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)!

Wedding planning timeline: Your plan to get everything done on time! [free printable!]

Congratulations on your engagement! The days and weeks and months before your wedding is one of the most special times. The process should be exciting and shared between yourself and your partner since it ultimately ends in your happily ever after. Planning your wedding can be a daunting task, which is why most brides and industry experts would recommend you hire a wedding planner. But, should you wish not to, it is not impossible to plan your own successful wedding. Just use our handy list to keep track of all the different things you need to get done, and also by when.

We know the most beautiful wedding day is the one that speaks of the couple. So even though this is our example, we encourage you to move things around, leave things out or add things to the timeline. In the end, it is your day.

If you are more enthusiastic so planning your wedding in less than 12months, just move up the timeline. So instead of working in months, you work in weeks, or however long you have to plan. Just remember to get the big ticket and most important items (venue, dress, food, officiant and invitations) done first. It is possible to plan a fairy tale wedding (even within a small budget) in as little time as 2 weeks! You just need to be organized.

So to help, here is our suggested timeline for engagements of 12months or longer:

12 months before

  1. Set your budget

You need to know how much you need, how much you have, and then keep track of how much you spend. For more info on this, read our previous post here or see our video on budgeting here.

  1. Create a wedding website

There are various free sites that offer this service. You can even open a Wix account. Although not necessary, it is a nice to have, especially if you set it up in such a way that guests can RSVP on it, access your wedding registry, get all of the info regarding the accommodation, date, directions, transport arrangements, etc. in one place. Guests can even post photos, making it easier for you to get all of their snaps afterwards.

  1. Draw up your guest list

Determining how many people you would like to invite is crucial. Only after working out the estimate numbers, and seeing if it will fit in with your budget, can you start looking for a venue. For more info on drawing up your guest list, read our post here or see our video here.

  1. Start your wedding file

It is handy to have all of your gathered info in one place. If you attend trade-shows or go for viewings, you can place all of that information in your file. Keep your notes there, and also keep track of your progress.

  1. Create a mood board for the look and feel

Pinterest is going to become your best friend! Create a secret board where you can pin all of the ideas and colours and themes that you love. Should you wish to hire a wedding planner or consultant, you can add them to that board so that they can get a very accurate idea of the type of wedding you would like, and the type of bride that you want to be.

  1. Hire a wedding planner or consultant

Not a must-have, but definitely a nice-to-have. It will make your life easier, and although pricey in the beginning, the negotiation, experience and calm that planners normally bring are invaluable.

  1. Book your venue

Get to booking your venue as soon as possible. Especially the trendy and popular venues book up fast, with some already running a waiting list for 2 years down the line. A useful tip: book the venue before you pick your date. For more info on booking your perfect venue, read our post here or watch the video here.

  1. Set the theme, as well as the look and feel of the wedding

Decide how formal or informal it is going to be, your dominant colours, etc. Based on the theme, you will design your wedding stationery, décor, etc.

  1. Set the date

Once your venue has been confirmed you are ready to set the date (obviously the date that the venue is available J)

  1. Order your save the dates and invitations

Based on the theme and colour choices, you will now design your save the dates and invitations. Once happy, order them to ensure they have arrived before it is time to send them out.

  1. Start dress shopping

Decide if you would like to have a dress custom-made, would like to rent, or buy. And if you want to buy, will it be pre-loved or new? Know your budget, styles that work on your body shape, colour preferences and finishing touches. Then start making appointments to have fittings. Be open-minded, sometimes a dress that we would have never considered ends up being THE ONE.

  1. Start your special beauty regime

Looking good on your big day takes time, so start early. If you would like to lose weight before your wedding day, now is a good time to start changing your lifestyle to a healthier one. Incorporate exercise, drink more water, up the ante on your face cream, etc.

8 – 10 months before

  1. Ask your bridal party

If you are going to have a maid-of-honour, bride’s maids and flower girls, or any variation thereof, you need to ask these special people if they will do you the honour. Just a tip – you and your partner should have the same number of people in your bridal parties.

  1. Send out save the dates

This is especially important if you decide to get married on a date that falls on a long weekend, a public holiday, in the school holidays or around another big date or event. Also, if close family or friends live overseas, travel for work or have very small kids, they will need enough time to make arrangements to be there. It is important to note on the save the date whether or not guests are allowed a plus-one, and whether kids are invited or not.

  1. Hire band or DJ

Read reviews before hiring any entertainment. Meet with the service provider to ensure you get along, and that they understand your vision for the day. Music can make or break a party, even more so for a wedding. It sets the ambience and the mood, so choose wisely!

