You know what it really takes to get legally married? A signed marriage license, an officiant, and a few witnesses. You could do it in an afternoon. Heck, out of curiosity, we just got officiated online while writing this intro—get a friend to do the same, and you could probably get hitched on your lunch break.
These are the stories of married couples who have been through the wedding roller coaster themselves.
But where’s the fun in that? We dream about our weddings from a young age, and when the date is set, we want the event to be perfect. That’s natural. Still, given that the average wedding has risen to the astounding price of $35,329, there must be some place we can cut corners.
Who better to ask which wedding traditions we can skip than people who have been through it all? Learn from their mistakes and don’t waste your money on:
1. The Wedding Dress
Let’s wade right in: Don’t buy an expensive wedding dress.
I think the dress is an expense that keeps on taking.
“It’s such a waste of money,” says Jenifer Gay, owner of Blue Flamingo Weddings.
“There are lots of consignment bridal stores and stores who buy last season’s leftovers and sell them for deep discounts,” she says. “And you can rent them.”
Even other wedding vendors agree that you could stand to spend less on the dress. We asked a wedding florist who asked to remain anonymous (for reasons that will become obvious) what couples regret spending on when they get married. “The dress” was first on her list.
“You can get them for less than $1,000 off the racks, but brides spend thousands. Literally thousands,” she says. “And then you wear it once and you have to store it forever? I think the dress is an expense that keeps on taking. At least you can throw out the flowers.
2. A Huge Guest List
We understand: You don’t want to offend anyone. But remember that your wedding price tag increases exponentially with every attendee at your wedding.
“Don’t invite people you don’t care about,” says our florist source. “You know, if I invite my cousin, I have to invite his kids and their spouses and it all gets out of control so fast.”
How much could you save by restricting the guest list? Obviously, that depends, but HuffPost estimates that catered food costs about $68 per person. While that number might be hard to stomach for some people, that may actually be a low estimate, since some caterers charge more than usual for weddings.
One of the traditional experiences of newlyweds is commiserating on how much they spent on programs, just to see them littering the floor of the venue when the dancing was over.
“You wouldn’t believe how many favors [and programs] I clean up after weddings that are left behind,” Gay tells Urbo.
Skipping out on extra paper goods not only saves you money, but it helps out the environment, too. Tiffany Hayden, owner and principal coordinator for Detailed Weddings, wanted to have a “green” wedding. That meant skipping out on paper versions of save-the-dates, programs, and menus.
“We designed our own [save-the-dates] online for free and emailed it out to our guests with a link to our website that had more information,” Hayden says. “[It was] super eco-friendly and cost effective! It also helped to get a few immediate RSVPs.”
If you’ve ever planned a wedding, you know just how valuable those early RSVPs can be—they might not save you any money, but they certainly make the planning process much easier. This brings us to our next point.
4. Sub-Par Photographers and Videographers
These days, everyone with an iPhone will volunteer to do your wedding photos. Then there are the “fauxtographers,” who think they’re professionals just because they own a DSLR (that they operate on auto mode). While smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras have come a long way, you shouldn’t let a non-professional handle this critical task.
Photos are how you are going to remember the day for the rest of your life.
If you spend money on one thing for your wedding day, let it be the photographer.
Wedding photographers may look expensive at first glance, but it’s important to pay enough to guarantee quality results. Too many married couples have tried to cut corners on photography, only to end up with wedding pictures they hate. Plus, if your mother or co-worker takes the job and you end up with a disappointing wedding album, you can’t exactly ask for a re-do.
“One thing to not skimp on is the photographer,” Hayden tells Urbo. “I’ve had negative experiences when a friend of the couple or discount photographer comes on board. Photos are how you are going to remember the day for the rest of your life, so pick someone you like as a person, has the style of work you like, and is the best you can reasonably afford.”
How much is too much? That really depends on where you live, but wedding photographers might charge anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000; wedding site Women Getting Married recommends allocating about 10 percent of your total budget to photography.
