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The average wedding costs $33,900; mine cost 10% of that. Here are my top money-saving tips

You can save money and still enjoy a safe wedding, writes entrepreneur Natalie Zfat, who got married on a budget. She and other brides explain how it's done.

Natalie Zfat
Natalie Zfat and Brad Farber at their wedding.
Photo by Storyline Collective

One bride, one groom, 14 guests, a $3,000 budget: It sounds like the formula for a 2020 wedding, but this wedding — my wedding — actually happened back in 2018.

In November of that year, my husband and I bucked tradition and had an immediate family-only wedding in my in-laws' home on the west coast of Florida. We went home — instead of big — because neither of us dreamed of a giant wedding. Plus, we heard a rumor that kids are expensive.

As a social media entrepreneur and bride who had a 14-cap wedding well before it was mandatory, I've received no less than a dozen texts from friends over the last three months asking me how they too can make the most with a limited guest list.

In a time when people are maximizing safety for their big day, here are tips from three brides (including yours truly) about minimizing costs, and, given that the average wedding costs $33,900, potentially saving thousands of dollars, without sacrificing romance. 

Skip the caterer

Instead of hiring a caterer, try hiring a local restaurant to provide entrees and hors d'oeuvres. We used a kosher restaurant for our wedding, which charged us a lump sum for our food, not per head. This made us feel relaxed about potentially inviting another guest or two, or having one drop out.

All in, we spent $1,000 on food for 14 people, with a menu that included skirt steak, salmon — and pizza (#casualwedding). Since our wedding was low-key, we also saved money by serving ourselves instead of paying for a wait staff. A caterer might have charged a similar price but also required a minimum number of guests and mandatory servers, leading to additional gratuities.

And with all the issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, small businesses can use all of the support they can get.

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How to help local businesses during coronavirus

Video by Courtney Stith

Get creative with favors

Name a more 2020 wedding favor for two dentists than a custom face mask. I'll wait.

Judy Naziri, 27, and Daniel Adelpour, 28, had already booked their 150-person wedding in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for June 7 when Covid-19 hit. "When we planned the initial Mexico wedding, everyone was so excited," Naziri says. "Our friends were like: 'I'm looking forward to this more than my own dental school graduation."' 

One month before the big day, the couple made the decision to pull the plug on Mexico but save the date and downsize the ceremony to 20 guests at Naziri's parents' home in Beverly Hills.

"It's a blessing in disguise," Naziri says, citing the sizable dental school loans both the bride and groom have. "If we had the original wedding, we'd be working to pay it off, rather than having the money saved and not sweating it."

And because surgical masks are a part of every dentist's DNA, the couple opted for custom face masks embroidered with the couple's nickname, "Beebs," as party favors. Total cost: $150.

DIY where you can

When Naziri moved her wedding from Mexico to her hometown of Los Angeles, she took matters into her own hands — including the chuppah, a canopy used at Jewish wedding ceremonies.

"We contacted a bunch of florists to build a chuppah for us," Naziri says, and they cited costs as high as $1,500. "One day, Daniel was like, 'This thing is eight pieces of wood. I can build it.'"

The couple spent $100 on wood and about $350 on flowers to DIY their own chuppah, with the groom's father and father-in-law both helping.

Two days later, the couple had a beautiful chuppah with white roses, baby's breath, chrysanthemums, and Naziri's father's tallis, a Jewish prayer garment, on top.  "You don't have that same opportunity to DIY your wedding when you have it abroad," Naziri says. 

"Because our wedding was in our home, it was relaxed," she says. "We had more time to create things ourselves."

Judy Naziri and Daniel Adelpour at their wedding.
Photo by Mher Hagopian

Say no to the dress

Did you know that the average cost of a wedding dress is $1,631?

Writer, photographer, and filmmaker Larkin Clark, 37, opted to curb that figure by looking at pre-owned wedding dress sites like Still White and Nearly Newlywed, citing a trio of benefits: "You're saving money, being sustainable, and helping brides at the same time," she says. 

Most of the pre-owned dresses on Still White are discounted between 25%-75%, which could mean an extra $1,000 or more in your pocket. Grabbing a pre-owned dress also allowed Clark to forgo the 6-8 month timeline it usually takes a dress manufacturer to create a wedding dress.

Clark plans to wear the pre-owned dress to her 80-100 person wedding next spring — Covid safety and travel restrictions permitting — while donning her mother's wedding dress for an intimate, parents-only ceremony later this summer.

"It miraculously fits with a few minor alterations," says Clark. "And it has a lot of sentimental value."

Have fun with photography

Most couples opt to hire a professional photographer for their big day, but do you really need a professional photographer for your rehearsal dinner, too? A fun way to get your guests involved — and save thousands — is by offering up disposable black-and-white cameras or passing around an instant film camera.

Going DIY with instant cameras is perfect for wedding weekend activities, like rehearsal dinners, afterparties, or even wedding prep. "I've actually brought disposable cameras to friends' weddings in the past and gifted an album of the photos to the couple," Clark says.

If we had the original wedding, we'd be working to pay it off, rather than having the money saved and not sweating it.
Judy Naziri
new bride

"The photos end up looking fun — and I think it's interesting to see what moments captured your guests' eyes, because they know you so well," she says.

A four-hour wedding photo shoot in the San Francisco area, where Clark and her fiancé live, could cost around $2,722, whereas a single-use disposable black-and-white camera is under $15 for 27 exposures, plus the cost of developing, which varies depending on the quality you choose. An instant film camera like the Fuji Instax Mini is usually less than $100, plus $1 or less per instant photo print. 

And who wouldn't love the immediacy of seeing their wedding photos that night, rather than waiting the traditional 3-6 months?

Splurge on personal favorites

Don't forget: This is your big day! So after you've made your smart swaps, you're well within your right to splurge on what's truly important to you.

"I'm a music lover," Naziri says about why she spent $1,000 on a DJ for her 20-person wedding.

"I just imagined being done with the ceremony, including all of the religious parts, and everyone looking around at each other," she says. "I wanted them to be able to let loose and dance."

And, she adds, "everyone deserves to let loose after the few months we've all had." 

Natalie Zfat is a social media entrepreneur and newlywed who advises some of the most iconic brands in the world, including Facebook, Samsung, LinkedIn, and American Express. Zfat's beloved social media community of 150K+ followers are dreamers, doers, and entrepreneurs, from college students to CEOs. 

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