  1. Finalise the look and feel and theme

Think seriously about the aspects surrounding the look and feel – the décor, flowers, colour, table linen, favours, etc. and finalise your choices. Make sure all of these individual elements work together to form a beautiful whole.

  1. Decide on bridesmaids’ dresses

The theme, formality and season of your wedding will affect this. There are more choices than I can name, but the two biggest decisions would be do you want your entire bridal party in the same dress or each in a different (even just slightly) dress, and what colour will the dresses be.

  1. Sign up for a gift registry

Register a gift registry with your favourite home-ware shop, or do something entirely different like giving a list of charity organisations that guests can donate to instead of giving you a wedding present. If you rather want money, remember to mention it on the invitation, but give guests an idea of what you will be doing with the money, e.g. it will go towards your holiday fund, etc.

  1. Host an engagement party

Plan and host an engagement party to celebrate your engagement with your closest friends and family. Oh and show off your ring!

  1. Book a photographer

A big ticket item, having the right photographer is one of our crucial must-haves for a successful wedding. Your photos are all that you will have left, so make sure they are of good quality, and that the photographer captures all of the memories and moments you want and need.

  1. Book your caterer

If the venue has their own caterer, meet them now and start discussing your wedding menu. If the venue does not have a caterer or allows outside catering, then you need to find a caterer now. When comparing quotes, just remember to compare apples with apples in order to book the best caterer at the price you can afford.

  1. Order your wedding cake

This is one of the fun things! Identify a baker and book a cake tasting. Once decided, give them the inspiration for your cake design and order the cake when you are happy with the design. Tip: serve the cake as the dessert to cut menu costs as well as waste.

  1. Get an officiant

Book the person who will legally marry you. If you have a close friend or family member whom you would love to guide the ceremony, but they cannot legally marry you, then make a booking to either get married the previous day in court or by a registered officiant before the time. The family member or friend can then go through the ceremony as if they are marrying you, without any legal implications.

  1. Begin shopping for shoes, accessories and lingerie

You will need to have the shoes that you will wear with you when you go for your final dress fitting, so get going in shopping for them as well as any accessories and lingerie that you will need.

4 – 7 months

  1. Arrange accommodation for yourself on the night of the wedding (if not included in your venue) and for out of town guests

If you are not paying for all of the accommodation, make sure your guests have the relevant info to book and pay for themselves. Same with any transport arrangements – make sure your guests have the right information.

  1. Begin preparation for honeymoon

Most of the time the bride will have no idea where they are going for their honeymoon. Even so, now is the time to put some pressure on your partner to book the honeymoon, especially if you are planning on taking it in the busy season.

  1. Decide on and book a florist. Confirm flower selection

Take your Pinterest board to your short list of florists, get quotes and pick one. Finalise your flower choices, arrangement designs and any other flowers that you will need on the day.

  1. Shop for wedding bands

Decide beforehand how much you are spending, the material of the bands, whether they will be engraved, etc.

  1. Visit physician

Ensure you are in tip-top shape. If you are not planning on starting with a family directly after your wedding, put everything in place for birth control. If you are going to a country or place that required certain shots or vaccinations, get them now to ensure they are out of your system by the time of the wedding.

3 months

  1. Send out your invitations

Send out your invitations! Make sure you have a clear RSVP date, and also give guests the needed info regarding your gift registry, accommodation and transport arrangements, etc. If they can choose their own main course, or you would like them to contribute song choices, mention that on the invitations as well.

  1. Select the groom’s wedding attire

Sort out what your partner will wear, as well as the groomsmen. Doing it now ensures there is enough time for fitting and altering.

  1. Shop for bridal party gifts

If you decide you want to give each of your bridal party members something special, then start shopping for it now.

  1. Begin counselling sessions with the officiant

If you are attending pre-marital counselling, start with the sessions now.

  1. Go for the menu tasting and decide on your final menu selections

Make sure you are 100% happy with the menu, the offering, the tastes, the portion sizes, etc. Communicate clearly with your caterer regarding all of your requirements.

  1. Confirm your order of all rental furniture/décor

  2. Book your mock table with the venue and florist

  3. Confirm your wedding day transport

Book the wedding car, as well as any other transport that will be necessary to get you, your bridal party and your close family to the ceremony and the reception.

2 months

  1. Write your vows

Make it heartfelt, sincere and loving. Learn it by heart, but have cards with you on the day just in case the emotion gets you down.

  1. Confirm order with the florist

Confirm everything with your florist and ensure all of it is in writing. Confirm what time they will deliver on the day, as well as if there are any hired goods that you will have to return afterwards.

