The average wedding in the USA costs — wait for it — $33,291.
That’s a down payment on a big house or half of a world tour or money that is necessary for basic needs.
Weddings can be beautiful, memorable and oh-so-fabulous without breaking the bank — or requiring you to rob one.
The key to a less-expensive wedding is to think everything through. You don’t need a wedding planner; just a pad of paper, your beloved and some clear thinking.
Start with a guest list. Weddings are celebrations, but they are also intimate. With whom do you want to share this special day? Less is often more: Invite the people who matter most — and remember that the more people, the more expense.
Another way to cut costs is to make your own invitations.
The venue is often the most expensive part of a wedding, so consider hosting it at your home or that of someone close to you.
Outdoor weddings are lovely but weather is always a wild card. If you have a beautiful yard or access to one, rent a tent to keep food tables and folding chairs dry in the event of rain. Tents cost about a dollar per foot, so most wedding tents, assembly included, run between $400-$600.
For an indoor wedding, plan to have two long tables for a buffet lunch or a high tea, plus enough chairs for every guest. Rentals for both are relatively inexpensive. Chairs usually run about $1.50 each through most rental outfits in the region.
Shop for tablecloths at stores like Ross or Target and create your color scheme, which should extend to disposable but heavyweight plates, cups and cutlery. The options are limitless but you can achieve an elegant look with just plain white or solid-colored tablecloths sprinkled with festive adornments.
For fun or whimsical decor, check out Party City, Target, A.C. Moore or Dollar General — keeping in mind that guests are there for you, not to see $2,000 worth of flowers (that will be dead within a few days).
For theme ideas, think spring — or summer, fall or winter. For an autumn wedding, scatter colorful leaves on guest tables; for winter, opt for sprigs of rosemary; in spring and summer, go with baby’s breath.
Don’t underestimate the versatility of ribbon, strings of beads and greenery like fern fronds. Or fill Mason jars — usually about $2 apiece — with wild flowers. For extra winsome, tie lace ribbons around the jar rims in loose bows. Add romantic sparkle to any surface with little silver and gold hearts, sold by the pack in A.C. Moore’s jewelry-making section.
If you want to carry bouquets and boutonnieres, these too can be DIY. Gather a bunch of violets, several birds of paradise, a waterfall of spider mums or tiny pink, white or yellow rosebuds and weave some ribbon through them. Or pin any single bud to wedding attire.
Ideally, you should feed guests. The least-expensive menu options are sandwiches — easy to handle and, for dressed-up wedding guests, not as messy as finger foods.
Tea sandwiches are elegant and easy to prepare. Start by getting white, wheat, rye and pumpernickel sliced bread, and perhaps a gluten-free option, and thinly piling them with fillings like cucumber, watercress, cheeses, ham, egg salad, chicken salad and avocado. Then use cookie cutters in three or four different shapes to create the delicate fare. (Hack: Save the breadcrusts and tear them into bits for an environmentally friendly post-ceremony shower instead of rice.)
As tea sandwiches are on the small side, plan to make at least six per guest. Figure on needing about six hours to prepare a couple-hundred sandwiches. Stored in a refrigerator in airtight containers, they should easily remain fresh for up to three days.
To keep guests sated before the sandwiches are served, put out salsa, olives, pickles and wasabi nuts, along with a cheese board with fruit and a spiral of crudité with dipping sauce and colorful veggie chips.
Alcohol is expensive. Instead, limit beverages to beer, sparkling wine and sparkling water. Calculate two beers, two glasses of wine and four glasses of sparkling water per guest.
Music is the shuffle you create. It should be a mix of romantic — jazz, old standards, pop ballads — and something livelier to kick the party in high gear. You don’t need a live band, unless you have musical friends willing to perform for free.
If you can splurge on one element of your wedding, make it the cake. The region is chock-full of topnotch bakeries, where an average wedding cake for 40 people costs about $300. Of course if you or a loved one is an accomplished baker and cake decorator, even better: A two- or three-tiered cake with frosting coordinated to the color scheme and adorned with fresh flowers makes a picture-perfect centerpiece, or check out craft-vendor sites like Etsy for more personal cake toppers, often at nominal costs.
Finally, the favors — which can be more personal, and less expensive, than some clunky ceramic figurines. Consider composing messages to each guest instead. Weeks before the big event, put aside a few evenings to write them, using blank note cards as your personalized canvasses. Decorate envelopes with the name of each guest, a special quote and a heart charm. (Hack: Use the notes as seating cards.)
If you opt for the DIY ideas contained here and include one splurge, your wedding budget needn’t exceed $2,000 — and can save your sanity in those inevitable post-wedding moments of financial stress. n