Money-Saving Ideas

While most weddings are undoubtedly expensive, you can save a substantial amount of money by getting creative. That doesn’t mean you have to go nuts with a glitter pen and make endless paper chains… what it does mean is that you get to personalize your special day while saving a few bucks in the process. Bonus! Here’s where you can cut back on the extravagance and make the details just that little bit more special to you.

Ceremony

So, you couldn’t muster the funds for that castle you had your eye on? Why not think a bit smaller – but a whole lot more personal – and opt for an at-home wedding? If your parents still live in the house you grew up in, it’s a wonderful way to combine childhood memories with the ones you create on your big day. Here are some other ways to save money on the ceremony:

  • Hold the ceremony at the same venue as the reception so you don’t have to double-up on rental fees.
  • Being a member of certain sites can reduce rental costs.
  • Reduce the cost of renting chairs by asking guests to stand during an outdoor wedding (obviously hire a few chairs for the older guests to take a load off – you don’t want your Great Aunt Penny collapsing just because you were trying to save a few dollars!).

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Reception

The biggest expense of a wedding is usually the food and drink at the reception. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could serve your guests caviar, the finest lobster and champagne imported from France? But if your budget is more Filet-O-Fish than filet mignon, there are ways you can cut costs without your guests even realizing… or depositing food into their napkins.

  • Consider the time of day. While early evening is the most common time to host a reception, a brunch reception can be just as amazing. Breakfast food is always going to be less costly than dinner fare. For a customized touch, consider offering your guests an omelet or crepe bar with a personal chef on hand. Brunch is also a wonderful way to cut drink costs. People tend to drink less in the early afternoon and your reception can soar by serving your grandmother’s famous Bloody Marys or mimosas instead of having an open bar.
  • Order food that’s in season and locally grown – it’ll be cheaper and fresher.
  • Keep the reception simple. Avoid elaborate menus with multiple courses or labor-intensive recipes.
  • Instead of a fancy restaurant or expensive caterers, you could enlist the services of a culinary school.
  • See if you’re allowed to bring your own alcohol to the reception, then buy in bulk from a discount liquor store.
  • Check into providing your own bar service. Freelance bartenders are sometimes cheaper, but be sure to do a cost comparison.
  • Consider offering champagne cocktails rather than an open bar. You can use sparkling wine for mixing and save the higher quality champagne for the toast.
  • Offer only wine and beer to guests for free – if they want to drink anything else, they’ll have to pay for it.
  • Keep your head count in mind when ordering food. If you are trying to feed a large number of people, avoid the more expensive entrees like lobster and shrimp. Likewise, too many pricey hors d’oeuvres can cost you as much as a formal dinner.
  • Order main dishes from your caterer and then ask your guests to bring the appetizers, side dishes and more. You could also buy pre-prepared food trays from a local deli or grocer, and have the caterer serve them. Just be sure you’ll have enough food so that you don’t risk running out.
  • Simple white table linens can be rented for half the cost of fancy patterned or colored ones.
  • Be on the lookout for added fees for service, equipment and bar items. Make sure all costs are included in the per-person estimate.
  • Consider a buffet or even food stations rather than a full-service meal. Cocktails and light hors d’oeuvres are even more affordable. And cake and punch receptions are the least expensive option of all. You can avoid full-meal expectations by asking your guests to join you for a “cake and punch reception” on your invitations.
  • If offering a buffet, have the catering staff serve the food rather than allowing guests to stock up their own plates. This will regulate the amount of food taken, which is often wasted.
  • Avoid serving salty foods like ham, pretzels or potato chips as these foods make people thirstier, meaning they’ll drink more of your beverage budget.
  • The bartending fee is often waived if you meet the minimum requirement on drinks consumed. Talk about this with your caterer before actually hiring them.

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Flowers

Your bouquets (one to carry down the aisle and one to toss), your bridesmaids bouquets, boutonnieres for the groom and all his men, corsages, flowers for your hair, flowers for the front of the ceremony, flowers for the aisle, head-table flowers, centerpiece flowers, flowers for the buffet table, flowers for the cake table, flowers for the… Eek! Stop right there. All these blooms are bound to be pricy, so some savvy brides are shunning the stems in favor of more novel (and affordable) options – like colorful and fragrant fresh fruit, for example.

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However, if you’d rather go down the traditional flower path, there are ways you can stem the flow of cash.

