BEFORE HIRING A PLANNER …
Pay only for the planning expertise that you need
Do you want someone to design your wedding or help you plan it? Here are the planning services available for hire:
Event designers oversee the creative direction and look of your wedding, consulting on everything from the palette to the table settings. Some offer design services only; others do that and coordinate any and all logistics.
Event planners focus on the organizational details, such as negotiating other vendor contracts and securing things like rentals, but typically leave the style of the day to you.
Event coordinators join a month or so before your day, though they should be booked as soon as you set the date. They make sure everything runs smoothly on the day of, from setting out programs and escort cards to directing vendors and overseeing the party setup.
Be up front about the help that you need, and request customized services and rates from the pros.
BEFORE BOOKING THE CEREMONY AND RECEPTION LOCATIONS …
Book an off-date
Consider marrying in the low season, not during a locale's peak time of year. Fall and spring tend to be more expensive (September and June are peak wedding months), whereas winter and late summer often cost much less. Of course, in certain destinations, like Mexico, the opposite is true. You could also consider a weekday to save up to 20 percent off the site fee. More couples are opting for Thursday or Friday evening celebrations, which can be just as fun as a Saturday. And don't fight off the urge to bargain. If the venue doesn't offer a discount, ask for one. Ultimately, venues just want to fill their calendars.
Marry and party in the same place
Scout a spot that can accommodate both your ceremony and reception. By doing so, you'll save on decorations (flowers can be repurposed for the reception while guests enjoy cocktail hour), transportation costs (no need to book buses to move your crowd on property), and a second venue-rental fee—even reserving a church will cost you, at minimum, a donation.
Be smart with your time
If you watch the clock—shaving thirty minutes or an hour off the party—you'll save on liquor, food, and possibly vendors' fees. So it doesn't feel rushed, cut a little from everything (make the cocktail hour a "cocktail forty-five minutes") instead of eliminating events. It's tempting to get so excited that you map out a marathon celebration, but know that a five-hour reception is the tip-top of what people can enjoy and still exit laughing; Anything shorter—or longer—than that timeframe directly impacts your budget.
BEFORE FIRMING UP YOUR PHOTOGRAPHER …
Before signing the contract, make sure you will own the personal-use rights to your images immediately following the wedding. If you won't, photos you thought were included in one price could end up costing a lot more, as you'll have to buy everything individually.
Consider quantity with quality
Some price tags cover everything including albums, prints, and a video; others are à la carte. Ask how long the photographer will spend with you (seven to nine hours is ideal), and whether there will be a second shooter, as you'll get more detail shots this way.
BEFORE SAYING 'YES' TO ENTERTAINMENT …
Break up your favorite band
If you're set on a group that's out of your price range, ask them if they'll downsize. Large bands with several members often offer a condensed version at a smaller price tag—as low as $2,400 - $4,000 (rather than the typical $10,000 for "big-band" music). The just-right line-up consist of six to ten musicians, made up of a rhythm section (piano or keyboard, bass, drums, and guitar), a small horn section comprising saxophone, trumpet, and trombone (one to three horns is average), and a "hands-free" (non-instrument-playing) vocalist or two. Use this formula as a guideline: account for $400 per musician for a four-hour reception.
BEFORE PINNING DOWN YOUR CATERER …
Skip the buffet
Buffets and stations create waste. Why? You have to over estimate how much guests will eat to ensure you don't run out of food (which would be nothing short of embarrassing!), plus you have to pay people to man them. Plated or family-style dinners can be more affordable, if planned wisely. Try this hybrid: Have waiters serve a first course, like soup or salad; then, pass around family-style entrées and sides at each table. The shared platters double as décor and create a communal atmosphere.
Stick with one entrée
It's perfectly acceptable (and more budget-friendly) to offer a single entrée instead of letting guests choose from among a few, especially if hors d'oeuvres are flavorful and plentiful. Plus, you'll eliminate any inkling of envy in the event that the red snapper outshines the rib eye. Arrange to have a "silent" vegetarian option on hand in case people ask for it.