Every bride wants to look beautiful on their wedding day. Radiant, vibrant, breath-stoppingly gorgeous. But perhaps the biggest dilemma that plagues many brides, sometimes up to the week before the wedding (horrors!), is finding the right dress. How in the whole wide world, among the thousands upon thousands of dresses hanging in bridal shops and listed online, will she find the perfect, most dazzling wedding gown that will:

    – make her look slender

    – fit her personal “style”

    – have the right neck cut, waist cut, train length, and sleeve style

    – be approved by her mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother

    – and oh….did we mention….it has to be cheap

*groan* As if the requirements weren’t difficult enough, “cheap” is the last thing that comes to mind when you think of wedding dresses. So what do Crumb Savers do when they want to acquire this lavish product, but plan a wedding for less than $3,000? This post won’t give you a comprehensive list of how to find a cheap wedding dress, but I’ll share our story of how I found my cheap wedding dress, and hopefully you will glean some lessons that will help in your quest to find yours.

1. Start Early

It was a stormy Saturday and Al and I had to drive an hour through torrential rain to attend a small country church in Arkansas. Amazingly, that afternoon the sky cleared up and we spent the day hiking around Cossatot Falls. It was there, sitting on a piece of old driftwood (I think the same one I fell and broke my rib on earlier that year), Al knelt on one knee and proposed. Here’s a picture of happy, young us moments before the big ask:


Taken right before Al proposed. (My, I was so young and skinny back then! Al looks slightly nervous.)

As happy and life-changing as that event was, the next day life continued as usual and we drove into Hot Springs to run a few errands. A few months before, a friend of ours (seeing that this relationship was on the move), had mentioned a place in town where she had seen wedding dresses with sleeves (since she knew this was my preference). Sure, Al and I had just gotten engaged yesterday and the reality was still sinking in, but hey, the knot was in the process of being tied, so we took a little detour to go check the place out.

Point #1: Granted, most women have looked for their wedding dress since they were little girls flipping through wedding magazines. But don’t procrastinate serious and purposeful wedding dress shopping. Don’t wait until you’ve gathered enough friends to tag along or can make the 3 hour trip to the trendiest store. Engaged? Start NOW! Good deals often take time and perseverance.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Look in Unconventional Places

Now, the place that our friend had recommended was not David’s Bridal. Neither was it An Affair to Remember or a quaint little wedding boutique in trendy downtown. Instead, it was the local swap meet/thrift store/antique warehouse in a dumpy part of Central Avenue. We parked in the huge empty parking lot and walked in. What a sight! Hundreds of vendors had their little space marked out with their wares displayed for sale. There must have been thousands of little knick-knacks in those stalls. From antique records, to old used shoes, glassware, and every trinket your grandmother ever wished she had. But it felt like a ghost town! The vendors must not have needed to man their booths, because besides us and the lady at the cash register, there were just a few people in that huge building amongst all that stuff. We very timidly walked down a few aisles, curiously peering in old steam trunks, and cautiously picking up figurines of women with parasols. And then we saw it…..the wedding dress stall.

Point #2: If you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary bargain on your dress, be open-minded to out-of-the-ordinary places: thrift stores, yard sales, Craigslist, maybe even a swap meet. It may take more time and a bit more effort, but this is one reason to start early. Conventional bridal shops and websites are always a backup option.

3. Be Open-Minded Regarding Style

Our friend was right, the wedding dresses were in the back left corner of the store. Most were half dangling off their hangers and many had fallen from the rusty clothes racks into a yellowed heap on the dirty floor. But….they did have sleeves! And this was our first official wedding planning excursion, so we were determined to make the most of it. The lady at the front said there were no fitting rooms, but “you’re welcome to try it on behind a clothes rack.” And so I did! Here’s the first one. What do you think?

Dress 1-Front
Dress 1-Back

Yeah, Al didn’t like it either. (Why would someone want a zipper on the front of their wedding dress???)

How about this one? (Remember we were trying the best of the bunch!)

Dress 2-Front
Dress 2-Back

I thought this one had a little more potential. That bottom material with the train was actually quite nice. But the top? Al said, “No way!”

Then Al pulled one off the rack and said, “How about this one?” It was 4 sizes too big, so I hadn’t really looked at it. But I was willing to try! (Had gotten better at changing behind the clothes rack, but can you imagine how hard it was to manipulate those long, multilayer wedding dresses?)

I wasn’t too sure as it felt pretty huge, but Al kind of liked it! (Ha! Can you imagine?) So, out of curiosity, we went to the cashier lady again to find out the cost. We were sure it couldn’t be the $1,280 on the original price tag still attached to the dress.

“$40 and no returns!” she exclaimed.

We looked at each other. “Isn’t that how much tax would be for a normal wedding dress?……hmmm…….We’ll take it!”

Amazingly, once we took it away from that musty, dirty warehouse, the dress looked slightly better.

Dress 3-Front
Dress 3-Back

But I didn’t want to be biased just by the price. So I pulled out a wedding planning book and scoured the options for necklines, waistlines, and styles. And do you know what I found out? I had found the perfect dress. I loved the neck, the waist, and the style. I was thrilled! But the fact is, I never would have known that I loved the dress if I hadn’t been open-minded enough to give it a try.

Point #3: Know what you like and what you’re looking for, but don’t be afraid to try what’s not on your radar. Being open to a range of good possibilities may actually help you determine and then find what is the perfect dress, because you may not realize it until you try it. Plus, limiting your options on style may also limit your options on finding a good deal. 

4. Get Alterations

We asked around and found a seamstress, an elderly lady from Turkey, who worked from her home. She said that to make the dress fit perfectly, she would have to remove the side seams and pretty much take the whole dress apart. It was a big job! When it was all said and done, she made the dress 4 sizes smaller, shortened the length, and added lace to cover the low back all for $45! We joked that it was a little painful because the alterations cost more than the dress itself.

Point #4: Alterations can change a voluptuous bag of a dress into a well-fitted, well-formed formal wedding attire. Look at a dress through alteration-tinted glasses. However, keep in mind that alterations can get quite costly at a professional shop. Ask around to see if there is someone who is qualified but does it from home and they will usually be much cheaper.

5. Borrow from Friends

A friend had a petticoat from being a bridesmaid that she was kind enough to let me borrow. And another friend lent me her gorgeous veil and tiara. The bridal attire was complete!

Point #5: Friends are always excited to be involved in your wedding. You’ll be surprised what people have stored in their closets and garages and are happy to share!

6. Save on the Groom Too!

Don’t forget Mr. Crumb Saver! We visited a few formalwear stores in the area and decided that renting a tux was not worth the $50-100. A tux just didn’t seem that much better than Al’s sharp-looking black suit. So Al found a white vest and tie on Amazon for $25 and paid for it using Amazon gift cards he had on hand (which means we had no out-of-pocket expense). Al still wears his black suit, and the vest and tie are now available for the next formal occasion or for the next Crumb Saving groom to borrow.

Point #6: Don’t think that renting a tux has to be a necessity. Instead, spruce a dignified-looking suit up with a vest and tie, ceremonious boutonniere, and smartly-shined shoes. Men don’t tend to be as picky about their wedding attire as the bride, and every guy should have a nice suit in his wardrobe anyway!

Total Attire Costs (including tax)

The Final Product 

Finally! Here are a few pictures of the $40 dress and my handsome groom on our big day.



Do you have a great story on how you found your wedding dress? Tell us about it in the comments below!

To learn more about how we saved money on our wedding, check out these posts:
Planning a Wedding for Less Than $3,000
6 Unconventional Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding