3 Ways to Plan Your Wedding and Reception on a Budget

Updated on September 20, 2019
Lorelei Nettles profile image

Lorelei not only had her own wedding on a budget but has also helped both friends and family plan their weddings.

Just because you're low on cash doesn't mean you can't get married when you want to. I did it, and so can you!
Just because you're low on cash doesn't mean you can't get married when you want to. I did it, and so can you! | Source

Love strikes when no one is expecting it, and while it works for some, most people do not want to wait to get married until they are completely financially sound. I myself got married after dating my now-husband for only 28 days. We did it on a whim, and while I am not necessarily recommending it, it certainly worked out for us. My point is that marriage does not always happen when we are fully prepared, and not everyone has a family who can afford to help them through the process

The good news is that there are so many options to choose from to make your wedding fit your budget. It’s not too difficult to pull off a low-cost ceremony with a little planning assuming you are flexible and are willing to give up some things.

When Should You Wait to Get Married?

With a tight budget, your dream wedding is not always feasible. If your dream-wedding plan has a lot of high-budget components and you are not willing to give them up, you just might want to wait.

If, however, you are willing to compromise and adapt, you can absolutely plan a dreamy wedding without breaking the bank. As you read through the three options below, you will probably find that you can intermix some of these ideas and plan exactly the kind of wedding you want. Depending on how much cash you have at your disposal, you may want to consider one of these three budget wedding options.

Three Low-Cost Wedding Options

  1. The "Completely Broke" Wedding
  2. The "Almost Broke" Wedding
  3. The "We Can Do It With Help" Wedding

Hosting your ceremony or reception outdoors on public land is a great way to reduce or eliminate venue costs.
Hosting your ceremony or reception outdoors on public land is a great way to reduce or eliminate venue costs. | Source

1. The "Completely Broke" Wedding

What do you do when waiting is not going to help your financial situation and you want to get married now? Elope! Skip the big ceremony and reception. Eloping doesn't necessarily mean you have to go anywhere. As long as you can come up with the money to pay for the license, you are good to go!

Officiation

You can pay a small fee to get married at the courthouse. If you attend a church, consider asking your pastor for a free wedding ceremony. They will likely oblige, but be sure to tip them for their service. The cheapest way to go is to have a friend get an internet license and do your wedding for free!

Venue

If you want to invite guests, consider having your wedding under the sun or the stars. Go to the beach, the woods, your backyard, a park, or wherever suits you. If your guest list is small enough, you could even have the wedding in your home. The point is to be with the one you love—invite friends and family if you want to. If not, just do it on your own.

Dress

Why not skip the white dress and just wear your favorite outfit? Gotta have a wedding dress? Here are a few options:

  • Check with family members who might give you theirs to use.
  • Check Craigslist or other sale boards nearby.
  • Find a bridal shop that sells used dresses.
  • If you are handy with a sewing machine, make your own.
  • Go to second-hand stores and see what they have available.
  • Purchase or borrow a dress that is fancy but not an actual wedding dress.

Reception

Barbeques, potlucks, and bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) gatherings are great reception options if you're totally broke. My husband and I could not afford to have a reception, so my mother threw a little party for us with a wedding cake. only local friends attended our reception, but the same thing can be done with family and friends. Throw out some hors d'oeuvres, a cake, some coffee, and punch. It does not have to be an elaborate spread to be a good time.

Flowers

Flowers are very expensive to purchase, so if possible, go out and pick some wildflowers or grow your own. If you know someone with a beautiful flower garden, ask them if they would be willing to let you pick some. I was once at a wedding where the bride carried one very large bloom, and it actually looked lovely.

Decorations

The Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, and the 99¢ Store are lifesavers! You can get gift bags, decorations, cards, paper plates, and other fun things to use for your wedding. Before purchasing anything, do a good Internet pricing search. There is always a better price or option out there. Plan ahead so you can order what you need in advance and return it if it’s not what you expected. You can also rent things like tablecloths if you do not want to purchase them, but again, check your prices.

These are just a few ideas to save money, but if you put your mind to it, you can find many ways to save. My point is that with very little money, you can put together a decent wedding and reception.

