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Budget Savvy Bride - Cut Costs, Not Corners!


My wedding will be November 7 at the beautiful Berry Hill Estate (quick tip: using a one-stop venue for the ceremony/reception/guestrooms will save you from having to provide and pay for transportation--plus your guests will thank you for the convenience!). Our guest-list is moderately hefty at 125; but I've definitely always dreamed of putting on a big, swanky party at my in order to keep everything manageable, I'm being as resourceful as possible: making sure to always do cost comparisons, keep up with my favorite wedding blogs, and to have no fear when it comes to DIY projects!


I'm all about savings that don't sacrifice my vision -- and I've already found tons of ways to keep things affordable yet fabulous! I'm listing my own savings to-date and suggestions below. It's a lot of info, so in an effort to organize a bit, I've broken everything down into the following categories: Vintage; Rentals; DIY; Photography; Contests and Promotions; Bargain Gowns/Tux; Skip It; and Shopping Sales and Etsy.

It was so exciting to put this comprehensive list together and discover that my savings so far total a whopping $13,590! I hope other brides-to-be will find my guide useful too!



Instead of buying your accessories new, look for vintage pieces, where you can often find quite a bargain! I am a HUGE fan of Etsy for their handmade goods (see my "Etsy" category down below for helpful tips on handmade), but they're also a favorite of mine for vintage finds.

Bonus: Vintage pieces can double as your "something old!"

I purchased a vintage brooch, full of fiery rhinestones for only $14, and superglued it to the haircomb of my birdcage veil for a beautiful, unique, and inexpensive headpiece!

My veil, total cost: $35 vs. Similar veil I'd been eyeing, priced at: $99


For vintage jewels on Etsy try:

For repurposed vintage jewelry (haircombs, necklaces, bracelets, etc.) turned bridal try:

Gorgeous haircomb made from a restored vintage brooch by BelCanto


Rent It


Want to bling on your Big Day - but might not ever need to again? Rent your jewels!

I'm Over It offers much of their jewelry for lease (7-; 14-; or 30-day rentals). And Bag Borrow or Steal is a similar service, but with jewelry designers like Chanel and Louis Vuitton.

Carolee Lux set; Purchase: $340 vs. Rent: $34 (for 7 days)

My pick, the Kenneth Jay Lane pearl bib; Purchase: $500 vs. Rent: $50 (for 7 days)



Go for a "fake cake" -- they're constructed to look like real cakes with fondant and gumpaste, but they're really just display cakes for the "ooh and aah" effect. These cakes have a built-in compartment for a slice of cake that the bride and groom ceremoniously cut into. Then the display is taken to the kitchen, where the "real" cake (cheapie sheet cake) is cut up and put on plates for serving.

Not all bakeries will do a fake cake; in my phone calls, I found a local place that will do them custom priced at: $35 for 6", 8", 9" tiers; and $50 for 10", 12", 14" (so that's about $120 for a 3-tier cake) -- that's quite a savings considering a slice runs an average of $4, and with 125 guests that would come to a total of $500 for the cake alone (plus delivery and set up fees)!

If you can't find a local bakery to make a fake cake, you can also rent one and have it shipped to you from Rental Cake. Pre-designed displays cost $175; a custom design display will cost $325.

To the left is a pre-designed fake cake from Rental Cake, that was actually featured on the Rachael Ray show in 2008!

Bonus: Summer brides, no more need to worry about your cake getting destroyed by heat, humidity, and flies!

Still want the real deal? Make your masterpiece cheaper by opting for buttercream instead of fondant (it will lower the price .50-$1 per slice, and a good artist will be able to smooth buttercream so that it's practically as seamless as fondant). You can also save by keeping the cake as clean and simple as possible (see photo below) -- the more gumpaste flowers and doodles you add, the higher your cost will be!

Not into the traditional cake at all? You can still be budget savvy! Bake your own cupcakes, do a variety of fruit pies, or forego the dessert and offer a cheese wheel!

The inspiration for our simple -- yet modernly elegant -- fake cake!





The average flower budget is somewhere around 8% of total wedding budget, and floral centerpieces cost anywhere from $25 to $175 -- and on up of course! A lot of brides are now going the DIY route with their flower arrangements, or they're incorporating non-flower options (candle gardens, vases filled with fruit, potted herbs, etc.); I sort of did a little of both!

I wanted to bring in my Asian theme, so I made arrangements from origami flowers. I got cheap scrapbooking paper at the craft store and searched for vases on sale or at thrift shops; the stems are bamboo skewers, which you can buy in packs of 100 at the grocery store. Total cost: $140.


