9 Step Guide to a (Classy) Budget Wedding

by Carlo Alcos Jul 14, 2009
Flower girl and bubbles

Wedding photos by Philip Chang

Sacrificing travel plans for a wedding ain’t cool. Have your wedding cake and eat it too.

I could write about how not to spend money on a wedding — getting married at City Hall or eloping to some far flung place. But this is for those who want to have a more “traditional wedding” without having to take out a second mortgage on their home.

Below are some tips on where and how you can save some cash in planning your wedding, and still make it the beautiful and classy one you always wanted.

Dinner table and cherry blossoms

Free cherry blossoms

1. Keep the guest count down

Do you really need to invite your third cousin twice removed’s little niece? Stick to those who you keep in touch with on a regular basis. If you haven’t broke bread with someone in over a year, it’s probably not appropriate for them to partake in your day. We kept the guest numbers down by limiting the invitees to immediate family and the closest of friends.

Yes, you may rub some people the wrong way, but this is your day. You have your reasons, and they should be respected.

To take that further, we split the wedding in two parts: ceremony/dinner and par-tay. Half the guests came after dinner to celebrate with us, which also helped keep costs down.

2. Make your own invitations

Another nice thing about keeping the guest count down is you need fewer invitations. This means you should have time to make and send them out yourselves. If you’re crafty like my wife, you can make unique and special cards. We included a blank page in the invitation and requested that the guests make it their page in our guestbook and to bring it to the wedding.

With the time they had we received some really thoughtful and colourful pages to insert into our guestbook. Much more personal than just a couple sentences and a signature, or, worse, drunken words of advice.

3. Use your contacts

If you think about it, you probably know someone who has some handy skills you could take advantage of. Maybe even a friend of a friend. An old high school chum who I occasionally ran into agreed to do our flower arrangements (it just so happened she is a florist). In lieu of payment, we invited her to the wedding.

Friends and family were also more than willing to chip in as they could, some coming to the venue early to help set up decorations and chairs. And speaking of venues…

Chinese lanterns

Barclay Manor in Vancouver’s West End

4. Find a cheap venue

While the big ballroom with floor-to-ceiling glass and a panoramic view over the ocean is ideal, it’s going to be expensive. Find a place that doesn’t normally do weddings.

We scored a beautiful heritage house and struck up a nice little relationship with the events coordinator. We negotiated a great deal and had extra access to the venue for planning purposes and also cleaning up post-wedding.

5. Be your own DJ

Sorry DJs of the world, but you aren’t needed here. We sent out an email to our guests and asked them for song requests. I then mixed everything together myself with MixMeister. It was easy to use and it was fun putting it together, plus it makes a great memento. We still have the original file and dance to it on our anniversary.

At the wedding, you can play this mix from your iPod or laptop. We rented a mixing board and big speakers for party level music. We also got a dancing colour light.

Professional DJ for $1000 or this set-up for $80? You decide.

6. Don’t go pro

It’s not always a case of “you get what you pay for”. We’ve all heard the horror stories of professionals providing less than adequate service. But it also works the other way round. You can get some seriously good service for a discounted price.

Photographer: We found one just starting out in the biz and so was offering a deep discount while he built up his profile. He came with an assistant (with his own camera too) and was with us for eight hours.

Plus, he was willing to give us all the images he (and his assistant) took throughout the day instead of just a set amount of prints.

Wedding cake

The “homemade” wedding cake

Videographer: Also a newbie, but as this was his first wedding he offered to do it for free to get his portfolio going. The end result was fantastic and he was extremely professional, polite, and took great care of us.

Caterer: Try a culinary school to keep your catering costs down. If you’re in Vancouver, check out Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. My mouth is watering just thinking of the food they dished up that night.

We found a cheap and cheerful bartender off Craigslist, where we also found the photographer and videographer. Just make sure you meet with them at least a couple times to make sure you’re comfortable with them.

7. Make your own cake

This is not for the faint hearted, but you can save heaps here. Rather than a sugary, fluffy cake, use one you actually like. We used a tuxedo cake (from Save-On Foods) square base, with a round raspberry and white chocolate cake on top, offset in the corner for artistic purposes. And, of course, decorated it.

8. Find some good, cheap booze

Who says you have to spend over $20 a bottle for some good wine? We tested a bottle or two each week, which was fun in itself, and found a red (Chile) and a white (Germany) for around $10. Same goes for the sparkling stuff, no need for the Dom Perignon.

The happy couple
9. Finally, recoup the costs

I don’t care what people say, I think it’s perfectly fine to ask for cash gifts, especially when the guest knows where it’s going (i.e. travel funds). You can also mix it with a registry of sorts for things you actually need.

Other random things we did to keep the costs down:

We rented a white PT Cruiser — modern, classy AND cheap — and I asked a work colleague to be our chauffeur. We “pruned” the cherry blossom trees around town for some free and beautiful center pieces (do this under the cloak of night).

All unopened bottles of booze and mixers were returned to the liquor store and Safeway, respectively.

Also, Yvonne’s wedding dress was so last year. But it was also so not expensive. And it was so gorgeous.


If you’d rather plan a destination wedding than go the traditional route, Matador has the Ultimate Guide to Planning a Destination Wedding.

And we’ll never leave you at the altar– check out 16 Places to Stretch Your Honeymoon Dollar too.

For those of you who have already passed this stage and are on the next phase, you’d best read the Expectant Mom’s Guide to Travel.

How about you? Do you have any wedding money saving tips to share?

Pop them in the comments below!

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