Indian Wedding on a Budget | 20+ TIPS (2019)
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
Ajay Manaktala planned his own wedding in Tulum, Mexico and helps brides and grooms cut costs the right way for their Big Fat Indian Wedding. He is also a most viewed writer on Quora under Weddings and Indian Weddings and blogs extensively about most shaadi topics, including the definitive Indian wedding cost and pricing sheet in America.
It's 2019 and Indian weddings are as expensive as they've ever been. The average “middle-class” Indian wedding in America is between $220,000 and $300,000.
However a bigger Indian wedding doesn't always mean better and in this article I'm going to show you twenty three free tricks to save you money on your wedding expenses. Even if you CAN afford it, we see couples wasting money daily on a lot of things that aren't required so let's be smart about our budgets!
First, the assumptions are this is a local wedding and not a destination wedding. Although a great way to reduce your headcount from say 500 to 250 is to do a destination wedding (which will of course add some costs in other areas though).
You ready fam? Let's do this.
20+ Innovative Ways to Reduce Wedding Expenses
1. Ask Hotel or Venue For More Stuff, Not Less Cost.
This tip is so underrated. I say it in multiple articles all over this site.
I know you're not in the business of banquets or corporate events but man oh man...you CAN sign a contract and THEN ask for extra goodies but it's way harder to sign first and then ask them to reduce the cost.
Your wedding venue may not reduce their fee of say $50,000 or 10 lakhs (India)...but you can always ask them to:
include extra rooms since it’s a sunk cost anyways
free premium wifi
Extra tea/coffee in common areas
longer hours for music (dj and ballroom),
extra valet parking,
more flowers (from in-house decorators)
waive an insurance fee (hotel facilities)
extra power consumption (Los Angeles hotels)
discount on massages and room service for in-house guests
1-2 more free bridal suites
special rates for your wedding party (this is obvious but just fyi)
Venues will always give more but don’t want to reduce their incoming money revenue.
Look at sample prices of food and hotels so you know the range.
2. Newer Decorators or Wedding Planners Are Eager to Earn Their Name.
Now a days with Instagram you can easily check someone’s prior work and be in good hands rather than have such a big risk. If they’ve done even 1 or 2 weddings before in Jaipur or a big Delhi Leela palace/Beverly Hills type of hotel they’re fine, and you’ll be fine.
I personally find vendors who are new and eager to earn their name go above and beyond the call of duty.
(NOT ALL...but if they've done at least 2-3 events and you find them way more responsive that someone who is acting pricey...it's ok to take risks sometimes). Especially if their social media game is strong!
For flowers, you can either use less flowers if your hotel keeps fresh flowers in common areas daily, OR you can ask your decorator to use artificial flowers in areas where it won’t matter (e.g. just be seen, not touched).
These are a great way to bring down floral costs.
3. Flowers have Marginal Gains
Most weddings really go overboard on flowers especially in weddings in the US.
Can you look at an event and tell the difference between $30,000 in flowers and $40,000 in flowers?
Because if you can’t chances are your guests won’t either.
Most designers and decorators know this, so I would suggest you ask your designer for photos of a $15,000 setup a $25,000 setup and a $50,000 setup so you can see the difference.
4. Don’t Overestimate Hotel Rooms You Need Early On
You know how free trials ask you to pay a dollar for a month, because they also know once they have your credit card you'll likely be lazy about cancelling? Hotels do the same thing on a bigger scale with your early room guarantees.
Hotels will try to scare you to sign a contract with extra rooms, and sure, some might sell out.
But 90% of weddings I see, including my own (hey, some of us never learn) book too many rooms and then pay for 5–10 rooms (comes to $3000 to $5000 extra) for empty rooms not used or just given off to whoever.
Worst case if the hotel does indeed sell out you can keep extra people who confirmed late in a different hotel (e.g. they’re fault for booking late!). But you can always apply pressure to your planner at the hotel as the date gets closer, post contract to give you some more rooms on some last minute confirmations!