  • Decide on a budget before meeting with the florist. Ask what the designer can do with that amount rather than asking how much the bill will be.
  • Use flowers that are in season or easily available year round. For a breakdown of blooms by season, visit "Flowers by Season".
  • Consider a “market buy” option that allows the florist to purchase flowers that go on special the day before your wedding. The exact blooms may be a surprise, but so will the savings!
  • Smaller size means a smaller price. Think of a single, elegant bloom surrounded by greenery in place of elaborate bouquets or corsages. Or forego the greenery and just have a statement single stem.
  • If you have a flair for floral arrangements, you can buy your blooms wholesale and create your own designs.
  • Use a few large flower arrangements rather than several smaller ones. Or include a lot of greenery in your arrangements.
  • Ask if there is another wedding at your site on the same day and ask the bride if she’s willing to split the cost of the floral arrangements.
  • Rent plants and trees from the florist or a nursery.
  • Get married in a garden – flowers included!
  • Silk flowers can make beautiful decorations that will last much longer than the real kind. And they cost a lot less.
  • Skip the pew arrangements and the aisle runner at the ceremony. Or only decorate every other pew.
  • Choose a smaller floral centerpiece and use bows, candles or mirrors to give it a more elaborate appearance.
  • Your guests will spend most of the ceremony looking towards the altar. Concentrate your flowers there.
  • Altar decorations and bouquets can double as centerpieces.
  • Some of the more modern bouquet styles are also some of the most frugal. Think of a small handful of beautiful blooms such as yellow sunflowers, bright tulips or colorful posy mixes.
  • Try to avoid celebrating near holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day when floral rates will be at their highest.

Photography

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Most professional photographers take at least 500 shots throughout a wedding day. That’s enough “words” for a pretty hefty novel! While you don’t want to skimp on photography, there are ways of saving money without sacrificing quality.

  • Negotiate lower rates for less-popular wedding days or months.
  • Be specific about the kinds of photos you want. A “shot list” will save you money by eliminating pictures you don’t want.
  • Ask your photographer about “ceremony only” packages if your budget is tight. Then ask some of the better shooters among your friends or family to take candids at the reception.
  • Don’t go overboard by passing out a bunch of disposable cameras – most of the shots you get will be blurry, wonky or of the floor! Just giving a few cameras to key people will probably be more effective.
  • Keep prints and albums simple. Special effects and fancy frames cost extra.
  • Don’t underestimate the number of photos you’ll need. Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to buy a bigger package than run the risk of having to buy additional prints separately. When something you want is not included, ask about swapping it for another item in the package.
  • When family and friends ask for additional prints, be sure to mention the price per print. Most will be happy to pay for their own.
  • Buy the pictures from the photographer and then put them in an album yourself. The photographer will probably reduce the price of the package if you opt to do this.
  • Select less 8-inch x 10-inch photos and more 4-inch x 6-inch ones.
  • If you can wait, order any reprints of photos a few years after the wedding (a professional photographer should keep the files for at least five years). Contact the photographer and ask if they will sell you the photo files at a bargain price. They’ll probably be happy to.

Videography

Sure, you want the best video for your investment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use some ideas to save money!

  • As most cameras and phones are video-capable these days, why not ask a few of the guests to capture certain moments for you? You could assign Uncle Andrew the wedding vows, Cousin Ben the first dance and Best Friend Charlotte the cutting of the cake!
  • Consider recording just the ceremony. You could save up to 60% off the cost of a full package.
  • If you’ve opted for full multi-camera coverage at the ceremony, consider scaling back to a single camera for the reception. Or vice versa.
  • Ask about any package deals offered. You can usually create one of your own if you don’t see one you like. But be sure to have everything covered by a set price written into the contract.
  • Keep your video simple. Fewer special effects and less post-editing can save you a bundle.
  • Ask about a volume discount for duplicates. Many videographers will offer to make an economical 30-minute “highlight” version to be given as gifts. Some people prefer videos to photo albums, so be sure to compare costs and preferences. And don’t underestimate the number when you do order. You won’t get that great price when you want to buy just a disc or two later on.
  • Negotiate lower fees if you have an off-season wedding date. Or if you’re willing to wait for your DVD, you could get an off-season editing rate.
  • Plan on feeding your videographer and any crew at the reception. Depending on the type of menu and schedule, you can tell them to eat with the guests or have the caterer prepare a light snack. Your expense will be minimal and you won’t have to worry about your crew leaving the site for a meal break.
  • Consider a photo montage video, which includes a series of photos set to music. A typical song allows for about 30-40 photos. You could use images of you both growing up, when dating, the rehearsal, the wedding day, the honeymoon – or just stick to the wedding day. There are many websites that allow you to create your own montage for free or at a low cost. This photo montage can then be transferred onto a DVD. Reproducing this DVD would cost considerably less than reproducing photos – something to keep in mind when sorting out gifts for people.
  • Some companies deliver videos that are only available online, which are cheaper than going the traditional route.

