More ideas for beautiful and affordable weddings

Building on a previous post, I wanted to share a few tips of my own for having a beautiful and inexpensive wedding. My husband and I spent $7500 on our wedding (including wedding dress but not the honeymoon travels), had a dinner reception, and we had 250 guests! After going through the experience of planning a wedding, I realized how a lot of our culture around weddings have become about expensive “must haves” which leads to a lot of waste. For example, a bride “must have” a brand-new, brand-name dress. Everyone “must have” their hair and makeup done by a hired person. We “must have” catered food.

In light of the amount of waste that we saw in the wedding industry, my friend Kathryn House and I saw an opportunity specifically in bridesmaids dresses and launched a small business earlier this summer called BridesmaidTrade.com. Consider the following facts: The typical bridesmaid spends more than $1200 per wedding (a big chunk of it on the dress) and each woman in the US is on average is a bridesmaid in 4-5 weddings over her lifetime. The median (and mode) bridesmaid ends up wearing her bridesmaid dress exactly 0 times. While most of these once-worn dresses sit dry-cleaned in closets, hundreds of thousands of new bridesmaids dresses are bought each year for weddings. BridesmaidTrade.com is an online consignment store where past and future bridesmaids can sell and buy once-worn bridesmaids dresses. It’s kind of like Craigslist where you can set your own price and create your own post for each dress you want to sell, but the site is a whole lot more shopper-friendly.

Besides using BridesmaidTrade.com, here are the other top suggestions I would give to anyone trying to plan a wedding that feels abundant and beautiful but doesn’t break the bank:

  • Ask (and you will receive) help from your Community: We were able to pull off a fun and beautiful wedding at a reasonable cost because we had a lot of help from family and friends in arranging flowers, compiling music, etc. We are blessed to have incredibly gifted musicians, artists, photographers, and others with special gifts in our community and I am sure you will find some in yours as well. A surprising bonus for us was how it brought our community closer in the 24-48 hours leading up the wedding. Family and friends who did not know each other before (but were there because they were connected to us) had time to meet and talk to each other while arranging flowers, setting the tables, etc. It made the whole wedding feel more fun and intimate when we got to the big day.
  • Opt for once-worn. Consider buying a once-worn dress, not only for your bridesmaids but also for you (the bride). Sites like oncewed.com and recycledbride.com have hundreds of postings of really high-quality dresses that have been worn only once. Try to find a dress that you like where the seller resides in your area. Then you can actually drive to their house to try on the dress before the purchase.
  • DIY hair and makeup (especially for bridesmaids). I tried out a few hair and makeup artists before my wedding but actually found no one who I really liked. I did my own hair and makeup for the wedding, and two friends graciously did the hair and makeup for all my bridesmaids. It can definitely work if you have at least a 1:3 ratio of people who are reasonably talented with hair and makeup to people who are not. Check out this blog post on DIY bridesmaid hair
  • Skip the fancy (and sometimes bad) catering. We ordered our food from our favorite Thai food restaurant in Cambridge, and had a buffet-style dinner. Everyone loved the food, and no one got dry chicken breasts. We got bottles of champagne and Charles Shaw from Trader Joes. If you really want some servers, you can try what we did- we hired 5 people from Craigslist for $12 per hour ($300 for the night for everyone), asked them to show up wearing black pants and white shirts. We had a friend who kind of played “server manager” for the night, making sure the water was getting out, tables were being cleared, etc. Since it was a self-serve buffet, five servers seemed to be enough. $10 per person for the food times 250 people + $300 for the servers + $300 for the alcohol = $3100 for the food, or $12.40 per guest. Not bad!
  • Check out wholesale flowers. We purchased our flowers from freshroses.com which was the best deal- they come 2 days before the ceremony in a semi-dehydrated form for packing and come back to life after soaking in water. We then had a few friends working do de-thorn and arrange the flowers the day before the wedding. Roses, stocks, and peruvian lilies are generally the best value. I also saw a friend do her centerpieces with candles set on top of mirrors, which looked great for an evening wedding and also were cost-effective.
  • Chinatown cake. If you’re really set on having that hazelnut cake with the raspberry filling, go for it if it can fit in your budget. But for us, we weren’t particular about a fancy type of cake, so we went for a $200 yellow cake from Chinatown with buttercream icing. It tasted great and we (read: my thoughtful bridesmaids) decorated it with extra flowers.
  • Music/ DJ.Instead of hiring a DJ, we asked our friends to compile their favorite “mingling music” and “dancing music” and compiled a playlist on a i-pod. Jake’s cousin made sure the playlist was just running smoothly.

Here are some pictures below, if you are curious. For people’s privacy, I haven’t attached any pictures of dresses, hair etc. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at yjeanette.park@gmail.com (Jeanette Park)!

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7 thoughts on “More ideas for beautiful and affordable weddings

  1. Another way to save money: consider having your wedding “off-season”. According to a friend who is working on a start-up relating to off-season wedding planning, many vendors (photographers, hotels, caterers, etc.) can be so desperate to use slack capacity that they charge very little above cost.

  2. Culturally this might not apply to everyone, but since catering and venue typically make up ~50% of a wedding budget, the biggest way to cut down one’s wedding budget is to invite fewer guests. I realize that this is not possible for everyone, but given that on average each guest in a downtown hotel wedding in Boston can range up to $100 – $200 each, one less table is a savings of $1000 – $2000. The following are popular wedding blogs dedicated to saving money

    http://intimateweddings.com/
    http://apracticalwedding.com/

  3. Great post Jeanette! I don’t know if my last comment went through but what I want to add in my experience is that for those who are able (and I realize this might not be possible for everyone), having a smaller guest list is probably the fastest way to save money. In Boston, for example, a downtown reception could easily cost one $100 – $200 per head for food/beverage alone.

  4. Thanks for the awesome ideas. In line with Shang’s comment, we limited our formal wedding to 35 people and a few weeks later rented out a community center and threw a toga party wedding reception. Memorable and cheap!

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