How To Plan a Frugal (Not Cheap) Wedding for Less Than $4,000

The average wedding and reception in 2019 (the most recent pre-COVID year for which data is available) was $28,000, according to The Knot Real Weddings Study. Given that the median American household income charts in around $69,000, (according to the Census Bureau), that means the average wedding devours nearly half a year’s worth of income.

Many people dream of a beautiful, unforgettable wedding, but not many long for the financial aftermath. The best solution is to take a serious look at all of the expenses involved with a wedding and find realistic, frugal ways to cut back on the expense without tinkering with the magic or the memories. The strategies below can collectively shave away 10s of thousands of dollars from the budget of an average wedding.

According to our calculations, a typical American wedding comes to about $28.5k, which we detail below. By paring down here and there, we got it down to $3,950, if you go with a guest list of 50. (The Knot Real Study says the typical wedding has 131 guests.) If you follow all of our ideas, you’ll reach under $4k in your final tally.

Different people look for different things in their wedding, so go through the list below and choose the ideas that work for you.

In this article

17 steps for a frugal (not cheap) wedding on a budget

Start planning early

The more time you give yourself to plan, the easier it becomes to identify bargains and help make them into a reality. Since so many wedding features are expensive, investing more time yourself can cut those costs down quickly.

Strategy: Give yourself an extra few months between the start of planning and the event
Savings: $0 directly, but it gives you time to implement the strategies below

Choose a location near your guests

Choose a location for your wedding that’s close to the largest number of your guests. While this won’t directly save you money, it will make the next tip much more likely to succeed.

Strategy: Choose a location that’s very convenient for most of the guests
Savings: $0 directly, but it enables some of the strategies below

Ask for wedding help instead of wedding gifts

Talk to some of the friends and family you’re inviting to the wedding and ask them if they would be willing to provide help at the wedding in lieu of a gift. This is particularly true if you have someone on the guest list with a particular talent.

Guests for your wedding might be able to help with photography, provide emcee services, tend the bar at the reception, or perform any of the other endless tasks that a wedding entails. While some guests may prefer not to do this, others will relish the chance.

Many of the roles at our own wedding were provided by family and friends. From our perspective, we felt that everything would be much more meaningful if people we loved were actually involved with the ceremony in some way, and many of them jumped at the chance. Some of them provided supplies as their wedding gift, while others provided discounts.

Getting even a little help can easily shave 5% off of the total cost of the wedding.

Strategy: Ask family and friends for assistance at the ceremony in lieu of gifts
Savings: $1,400

With all that money you’ve saved on your big day, turn to your next big step in life: Buy the home you’ll love as much as each other. Compare mortgages below.

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Hold the ceremony at home or outdoors

According to The Knot, the average wedding venue costs $10,500, adding up to around a third of the total cost of the big day. While trimming the guest list can certainly help reduce this cost, another approach is to think outside the box with your venue.

You might consider hosting the wedding at someone’s home, particularly if they have a nice yard or plenty of space. If your guest list is small, that’s much more feasible.

Strategy: Have the wedding and reception at a friend or family member’s property
Savings: $10,500

Another approach is to see if you can use a public park for the wedding and utilize any structures the parks and recreation department may have for a reception. Many such departments have nice older houses near parks that can be used for events like this. Contacting local parks services in my area found that such venues were available with a range of $1,000 to $4,000, though there would be some additional costs to help set up some services. While there will still be a notable cost involved for this, it’s often significantly lower than paying for a full-service venue.

Strategy: Have the wedding and reception at a park
Savings: $6,500

Do the catering yourself or hire a family-owned restaurant

While trimming the guest list saves quite a bit on catering, you can save more by finding a low-cost catering option. According to The Knot Real Weddings Study, the average cost per catered plate is $51, so if you have 50 guests, that’s $2,550 in meal expenses even with a reduced guest list.

For our own wedding, catering was provided by family and friends, who prepared and served the meal in lieu of (and in addition to) a wedding gift. This may work for you if you have someone who is interested in stepping up to that task.

