1. The Wedding Guest ListThe guest list’s size is the biggest determinant of your total wedding cost, so keeping expenses trim is of the utmost importance. But if you’re worried that you’ll offend people by not inviting them to your wedding, stop now. Of course you wouldn’t leave out your nearest and dearest, and anyone else you’re considering would likely be flattered to be invited but not bothered if they’re not (think: the group of college friends who live on the other side of the country whom you’ve not seen in five years). Your best bet to tighten your list is to make some wedding invitation list rules (for you, your fiancé and both families) and stick to them. That is, first cousins, but not second. Spouses and live-in or serious partners, but not random dates. Your boss, but not your whole office. One caveat: don’t split up groups, says Syd Sexton, owner of Syd Sexton Event Productions, in Denver. “If you can invite your office gang, great. But if you can’t, don’t just invite one of them.”
2. The Wedding Flowers 15 Things Not_flowers The first time you gazed upon your wedding reception site, you saw veritable fields of flowers, right? It’s no surprise, though, that piles and piles of blooms can ratchet up your costs quickly. Sexton notes that you don’t need to fill every corner of your venue with flowers for a lovely look. Work with your wedding florist to use the freshest, most in-season blooms to their strategic advantage, then fill in the rest of the decor with budget-friendly candles or greenery. If you just adore flowers, check out botanical gardens in your area—you’ll have a bounteous backdrop of blooms at your disposal (for not a penny more).
3. The Wedding Reception Cocktail Hour One cocktail-hour trend these days is to overload (read: over-impress) guests with everything from sushi bars to towering displays of cheese, to passed hors d’oeuvres to pasta and carving stations. But there’s no reason to make this a blowout, says Mindy Weiss, celebrity wedding planner and coauthor with Lisbeth Levine of The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day. “Keep it short and sweet—this ensures that you’ll need less food—and have your hors d’oeuvres hand-passed instead of having stations. This limits the amount of food you’ll need.” Stick with just enough food to keep guests from getting too tipsy too early in the evening, advises Meghan Walls, owner of Meghan Walls Events in New York City. A pretty display of cheese, fruit and crackers will do just fine.
4. The Wedding Reception Dessert Table “Unless you’re having a dessert reception, you don’t need to go overboard on sweets. Wedding cake is so spectacular that offering a dessert buffet, a crêpes suzette station and mini ice cream cones is just excessive,” says Levine. “After all, you don’t want to weigh guests down with so many sweets during your wedding reception that they don’t have the energy to get out on the dance floor!”
5. The Drinks 15 Things Not_couple First of all, says Weiss, feel free to skip the champagne toast. It’s no longer considered a must-do at weddings. Simply toast with whatever wine you already have on the table. As for your bar options, remember this is your party, so it’s entirely up to you, not your hard-partying college friends or the snooty aunts who prefer top-shelf martinis. Work with your reception site or caterer to create a bar you can afford, whether that means offering only beer, wine, water and soft drinks; a signature drink at the cocktail hour and red and white wines with dinner; or less-expensive liquors for mixed drinks rather than pricey brand names. Also, keep mixed drinks as simple as possible: The more varieties of liquor that are involved in assembling the drink, the more you will pay. “If you’re hiring an off-premise caterer and can buy your own alcohol, you can save even more by shopping around and being able to return unopened bottles,” notes Walls. Instruct the wait staff not to automatically top off guests’ wineglasses and, finally, arrange to have your bar closed an hour before the end of the party. You’ll be doing the drivers a favor.
6. The Five-Course Wedding Reception Meal We know—you’re worried about wedding guests going home either hungry or unhappy with your food choices. Those worries have caused many brides and grooms to go down the path of offering too much—up to seven courses—and paying too much for it. If you’re looking to cut costs, “eliminate one course in the meal, and just serve an appetizer and an entrée,” says Walls. You can also stick to offering one or two choices for the entrée. Or instead of offering chicken, steak or salmon entrées, assemble a plate that combines, say, a few grilled shrimp and medallions of beef, plus a creative array of vegetables. (You may save 40 percent or more on your wedding reception, because your chef will know exactly what to buy for your head count.) Once you find a caterer that you really trust, you can work with him to find the most economical options. Rest assured quality always trumps quantity, and that no one will end up stopping at McDonald’s on the way home.