The best part about the paper flowers is their versatility: they can be done way in advance, they can be used as bouquets for the ceremony and centerpieces for the reception, and they can even be used as take-home favors for your guests --they still make beautiful arrangements at home after the wedding!

SAVINGS: $1,940


I saw these custom fortune cookies on Beau Coup and fell in love -- they fit perfectly into my Asian-themed wedding! I found a recipe online and am going to bake them with some friends to save money; they can be made with ingredients already stocked in my pantry, plus the cost of eggs and some bulk candy hearts. I estimate my expense to be $20, as compared to ordering from Beau Coup for $333 (for 125 cookies, a limited 3 custom messages, and expensive s&h for perishables).

Of course, the possibilities for budget-saving DIY favors are truly endless when you're going with baked goods!



Ok, I'll admit I lucked out on invitations. My fabulous fiancé has a gift for graphic design, so he was able to customize an invitation and RSVP card for us. If you already own Photoshop/Illustrator, you might give this a try yourself! If not, there are also plenty of DIY kits (or another alternative here) you can purchase that allow you to plug in your information onto print-ready designs; average cost for a kit is $35, so you'll still save a TON of money on design, printing, and assembly!


These are mock-ups of our custom invitation and RSVP set.

SAVINGS: $205 (quoted $140 for invite and $65 for RSVP custom designs)


Since we eliminated a custom design fee, we decided to splurge on printing. I love the look (and feel!) of letterpress, so we're getting quotes from various printers. You can of course save a whole lot of money by doing flat printing - but if you're a fool for letterpress like I am - there are still ways to help out your budget.

  • Consider doing a one-color printing (the cost of letterpress is mostly built into labor, and doing two colors means running the invite through the machine another time). We wanted two colors, but not two-color pricing; so we're going for one-color letterpress with our second color printed flat. The following sample costs on Mika 78: $510 and $264 for 100 one-color invites and RSVPs vs. $660 and $414 for two-color.

    • Savings: $300

  • Do an RSVP postcard and save on postage and having to buy envelopes!

    • Savings: $32 (for 100 envelopes)

  • Do a one-sided RSVP postcard (letterpress printing requires a unique plate be made, and this way you'll only require one plate!); rather than doing a graphic on one side with text/address/postage on the other, we're doing the address/postage on the flip-side. $264 for 100 one-sided RSVPs vs. $528 for two-sided).

    • Savings: $264

  • OR, if you're flexible with design but still want letterpress, you could go the quasi-custom route by using pre-letterpressed paper that you flat print your text directly on ($163 for 50).

    • Savings: $47

Skip on doing letterpress on your envelopes (save $290 on 100, as priced by Mika 78). Instead, incorporate imagery or texture the DIY way by using a rubber stamp ($10) or a return address embosser (we got our embosser on sale at Horchow for $24; TOTALLY worth it - love the results, and it's so inexpensive!).


We ordered two custom stamps from Simon's Stamps (see below); one design is a monogram to decorate our envelopes, and the other is an address design for our RSVP postcards.

Monogram Stamp


Return Address stamp (left)

If you don't feel up to designing your own stamp, you could always choose a motif from Addicted to Rubber Stamps; here's a stamp motif that would look awesome in the corner of your outer envelopes (only $9.40)!

o   Savings: $266

Address the envelopes with DIY calligraphy, rather than hiring someone (which averages $2.50 per envelope on Minted); or, if you're a chicken-scratcher, you can always print addresses from your computer directly onto envelopes!

My calligraphy vs. Minted Premium "Italic" calligraphy

o   Savings: $125 (for 50 envelopes)


I never thought I'd be a DIY pocketfold bride, and admired in awe others' crafty creations. But when it came time to start piecing together my own invitations, I realized woefully that the colors and styles that are out there just weren't fitting my vision. So, eventually I sucked it up and resigned myself to the realization that I was indeed going to join those legions of brave brides.

Luckily, my mom and I are former scrapbookers, so I had all the tools (scoring and cutting blades, paper trimmers, and adhesive) I needed. I bought custom cut metallic cardstock from Cards and Pockets (sidenote: This is a great resource! You can order samples of anything they carry--envelopes, pocketfolds, blank invitation paper, etc.--at super-low prices. The shipping is fast and the customer service is great. And check their sale page for awesome discounts--you may luck out and find your color on clearance!).

My DIY folders turned out beautifully, and they're exactly what I wanted!

