the first few years of our life together as husband and wife—I knew I had to redefine my wants and stick to my needs.

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We have become fixated on the material details of weddings and emphasize impressing people we probably do not even know that well. By slashing down the number of attendees, you can really lower your wedding cost.

How low can you go? Ask yourself that. How many people should be at your wedding? 300? 200? Are you planning to invite your whole clan and village to your ceremony? I am sure you can do better than that. 100? That is still the entire clan, inclusive of 50 or so friends you have not even talked to or seen for years except on Facebook.

How about 20? 10? 6? 4? 0? You didn't misread that. Many couples have gotten married with no guests before. I myself will not go that far. 25 is a perfect number for me, so I will stick to that number, give or take five. Let's analyze the 25 guests who are coming to my wedding:

  • 4 (Parents-his and mine)
  • 4 (Siblings-his and mine)
  • 2 (Grandmas-his and mine)
  • 2 (Grandpas-mine)
  • 1 (Sibling's wife-his)
  • 2 (Siblings' kids-his)
  • 5 (Closest friends-his)
  • 5 (Closest friends-mine)
Intimate wedding

Intimate wedding

A wedding should be about the two of you being united as one, and the closest people in your lives should be there to see it. It makes a ceremony even more meaningful when the people witnessing it care about you both. Ask yourself: who are the people who have always been and will always be part of our lives? They are the perfect guests for your wedding.

Look for free wedding reception venues.

Look for free wedding reception venues.

2. Find a Free Wedding Reception Venue

A wedding reception area can easily cost you $5,000. Below is a list of free wedding reception venue ideas.

  • Church: Sometimes, it is possible to have the reception free on the church grounds if you are a parishioner. A small donation would be at your discretion.
  • Backyard: This is the first location people think of as an affordable location for their wedding reception. If you have a nice enough, good-sized backyard for the number of guests you have, then you might as well take that. Another alternative is to ask a friend (or a friend's friend's friend) who owns the perfect backyard to allow you to have your wedding there.

What's good about a backyard wedding? First off, you can customize it the way you want. If you are opting for a jungle-themed wedding, just prop in some plants and voilà! Your own paradise. The second and more important reason why this works is that it is free.

  • Park: Many parks allow gatherings without any fee. There will be no privacy, but a lake on one side and a beautifully-maintained garden on the other are nice compromises. A picnic-themed wedding is a great idea. Browse through the photos below and see how other couples have used this theme to make their weddings charmingly memorable.
  • Beach: Some beaches are open to the public. Try to find a nice, secluded-enough spot to hold your reception in.
  • Boat: Perhaps you and your spouse-to-be would enjoy a nautical theme for your wedding. If a friend or relative owns a boat, that could be a great place to host your reception. Alternatively, the boat could be used to ferry guests to another location (if there are islands nearby).
  • Library: Some libraries could be considered beautiful, magical places to host a wedding reception. There are plenty of well-known libraries that charge fees for hosting events (such as the New York Public Library), but it may be possible to find a library near you that would be willing to host a small reception for free.
  • School: Maybe you met your future spouse at school (or in college) and want to start your lives together by paying homage to the place where you first fell in love. There may be fees involved (especially if it's a university campus), but you might be surprised about how affordable it can be to book a local, scholarly venue.
  • Unusual location: If you would like to hold your reception in the place where you both met—say, the airport—then prepare to convince the airport big shots and perhaps have the media get wind of your plans as well. Businesses want advertisement, and a wedding could boost their PR.

    Please note that this tactic is risky in that there could be a high chance of your request being rejected, depending on the exact location and venue type.

3. Have Free Food

A potluck wedding may not seem mainstream, but budget-conscious people occasionally do this. Other couples have also done this for generations, and it is embedded in many cultures.

You may ask, "Isn't it rude to ask your guests to bring food?" Well, if your guests are the ones closest to you, they most likely would not mind. In fact, they would be willing to help in any way they could. In lieu of a wedding gift, perhaps you can ask each to bring a certain type of food or drink to be shared by all after the ceremony.