  1. Confirm order of stationery

Menus, name cards, church programs, anything that you had designed and now need printing for. Make sure it is done in the right colour, on the right cardstock, etc.

1 month

  1. Apply for marriage license

Usually, your officiant will help you with this, but you need to confirm that he/she will. Otherwise, follow the guidelines on the department’s website.

  1. Have the final gown fitting. Remember to take your wedding shoes with!

  2. Have your hair & makeup trails

Take a few photos after the trails to make sure your face is not shiny, your hair looks good from all angles, etc.

  1. Collate the final RSVP list

If you are still waiting for a few RSVPs, follow up and get their final answers.

  1. Prepare shot list for your photographer and videographer

  2. Deliver a list of songs to your DJ or band

  3. Draw up a seating plan

  4. Contact all of your wedding suppliers and confirm the schedule for the day

2 weeks

  1. Pick up the marriage license

  2. Obtain any legal information, approvals or licenses

  3. Check parking arrangements

  4. Rehearsal dinner

If you are having one, this is when you practice the processional.

  1. Confirm your final guest numbers with the venue and caterer

  2. Book in for Bride and Groom relaxing spa treatments

  3. Cut and die hair if needed

  4. Kitchen tea

The get-together where the guests give the bride things she will need to set up her home. Usually kitchen appliances or utensils, but can also be towels, linen, or even gardening equipment. The attending ladies can also partake in the tradition of giving her recipes so that she can start her own family recipe book.

  1. Bachelors and bachelorettes

The get-togethers for the young guests, planned by the bridal parties. Usually held separate, it can be anything from playing paintball to sipping cocktails, cake decorating or watching rugby.

  1. Get your spray tan done – if you are planning on getting it done

1 week

  1. Confirm honeymoon bookings and plans

  2. Confirm accommodation arrangements

  3. Pack for honeymoon

  4. Confirm wedding day attire

  5. Gather all necessary documents for travel

  6. Pick up formalwear

  7. Have one final phone call with each of your suppliers

  8. Have your dress steamed

  9. Pre-wedding relaxing pampering

1 day

  1. Go through the list of things to do and make sure all bases are covered

If you are entrusting a friend or family member to assist with the coordination on the day, you should have a “training” meeting with them now. Give them all of the info, the timelines, etc.

  1. Pack wedding day emergency kit

In short, a small kit that contains essentials that you might need if an emergency happens on your wedding day. This kit usually contains things like lipstick, hairpins, pain pills, water, mints, etc. For a complete list of what should be in your emergency kit, look out for next week’s post!

  1. Get manicure and pedicure

  2. Take a steamy and relaxing bath

  3. Put wedding attire and accessories together

  4. Give rings to best man

  5. Try to get a good night’s sleep

On the day

  1. Have a good breakfast, and make sure you eat something while getting ready. Avoid carb-rich foods, sugars, and caffeine

  2. Get hair and makeup done

  3. Have someone check reception site, or check it yourself if time and rules permit

  4. Get dressed for the wedding

  5. Have candid photos taken with family

We hope that you can use this list of things to do to give you a clear plan of action. We wish you and your partner a beautiful, calm and magical wedding which will be the perfect starting point of your life together.

Want the planner? Then get it here

Themed weddings: Star-studded

Theme: Star-studded

Inspiration: Celestial
Trend: Shimmer and shine, crystals, dark rich colours
Colour: Shades of blue
Venue: Planetarium, or somewhere outside under the night sky
Dress: Corset-style with a ballerina skirt. Coloured shoes!
Groom: Dark suit
Flowers: berries, lilies, hydrangeas, baby’s breath, gip
Decor: lights – fairy lights, bulb lights, copper wire lights, oh and candles
Cake: naked cake with berries, fresh fruit, meringue and other toppings
Favours: Matches, or sparkles
Entertainment: star-watching, sparkles, a firework display

Take inspiration from the night skies with a wedding any star would be comfortable at. Lots of lights, candles, and heavy textures. Long dark tablecloths or wooden tables with velvet runners, floral arrangements that dwarf the table, or that hang from the ceiling. Candles on the floor and surrounding the dance floor. Food bars and interactive stations, with a dessert buffet that includes s’mores and a chocolate fountain. Opulence and over-the-top is key!

