Clark Howard’s guide to saving money on your wedding

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Clark Howard’s guide to saving money on your wedding
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When money expert Clark Howard’s daughter was planning her wedding for May 2018, she and her fiancé used a lot of different money-saving strategies to hold down the cost while still putting on a lovely event.

The great news is that you can use those same strategies to plan your own fabulous wedding without going deep into debt.

RELATED: Clark Howard — How my daughter saved a ton of money on her wedding

Follow Clark’s advice to get married cheap and happy!

Wedding planning season is here, and couples are racing to plan the perfect nuptials in time for a late-spring or summer wedding date.

The average wedding today costs $33,391, according to the latest numbers. So before you get too deep into planning, you need to sit down and come up with a budget for your wedding. It can be $100 or it can be $30,000 or more.

The idea that weddings have to be frightfully expensive to be any good is an odd and amazing thing. I think about my in-laws who were married some 50 years ago and it cost them $25. Inflation adjusted, that would be like a $100 wedding today. — Clark Howard

Ultimately, it’s your budget that will determine whether your wedding is a courthouse ceremony or more like a coronation. It’s whatever makes sense in your life — or in your parents’ lives.

Such was the case with Clark when he gave his daughter a flat amount of money and told her whatever she didn’t spend, she and her husband could keep for the down payment on their first home.

As part of creating your budget, write down all the elements of a wedding you want — flowers, DJ, wedding favors, etc. —  and then start prioritizing them. That way you get a feel for what’s indispensable and what you can maybe do without.

“Just don’t do what I did to save money on the vehicle we drove off in [after getting married],” Clark warns of his marriage to wife Lane.

“My mother-in-law will probably never forgive me for renting a subcompact purple Mitsubishi that was $16 a day. I also remember the wedding photographer was so angry at me for ruining his exit shot. He wanted me to leave in his car, which was a Cadillac convertible. I said, ‘Nobody’s going to believe that it was really me leaving in a Cadillac convertible!’”

Without further ado, here are some ways you can keep it both cheap and classy…

The first rule of a cheap wedding is…Never say the word “wedding”

When you call around to vendors, don’t tell anybody you’re getting quotes for a wedding. Call it a ‘party’ because you’ll likely get a lower quote.

Don’t buy a million bridal magazines

Leading up to the big day, women love to thumb through wedding magazines. But the cost of those polished glossy magazines can really add up! Browse Pinterest for wedding ideas for free or just look at those magazines the library.

Besides, you won’t want a pile of those magazine hanging around after the big day anyway.

Be flexible on the venue

You can save the cost of a catering hall by holding the reception at your home or someone else’s home. Sometimes people who met at college will hold the reception on campus. Or, check to see if you can rent a museum or other public facility for your wedding.

Clark’s daughter and her fiancé looked at a lot of venues and found an event space in a public park. They got married outside and, luckily, had great weather.

You can save a lot if you hold the reception at a place that will let you bring in your own caterer and alcohol. In that case, consider buying the alcohol yourself at a discount store and bringing it to the reception.

Be flexible with your wedding date

Many event spaces have different charges on different days of week. Saturday and Sunday are typically high-priced days to get married. If you want to go really budget, consider a Tuesday or Thursday. If that’s too extreme, then maybe Friday is the right compromise between scheduling and pricing.

“I have nephew who got married on Monday because their venue in California was cheaper on that day,” Clark says. “When have you ever heard of somebody getting married on a Monday?!?”

Another way to flex to save money is to plan your wedding for a time of year that’s not traditionally associated with weddings. That could mean considering a January wedding instead of a June one.

Work with a canceled-wedding broker

It’s always a great idea to see what services you can pick up on the cheap. For instance, when engaged people break up and don’t make it to the altar, what happens to those non-refundable services they booked?

If they’re smart, they’ll sometimes sell the services they’ve paid for to a canceled-wedding broker. That helps recoup at least some of the cost.

But here’s the neat thing: Their loss can be your gain!

