First comes love, then comes paying for the wedding.
Weddings cost an average of $35,329 nationally — excluding the honeymoon — according to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study. That’s the highest reported average cost since the survey began in 2006.
But you’re not obligated to spend that much, and many couples don’t. We asked experts how you can set a reasonable budget and cut costs on some of the most expensive elements of your upcoming nuptials.
Don’t start your marriage in debt, says Anne Chertoff, a trend expert for WeddingWire. “Most couples don’t anticipate how much a wedding is actually going to cost, so they end up underestimating what they’re going to spend and then going over their budget,” she says. Set realistic spending limits from the beginning that account for all areas of your wedding. If you overspend in one area, cut back in another.
It can be smart to use a credit card for wedding-related purchases — as long as you’re not taking on more debt than you can afford to pay off. Chertoff recommends using accumulated points toward your honeymoon, particularly if you have a card with travel rewards.
Not all wedding dates are created equal. Find out which are most popular on WeddingWire’s wedding date calendar. If there’s more demand for a given date, you’ll usually pay a higher price for a venue. You could score a discount for choosing a less popular month, such as January or February, Chertoff says.
Saturday is a popular day for weddings, but it’s also generally the most expensive day to get married. You can likely reserve your venue at a lower price if you hold your wedding on a Sunday, or even a weeknight.
Instead of giving all guests older than 18 a “plus one,” limit them to couples you socialize with regularly, says Sharon Naylor, author of dozens of wedding books, including “1,001 Ways to Save Money … and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding.” To avoid awkward questions, explain how you’re determining the guest list.
You’ll probably want to mail out traditional invitations, says Stephanie Cain, an editor at The Knot. But you can post wedding weekend itineraries on your wedding website and email save-the-date alerts. That’ll save you the cost of printing and postage.
Brides aren’t finding dresses at just the bridal shop these days, Naylor says. You can pick up a white dress in the prom or party dress section of any department store. The popularity of colored dresses makes formal gowns a nice substitute, too.
The national average spent on a wedding dress was $1,564 in 2016, according to The Knot’s latest Real Weddings study. A simple Google search for white prom dresses pulls up options that cost a fraction of that.
There’s more to your dress budget than the dress. Cain suggests taking extras such as tailoring fees, shoes, jewelry and a clutch into account when setting a spending limit. To save on your veil, Chertoff recommends making it your “something borrowed” and wearing a family member’s.
Lots of unexpected expenses can pop up during planning, including cake-cutting and corkage fees or power for your DJ and photo booth. Naylor says you don’t have to take them as they are. If a cost seems unreasonable, respectfully request to have it removed.
Some venues provide tables and linens, Cain says. If you opt for a backyard wedding, you’ll have to rent items like these. Always read a venue’s contract in its entirety before signing so you know what is and isn’t included.
And keep an eye out for requirements. You might not want to be obligated to use the venue’s caterer, for instance.
Naylor says some floral designers have warehouses with excess inventory they’re willing to give away or lend out for free. Once you’ve placed an order, ask about expanding your options.
Ask friends who have recently gotten married if you can borrow centerpieces or other items that they have left over.
Look for wedding decorations — especially light-up decor — in places like craft stores. They have “more than glue guns and glitter,” Naylor says.
You might have your heart set on pink flowers to accent your bridesmaids’ bouquets, but consider settling for a different shade or variety. Local blooms that are in season at the time of your wedding are generally less expensive. Also, “local flowers tend to look fresher because they didn’t have to travel for days,” Cain says.
A larger flower, such as a hydrangea, naturally looks fuller and takes up more space with fewer stems, Cain says. And you can repurpose ceremony flowers for the reception, instead of buying more. For instance, use a ceremony arch to adorn your sweetheart table at the reception.
The more tiers on your cake, the more it’ll cost you. Cain suggests sticking to two tiers and having sheet cakes to serve. The cake you cut for your pictures doesn’t have to feed all of your guests.
Arrange for the bartender to serve your signature drinks in smaller glasses. “Most people will go and try the signature drink, take a sip, put it down and go back to their regular drink,” Naylor says. Minimize the cost of your bar tab by opting for shooters.
» MORE: How to save money
Don’t want to buy a favor for each wedding guest? Make a charitable donation on behalf of all your guests, Chertoff says. That way, you can set the amount you’re comfortable spending, donate to a cause you care about and write off the contribution on your taxes.
Save money by shaving off some of the time your photographer and videographer are present, Naylor and Cain suggest. You’ll likely want them there for the ceremony, but you might not need footage of the end-of-reception dancing.
Bottom line, these experts suggest keeping a close eye on your wedding spending. “Anybody — whether they have a $10,000 budget or a $500,000 budget — is still working on a budget,” Cain says.
Devote the biggest parts of your budget to the areas that are most important to you and be willing to compromise on the rest.