5. Buy your clothes even earlier than Auntie says.
Tailors will charge more if they know you’re in a rush and regardless of what you think, they're experts at figuring this out.
If you need your outfit on Feb 11th, go shopping in September.
If the tailor asks, tell him your wedding is March but you're thinking of a photoshoot in Jan.
When a tailor knows your in no rush, they have less leverage.
Also, for anybody who swears they need a Sabyasachi, if you want it, and you can EASILY afford it, heck yes, go be a princess!
But if you're debating the cost...and did a blind test between a $1500 Lehenga and a $15,000 lehenga I don't think you'll notice much of a difference.
Also the Sabya will take you 4 months. But they'll all be gorgeous!
6. Paperless Invites are Preferred these days.
Trust us, this custom isn't that important anymore. Don't waste money on big fancy invites that will go in the drawer and eventually in the trash.
More and more people prefer to send wedding invites via whatsapp.
A 50 or 60 year old wedding guest is internet savvy and nobody cares that you didn't send them a fancy $7 printed invite that you're just going to throw away anyways, or put in a drawer never to see again.
Most people prefer a whatsapp image or simple thing to recall on the events on their phone, so please please please if your crowd is hip/modern/young or at least not super traditional, avoid the paper printed invites!!!
These invitations are updatable, convenient and of course...much cheaper.
7. Use a YouTube Playlist for Smaller Functions
Obviously we're DJs and hope you hire us for all your events. But in some events, like a smaller mehndi function at someone's house, it may not make sense to spend the $2500 to get a DJ there for six hours.
Instead, if you're not counting on a DJ to be there the entire time, use a "mehndi playlist 2019" or otherwise to simply set it and forget it from an iPhone.
Just makes sure your sound system is loud enough, and your phone is on airplane mode! The last thing you want is a million notifications always messing with the music!
8. Bollywood Choreography...Online.
They're so many videos on YouTube that pop up daily regarding Bollywood choreography for pretty much any song that releases.
If you have the budget, we've said over and over on this blog that hiring a choreographer for $1200 for five to six songs is a good idea, as you can then simply just WhatsApp or Google drive the dance files over and everyone can practice on their own.
But if you don't have the budget, you can be a little creative and find videos online of the songs you want and chances are SOMEONE has done choreography for it.
9. Use Amazon for Your Groomsmen Outfits
Kurtas come in all shapes and sizes, and just like suits...they're really cheap ones and really crazy ones. But since you don't wear Indian clothes all the time, a good litmus test is to wear two Kurta's side by side and see if you can tell the difference.
Most of the time Indian-American men go to some Indian shop and get about 10 kurta/bandi (vest)/pants sets and are paying around $100 per outfit, when they can get similar vibes on Amazon for around $65.
Another suggestion is to tell your friends to buy their own blue or pink or green Kurtas and then to simply provide them with their own vests!
10. Look at Brand New Hotels
In most cases in cities like greater Los Angeles, greater Chicago and New Jersey a newer hotel might actually be LESS expensive.
Let's think about this for a second.
If a new Conrad hotel is opening up in your area, chances are no bride a year ago would have booked a hotel that was still under construction. Now that they're open, they have these gleaming new shiny facilities, nobody in your community has had an event there, and the sales team is under pressure to quickly fill the events calendar!
What does that mean for you?
If a hotel opens up in September, 2019, for example, you can be sure around June/July of that same year they'll be hungry to get dates around December/January/etc...
The beauty of this?
These prices will come in quite well as they need to build up their resume and show photos, get word of mouth going, etc.. Your guests will also appreciate an event in this shiny new building! Yay!
11. Skip the Second Venue.
Another common tip we also see for destination weddings is that couples try to do too much in one day. You’ve got 100 people to Hawaii, (or a Los Angeles Hotel), now just as they’re settling you want to get them in a shuttle bus to another cliffside restaurant?
These guys spent hours getting ready, they appreciate the gesture, but they want to chill with you and each other!
You already have the hotel venues paid for so please use them!
If it made sense, great. But if not...why spend money on extra flare when it will actually be more inconvenient than appreciated?
