How to Plan a Wedding on a Shoestring Budget - Getting Married and Spending Little or Nothing

A wonderful wedding is the perfect start to a great new chapter in life. But ‘wonderful’ and ‘lavish’ need not mean the same thing in this case, as indeed elsewhere in life. It is quite possible to have a romantic and meaningful wedding even if you are practically broke. So if you standing on the threshold of a new life and don’t wish to incur any debts, here are a few tips on getting married on a shoestring budget.

Come up with a figure

The first step is of course to establish an amount in actual dollars so that you know how much exactly you can spend on the wedding and no more. If possible keep a margin of a few hundred dollars, so that you have some cushion in case of unforeseen expenses. It is best not to take out any loans, whether institutional or informal, for a wedding since it will mean that you will be starting your married life under a new financial burden – in addition to any like college loans, alimony to a former spouse or mortgage that may be existing from before – not an ideal situation for a freshly married couple.

When to get married

The time and date when you choose to get married can have a substantial impact on your budget. Since weekends like Friday and Saturday nights are especially convenient for guests and families, these days are likely to be in great demand for wedding days and therefore such bookings command the highest prices. Likewise holidays and summer are the peak season for weddings with June notching up the highest numbers in United States. So if you wish to prune your costs, choose weekdays and winter or fall to get married which will help you avail off-season discounts.

Who to invite

The single easiest way to get married on a budget is by slashing your guest list. This will not be difficult as long as you remember that truly only three people are required to get married – the bride, the groom and the officiant – and practically everyone else is optional. Remembering this will help you to prune the guest list until it fits in with your budget. Ask yourself whether you really need to invite your business associates with whom you socialize only to network or your parent’s neighbors who you don’t even recognize anymore. The same goes for second and third cousins that you haven't seen since you were kids or college mates with whom you only keep in touch on Facebook, but haven't actually spent significant time since graduation. When operating on a shoestring budget, it makes sense to limit your guest list to immediate family and  friends – this will not only keep expenses down but make your wedding more meaningful by sharing it with only the people you value the most.

What to serve

Catering expenses make up a significant portion of the wedding budget and even after you have trimmed your guest list, you can use some tips to bring the catering costs further down. For instance you could choose to skip out on the appetizers hour before a reception; in case of drinks you can offer only beer and wine, a signature cocktail or champagne punch. There is no need to provide an entire liquor store but ensure that there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available. One thing that you don’t want to do is to have a cash bar. You can limit the choice and number of drinks or even do away with them entirely but avoid having your guests pay for their drinks.

Yet another great idea is to opt out of dinner party and instead explore smaller but equally great menus like brunch, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, dessert/champagne and cake, even a lunch garden picnic. All these will not only save you tons of cash necessary for a full, five-course dinner but in fact can be integrated quite well with outdoor wedding themses like a beach, outdoor park, indoor atrium or a mountain-top wedding. However if you still wish to make a dinner reception part of your wedding, go for a buffet which will save on waiter and furniture costs; also stick to a menu which serves in-season produce instead of expensive meats and exotic ingredients.

Music to play

Hiring a DJ is one frill that you can easily avoid when planning to get married on a shoestring budget. Instead bring out your i-Phone or i-Pod and prepare a playlist of the songs that you wish to play at the wedding. In fact, playlist weddings are becoming increasingly popular, because couples can choose exactly the music they want to hear, no matter how obscure or alternative it may be. Load up playlists for each portion of your wedding: pre-ceremony, ceremony, cocktail hour, special dances, dinner, dancing, etc. Ask a member of your wedding party to act as MC for special announcements. On the other hand if you cannot imagine a wedding without live music, consider hiring musicians from a local music school to play at your ceremony - they are not only far less expensive and equally competent, but will love all the attention too.

Wedding decorations

Dig into your creative potential to do your own flowers and wedding centerpiece. You can use various kinds of materials like  silk flowers, fall gourds and glass beads, available at craft stores, to make personalized centerpieces at a fraction of what it would cost you to order them from a professional. Even when ordering flowers, ask for loose stems and arrange them yourself or get a talented family member to help out. Ordering flowers online can also work out cheaper than from a  traditional florist. Another useful tip is to avoid disclosing the real purpose of the order because sometimes the simple mention of a wedding can bump the price of flowers up a couple notches. You can simply say you're buying flowers for a party.

For wedding invitations, consider printing them yourself with kits that are available at craft stores and most big box retailers. Another cheaper alternative is to use Evites or invitation post cards to save on postage, and allowing guests to RSVP by phone.

What to wear

If you are the bride, it is only natural for you to wish for the wedding gown of your dreams. However stay away from bridal salons and instead look at places like eBay, Craigslist and secondhand stores which may have beautiful and even designer gowns and bridesmaid dresses too. To slash your costs still further, avoid buying an expensive veil. You would be spending upwards of $200 for fabric that really only costs a few dollars per yard. Instead Buy the fabric and have one made or skip the veil altogether and instead wear a beautiful jeweled comb or flowers in your hair.

Finally consider if you really need to spend money on things like wedding favors, save the date cards and even videographers. Instead use the spare money to plan a romantic honeymoon and hire a really good photographer who will be the one capturing moments of the most important day of your life.