In a world where the "three-months' salary" rule is already a thing of the past and where some couples are concerned about the ethical implications of buying diamonds, the traditional diamond engagement ring is slowly falling to the wayside.
Many couples are opting to go with alternatives to the traditional stone — some choose lab-grown diamonds, which, try as they might, experts cannot distinguish from "real" diamonds. Others choose alternative, less precious gems like cubic zirconia, white sapphire, or the famously shimmery moissanite.
Still others have decided to buck the standard look for more personalized, colorful stones. My sister's fiancé proposed with a purple amethyst stone — her favorite color. She told me she thought she had always wanted a big diamond for her ring, "but what I really wanted was a husband who pays attention. He picked a ring that reminded him of me. It was different and original, which is what I like to be."
While it's usually a good idea to leave the ever-important day-of photos to be taken by a professional photographer, having a friend who's good with a camera and knows how to use editing software do your engagement shoot can save you a lot. The average cost of an engagement shoot ranges from $200 to $500, depending on where you live.
If you decide that you truly don't care about having professional-quality photos of your wedding at all, or just want a few group shots, there are apps that let you crowdsource your wedding photography.
You should actually consider using these whether or not you have a photographer — often guests can get fun shots that a photographer would miss out on, simply by virtue of being in the middle of the action.
You could order "save the dates" and invitations with all the frills and trimmings, but $5,000 to $8,000 is a lot of money for a piece of paper that's ultimately going to hang on people's fridge for a while, then be thrown out.
Money Crashers writer Brian Martucci suggests forgoing RSVP cards as well.
"You can significantly reduce paper waste and save money by asking guests to RSVP online," Martucci wrote for Money Crashers. "A typical wedding website costs just $20 to set up and maintain for a year, so if your guests are tech-savvy, definitely go this route. For older guests who might not have internet access, have your parents or maid of honor accept RSVPs by phone."
If you and your close relatives really want the fancy invites as a memento, just order a select few for those closest to you.
No, I'm not suggesting that you should have your guests bring their own liquor. What some venues will let you do, rather than simply using their own supply at the bar — which is typically marked up by several hundred percent — is to buy your own liquor for the bartenders to use.
Many couples don't know that you can do this, but at a few of the weddings I've worked, couples had gone to a liquor store or box store and picked out what they wanted. After the wedding, the store would let them return what hadn't been opened, and they got to keep the bottles that had been for themselves. That's a win-win.
This is largely dependent on your venue, but some places will allow you to provide your own food via an outside caterer.
Doing this allows you to have a lot more freedom with what kind of food you have. Want something more casual, like barbecue? You can go for it. Want to include a homemade, family recipe? As long as enough people are willing to help cook, that's an option. Even if you do want fancier food, you can probably find it for a better price if your venue allows you to shop around.
Another tip for food — go with a buffet. It's less expensive, guests will be happier not having to wait for dozens of individual plates to come out, and they can pick exactly what they want and how much.
Your waitstaff will also love you for it — buffet service is worlds easier than serving a sit-down dinner.
Don't get me wrong: If you love cake and you've always dreamed of a giant, intricate wedding cake, you should absolutely get one. Some people, though, get a grandiose cake simply because they feel obligated to — but $500 on average is a lot to spend simply out of obligation.
Some of the best weddings I worked were ones that featured dessert bars. One had a very small cake, and a myriad of other choices, including s'mores, gourmet chocolates, brownies, and a sundae bar. The guests were all very happy.
Another had no cake at all, but dozens of varieties of cookies from old family recipes — I spoke to the bride's mother as we set them up, and she said the whole family had been excitedly baking for weeks in preparation. The cookies were a huge part of the bride's childhood, and she was ecstatic to have them featured at her wedding. A bonus: They were also given out as favors after the wedding (and they were delicious).
One of the most hotly debated wedding topics — band or DJ? Bands are sometimes seen as more classy than a DJ, but they're also almost always more expensive.
However, there are more advantages to a DJ than just money. For starters, you don't get any surprises — all the songs will sound exactly the way you expect them to. You also get a lot more options, as you're not limited to one specific style or voice type.
A great DJ can make a wedding, but the reason behind that is that a great DJ is also an MC who loves to work with the couple to customize their experience. A "must-play" list is a must-have, and DJs love the guidance they provide.
In short, go with the DJ — if you pick the right one, you'll never miss the band.
The flowers are one of the most expensive parts of the wedding, but you can mitigate those costs by making sure the ones you buy haven't first been on an epic journey to get to you.
"You can reduce your floral budget by relying on seasonal, locally available flowers to match it," Matacci wrote for Money Crashers. "Though costly tropical flowers like orchids might look stunning, avoid them. In our case, using simple, in-season flowers dropped our bill below $400, or 50% less than quotes we got for more elaborate displays."
You can also buy some of the flowers in bulk and have any flower-savvy members of the wedding party help you to make arrangements the day of.
