Okay friends, you’re getting this message from the preacher herself. Most recent numbers show that the average Chicago wedding costs over $32,000. When I saw that number, I nearly fainted. My fiance and I are getting married this May, and I will openly say that I am in line to spend $12,000 on our wedding in total. Now, I know there will be two reactions to that number - either, “I can’t believe you’re spending that much money on your wedding,” or “Wow, I can’t believe you’re only spending that much!” Here’s the thing, that number includes our gorgeous outdoor venue, a week and a half honeymoon to Europe, wedding bands, a full dinner reception, a professional DJ, beautiful fresh flowers, and all the other goodies. The only item not included in that number is our airline tickets because my fiance’s mom kindly gifted us her American Airlines miles! The best part is that I haven’t compromised on a single part of our wedding day. It is going to look EXACTLY the way I had dreamed of my entire life, and I’m not dropping more than $30,000 to get it.
Although I could have splurged far more than I am, Ian and I chose to be frugal with our choices to save for our future. For others of you, you may not have a vast range in your budget to choose from. Regardless of why you’re planning your wedding on a tight budget, the one thing you need to know is that if you put the work in, you will compromise on little to nothing for your big day.
Before we get into my tips on planning a budget-friendly wedding, I want to mention a few things. First, make sure you know what is going to be most important to you on your special day. Whether it be your dress, a photographer, or custom stationery, it’s helpful to know what you may want to splurge on. Second, always take advantage of your resources! If you know vendors personally, work with them. This will most definitely help you keep on track with your budget. Third, when reaching out to vendors, never ask for a discount. Sure, it would be fair to ask what you could remove or modify from their package in order to fit your needs, but NEVER undermine the work vendors put into their goods and services. If it is clear a specific vendor is out of range, thank them for their time and move on. I promise there are better ways to get what you are looking for.
Okay, now to the good stuff!
Ladies, venue hunting can be so challenging. I remember when I first began my hunt, I was so discouraged by the price tags. On top of it, nearly every venue required you to use their list of vendors––all of which were also out of budget.
Here is the key: find a wedding venue that isn’t a wedding venue. I know, that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but once you find a place that isn’t typically used for weddings, you will save a fortune. What if I told you I’m only paying $250 for my venue? Would you think I’m crazy? Well guess what––it’s the truth!
The best place to look is at nearby parks, forest preserves, etc. Many of these places have gorgeous pavilions and open spaces for ceremonies. If you can find a park or forest preserve in your county, it will typically be even cheaper! Our wedding venue is in a gorgeous forest preserve with a stunning stone pavilion and wooden beams. It took plenty of research to find the perfect space, but I knew it existed somewhere, and I was determined to find it!
Honestly, this part of a wedding can be one of the priciest. I mean, $50/plate is quite a hefty price. When you work with a catering company, plates typically range from $30/plate to over $100/plate. For me, I was not willing to fork out that cash.
Similar to my tip with the venue, I would highly recommend you reach out to local restaurants and chat with them about catering. Having a restaurant cater a buffet-style meal will save you loads of money that can be spent elsewhere. Skip the wedding catering companies, and work with a place that will be far more flexible with your budget! Another idea to consider is skipping on the alcohol. I know for some people this is important, but cutting it out clears your budget immensely.
Of course, there is always the option to skip a full meal as well! Dessert or appetizer receptions can be a fun, easy alternative. If you choose this route I would suggest timing the ceremony and reception between meals (ex. 1:00pm to 5:00pm). Going this route will save you a large portion of money, and it still offers your guests some tasty treats to enjoy!
I truly believe that flowers make one of the biggest impacts on a wedding. They tend to determine how classy or how cheap a wedding will look. One aspect of my wedding that I was not willing to compromise on was that I wanted real, fresh flowers. However, I did not want to spend thousands of dollars to hire a florist.
One of the best moves I made was finding bulk flower vendors. Instead of going through a middleman, I’m going straight to the source. For me, this was a bit easier because I am creatively driven, and the thought of making my own flower arrangements is not that daunting. I’ve done it before, and I know what I’m getting myself into.
If taking on the task of creating your flower arrangements it something you would do well with, I say go for it! A couple of days before the wedding, my friends and bridesmaids will help me make the bouquets and get the other flowers ready for the centerpieces. My hope is to have it as a fun time to relax with the girls before the big day!
Ceremony and Reception Decorations
This part of planning has been quite fun for me. My tips are fairly simple, but I would highly suggest purchasing goods at thrift stores, and try to recycle as much as you can. For my centerpieces, I will be using recycled wine bottles - yes, I have nearly 160 bottles in my room right now, haha! Choosing something that people could give me for free lightened quite the load on our budget.
Invitations, Signage, and Paper Goods
As far as invitations and stationery go, there are definitely ways to keep the costs low. When working with a calligrapher or stationer, ask them about paper types and printing methods that will help cut the cost. Likewise, always ask about semi-custom suites or the possibility of using a design they have already created! Along with this, you can always cut the extra details like the RSVP card, detail card, venue map, etc., to bring the price tag down.
When discussing signage or seating charts, it might be helpful to find someone who rents signage out so you don’t have to purchase the entire sign itself. This will definitely make an impact on the cost!
I know there are so many other aspects of wedding planning, but I think this is a great foundation for planning your budget-friendly wedding. Just remember – if you put the work in now, you will be thanking yourself later! A gorgeous and budget-friendly wedding is always in reach!