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Ask the Readers: Give My Friend Frugal Wedding Advice

I just got an exciting e-mail from one of my college roommates that she and her long-time boyfriend just got engaged. She wrote:

I want some advice…I think I remember your saying that you made your wedding really cheap…so I was wondering if you could give me some advice about that…especially about a dress, since you know about dresses and stuff, and I know nothing about it, and it’s really something I would hate to spend a lot of money on, because it’s not really even my thing to begin with.

She’s right about my wedding’s price. I already wrote a bit about it here. And she’s the exact candidate for a simple, frugal wedding. I think they’d elope if she didn’t think her parents would be sad. His family traditionally elopes and she thinks it’s the greatest idea. “Weddings” are definitely not her thing.

I’m going to be looking up some dress styles for her since she never ever wears them. Ever. And especially not formal stuff. She says it makes her look 12 and she’s unfortunately right. Which is one of the annoying things about wedding traditions—the classic white dress may be completely inappropriate.

Now I’m going to ask you for help. Whether you’re married or single, you’ve probably thought about weddings at some point or another. And together, you’ve all got so much more to offer than I can by myself. What are your ideas on how my friend can save money?

{ 2 trackbacks }

If I had a Million Dollars (Linkified)
March 12, 2008 at 8:58 am
Frugal Ideas for a Wedding (Guest Post)
March 13, 2008 at 2:31 pm


SavingDiva February 11, 2008 at 4:45 pm
Looby February 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Is she going for something quite traditional? Could she opt for a more casual look, maybe a smart trouser suit or a skirt and top. This would be especially good if she was having a nice simple outdoor wedding, which could also save money. If I get married, I think I’d be in a similar situation to your friend so I’m interested in others answers.

Lori E. February 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Best wishes to your friend! She should wear whatever she wants. The only regret I have about my wedding is that I let myself get stressed about what I wore. It really doesn’t matter, especially if it won’t be a formal wedding. It’s more important to wear something that looks great on you than to wear something that doesn’t because you think you should.
If your friend isn’t a wedding-person then maybe she could “elope” but bring her parents along? Vegas has cheap packages for small guest counts and some of the hotel chapels are actually quite nice (we got married at the Stratosphere and it was really gorgeous).
My main two points of advice are: 1) Only have stuff that is really important to you and 2) Try not to talk about the wedding with lots of people until you’ve decided for sure what your course of action is. We got a LOT of pressure and opinions from people that made it difficult. When someone says, “It’s tacky not to have a rehearsal dinner,” it makes it awkward not to have one! Easy for them to say, they aren’t paying for it!

MrsPillars February 11, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Hi Mrs.M
We had a fairly inexpensive wedding. I made my dress with a pattern from the forties and a lot of help from my mother. This is only an option if you have the time and no fear of a sewing machine. It sounds old-fashioned, but it was a lot of fun. I’d say your friend should do and wear whatever makes her happy. A light-coloured sun dress was my plan B if the sewing project didn’t work out.
My mother wanted to pay for the dinner and the venue she liked was fine with us. We only had immediate family present for the ceremony and dinner and the next day we hosted an afternoon barbeque for our friends. About the only thing we thought we might do differently is to have someone in charge of the food at the barbeque.
Best wishes to your friend.

Melissa February 11, 2008 at 7:28 pm

My fiance and I are in the middle of planning a wedding as well, and are trying to keep it on the cheap side. We too would have eloped if not for our mothers being very disappointed!

One thing we are doing is choosing a banquet hall that has an all-inclusive reception package. For one already-agreed-upon price, we’re getting all the food, the reception hall, the outdoor wedding site, the alcohol, the dj, the cake, appetizers, and a ton of other stuff. Not only do I not have to find a caterer/baker/dj now, but we’re saving quite a bit of money by going this route. Of course this might not be an option as this service might not be offered by other places around the country.