$51 (for 80 custom-cut sheets)


$110 (for 80 already made pocketfolds)



My very best bets for awesome DIY projects -- and bride support!:




I know a lot of people recommend finding a talented friend or using disposable cameras at the reception. But photography was one of our priorities, so we didn't want to sacrifice quality -- and while we have tons of great friends, there are unfortunately no Ansel Adams in the group!

With some research, though, we were able to score a phenomenal, seasoned photographer AND an associate photographer at almost half the price ($2,995) of other vendors ($4,900). How? Our photographer, Shawn Tomkinson, is a fairly recent transplant from the Northeast. She is very popular for weddings in that area, and continues to get bookings there; but she wants to gradually move business exclusively down here near her new home in NC. Because she's still new to our area and seeking to build a portfolio, she offered us a great bargain and threw in the second photographer for free. If you have the time, try to take the time to seek out a transplant or a still-getting-started vendor--totally worth it.

Photos from our Engagement Shoot

SAVINGS: $1,905

Photo album

Prices for wedding albums can run quite high; here are some quotes we received:

  • Library bound 30 page 8x10/5x7 Gallery album (up to 40 images) -$1,295

  • Library bound 20 page 5x7 Friends & Family album (one image per page) - $795

  • Montage Album (30 pages) with up to 60 images - $1,595

We decided to remove this option from our photographer's package and trade it in for a few other perks from her, including an engagement shoot and hi-res digital files of all our photos.

Now we can build our own album -- using as many images and having as much flexibility as we like -- and we'll save a HUGE bundle!

Wedding Album Published in the Blurb Bookstore

Here are some sites to try if you want to build your own album:

  • Blurb (40 page 8x10/hardcover with image wrap) - $31.95

  • My Publisher (20 page 15x11.25/hardcover leather bound) - $89.75

SAVINGS: $1,263

Photo Booth

I love the idea of a photo booth at the reception, as entertainment for guests and a source of awesome, off-the-cuff pics of everyone at your celebration. Our DJ offers a photo booth rental, but it's an extra $900.

Instead, we're going to rig some lighting and a tripod with our digital camera in a corner of our reception hall. I read that you can get a remote control to operate the camera, and it looks they only cost around $23. I think it will be fun to let guests get creative with this, so we're going to provide a box of props (a collection of stuff we already own like hats, scarves, shades, costume jewelry, etc.) and oversized empty picture frames.



Contests and Promotions

Like this one! Enter them, because you just never know. I subscribe to several wedding blogs on my Google reader, which keeps everything in one place and is an easy means for quick browsing--I highly recommend doing this. These sites are a great source of inspiration, useful forums for planning, and a fantastic way to stay in-the-know on all things "wedding"--including discounts, contest giveaways, and drawings - PERFECT for the truly budget (and style!)-savvy bride!

Some of my favorites-besides PW of course!:

By entering contests, my fiancé and I have really lucked out and won a custom set of 150 welcome dinner invites, a set of 125 save-the-dates, and a $100 cash prize for our DIY wedding project!

UPDATE: We also won 50 thank you semi-custom thank you notecards [$60]; beautiful letterpress cards for 10 of my wedding party VIP's along with a Tallu-lah tote bag [$70]; a set of these letterpress notecards [$14]; a Miss Now Mrs. full-package gift card [$29]...and the BEST news ever? We found out the day before we left for the wedding that we won a second honeymoon [valued at $3,250]!!! Eek!

It's been such a fun year of planning; we had the most perfect wedding; and I feel like I must be the luckiest lady in the world!

Our Custom Welcome Dinner Invites and Save-the-Dates--All Free!



Bargain Gowns/Tux

Pre-owned Gowns

If you're a flexible bride who doesn't mind shopping online, then definitely regularly investigate the pre-owned gown sites, where you can get once-worn dresses (everything from David's Bridal to Jim Hjelm, to Vera Wang) as well as samples from boutiques at HUGE savings! And, if you can bear to part with it, consider selling your gown after the wedding to earn back some of your money.

Online Vendors

If you've already found a gown you love in a brick-and-mortar store, but want to get the best price possible, make sure to check for it at these online vendors (authorized web-stores that can offer low prices because of their low overhead):

Trunk Shows/Sample Sales

I have to admit, I had my heart set on a particular designer and a particular dress, so shopping the pre-owned route was going to be too tough! I did try to be as budget-savvy as possible though by driving a few hours out of town to a boutique that was hosting that designer for a trunk show. During the show, there was a 10% savings on any gown, plus a $200 credit toward designer alterations, no shipping, and no sales tax! So if you've fallen in love with a specific dress/designer, make sure to check the designer website to find a trunk show near you!

