Badgley Mischka Always and Forever Belt, $50 rental at Rent The Runway
So you have wedding money!!! What do you do with it? How should you prioritize your budget categories?
The second rule of BAB-dom is this: Spend your dough on the things most important to you (and your partner). The first rule is to make a budget and refer to it often. That’s it! But if you’re still kind of unclear on which things are most important, or you’re not sure where you might be able to save, here’s a guide to help you figure out whether to save or splurge in your wedding planning.
Note: In this context, “splurge” is personal and based on your total budget and individual expenses. I won’t be providing dollar values here because they can vary greatly between geographic regions and personal choices. Also, a “splurge” is not a blank check to spend more than you can squeeze out of your budget — but it is an invitation to consider reallocating money from another category.
Shoes and accessories: With tons of affordable and DIY options (including bridal jewelry, veils, and handbag rentals at Rent The Runway), it’s easy to stick to your budget in this category.
Stationery: Custom or semi-custom invitations
range from affordable to spendy, but skip all the invitation inserts, liners, and extras and you’ll significantly cut your stationery costs. And of course stock and DIY options abound, too! Skip the RSVP cards (sign up for a wedding website that manages RSVPs online)
, map inserts, ceremony programs and printed reception menus for extra savings. Choose a seating chart (alpha-order, please!)
over individual escort cards, and you’ll save display space, too.
Most guests won’t care if you serve well drinks instead of top shelf booze, and while they might be temporarily miffed to discover their favorite drink isn’t on the menu, they’ll pick something else and get over it. Try limiting the selection to wine, beer, and/or signature drinks to save on your bar tab. Don’t skimp on the bartenders, though — you’ll need at least two professional bartenders for 150 people (more if your guest count is higher or you’re serving a full bar)
, and you should absolutely tip them
Customized everything: You don’t need gold foil-stamped paper cocktail napkins, a monogram gobo for the dance floor or chalkboards hand-painted with your signature cocktails. You can get ’em if you love ’em, but non-essential custom details are quick and dirty places to cut the budget. Try one or two custom items — they’ll have more impact if they’re carefully selected.
Place settings: If you’re serving food buffet-style, your place settings will already be pretty minimal (score!), but whether you’re doing plated meals or buffet, you can almost always cut back on the number of glassware, chinaware and flatware per place setting. Skip the bread and butter plate, nix the wine glasses unless it will be poured at the table (keep the glassware at the bars), and ditch the dessert forks (use plastic forks where cake will be served, or serve cupcakes and no forks required!).
Guests are going to stare at centerpieces for a good portion of your reception, but that doesn’t mean you need to blow your budget on ’em. Simple dollar store mirrors and candles or a cluster of bud vases
with a few stems can make any table look fancy. A bowl of fruit, small collection of photographs of the couple, or even a board game for the guests to play while waiting are inexpensive alternatives. Flowers range in price, so if you love the look of fresh floral arrangements, ask your florist for recommendations — baby’s breath, carnations, hydrangea and greenery arrangements are a few lower-cost options.
Most ceremony spaces have their own charm, whether indoors or out. If you need a little extra somethin-somethin’ for your ceremony, choose a simple, singular garland (which you can even DIY!)
, balloons, or try renting a curtain backdrop
. Skip the aisle runners and pew / row decorations — guests will be mesmerized by your gown, anyway.
Wedding party: I sound like a broken record when I say it, but more people = more $$$. If you have 32 people in your wedding party, be prepared to spend 32x the money — and time, because it’s impossible to move that many people anywhere quickly. Let your besties be guests, and your expenses for their transportation, seats at the head table, gifts and other incidentals will decrease. (The counterpart to this argument is in the Splurge section below.)
Before you send me hate mail, let me clarify that there are ways to save on cake
without eliminating it. If you don’t like or want cake, of course the first option is not to have it, or to have something else in its place. But if you’re a cake lover like me, you can have your cake … but just have less of it. There is almost always leftover cake at the end of the night, so order less than you think you’ll need. Or order a simpler cake design. Or a smaller (or even faux)
cake, with sheet cakes to be cut in the kitchen (stealthy!)
. Choose standard flavors that won’t increase the per-slice cost, and skip the fondant (unless you need it for your design or weather/venue).
There are SO many gorgeous engagement rings
and wedding bands
under $1,000. After you see ’em, I’m betting you’ll forget all about that ring that doesn’t fit the budget.
Odds ‘n Ends:
Flower girl basket, ring bearer pillow, garters
, toss bouquet, toasting flutes, cake cutting set, special guest book pens — all these things are wedding accessories that are typically used a total of one singular time
. Unless these mean a lot to you, you can either skip them altogether, replace them with multi-use items (like general champagne flutes instead of the engraved versions)
, or borrow or thrift them. The good news is that these items are widely available at places like craft stores and dollar stores if you don’t want (or can’t afford)
the keepsake cut crystal versions.