Strategy: Have friends and family cater for you in lieu of a gift
Savings: $2,550

If not, try asking a local family-owned restaurant to cater for you. They might be hesitant to cater a large event, but if your guest list is already relatively small, they may be willing to do this and work with you on a less expensive option. If a local family-owned restaurant can cater and save 25% per plate, that’s still a nice savings.

Strategy: Ask a locally owned restaurant to cater the meal instead of a wedding catering service
Savings: $638

Buy a small cake or cupcakes from a grocery store

Brides Magazine reports that the average cost of a wedding cake is $350. This is an area where the cost can easily be trimmed by having something a bit more simple. Rather than heading straight to a wedding cake specialist, see what options are available for a smaller, simpler cake from a grocery store. In my area, the local grocery store chain, Hy-Vee, offered an enormous variety of cake options, ranging from very classy tiered wedding cakes that almost matched the $350 tag to much simpler options that would serve 50 guests for around $100.

Strategy: Look at grocery stores for cake options
Savings: $250

Another option is to simply buy cupcakes. You can buy large numbers of cupcakes from many bakeries for as little as $1 each. Pair that with a $30 cake stand and you can provide 70 cupcakes with a beautiful display for just $100.

Strategy: Buy cupcakes and arrange them yourself
Savings: $250

Go minimal with the flowers

Wedding Wire reports that the average cost of flowers at a wedding is $1,500. That’s a lot of money!

Keep the flowers simple! Stick with a simple bouquet and simple arrangements at the wedding, then reuse them as part of the reception. The bouquet itself averages $160, but you can drastically cut your floral expense in other ways by simply having minimal arrangements, relying on seasonal flowers, and using lots of greenery. Wedding Wire’s estimates for less-expensive floral setups range from $175 to $700, so if you simply get into that range with these tips, you’ll be doing great.

Strategy: Cut back on the flowers
Savings: $900

Make your own invitations

Again, according to The Knot, the average cost for wedding invitations is $590. This cost can easily be trimmed, however, by getting a DIY wedding invitation kit and printing them yourself.

My wife and I did this for our own wedding after balking at the hundreds of dollars for more traditional invitations. We chose a nice DIY kit that cost around $70 for our guest list and printed them ourselves. If you have access to a professional-quality printer and can do basic layout, you can easily create a very classy wedding invitation on your own for $100, with another $50 for any extra inserts and $50 for postage.

Strategy: Print your own wedding invitations
Savings: $390

Consider skipping attendants and have them involved in other ways

Rather than having several attendants for the bride and groom, consider trimming that number down to a single attendant for each, or none at all. This not only reduces the complications of the event, including hard choices about who to include, but can also eliminate small incidental costs such as bridesmaid bouquets. You can include people close to you in other ways, such as asking them to do a reading during your ceremony.

Strategy: Minimize your wedding party
Savings: Small, but helps with the next tip

If you do have attendants, go minimal with attendant gifts and make them personal

According to The Knot, the average wedding expense includes $400 in gifts, including party favors. However, most of that $400 goes toward gifts for the attendants. By keeping the wedding party small, you can cut out most of the cost, and with the smaller number, you can be more thoughtful and selective when it comes to a gift.

Strategy: Minimize attendant gifts and make them personal
Savings: $200

Borrow stereo equipment or use yours from home

If you’re having a small event anyway, hiring a DJ might be overkill. Wedding Wire reports that the average DJ cost is $1,000, so you may be able to forgo that cost by setting up your own speakers attached to a computer for a small dance. For music, you are legally allowed to use a music streaming service like Spotify (but such events may violate the terms of service of such services depending on specifics). For emcee services, ask your most outgoing friend to help.

Strategy: Do the DJing yourself
Savings: $1,000

Stock the bar yourself

A wedding bartender typically costs $35 per hour, but that doesn’t include the cost of the alcohol, which adds up to $2,300, according to The Knot. You can save a lot of money here by simply hiring someone to bartend and providing the alcohol yourself, provided the venue is OK with that (check with them). You can save as much as 50% by sourcing your own alcohol.

