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5 Painless Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding

A couple celebrates at their wedding.
Madeline Heising

Trey Peterson, a 30-year-old financial professional from Minnesota, has one rule he shares with clients who are getting married: “Don’t go into debt for your wedding.”

That’s a mistake plenty of people are making. A report from The Washington Post found that couples borrow $16,000 on average to pay for their weddings—and some of those personal loans and lines of credit come with interest rates as high as 30%.

One key move to avoid wedding-related debt is to save up ahead of time. Another is to keep costs under control in the first place. The average wedding costs more than $29,000, according to planning site WeddingWire. (That figure doesn’t include the engagement ring or honeymoon, which add almost $10,000 to the bottom line.) The typical couple ends up footing the bill for around half of that, even though that’s a lot more money than many people can actually afford to spend.

Peterson recently talked with Grow about how he and his fiancée saved $10,000 to pay for their own wedding and what financial planning advice he gives for clients getting ready to walk down the aisle. Here are some simple, painless strategies he and other experts recommend that can make a big difference.

1. Prioritize

"Very few couples have the budget to do everything,” points out Kimberly Morrill, owner of Your Perfect Bridesmaid, a wedding planning and coordination company in Portland, Oregon.

So start by thinking about what you really want for your wedding—and how those expectations line up with what you’ve saved. It can help to stay off of social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram to keep yourself grounded and so you can focus not on what influencers are doing but on what you actually want.

Peterson, for example, says that he and his wife wanted an amazing wedding video, so they made budget sacrifices in other areas to afford a top-notch videographer.

Prioritize two or three items or experiences that matter to you. Spend less on the rest.

2. Think small

Focus on inviting only the people you care most about. There’s a reason that you’ll often see this as a top savings tip: “Keeping weddings small and intimate is the single best way to reduce costs,” says Morrill.

That trims the bills for all your expenses that are based on head count, like plated reception dinners, invitations, and favors. It can also open the door to creative alternatives that can be less expensive, like having your wedding reception at a favorite restaurant or your ceremony at a local park.

Wedding etiquette experts suggest making a “must list” of people to invite, and then setting neutral boundaries, like no coworkers, or no family more distant than first cousins, so that exclusions feel fair to you and your partner.

3. Negotiate

Getting quotes from multiple vendors isn’t just a smart move for figuring out fair pricing for wedding vendors and purchases. It can also help you bargain.

“I’ve found that the first person I talk to sounds like a good deal until I talk to the second or third,” says Peterson. “I found that I can save 20%, 30%, or 50% on the same service.”

For example, Peterson says his first-choice videographer quoted a price of $2,500. Then Peterson talked to another company, which offered a rate of $2,000. Peterson went back to his first choice and successfully got him to match the cheaper price, saving $500.

Any savings you’ve pulled together can help here, too: Vendors often offer discounts for paying in cash.

4. Buy secondhand

The average wedding dress costs more than $1,600. But a used wedding dress—usually a dress that’s only been worn once—can run less than half of its original price on a specialty site like Tradesy or Stillwhite, or a marketplace like eBay.

You can take the same approach to other aspects of your wedding, including decorations. Sites like Wedding Recycle or BravoBride let couples list their used wedding decor and other accessories that may help you free up significant space in your budget, and save even more money.

5. Get creative

Instead of going through a florist, you could hit up a warehouse club for flowers. Costco has 10-piece packages of bridal party bouquets, corsages, and boutonnieres for as little as $200, and fresh greenery runners for reception tables at $100 for a pack of four.

And that tiered wedding cake, which can cost as much as $6.50 per slice? If that’s mostly important to you for the pictures, buy or rent a fake tiered wedding cake for the look. You can get one for under $50 at Etsy. Then you can serve guests a much cheaper, but still delicious, sheet cake.

Did you have the wedding of your dreams without going into debt? Tell us about how you made it happen by sending us an email at getgrowing@cnbc.com.

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