Staying Within Your Wedding Budget

What You Can Do Yourself


Marilyn Woodman




A wedding can often be the largest single expenditure that a couple will make, other than buying a house, and just about every bride and groom has found that costs can quickly go out of control.


To keep costs in line, the major parts of a wedding have to be examined individually, because each part has options that can save quite a bit of cash.  Our website was specifically oriented to brides on a budget, and we've found a lot of ways to have a nice wedding without "breaking the bank."


The Bride’s Gown.  Definitely a big ticket item, but there are alternatives.  The first and cheapest is to borrow one.  Do you perhaps have a friend or relative who wore a gown you liked and would be willing to lend it to you?  After all, they’re only worn once!  No one will sneer behind your back; everyone is aware of how much these things are, and if there are any guests who went to both weddings, they probably won’t notice anyway!  There is often wedding gowns for sale in the Classifieds section of your newspaper as well, especially from women who bought the gown, but didn’t have the wedding.


The next best alternative is to shop at Goodwill and other thrift shops.  Yes, that’s Goodwill!  They often have lovely gowns that were donated.  Many were created by leading designers, but donated later!  EBay often has wonderful gowns on their site—often they are brand-new, and they’re available for a fraction of the price! 


You can ask your local bridal shops when they put the gowns they use as demos or try-ons on sale.  At some point or another, they have to get rid of the models they’re displaying to make room for new styles.  Don’t be surprised if they tell you they donate them—that’s where Goodwill and other thrift shops often get theirs!  If you do purchase your gown from a bridal shop, beware the practice of ordering the gown more than a size larger than you know you are.  If you are trying on size 8 gowns and they fit, don't let them order a size 12 "just in case"--insist then order the gown in your size.  Some bridal shops have gotten in the habit of doing this so that they can build up the alterations charges, and even if you're willing to pay the alterations charges, there is only so much that can be done on a gown that is just too large.


A consideration if you’re planning to do this is that the gown will probably have to be altered.  Turn down a gown if it’s a radically different size from yours—the cost of alterations could cancel any savings you might make.  Bridal gowns are usually made as two complete dresses—the gown itself and the liner inside, and both have to be altered.  That can be an expensive proposition.


Speaking of alterations, visit your local fabric stores to find a seamstress.  They often keep a card file.  Sometimes you can make a deal “on the side” with the seamstress that works for the bridal shop as well, but be careful and tactful with your request.


Your Reception Site.  First, are you planning a reception at all?  Receptions are not mandatory—they are a party held after the wedding to celebrate a marriage, and are optional.


Secondly, does there really have to be food there, or will a few drinks such as beer and wine or even soft drinks, plus the cake and perhaps a few “biteables” do?  If you are only planning to ask a few guests, could you all just go out to a restaurant for a lunch perhaps?


If you have more than a few guests and want to have a reception, what about the actual location?  What about planning a small “get together” in a friend’s backyard?  It would be ideal if the friend had a porch, so that if it rained, you could at least serve a few drinks (alcohol is by no means mandatory) and cut the cake and pass it around.


There are many halls that will rent a space reasonably, but be careful not to get “locked in” to using their catering.  Look in the yellow pages for fire companies and fraternal organizations, such as the American Legion, VFW, Knights of Columbus.  They often have space that can be rented reasonably.


If you want to save a great deal of money on a wedding, the food and drink served at the reception as well as the wedding cake is big area for savings.  You can easily and inexpensively purchase what you need to cater your own reception at any party supply store, and the food that you serve can be prepared well in advance of the wedding.  For instance, meat balls for sandwiches can be cooked weeks in advance, and the rolls can be frozen until the day before the wedding.  String bean casserole can be done in advance as well; but does there absolutely HAVE to be vegetables at all?  If you don’t want to serve hot food, cold roast beef and ham can be prepared in advance and served at the reception.  Your wedding cake can be purchased from many grocery stores with bakeries.


For decorations, remember that yards of white and colored net, tulle and ribbon from a fabric store go a long way, and tablecloths can be rented, or table covers can be purchased inexpensively from any party supply store.  They often also have the supplies that you need to make your own party favors and gifts, but these things are strictly optional.


Invitations and Programs.  Do it yourself wedding invitations and programs have long been a major part of our website, as well as other websites.  Blank wedding stationery that you can print yourself can be purchased to use for invitations, RSVP cards, wedding programs—and printing them yourself on your PCs printer saves a ton of money.  You need a little patience, and if you’re not familiar with word processing programs, you might want to get the help of a friend who is, but you’ll save quite a bit.  You might also want to consider Save the Date magnets that can be used as the invitation itself.  These can be ordered preprinted, and can then be stuck to a refrigerator as a reminder of your wedding.


From personal experience, I printed my invitations on a plain piece of nice quality paper with a script font so that it looked like a booklet.  I was married in my own back yard and had a tent erected by a rental company.  I also rented one 8 foot table, the chairs, heavy silver flatware, plates and glassware.  I purchased what was actually meant as a bridesmaid dress in ivory, wore regular (and comfortable) ivory shoes.  Yes, the bridal shop did try the trick of ordering the gown in a size larger, and I insisted they order it in my size.  The gowns I had been trying on in my size fit perfectly, and the gown didn't require any alterations at all when it arrived.


I also ordered my wedding cake from the grocery store, asked the mayor of my town to perform the ceremony (Mayors may do this, and he was trilled--it was his first), and ordered “biteables” from a local delicatessen.  They provided small tuna salad, chicken salad and egg salad in cream puff cases, and they looked quite classy.  I asked a friend of my future sister-in-law who had a very good camera and was a photographic hobbyist, to take the pictures.  I paid her for the film, and she was thrilled.


To decorate the tent, I made satin tablecloths on my sewing machine (all I had to do was cut the satin out and hem them), and I ordered a bolt of ivory netting and draped it around the poles of the tent.   I had a tape recorder play the wedding march, and I had selected and taped other music for after the ceremony.


Both the setup and the cleanup was minimal; the rental company set up the tent and the table and delivered the chairs, glassware, flatware and plates.  My future husband and I set up the chairs, put the ivory satin tablecloth that I had made on the table, draped the netting around the poles in the tent, and set out the glasses, flatware and plateware the day before.  That morning, I picked up the wedding cake and sandwiches from the deli, and as a matter of fact, the deli had lost the order, but made the order up and I came back in a couple of hours and picked it up.  I went to the hairdressers, got dressed, and walked down the aisle.


After the ceremony and reception, I simply loaded the plates, glassware and flatware back in the cartons, and the rental company came and picked everything up and took down the tent while I was on my honeymoon, the next day.  The total price for the wedding was $1700, and it was lovely and no one felt shorted.  By the way, I had a best lady rather than a best man (the groom’s sister and best friend), and I told everyone to wear “something nice.”  I had a maid of honor (my sister) and my daughter.  My sister wore a bridesmaid’s gown she had from another wedding.  I did splurge and buy a dress that matched mine for my daughter, who was 12.  Bottom line:  It can be done!


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