Another way we’re cutting costs is to pick a wedding favor that really represents us and is actually useful; not something guests are going to toss in the trash or in their closets never to use. We decided to create our own bookmarks since we love to read, and after getting them printed and laminated at kinko’s, they’ll probably only cost us about 50 dollars. Much cheaper than the 100’s I’d be spending on other favors. We’re also making our own favors by ordering the paper online and printing them off ourselves.

One final note: there’s a book my fiance found for me at Goodwill titled “Bridal Bargains” by Denise Fields…it’s a few years old but it’s very informative about how to save money on weddings. I like it a lot!

Leah S February 11, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Why does her dress have to be white, in any style? I got married in a mint green dress. The funny thing is that it shows up almost white in the photos – you can’t tell that I banned white from my wedding. 🙂 My sister was my only bridesmaid and she had the same mint green color for her dress too. The difference was mine had this lacy netting and sequins on the top. Hers just had some fold of fabrics at the top.

The crazy part? I paid $54.11 for my dress (discounted at David’s Bridal) and just a little over $100 for my sister’s dress!

Aryn February 11, 2008 at 8:08 pm

For a dress, I would go someplace like Nordstrom where they have nice dresses that you can wear again. They also have a nice variety of colors. They’re “dressy” but not “wedding.” My sister wore an off-white bubble dress with beading(she’s short and tiny) for her City Hall wedding. I believe it was Max Azria.

For my wedding, I saved majorly on flowers by hitting the downtown flower mart the day before the wedding to buy all my flowers for the bouquet and recruited aunts to do the assembling. I did fruit centerpieces instead of flowers to save more money.

Susan February 11, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Dresses: Shop around and be aware of sales; wear/borrow her mother’s/grandmother’s/close relative’s dress; rent a bridal gown; buy a dress that’s not necessarily a wedding gown.

Accessories: Borrow – veil, headpiece, slip, etc. or just don’t use! It all depends what your friend wants.

Another tip: Connections! I’ll use my wedding as an example. My sister is a graphic designer, and she designed the wedding programs, place cards for the reception, and even created pretty little menus for each place setting. This significantly cut down on costs! Plus, they all added personal touches I really liked.

Oh, I thought of a few other tips! Your friend could do her own hair and makeup; have a close friend or relative take the wedding pictures (just make sure he/she can take really good photos!!!); have a potluck in the church or someone’s home; make a CD of all the songs she wants played instead of hiring an incredibly loud DJ; use flowers from the gardens of willing friends and neighbors.
I’m sure there are many other cost saving tips!

Congratulations to your friend and best wishes!

Becky@FamilyandFinances February 11, 2008 at 9:45 pm

I bought a traditional wedding dress, but it was one of the “informal” dresses, so it was very simple on not puffy! Maybe she’d like something like that 🙂

I’m doing a whole series of posts on saving money on your wedding and actually already have the one on buying a wedding dress up:

ms. m&p February 11, 2008 at 9:56 pm

It sounds like a white gown isn’t really her thing, so I would tell her to rock whatever look she likes! Weddings now can really run the gamut and I’m sure she will find something that looks great on her that fits her personality. I went to a really simple wedding once where the bride wore a beautiful black dress and carried roses–that may sound bad to some people, but it was a gorgeous, simple ceremony and I can’t imagine her dressed any other way. People will love whatever she wears–it’s the celebration that counts!

Ryan S. February 11, 2008 at 11:29 pm

FWIW, typical wedding costs in HI are about $125 per head invited.

Kacie February 11, 2008 at 11:52 pm

I blogged about my wedding as a series (hey, Mrs. Micah’s friend, come on over and click on “wedding” category, if you want!).

I’d suggest looking for students to help with your hair and makeup. I stink at doing my own hair in a way that’s attractive–but a beauty school student could come on-site and do your hair really nice for really cheap.

Be sure to hire a good photographer. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but the photos are the one thing that will last for years. Don’t let a random cousin do it unless they are really REALLY good and you trust his/her work, for example. Again, check into photography students and get references.

