I won't lie to you; weddings can be very expensive. Everything adds up fast, and you have to make a lot of decisions on where your money is best spent. The good news is that there are ways to save money and stay within your wedding budget!
If you haven't yet read my post How to Create a Wedding Budget, start there. It will help you set off on the right foot as you plan your wedding. Now, onto the cost-saving tips!
1) Choose a venue with in-house catering
Your single biggest line item when budgeting is your food and beverage cost (F&B, for short). Wedding venues have to make money somehow, and if they don't handle their F&B in-house, then they have to charge you a site fee.
Site fees are a problem for you if you're trying to save money, because you don't get much for your money. Sometimes the site fee includes tables and chairs (and occasionally, linens), but sometimes you are literally just paying for the space and nothing else.
If a venue has in-house catering, then they're making their money on F&B, and they often don't have a separate site fee for hosting your wedding. The downside is that you are locked into using their in-house caterer, rather than having your choice among many. But that can sometimes be a blessing in disguise, because it's one less decision you have to make!
2) Choose a fully-stocked venue
When you start to think about all the little things you need for a wedding, it gets out of control fast. Dining tables, accent tables, chairs, tablecloths, napkins, serving platters, dinner plates, salad plates, dessert plates, soup bowls, water glasses, wine glasses, cocktail glasses, forks, spoons, knives, a cake stand, votive candle holders, easels for signage, a dance floor. Phew!
Anything your venue doesn't have needs to be supplied by you or your caterer. Some caterers will include the cost of these items in their package price, so you never really know what you're paying for them. But a lot of caterers contract with an event rental company to rent what they need for the day. You pay those rental costs, and they can be hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on how many guests you have.
The more your venue has on hand, the less you have to pay for separately.
3) Bring in your own alcohol
Even if your venue handles F&B in-house, you might still be able to negotiate bringing in your own alcohol, saving you money in two ways.
First, you can acquire the alcohol at retail price, as opposed to the marked-up price charged by the venue. (And if you're a member of Costco or other price club, you can get an even better price on your alcohol, unless you live in a strict liquor-control state.)
Second, you can take home whatever is leftover at the end of the night. If your bartenders have to open a new bottle of vodka 20 minutes before the bar closes, you're paying for that entire bottle of vodka, regardless of how much was actually used. But if you brought the vodka in to begin with, you can take home what's left.
Some venues will attempt to charge you "corkage" if you want to bring in your own wine. Corkage is a small fee, usually a couple of dollars per bottle, meant to discourage you from buying your own wine. But if you can negotiate with the venue to waive the corkage fee, any wine you bring in will always be better quality than the "house wine" served by the venue. I guarantee it. Plus, you can serve multiple wines instead of just one red and one white. If you are a big wine drinker (as I am!), you will appreciate it.
4) Be creative with your bar options
Your wedding does not have to be a full open bar extravaganza. Some couples choose to serve only beer and wine at both the cocktail hour and the dinner reception. Some opt to have liquor during cocktail hour, but then switch to beer and wine for dinner and dancing.
Signature cocktails are another good way to limit bar expenses. Instead of having to stock a full bar with eight or nine different kinds of liquor, choosing just two liquors and building your signature cocktails around them cuts costs. Popular choices include gin (like a French 75) and whiskey (like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned), or vodka (Cosmopolitans) and tequila (margaritas).
Here's a post I wrote all about signature cocktails. They are a great way to add more of your personality to your wedding.
A word of warning: no matter what you decide to serve at your wedding, never have a cash bar. Asking your guests to pay for drinks is unacceptable and tacky. There are plenty of options to offer your guests a lovely evening without breaking your budget!
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