21 Ideas for a frugal (not cheap) wedding on a budget

Getting married but worried about your small(ish) budget? Want to cut costs without looking cheap? Here are Stripe’s tips for planning a wedding on a frugal budget:

21 Tips to plan your wedding on a budget

1. Keep your guest list small – intimate is better!

2. Use the expertise of the people close to you – it can be their wedding gift to you

3. Consider a ceremony at your own, your parents or another close friend/family’s house, or have it outdoors

4. Be smart with the food

5. Be creative with your flowers and decor

6. Have a small bridal party, and skip their gifts

7. Go digital

8. Dance from a playlist

9. Skip the cash bar

10. Where possible, hire trainees instead of professionals

11. Contact the local university

12. Buy pre-loved

13. Tap into your local community

14. Buy dresses off the rack – and on sale.

15. Rent tuxedos as a group, or simply wear matching suits.

16. Choose affordable wedding rings.

17. Plan a simple honeymoon, not an ostentatious one.

18. Involve your closest friends and family in the preparations.

19. Try not to mention the ‘w-word’ at first when hiring a vendor.

20. Plan, plan, plan.

21. Don’t stress.

Good luck (and congratulations)!

How to get the most out of your wedding budget (and yes you do need a budget!)

Stripes has noted that planning a wedding can be stressful. Not only are you attempting to combine the taste and preferences of two individuals and their families, but you need to do it within a budget. Or for us mere mortals that seems to be the case. She notes that the pressure is increased as weddings have become more personalised and extravagant due to the rise of the Pinterest bride, budgets have seemingly shrunk in direct correlation. Brides of today want a fairytale showcase of a wedding but have barely enough money to cover a simple elopement. So what are you to do?

The budget. The b-word that nightmares are made off. Every bride dreads the talk, but it is more important than you think. Without a budget rampant spending will be on the order of the day, and with that debt and despair. You don’t want that as the start of your happy life together, so allow us to help. Stripes is convinced we have all the answers!

Naturally, you would want to get started with the more fun aspects of planning a wedding, such as venue hunting, choosing your dress or deciding on a theme, colour scheme and feel. Often, Brides get ahead of themselves, focusing on these aspects before figuring out what the facts and figures are. If you do not have a clear idea of what you have to spend, you are going to run into trouble later on. If you work out your budget first you are giving yourself the freedom to dream and choose, knowing that you can actually afford it. To work out that budget is actually much easier than you would think.

Why it is important to have a budget from the start:
• It gives you a solid starting point, giving you direction and a framework to work within
• It gives you a realistic idea to bring your expectations and the amount of detail that you can afford in line
• It will help you sift through quotes to create a short list of suppliers and to choose your final supplier
• It will make suppliers’ life easier as they will be able to suggest options they know will be affordable

So how do you work out your budget?

Of course, it would be nice to think about the things you would like to have and then attach a value to them, and that total is your budget. Unfortunately, in the real world it works the other way around (or should work the other way around). Here, you determine how much money your parents, your partner’s parents (if the parents can help at all) and you yourselves have to spend on a wedding. That total is what you have to budget with, and all of the services and items needed for the wedding needs to come out of that pool of money. This can be a very awkward conversation to have, but it is necessary and vitally important. If you don’t have the money now, is there any way that you can save money? Then you need to work out a timeline so that you know at which dates you are looking at.

After you have the round number that you can spend on your wedding, you need to consider a few things that have an impact on the prices and value of different services and products:

1. The season and time of year
Winter weddings are more affordable than summer weddings, weekday weddings more than weekend weddings, and Fridays more than Saturdays. There is also a marked difference in costs between a March and an October wedding, even though both technically fall in summer. If you have a tight budget, consider getting married on a Friday in May, or a Sunday in September, or a combination of a “cheaper” season with a “cheaper” day and a “cheaper” time of year. Before you even start to look at venues, know how adaptable you are willing to be, and have a few dates that you can give to get a comparative quote for the different dates.

2. Location
If we look at South Africa, getting married in the Western Cape is a lot more expensive than getting married in Gauteng. Having your nuptials in the Drakensberg will be more expensive than having it in a barn in the Freestate. Also take into consideration that you will have to pay suppliers to come out to remote locations, not even to mention the extra things you might have to hire in. And lastly, your guests – will your wedding cost them an arm and a leg in transport and accommodation?

3. Guests
Speaking of guests, the size of your dream wedding will have a direct impact on your budget. So if you have a small budget, to begin with, then plan to have a more intimate wedding. But a word of caution: just because you might have enough money in your budget to have a 300-guest wedding doesn’t mean you have to. Invite who you want to share the day with, your budget is a guideline, not a target.

Of course, you can only spend what you have (if you are being practical and smart about this), but determining how much you need is sometimes more difficult than finding options that fit in with the final budget. As a guideline, experts recommend the following percentages:
• Venue 10-15%
• Catering 20%
• Photographer 10-15%
• Flowers, décor and lighting 10-15%
• Bar 5%
• Stationery 2.5%
• Bridal couple and bridal party (clothes, presents, hair and makeup, accessories, etc.) 10-20%
• Entertainment or music 5%
• Wedding cake 2.5%
• 10-20% buffer for those last-minute forgotten details

The average wedding in South Africa costs about R80 000, so if we take that as our budget, the division would be as follows:


For all of those extra “luxuries”, you will have to work it into your budget either by spending less on certain categories or by increasing your budget in total. If you want a nicer venue, then you need a bigger budget. There is no sense in taking money away from another category unless you are 100% certain it won’t make a difference. If you really cannot increase your budget, then you need to work smart so that you need less money to attain the look and feel you want.

