Destination weddings are a $16 billion dollar industry and the average couple spends $28,000 on their destination wedding. Unsurprisingly, a lot of couples believe that a destination wedding is out of their reach. After all, every bride has heard horror stories about a friend of a friend who went way over their wedding budget and spent the next five years paying it off.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Boundaries in the modern wedding are constantly evolving, and as long as the destination wedding is approached thoughtfully, it can be affordable for the bride, groom, and guests.
Here are 10 tried-and-true tips for those hoping to pull off a fabulous destination wedding without a lot of cash to spare:
Determine Your “All-in Budget”
To coin a phrase often used by Chip and Joanna Gaines, “all-in budget” means an everything, out-the-door, total. And decide how much of that can be pooled from your individual contributions as a couple, and any family contributions from parents or other relatives. Whatever the amount is, it will give you more freedom to know when you start planning.
Discuss Expectations About What “Destination” Means to Each of You
A destination wedding doesn’t have to be a tropical foray in Thailand. It could be a quick flight away, or even a drive. Truly ask yourself why you want a destination wedding. If it is to show off, or have a fun vacation for yourself, you may want to rethink it. Consider planning an exotic honeymoon if you really want to get away. But if you want a destination wedding to get everyone you love away from their daily lives to spend quality time together in a fun place without distractions — you may be on track. Just consider making your “destination” a little closer to home.
Research Which Locations Are Most Affordable for You and Your Guests
Depending on where you live in the country, certain places may be cheaper to get to. Generally, the most affordable locations for a foreign destination wedding are Mexico, Hawaii, and Jamaica — mostly due to the competitive nature of the industries there as well as their proximity to the United States. Remember that asking people to fly from California to Mexico is different than asking people to fly from California to France.
Edit, Edit, Edit Your Guest List
Once you decide on your location, it’s time to create a guest list, and when it comes to a destination wedding it’s important to keep that group tight. It’s not only much cheaper, but it also makes travel logistics easier. “One way I was able to edit my guest list,” says bride Emma Lucas, “Was to ask myself who I would miss if they were not able to attend. It turns out, there were very few people I considered essential.” If some of those “essential” people are not able to attend such as as a grandmother or pregnant relative, you may want to rethink your destination plans or find a way to include them another way.
Pick Your Wedding Date Carefully
The time of year and the day of the week can have a tremendous impact on the cost of your wedding. They are generally the most expensive from June to September (though depending on your destination, that may vary). Keep holidays, conventions, and spring break in mind too, as those dates are always more expensive. Weekends are usually much pricier too, so if possible, skip it! Get married on a Monday or Friday or any other day. Since your guests are traveling to attend your wedding, that will free up the weekend and allow them to spend those days traveling or vacationing with you.
Decide What You Are Willing to Pay For
Before communicating your plans for a destination wedding to your guests, you need to decide what you can and are willing to pay for. It is common for the bridal party to pay for the accommodations and transportation for their guests, but not their flights. Some pay for flights and accommodations but not food, transportation, or other fees. Others ask guests to foot the bill for their travel and accommodations, but offer to provide the rest. Whatever you decide to do, you need to determine what you can afford before discussing it with your guests.
Negotiate Everything by Leveraging Your Large Group
Use your large group to ask for a discount on the airline, resort/hotel nights, and transportation or rental cars. Almost every company provides a group discount. This way, if you decide to ask your guests to help pay for some part of their travel or stay, you’ll have a group rate to offer them so they can save money too. Many resorts will also throw in a welcome reception, free honeymoon stay, or even a free wedding if your group is willing to book a minimum number of nights.
Communicate Your Plans to Your Guests Clearly and Tactfully
Let your guests know why you want to have a destination wedding and why you want to include them. This can be done via email, or written in a letter accompanying a save-the-date. “We created a wedding website for our guests, explaining when the event was, where we were planning to stay, and how they could book their accommodations for our event,” says bride Lauren Wooden. “We included a note that said we understand if not everyone is able to make it, and we know it is a lot to ask. I think thanking your guests for making the extra effort or spending money goes a long way. But most people said they loved it, and it was a fun excuse for a vacation!” Also consider telling your guests that their attendance is their gift to you. Guests at a destination wedding spend an average of $673 to attend. That’s a pretty big gift. Tell them that their presence is the best gift. You’ll likely still get a few tangible gifts — but it’s a nice gesture to tell them anyway.
Work with the Destination’s Natural Beauty to Save
In your hometown, you might spend a big wad of your budget on flowers. But on a beach, or in a forest – -you don’t really need to spend a lot of money. Save where you can by utilizing the location’s natural beauty. Many hotels and resorts have decor packages they may be willing to throw in if you book your wedding there. And a quick Google search will find you a florist or caterer (if allowed) that are likely much cheaper than wherever the resort recommends.
Focus Your Remaining Funds
Whatever is left in your budget should be carefully spent. Decide what matters to you both as a couple, and spend your money there. If you’d rather have a great live band with dancing instead of a four-course meal, redirect your budget to include that. Rather serve shaved ice at your Hawaiian luau reception instead of a four-layer cake? Focus your funds there. It is your wedding, and the casualness of a destination wedding can give you permission to spend your money where you find the most value.
A destination wedding can fit with nearly any budget. Just be thoughtful, open minded and creative to make it the wedding (and vacation!) of your dreams.
Got any other cost-cutting tips for a destination wedding? Share them with us in the comments.