The average wedding costs over $19,000! No wonder couples get antsy when they start coordinating a wedding. But does it have to be this way? Absolutely not! The most important thing is to make your wedding personal. No matter how much you are prepared to spend, the following budget-savvy strategies from will help get the most beautiful memories for your money:

1. Priorities
Before you begin planning your wedding and reception, sit down together and discuss your top five priorities. This will help to determine where to go all out, and where you can cut corners. For instance, if it is important to you that the wedding and reception be held at the restaurant that you went to on your first date or you know you must have a specific designer gown or a certain DJ that you really like, then you can fit that into your budget and decide to save money in other areas.

2. Guest List
Keeping the guest list as concise as possible can help to drastically reduce reception costs. Most caterers, restaurants and banquet halls charge per person, so the difference between 100 guests and 150 will be significant.
Reverend Roger Coleman of Clergy Services, Inc., in Kansas City, Missouri, who specializes in small weddings says, “Don’t invite more guests than you can spend one minute of time with. If you invite 300 guests spending one minute with each would take over five hours.” And that’s not including time to eat, dance and have a good time!

3. Food
Food can be the biggest expense at a wedding. Strategies to save on food and catering include choosing to have a buffet instead of a sit-down meal, or hosting a high tea, dessert reception, brunch or luncheon instead of a multi-course dinner. Or consider drop-off catering, where the caterer delivers already prepared food and sets it up. Catering all, or part of the reception, on your own is another possibility.

4. Location
There are many options for low-cost or no-cost locations including local and national parks, forest preserves, your own backyard or that of a friend or relative. Also consider a location that offers an all-inclusive package on the wedding, reception, and sometimes the honeymoon too. Choosing to have the wedding during an off-season or on any day but Saturday will also help to cut costs.

5. Wedding Attire
A few creative money-saving alternatives to shopping at a traditional bridal salon include purchasing a gown at an outlet, a department store in the special occasions off-the-rack area, buying a vintage or once-worn gown and purchasing a traditional gown through the Discount Bridal Service (DBS). Also consider bidding for a gown Online at an auction site, renting a gown, redoing a mother or mother-in-law’s dress or wearing a designer suit.

6. Flowers and Decorations
Those who choose to wed in a location that is already decorated will see big savings. To set a stylish mood without much work, plan the wedding to take place in a garden, art museum or a beautifully furnished home. Or consider doing the flowers and decorations yourself. One bride I interviewed for Priceless Weddings planted 200 bulbs months before her wedding, and then married right in the middle of the fully blooming cheerful yellow tulips. Another bought 13 dozen roses at a great price from a warehouse store.

7. Invitations
This is definitely an area where doing it yourself can show off your skills and allow you to pocket the difference. My husband and I “printed” our invitations right on the computer and no one would ever have guessed! We also printed a newsletter that we sent out a few months before the wedding. This helped to alert out-of-towners to make reservations in advance and plan a mini-vacation if they wanted to.

8. Music
For some couples, a band is an absolute must. But a DJ is usually much less expensive, plus you get an MC to move the reception along. For the die-hard live band or music folks, look for bands that have day jobs and “jam” for fun, or check into high-school-aged bands. Or have a child violinist perform for the ceremony. Trust me, there won’t be a dry eye in the place. A rock-bottom budget option is to make your own tapes of your musical favorites.

9. Photography and Videography
Weddings tend to go by so quickly, and each moment is so precious, that having a photographer chronicle the event with a still and/or video camera is the only way to really capture the moment for posterity. But can photography be affordable. Kennedy assures that it can, “When we were married, we knew that photography and videography were important to us, but we also knew that we did not want to spend top dollar for the services. We hired a friend of a friend who was an art school graduate. She gave us a package deal of a full day of shooting, a wedding book, the 3″x5″ proofs and the negatives for a very fair price. Another friend videotaped the wedding in lieu of a present.”

10. Bar service
Eliminating or limiting a traditional full bar to one or two hours will really cut costs. Alternatives include serving beer and wine only, not serving alcohol at all or only pouring a champagne toast. Depending on the local laws and the rules at your reception hall, if you are able to buy the liquor yourself and then hire someone to pour it the savings potential is enormous.

A wedding should not be about how much was spent or saved. It should reflect the individual personalities and priorities of the couple getting married. Cutting costs won’t limit your day if you stay faithful to your personal style just like the couples I interviewed for Priceless Weddings, all of whose weddings cost under $5000! In fact, my wedding was only $3500; it was very low stress and intimate, yet elegant. We celebrated our commitment, our vows and our friendships and absolutely rejoiced in the days’ events.

article by Kathleen Kennedy

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