Shorten the wedding-planning timeline. Don’t wait a year to get married and it will be easier to simplify the wedding. “A recent trend I’ve seen is that couples are saving money by planning a more last-minute wedding, rather than the traditional 11-month runup,” says Alan Fields, coauthor of Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget. “The shorter time horizon will force you to streamline and keep you, by necessity, from getting sucked into the vortex of elaborate weddings.”
Or give yourself even more time. That way, you can take advantage of seasonal sales. “For example, you may be able to stock up on silver decorations at 75 percent off before the Christmas holidays, or pick up your ring bearer or flower girl’s outfit on sale at Easter,” says Sharon Naylor, author of 1001Ways to Save Money . . . and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding ($17, amazon.com).
Schedule the wedding in off-peak times. When there’s less competition for dates, you can have more negotiating power. “You can shave 20 to 30 percent off the cost of a wedding by planning it for November, or January through March―except for Valentine’s Day,” says Fields.
Choose any day other than Saturday. "That’s the most popular day to marry," says Anna Post, author of Do I Have to Wear White? Emily Post Answers America’s Top Wedding Questions ($15, amazon.com). Ask about rates for Friday- and Sunday-night weddings. They’re becoming more common, so you won’t have to deal with quite as many guest grumbles.
2 of 5Jason Walz
Consider choosing a nontraditional venue. “Where you have the wedding often drives the cost,” says Fields. Rather than a dedicated wedding reception hall or country club, check out less expensive facilities, from city-run spaces like zoos and civic gardens to restaurants or more offbeat locations that have some meaning for you, from a beach to your parents’ yard. One caveat: If the space is not equipped to cater a party, calculate extra costs for bringing in tables, toilets, or even a kitchen.
The Wedding Dress
Shop designer or sample sales. Find out the dates of well-known annual sales at places like Filene’s, where you might snag a $2,000 dress for $249, or the sample sales at Vera Wang. “You can save up to 70 percent on gowns, headpieces, veils, and shoes at a sample sale,” says Naylor. “Look for the touring list on your favorite designers’ websites, or get on the mailing list at bridal gown salons.” You may even get to shop before anyone else and have first pick.
Consider renting or borrowing a dress. “Or buy one secondhand,” Post says. Chances are, it’s only been worn once! Look on eBay or craigslist for postings. Oftentimes, if the bride changes her mind about her dress or has to postpone the wedding, you might be able to score a deal on a never-been-worn gown.
Or combine self-interest with philanthropy. Says Fields, "Buy at one of the sales of donated new and used gowns" staged in many U.S. cities by bridesagainstbreastcancer.org. Or look for a vintage or consignment store that carries wedding dresses. The Bridal Garden in New York City (bridalgarden.org), for example, features designer-donated dresses, and a portion of the proceeds go to charity.
3 of 5 Debra McClinton
Make it a daytime reception. “It’s always cheaper to serve lunch or brunch than dinner,” says Fields.
Try a combination plate. Eliminate a choice of entrée to save on your food bill. “Serve a couple of grilled shrimp with a couple of beef medallions," Naylor says. “This cuts down on the cost, since the chef doesn’t need to buy enough of all the entrées to allow for people to change their minds.” Or serve an inexpensive dish like chicken and pasta and let the chef shine by creating great sauces.
Avoid the traditional sit-down dinner or buffet meal altogether. Instead, host a cocktail reception with cake and punch or cake and cocktails. Or have a potluck reception, which makes for a less formal, more intimate wedding with a nice feeling of community.
Serve signature cocktails. “Alcohol is one of the biggest expenses of a wedding and can burn a hole in your budget fast,” says Fields. Since most reception sites charge for every bottle opened, even if it was for just one drink, consider offering a limited bar. Choose a signature cocktail (or a series of signature cocktails) that use one type of liquor. Then, ask to stock a few other bottles based on the wedding party’s preferences (i.e., if your dad drinks only scotch). Another option is to serve just beer, wine, and enough champagne for toasts.
4 of 5The Cake Girls
The Wedding Cake
Add finishing touches yourself. “The cost of a wedding cake is all about the labor,” says Naylor, “so forget sugar-paste flowers or matching the lace from your gown in fondant.” Instead, try using real lace or satin ribbon wrapped around each layer. It costs almost nothing; just pin it on and it looks lovely. Or use a few real flowers here and there, scattered artistically. Also, go low, says Fields: “The more height, the more money―it takes more labor to build a taller cake.”
Have a small cake. You can have a wonderfully decorated, yet smaller cake on display that’s used for cutting, and then have a sheet cake in the kitchen for serving.
Make your own centerpieces. This is definitely a time commitment, so consider making the centerpieces for the cocktail tables or the rehearsal dinner. “A lot of people are using freshroses.com and other websites to order wholesale flowers to make their own centerpieces,” says Fields. “You can order enough flowers to do 15 for about $300, then check out how-to sites for DIY instructions.” (See Wedding Flowers: How to Create Beautiful Bouquets From Supermarket Flowers.) Or go online to check out the wedding flower packages from Costco―have bouquets and centerpieces shipped to you for huge savings.
Choose seasonal and local flowers for your reception. “This not only brings the season into your event but it also cuts costs, because your florist won’t have to import any exotic or out-of-season blooms,” says David Tutera, an event planner. (Learn what will be blossoming on your big day with the Wedding Flower Finder Tool.)
Use one kind of flowers in your bouquets and arrangements. It’s a budget-friendly move because your florist will need to place only one bulk order. “This brings a chic monochromatic look to your event,” adds Tutera.
Avoid cascades. Like cakes, the hidden cost of flowers is the labor. “Order or make small, hand-tied bouquets for the bride and attendants―cascades require a lot of wiring, and more labor means higher cost,” says Naylor.
5 of 5Debra McClinton
The Photographer and Videographer
Try a less-expensive package. "Photographers usually offer packages based on the hours they’ll work," says Naylor. To buy a less expensive (shorter) package, she suggests, “do your at-home, getting-ready pictures as candids. Cut the cake early so you can release the on-the-clock shooters, and let your guests supplement your album with candids.”
Talk to former brides. To help you decide whether you’re really going to need the 1,000-picture package or whether 500 will do, find people “with similar sensibilities to yours and see what their experience was,” says Naylor.
Consider hiring a photography-school student. Make sure you check out his or her portfolio, with examples of portraits. Though, Fields says, “it can cut the bill in half,” it’s not worth the savings if photos aren’t in focus.
The Invitations, Programs, and Favors
Take advantage of the talents of the bridal party and other friends and family. Anything you can make yourself becomes a fun shared effort and can save a lot. “My aunt did her own invitations and program for her wedding because she wanted the personal touch,” says Post.
Make some items do double duty. To save the cost of printed place cards, add guests’ names to the favors and set one at each place, or print the names at the top of your menu cards.
Make your own favors. If you have time, whip up your grandma’s famous macaroons or make your own chocolate-covered almonds. “Edibles are the most appreciated,” says Naylor. “Especially for nighttime weddings―a bag of cookies will be gone before the guests hit the car.”
Skip favors. Place a bowl of candies on the cake table with a note saying, “Please enjoy these candies. In lieu of favors we’ve made a donation to charity.”