JUST STARTING OUT
At this point, you're thinking big picture, and the decisions you make (like the reception site and type of party) will shape your bottom line. Dramatic adjustments to the final total are within easy reach-get chopping!
Keep it small. "The more people you invite, the more your party will cost," says New York wedding planner Jennifer Brisman. A destination wedding that requires air travel may keep numbers down (but not always!). Another option: Stay local, but rethink the concept: A party for 120 can become a seated dinner for 60.
Pick the right place. "Choose a venue that doesn't have strict rules about which vendors you can use," says Kelsey Sheofsky, of Alison Events in San Francisco. "It will be easier to find service people whose prices match your budget." Sheofsky adds that an empty space that needs to be furnished (like a loft) will cost more than one that doesn't (like a hotel ballroom). And a facility that permits you to bring in alcohol and doesn't charge corkage fees (the caterer's charge for opening each bottle) is a budgeter's dream.
Time it right. Can't bear to cut the guest list? If you're willing to celebrate on a quieter day, such as Thursday, you'll save significantly. Certain weekends-like the ones that coincide with Memorial Day and Thanksgiving-might also be deeply discounted. "Ask the venue's manager if there are 'dead nights' where they can be competitive," suggests Brisman. "Sometimes backing into a date is best."
Look high and low. "Whether it's food, photos, or flowers, ask each vendor you're considering to draw up estimates at both the low and high ends of your price range, which you should be completely candid about," says event planner Kelven Book, of Canard Inc. in New York. Seeing the different cost breakdowns helps you prioritize what's important to you.
IF YOU'RE HALFWAY THERE
You've booked some of your vendors, but invites haven't gone out, so your plans still have wiggle room.
Tweak the meal. Rather than a traditional seated dinner, Sheofsky suggests a cocktail party with passed hors d'oeuvres and bang-for-your-buck food stations such as cheese and fruit displays or pasta bars. Brisman adds, "It's a fun way to keep people mingling." If you prefer seated courses, Book recommends swapping pricey ingredients like filet mignon for elegant poultry picks such as duck or capon. "Save the beef tenderloin for the passed hors d'oeuvres," he says.
Rehaul the bar. Limit the offerings to interesting beers, a variety of wines, and perhaps a single specialty cocktail. If mixed drinks are a must, stick to the basics (rum, vodka, scotch) and leave out cordials and liqueurs.
Enlist the troops. Give talented pals plenty of notice and ask them todesign your invitations (you print them at home) or to play the violin at your ceremony. You can also have friends over to help assemble inexpensive favors. "People are actually honored to step forward and help out," says Book.
Go green. For centerpieces, pick up flowering plants like tulips, paperwhites, or violets, and inexpensive clay or ceramic containers. It takes less than a minute to repot them.
IF YOU'VE GOT ONE MONTH LEFT
There's still time to make small changes that can help you save big.
Slice and dice. Here's what the experts recommend cutting in a pinch: favors; ceremony flowers (if you can, move in some reception centerpieces); programs; extras like fans or flip-flops; limos for the bridal party (they can drive themselves); printed menus; calligraphy for escort cards, place cards, and table numbers; overstuffed welcome bags. "And skip the expensive shoes," says Sheofsky. "No one sees them if your dress is long."
Borrow. Most married folks are happy to see their barely used wedding items (shoes, headpiece, ring pillow, handbag, jewelry) given a second life.
Be honest. If you're super-strapped, tell your vendors; you may be surprised at the outcome. "Even if you signed a contract, it never hurts to ask if they'll renegotiate" says Book. "They want you to have a positive experience."