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How to plan a beautiful wedding that doesn't break the bank

Planning a wedding? This article explores ways to save on location/venue, how to keep guest list manageable, how to save on food/catering, decor and invitations.

June 2, 2022

Written by Nicola Brown

Key takeaways

  • To save on venue costs, consider options away from a city centre, and even booking on a weeknight.

  • A buffet can be cheaper than a full sit-down meal.

  • You can save by going DIY on everything from decorations to your music playlist.

How to plan a beautiful wedding that doesn't break the bank

Maybe you're like so many Canadian couples who've been waiting the last two years for a chance to tie the knot in front of family and friends. CTV reported "wedding venues and event planners are preparing for a jam-packed season" as Canadians can finally plan the weddings of their dreams. This backlog, coupled with supply chain issues and inflation, can mean more difficulty finding everything you need at the budget you intended. 

There's a lot to look forward to in this next big step together, but it can also introduce a great deal of financial strain into the relationship. How much are each of you (and your families) willing to spend on the big day, and can you still have a beautiful wedding on a budget? 

When my good friends Paul and Rebecca got married a few years ago, they decided to do things a little differently to save money. 

Saving on venue 

One of the biggest ticket items will be the venue. Large city centre venues demand a higher premium, especially on weekends during the summer. 

Paul and Rebecca opted for a venue slightly outside the centre of town, but not so far that most of their guests couldn't get home afterwards. They also chose a place that didn't require them to use venue-specific vendors for food and bar services. They saved hundreds of dollars buying the drinks themselves and hired their own bartender. 

You might also consider a non-weekend date for booking. Many wedding venues hike the prices for Saturday (even Friday is sometimes cheaper). Just make sure you weigh the advantages of this against the difficulty it may present some of your guests in having to take a day off work. 

Figuring out food 

Instead of a multi-course sit-down dinner, they opted for an outdoor BBQ-style buffet. The whole process was very convenient and social. 

They saved around $60 per person by opting for a BBQ buffet, though the process wasn't without hiccups. Rebecca says in hindsight she would have spent more money on a reliable caterer. "Bottom dollar catering is not a great idea. You get what you pay for," Paul says. 

Rather than the cheapest catering you can find, think about a non-traditional dining concept. If Instagram is any indication, the trendiest weddings are all about food trucks and takeout these days. 

Alternative music 

Paul and Rebecca handled their own music instead of hiring a DJ. They created and shared a Google spreadsheet for guests to add their song requests, and turned these into a wedding playlist with the WeddingDJ iOS app. 

They spent under $200 for a speaker and PA system rental compared with the $900-1,000 they'd been quoted for the cheapest DJ. "I would highly recommend doing your own music in this day and age," says Rebecca, "The technology is cheap and easy, and there are a lot of playlists and apps available." 

If you do choose to handle your own music, research carefully the kind of equipment you need, because sound quality makes a big difference. 

DIY details 

Paul and Rebecca took their invitations into their own hands, too. They bought a wedding invitation design on Etsy and printed the cards themselves, pouring a bit of glitter into each envelope for added pizzazz. 

Do-it-yourself decor is another great option for saving money. Pinterest has a wealth of step-by-step DIY wedding decor instructions for everything from photo boards and candle holders to table settings and hanging arrangements. 

Why not turn a DIY wedding project into another chance to get together with friends and family informally before the day? Buy all the materials and invite everyone over for a decor crafting party. 

A manageable guest list 

If you have a big family, you may find yourself staring down an overwhelming list of potential attendees. 

If you do choose to keep the wedding small like Paul and Rebecca did, you could consider holding a separate (cheaper) gathering to celebrate with a larger group. 

Make sure to let your parents know well in advance how many seats are available for the guests they're hoping to invite. You should do this early to avoid a scenario where your dad has already casually invited all 10 of his golfing buddies to celebrate with you. 

The fun approach 

Paul and Rebecca's primary objective was to make sure everyone had fun at their wedding. 

"People won't miss the extras or notice when over-the-top elements aren't there," says Rebecca, "I'll admit I had a hard time letting go of a lot of the things you're told to want and spend money on, but in the end most people wouldn't have noticed those details and it would have stressed me out more." 

Your wedding is a time to celebrate, not panic about the costs. Keep these savvy money-saving tips in mind as you plan the big day, and don't forget to have fun! 

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