You will save on headaches, time, and of course logistical expenses like buses to ferry people back and forth.
12. Use a Comedian(s)
My brother is a comedian and before his baraat we obviously needed to provide lunch for all the guests who were already staying in the hotel.
So since the hotel had a spare empty conference room...guess what?
Him and his buddies did a roast (lunch pun? Get it?) and a comedy show for the guests!
It was a huge hit!
Depending on where you are, in Chicago, New Jersey, Seattle, Florida or Los Angeles, you can easily find desi comedians these days, pay them some token $500 amount or more and have them entertain your guests.
We can’t guarantee they’ll be hilarious but it’s something different and great value for money to give your guest’s some variety. And it is a cheaper option than other entertainment which might be overdone at weddings!
13. Use a newer Photographer
Photography for weddings is quite fascinating because the more established companies have so much great work it's hard to differentiate the looks after a while and the newer hipper companies need to experiment to stand out or simply pimp out their social media.
So they'll shoot different scenes, different poses and experiment more.
If you find a new photographer who doesn't have much shaadi experience but they either ARE Indian or have done 1-2 desi events, you might have found a winner. As long as they know the moments of the traditional Hindu wedding ceremony to capture and who to focus on, you should be ok and might save a few thousand dollars a newbie photo team.
14. Get Sample Buffet Sizes and Costs for 300 People. Then book for 250.
A 300 person Sangeet doesn't mean a 300 person buffet.
In fact Indian weddings are one of the biggest wasters of food in India and likely so across the world. Usually a 225 person buffet is good for 300 people, assuming you're having some live stations like a noodle bar, an omelet station (breakfast), etc..
Try to get these costs baked in as otherwise wedding sales teams just nod along as you sign away for 300 people knowing you'll likely only consume 60% of that and the rest is profit.
15. Find a hotel that has built in lighting or decoration.
Many event spaces have built in dance floors, lighting, and decoration that can then be repurposed for your wedding. A massive empty ballroom is meant to look bare and dry on purpose, so that each event can customize it the way that they would like.
But some event spaces have built in decorations, chandeliers and other fixtures that really save you the big bucks.
If you’re on the fence this is a big factor to saving a huge cost which is decoration!
16. Social Media Currency
Do you or any of your guests have a large Instagram or YouTube following? If so, see if any of your vendors could work out discounts where you give them a few posts on social media in exchange for their services.
For example, we had a bride who had a 400K organic Instagram following as a travel blogger and most of her outfits came for free, as long as she tagged the designer.
Hotels likely won’t bite unless you have more than 1 million followers, but it can definitely save you thousands of dollars in other vendors like fashion, decorations, food, and photography. (The photographer also gets to shoot a major subject for his or her portfolio!)
17. No Gifts, Only Blessings .
Gifts are great, and this tip might be a bit ironic. But do you really need another coffee machine or stuff that online shopping hasn’t already crowded your house with?
Writing “No gifts, only blessings” is a subtle way to say “Hey, we don’t want clutter, and you don’t have to give us anything, but if you do, *cough cough* there’s a box for cards and envelopes at the front of the event.”
It’s unfortunate that after a wedding, many couples have a lot of stuff they don’t really need and are still a little pressed for payments, so why not make it easier this way!
Or even if you have the payments handle, at the very least buy a gift you need/appreciate rather than stuff you don’t?
18. Negotiate Final Hotel Expenses
Did somebody order a $40 bottle of wine from room service that the hotel is trying to charge $200 for?
They added another $1200 for the extra 30 minutes in the ballroom?
Seven of the rooms checked out late?
This is all stuff you can remove and negotiate when the final bill is in the tens of thousands of dollars. If your hotel is asking you sign and clear your last $30,000 in expenses you should be able to wiggle out of a few of those charges in good faith as you're racking up such a big bill.
A hotel sales person doesn't want to compromise a $58,000 balance due on $490 in room service charges.
