Limit alcoholic beverages to wine and beer, choices that will satisfy most of your guests. Join mailing lists at wine shops, then, when wines you want for your wedding go on sale, buy in bulk and in magnum sizes to save.
When you're ready to buy wine, go with wholesale. You'll pay your caterer a corkage fee to pour it, but wine purchased through him can cost twice as much. Most merchants offer a 10 percent discount for buying wine by the case, and they'll often increase that if you purchase several cases at once.
If your caterer's contract will permit it, hire an outside baker to provide the wedding cake. Even though you'll have to pay a cake-cutting charge, you will likely pay less overall if you shop around.
Even if you want a tall cake, have your baker make only the amount required to serve each guest one slice. Any additional tiers can be made of Styrofoam and iced to match the others.
How dinner is served affects the price. French service, in which guests are served by waiters from a platter at the table, and regular plate service are the most expensive. More economical is family style, where diners help themselves from serving dishes brought to the table.
Order a moderately priced, plainly decorated cake, and make the focal point the cake topper. Vintage bride-and-groom figurines, wedding bells, horseshoes, a basket filled with fruit, or a pair of doves (from an antiques shop or handmade) are classic symbols that can make a cake memorable.
Make floral arrangements do double duty: If there's an adequate number of ceremony flowers and they're an appropriate size, they can serve as centerpieces at the reception; otherwise they can decorate guest-book, seating-card, and favor tables. Place bridesmaids' bouquets on the cake table.
Instead of decorating tables with large arrangements, float a few flowers in shallow bowls or glass cylinders filled halfway with water. Here, we floated five or six peony blossoms in a footed bowl, surrounding it with scattered votive candles and satellite peonies in smaller bowls.
Use favors as seating or place cards to save a bit on stationery costs. For seating cards, write guests' names and table numbers on strips of paper, affix them to the favors, and set in order on a table near the entrance. For place cards, put favors with names attached at guests' places.
Vendors will be more likely to reduce fees if you choose a winter date rather than scheduling for summer, when rates are at their highest. This doesn't apply, however, during holidays. Fridays and Sundays are generally less expensive than Saturdays for renting a venue.
For a destination wedding, book a date that is not as popular for travel in the region.
Ask talented friends or relatives to help with your wedding. An artistic friend, for instance, might design your stationery, or a baking enthusiast could make cupcakes or cookie favors. At this reception in Manitoba, Canada, bridemaids assembled paper pom-poms, and groomsmen hung them from the rafters.
Look for a dress at sample sales, trunk shows, and outlets; you can sign up for some designers' sample-sale listings online.
Consider wearing your mother's gown. The costs of cleaning and alterations will likely be far less than the cost of buying a new wedding dress.
There are many unexpected costs that can inflate your budget; an officiant can be one of them. If that's the case for you, consider having your vows administered by a trusted relative or friend. Universal Life Church and Esoteric Interfaith Church are two organizations that "ordain" laypeople so they can officiate weddings, which most of the 50 states will recognize. Laws in a few states, such as Virginia, are strict, requiring officiants to be active in their ministry. To be sure you're in the clear, check with the county clerk about the laws where you'll be wed.
Finding the perfect typeface that's also free is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail. Here's reason to rejoice: four decidedly un-tacky fonts that don't cost a hard-earned dime. Top row from left: Customize place cards, coasters, menus, or thank-you notes with simple Kontor serif or Lane sans serif, from dafont.com. Bottom row: Use the more stylized Monogram kk and Hoedown fonts from abstractfonts.com to stand in for a calligrapher or give a "Just Married" sign a retro Western kick.
"Choosing a venue that comes with extras built in, like a wedding coordinator or an on-site ceremony location, means significant savings," says Christina Latvatalo, wedding sales manager at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. All those extras can add up to thousands you won't have to spend.
Save on paper, printing, and postage by sharing your wedding details online. Many businesses charge only a small fee to use their webpage templates, and some charge nada. On weddingwire.com (one of our partners), for instance, users can pick a design, upload photos, and even add a song that will play whenever guests pay a visit -- all for free.
When it comes to your ceremony site, you don't need to deck the guest-book table and every pew with flowers. Get the most bloom for your buck by asking your florist to design two lush altarpieces, which will direct everyone's eyes exactly where you want them to be: on you and your groom.
Most wedding-dress designers allow you to sign up for news and updates. Even if you have a policy of sharing your e-mail address with only your nearest and dearest, this is one of the few times where it pays to offer up your deets. Get on their e-mail lists, and you'll be privy to time-sensitive insider info such as sample sales and trunk shows.
"You can save on makeup by hiring the best person you can afford," says Rosemary Redlin, a New York-based makeup artist. "Then ask them to leave a touch-up kit behind." Many artists charge by the hour, and you'll rack up serious costs by having them stick around for your photo session, when all you will really need are touch-ups.
Instead of centerpieces with oodles of blooms in them, consider using petite vases (ours are from Ikea and cost between $5 and $10). Fill them each with a few flower stems and spread them out. An added upshot: "Each person at the table will get a feel for the flowers, which isn't the case when you have one centerpiece," says Siu.
There are many talented photographers who haven't made a name for themselves yet, and their lack of fame can save you a fortune. If you fall hard for a photographer who's in high demand, ask if she'll refer you to a lower-priced colleague (just make sure you like his work before you commit).
Technically, Champagne is sparkling wine that's from the Champagne region of France. But there are plenty of worldly competitors without the high price tag. Substitute with Cava, the Spanish take on Champagne, or Prosecco, from Italy, which is smoother, sweeter, and a better fit for a small budget. It's even true of French sparkling wine: "The least expensive bottle of Champagne we sell is $57," says Boutillier. "And Cremant, which is made the same way but isn't from Champagne, is $33."
Instead of registering for stuff, ask guests to contribute to your honeymoon stash: At honeyfund.com, you can register for your trip, add vacation extras (from boat tours to spa treatments), then break the expenses down into gift-size increments. And if you're planning a honeymoon at a Sandals resort, all you have to do is register for it at weddingchannel.com.
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