Be simple with your venues. And keep the food simple, too. People like to be fed cake and snacks and maybe a meal, but keep it simple.

Tanya February 12, 2008 at 1:02 am

Well, depending on the season, this could be cheaper or more expensive… but if I were here and my wedding was sometime after July, I’d pick up a white sundress on sale somewhere. They run the gamut from very casual and very formal, are comfortable enough for someone who’s not a “dress person”, and can be as cheap as $10– but are very cute and classic

CatherineL February 12, 2008 at 3:55 am

Hi Mrs M – many people sell their wedding dresses on ebay for a fraction of retail price. And they’ve usually only been worn once – she could try there.

She could make her own postcards for invitations – much cheaper and less expensive to mail too.

Anitra February 12, 2008 at 9:46 am

A lot of advice has already been given about the dress, but I’ll chime in, too. When my mother got married (in the ’60s), she simply wore a nice off-white suit. It’s more formal than the sundress idea, but also more adult. And your friend will get more use out of it than out of a formal dress.

Other tips:
* It’s easy to find artificial flowers that look great, and you can put them together yourself for 1/10 the cost of fresh flowers from a florist.
* The fewer guests you have, the cheaper everything will be. If she already likes the idea of eloping, why not have a small, private ceremony with only close family (and close friends)?
* If she is a church member, her church will probably waive any rental fee to use their facilities for the wedding.

In the end, the key is for her to prioritize and decide on a few pieces that are really important – then give herself permission to skimp on everything else, because it’s not important!

Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife February 12, 2008 at 11:42 am

I was lucky to have my mom do most of the planning..she loved to do that kind of thing! What I thought was ingenious at the time, because fresh flowers can be SO EXPENSIVE…she found out who was having their wedding before ours at the chapel..and she coordinated with them on flowers. We had white lillies and other white flowers…so it worked great..and we only ended up spending half the money on the flowers!!

m February 12, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Here are some of the things we did and also some things we didn’t do but that I think are good suggestions:

*Find a cheap spot for the reception/ceremony. if you are in an area with predictable weather and can have an outdoor wedding, many parks cost close to nothing to rent out and are beautiful spaces with no need for decoration (another savings). where i live there are many parks, gardens, and community spaces that can be rented for very little money and yet are beautiful spots for weddings.

*Do not say you are shopping for weddings stuff. Get quotes first and just say it is for a party. anything for a wedding tends to cost much more. just a wedding markup.

*DIY. do as much as you can yourself and with help of friends and family. we ordered flowers wholesale, bought vases at Michael’s, and did our own table centerpieces for little cost, and it was enjoyable to get involved in that way and design the flowers arrangements myself

*find local musicians to play. we hired a local piano teacher to play piano, and a local band, both at extremely reasonable prices

*depending on your taste you can buy a dress at a nonwedding shop. mine was from a department store and again didn’t have that wedding related markup

*do a daytime brunch or lunch, or have cocktail hour and cake instead of a full dinner. or if having an outdoor wedding, a picnic type theme could work well and you could get food from a favorite deli, rather than have a whole catered and served meal. ordering from a local restaurant can be much cheaper than having a company cater

*DIY bar, buy beer and wine and let people help themselves rather than having a full bar and bartender

*we made our own invites, programs, and thank you cards, designed our own flowers, had cupcakes from a local bakery rather than cake from a bakery that specialized in wedding cakes, had local musicians, rented a city owned spot that was cheaper to rent than a private space would have been, put our favors together ourselves (ordered the components), made luminaries to line the walkway leading to the reception spot, bought my dress and shoes at a department store not wedding type store, and rented a nice car not a limo to drive us to and from the wedding, did own makeup, my mom did my hair.

that’s all i remember now. I LOVE weddings and glad you asked this question!

one imp. suggestion I have for anyone doing it DIY style: you may want to consider hiring someone to take care of everything on the day of so nothing goes wrong, b/c the bride or groom do not want to have to worry about that stuff on the day of the wedding and sometimes family and friends don’t do the best job without someone directing them!

