The average cost of a wedding in 2017 was $33,391, and based on the past few decades, that number is only going to rise. The expense has turned what should be a happy time for the engaged couple and their families into a time of stress and penny-pinching. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to get those costs down and still end up with a wedding you'll love. Here are some ideas to get you started.

A woman in a wedding dress, holding flowers

Image source: Getty Images.

Don't rush

While you may want to get married quickly, make sure you've left plenty of time to get your ducks in a row. If you're only giving yourself a few months to prepare, you'll have less time to research venues and vendors and fewer options to choose from, forcing you to take what you can get.

On the other hand, if you have a longer engagement, you'll have more time to save up and plan a detailed budget, which is the best tool in your arsenal for keeping your wedding costs under control. Plus, you may be able to secure better rates when you book venues far in advance.

Meet with several venues and vendors and ask them about their pricing. Make sure you look at the fine print in their contracts so you don't get hit with charges. Some venues, for example, don't include tax in their quoted prices and they may charge you extra for setup and cleaning afterward.

Once you have narrowed your list down to your top choices, decide which elements are the most important to you. If the photographer is most important to you, then allocate a larger percentage of your money to that and limit your expenses in other areas, like decor.

Look at your savings and any gifts from family members and decide how much money you can comfortably spend on your wedding. Then using the collected pricing data and your list of priorities, determine which vendors are right for you. It's always a good idea to leave a little cushion in your budget in case unexpected expenses arise.

Negotiate

Many couples end up paying far more for their weddings than they anticipated, simply because they accepted their vendors' rates without negotiating.

While it's true that wedding vendors are often in high demand, they understand that their clients are working on a budget, so often they're willing to be a little flexible with their prices.

Photographers are a great example of how to save through negotiation. The average cost of a wedding photographer is around $2,630, and this number is higher in cities. That should buy you about eight hours' worth of pictures. But if you only need a photographer for six hours, you may be able to negotiate and save $658.

Stay away from venues that require you to use their vendors. This often ends up costing you more money than choosing your own vendors, because you can't negotiate the prices yourself.

Think outside the box

Being a little nontraditional is an easy way to cut costs. Consider the month and day you get married: June through September is prime wedding season, with Saturday being the most popular day to tie the knot. Getting married on a less popular day or in a less popular month could save you several thousand dollars, because venues and vendors are cheaper.

You should keep in mind that some of your guests may not be able to attend if you have a wedding on a Friday or a Sunday, but on the plus side, this can also help you save on the cost of dinner and drinks.

You may also want to consider switching up the traditional attire. The average cost of a wedding dress is $1,509. But if you don't want to spend that much and you want a nice white dress, you can always look for a bridesmaid's dress or another formal gown that comes in white. There are also some websites that sell used wedding dresses, if you don't mind a hand-me-down, and going with one of these is an easy way to save $1,000.

Cut what you don't need

It goes without saying that if you're on a budget, you'll want to limit the size of the guest list as much as you can. But there are other areas where you may be able to trim some costs as well. For example:

  • Set up a wedding website and email your friends and family the link, instead of paying over $400 for formal invitations.
  • Create a playlist and ask one of your friends to serve as DJ at your wedding, so you don't have to spend over $1,000 for a band or professional DJ.
  • Reuse the flowers and decor from your ceremony at your reception, rather than buying two sets of each.
  • Ask your family and friends to help you pick up flowers and decorations and set up the venue, so you don't have to pay others to do it.

Limit the food and drink

A buffet dinner is the way to go if you're looking to save money on food. At about $28 per person, not only is the cost cheaper than a plated meal (which costs $41 per person on average), but you'll need fewer waitstaff to serve the meals.

For drinks, it's a good idea to have some beer and wine available and maybe a couple of signature cocktails, but don't go overboard buying unusual or expensive liquors. You don't want to end up with thousands of dollars' worth of leftover alcohol that you're not going to drink.

Find ways to recoup some of your money

Once the wedding is over, you may want to sell some of your decor, or maybe even your wedding dress if you're not too attached to it. You're unlikely to get the full retail price selling it secondhand, but you can recoup some of the costs.

A good rewards credit card can also help you to get some of your wedding money back. Look for one with a large signup bonus, and if you'll need to carry a balance for a month or two, a 0% introductory APR is a must. Depending on what rewards your credit card offers, you can earn a few hundred dollars in cash back this way or maybe even some credit card miles you can put toward the honeymoon. 

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