For instance, one guest would be tasked to bring a case or two of Coca-Cola, while another might bring pork on skewers to be grilled afterwards. One positive thing about this is the fact that each puts so much heart into making/buying the food— and you'll be able to taste it!

Caterers could easily cost you $10,000 for a 200-head party.

Free Wedding Cake

If your mother-in-law knows how to bake delicious homemade cakes, ask her to make one for your wedding. It may not be the cake in the magazines, but it could be perfect for your wedding.

Asking a friend or relative with excellent baking skills to bake your wedding cake can help them feel as though they've participated in the big event and also shows them that you trust and respect their culinary skills.

4. Have a Free Wedding Dress

If you think that the wedding dress is a must-have and you simply do not want to purchase or rent one, you may want to find out if there are local organizations that accept donated wedding dresses to be given to brides who are seeking budget-friendly options.

You may also want to check these websites like Donate My Wedding Dress. Another way is to approach friends or relatives (or their friend's friend's friend) who recently tied the knot. If they are willing to lend you their dress, then you do not have to spend $1,000 to walk down the aisle.

5. Find a Free Photographer

A professional photographer can easily cost you $800-3,000. As photographers run their own business, you may want to approach them and propose a bargain—cover your wedding, and they can use it as a platform to advertise their business. That has the potential to be a win-win situation.

Not all photographers will be willing to trade their artistic talents and skills for free advertising. Still, if the professional photographer is someone you know or perhaps someone up-and-coming in the photography world but not yet established, you might have a better chance of working out a deal for free or reduced-cost photography.

If that does not work out, look for a budding photographer in your family or perhaps that friend of yours who is brilliant when it comes to taking photos. You will be more comfortable and confident striking pose upon pose when you know the person behind the camera and can avoid paying the high fees associated with professional photography.

Before the big day, try out different angles and lighting, and describe to your friend/relative how you want some of your shots to look. This preparation gives them an idea of the kind of photos you'd like for your wedding.

6. Get a Free DJ

The question is: do you need a DJ? They cost around $500, minimum. Disc Jockeys play music; music you can find on iTunes. There you have it, fellow brides! Your iPod is the answer. Just hook it up to a loudspeaker and ask another guest to serve as a DJ for your wedding.

If you do not have an iPod, use a reliable laptop. Download tons of wedding-appropriate songs beforehand and let them play out on your special day.

Tip: If you have specific music in mind for the reception, it might be worthwhile to compile a playlist beforehand so you're not leaving the song selection up to chance (or one of your guests).

7. Have a Free Bouquet

One way is to harvest newly bloomed flowers from your backyard or someone else's. However, if it is winter and flowers are nearly non-existent, try the toilet. The secret to having a free bouquet is tissue paper.

Below is a video tutorial on how to transform that toilet or Japanese crepe paper into a beautiful bouquet.

This is a bouquet that you can keep for days, weeks, or months before the wedding. If you prefer another design or color, you can always change it up without spending anything.

8. Design Free Wedding Invitations

There are tons of free DIY crafts online that demonstrate how to create incredibly cheap wedding invitations. There are also printable and customizable ones. The only things you have to spend money on are paper and ink.

But if what you want are 100% free wedding invitations, you might want to call up the guests you have in mind by phone, or better yet, go house to house and invite them personally. If you do this, you can properly explain and ask for their help when it comes to the potluck meal aspect of the wedding.

Final Words

Now my fiancé is worried that we might end up asking friends and family to bring their own food. Well, what's wrong with that? Everyone's family, and at least at one point in our lives, we all ate the delicious dishes cooked by our family and loved every single bite.

If we can all remember that a wedding is not supposed to be only about the brides but about how the holy sacrament of matrimony unites two souls, then it would be easier to stick with the needs and not the wants.

Congratulations on getting engaged! Now, go plan that free wedding!