Why pay for decorations? Just grab some houseplants and shabby-chic ephemera from around the house and voila!
Why pay for decorations? Just grab some houseplants and shabby-chic ephemera from around the house and voila! | Source

2. The "Almost Broke" Wedding

This was the kind of wedding I had. We were very poor, but my fiancé insisted we get married as soon as possible. Although I wanted a fancy church wedding, my husband did not want to wait. I conceded, and we decided to elope. We chose to get married in Las Vegas. We asked his mom and her boyfriend to drive us up there from southern California, and they agreed. They drove a little Chevy love-truck and we rode in the back of the pickup covered with a sleeping bag. Free rides are the cheapest type of transportation.

It was a 4.5-hour ride, but we did it without much complaint. We had just enough money to pay for a one night’s stay in a motel, the marriage license, the preacher (or whatever he was), and one 8 ½ x 11 photo of ourselves. We dressed casually. I was in a sundress, and he was wearing slacks and a polo shirt. We ended up with a bit of extra cash because I happened to do well at some slot machines.

Buying flowers is expensive! Pick your own wildflowers instead. It's fun!
Buying flowers is expensive! Pick your own wildflowers instead. It's fun! | Source

3. The "We Can Do It With Help" Wedding

This style of wedding relies heavily on the help of friends and loved ones. Maybe your parents cannot pay for the whole wedding, but they are willing to chip in. They may be willing to pay for the dress, the venue, the flowers, or something else. Anything covered by your parents will be a great help.

Fundraising

Some people use Go Fund Me or other crowdfunding sites to raise money for their big day, but I personally think this is a bit tacky unless there are extenuating circumstances. However, the idea of raising money is not out of the question. Maybe you have a talent that can earn you extra funds, or perhaps you can work a bit of overtime. Telling your boss why you want extra hours can help. They may be willing to offer you additional hours first or give you some side jobs to benefit your cause.

Food

Some people save money by asking their guests to bring a dish for the reception. A potluck can save you time and money, and most people enjoy helping out the wedding couple by providing a dish for the reception. You can either let people bring whatever they want, or have a simple set of suggestions for them to choose from (like a registry). Both of these scenarios will get everyone fed and leave you some funds to spend on other things.

Venue

Finding a venue that fits your budget to hold your wedding or reception can be a challenge. While you can often have the ceremony for free at a state park, they sometimes have restrictions regarding alcoholic beverages or how many guests you can have in an area. Always check on these restrictions before finalizing your plan. Unless it's a small and quick ceremony, there’s also the problem of having to haul items like tables, chairs, and food to the area or pay someone to do it.

Try checking with family and friends who live in a neighborhood that has a community room. The rates on neighborhood common rooms are often fairly low, and some may be accessible at no cost to a community member. Of course, the least expensive way is to have the wedding at your church. Most churches have the facilities to hold a reception as well.

Wedding gowns can be outrageously expensive. Why not borrow an old one from a friend or pick up a shabby-but-cute vintage dress from a thrift store?
Wedding gowns can be outrageously expensive. Why not borrow an old one from a friend or pick up a shabby-but-cute vintage dress from a thrift store? | Source

How Will You Make Your Wedding Fit Your Budget?

Whatever you choose to do, remember there are always options. Sit down, make a list, and do some brainstorming. It's amazing what you can come up with and how creative you can be when planning an inexpensive or free wedding and reception.

Additional Low-Cost Wedding Ideas

  • Plug your phone into a speaker and play your favorite tunes for free.
  • Have a friend with a camera take your photos.
  • Make cupcakes instead of paying for an expensive wedding cake.
  • Forget the limo—drive your own car or have a friend with a fancy ride drive you.
  • Print your wedding programs yourself.
  • Use some potted plants from home to decorate.
  • Keep the invitation list small and intimate.

Keep in mind that your guests are not coming to scrutinize your décor or the style of your wedding—they are coming to share your happiness on your big day. Keep it simple and inexpensive, and just focus on enjoying your special day!

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Lorelei Nettles

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