(I might turn this into a post on my blog since it’s so long!)

Lori E. February 12, 2008 at 5:26 pm

In some areas (like Seattle, where I live) you DO have to spend a fortune on a photographer, if you want one. I did tons of research and the cheapest package was $2500. That was way too much money. I knew that my husband’s mom and mine would be going crazy with the cameras, so I just asked them for copies. I didn’t want any flashes going off during the ceremony anyway, so it worked out perfectly.

“Make all the favors yourself” and “get your friends to pitch in” are great ideas, if you’re into crafts and really pro-wedding. If you aren’t, and/or you work full-time, then making invitations/favors/decorations is like a second job, and you will hate your wedding by the time it comes around. Also, a wedding is supposed to be a social event that you host, not a party given in your honor by a crew of volunteers. Some people will be really excited to help, but you should wait for them to offer, not ask them. I think it’s more important to be a good host than to have the wedding of your dreams at the expense of your friends.

Ask yourself honestly if you care about favors, flowers, decorations, a DJ, expensive photographs, invitations, etc., and if you don’t then don’t have them. Save your money and sanity. The commitment of the bride and groom is the important part, everything else is extraneous.

Agnes February 12, 2008 at 7:26 pm

While there are lots of good ways to save money on a traditional wedding, I agree with Lori E. that the bride and groom should think seriously about what they really want. If neither of them wants that type of wedding, my advice would be to limit the guest list to immediate family, go to City Hall or have on officiator come to your house, and maybe take everyone out to dinner in a nice restaurant afterwards. The cost is easily coffset by what you save by not booking a hall or having a caterer. If the budget still doesn’t run to that, have a home-cooked meal at your house. (I don’t think there’s ever an excuse for a potluck wedding, but in a case like this you might find family members offering to bring a dish, or even provide the cake.)

Do splurge on nice outfits for both bride and groom, something you really like. Get your hair done professionally and maybe makeup and nails too. This is a special occasion! If the bride really looks too young in dresses, she might benefit from some advice from a style expert, and this is a good time to do that. However, I’m not saying she has to wear a dress if she doesn’t want to. It’s just that there are a lot of different styles of dresses, and most women look wonderful in them. I really don’t think it matters if you can wear your wedding outfit again or not. Okay if you can, okay if you can’t. Most clothes only get worn for two or three years at best anyway.

The only reason I can think of why you would want to go for a bigger, splashier wedding than you personally desire is if your mother’s heart would be broken not to see you walk down the aisle in a white dress. In that case she should contribute to the cost of it and the wedding as well. One other reason is if you have a lot of friends who will be scarred for life if they’re not invited to your wedding. In that case, again, think hard about what you want. I know lots of people who “eloped” and then had a great party after they got back from the honeymoon. A “party” is a lot less pressure than a “wedding”, and a lot cheaper. But everybody will bring you a present, anyway.

Outdoor weddings are a lovely idea, but the weather has to cooperate. If you live in a place where it never rains, go for it.

Oh, and the cake? Brides and grooms tend to get all hot and bothered about it, but nobody else gives a hoot.

Wooly Woman February 13, 2008 at 12:45 pm

I went for a dress from Holt Renfrew- cost $240. It is a cute little pink thing that I have worn again! Also we had a taco bar for our reception. The taco bar was catered but it was cheaper than full food reception. It was so much fun, and within our budget. Total cost for the wedding was about $2k. Oh and a lovely friend made us iced cupcakes for our wedding dessert! We only had 60 people or so, thus keeping costs low.

Leah Ingram February 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm

Shameless self promotion, but I’m the author of the book Tie the Knot on a Shoestring, which helps you to plan a wedding for about $5,000. Perhaps that will help?

Leah Ingram

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