Strategy: Source your own alcohol and hire a separate bartender (or ask a friend)
Savings: $1,150

Contact the local university

If you’re looking for live music for the ceremony or want a professional photographer, one approach to consider is to contact the local university. There may be music students or budding photographers who would love an opportunity to get started in the field and may charge a very reasonable price as they don’t yet have a large resume to lean on. Often, new people in a field are excited to prove themselves, so they’ll not only charge a reasonable price, but they’ll go the extra mile to perform well and build a reputation. Simply trimming even 20% off of the average wedding musician cost and the average wedding photographer cost adds up. There’s a risk, of course, when using a new person, but they’re also going to be very focused on the task at hand, as this is an opportunity for them.

Strategy: Contact the local university to find budding photographers or musicians who may want the opportunity
Savings: $800

Split the cost of decorations – and consider buying used

Non-floral wedding decorations can cost $600. This can be a perfect opportunity to go minimal by looking for used decorations. If you know someone who is getting married, you may be able to split the cost of decorations with them so that you both use them, cutting the cost by half. If you know of any recent weddings, you can also contact them and ask what they did with the decorations.

Strategy: Split the cost of decorations or buy them used
Savings: $300

If you’re getting married in a church, ask the auxiliary for help

If you’re getting married in a church or in the hall of a civic organization, ask if the auxiliary club associated with that venue has suggestions or ideas. While they might not be able to directly provide a lot of savings, they may be able to offer ideas and small services that can save a little, and they sometimes can point you to something unexpected that can be a huge savings.

Strategy: Ask the auxiliary club associated with the church or other organization where your wedding is being held for help
Savings: Small, but potentially big

Buy the wedding dress off the rack and on sale, or borrow and modify

The Knot reports that the average wedding dress costs $1,600, which is a tremendous cost for an item you’ll likely wear once. A much better idea? See if anyone in your family or among your close friends has their old dress and, if possible, see if you can borrow it. It may need some modifications to make it work well, but spending $200 on adjustments is better than $1,600 on a dress. If this isn’t an option, look for a used dress and modify it similarly — this will still be cheaper than buying a new one.

Strategy: Borrow or buy a wedding dress
Savings: $600-$1,400

Choose affordable, simple wedding rings

According to the Brides American Wedding survey, the average wedding ring pair cost $1,610. This is on top of the engagement ring, of course. A simple wedding band might be a great option, however. A simple band is low cost, understated, and won’t snag on clothing. If you go simple and simply cut 25% off of the cost of the rings, that’s a nice savings.

Strategy: Go with simple wedding bands
Savings: $400

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5 Myths (and 5 Truths) About Selling Your Home

True or false: All real estate advice is good advice. (Hint: It depends.)

Everyone has advice about the real estate market, but not all of that unsolicited information is true. So when it comes time to list your home, you’ll need to separate fact from fiction.

Below we’ve identified the top five real estate myths — and debunked them so you can hop on the fast track to selling your property.

1. I need to redo my kitchen and bathroom before selling

Truth: While kitchens and bathrooms can increase the value of a home, you won’t get a large return on investment if you do a major renovation just before selling.

Minor renovations, on the other hand, may help you sell your home for a higher price. New countertops or new appliances may be just the kind of bait you need to reel in a buyer. Check out comparable listings in your neighborhood, and see what work you need to do to compete in the market.

2. My home’s exterior isn’t as important as the interior

Truth: Home buyers often make snap judgments based simply on a home’s exterior, so curb appeal is very important.

“A lot of buyers search online or drive by properties before they even enlist my services,” says Bic DeCaro, a real estate agent at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church, Virginia. “If the yard is cluttered or the driveway is all broken up, there’s a chance they won’t ever enter the house — they’ll just keep driving.”

The good news is that it doesn’t cost a bundle to improve your home’s exterior. Start by cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and clearing away any clutter. Then, for less than $50, you could put up new house numbers, paint the front door, plant some flowers or install a new, more stylish porch light.

3. If my house is clean, I don’t need to stage it

Truth: Tidy is a good first step, but professional home stagers have raised the bar. Tossing dirty laundry in the closet and sweeping the front steps just aren’t enough anymore.