Attire

Most brides want to feel like a princess (or at the very least, very special) so it’s easy to get carried away with the dress. You budgeted a certain amount and then – bam – you try on The One and all of a sudden your guests are eating soup and sandwiches instead of the three-course meal you had originally planned. But there are ways to still get a gorgeous dress at a fraction of the “crazy” cost. Below is a list of ways you can save on your outfit.

  • Rent a dress for the day. You’ll be able to afford a much more beautiful, intricate design – perhaps even a designer name.
  • Check out sample sales that carry dresses from last season at a reduced cost.
  • Buy a used dress – so many brides want to recoup some of the cost of their frock after the big day by selling it.
  • Check off “something borrowed” with a dress on loan from a friend.
  • Add your own trimming or hire a seamstress to dress-up a simple “off-the-rack” dress.
  • Buy a beautiful bridesmaid’s dress in ivory or white. Even a designer creation will be considerably less than a bridal gown.
  • Go with an evening gown. You can usually get twice the dress for half the money! There’s no rule that says you have to wear a white poufy number.
  • Consider less-expensive fabrics.
  • Have a talented seamstress recreate a designer look at a fraction of the cost.
  • Ask about a “group rate” if you’ll be ordering your gown and your bridesmaids’ dresses from the same shop.
  • Make your own veil or headpiece with kits and materials from a craft store.
  • If you’ll be going with a full-length gown, then you can wear shoes you already own or buy inexpensive ones. Your guests will see very little of them.
  • Think vintage! You can find antique wedding gowns and cocktail dresses that will look like one-of-a-kind creations. Or you could even wear your mom’s wedding dress – it may only need a bit of minor tailoring to make it fit like a glove.

Beautifying

A professional makeup artist could cost hundreds of dollars and, if you don’t choose the right one, make you look like a clown. To save money (and humiliation), follow these tips.

  • Enlist a friend to apply your makeup. She’ll know your personality and how you usually look so might even do a better job than a pro. Plus you’ll be able to have a few trial runs – playing with different styles – until you settle on the blushing-bride look of choice.
  • Get a makeover at a cosmetics counter the morning of the wedding. Most stores offer this service for free, although it’s usually expected that you buy one or two items.
  • If you do opt for a professional makeup artist, try to negotiate having your makeup done free or at a discounted price if they apply your bridesmaids’, mom’s and fiancé’s mom’s makeup too. You could try this with your manicurist too.
  • DIY it. If you have a flair for doing your own makeup and hair, there’s no reason you can’t do it for yourself on your wedding day. Check out YouTube for helpful tutorial videos.

Cake

The wedding cake is second only to the bridal gown when it comes to the scrutiny it will receive, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to exist on bread and water between now and the wedding in order to pay for it!

  • Be realistic. The magnificent cakes you see in the magazines are usually in the $10- to $15-per-slice range. Ask about modifying designs or substituting ingredients. For example, buttercream icing is very tasty and quite a bit more affordable than fondant.
  • Be aware of hidden costs when making price comparisons. You may have to pay a fee to your reception site if you hire an outside cake designer. Or you may get a great deal on the cake only to find out later that you’ll be paying almost as much again to cover the serving fee.
  • Order a smaller display cake and then serve your guests slices of sheet cake or a “side cake”. You can do the traditional slicing of the cake in front of your guests and then have the side cakes served from a back room.

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  • If you want to impress, consider ordering a smaller cake that will sit on top of fake tiers.

  • Order a wedding cake that will feed at least half of your guests and then offer several more-affordable desserts.
  • Cake makers who bake from their home are usually more reasonable than those who work from a different premises. But check that they have been licensed by the local health department before hiring them.

Stationery

There’s more to consider than just invitations when it comes to wedding stationery. Add save-the-date cards, thank you notes, ceremony programs, place settings, table plans, etc. etc. to the mix and the cost creeps up and up. Follow these tips on how to cut costs (without resorting to sending out Post-its!).