HereJustToComment on August 05, 2020:

I only registered as a user so I could comment here on this absolutely atrocious article. I sent a message to the author of this article using the link at the top of the page, but something tells me that they won't actually read it. Still, thought I'd share what I wrote, and maybe someone smart from this website will actually understand how awful of an article it is and take it down. Here's what I sent:

"I just have to say, this article is absolutely TERRIBLE. You clearly have no knowledge of proper Event Planning, and you seem to have zero respect for anyone that works for themselves/runs a business. You're helping to feed the notion that people can just beg/demand free products and services, and that's perfectly fine. IT'S NOT. No business could run like this if they gave away services to every customer that asked. The fact that you have the audacity to promote this idea shows that you clearly have no idea what you are actually talking about. Photographers, Seamstresses, and others may choose to work for less pay in certain situations, but do you have ANY IDEA what goes into their work?

Weddings are planned months in advance, and last for hours and hours. Bakers use time and product to make the cake, seamstresses need to fit a dress properly and make adjustments, and photography gear isn't cheap! A good photographer will be on their feet working well before the wedding ceremony. Most brides want the photos of the dress before they get it on, doing hair and makeup with bridesmaids and family. They could be working for 8-12 hours, and you want them to do it for FREE??? Imagine your job asking you to work an entire day without pay.....then imagine that they'd expect that every time because someone told them it was OK to do that. THAT'S what you're doing to these people.

As an amateur photographer, I would NEVER work for someone without getting something tangible in return. Exposure does not pay my bills, and working for free is a waste of my time unless I personally deem it to be worthy of such charity. Even for close friends, I expect a healthy tip of several hundred dollars. Strangers begging me to shoot for free would absolutely result in being ignored, and most professionals and other amateurs would feel the same. Most people don't have family and friends that would fit every category that is needed for a wedding: photographer, seamstress, baker, etc... Heck, you might not know anyone that's willing to give you their backyard, or has a suitable one, for a wedding. If you can't afford a wedding, don't have one. Simple as that. Now I'm not suggesting you just don't get married, but certainly save your money until you can afford one like any self respecting adult. If getting married is that much a priority, get married at the courthouse and have the big celebration at a later date.

I find your perspective highly flawed, and I think you should stick to the biomedical sciences, as your bio says you're a graduate in. Leave the wedding advice to people who actually understand all the hard work and time that goes into a proper wedding. Please, do every self respecting business owner in the wedding industry a favor, and delete this incredibly flawed and opportunistic article."

ed jin on June 30, 2020:

probably the saddest write up I've ever read

Roth on June 23, 2020:

r/choosingbeggars brought me here. lol

Pia on June 18, 2020:

Imagine someone approaches YOU about you doing free work for them. for a lot of artists the way people beg for freebies is so familiar that it has become a commonly known joke about asking if they could pay their rent with exposure too.

Alyssa on June 02, 2020:

I would just like to apologize on behalf of the entire wedding photography industry. Not all wedding photographers are as rude and abrasive as those in the comments. There is a big split in the industry. Those who believe in giving free work and those who don't. It's a personal choice and those who do not sometimes feel that their work is devalued when others do things for free. Maybe they are, I don't know. All I know is in an oversaturated market filled with all price ranges and skill levels I can still charge 3x what others charge and fill my calendar just by being professional and making the experience worth it for my clients. This is obviously not the target audience for this article and that is a-okay. And to "budding photographers" as you refer to them. If you need exposure don't feel bad doing something for free if that is what you feel inclined to do-you need practice. Just make sure, that if you do, they know what they're getting before hand and not expecting you to take pictures like the ones they see on Pinterest because everyones first wedding is going to be a disaster. Haha.

anonymous on May 22, 2020:

Exposure doesn't pay the bills and really how much exposure can a photographer get by shooting your crappy wedding?

Mathilda on May 18, 2020:

How sad it is that you are encouraging to take advantage of people who worked so hard for their job and equipment.

Ryan on May 13, 2020:

Some people’s comments are unbelievable here! Photographers have every right to be mad at this article. It’s disgusting to see how mistreated we are in the working industry, because this is our livelihood! Some people are naive to think that all we’re doing is pushing a button on our camera and calling it a day. Ever wondered why your photos look shit next to a pros? Because you lack the artistry these hardworking people do. If you want to use a friend as a photographer, fine, but don’t waste a professionals time by trying to squeeze a bargain.

