First thing’s first. What to pay full price for.
Photographers/Videographers: It may be tempting, especially if you’re on a budget, to hire your best friend’s nephew’s cousin Phil who has a really nice camera and will shoot the whole thing for $200. I don’t recommend it. Save money in other areas and budget well ahead of time to hire a professional photographer. The results and special memories you’ll have will be well worth the cost.
Cake: I’m not saying you have to commission the Ace of Cakes guy. In fact your friend’s nephew’s cousin Phil may be extremely good at making beautiful cakes. But if he is, he deserves to be paid full price, because that takes a lot of talent… and make sure you’ve seen his work beforehand. There are also creative alternatives to cakes – like this donut bar, for more laid back weddings, or this incredible stack of pies, if you’re not a cake person. Sometimes you can also save just by doing a little extra research. There are many talented cake artists who don’t have storefronts, and therefore have less overhead which means savings for you. Just remember: trying to save on cake can have disastrous results.
Okay, so where can I afford to save?
So glad you asked! Let’s start with the venue: By scheduling your wedding during off-peak times (i.e. not June), and off-peak days (i.e. not Saturday), you can get better rates at common wedding venues. Try different times of day too – like a Sunday brunch wedding. You might also consider nontraditional locations such as a restaurant you think is pretty, parks, beaches, beautiful backyards, farms or camp grounds.
Buy used and generic. You can buy beautiful décor, dresses and accessories previously owned and gently used. Etsy, for instance is home to a vast array of gorgeous handmade or pre-owned items. But shop around too. Look at eBay and consignment shops. Buy shoes you will wear again after the wedding to get the most for your money. Check out local places like Wal-Mart and Target for thank you cards in your preferred colors, instead of ordering from an expensive website.
DIY. Thanks to the advent of Pinterest, you can make so many beautiful decorations and centerpieces yourself. From centerpieces to save-the-dates, you can find a pattern for just about anything, and make it gorgeous. Speaking of Save-the-Dates, web sites like www.theknot.com provide lovely email templates so you can save the cost of printing and postage on those. A friend of mine made great coasters for her rustic-style wedding by sawing the ends off of Christmas trees at a local tree lot (her wedding was right before Christmas) and wrapping ribbons around them. Websites like Snapfish or Zazzle make it easy to design and print your own thank you cards or invitations.
Skip the website. It’s fun and exciting to build a website about your big day, but most people don’t spend enough time there for it to be worth the cost and time (unless it’s free).
Food: Catering can be one of the heaviest expenses, especially if you have to take into account a variety of food allergies and preferences. If you’re using a venue like a back yard or a barn, why not have people bring meat and Barbecue? This helps make the reception seem less formal and restrictive than the typical round tables around the dance floor style. But if you prefer a nice, catered meal, think about cutting down your guest list for the wedding itself. In fact…
Guest list: It’s tempting to forget that this is your wedding in the midst of obligations not to step on anyone’s toes. But it really is your special day. Invite the people who you want to be there. Some friends of mine a few years ago held a smaller, more intimate wedding on a Friday night (full catering and all) and then a casual brunch the next day with a wider audience. Anyone who wasn’t invited to the ceremony was invited to the brunch and got to munch on breakfast finger foods, enjoy a slideshow of the ceremony, and visit with the bride and groom. This can be a great way to cut down on the cost of dinner for everyone.
DJ. If you’re not going to use a DJ, make sure you have a sufficient sound system. Some places will allow you to rent a small PA for the occasion.
Flowers. Shop for what’s in season. Buy flowers with bigger buds to make fewer flowers look fuller. Buy flowers in bulk at places like Costco. Try pinning a single, beautiful blossom to each bridesmaid instead of creating a bouquet for each one.
And finally… Don’t buy party favors. It’s cute to have bags of branded M&Ms on the tables, but the guests won’t miss them if they’re not there. If you’re cutting unnecessary expenses, start there. And don’t bother with throwaway cameras. You’ll never get all the photos back anyway.
I hope this helps get the creative juices flowing. If you have any other suggestions for creating a memorable day while keeping the overhead down, please comment!