  • Get the engraved look for the price of thermography (a method that relies on heat to create images or words on paper). Few people outside the printing industry can tell the difference between the two.
  • Print the reception information at the bottom of your invitation, rather than ordering separate reception cards.
  • Order invitations online or through a mail-order catalogue, but be very careful in reviewing your order for spelling or wording mistakes. Allow additional time in case of error.
  • Shop around for limited-time discounts and special deals offered by stationers, print shops, department stores and other stationery sources.
  • Ask about package rates for ordering all your wedding-related stationery at the same time.
  • Check into ordering your invitations through the same department store that you register with. Many merchants will give you a significant price break for combining the two services.
  • Handwrite your save-the-date cards/invitations/ place cards, etc. This will be time-consuming but could save a substantial amount of money as there would be no printing costs. Just make sure you don’t do them all at once as there’s nothing worse than a hand cramp!
  • Use your computer to create your own designs.
  • Leave out the tissue insert. Once upon a time it kept invitation ink from smudging during delivery, but it’s unnecessary with today’s printing techniques.
  • Keep your invitations as simple and as lightweight as possible. For example, using response postcards rather than response cards and envelopes will save both printing and postage costs.
  • Address envelopes yourself or hire an art student/friend with good handwriting to do the lettering for you.
  • Use the computerized calligraphy offered by many stationery shops or a calligraphy font on your own computer.
  • Consider using bulk-mailing options if you have a guest list of 500 or more.
  • For the invitations or thank-you notes, print the details on a sticky label and adhere it to something – the back of a photo of you both, for example.
  • Send your save-the-dates via email.
  • Use digital invitation templates. For an explanation, visit "DIY Customized Templates for Your Wedding Invitations"
  • If all the people you’re inviting to the ceremony are also invited to the reception, just include all the information on one invitation, instead of separate ones. This will save printing and postage costs.
  • To save on the wedding programs, limit them to just one page and don’t print one for every guest. Most guests share a program or even forget to pick up one. If you want to be safe, print a program for three-quarters of your final head count. This will save you money, cut back on waste and also save a few trees at the same time.

Music

Is the idea of saving money music to your ears? Read on to discover how you can fine-tune your music budget.

  • Instead of hiring a band or a DJ, create your own playlist on your iPod and link it up to the venue’s speakers (or bring your own).
  • If you decide on a DJ or band, reserve your date as far in advance as possible to get the best rate.
  • Ask musically talented friends or family if they would perform as their wedding gift to you both.
  • Use staff musicians from your sites. They are paid a salary and should be offered at a lower rate.
  • Use a DJ rather than a live band. They are usually more affordable.
  • Select a smaller band because fees, gratuities and meal costs increase with each additional musician.
  • Ask about the minimum amount of time a band or DJ will play at your reception. Most have a two-hour minimum that will cover the first dances and the cake cutting. Play recorded music for the rest of the celebration.
  • Hire student performers. Call your local college’s music department and ask to speak to the person who is in charge of booking music events.
  • Ask musicians if they play other instruments. Perhaps a band member can also play the flute at your ceremony. See what kind of deals you can make.
  • Hire an up-and-coming band. Research your local area, and look for a band you enjoy listening to. New bands are usually very willing to play to a live audience, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. You may be able to get a better idea of what to offer a local band based on recent venues they have played. A quick call to the manager of that establishment can give you an idea of their regular fees.

Decorations

Affordable decorations needn’t be tacky – in fact, they can be super-chic. Check out these ideas on how to maximize your décor while minimizing your budget.

  • Incorporate artistic photos of the happy couple into the decorations. These can be edited at home on your computer and printed out at your local drugstore very cheaply. The more pictures you use, the less other (more expensive) decorations you’ll have to splurge on.
  • Have your wedding near a holiday. If you have your wedding near a major holiday like Christmas or Easter, you can often save on decorations because the church, or other venue, will already be decorated beautifully.
  • Use twinkle “Christmas” lights as a simple, elegant, cheap decoration. They can be hung from the ceiling, around tables, by the cake or in potted plants. If you don’t want to use these lights, consider lanterns instead.
  • Share your decorations. If there are other weddings taking place in the same venue on the day of your wedding get in touch with those couples and see if you can arrange to split the cost of some decorations and share them for the day.
  • Decorate with food. Huge and assorted apothecary jars of candy or bright fruits dotted around can be very effective.
  • Add candles.
There’s nothing more romantic than a dimly lit room illuminated by the glow of hundreds of candles. And, fortunately, candles are economical.
  • Instead of seat covers, which can be expensive to rent, get some beautiful wide ribbon to tie on the backs of the chairs to add some elegance.
  • Buy yards of your favorite fabric at a craft store and use it to cover tables and drape it from the ceiling (sheer fabrics work well and create a soft, romantic atmosphere).
  • If lighting is pivotal to your décor, choose uplighting as it’s the most affordable option.
  • Create your own centerpieces. For cheap, chic ideas, visit: DIY Idea: Easy Centerpieces by Frolic

Transportation

Before you let a wedding-car agency speed off with all your cash, check out these money-saving ideas.

