There’s only one absolute necessity to have at your wedding, and it’s not what you’d expect.
“If you don’t have certain things at your wedding, people won’t say anything,” says Anne Chertoff, WeddingWire trend expert. “The only [common] criticism we notice is when there’s no pigs in a blanket at the reception.”
That’s tongue-in-cheek, of course, but Chertoff says that for the most part, guests aren’t nitpicking your wedding choices. They’re there to celebrate with you. That’s welcome news not only for your social standing but for your budget, too.
According to both The Knot and WeddingWire, the average cost of a wedding in 2016 was upwards of $28,000, excluding the engagement ring and honeymoon. WeddingWire estimates that 60% of the budget goes toward just four items: the ceremony and reception venues, catering, music, and photography and videography. The Knot concurs: Those four line items top its list of budget priorities as well. Other major expenses of note: hiring a wedding planner and purchasing the wedding dress.
(If you include the engagement ring in your wedding costs, it’s one of the more expensive items as well. We’ve published some ideas on how to save money on a ring.)
With these big expenses in mind, we asked Chertoff and San Diego-based wedding etiquette expert Elaine Swann for some tips on how to hit the notes of the traditional wedding while adding your own creative and budget-friendly twists.
The main takeaway: Don’t worry so much about the content of your reception meal but rather about the form. “If you don’t have a cake but you have dessert, people will be happy,” Chertoff says.
“You don’t have to throw this huge $50-a-plate, sit-down dinner,” Swann says. “We have some friends who did a barn-themed wedding, literally at a barn. The catering company came, and the meal itself was kind of a buffet: brisket, corn on the cob. The whole feel, the whole vibe was really cool.”
Another option? Consider hiring food trucks for dinner or even forgoing the reception dinner entirely. “I’ve seen where people do a ceremony and just follow up with a cake and champagne reception. Then they go out to dinner with just their close family,” Swann says.
Instead of live music at the reception, hire a wedding DJ. The Knot pegs the average cost of a wedding band at around $4,000, while a DJ runs about $1,000.
You could see if your mother’s or grandmother’s dress can be modified to fit you. You can also rent a dress or buy one from a consignment store.
Before you go the consignment route, Chertoff recommends trying on new dresses at a bridal salon. “You’re not going to know what a mermaid or an A-line dress looks like on you yet,” she says. “You’re playing against the clock at a consignment sale, and there’s this sense of ‘If I don’t buy it now it’s gonna be gone.’” You want to be confident that you’ve seen the options and are making the right choice.
The wedding planner
If you’re planning to forgo a wedding planner, consider the trade-off. For a wedding with a ton of moving parts, a planner might be well worth the cost. Otherwise, the job of organizing will fall to a family member or friend, or — worst case — to the couple.
“Family should not be putting out fires on the day of the wedding,” Chertoff says. If you want to save a bit of money, you could hire someone called a “day-of planner.” This person won’t plan the entire wedding but instead will come in close to the big day to help prepare and coordinate the event.
And then there’s the biggest expense: the venue. “The thing with the reception venue is, you can get married pretty much anywhere,” Chertoff says. Sounds easy, but that point comes with a lot of caveats. If you’re getting married at someone’s home, you have to consider how much money you’ll need to spend to accommodate a whole wedding. Are there enough bathrooms? Is the kitchen large enough?
If you’re really committed to saving money on the venue, Chertoff says the best thing to do is to keep your guest list short. That way you can fit the wedding into a larger variety of places.
In the end, keep the big picture in mind. “No one says, ‘Lovely wedding, but they didn’t have chair covers,’” Chertoff says. “Everyone wants to get on a dance floor and raise a glass. That’s the beauty of the whole process and the whole day.”
Just don’t forget the pigs in a blanket.
More wedding tips from NerdWallet