On the same note, you shouldn’t blindly just say “yeah ok” on a $500 random charge because you’re also paying such a large amount. It’s easy to get caught up but be mindful of this, I know you just want to get home but it is important!
This is the equivalent to how car dealers try to bundle in things at the end! Don't be too greedy and be reasonable here (e.g. if you did order 19 beers at 3AM, well, you owe that) but try to find reasonable middle grounds and ask nicely.
19. Credit Card Points are HUGE during Weddings and Banquets!
Did you know that hotels like the Marriott or Hyatt give MASSIVE point options to people who book banquets and conferences?
You can use or earn hotel points from your wedding in the following ways:
If you’re booking a conference room or banqute hall and paying the hotel some $20,000 or $50,000 amount, you should get a LOT OF points for this! You should also sign up and use a hotel credit card before you swipe on this deal, as it could honestly be a free honeymoon hotel for you and your bride post wedding.
If you’re booking about 20 rooms for your friends/family from out of town, you should see if you can either use your existing points to pay for these, or earn points on these reservations (assuming you’re paying). Since most Indian-American grooms are working in corporates and generally have a lot of business travel accumulated, don’t let those points go to waste!
Use frequent flier points for your trips to India or for guests who’s flights you might be paying for!
Most brides, including those in my family will never touch their bridal jewelry again unless it’s being passed down years later. And do most people notice real jewelry aside from a few gorgeous photos?
These days it’s very common to rent jewelry and to also use artificial jewelry, so if it’s not super important to you that it be real, this is a massive expense. I myself used simple fake pearls for my groomsmen outfit and so did my brother, so it’s all good! This is very common!
21. Larger Tables Means Less Centerpieces
I love this trick because you can kill two birds with one stone again. Not only do you have less centerpieces, which is one huge cost that’s part of the decor and lighting, but you also increase the camaraderie amongst guests as you force them to socialize and get to know each other!
Some luxury weddings spend about $1200 per TABLE to decorate the thing, so ask your hotel ballrooms for the various seating arrangements and try to factor this in!
These days many hotels offer a simple fake cake that the bride and groom cut, and then have a large bakery try in the back that the banquet team cuts into small slices and serves as part of the desert bar.
You’re likely going to have tons of dessert options anyways as part of your buffet, so trust us...cake is one of those massive wasted expenses and most people opt to drink and dance and eat a main course.
You can save thousands by simply posing with a fake cake, it’s a very common trend across the world now!
23. Band too expensive?
Bands from India or Bollywood bands in America are expensive. However, many bands from Africa or Thailand or the Philippines are AMAZING and will come for a few thousand plus travel expenses. Some even know a few signature Indian tunes! But most play top 40 and are amazing!
At my own wedding in Tulum, I saw a DJ that I liked (yes I’m a DJ but I wanted to enjoy it!) at the Bellagio in Las Vegas a few months before and I asked him what he’d charge. He came for $1500 plus the free holiday! Awesome! (but this was just for a few hip hop nights, and he knew nothing for Indian music and we had to arrange all the equipment).
A lot of amazing bands exist who are show stoppers if you know where to look and can work out the visa process easier for them!
Of all the fancy million dollar weddings I've done, I can tell you the stuff above is all amazing if you can, but nobody will truly notice if you can't. I still love getting a physical wedding invite and smelling it (I'm weird) and opening it, but I'll never notice or care if I just got a website link with the deets.
In fact using newer talent, newer designers, pushing back on your hotel contract and being in charge of your fashion is how the scene evolves and thrives, and the cycle goes on.
This is how trends become tradition.
In fact these days, your guests are so excited about a whatsApp wedding group because everybody is laughing over the photos the next day and it builds community and shared experience.
Plus they can all message at the ballroom like "Hey we're here, they're running late but it's going awesome, come on down for shots everybody!"
Is a $15 physical invite going to do that?
Our team spent a week on this post and we really hope you enjoyed it. If so please do comment any suggestions or other hacks for reducing Indian wedding expenses and we'll include them here! And for all your South Asian wedding needs in California or beyond do reach out to us!