Themed weddings: Wonderland weddings

Theme: Wonderland

Inspiration: Alice in Wonderland
Trend: Pop of colour, balloons, relaxed and fun
Colour: mint green, rose pink, burnt orange
Venue: anywhere!
Dress: romantic and flirty
Groom: informal suit
Flowers: “veld” flowers, roses, baby’s breath, lisianthus, ranunculus, anemones
Decor: paper flowers, assorted glass vases with single stem flowers
Cake: romantic yet fun, go for an inventive flavour like naartjie with passion fruit buttercream, pecan praline with mocha ganache, etc.
Favours: macarons, small bags filled with biscuits, adorable sugar cookies. A mini pie or tart!
Entertainment: magician, caricaturist, or a sketch artist

Nail this ever popular theme by incorporating fun and unique elements. From paper flowers and home-made confetti to different runners on each table, use your imagination and start dreaming! For the food, think interactive starters bar with an assortment of canapes and salads, and for dessert a pie station with different kinds of pies stacked on top of each other. Designing a personalised cocktail specially for the night is another fun idea to make sure your guests see you and your partner in every detail. play croquet and lawn games during the couple shoot and remember this is the perfect theme to use should you wish to make your four-legged friend part of your special day.

Themed weddings: Polaroid weddings

Theme: Polaroid wedding

Inspiration: Vintage style photos
Trend: cosy, deep rich colours, velvet
Colour: eggplant, olive green, dark
Venue:
Dress: elegant and timeless
Groom: dark suit
Flowers: succulents, penny gum, blue gum, romantic blooms
Decor; lots and lots of photos! Use polaroids for your guestbook, your escort cards (seating chart), cake topper, etc.
Cake: plain white with polaroids of the couple as the topper
Favours: you guessed it – a photo booth that prints as polaroids
Entertainment: photo booth – try a GIF booth! Sparklers and fireworks

A polaroid inspired wedding takes less inspiration from the look, and more from the feel – think nostalgic, comforting and cosy. Play around with different styles, colours and textures until you have created the perfect picture. Incorporate photos as much or as little as you would like, but some nice ideas include using old snaps as your escort cards, using photos of numbers as the table numbers, a photo of the 2 of you as the cake topper, asking guests to take snaps of themselves and paste that into the guestbook, and more. You can make the mood romantic and moody by using darker colours, or more light and airy by using lighter colours. Incorporate fairy lights, candles, and lanterns, and end the evening with a firework display (remember to get the necessary permission!)

Themed weddings: Namib weddings

Theme: Namib wedding

Inspiration: Desert love
Trend: cactus, desert, macrame
Colour: dusty pink, grey-green, sand
Venue: outside, a greenhouse, or a blank canvas venue
Dress: something different, short and lacy, no sleeves!
Groom: chinos with a light jacket or a light suit
Flowers: succulents, cactus, proteas, penny gum
Decor: pots of flowers, hanging arrangements
Cake: a variety of small semi-naked drip cakes decorated with succulents
Favours: potted succulents, potted cactus wrapped in burlap or cotton
Entertainment: guitarist, food bars or food trucks

Take inspiration from the Namib desert for an effortlessly chic wedding, combining an elegant mix of natural elements and textures for a sophisticated boho vibe. Have your ceremony in front of a wooden arch, decorated with macrame pieces and hanging cacti. Stand on a carpet or rug, surrounded by candles for a dusk ceremony. Keep your colour palette neutral with only a pop of colour, incorporating something like proteas or cornflowers, or even aloe flowers. Use natural textures such as leather, wood, and wool on your tables to create interesting and dramatic tablescapes. Fill copper dishes with sand and place dessert plants in as part of the table decor, and splurge on candles!

Themed weddings: Elegant weddings

Theme: Elegant

Inspiration: The Royal wedding
Trend: understated elegance, sparkle and shine, crystals
Colour: shades of white, lots of glass
Venue: somewhere elegant, or surprising like an industrial loft
Dress: ballgown, with silver detail
Groom: formal tux
Flowers: tulips, roses, lilies, lisianthus
Decor: crystals, glass, candles
Cake: white buttercream with no trimmings
Favours: macarons or a candle set for each couple
Entertainment: string quartet and a prosecco bar

A wedding the Queen would feel at home at. White floor length tablecloths, tapering candles, white cloth serviettes. Although such a wedding can seem stiff and formal, you can make it a bit more relaxed by changing the venue from the expected ballroom to an industrial loft, a warehouse, or any other space! Keep your food simple, with either plated or silver service, and remember a dessert together with the wedding cake. Add a few personal touches such as silver picture frames with special photos on the tables, large crystals to catch the light, and you will have a drool-worthy wedding!

