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Say ‘I Don’t’ to Expensive Weddings: How to Get Married Without Busting Your Budget

Wedding costs are skyrocketing, but you can plan a dream wedding on your budget.

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You don’t have to go into debt to create the wedding of your dreams. But you may have to go against the grain.

Wedding expenses have increased by 25% since 2021. The average cost for a wedding ceremony and reception in 2023 was $35,000, according to The Knot. Alana Epkins, wedding planner and owner of Chicago-based All Luxurious Events, wasn’t surprised by the figure. “Social media has created this idea that everyone can have a lavish wedding. And that’s not always true,” she said.

From pricey centerpieces to smoke-filled dance floors, couples are going all out to give their nuptials a special flare. These add-ons add up quickly, Epkins said. Fortunately, you can save money on your wedding expenses and still have a memorable experience. We talked to three couples who found creative ways to control their wedding costs without sacrificing the quality of their big day.

“Planning a wedding budget can be stressful and overwhelming, especially for those who have never planned an event of this size before. But approaching the budget in a strategic way will help ensure couples get the wedding they want.”

Of course, average wedding costs can be skewed by a small number of extremely high-priced extravaganzas. But Alana Epkins, wedding planner and owner of Chicago-based All Luxurious Events, wasn’t surprised by the larger figure. “Social media has created this idea that everyone can have a lavish wedding. And that’s not always true,” she said.

From pricey centerpieces to smoke-filled dance floors, couples are going all out to give their nuptials a special flare. These add-ons add up quickly, Epkins said.

But you don’t have to go into debt to cement your bond with your significant other. Here’s how couples are finding creative ways to control their wedding costs without sacrificing the quality of their big day.

Creating a budget for your wedding can prevent you from overspending or going into debt. Rocket Money is CNET’s top pick for best budgeting app and recently won an Editors’ Choice award.

Why you shouldn’t break the bank for a lavish wedding

Newly married couples face many challenges in their first years. Unfortunately, money fights can add stress and are a large reason couples cite for their decision to divorce. Starting your life together by going into debt to fund an extravagant wedding or spending all of your savings leaves you less able to weather emergencies that may arise after the music has ended and all the thank-you cards have been mailed.

By foregoing a lavish wedding, you can put your money to other uses in your new life with your partner, including:

“Social media has created this idea that everyone can have a lavish wedding. And that’s not always true.”

Jaye Chase, a former wedding planner from Mansfield, Texas, says that when she marries again, she’ll pay more attention to how other people’s expectations influence her wedding planning decisions. “The best weddings are intimate in that everyone who attends is there because they love you and are excited for you,” Chase said.

In 1999, her parents spent more than $30,000 for her wedding, which had nearly 175 guests in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. “I was the baby, and during that time, it was an honor for parents to throw a wedding. Growing up in Texas, where everything is big and bigger, it was basically my dad’s wedding -- well beyond my expectations,” Chase recalled.

Chase says she’s encouraged when she hears her friends talk with their children about alternatives to spending lavishly on a wedding. Some parents are offering to assist with down payments for a home, memorable travel experiences or starting off with a savings stash. “I wish that was something I considered. My dad wanted me to have the fairy tale wedding, and I bought into it,” Chase said.

How to keep wedding costs down

Lowering the cost of your big day doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your dream wedding. Here’s how real people lowered their wedding expenses without giving up the aspects of their big day that were most important to them.

Look for an unconventional venue

Mark Cornelious, a software sales engineer living in New York City, said “I do” to his wife in front of just under 200 guests in 2018 after paying an estimated $15,000 for a wedding hosted at an all-inclusive venue in the Bronx, New York. Selecting an event space outside of Manhattan kept their wedding costs down, allowing them to celebrate without overextending themselves financially.

Mark Cornelious with his wife, Debi
Mark Cornelious with his wife, Debi, in 2018.

This choice let Cornelious and his partner, Debi, spend more on the elements of their wedding that were most important to them, such as an open bar, hotel rooms for out-of-town guests and transportation to and from the festivities.

“We were clear that this was more about creating the actual experience with the people involved than it was about doing something big and ritzy,” Cornelious said. 

Considering a less traditional venue is a major way couples can save money on their weddings, said Aja Wright, a wedding coordinator with Ajai Events, who has helped plan dozens of Chicago-area weddings in the past five years.

Aja acknowledges your largest wedding expense will likely be the venue you choose for the reception. For more budget-friendly options, she suggests facilities farther away from more populated city centers or non-traditional venues such as the backyard of a family home.

“You can find a venue in a smaller suburb or smaller area with prices that are less expensive than a place downtown with views and ambiance that will cost you more,” she added.

Tap your network for help

Cornelious was also able to save money by accepting help from his family, specifically letting his mother help plan the wedding. “We didn’t hire a planner at all,” he said. “I have to give a lot of credit to my mother. She did most of the legwork.”