Darun on May 11, 2020:

Well, then you should not be paid as an author, because my neighbour can also write articles for free. Such a shitty article really, disrespectful to everyone involved in making a beautiful wedding possible. The budget is not up to us wedding service providers, but to the people who want to get married. Simply only lame article. No added value.

Robert gutierrez on April 19, 2020:

You straight up pissed ever wedding photographer and seamstresses

Silver on April 18, 2020:

I am a seamstress , if someone wants to rent or buy a dress from me it's gonna be paid , even if I am a friend and invited i'm gonna be paid. Time is money and this works also for photographers and catering etc. if you crave a wedding party just wait, you could sign documents one day be officially married and then have a party later in your life , 20 invitations? a friend photographer who gives a discount? Someone cooking from family? you're okay with just music from a speaker? It's okay but must be paid.

Timothy on April 14, 2020:

Great article! With this article everyone in the society can be legally married according to the size of their pocket.

Liam Scotchmer on April 11, 2020:

THIS ARTICLE IS TRASH. The photographers work hard for these photos and exposure ain’t gonna pay the bills. How do people agree with this crap?

erin warren on March 09, 2020:

does anybody have a size 18 wedding dress i could borrow or have any weddingor quincey stuff they are willing to part with im trying to renew my vows me and my husband are disabled and will be married 7 years os gods number of completion and the day we got married it was his family member had died and it was his funeral so we didnt gt to hv a normal wedding if there is anybody out there that can help me with anything plse tcontact me fm your heart help me an us out thank you god bless

mani on March 07, 2020:

ya after reading the posts from all of you "professional photographers" i am 100% less likely to get a pro for my wedding. just saying but you guys are reallllllly rude. no way i would pay for work from someone who would talk to another person that way, over the internet or not. sorry being a starving artist is sooo hard.

Harrison on February 16, 2020:

Feel free to hire whomever you want for your wedding, but nothing is more insulting to a photographer/designer/dj/artist/programmer/etc. than offering "exposure." If you feel closely with someone that they will do it for free as a friend, by all means, that's not my business, but if you're going around asking people to shoot for "exposure", that's devaluing someone's time. Much like offering someone an internship for "experience," you are essentially asking someone to work for free. Just understand that. "Ignore the starving artists, they're just hangry". To the comment below, care to actually make an argument than spew insults?

Danitude on January 19, 2020:

Professional photographers will RARELY if ever accept a job for exposure. Stick with a family member if you need to save money but be sure to tip them or do some sort of compensation as they will be spending the wedding behind a camera. But remember you get what you pay for

Anonymous on January 16, 2020:

I am so surprised by the comments on this article! I think it’s very wise to save as much money as possible and it is not entitled at all to bypass hundreds of professional photos for a few intimate, memorable shots taken by a loved one. Ignore the starving artists (they’re just hangry) and the rich snobs who are too good for this advice.

I agree with Sheryl— I would never hire such unkind and judgmental professionals to bring their negativity to my happy day.

Thank you for the ideas.

Sheryl Merritt on January 13, 2020:

I am shocked by these coments! This is not for people that can afford a lavish wedding. If you have 4, 6, 10, or even a large family this is ideas to be able to afford for everyone to share in your joy. i don't think you need professionals to do everything and put yourself in dept. This is sugestions to save money. I would never want any of these foul mouthed profesionals at my wedding.

I know it said free wedding and for some that is just what they need. There are some great ideas for saving money too!

Loved the ideas!

Al on January 11, 2020:

You have zero respect for photographers. Exposure doesn’t pay bills. Thanks for putting misinformation out there. This article is trash.

Jade on December 29, 2019:

The key to a cheep wedding: coerce people into providing services to you for free or "exposure" because why should you pay people?

Arjun on December 09, 2019:

You're a parasite. People should be paid for their services, they don't exist for you to mooch from.

