By Rachel Jackson


It used to be that whilst a girl would dream her whole life about being able to enjoy the perfect wedding day, many a loving father would be putting aside whatever he could spare, ready to finance the whole celebratory extravaganza.  That is still the case for many brides today across many cultures, but increasingly couples are paying for everything for themselves.


This is a natural progression, seeing as in 1950 the average age a woman got married at was 20.3 years and the average age for first-time brides in 2010 was 26.1 years.  No longer is every bride expected to sweep out of her parents’ house straight into the arms of a waiting husband.  Now many brides will have been to college, shared an apartment with friends, travelled, started a career and grown to a position of genuine independence.  It may also be possible that both she and her fiancé have a greater combined income than their parents.  For these reasons and other personal considerations, many couples – more than 75% of them – either contribute or foot their own bill very happily.


Now that I am engaged, my mind has also turned to such matters.  My fiancé are long independent of our parents and in the position to fund events ourselves.  It has occurred to me now, that in fact, even when couples do not have a great deal of money to spend on a wedding, this need not be a source of stress.  On the contrary, the very fact that you effectively have the right to decide every aspect of your nuptials can be incredibly liberating!


A wedding can turn out be one of life’s greatest expenses, but that does not detract from the fact that it is all incredibly exciting.  If you think smart and stay focused on what you actually want, rather than what you think you should have, the costs do not have to spiral out of control.  After all, the truth is that within the current economic climate, many people are watching their household budgets quite carefully.  It is only to be expected that couples who plan to tie the knot may not wish to spend as much as the average for the US, which currently stands at $26,989.


It therefore makes sense to prioritise what you want to spend your money on, which does not mean that budgeting has to dim the sparkle of this hugely important day.  Have fun with it, plan well in advance and make sure you have time to research several options for each major item, from dress to cake.


Here are a few ideas to get you started when you are thinking about how to get hitched on a budget.


  1. The Venue – Of course, these can vary hugely in style and cost, but think outside the box and you could end up with exactly what you want for less outlay than you imagined.  If a close friend or family member has a large home or garden which would make a beautiful setting, you might like to ask if that could be a possible venue.  Many people love the idea their home being the place where an event as happy as a wedding takes place – the good vibes tend to linger.



Naturally, if you wish to marry at your church, you need to factor that in, allowing $500 for the fee.  However, you can even make savings here if you choose the date wisely.  Speak to your church and they may be able to advise of times when the church will already be decorated with fresh flowers, e.g. immediately after a key religious date, one useful tip which can save brides a great deal of time and money.



When it comes to the reception, do think of all the private premises that might be suitable first.  However if your heart is absolutely set on a favourite restaurant or hotel, consider that when booking the date – for the latter you will almost always save money in the off-peak season.



  1. The Dress – Such an emotional load is attached one dress!  And rightly so in my opinion – we brides have dreamed of wearing one from the day we first teetered around in Mom’s heels and tried a pillow case on our hair for a veil (c’mon, admit it, you remember)…



That being the case, it is important not to feel cheated now that your big time has come.  Just because you may be on a budget, does not mean you can’t have your perfect, beautiful dress.  There are a number of high street clothing lines which now offer exceptionally good value, desirable, well-cut dresses.  An even better idea can be to have a dress made – we are talking about the work of a friendly, talented seamstress, not haute couture here.  Several friends have had their dress made and the results have been stunning.  Plus in the cases I know of it always turned out to be under the original budget they had allowed for the dress.  This can be a fantastic result, especially when you consider that the average cost of a dress is $1,300.



If you want something original but love the idea of a vintage dress, do consider raiding the family dressing up box – grandma’s lace gown might be just what you want with a few adjustments, and scores high on sentimental value.  Or if you are just a fashion-conscious gal who loves some retro style, look at specialist vintage stores or even charity shops (some seriously high-end designer gowns get donated to charity shops – you may get lucky).



Lastly, if it has to be brand new and shop-bought, then do scour the local bridal sales and wedding fairs, where it is often easy to pick up a real bargain.



  1. Invitations – This one is short and sweet – get creative.  No amount of triple-embossed, padded, gilt-edged, lily white invitations can replace something truly personal from the bride and groom.  Handcraft them from low-cost art supplies; add a touch of wit, or a personal photo.  If you are not an artist, ask a friend who is – it can be their wedding present to you.



  1. Photos – This is one area where you can end up with an even better set of photos than you imagined possible.  For a genuine record of the day’s delighted guests, rather than hiring a photographer for a whole day, consider using a photo booth.  Your guests can pop into the cabanas at their leisure and you will build a fantastically fun, perfectly focused series of visual mementos for far less than a top wedding photographer.  If you do also wish to supplement them with a few posed outdoor shots, ask among friends and relatives first as they may include an experienced photographer among them.



  1. Catering – Don’t be shy of asking family members to help you create a homemade feast.  It does not have to be a fancy sit-down meal if you don’t want it to.  Many people have lovely wedding buffets and replace a caviar-rich menu with one that is bursting with family recipes and tasty local favourites.   The keen chefs in the family could get together and cater for you as a gift, especially if you know of one willing aunt who is happy to bake a cake and is handy with an icing nozzle.



One of the larger catering expenses can of course be the bar.  Here you have to be realistic.  As much as you might like the idea of paying for your loved ones drinks all night, that may be a very expensive gesture – weddings make people thirsty!  Some people don’t like the idea of having a paid bar, so discuss this with your other half first of all.

Many modern weddings feature a compromise where wine for the table and Champagne (or other bubbly) for the toasts are supplied, then extra drinks can be bought at the bar later.  If you shop around and go to wine warehouses, you can get hold of some very drinkable wines for a fraction of the normal cost.


  1. Honeymoon – this one can be more fun than you think to arrange on a budget because, once again, it forces you to be creative.  If five-star luxury hotels are off the menu, think about those friends (or generous acquaintances) who have a holiday home that you would be able to use for a nominal fee - many people enjoy a private getaway thanks to someone they know.


If that is not feasible for you, but you do tend to get away once a year, try planning your wedding around your next holiday so rather than having a honeymoon as an extra expense, it makes the most of existing plans – with an added dash of romance.  Alternatively, if you really want to get away somewhere special, you could ask loved ones to club together and contribute to a honeymoon fund as a main present.



If you ask around your friends and family and apply some judicious forward-planning, it is amazing how much you could save on a wedding, without trimming anything off the magic of the day.  Have a think about areas where you could cut costs, talk to each other openly about your must-haves and priorities and get wildly creative.  That way you could make sure that you start married life with both your relationship and your bank balance in wonderful shape.


Rachel Jackson, a British-born writer is currently enjoying a lively rural life with her fiancé Pete and his 15 year-old twins. Having bid farewell to London following the completion of a French and English degree at King’s College, she has been living out her childhood dream of being a writer pretty much ever since. Her first break into fiction came about in 2001 when she was engaged to write short stories for her Editrice, the wonderful Rowan Pelling. Rowan flatteringly described her in The Independent on Sunday as “an ebony Monroe, [a name] attached to beautifully written prose”.

Since this time she has gone on to write a wide range of articles for Marie Claire and other women’s magazines, whilst continuing to pursue a career in fiction. She has written over 1000 articles on a wide variety of subjects including fashion, travel, relationships, lifestyle, literature, restaurants and more, both in magazines and online. She has won an award from the Royal Literary Fund and The Arts Council and is signed to the London literary agency Curtis Brown. Recently engaged, her current favourite subject, happily, is weddings.