Cut the Cake: 15 Ways to Reduce Wedding Expenses

By Guest Blogger Brittany Sarconi

March Wedding Madness has set in but, as with the shrinking size of international diamonds, wedding budgets have gone the way of the economy. It only makes sense people are less willing to spend a fortune on a one-time party.

The temptations to grow a small wedding into an extravaganza, however, can be hard to resist. Bakers, caterers and bridal-gown salons will try to up-sell their cakes, to compensate for shrinking incomes. Invitation lists tend to grow like weeds, as parents add work associates, friends ask to bring extra guests, and Auntie Flo insists your six cousins absolutely must be invited.

For those tying the knot this year, we offer the following 15 tips on how to not mortgage your future by serving 300 people a rubber-chicken meal.

1. Communication is Paramount
Sit down with your future spouse and talk about your expectations. You need to discuss compromises if he wants a tiny wedding and you want a giant blow out. Also, pow wow with anyone else involved in covering costs and set a realistic ceiling. Decide if pictures are more important than flowers, or if it is more important to have 250 guests with a sit-down meal.

2. Boring Budgets
Yes, you've heard it before, but once you've agreed upon the total amount you're willing to spend, it's vital to establish and stick to a budget. Several online budget calculators make this process much easier by allowing you to add and subtract costs as you go and have these changes reflected in the total figure. Examples include

3. Check One, Two, Three
Checklists for the groom, the bride and anyone else involved will help keep the planning on target and reduce the chance of unanticipated expenses.

4. Save a Tree
Why spend hundreds of dollars on a seven-piece, hand-engraved invite with that useless tissue paper liner? Separate enclosure cards aren't mandatory. Consider keeping the invitation to a single sheet and save on both paper and postage. You can save even more trees and postage by sending out postcards, but that's an individual call.

4. Daylight Savings
Reception halls cost more in the evening so consider having the wedding in the late morning or afternoon.

5. Dress It Down
This is a no-brainer but probably the most difficult expense to control. Wedding dress prices are out of control, particularly since you'll only wear the dress once. Even if you've always dreamed of dressing like a meringue on your wedding day, consider something a bit simpler or a non-standard wedding dress. You often can get cut-rate prices on gowns from thrift shops, consignment stores, eBay or CraigsList. Just as with new cars, the value of a wedding gown drops the moment you take it out of the store. Watch out, however, for counterfeits sold as designer originals on the Internet.

6. Shrink the List
You want to be surrounded by those important to you, not your cousin's bosses' wife. Keep the guest list small. Estimates are that it costs $80 per guest (including invitations, food, drinks, cake and favors) so the more people, the bigger the required budget.

7. Wedding Favors
When did wedding favors become a must? Can you think of any other party that gives guests gifts simply for attending? But if you feel strongly about wedding favors, consider something you can make or that's inexpensive and fun. I attended a memorable wedding where the bagged favors contained such kids' toys as bubble bottles or a game of jacks. The toys kept guests entertained and didn't cost the couple an arm and a leg. 

8. Location, Location, Location
Look for ceremony and reception spaces that only need small accents, instead of a total transformation. That way, you're not spending a large part of your budget on decor. Building features like fireplaces, simple fountains, gardens and even crown molding can reduce or eliminate the need for decoration. You also might want to consider an outdoor wedding and/or reception in an inexpensive or free location. Avoid spaces that don't allow you to bring in your own food or liquor. Naturally, you'll save even more by holding the wedding and reception in the same location. As a bonus, guests might appreciate not trekking from one place to another.

9. Lock-in Prices
Ask vendors for guaranteed prices on food, cake and liquor, particularly if you're signing a contract far in advance of the big day. Asking for a fixed price now ensures you won't get hit harder at delivery. You don't want to face a 25-percent surcharge to cover rising energy or food costs.

10. Haggle
Don't be afraid of negotiating with the vendors. It's the rare bride these days who doesn't have a tight budget and most vendors understand. Tell the vendor your bottom line and other quotes you've received -- if these quotes are competitive -- and ask what they can do to meet or beat this price. You also might negotiate a discount for paying in cash instead of by credit card. However, remember that paying with a credit card offers some protection should you postpone or cancel the wedding, or should you desire to withhold payment if there is a problem with the service or product. 

11. Limit Liquor
Instead of an open bar with 10 different liquor selections, offer one signature cocktail or beer and wine. Guests are apt to drink more when there's an unlimited selection, greatly increasing costs if you're paying for opened and empty bottles. Instead of buying individual bottles of beer, consider a keg and, while it might sound a bit tacky, modern boxed wines offer a better selection than in the past and tend to be less expensive. While a bartender or two will cost more up-front than a self-serve bar, you'll save on total alcohol consumed.

12. Cut the Cake
Don't overspend on layers of cake that will go uneaten. For smaller weddings, use a faux bottom for the lower tiers that will look good in pictures and cost less. For larger weddings, order a smaller version of your dream cake and a sheet cake in the same flavor for guests to eat (and put under their pillows).

13. Flower Power
Use in-season flowers with more greens and fewer blooms. Roses are always available but brides should steer clear of such floral-intensive holidays as Mother's Day, when high demand drives up prices. You also can save by arranging the flowers at home, rather than paying a florist. Instead of spending money on new vases, shop thrift stores that overflow with second-hand vases. Another flower tip: Don't fill the church with fresh flowers. You're going to spend a lot more time at the reception anyway. If you really want to decorate the church, large bows or balloons fastened to the ends of pews look festive and are less expensive. One last floral thought: You might use the bride's and/or attendants' bouquets to decorate tables at the reception.

14. Feeding the Masses
An appetizers-only reception is typically less expensive than a standard sit-down meal and a buffet may be less expensive than a served meal. As a bonus, you can avoid the rubber-chicken syndrome and paying for wait staff. 

15. Snap Shots
Interview several photographers to see what their package of services includes and if they're flexible. Some photographers offer reduced coverage, i.e. exclusively weddings and formal photos. For the reception, scattered disposable cameras not only provide you with inexpensive photos but can serve as a fun icebreaker. Because most photographers use digital cameras these days, they'll present your proofs either via an online service or on CD, rather than as a print package. Ask if access to these electronic proofs (without a watermark) is included in their package.

Brittany Sarconi is a student at the University of Northern Colorado where she is working on a B.A. in Journalism. She loves to shop but, like most college students, Brittany is trying to live a Champagne lifestyle on a beer budget. When she's not studying, shopping or writing blogs, Brittany loves to work out.

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Great ideas, especially the checklist! Starting early and using a checklist will result in the ultimate savings.
Posted by Karen

I am a manager at a historic banquet hall and number 8 above rings a bell for us. The historic centers around the country offer the patina that a modern facility does not and the decorations are minimal! Also, keep the water glasses filled! Saves all of the other drink costs.

Posted by Tom
I totally agree with limiting the drink choice's. Theirs really no need for a large open bar, and to tell you the truth, boxed wines are just fine nowadays.
Posted by Large Floor Vases