What facets of your wedding are most important to you? Focus on areas that make your heart go pitter-patter, and you'll feel OK about skimping on the rest. As for what guests tend to remember, according to a survey conducted by St. Louis Bride and Groom magazine, 81 percent of guests say the entertainment is the most memorable part of a wedding.
Quick tips for whittling your guest list: Omit children and coworkers (making cuts categorically is less likely to cause rifts); and when it comes to couples, invite spouses, fiances, and live-ins only. Keep the numbers down for your wedding party as well: Fewer attendants means less money spent on bouquets, boutonnieres, presents, and transportation.
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 (ulchq.com) and Esoteric Interfaith Church (northern way.org) 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.
Whoever decided that June brides had more fun, especially when there are 11 other equally lovely months clamoring for your attention? Those that don't fall during peak months will help out your bottom line. "You can save as much as 15 percent off high-season rates," says James Jay, director of catering at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa in Texas. Just remember, in places such as Florida or the Bahamas, summer is the off-peak season.
"Pick a venue that already has a chic ambience," suggests Abby Larson of wedding blog Style Me Pretty. "Restaurants are usually the best option. They have gorgeous tables and chairs, and the decor is often easy to fall in love with. You'll save an absolute bundle."
Save money by spending it on a planner? It sounds counterintuitive, but wedding planners 1) are not shy when it comes to haggling, 2) can draw from years of experience working with brides on budgets, and 3) have working relationships with vendors -- all of which can amount to big bucks shaved off your final bill.
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 Wedding Jojo for instance, users can pick a design (including ones created by yours truly) and personalize it.
"A lot of my clients are opting for no printed program," says San Francisco wedding planner Pamela Fishman Cianci, owner of Outlined Productions. "It's an extra cost and extra stress, and it's unnecessary. The most important words are the vows, and those are never in there."
Going with thermography instead of engraving can cut your stationery budget in half. The processes are different, but the look (raised ink) is nearly identical. "On average, 100 engraved invites will cost $500," says WeddingPaperDivas.com's Lea Armstrong. "With thermography, you'll get the same for $229."
One word: monogram. All it takes is a decent home printer to thread that logo through every element of your wedding, from invitations and favors to programs and banners. "It's a great way to make it look like you spent thousands on the details," says Abby Larson of wedding blog Style Me Pretty.
From your invites (using one shade of ink means big savings on letterpress) to your flowers, choosing a single overall hue creates an instantly chic party at a fraction of the price. Notes Denise Vivaldo, a caterer and author of "Do It for Less! Weddings: How to Create Your Dream Wedding Without Breaking the Bank" (Sellers Publishing, 2008), "Color is cheap, and it can become your theme."
Choosing bigger buds means you'll need fewer stems, thereby helping your bottom line. In "Wedding Chic: The Savvy Bride's Guide to Getting More While Spending Less" (Perigee Trade, 2005), author Nina Willdorf recommends blooms such as African marigolds, gladiolus, and 'Stargazer' lilies, which easily fill a room.
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.
Cutting out the middleman by calling on a grower will allow you to source flowers for, well, dirt cheap. Look for farms or related associations that crop up. Bride-to-be Sherman found one such grower by contacting the American Dahlia Society; he offered her 120 flowers from his garden for $200, plus a low fee to deliver them to her personally.
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.
At sites such as preownedweddingdresses.com and oncewed.com, you can find gently used -- and sometimes never-worn -- designer dresses at a fraction of the price you would pay in a salon. They can also be ideal places to search if you've already found your dream gown and are simply waiting for your fairy godmother to wave her sale wand.
"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.
Don't assume you can't afford top wedding photographers. There are ways to get the person you want at a price you can afford. "Book basic coverage," says Bradley Hanson, a Minneapolis-based wedding photographer. "You can add extras, like an album, later," once you've seen how your budget balances out and how the pictures look.
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).
One way to have a band and stay on budget? Hire a live act for the dancing portion of the event, and fire up your MP3 player for the rest. It's easy to program a wedding march as well as a playlist of tunes that will see you through the cocktail hour. (For bonus points, include a line on your R.S.V.P. cards asking guests to write in a song they'd like to hear.)
"Serving your meal family-style will add ambience, act as an icebreaker, save you on table decor -- in this case, the food is the centerpiece -- and allow you to serve a menu of reasonably priced, festive dishes, like pasta, polenta, and risotto, that would never fly at a plated dinner," says Marcey Brownstein, of Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events in New York City.
Sure, there's the tried-and-true wedding band that's been commanding the market in three states for three decades (and requiring a hefty fee just to show up), but if you're willing to look for it, new talent is always emerging. Go to music venues and scout out an act that catches your ear. Non-wedding bands are nearly always cheaper. Better yet, seek out music schools. Try a classical academy; you'll rest assured that your group has been formally trained in the tunes you're paying them to play.
Rather than baby lamb chops, which can add $5 a head, try lamb-filled grape leaves or a mini lamb burger; both cost less. Other passed hors d'oeuvres that might elicit sticker shock? Anything involving crab or lobster. "We do Indian-spiced cod cakes instead," says Marcey Brownstein, of Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events in New York City. "They're just as luxurious -- and more exciting."
"Throwing a breakfast can be ideal," says Denise Vivaldo, caterer and author of "Do It for Less! Weddings: How to Create Your Dream Wedding Without Breaking the Bank" (Sellers Publishing, 2008). "You can serve mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice or set up a lovely coffee bar with whipped cream and chocolate chips. Plus, all of a sudden, the emphasis isn't only on drinking. It's on what's happening."
One of the best ways to downsize is to limit your bar to beer, wine, and a signature cocktail -- a flavored martini or a sparkling Bellini, perhaps -- that ties into your theme. "It's definitely a big savings, probably a good $10 to $15 per person off your total bar bill," says Wilfried Boutillier, general manager of Maximilien Restaurant, a popular Seattle reception spot.
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."
See if your venue will let you purchase your own alcohol, so you can return any bottles your guests don't drink. You'll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your friends can get tipsy if they like -- and the option to reclaim some of your expenditures if they don't.
Many brides are skipping pricey, fancy tiered creations altogether and serving their favorite desserts instead (think homemade treats such as brownies, donuts, and lemon squares). Some even ask bakeries they love to ship the mix for their favorite treats straight to their caterers.
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.
Here's how to have your pretty cake and afford it, too. Buy sheet cakes (ours are from Whole Foods Market) in whatever size and shape you like, and stack them yourself. Use standard cake dowels, available at baking-supply stores, to keep layers from collapsing, then decorate with thick chocolate shavings or fresh flowers and fruit.
Replace your credit card with one that earns you miles. Start your research at airlinecreditcards.com, which lets you compare the mileage-accrual programs, APR, and interest rates for different cards before you apply. Then start planning a far-flung honeymoon.
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