Does your dream wedding involve a beachfront ceremony at sunset even though you live in the city, or exchanging vows surrounded by the lush beauty of a tropical rainforest miles and miles away from home? If so, a destination wedding somewhere outside of your hometown might be right up your alley.
Sound pricey? It certainly can be. According to The Knot, a wedding website, the average price tag of a domestic destination wedding, including the couple’s travel costs, is $28,372. While international destination weddings tend to cost more per guest, they do often include a smaller guest list, with the average wedding spend at $27,227.
Before breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of destination wedding bliss, know that The Knot has reported the total spend for local weddings as high as $32,641 in recent years.
While it’s possible to save money on a wedding hosted locally, it’s also feasible to plan a destination wedding on a budget. These cost-saving tips for destination weddings can get you started:
1. Know what you’re willing to spend
One of the key budget-saving tips for planning a destination wedding is knowing where to draw the line on cost. Without a firm dollar amount in mind, it can be easy to overspend.
Tiffany Zorotrian, an agent with Chantel Ray Real Estate in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found herself planning a destination wedding on short notice. She and her fiancé originally planned on an outdoor wedding in April but had to move up the date because of a military deployment. Virginia’s winter weather wasn’t accommodating to an outdoor event, so they opted for a destination wedding in Key West, Florida, instead. Their budget was $10,000.
When trying to plan a destination wedding on a budget, they had to decide which costs they were willing to assume.
“One thing you need to consider is whether or not you’re going to support travel costs for close family members who want to be there, but may not have the financial means to make the trip themselves,” Zorotrian says. “We did that, but to accommodate those costs, we needed to save money in other areas.” They negotiated deals for their hotel stay for themselves and five family members and brought in their own food and beverages for the wedding festivities.
The average spend on a domestic destination wedding, including the couple’s travel costs, is $28,372.
Jo Ann Woodward, co-owner of Schwartz & Woodward, a Houston-based wedding planning firm, says couples must consider the extra costs associated with a destination wedding that you may not encounter with a wedding in your hometown. That includes the couple’s airfare and accommodations for all guests, local transportation since most guests won’t have their own cars and excursions (some couples will host their guests on special outings like fishing trips, scuba diving, hiking or guided walking tours). Woodward says if guests are covering their own travel costs, couples should consider if they’re willing pay for other activities.
2. Keep it small
If you’re trying to plan a destination wedding on a budget, a shorter guest list may be the answer.
“Couples need to decide who they really want to attend,” Woodward says. She suggests inviting only those people without whom you couldn’t imagine sharing one of the most important moments of your life.
Zorotrian took a different approach. Instead of skimping on the guest list, she invited all of their friends and family so there’d be no hurt feelings. But, she planned her wedding budget on the assumption that only the people who were really committed to being there would come.
When you’re trying to follow cost-saving tips for destination weddings, including everyone on the guest list is a gamble. Should everyone you’ve invited decide to attend, that can inflate your spending. If you’re concerned that the wedding may end up being oversized, it’s better to err on the side of caution and plan for a smaller wedding from the beginning.
“If you invite someone, anticipate and budget that they will attend so there are no financial surprises,” says Candice Coppola, owner and creative director of Jubilee Events, a Cheshire, Connecticut-based wedding planning firm.
The bet did, however, work out for Zorotrian and her husband. They were able to come in just under their $10,000 budget. In the end, their wedding was a tiny, intimate affair, unlike the larger outdoor event they’d originally anticipated in their hometown. But, they were happy with the final result and the money they were able to save.
3. Choose your destination carefully
Where—and when—you plan to have the big day can impact costs in a big way. Coppola says timing matters if you want to plan a destination wedding on a budget.
“Every year, prices increase,” she says, which is why one of her cost-saving tips for destination weddings is to book one to two years in advance to get the current year’s rates.
Scheduling outside the location’s peak season and going low-key on accommodations are other budget-saving tips for planning a destination wedding.
Coppola says that during a destination’s tourist or high season, hotel rates can increase by 25 to 50 percent. She says you can create more room in your budget and save money by scheduling a wedding for the destination’s shoulder or off-peak season instead. Shoulder season is the period between peak and off-peak season.
In general, this time of year offers fewer crowds, but weather could be problematic. In the Caribbean, for example, the off-peak season is typically mid-April to mid-December, which coincides with the North American hurricane season. Sites like Expedia and Lonely Planet can be resources for finding information and recommendations on which off-peak season destinations offer the most favorable weather conditions for a wedding.
If you’ve got a smaller guest list, some cost-saving tips for destination weddings include renting a large vacation home instead of booking hotel rooms for each of your guests. Woodward suggests reading the fine print before choosing a vacation rental, as some vacation homes may come with extra fees for each guest over a certain limit.
Something else to consider when seeking out budget-saving tips for planning a destination wedding: how far your money will stretch if you’re outside the U.S.
“In some regions, like the Caribbean, U.S. dollars are preferred and can get you farther than local currency,” Coppola says. Depending on where you travel, items may simply be less expensive than in America, so you’ll have more purchasing power. In Costa Rica, for example, consumer prices were about 23 percent lower than in the U.S. as of March 2018, according to Numbeo, a website that compares cost of living data.
It’s also worth considering the exchange rate if you’re not using U.S. currency and looking for budget-saving tips for planning a destination wedding. A preferable rate allows you to spend less for the same things abroad than you would at home. Remember also to factor currency exchange fees into your budget.
“Each destination has its own feel and flavor. You have to decide what’s most important for you and your guests to experience, since creating memories for a lifetime is the goal.”
4. Choose the best way to pay
As you research cost-saving tips for destination weddings, don’t overlook your payment method. One potential way to save is by opening a rewards credit card in advance of the wedding that allows you to earn points or miles on purchases. When it’s time to book travel, you could use those miles to cover some or all of the cost of your flights or hotel stays. Some travel cards may offer additional money-saving perks, such as complimentary companion tickets or checked luggage, which can reduce costs. Alternately, cashback rewards could be applied as a statement credit against wedding purchases you’ve already made.
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If you want to avoid racking up debt when spending on your destination wedding, consider the benefits of a rewards checking account, which can help you earn cash back on everyday expenses, including those for your wedding. With Discover Cashback Debit you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1
Preparing in advance and saving up for the big day can also make it easier to plan a destination wedding on a budget. Consider depositing funds for your wedding into an online savings account with a competitive interest rate. This way, you can be earning money on your savings until you’re ready to pay for wedding expenses.
Check your mindset to plan a destination wedding on a budget
These cost-saving tips for destination weddings address the financial side of planning a getaway, but you also need to consider the emotional side.
“Each destination has its own feel and flavor,” Woodward says. “You have to decide what’s most important for you and your guests to experience, since creating memories for a lifetime is the goal.”
As you plan your dream destination wedding, set your expectations early and remember to be flexible. Working on a budget may mean having to cut back on certain expenses, such as flowers or wedding favors, but it’s essential to stay focused on the bigger picture, which is making your special day as enjoyable as possible.
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as Venmo® and PayPal™, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.