Ever since the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, there has ben much buzz about theories on how same-sex marriage could add to the economy. Gay and lesbian couples are now getting hitched left and right, but the average wedding costs $26,444—which is a lot of money to add to the economy. For that much cash, you could take a killer trip around the world, buy a new car, or feed a family of four for a year and a half.
The most important part of a wedding is bringing together the people you care about most to celebrate your true love. Everything else is just details—details you’ll probably put way too much time and energy and thought into because you still can’t help but want for everything about the day to be just right.
Fortunately, it really is possible to plan the wedding of your dreams without breaking the bank. Here are 10 ways to pull it off:
1. Choose Your Venue Wisely
The venue is normally the most expensive part of a wedding, and if you don’t plan it carefully, hidden costs can easily sneak up on you. Formal venues normally have different pricing plans depending on the food and alcohol situation, how many people will be in attendance, time of year, etc., but it can be hard to tally accurately how all of that, plus taxes and various surcharges, will apply to your own wedding.
Most venues will be willing to write you up a formal estimate for exactly what you want and when you want it, plus any potential surcharges, prior to booking—and it’s definitely wise to ask for this. You can also save a ton of money by holding your wedding in a non-traditional venue—especially outdoors. Get creative: does a friend have an amazing backyard you could borrow, or is there a beautiful park, nature retreat, or beach near your home?
2. Opt For Tasty Over Fancy Food
Wedding food has long had a reputation for seriously sucking, and unfortunately, it’s also likely to be expensive if you get it through a wedding-specific catering company or your venue. I have friends who opted instead to have their favorite neighborhood Ethiopian restaurant cater their wedding, which meant that not only did all of their guests get to eat something super delicious, but they were also able to save a bunch of money while supporting a local business run by people they knew and liked.
Booking one or more of your favorite food trucks for the event is also becoming an increasingly popular option that gives people a variety of fun, tasty choices and generally costs significantly less than formal catering.
3. Say Yes To A Secondhand Dress (Or Tux)
While the idea of a second-hand dress might at first conjure visions of a stained gown with giant shoulder-pads on the rack at Goodwill, shopping pre-owned is actually now an awesome way to get your dream gown at a fraction of its original cost. Thanks to the magic of the internet, if you fall in love with a dress you tried on in a store, you can often find the exact gown you want in your size either gently-used (since it was likely only worn once), or sometimes even with the tags still on because someone else bought it and then changed their mind. Second-hand tuxes are also a thing (though dapper butches will likely have better luck with specially-tailored options).
4. DIY Invitations, Decorations, and Flowers
If you’re short on time, it may be worth hiring a professional to handle your flowers and decorations, but if you’re planning far enough in advance, you can save tons and have a much more unique wedding by getting crafty and making your own invitations, place settings, and floral arrangements. A friend of mine spent a little time every day during the nine months leading up to her wedding lovingly handcrafting gorgeous paper flowers for the bouquets and all the tables at the reception.
If you’re less craft-inclined but still want to decorate on the cheap, you can also get beautiful vases, twinkle lights and silk flowers at arts and crafts stores or dollar stores. You can also get major discounts on wholesale fresh flowers online or from a florist near your venue the day before or morning of your wedding, and assemble the bouquets yourself.
5. Pay a Friend to DJ
Professional DJs and bands can be really expensive, and ultimately, with everyone getting drunk and dancing and having a good time during your reception, no one is going to care how much you spent on the entertainment. If you have a friend who makes awesome playlists, ask if you can pay them to play DJ with a laptop and your sound-system—they’re going to know what you and your friends like better than a professional anyway, and they’ll likely be more invested in everyone having a good time. If you have friends who are in an awesome band, they’d probably also be delighted to play at your wedding for a reasonable cost.
6. Let Your Guests Play Photographer
Twenty years ago, the wedding photographer was crucial: They bore sole responsibility for visually documenting the big day. Today, though, when most of your guests are likely to be wizards of Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Periscope, having a professional photographer is somewhat less critical. If you come up with a unique wedding hashtag and make sure everyone knows it before and during the event (I recently had friends who printed it in their program, sent out emails, and even put it on little cards on the reception tables), or enlist the help of a wedding-specific photo app, you can either forego a professional photographer entirely. Or you can opt to hire them for just a few hours to get the key high-res shots before and during the ceremony, then rely on your army of social media-savvy guests to snap away (and choose the best filters to compliment your outfit).
7. Forget About the “Rules”
It can be easy to feel stressed out and overwhelmed by all the things people tell you you’re “supposed” to do for your wedding. But wedding traditions are always evolving, and you can’t possibly plan a wedding around trying to please every one of your guests without going both crazy and broke. The most important thing is that you and your partner get what you want out of the day; not that you live up to some distant relative’s outdated (and likely hetero-normative) expectations. If you think wedding favors are silly and no one ever really cares about them, feel free just to skip them and save the money. If your favorite pumpkin pie on the planet is less expensive than wedding cake and you suspect your guests will enjoy it more anyway, have pie! The same goes for just about every wedding choice you’ll be faced with. The day is yours—you make the rules.
8. Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
When family and friends offer to help, believe that they mean it. One of the best things about being part of a big, beautiful, gay community is that there are lots of people who have your back, and enlisting their help can not only save you a ton of money but also be fun and totally heartwarming. Do you have a talented friend who is offering to perform the ceremony, act as your photographer, make beautiful hand-lettered name cards, or even just pitch in wherever you ask? Say yes—and don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. You’ll spend a lot less on buying pizza and booze for five of your BFFs and asking them to spend an evening getting crafty with decorations or bouquet assembly than you will enlisting the help of a professional—plus, you’ll make beautiful memories together.
9. Get Your Barter On
If there are people in your community or on your radar whose skills and services you’d like to employ but you don’t feel quite comfortable asking them for a discount, consider offering your own special talents in the form of a barter. That florist or baker may very well be in need of your marketing, social media, or IT skills, for instance. If approaching someone directly about a barter feels intimidating, you can also get in on the larger barter-economy for your wedding needs by trading your time and skills for others’ (without ever exchanging cash) through sites like TimeBanks.
10. Ask for Money Instead of (or in Addition to) Gifts
This is one of those things that, for some people, seems to violate all the “rules” of weddings, but it’s becoming increasingly popular because, frankly, it makes a ton of sense. Most couples today have already spent time building a cozy home together and aren’t as in need of toasters, blenders, and silverware sets as they once were. Weddings are also more expensive than ever, and we all have more debt, so money makes a much more practical gift. There are now a number of websites that allow you to designate specific buckets people can gift money towards—from the booze at the reception, to your honeymoon, to a new car or a new home. Some will even allow you to throw in a few old-fashioned physical gift options for your great-aunt Sue if you know she’ll be offended by the suggestion of giving cash, so everyone wins.