My trunk show purchase, a gawgeous Lazaro gown

Another way to save on retail at a brick & mortar boutique is to shop their sample sales. These are usually held once a year to clear out older stock.


Bridesmaid Dresses

I ordered them from Bridal Mart who guarantees the lowest prices. Look for a similar guarantee wherever you place your order, so you know you're getting the best deal -- or at least a price-match if you find it lower elsewhere. Consider ordering from one of the online stores recommended above for "Wedding Gowns"; they also sell wedding party attire!

SAVINGS: $40 ($10 less the designer retail price on 4 Jim Hjelm dresses)

Groom's Tux

If your dear fiancé is renting, be aware that a lot of stores offer the groom's tux free when you place your groomsmen tux order with them. We're ordering ours through the Men's Warehouse, and the best part is that they also offer a free upgrade on the groom's tux to a design of your choice - which means you can score better brand, fabric, fit, and style!



Skip It!

Here are some more ways to cut costs without cutting corners!


Have your groomsmen get tuxes with a pocket square in your color palette and skip the boutonnieres.

SAVINGS: $100 ($25 for four groomsmen)

Ceremony Programs/Menu Cards

I've been to so many weddings, and never taken home a program or menu as a token of the affair. I know how expensive and/or time-consuming these can be to pull together, but to me, it's not worthwhile. Our ceremony is not a religious one and will be fairly short; and our reception dinner is only two courses. We're still keeping our guests in the know by recognizing our wedding party and listing our menu on our wedding website.

SAVINGS: $664 ($239 for 125 menu cards on Minted; $425 for 125 programs on Milkmaid Press)

Ceremony Décor

Our ceremony is outside with an already-beautiful backdrop, so I chose not to add any flourishes! I suggest skipping out on floral arrangements at the ceremony so you can put that money elsewhere.

SAVINGS: $1,250 ($800 for 20 pew markers; $450 for free-standing arch with flowers, as quoted on Tiger Lily Weddings)

Dessert Course

If you're already serving a gorgeous cake, skip the dessert course -- one sweet is satisfying enough!

SAVINGS: $375 (a brownie sundae was priced at $3 per 125 guests)


Bride/Groom Gifts

What could be a better gift than getting married to your very best friend? My fiancé and I have agreed to forego the bride/groom gift tradition. We're already getting new rings, a big party, and a vacation abroad -- all extraordinary gifts!


Wedding Favors

Though we've decided to go with the cost-saving DIY baked goods route, I wanted to at least acknowledge that wedding favors are one of those items you can safely skip without your guests feeling gypped!


Shop the Sales and Etsy!

End-of-Season Sales

We scored our groomsmen robes on clearance (between-season inventory) from LL Bean in April. It was perfect, because our wedding is going to be in crisp November -- and the color they were phasing out (burgundy) is part of our palette! We embroidered the groomsmen's initials on the pockets for a personal touch.


Regular price $60; on sale for $30

SAVINGS: $90 (for four groomsmen gifts)

The Burt's Bees company is headquartered where I live, and they did a blow-out warehouse sale in March. I was able to score a ton of lipsticks, lotions, and other beauty goods to stuff my bridesmaids' clutches with, for only $1 apiece (regularly $4.50 and up)!



I really can't rave enough about Etsy, which is an AMAZING resource that sells all sorts of handmade goods. They have a whole wedding section for your browsing pleasure, and if you can't find what you're looking for there, you can have crafters bid on your custom request through the Alchemy feature. One-of-a-kind goods at very competitive prices -- it's the perfect place to shop for a wedding!

For my bridesmaids, I wanted to do clutches with their initials embroidered inside. Lauren Merkin has custom silk clutches at $225 and a monogramming option priced at $15. Love them, but they're too pricey for my budget! I found a fantastic designer on Etsy who offers made-to-order clutches where you choose the outer fabric, inner lining, and monogram font for just $78 apiece -- LOVE this, since you can totally customize the linings to match the personality of your girls. I was even able to get a better price by negotiating a $5 price break on each clutch since I ordered a total of five.

Takeaway: It never hurts to ask for a bargain!

Lauren Merkin Silk Clutch, $1,200 (for 5)


SassiDesigns Clutch, $365 (for 5)


I also considered getting one of Regina B's beautiful fascinators to wear at my reception - until I found an amazing alternative on Etsy at only two-thirds the cost!

Regina B. Fascinator, $150 vs. Brenda's Bridal Veils Fascinator, $39


We still have several months to go, and I'm excited to do more deal-hunting -- and to incorporate some of the awesome ideas posted by you other PW'ers!

Last Updated: January 11, 2015 at 7:39 am
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