The sky is the limit when it comes to wedding spending. However, most brides have a budget and do not want to kick off their lifetime of wedded bliss in debt. A bride could easily blow through $3000 on her dress alone, but a more savvy spender can plan the whole event for that price. With a little planning and discipline and a lot of creativity, a white wedding (while staying in the black) really is attainable.
Strategize the Basics: Date, Venue, Guest List and the Dress
Choose a wedding date during the off season for your area. For the most part, spring and summer weddings are more popular than winter or late fall nuptials. Planning a wedding during the slow season will dramatically reduce costs for everything from flowers and photography to catering and wedding venues.
Find a venue. The most sought-after wedding locations will eat up a large chunk of the budget. Consider asking a friend or family member if you could host your wedding at their home to eliminate this cost altogether. Using the same venue for the ceremony and reception is an effective cost-cutting measure as well.
Pare down your guest list. Your dad's boss probably does not need to attend your special day. Consider restricting the guest list to family members, possibly including some of your very closest friends. Not only will this cut costs, it will make the event intimate and special and allow you to truly enjoy it.
Pare down your bridal party, perhaps eliminating it altogether. Your friends may even be relieved to not have to foot the bill for a bridesmaid dress, and you will not have to worry about spending on bouquets, boutonnieres and gifts for the wedding party.
Find a dress. Online retailers can offer deep discounts on dresses, including designer gowns. Consider using your mother's or grandmother's gown and having it altered. Ultimately, the key to looking good in your wedding dress is not its label, it is how it is tailored to fit your shape. A perfectly tailored dress will look like it cost a fortune, even if it was a steal.
Find accessories. Vintage shops or online auction sites are excellent sources for unique veils, shoes and jewelry. Otherwise, this might be a good opportunity to secure your "something borrowed." Friends will be honored to have a piece of theirs featured on your special occasion. Vintage ring pillows are also a great way to add some playfulness to your ceremony.
Source Vendors Like a Pro
Find a photographer. During the off season, photographers slash their rates to get clients. Work this to your advantage by negotiating a discounted flat fee that includes ceremony and portrait photography and a CD of all wedding photos taken. Use an online photo-finishing site to share, print and frame your photos at a dramatic savings.
Plan catering wisely. Source small-scale or independent caterers rather than the big names in town. Having brunch fare instead of a multi-course dinner, or a vegetarian menu instead of meat, and featuring one signature cocktail or punch instead of an open bar are all chic yet less expensive options for catering. Naturally, the smaller the guest list, the more manageable the catering bill will be.
Get creative with flowers. Read trendy wedding books and magazines to get inspiration, purchase the flowers you want from a wholesaler and have a team of friends and family put the arrangements together on the wedding day. Typically, floral wholesalers can even construct intricate arrangements like bouquets and garlands as needed. Consider using fruit, vegetables and greenery to bulk up floral arrangements and centerpieces at a savings.
Determine your officiant needs. If you are a religious couple, you may want a minister to officiate your wedding ceremony. Many ministers charge a fee that includes mandatory premarital counseling prior to the wedding date. For couples who do not need a clergy member to officiate, judges are a good option. Judges also charge a fee, but tend to be more flexible and do not require any counseling.
Find students to provide the music. College music majors are often looking for performance experience and will book clients for much less than professional musicians. Contact the music department at a local college to find a musician or group to play at your wedding.
Skip the limo. Most limousine companies also have a fleet of comfortable towncars or exciting sports cars to choose from. Many non-limousine choices come at a much lower pricetag than their stretched-out relatives.
Determine DIY Elements
Create unique invitations, table decorations and placecards using word-processing and photo-editing software. Consider online-only invitations to really save. Tealights and luminaria add romance to the tabletop without much added expense. Type placecards using a vintage typewriter, or have nieces and nephews handwrite cards for a sentimental feel.
Handmake your wedding favors. Create customized favors like a CD of your favorite songs, a goody bag of assorted teas, or a seed starter kit as a symbol of growing love. All of these options will be much more meaningful than an expensive store-bought favor.
Factor in your honeymoon. If your wedding budget includes your honeymoon, having a wedding date during off-peak times is essential. Although a tropical getaway might be ideal, consider the romance of cuddling by the fire at a seaside resort during the winter when beachgoers are staying at home.
Constantly review your budget. Some costs are unavoidable, but the key is to monitor your spending. Determine what elements are the most important to you, and direct your resources toward them. For instance, if you want a designer gown, but could do without live music, allocate more money to finding the right dress and use recorded music during your ceremony.
Forget about what other people think. While you should always respect your family and friends' ideas and wishes, the decisions about your wedding day ultimately lie with you, especially if you are paying for it. There are lots of wedding traditions out there that you do not necessarily need to include in your ceremony. A wedding should be a reflection of your love and what you hold sacred as a couple. It should not simply mimic other ceremonies just because they have always been done that way. Outline your vision for your wedding day and use it to guide your planning.
Peak wedding times may differ slightly in warm-weather climates. Check local rates to determine your area's peak season. Even churches are not free wedding venues, sometimes charging for the sanctuary rental, custodial services, organist and officiant's fee. Consider a tea-length dress for a cute, vintage-inspired look. Less fabric means lower cost. If you are unsure about dress sizes, err on the bigger side. It is less expensive to take in a dress than to add fabric to let it out. Make sure to ask for ideas that use local flowers that will be in season at the time of your ceremony. Any flowers that have to be shipped in will cost exponentially more.
Having a small guest list may be controversial, especially to people who feel they should be invited. Explain your financial and personal reasons for wanting a smaller ceremony. True friends will understand and respect your need to be financially responsible as you start your marriage. Consider hosting a celebratory potluck or barbecue when you return from your honeymoon for those who did not attend your wedding. This is a great way to include your friends in your marriage, not just the first day of it.
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