Get Married Without Going Bankrupt

Tying the knot doesn't have to tie you in knots — here's how to throw a wedding on a budget

One bright sunny day — my wedding day — my best friend suggested we pop over to the reception site because she hadn’t seen it. A load of bridesmaids, complete with curlers in their hair, piled into my car and we were off.

It’s one of those “I can laugh now” stories.

Have a frank talk about the finances with your families.

Across town, we opened the door of the reception space — a large meeting room at a service club my father belonged to, which I was allowed to use for free. The room contained a linoleum floor, drop ceiling tiles, stacks of tables and chairs and a lone, fake Christmas tree in one corner.

“Who’s decorating the reception?” asked one of my bridesmaids. “And what will it look like?”

I can still picture that frozen-in-time moment. I had not planned reception decorations. Since I was the first of my friends to marry, I didn’t have much to draw on. Dancing to a live band and picking out great food had been on the top of the list of must-haves, but decorations didn’t dawn on me.

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Everyone has a wedding tale, and that one is mine. The last-minute decorations were an unplanned expense. I might be alone in forgetting to decorate — but I wasn’t alone in spending more than I planned. A 2015 Wedding Wire Newlywed Survey revealed that 74 percent of couples went over their wedding budget.

You might hope and trust your parents have been saving for your big day — but in reality, brides and grooms these days pay for the wedding about 30 percent of the time, according to Since the average wedding budget is $20,000, that’s a lot of savings.

Tying the knot doesn’t need to tie you in knots, however. No matter what size wedding you have, the hard-earned money of someone will be spent. From the first moment of planning until you settle up the very last bill, you need to keep on top of your spending and your funds.

Related: Wedding Bell Cues

Armed with some tips and ground rules, the bride and groom should be able to develop sound strategies for sticking to their budget. Try these.

Get a total. You can’t work with a guess. Have a frank talk about finances with your families. Put pen to paper — and figure out the total number of dollars available for the wedding.

Make a guest list. It might seem early to make a guest list, but everything else you do will revolve around this. Before you even think of sending out save-the-date cards, make that list. Many of your costs, from food to venue size, are going to depend on your number of guests. Tip: One way to control costs is to choose a lovely smaller venue. Let the spot dictate the number of guests and then you won’t be able to over-invite.

Open a joint account. Keeping your wedding fund separate from your everyday living expenses is key. You don’t want to suddenly discover you used this month’s rent money as a down payment for the florist.

You won’t forget your wedding reception decorations (you hope), but there will be something you didn’t plan for or forgot to list.

Buy gift cards. You may not have thought of gift cards as a management tool, but they can be. Buying a gift card for the amount you intend to spend — for decor, or plants and building supplies for the wedding arch — makes it easy to stick to the planned amount. No doubt you’ll see plenty of add-on ideas when you’re at the store, but this way you will stick to the set amount. It is also safer than passing out your credit card to your wedding helpers.

Pad your budget a bit. You won’t forget your wedding reception decorations (you hope), but there will be something you didn’t plan for or forgot to list. Padding your budget a bit is essential, so make sure to leave some room for unexpected expenses.

Make a dream compromise. If the bride and groom both get everything they dream of, the cost will go up and up. Instead, why not pick a few dream items and compromise on the rest of the list?

Keep track. Get estimates in writing. Log how much the estimate is so you can compare it to the actual cost. Review numbers every week to keep track of where you stand.

Stay flexible. Sometimes overspending comes from getting your mind set on must-haves. You picture orchids on every table or a honeymoon in the Maldives. If you are willing to be flexible, white spider mums will be lovely and a honeymoon in Key West will be a tropical blast.

Related: How to Build a Love That Lasts, No Matter What

Be creative. There are beautiful alternatives to everything. A wedding I once attended had lovely centerpieces of votive candles surrounding pedestal cake plates covered with gorgeous petit fours (the small bite-size cakes). The bride and groom planned to serve a traditional cake anyway, so using the petit fours as the table centerpieces (on cake plates borrowed from friends and family) drastically cut the flower bill. And it was just as lovely.

And finally … Remember that your guests won’t know if you’re missing something you had hoped to have. At my wedding, by the time the caterer had spread white cloths over the tables, the four-tiered cake was placed front and center, the lights were dimmed and the band was rocking on the stage, no one noticed our only decorations were candles we had hurriedly gathered, along with some white lights we found.

Everyone had a great time just as it was — and love and commitment took center stage.

Lea Schneider is a recognized organizational expert who brings personal experience and professional expertise to home and family topics for her writing for Home Depot. She recommends that consumers use gift cards to stay on budget and minimize overall wedding costs.

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