A site like CanceledWeddings.com buys broken contracts and offers them at a discount. This recent snapshot of their Twitter feed shows venues you could pick up on the cheap in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. and California for summer and fall 2018 weddings:

canceled weddings

Consider your guest list carefully

You may have to make tough choices with your guest list based on your budget.

Since most catering facilities will charge you by the person, deciding how many people to invite will have a greater impact on the cost of the wedding than almost anything else.

Make your own invitations

Look for fonts that appeal to you online and use them to create your own invitations with a laser printer. Pinterest is perfect for this purpose.

Or, as an alternative, use online discount sites that can also make your Save the Date cards and invitations. This works especially well if you have a discount code that can bring the price down further.

Live band or DJ?

A DJ will be much cheaper than a live band. Ask about cash discounts or pay-in-advance discounts. It never hurts to negotiate, either. Just be sure to get the final agreement in writing.

If you want at least some live music on your big day, consider hiring a piano major from a nearby college or music school to play at the cocktail reception. Maybe you’ll luck out and even find a student jazz ensemble that will perform for much less than a professional band!

Opt for beer and wine — but not liquor

It’s much cheaper to serve just beer, wine and maybe one signature cocktail at your reception than to have an open bar serving liquor.

You could also consider offering a cash bar, or serving no alcohol at all.

Create your own décor

Joel, one of the producers on The Clark Howard Show, got married back in 2011. He and his bride Emily staged a very inexpensive wedding, working within the $12,000 budget from her parents.

Emily had fun creating the décor for the wedding. She crafted flowers out of paper instead of dedicating money to a huge flower budget.

(If you do opt for real flowers, ask the florist if you can buy the vessels in which to display them yourself. That could be a savings of $20 or $30 per vase or bowl right there if you find ones you like at a discount store.)

Joel says Emily liked the creativity behind the whole process and the saving money part just kind of fell in line with that. For their rehearsal dinner, they opted for catered BBQ and kept prices down that way.

Again, Pinterest is an amazing place to get ideas for DIY wedding projects. We’ve got a list of some of the many wedding items you can create and personalize on Pinterest here.

Sheet cake from a supermarket is a money-saver

A sheet cake rather than a multi-tiered cake will net you a big savings. Top off those savings by buying the sheet cake at Costco, Target or another grocery store bakery.

Clark’s daughter had a regular white icing cake from the Publix supermarket bakery. She bought four different sizes of round cakes and stacked them to dramatic effect to make one giant cake. The price tag? Under $40!

Don’t financially strap your bridesmaids

For the bridesmaids, try telling them a color (like navy or black) and encouraging them to wear an existing dress, rather than having them buy a one-time use only dress.

About the dress…

Buying a wedding dress off the rack is a great way to save money on this centerpiece of any bride’s wedding. H&M has wedding dresses for just a couple hundred bucks or less online. J. Crew and Ann Taylor sell wedding dresses, too.

Sample dresses at bridal stores are often discounted. You also shouldn’t rule out buying a dress secondhand or using a hand-me-down, particularly if you’re into either vintage styles or family heirlooms.

Renting a dress is another great option because then you don’t have to worry about storing or preserving the dress after your wedding. The reality is most people can’t tell if your dress is designer or from a chain. So, if you aren’t attached to a specific dress or designer, try a rental site like BorrowingMagnolia.com.

If designer is the way you want to go and you want to own, you can buy a name dress on deep discount from NearlyNewlywed.com.

Final thought

Does a glitzy wedding make the marriage? Not by a long shot.

In fact, recent research into the correlation between what you spend on a wedding and how long your marriage lasts shows the exact opposite.

If you insist on spending more than $20,000, you’re statistically going to get divorced at a rate that’s roughly 1.6 times higher than couples who spend between $5,000 and $10,000.

Want to have the longest-lasting and happiest marriage of all? The study shows you’ll have a lower-that-average rate of divorce if you spend $1,000 or less on your wedding.

Ultimately, the lavishness of the ceremony means nothing. It’s about who you’re marrying.

“If you’re a Bridezilla, I would encourage you to take a chill pill,” Clark says. “Remember that your vows and having a great life with your spouse are the most important things. A wedding can be very tasteful and it does not have to blow the budget.”

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