Jessica Bishop knew she wanted to keep her wedding budget low, but when she and her husband, Eric, started looking at projected costs for their May 2009 nuptials, the couple realized they were going to have to make some tough choices when it came to where to invest their money for their big day.
Wedding planning site The Knot reports a current national average of $7,350 spent on open bar costs at wedding receptions. The Bishops knew that kind of spending was out of the question, so they came up with a plan to cut costs.
"We bought a bunch of [inexpensive wine] at Trader Joe's," the bride told CNBC. "Then we soaked the bottles in our bathtub and peeled the labels off."
A graphic designer by trade, Bishop then created custom wine labels featuring the couple's monogram and pithy names like "Recession Red" to serve their 150 guests, along with beer.
"None of our guests knew the difference," she says. The couple was able to spend a mere $500 on alcohol, saving themselves thousands of dollars.
Bishop remained budget-savvy throughout her entire wedding planning process, and now runs her aptly-named blog, The Budget Savvy Bride, full-time, helping other couples manage costs while planning their own celebrations.
Here are her tips for stretching every dollar you have for your wedding:
Prioritize what you're willing to splurge on and let everything else take a backseat
For Bishop, having beautiful photographs of her wedding day was really important, but the $3,000 cost of a professional photographer was far outside what she wanted to spend. She offered the photographer her own services in exchange for his, and worked 10 hours a week for three or four months at his studio to pay down the entire cost of her bill.
"You don't have to be a graphic designer," she adds. "Offer your photographer free babysitting!"
Don't be afraid to ask your family and friends for help instead of gifts
The Knot reports an average of $583 is spent on wedding confections, but a neighbor of Bishop's baked their desserts instead of giving the couple a wedding gift.
Another friend of the couple stepped in to arrange wholesale flowers, purchased for $400, instead of the thousands they might have spent using a traditional floral designer.
Consider getting a side hustle
Or, as Bishop calls it, a "bride hustle."
One of the most-read posts on her blog encourages readers to pick up a few hours of work each week for extra wedding money. Pet-sitting, renting out your home on Airbnb or even asking your wedding vendors if they need extra assistance at other weddings are easy ways to pick up cash, Bishop says.
Side jobs aren't an option for everyone, but her point is simple: You never want to drive yourself into debt to pay for a six-hour party. Exhaust everything available to you.
Invest in the guest
Monogrammed napkins are an expensive tradition associated with weddings of the past, and pricey paper invitations are headed down the same road.
Think of the last wedding invite you got in the mail. You probably admired it for a few minutes, marked the date in your calendar, returned the RSVP card and threw the invitation in the trash.
Invitation costs average $462 — a lot of money for something that winds up in the recycling bin.
Pinterest didn't exist in 2009, but Bishop knew with her design expertise she could whip up her own invitations using free templates online. She was able to send hers out for $143. Now, nearly eight years later, there are plenty of services that help you send formal invites via email — no envelopes necessary.
At the end of the day — and it is important to remember that weddings only last one day — what matters is that your friends and family are able to celebrate with you and your partner.
You can't put a price on that.