Stagers make homes appeal to a broad range of tastes. They can skillfully identify ways to highlight your home’s best features and compensate for its shortcomings. For example, they might recommend removing blinds from a window with a great view or replacing a double bed with a twin to make a bedroom look bigger.

Of course, you don’t have to hire a professional stager. But if you don’t, be ready to use some of their tactics to get your home ready for sale — especially if staging is a trend where you live. An unstaged house will pale when compared to others on the market.

4. Granite and stainless steel appliances are old news

Truth: The majority of home shoppers still want granite counters and stainless steel appliances. Quartz, marble and concrete counters also have wide appeal.

“Most shoppers just want to steer away from anything that looks dated,” says Dru Bloomfield, a real estate agent with Platinum Living Realty in Scottsdale, Arizona. “When you a design a space, you need to decide if you’re doing it for yourself or for resale potential.”

She suggests that if you’re not planning to move anytime soon, decorate how you’d like. But if you’re planning to put your home on the market within the next couple of years, stick to elements with mass appeal.

“I recently sold a house where the kitchen had been remodeled 12 years ago, and everybody thought it had just been done because the owners had chosen timeless elements: dark maple cabinets, granite counters and stainless steel appliances.”

5. Home shoppers can ignore paint colors they don’t like

Truth: Moving is a lot of work, and while many home buyers realize they could take on the task of painting walls, they simply don’t want to.

That’s why one of the most important things you can do to update your home is apply a fresh coat of neutral paint. Neutral colors also help a property stand out in online photographs, which is where most potential buyers will get their first impression of your property.

Hiring a professional to paint the interior of a 2,000-square-foot house will cost about $3,000 to $6,000, depending on labor costs in your region. You could buy the paint and do the job yourself for $300 to $500. Either way, if a fresh coat of paint helps your home stand out in a crowded market, it’s probably a worthwhile investment.


Originally published April 1, 2014.


3 Things to Do When Your Neighbors List Their Home for Sale

The sign just went up next door. How does your neighbor’s impending sale affect you?

Most people think their real estate concerns end once they’ve closed on and moved into their new homes. But when a neighbor’s house goes on the market, there can be some important implications for you.

Here are some tips for staying real estate aware.

1. Document important disclosure items

For the most part, good fences make good neighbors. But sometimes the folks on the other side of the fence don’t cooperate, and unresolved neighbor conflicts tend to arise when one of the homes goes on the market.

Have a property line dispute? Or an issue with a broken fence and you want the new buyer to know about it? While sellers in most states have a duty to disclose issues to potential buyers, not all areas require this.

Do your new neighbor-to-be a favor and alert the seller’s agent to anything the buyer needs to know about your neighbor’s property.

2. See things differently

Open houses allow buyers to spend some time exploring a home, but these events also present you with a chance to see your home from your neighbor’s perspective.

Once at a busy open house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, an open house visitor made a somewhat obvious beeline for the back of the house. He immediately got on the phone and started talking with someone about where he was standing, giving orders to move left and right.

It turned out this visitor lived in the home behind, and he was checking to see the neighbor’s view into his home.

The open house is your chance to check your home’s paint job from the neighbor’s yard or simply to see your home from a different perspective.

3. Know and learn the market in real time

Typical sellers claim and save their home online, but they also keep searches going after the fact. Why? To keep tabs on the market, see the comps and have a real-time sense of what’s happening nearby.

Just like when you were a buyer, knowing about the area and types of homes in the market is a good move for any homeowner. Take a neighboring home for sale as an opportunity to see what the market bears. You can also learn about the latest trends in home design.

Speaking to a real estate agent can keep you informed of changes to property taxes or how assessments are changing in your town. A smart real estate agent, working their listing, will be an incredible resource to would-be clients down the road. Leverage their experience when your neighbor sells.

Take note when your neighbor goes to sell their home. It’s not just a time to nose around, but to document, inspect or learn from the home sale. Some homes get listed once in a lifetime — take advantage of the opportunity.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

Originally published October 31, 2016.