The venue is usually far and away the most expensive part of a wedding. Your first thought when choosing a venue might be your local banquet hall, but those places are often expensive — I know the venue where I worked charged around $120 per head, and it was $130 on Saturdays.
Another money-saving tip: Don't get married on a Saturday.
But other venues, like country clubs, public event spaces, rec centers, parks, museums, or restaurants, are often much less expensive and more flexible on cost, as well as on other things. Some of these places might be free to use, or could cost as little as $500. Imagine what else you could splurge on with all the money you save doing that.
You also often get a really unique experience when you go with an alternative venue. One of the coolest weddings I ever served — the same one with all the cookies — took place at Franklin Commons, a combined events center and art gallery in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. It was a great space, and there were interesting sculptures and art pieces everywhere.
DIY décor is something more and more brides are using these days. I saw more homemade centerpieces every year that I worked, and I was always more impressed with them than any giant flower arrangements or the standard ones our venue used, or giant flower arrangements some people used.
One of my favorites was a wooden stump with a small Mason jar of flowers on each table, a couple of candles, and a few pine cones painted with pink and white glitter. It was simple, but tasteful and elegant, and had a lot of personality.
And it helps to make your centerpieces things you would use to decorate your own house, so you're not stuck with several of the same unusable decorations after the party is over.
"Something borrowed" can be more than just part of a traditional wedding-day rhyme — Julia Van Ness, a good friend of mine who got married last year, said she helped her sister-in-law save money on her wedding by gifting her some of the items she used at her own wedding.
"She was able to use my card holder, signage, and paper gift bags for the hotel guests," Van Ness said. "Another friend didn't have to buy Mason jars, because I had 12 of them already."
"Borrowing gives you the opportunity to save a couple bucks and have the item you got from a friend or family member become a special touch for your wedding."
Shows like "Say Yes to the Dress" have given some brides very lofty expectations for buying wedding dresses. Some of the designer gowns at Kleinfeld go for upwards of $10,000. However, most wedding dresses retail for well under $1,000, and there are still other ways to cut costs after that.
One way is to buy a sample dress. Buying one of the store's displays can save you a little bit of money, depending on the store you buy it from. You can also shop a sample sale, if you're not afraid of a little bit of pandemonium in your shopping experience.
Another option is to buy a used wedding dress. One bride once told me, after I complimented her dress, that she had gotten it on Poshmark for around $150. It turns out plenty of brides sell their wedding dresses after they're done with them, and they sometimes ask for less than half of what they pay for it. As long as you're not superstitious, this is a great move.
Chances are, somewhere in your circle of friends or in your family, you have somebody who's really good at hair and makeup.
You could spend $150 to $600 to have a professional stylist come in on your big day and do your whole wedding party's hair and makeup, or, if your family stylist wouldn't mind lending a hand, you could ask them to do it for free (or at a discount, if they're a professional).
If you're pretty handy with a makeup brush yourself, you can go to a makeup counter in the mall to get yours done, and have them tell you what you're doing as they're doing it. A lot of places will even give you a guide to the look when they're done.
That way, you get to keep all the makeup after the day is over, as well as the knowledge of how to do a fancy makeup look.
Renting a limousine can cost $90 to $130 per hour, and other methods of transportation from the ceremony to the reception — like a horse and carriage — can cost even more.
The first question you should ask yourself is if you care about having fancy transportation for that short ride. If the answer is no, you can just have someone you know drive you, or even drive yourself.
Having a relative drive you doesn't always have to come with a sacrifice of style, either. I know a couple who made their grand exit in the bride's brother's Cadillac. It's worth asking around to see if anyone you're close with has a cool car they'd be willing to chauffeur you in.
Many people don't think of this when planning a wedding, but the average cost of an officiant is nothing to sneeze at. The fee for an officiant ranges from $500 to $800, and that's not including the standard tip of $50 to $100.
If you're not particularly attached to the idea of getting married by a clergyman or other specific officiant, it might be worth it to consider getting a friend to officiate the ceremony.
There are several advantages to this: You would be able to give someone close to you a great honor, and you would have a very specific ceremony that would be unique to you. My venue didn't often do ceremonies, but one of the few I did see had a close friend of the couple do the ceremony, and it was truly touching.If you have a friend who is a gifted writer or orator, this is a road you should seriously consider.
It is nice to still give the friend something for all of the work that goes into planning the ceremony, but nothing near as much as $550. You could give them a small tip, or offer to pay for their certification classes, or get them the same gift you give the rest of the wedding party.
Everybody loves a summer wedding, but getting married between June and September means competing with a lot of other couples for venues, which means raised prices.
You run into the same problems around festive holiday weekends like Valentine's Day and Christmas parties.
The least popular, and thus least expensive, months to marry in are in the winter, especially January, February (besides around Valentine's Day), and March, according to The Knot. Only 5% of weddings take place during the winter, the site reported.
Getting married in the spring or fall doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your vision for your wedding. Depending on your location, you can still have a beachfront wedding in early November, even if it might be a little chiller.