Roy on November 27, 2019:

Free photographer? Why don’t you ask your grandma to snap some pictures with her old Nokia?


Daniel on November 27, 2019:

Exposure dont pay rent miss, crappy article

Steve on November 27, 2019:

You literally haven’t got a clue!

Gena on November 26, 2019:

In the beginning, you mention how easy it is to end up "$5,000 over your budget". Really, if youre THAT much over-budget, then you should be reading articles about how to budget. We went slightly over on my wedding budget, but it was less than $1,000 over. We spent a lot of time researching costs, developping a budget, and then shopping around to find vendors and whatnot to fit in our budget. You should never end up $5k over unless you intentionally decide to ditch your original budget anyway.

And if you want free photos, you should not expect great quality images. You should not ask a professional to work for free, and you should not request a friend/relative to do it either. Shooting a wedding is a huge, high-pressure job. A loved one wont be able to enjoy the day as a guest, and they will feel really bad if they dont get amazing images- especially if you have unrealistic expectations for them. Honestly, if you want free photos, i would recommend just encouraging guests to take lots of pictures and share them later (a special wedding hashtag could be fun). If you want professional photos, then budget for that. Theres a big range of prices for wedding photographers. But again, make sure you thoroughly examine their portfolio and have realistic expectations for what they will deliver, especially if youre hiring an inexpensive photographer.

Quynh on November 26, 2019:

What the hell is wrong with you.

Randy on November 26, 2019:

You get what you pay for lmfao

Brian on November 26, 2019:

This is bullshit

Lexi on November 25, 2019:

As a photographer, I make my living doing PAID work. Exposure doesn’t pay my rent, doesn’t pay for my kids, and doesn’t pay for groceries. Most photographers can’t afford to take an unpaid gig and more likely than not, if you decide to use that “up and coming” photographer niece of yours, she’s not going to have time to enjoy herself at your wedding, and you’re not going to be happy with the quality. You’re not just paying to have someone take pictures, you are paying for their time, their hours upon hours of editing hundreds, sometimes even thousands of photos, and footage, if you want a wedding video. Please pay people for their talent and their hard work.

Laura Hansen on November 25, 2019:

This is laughable- a free photographer? A PHOTOGRAPHER NEEDS INSURANCE, EQUIPMENT, AND LOTS MORE. They won't care about etiquette, they won't be knowledgeable if you want free., You want free and you may never get those images due to disaster and no insurance, photographer not knowing software and accidentally deleting/corrupting them, , they may all be blurry, etc. This was clearly written by someone who has no logic when it comes to weddings. TRUST ME. I made that mistake.

Tony on November 25, 2019:

Don’t listen to this advice about taking advantage of photographers. They have to support themselves too.

Zac on November 25, 2019:

This article is a middle finger to photographers and other people whose work is undervalued. The entitlement is PALPABLE! I hope this backfires during your wedding.

Josh on November 25, 2019:

Hahaha. No. As a photographer, people like you cheapen my work. If you want quality, you need to spend some money for quality work. Sure, if you don't mind having shoddy, poor quality photos from your wedding, go right ahead and try to get a buddy or a free photographer to cover the event.Guess what? You'll end up with less-than-subpar photos that aren't even worth the cost of entry (free).

I strongly suggest you rethink what you're saying here. Unless someone is okay with super-cheap looking photos from their big day, I advise actually HIRING a photographer.

This article is obviously clickbait for the entitled. Oh yeah, and exposure doesn't pay my mortgage or put food on the table for MY children.

I hate Karens and Brians on November 25, 2019:

Chris Ling Cheng, the perfect example of an entitled choosing beggar that everyone hates

Mr. Sterner on November 25, 2019:

You get what you pay for. Please don't try to chisel freebies from friends and family... or professional photographers.

Want a free wedding? Get a Quaker wedding license. You sign, your partner signs... ta da, you're married.

No photographer, no videographer, no flowers, no catering, no venue... so much money saved!

True it's not exactly free(you'll have to pay for the wedding license), but you'll definitely feel better about yourself than following the recommendations listed in this stinking pile of rotting tripe.