6 Spring Cleaning Chores You May Have Forgotten

As the days grow longer, the temperature warms up and we set our clocks forward, many people also start spring cleaning. Finally, the chill of winter is falling away, and we eagerly open our windows for fresh air. Because spring brings about new life, clearing out your apartment could help you get into the spirit of the season.

Of course, you may already have a to-do list for your big spring clean, but you should double check it. Many renters overlook these important chores:

1. The Tops of Cabinets and Appliances

When it comes to spring cleaning your kitchen, you probably devote time to mopping the floors, wiping the fridge, and sanitizing your oven. However, you might not be looking high enough. The tops of your fridge and cabinets collect dust and, sometimes, grease– if your fridge is near the stove, splattered oil could collect up there.

Grab a sturdy step stool and bring your cleaning supplies to the tops of your cabinets and fridge. First wipe away the dust, then scrub to remove grease. Even though you won’t see the newly cleaned areas, less dust and grime means better breathing in your kitchen.

While you’re at it, pull the fridge away from the wall and sweep in that space.

2. Reusable Grocery Bags

If you make efforts to go green in your apartment, you likely have reusable grocery bags stashed somewhere in your kitchen. You probably don’t think about cleaning them, but over time, drippings from meat, leaked foods or vegetable peels could stink up the bags– you don’t want to put new groceries in there!

Read the tags on your bags. Unless they say otherwise, wash them in a machine set to use hot water. If your bag says to hand wash, simply clean it in your bathtub using hot, soapy water. Be sure to scrub it well to get rid of stains and food residue.

3. Fans and Lights

Your overhead lights, including ceiling fans, collect dust over time, and like your cabinets and fridge, they’re easy to ignore. However, by dusting fan blades and light fixtures, you’ll improve the air quality in your apartment.

You can use a sturdy ladder to reach those hanging lights. Have your roommate nearby to spot you while you work– no use in spring cleaning if you’re unsafe.

4. Baseboards

You may think of your apartment’s baseboards as just part of the walls (and they are), but these decorative features can collect dust and scuff marks.

Fortunately, cleaning them is a cinch. Just wipe them down with a damp towel or wet dusting solution. If you spot any marks, scrub with a sponge or Magic Eraser.

6. Mattresses

Come spring, you should do two things to your mattress: clean and flip. While the mattress is covered with bedding most of the time, it can still gather some crumbs and dust. Simply remove your sheets and vacuum it using a hose attachment. Should you spot any stains, sprinkle baking soda on them. Then, work in hydrogen peroxide and dish soap using a wash cloth.

Once you’re rid of stains and dust, place your mattress outside in direct sunlight. The ultraviolet rays and fresh air naturally fight bacteria. However, you may not be able to do this unless you have a yard or balcony attached to your apartment.

When you put your mattress back in your bedroom, be sure you’ve flipped it. Basically, it should rotate 180 degrees from its original position– that way, you won’t get any sagging.

Don’t forget all these items when you do your spring cleaning– tackling everything on this list will give you a fresher apartment.




10 Ways to Save Money on Halloween Decorations

If you live a frugal lifestyle, holidays can test your commitment to thriftiness. It feels silly to spend money on decor, tableware and lawn ornaments that only come out for a few weeks a year. But that’s the point of a holiday – spending time and energy to celebrate a fleeting moment, regardless of how pointless it might seem.

The good news is, tricking your place out for Halloween can be a cheap treat if you approach it the right way. Here are some of our best tips from frugal experts.

Hit Up Craft Stores

Justin Pritchard, CFP of Approach Financial Planning likes fabric stores such as Joann’s, Hobby Lobby and Michael’s for their huge selection of Halloween-themed fabric prints to brighten up your home. You can drape them over your dining room table or front porch. If you’re truly crafty, you can even buy raw materials to create your own decorations from scratch.

These stores usually have readily-available coupons for 40-50% off if you’re willing to look, and they usually match competitors’ coupons.

Check Out Yard Sales and Craigslist

When you live in a home long enough, you tend to acquire an abundance of holiday decorations over time. Chances are, someone near you is looking to unload some Halloween decor.