Themed weddings: Rustic weddings

Theme: Rustic

Inspiration:
Trend: wood details, rich colours, textural runners
Colour: Wine red, copper, deep green
Venue: woodsy venue, or a venue that you can create a woodsy effect in
Dress: airy and plain, with short fluttery sleeves
Groom: dark suit
Flowers: lisianthus, proteas, sprays, baby’s breath, berries, lots of penny gum and blue gum
Decor: lots of candles, low arrangements with foliage runner
Cake: layers of coconut and chocolate brownie cake with salted caramel ganache filling and vanilla buttercream. Fresh flowers cascading down the cake to complete the look
Favours: something edible like fudge or cookies, a lipstick bar for guests to leave you a note
Entertainment: craft beer and gin bars, late night snacks for dancing into the night

Same as with barn and farm weddings, rustic weddings also have a bad rep of late. Again we are unsure why maybe because of the copy and paste look some of these weddings have, or because they are usually associated with the shabby chic movement. Rustic, although relaxed and earthy, can be just as beautiful and elegant as a more classic wedding. So if you want your wedding to be understated and effortless, and the rustic look appeals to you, go for it. Make use of wooden tables, runners in dark colours, lots of greens in different shades, candles everywhere and enough flowers to make any budding botanist jealous. Wear a soft, plain dress and complete the look with a flower crown or comb and a cascading bouquet. To pull off a magical rustic wedding, elaborate is the keyword!

Theme weddings: Farm/barn weddings

Theme: Farm/barn

Inspiration: fields of sunflowers
Trend: Green installations, high floral arrangements, relaxed and informal, metals – red and yellow copper
Colour: sunshine yellow, copper, deep green
Venue: a barn! Or a farm
Dress: understated elegance, plain and simple dress, or even a suit!
Groom: khaki chinos with a vest
Flowers: sunflowers, lots of ferns and other foliage
Decor: copper bowls with lemons, copper vases with sunflowers, textured runners on naked wooden tables
Cake: plain and simple – decadent sponge with an exciting flavour, covered in white buttercream with huge sunflowers on top
Favours: seeds that guests can go plant themselves
Entertainment: caricature artists, a blues or country band

Farm or barn weddings have lately received a bad rep. We don’t know if it is because they were all the rage a few years ago, or because they became synonymous with low budget DIY weddings, but we feel the negatives associated with this theme is uncalled for. Some couples just want to share their love of family, farm and each other with their guests, and no better way than to host their nuptials on a farm. The farm can be theirs, their family’s or even a rented venue, doesn’t matter, as long as the ceremony and reception is handled with class, attention to detail, and a bit of practicality. Remember to think of the guests’ comfort and safety when making certain decisions. If you want to have hay bales as seating, remember to make provision for a cushion or blanket to cover the seat. Nobody wants to party the night away with straw in their bottom! Keep in mind the venue might be cold at night, even in summer, and remember to ask guests to pack in a shawl or light jacket. Have a big dance floor, and serve the food directly from big fires as it is ready. And for dessert, do passed cake bites (your wedding cake cut into bite-size pieces and then passed around on platters for guests to take as they wish). This way they don’t have to stop dancing to enjoy dessert!

Themed weddings: Whimsical wedding

Theme: Whimsical wedding

Inspiration: Airy, breathy, windy beauty
Trend: Single stem flowers in clusters of vases, feathers, relaxed formal, green installations or runners
Colour: Shades of blue
Venue: family home, library, botanical gardens, clubhouse
Dress: understated elegance, textural details such as a woollen shawl, ballerina skirt
Groom: Navy suit
Flowers: airy and breathy. White with pops of colour. Baby’s breath, gip, daisies, asters, lilies and carnations.
Decor: clusters of vases with single stems in, interesting tablecloths with texture, glass and feather elements
Cake: Naked cake with chocolate drip, lots of fresh flowers
Favours: bags of meringues or angel kisses
Entertainment: lawn games to start the day with, and a champagne bar throughout the night

Whimsical. Light, fresh, and fun. Not to be confused with rustic, informal or simplistic. The look that you are going for is coordinated elegance, a streamlined effect with pops of blue, grey, and dirty pink (or whichever other accent colour you choose). Think lace and knitted runners, soft tablecloths, sparkling glass vases, lush greenery and single stems to give height to your tables. Luxurious cloth serviettes, polished wine glasses and silverware already set on the tables. The feel is of almost accidental grace, of effortless style. Guests must feel relaxed, but in no way question whether they are at a wedding or merely another get-together. Lots of champagne, plated food, and a cake with elaborate tiers and cascading fresh flowers complete the look. Cake flavours that will go down a treat include blueberry with tart lemon cream filling, caramelised toffee with raspberry jam or almond praline!