November 15, 2019

Money saving ideas: For richer, not poorer

Tying the knot doesn’t have to be synonymous with fastening a financial anchor around newlywed couples. It just requires great care, sufficient research and attention to detail.

Even with the best planning, however, it might be hard to believe you could pull off a dreamy wedding on a smart budget, given the average cost of a modern wedding. According to a recent report in USA Today, couples spend an average of $26,989 for their weddings. notes most couples spend between $19,223 and $32,039, not including the honeymoon. 

“Couples need to weigh their fantasy wedding against the financial realities of the fantasy wedding,” warns L.A.-based wedding planner Wayne Gurnick, who specializes in Jewish and kosher weddings. “We find that we are financial planners as much as event planners.”

Gurnick advises couples to engage in comparison-shopping for products and services, as the real goal should be getting the most value for the money. Even when couples have put together a budget, he points out that costs can still add up quickly if couples have not done their homework thoroughly.    

Here are several money-saving ideas to give couples a stronger start, according to Gurnick and fellow event planners Michele Schwartz, creator of, who boasts many L.A. clients; Los Angeles-based planner Sarajane Landun; and chef Jason Collis, an Oxnard resident and owner of Plated Events.

Food for Thought

Whether you choose to go the glatt kosher or kosher-style route with catering, there are several ways to stick to a budget without sacrificing flavor or being stingy.  

Many hotels will allow wedding parties to buy the use of  the entire kitchen, ideal for couples who have an affordable kosher caterer or a caterer through a family connection. In these cases, Gurnick says, the hotel provides the service staff, dishes and facilities, but allows outside caterers to use and prepare in their space.

Foodwise, consider serving heavy appetizers at the reception or stick with a dairy-based meal. Also, seated dinners are often less costly than buffets, as the hotel or caterer can account for the exact amount of food they need to prepare, Schwartz explains.

Instead of going the traditional cake route — which can run from $800 to $2,000 — Collis suggests trying a dessert table with a range of options for guests, along with a very small cake for the cake-cutting ceremony. 

Edible party favors that are part of the centerpiece can save money, too, according to Schwartz. A
cupcake bar and homemade party favors, such as preserves in pretty jars, are popular right now. Other examples of tasteful takeaways include personal cakes, teas and coffee, which can be packaged in do-it-yourself mason jars for added savings.

Location, Location, Location

Just as good movie-location scouts can sniff out ideal places to impart production value to an independent film, couples can find perfect backdrops for their nuptials and receptions without breaking the bank (after determining the size of the guest list, of course).

Look into city- or state-run venues, such as local beaches, parks, recreation centers, civic gardens and zoos. As each couple has its own unique personality, one of these nontraditional venues could be a perfect fit, Landun says.

Also, find a space that doesn’t require a lot of rentals and décor in order to spruce up the room.  Be able to work with what the venue already has in terms of chairs, linens, stage, etc., she says.

As for backyard weddings, they can save lots of money — if you get creative. Be forewarned, rental and décor costs may add up, and the backyard wedding can end up being more expensive due to the cost of bringing in tables, chairs, linens, dishes and other items, Gurnick says. 

No matter where the reception ends up, consider changing the “when.” Weekdays are less expensive than weekends and may be easier to negotiate with the venue, Landun says.  Think about getting married during non-peak times of the year instead of during peak season, which is generally the summer months.

Setting the Stage

Rather than go for broke on the décor — literally — with flowers, custom dance floors and pure silk linens, look for unusual alternatives. 

One hot new concept, Gurnick says, is a sophisticated picnic-style wedding where tables and chairs are replaced with beautiful, handcrafted quilts; elaborate gourmet picnic baskets take the place of a traditional sit-down meal. This also allows guests and the wedding party to dress in more casual attire.

According to Landun, reusing floral arrangements from the ceremony (chuppah, aisles) by putting them in the main reception area is cost-effective and eco-friendly. Collis directs couples to local growers and points out that neighborhood farmers markets can provide seasonal blooms. 

Bridesmaid bouquets can be used to line the edge of the sweetheart table, and the chuppah used in an outside ceremony can be recycled as a decoration for the bridal party table. 

It’s possible to save money on dance floors, too. Companies that provide custom portable dance floors may have a floor in stock made for another couple that can be rented at a fraction of the cost, Gurnick says.

Hidden Costs

Unexpected services beyond décor and food are just as important — and often expensive if they are not tracked carefully. That’s one reason why Schwartz says it’s worth it to invest in a planner who will help couples sniff out hidden costs, ask the right questions and negotiate contracts so there aren’t any surprises. 

Also, see if the venue can offer a self-parking arrangement. Self-parking costs typically run half that of a valet service, according to Gurnick.

Finally, he urges couples to keep in mind: Every 10 people added to a guest list incrementally adds a significant amount to the final tab. That’s 10 more people who will require newlyweds to spend money on meals, centerpieces and chairs.