  • Consider cars from a regular car rental agency. Many of them stock everything from vintage motors to luxury sports cars – and you’ll be able to hire them for 24 hours (rather than just a couple) at a much lower rate than a wedding-car agency. Put your best man in a chauffeur’s cap and have him drive you to your next destination.
  • Contact a car club in your area. The owners of the automobiles often love the excuse to show them off – and probably won’t ask for much to borrow them for the day.
  • Let your driver go after you arrive at the reception and schedule another one to pick you up afterwards. Otherwise, one driver could be parked outside your venue all night, racking up huge charges.
  • Hire one enormous limousine to transport you, your parents and the attendants in one vehicle.
  • Hold the reception at the same venue as the ceremony so you don’t have to pay for transport to get from one to the other.
  • Take one of your own cars to the wedding and encourage your wedding party to cover it in balloons, tin cans and fun “Just Married” signs. There’s nothing wrong with going old-school!

Gifts

Your bridesmaids will have gone to a lot of expense and given up a lot of time to help you on your big day, so giving them gifts is absolutely essential. But if your budget won’t stretch to matching Gucci handbags for them all, don’t worry – some of the best gifts are personalized, from the heart and completely DIY. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be awesome!

  • Rather than get every bridesmaid the same thing, why not tailor each gift to the individual? Do you have a photo of you and Lizzie under a palm tree on the best vacation ever? Frame it and offer it to her as a thank-you present. Is there a film that cracks you and Charlotte up? Buy her the DVD. Do you and Francesca share a love of poring over fashion magazines? Buy her a subscription to her favorite one.
  • Ask your photographer to take individual photos of each bridesmaid and groomsman with their dates. Then frame each photo to give as a personal yet inexpensive present.
  • Make each bridesmaid their own scrapbook. Purchase inexpensive basic photo albums or journals and fill each one with photos, mementos, memories and nice thoughts tailored to each one of them.
  • If you are handy with a sewing machine, make each bridesmaid a basic apron or pillows in funky fabrics (so many great ones can be found in your local fabric store’s clearance bins) that are suited to each one’s unique style.
  • Using charms and baubles that each member of the wedding party would like, make each one of them a personalized keychain.
  • Go garage-sale shopping! One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Buy vinyl disco albums for the groomsman who loves all things ’70s and retro, classic Nancy Drews for the bridesmaid who never quite outgrew her love of mysteries, and Pyrex bowls for the friend who loves to cook. Wrap them in fabric and wide ribbons to play up the vintage quality of the gift.

Honeymoon

Think you can only afford a “staycation”? Read these money-saving tips and think again. Now say, “Aloha!”

  • With their expertise and computerized systems, good travel agents almost always save you money and time. Find an agent who specializes in leisure travel and who takes the time to discover the perfect trip for your needs.
  • Begin honeymoon planning early to take advantage of early-booking incentives.
  • Telling your travel agent – or any travel vendor – that you’re planning your honeymoon is a 50-50 gamble. In some cases, you may be rewarded with special deals, such as a free room or seating upgrades. Or you could be charged more since people think you’re too blinded by love to pay attention to your purse.
  • Opt for a long weekend trip instead of a one- or two-week stay.
  • Travel off-season – the Caribbean in the summer or Europe in spring or fall offer perks. They include more affordable airfares and accommodation, fewer crowds and a higher level of service.
  • Friends and family members can help you keep your honeymoon costs down. Do any own vacation homes or time-shares? Ask them if you can rent their property. Know anyone with loads of transferable frequent flyer airline miles? They may be willing to offer the use of them.
  • Set up a honeymoon registry and have guests donate to that instead of buying a gift.
  • Traveling by car is often cheaper than flying. If you live in a coastal state, plan a trip up or down the coast. Bed-and-breakfasts may be available where you can stay at reasonable rates. If you live in a state with easy access to the Canadian or Mexican borders, you can even honeymoon abroad without incurring airfare.
  • If traveling to Europe, choose one city or area instead of trekking all over the continent. You’ll have a better chance of relaxing and really exploring the place. When you rent an apartment for one or two weeks, you can save as much as 30% over the cost of a hotel room.
  • To ensure you’re getting the best price, find out if using another nearby airport, or shifting departure times or travel dates, would reduce the fare.
  • Arrange car rental in advance for the best deals. If you arrive at the airport without reservations, you’ll be forced to pay premium rates.

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