When Joe and I got engaged, a lot of my loved ones wondered, out loud, to me, if my practical nature and aversion to lavish spending would result in us nixing the wedding tradition entirely. After all, we’d already bucked the whole engagement ring tradition, what was one more? Trust me, we thought about eloping, but both social norms and our desire to celebrate our union with loved ones won out. However, I wanted to do it in a way that reflected us, minimized our exposure to the wedding industrial complex, and reduced the time we spent researching and agonizing over details. And above all, I didn’t want to blow my bank account up (or anyone else’s). Here’s what I learned.
Avoid Pinterest and trendy hashtags
Joe and I planned most of our wedding in about three weeks. Seriously, we had: a date, venue, registry, wedding website, colors and decorative style, DJ, caterer, photographer, hair and makeup team, bridesmaids dresses, and groomsmen tuxes all picked out and booked. This is coming from a bride and groom who never had fantasy Pinterest boards or day dreamed about a perfect wedding. We first decided what we cared about most in order to know where to splurge (a great DJ for a killer dance party, open bar, and excellent photos). Then we just made decisions that felt like us. Afterwards, we went on cruise control for six months before we needed to start thinking centerpieces, seating charts and all those final details.
By staying away from wedding websites and Pinterest after decisions were made, we were able to both keep our sanity and stay within our budget. Continued tweaking of plans is one of the many ways it becomes easy to steadily drift further and further away from your original limit.
Pick bridal party outfits early so you can hold out for sales
I have been put through the financial wringer a few times as a bridesmaid, so it was important to me that I heavily subsidize the cost for my own bridal party. Within a week of getting engaged in August, my sister helped select three dress styles from which the bridesmaids could choose. When we were at the dress shop, I asked the clerk about sales. The attendant told me Black Friday was always offered the biggest discount of up to 30% off. So, I had my bridesmaids pick their preferred style and send me their sizes by early November, then I purchased all the dresses on Black Friday at 30% off.
Brides who don’t care about everyone matching can give their bridal party a specific color and just let people pick their own dresses within their budgets. Great options that offer reasonable prices include Rent the Runway, Weddington Way, and Nordstrom Rack if you have a smaller bridal party. I once was the maid of honor for a bride who found five matching dresses at Nordstrom Rack for $15 each!
If you pick a dress that’s very “in” during your wedding season, you should suggest your brides check eBay, Tradesy or similar consignment sites to buy one that’s only been worn once. I nabbed a bridesmaids dress off eBay once for 40% of what it would’ve cost for me to buy at Nordstrom.
Borrow your gift registry
Every married couple has advice to give about how to handle your wedding day. The advice I wanted: what are the three three things from your registry you love and use all the time. What are the items you never use and shouldn’t have asked for? (Fancy china, juicers, and espresso machines were people’s common regrets.)
Most people’s wedding websites and registries live on long after they’re married, so I went digging through registries to see what people picked — especially for kitchenware. All our cookware is based on the registry of a foodie friend who loves to cook. It eliminated the need for me to go down a rabbit hole researching pots and pans.
We also set up our registry a full year out from our wedding, which has given us the chance to go back and audit when we’re feeling a little less zealous and away from the draw of pointing the registry gun at any item we wanted. But if you find yourself with some registry remorse after the wedding, you could re-gift items that don’t fit your lifestyle to future brides and grooms, saving some money in the process.
Crowdsource your vendors
Save yourself the time suck of researching vendors when you can just piggyback off photographers, DJs, caterers and wedding planners your loved ones used. Plus, what’s a greater resume than the fact you actually enjoyed this person’s work already?
I booked both my photographers (a husband-and-wife team) after working with them as a bridesmaid for a friend’s wedding and my DJ brought down the house at my cousin’s reception. When I reached out to the photographer and the DJ, I mentioned I’d gotten their information as a referral, and I named the brides, then I asked if they offered any sort of referral discount. The photographer knocked off $500 for two shooters and the DJ reduced his price by $75 and added some extra party lighting.
Maximize credit card rewards
You’ll be making plenty of big ticket purchases during your wedding planning, so create a strategy in order to maximize reward points and maybe get a free flight (or several) out of the deal. Check out websites like The Points Guy to learn more about finding the best reward cards or check out MONEY’s own best credit cards feature. Avoiding airline-specific cards will give you more flexibility. With enough lead time, preferably nine months, you could easy churn enough points to at least get two international economy class tickets and a few nights of hotel stays. But only employ this strategy if you’re paying off those credit card bills in full.
And don’t be tempted to open a joint credit card. Instead, you should each get a card in your own name so you can each get the sign-on bonus!
Avoid the wedding dress blues
Just don’t. You’ll fall in love with it and then either blow your dress budget or never love your in-budget dress quite as much.