Many couples don’t even include the honeymoon expenses in their wedding budget, but my suggestion is to budget for a honeymoon
within the first year after your wedding. You’re going to want some quality time with your schmoopie after all the rigmarole of the wedding planning and festivities, so even if it’s a low-cost weekend
backpacking trip, build it into your plan and give yourselves permission to have your dream vacation — even if you decide to delay it by a few months.
Splurge just a *smidge*, by finding a designer gown at Rent The Runway
, PreOwned Wedding Dresses
, or Etsy
. (The BAB Can’t Afford It? / Get Over It!
series can help with that!) You’ll find gowns that are every bit couture, at budget-friendly prices. Or go all out and find yourself a killer gown at full price — then cut expenses from another aesthetic category like venue or decor. Because really, you should feel
like a million bucks on your wedding day.
Wedding Pros: You may not need pros for every aspect of your wedding, but for the things most important to you (whether that’s catering, cake, flowers, hair/makeup, planning, or something else), it can save you time, money, and heartache to go with a pro. Obvs if your brother-in-law is a musician with a voice like Ed Sheeran, you should definitely have him play your ceremony music. Save by limiting the number of different pro categories you use, or by finding pros that crossover into two related categories — like DJ and lighting, or photographer and photobooth.
Photography and/or Videography: One of the top regrets of newlywed BABs is not spending more on their photography and/or videography. If you love to reminisce by watching highlight reels, or if you want an album of photos to share with family and friends, it’s worth it to splurge a little for an experienced photographer whose style you love.
Hotel: If there is only one thing you splurge on, let it be a hotel room or other overnight accommodations for you and your boo. You may be too tired for wedding night shenanigans, but you’ll still want a place to crash that’s close to your reception and doesn’t require you to make the bed.
This can go either way, but I put it in the Splurge category because it’s an item that most guests (including you and your partner)
will remember about your wedding day. Choose quality, delicious food that you will enjoy — whether it’s gourmet, sandwiches
, or breakfast-for-dinner (the best, right?!) —
and then create space in your timeline to savor it! Splurging on this item means there’s enough for everyone, the food is tasty (with a few — but not too many — options)
, and you have enough snacks or a substantial meal to keep your guests fueled for the duration of the event. Save by choosing food stations, cutting back on the number or type of appetizers during cocktail hour (or skip the cocktail hour altogether if you don’t need it)
, have an earlier reception (brunch foods and portions cost less)
, or hire your favorite food truck
Gifts for the wedding party: If your wedding party is on the smaller side, you’ll have more wiggle room to offer swanky gifts to your pals. These peeps have shelled out a lot of cash for your events, so it’s a nice gesture to offer them honest-to-goodness, grownup gifts.
These categories are hot-button topics full of controversy. It’s true that virtually everything about a wedding is optional and priorities are based on personal preference, but for some reason these categories ride the fine middle line, with half of couples insisting they’re essential, and the other half seeing them as nice-to-haves, not must-haves:
Unless you have another entertainer booked, this is usually the person who is going to keep the party alive at your reception. Whether you save (iPod + friend)
or splurge (pro DJ)
, make sure to choose someone who not only can keep the tunes coming, but who can read the room to keep the floor packed, make announcements according to your preference (with humor if that’s what you want, or sans-cheeseball-ness if it’s not)
, brings their own equipment capable of filling your space with sound, and who is able to troubleshoot technical difficulties if they arise.
Hair & Makeup:
YouTube is a gold mine full of beauty tutorials, but if your hair and makeup skills leave something to be desired, consider hiring pros for your wedding day — especially if you’re splurging on the photography. Then again, if you prefer a bare-faced look, this might be a good place to save. To DIY your makeup, read up on wedding beauty basics
and must-have products
. (#ProTip: Waterproof eyeliner and/or mascara!)
Videography: Photos are the classic way to capture weddings, so they’re still considered a must-have. Video is a slightly newer medium — although at this point it’s so ubiquitous that it sounds hilarious to even say that. Because it’s a tad newer, though, video hasn’t quite caught up to the must-have category for most couples, but really, some of the most cherished memories can’t be caught on camera. Take your vows, for example: This is pretty much THE moment that the entire day revolves around. But the vows are spoken, and photos don’t capture sound. So if you want to hear your sweetie’s voice speaking their vows, or your Grandma Hazel jammin’ on the dance floor (in slo-mo for extra hilarity) some day into the future, then videography should go into your splurge category. Save by cutting the number of overall hours — you don’t really need a blow-by-blow of getting ready, and there’s only so much footage of dancing they can capture before it starts to get embarrassing.