Check local yard sales, look at Craigslist and ask on NextDoor if anyone has Halloween decorations they want to get rid of. If a friend or neighbor is moving, they might also be looking to dispose of some plastic skeletons and glow-in-the-dark pumpkins.

Thrift stores almost always have a large selection of Halloween decorations, as well as costumes for much less than you’d pay at a party store. If you’re hosting a Halloween party, you can probably find spooky tableware for just a few dollars.

Buy in Bulk

If you and a friend are both struggling to find Halloween decorations on a budget, buy in bulk together and split the cost. This also works if you’re shopping at a warehouse club, where large packages of Halloween candy are much cheaper than the grocery store.

Activate Rewards

If you’re shopping online for decorations, don’t forget to use browser extensions like Ebates for cash back. You should also check your credit card for cash back at retailers like Amazon. Look for promo codes and coupons wherever you’re shopping.

Compare Prices

Ten dollars for a skeleton sounds like a good deal, but is it? Most of us don’t have a good sense of what Halloween decorations should cost, so we fall for bad deals. If you’re looking to fully deck out your apartment or house for October, those little mark-ups can be a real budget murderer.

Before buying decorations, compare similar products at a couple stores to see what they charge. You might be surprised at the wide gulf in prices for the same items.

Scour the Dollar Store

While the Dollar Store isn’t great for items you want to last a long time, it’s perfect for seasonal decor.

“The Dollar Tree has those same plastic hands sticking in the ground as Walmart does for one-fifth the price,” said Sarah Wilson of Budget Girl.

Before you visit big box stores, check your nearest dollar store for cheap deals. Make sure not to go over budget just because the prices are good.

Recycle Your Trash

Have lots of online purchases coming to your door? Don’t throw those boxes away.

“Turn your Amazon cardboard shipping boxes into tombstone markers by cutting them out in the shape of a gravestone and painting them gray or black,” said Katie Rucke of DebtWave Credit Counseling, Inc.

You can then place these in your front yard and drape them with fake cobwebs or spiders.

Repurpose Decorations

Instead of buying individual items for every holiday, why not make things easier for yourself? There are a handful of decorations that work for multiple holiday seasons.

For instance, pumpkins and gourds are great for both Halloween and Thanksgiving. A string of white lights can work for any holiday. A plain wreath can be decorated with holiday-specific trinkets to use year-round. If you get creative, you’ll probably think of other ways your decorations can multi-task.

Use Household Supplies

Plenty of household supplies can be used for Halloween decorations. Drape gauze from your medicine cabinet onto your bushes to create a cobweb effect. Cut up a black trash bag vertically and hang it from your door (bonus points if you glue fake spiders to it). Drip red nail polish on a cheap black tablecloth for a bloody look.

“Grab garbage bags and put two horizontal holes near the bottom of the bag, insert a hanger at the bottom seem, flip over and you’ve got your ghost,” said Angela Matthews of Happy Investor Method.

You can find more ideas on Pinterest and YouTube, which have projects ranging from basic to complex. If you don’t have all the tools needed to make your own decor, ask your closest friends to come over for a Halloween decorating party. By pooling your resources, you might have enough to decorate your whole house.

Plan for Next Year

Prices for decorations drop significantly right after the holidays end. If you don’t end up finding enough decorations this year, you can stock up for 2019 the day after Halloween. Decorations will be significantly marked down, sometimes up to 80-90%.

“Invest in quality décor items if you’ll continue to use them year after year and you have a place to store your decorations,” Rucke said.

Store your decorations somewhere airtight and safe, not a leaky basement or creepy attic. You don’t want real spiders crawling over your fake ones. Remember not to buy more than you can comfortably keep.

Financial writer Leah Ingram said one year she and her husband saved seeds from their Halloween pumpkins and planted them in their backyard. The plants grew so well, they had extra pumpkins to give out to each of their neighbors. You’ll need a lot of room to grow pumpkins, so make sure your backyard is prepared.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of Intuit Inc, Mint or any affiliated organization. This blog post does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.
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