There are lots of ways friends and family can pitch in to help you save on costs for your big day. For example, depending on your loved one’s talents, they might be able to make your cake, do the bride’s makeup or create decorations.

Trim your guest list

Troynika Wright and her husband, David
Troynika Wright and her husband, David, at their wedding in 2023.

Troynika Wright, an accountant in Chicago, pulled together her wedding last year in less than two months, spending a grand total of just under $3,000. She and her husband, David, learned quickly that the guest list can make or break your wedding budget.

Her chosen wedding date -- her mother’s birthday -- was non-negotiable. But with only two months’ lead time, she knew a large guest list would send their budget over the top. 

“We planned a lunch wedding, which was a cost savings, with 100 guests and hosted it at the bar where we met. The owner was my friend and gave me a good price,” Troynika said. Her guest list was limited to close friends and immediate family only.

Don’t feel pressure to invite acquaintances or friends you don’t keep in touch with frequently. “Make your wedding about you and your spouse,” Troynika added. 

Skip the fresh flowers

The cost of fresh flowers at your wedding can add up quickly, and Epkins of All Luxurious Events has seen clients surprised by the thousands of dollars floral services add to their bills. To trim your expenses, Epkins suggests using fake flowers or more affordable alternatives instead. 

That’s exactly what Troynika Wright did. After joining a Facebook group geared toward couples looking to plan weddings under $5,000, she learned that using silk or wooden flowers could help keep her wedding expenses manageable.

“It’s expensive to have a florist design the bouquet for the bride, flowers for the bridal party, a boutonniere and corsages,” Epkins added. If fake flowers aren’t a dealbreaker to you, she suggests instead using your money toward non-negotiables.

Choose an off-peak wedding date

Fall is the most common wedding season nationwide, according to The Knot, a wedding planning website. It’s also the most expensive time for couples to wed. You can save money by selecting a date during the week or exchanging vows in the winter months or early spring.

For example, Epkins recalled assisting with a wedding held during the winter in the Chicago area. “It was freezing,” she said. “But [the venue] threw in a sundae bar and an evening snack because this was their slow time.” Epkins recommends avoiding holiday weekends and selecting a date after Labor Day if you want to save the most money.

Barter for wedding services

Wedding tastes and budgets vary widely. If you can think outside the box, you can boost your savings. Saya Hillman, an entrepreneur who runs a consultant firm offering services from lifestyle consulting to event curation, managed to create her dream wedding with her partner Pete during Chicago’s peak 2013 summer wedding season for a grand total of $205 out of pocket. 

Saya Hillman and her husband, Pete Aiello
Saya Hillman and her husband, Pete Aiello, on their wedding day in 2013.

How? She offered her services, like social media promotion and workshop presentations, to vendors in exchange for their services, such as photography, hair styling and makeup application.

By trading services, Hillman was able to cut her estimated wedding costs down from over $24,000 to just over $10,000. After accounting for monetary wedding gifts from her guests, the entire wedding -- including the rehearsal dinner she hosted at home -- cost her only $205.

Whether your wedding dreams include releasing white doves or you and your betrothed riding vintage bicycles down the aisle, you can celebrate your special day without overspending if you get creative.

Expert advice for saving for your wedding

Saving up as much money as you can before your big day can prevent you from going into debt or paying more than you can comfortably afford. Ester Lee, deputy editor of The Knot, advises couples to begin the wedding planning process by setting a budget and agreeing on key must-haves.

Planning a wedding budget can be stressful and overwhelming, especially for those who have never planned an event of this size before,” Lee said. “But approaching the budget in a strategic way will help ensure couples get the wedding they want.”

Hiring a wedding planner or coordinator can cost up to 11% of your total wedding budget, according to Epkins, so you can save money by planning your wedding solo. However, you can still speak with a wedding professional and ask them for insights that can help you sidestep common pitfalls, such as overlooking the cost of floral arrangements.

However you save, moving your funds into an interest-bearing account is a great way to earn a little extra on your money before your big day. A high-yield savings account, money market account or certificate of deposit are all good options, depending on your timeline.

But don’t feel like you have to splurge all of your savings on your wedding. Instead, look for ways to cut costs on services or supplies that aren’t important to your big day.

“Don’t do anything other than what you want to do,” Hillman said. “That’s the awesome thing about your wedding. It’s your wedding.”

Toni Husbands is a staff writer with CNET Money who enjoys exploring topics that promote financial wellness. She began writing about personal finance to document her experience paying off $107,000 of debt, which is detailed in her book, The Great Debt Dump. Previously, she contributed as a freelance writer for websites, including, Centsai and Wisebread. She was also a regular contributor to Business AM TV, and her work has been featured on Yahoo News. Being a part-time real estate investor and amateur gardener also brings her joy.
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