That doesn’t mean that you should throw your money at the wall. When evaluating your options, ask to see plenty of samples. You might even ask for references—after all, this is a huge expense.
When the big day comes, keep your eye on the clock. Most photographers will give you an eight-hour package, and if you go over, you could end up paying extra.
5. Extravagant Flower Arrangements
Fresh flowers add a lot to any joyful event, but don’t overspend. Keep your priorities straight. Unless you have a huge budget, decorations should be low on the list.
Spend where you’ll get the most.
Believe it or not, even our unnamed florist source agrees that you don’t have to splurge on flowers to have a great wedding.
“As far as flowers go, if you have a limited budget, spend where you’ll get the most,” she tells us. “Spend on centerpieces because people sit at the tables talking over them at dinner. Spend on the bridal bouquet because that’s going to be in all the pictures you look at forever.”
That’s true, assuming you take our advice and pay for pictures that you’ll actually want to look at. The lesson here is that, with fresh flowers, a little bit goes a long way.
A 2014 survey from wedding site The Knot found that couples spent an average of $2,141 on florist services, which includes centerpieces and other decorations.
We’re not saying to avoid the florist entirely—just spend intelligently.
6. An Expensive Wedding Cake
Next time you’re at a wedding and it’s time to cut the cake, watch what happens next. Odds are, the guests go straight for the dance floor, and the married couple ends up with a four-year supply of cake in their freezer.
Guests don’t want to stop for a pound of sugared Crisco.
Wedding planner Erica Ota, who works in the Bay Area, told CNN, “Typically, most people spend between $700 and $1,000 [on a cake,] yet I find that only 60 percent of guests even take a slice. Factor in a $2.50-per-person cake-cutting fee and you’re looking at an expensive dessert.”
Our florist source agrees.
“The cake,” the florist says of another area to cut costs. “For the most part, guests don’t really eat that. It’s a huge waste. Guests are drinking and dancing at that point, and they don’t want to stop for a pound of sugared Crisco.”
Gay strongly advises against spending big money on a wedding cake. “People rarely say much about the cake. But put out a display of beautifully decorated donuts and watch your guests go wild.”
Ota points out that dessert buffets are cheaper, more fun, and full of choices. Gay agrees, telling Urbo that “guests prefer those types of desserts to boring cake that often doesn’t even taste that great.”
Couples who still want pictures of the traditional cake-cutting can buy a small show cake while saving hundreds or more.
7. A Wedding That Wasn’t Right for Them
Ultimately, it’s up to each couple to decide what they want. The wedding-planning industry has plenty to say about what you absolutely must spend your money on, but getting caught up in that noise is ultimately the biggest mistake married couples cop to.
Do what makes sense to you.
Whether a couple wants an intimate but laid-back barbecue in someone’s backyard or they’re looking for a black-tie affair at the hottest hotel in town, it’s important that every couple plans the wedding they want.
Our florist—whose own wedding was a pretty low-key ceremony—tells us about a couple that seemed to spend extravagantly without regretting any of it later: “[One couple’s] ice sculpture really sticks in my mind, because, my God, they nickel-and-dimed me on the flowers. Then I get to the venue and there’s a f***ing ice sculpture. When I went to pick up the glassware, there it was, melting on the lawn.”
But, she muses, “People who spend a lot, I don’t think they regret it.”
In other words, do what makes sense to you. If you’re running low on cash (or you’d rather spend that money on a honeymoon or a downpayment), don’t feel bad downsizing. Again, the average wedding costs around $35,000, so if you cut even some of those expenses, you may be able to start your married life from a comfortable position, financially speaking.
On the other hand, if you want a huge soirée and have the funds to afford it, don’t let anyone make you and your spouse-to-be feel bad for having the party of your dreams. There’s something to be said about throwing an awesome bash with all of your closest family and friends in one room.
You can even take comfort in the fact that you did your research and took the time to hear the stories of married couples who have been through the wedding roller coaster themselves.