How to Throw the Best Wedding Ever on a Budget

How to Throw the Best Wedding Ever on a Budget

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You may have dreamed of your perfect wedding since you were walking your dolls down the aisle on the living room rug, but when it comes to planning your big day, the price tag can quickly creep up into fantasy land.

We get it: champagne taste, beer budget.

According to a new Thumbtack guide, the amount the average American couple will spend on essential wedding services in 2020 (excluding the cost of the venue, dress and rings) for a wedding with an average of 98 guests is $12,189. That number jumps to $17,211 if you’re getting married in Connecticut and drops to $9,031 if you’re exchanging vows in Missouri.

But there’s no reason to fear a wedding on a budget. We’ve got three ways to keep your costs under control on your big day:



Wedding Dress Image Credit: iStock

Just because you can’t afford a $20,000 couture dress doesn’t mean you can’t stun your guests when you walk down the aisle. Perhaps the simplest way to score a wedding dress on the cheap? Skip the bridal stores and head to a mass retailer.

Stores like Ann Taylor, J. Crew, The Limited, and BCBG all have beautiful, yet simple, options that ring in under $1,000. Take that gown to a tailor, and your wedding dress will fit like a glove. Nobody will ever know you bought it off the rack.

Chicago-based wedding dress designer Elda De La Rosa often sees brides who have purchased a dress elsewhere and are looking to have it altered for a more custom fit. “I see brides with a specific budget who still want the look of a designer dress,” she says. “They’ll look at sample wedding gowns from local designers or at Nordstrom Promo Code 20 off or Neiman Marcus. Alterations can cost as little as $400.” She notes that beautiful gowns can come from a standard bridal store such as David’s Bridal, where a “mass-produced wedding gown can be purchased for about $500.”

So you’ve got 10,000 pins on your dress board and 12 girlfriends and every family member imaginable ready to dig through the racks and help you pick the perfect wedding dress.

Hold it right there.

Does your mother still have her wedding dress? (We know, we know: just do your best to ignore the massive sleeves and discolored lace.) Not only does repurposing an old wedding dress help you save, it checks off the “something old” box and maybe even begins a new tradition in your family for future generations.

Pro tip: Wear the same shoes that you will wear at the reception when you’re preparing for alterations. There’s nothing worse than tripping over your gown all night!


In 2020, wedding cakes will be taller than ever, with 57% of couples wanting at least three layers on their nuptial dessert and 80% wanting a traditional stacked cake. Three layers sounds like an awfully tall cake to us, but for a majority of folks out there, it’s their wish for a perfect wedding day. How can you keep up with the trend and still stay within your budget? Follow these simple tips from a seasoned baker:

Fake the cake! “Instead of doing your entire cake in full tiers, bakers will use foam dummies to give it the look of a full cake and display cupcakes or pre-cut sheet cakes,” says Cassie Garcia, pastry chef.

Cupcakes are a cheap alternative to a full cake, and they aren’t going anywhere. 10% more couples will feature cupcakes for dessert in 2020, compared to 2019, showing that this personalized touch has staying power. Cake pops are another great alternative and can be paired with other mini desserts, like mini-pies, or even a candy buffet coordinated with the colors of your wedding.

Naked cakes, assembled piece-by-piece on site, are a great choice as well, says Garcia. “They don’t require as much frosting as a fully-frosted tiered cake, but go with either fresh flowers from your florist or silk flowers. Making sugar flowers is a several-day, labor intensive process and can be costly.”

Looking to skip the sweaty frosting in the summer months? Pies are a delicious alternative and provide a rustic element to your day.

Pro tip: Book your baker well in advance, especially if your date is between May and September. Garcia notes that her bakery books up to six months in advance during wedding season.

Pies Image Credit: Karly Jo Photography



Invitations Image Credit:

Don’t have the budget for an illustrator to painstakingly hand-paint details on your wedding invitations? You can still afford custom invites. Shutterfly & Snapfish are great options for choosing beautiful templates for your big day, and you can personalize your invites by choosing fonts, shimmer or matte finish, and card stock weight.

And don’t forget an often hidden cost of invitations: postage stamps. Bulky, awkward-shaped invites, which are often oversized, can end up costing you several dollars each just to mail. Square envelopes don’t fit through the postal machines on their own and must be hand-stamped, so go with rectangular envelopes. Even better, skip the post office completely and have your wedding party over to drink wine & stamp invites. Another way to lighten the load? Skip the response cards completely and just include a link to RSVP on your wedding website.

So skip the fancy box invitations (that will get thrown away as soon as your guests open it) and choose a standard-sized invitation. Because let’s face it: you’re the only one saving a copy of your wedding invitation.

Pro tip: make sure you order extras up front. If you end up short, you’ll end up paying more money on expedited shipping to get them in time.