A few tips to make your budget stretch further:

1. Date and time
As mentioned before, opt for a winter or weekday wedding, or as another cost-saving option, have a morning wedding instead of an afternoon wedding.

2. Cut costs on your dress.
Look into renting instead of buying, or buying pre-loved. You could even consider buying an evening or ball gown instead of a traditional wedding dress.


3. Be smart when planning the menu.
Never skimp on the catering. Pay as much as you can afford to ensure your guests get good food – that is one of the 3 cornerstones that a successful wedding is built on (food, venue and photographer). If you have to cut costs, go for the buffet instead of plated, have a bread table instead of canapes, serve only 1 meat for the mains and leave out dessert if you have a wedding cake. But make sure that everything you do serve is out of this world, tasting great and looking perfect.

4. Choose your venue wisely.
Opt for a venue that includes as much as possible, from the furniture to décor, lightning, etc. Another great tip – choose a venue that allows you to bring in your own suppliers. Then you also have the option of doing a few things yourself or asking family and friends to help. If you really want an outdoor wedding, think of settling for either just the ceremony outside and the reception inside, or for a venue that has a roofed area as a plan B. If you have to all of a sudden hire in a marque you are looking at a major budget-killer, since you also have to think about flooring, lighting, and maybe even heating. For more tips on choosing your venue, read our post here.


5. Bar
Do not have an open bar. If you want to give the guests something more than just a glass of sparkling wine for the toasts, buy wine for on a wine table and have water or juice put on the tables. By having a wine table instead of placing individual bottles of wines on the tables themselves you guard against all those half-drunk bottles of wine that you end up throwing away. If you are bringing in your own sparkling wine, ask the venue to pour the toast at the bar and then bring the glasses out to the guests. This makes the bottles stretch that much further.

6. Guests
Invite only adults, except in the case of close family. Invite only those people whom you really really really want there. For more tips on your guest list, see our post here

7. Favours and those small details that nobody except you notices
Skip wedding favours, they cost money and very few guests actually take them home. The venue sweeps up branded keychains the next day. Keep your décor simple and elegant, all those small details you want to add just eats up your budget, and nobody really notices.


8. Get as many quotes as you possibly can
Get quotes from many different suppliers to compare, just remember to compare apples with apples. If for instance one caterer is a lot more expensive than another but as part of their price they include staff, the hiring of the crockery and cutlery, as well as delivery and setup they might not be that expensive after taking all the individual services into account. When looking at the prices and different suppliers, try to identify when are you paying for quality, and when are you paying for a name. For smaller budgets, I would recommend paying for quality and skipping the name.

9. Flowers
Choose local and seasonal blooms, and if possible opt for more greenery than actual flowers. The hottest new trend is foliage, so tap into that to make your flower budget go that much further.


10. Cake
If you are very concerned about your budget, there are a few options that you can consider, such as omitting the cake and serving dessert instead (usually already included in your wedding menu), having only a small dummy cake for the cake cutting ceremony and then giving the guests sheet cake cut into squares, having a cupcake cake that can also serve as the favours, or going for a non-traditional cake. If you choose a non-traditional cake, you can be as creative as you choose. Go for a cheese tower cake and serve it as part of your starter, or a brownie pile cake as part of dessert. We have done a wedding were the “cake” was made out of savoury pies, and that served as the starter. Another one where the cake was made out of rice crispy treat squares.


11. Hire a wedding planner
Although the upfront fee might seem steep, in the end, it is really worth it. Wedding planners know where to start looking for affordable options, they can negotiate better prices or add-ons. Make use of their connections and expertise.

Mistakes to avoid:

1. Forgetting to keep track of your spending
You need to record EVERY SINGLE THING that you spend money on. That means every single amount, no matter how small. Especially the small amounts – they quickly add up! Devise an easy to use system to keep track. Also, keep track of payment dates as late payments can be penalized.

2. Not asking enough questions
You need to make 100% sure that you are aware of all of the fees and charges, especially those that are hidden under the “if this then that” category of the quote, e.g. if it rains and we need to move the ceremony or reception, there is a surcharge; if you invite children then you need to pay for a babysitter; if you stay after 00h00 (even just to pack up) there are overtime charges for the staff as well as the venue. Ask about service fees, extra charges and other things you might be billed for. Trails are very seldom free, and all of those meetings you demand? They can also be charged.

3. Forgetting the small things
Underwear that works with your dress, special hairspray, straws for the welcome drinks, ribbon for the serviette rings, all of these seemingly small things can, in the end, break the bank. Remember that in some cases, tips and gratuities are expected, and must be budgeted for. Make sure that such expenses are part of one of your categories, and that you do not spend more than the allotted amount.

4. Not deciding what is most important to you
Identify three things that are non-negotiable to you. Maybe you love flowers, music and great food. Then you know those are the 3 things you do not want to skimp on. Also, identify the three things you are not at all bothered with, e.g. cake, invitations and draping. Those are the things that you can decrease the allocated budgets for, rather moving that “extra” money to your top 3 things.


By following these tips and avoiding the last few mistakes it is possible to stick to your budget, no matter how small, and still have the wedding of your dreams. If you have a very small budget, then read the post here for ideas on what to leave out to make your budget go that much further. And if you are really worried, get a professional to help.