7. The Wedding Invitations Engraved or letterpress wedding invitations are the ultimate, yes. And heavy cardstock, of course. But all of this is very costly. Choosing an unusual color, paper or design may also raise your wedding invitation costs more than you’re prepared for. If you’re a DIY-er (or if you know someone who is), design and make your own wedding invitations by hand or on a high-quality computer printer. Some calligraphic fonts are so good that it’s really hard to tell they’re not done by hand.
8. The Wedding Cake 15 Things Not_seacake A five-tier wedding cake tower covered with intricate sugarpaste flowers, ribbons, butterflies and bows? Gorgeous, yes. Necessary, no. The more elaborate the design, the more your wedding cake will cost. Ask your baker for options to keep the cost down, such as serving a smaller, tiered display cake and supplementing with a sheet cake that is brought out from the kitchen after the official cake cutting; doing less-pricey cupcakes in your wedding colors (always a big guest favorite!); or choosing less exotic fillings and less elaborate sugarpaste designs. You also may want to consider decorating the confection with fresh flowers instead of sugarpaste, as they cost less but give a luxe look. Another option: Instead of a specialty baker, hire a local one to make your cake—more affordable and guests will be just as happy!
9. The Transportation Will anyone care if you don’t show up to your wedding or reception in a white limousine? No. White limos cost more than black or silver ones, so you may decide to cross that off your list. If you do hire a limousine, don’t have the car that took you to the ceremony wait for you all day—book another to come for you later (you’ll save on hourly rates). Do ask your limo company about wedding packages—they might have just the right one for you.
10. Wedding Favors 15 Things Not_fav The experts don’t mince words: “Unless the favor is food—like some nice chocolates the guests can eat right then—it’s a wedding expense you can forgo,” says Walls. Weiss agrees. “Brides feel they have to give favors, but this should be seen as an extra. I am a huge fan of making donations to charities instead. You can do this and write an adorable note to each guest (and leave it at the place settings), in which you let them know you’ve donated in their honor.”
11. The Wedding Reception Venue You’ve found out the price per person at your chosen reception venue, and it’s just plain too high. Don’t worry (and don’t overspend)—negotiate. But some brides are shy or they think this is tacky. “Uh-uh,” says Sexton. “In a tough economic climate, vendors expect it. Be honest about your budget, and ask, ‘What can you do for me with this amount?’ Or ask, ‘I see this is your lowest package price. Can you do a little better?’ ” If you are willing to play with days (a Friday or Sunday, say), times of day or seasons, you can work out a better deal. Still unconvinced that you should speak up? “The worst they can do is say no,” reasons Walls. And even if negotiating doesn’t get you a drastic cost reduction, you may get some extras thrown in (like trays of cookies for the tables, or top-shelf liquor for the price of generic brands). Remember: Wedding reception vendors want your business as much as you want a nice wedding.
12. The Wedding Rehearsal Dinner You’ve already planned a major event—your wedding reception. You need not make the rehearsal dinner a mini wedding by booking an expensive restaurant or another catering place. “If you can, have it in the home of someone willing to host,” says Sexton. (Hint: perhaps someone wants to make this their gift to you!). “Do something casual, like a backyard barbecue. Or ask your wedding caterer if he or she is willing to cater it in a private home for a lower fee, as part of your wedding package.”
13. The Linens On an unlimited budget, specialty linens add sparkle and a special touch. But the standard white or off-white table coverings included at most reception sites have kept their classic good looks! Perk up the tables with napkins tied with ribbons or rent stylish napkin rings.
14. Wedding Shoes 15 Things Not_heels Focus your energy, your worries and your money on your dress—not your wedding shoes, advises Levine. “Why spend hundreds of dollars on footwear you’ll wear for a single day? Seriously—if you have a gorgeous gown, an amazing hairstyle and a flawless face, no one is going to be examining what’s going on below your ankles.” Find inexpensive (but comfortable) wedding shoes that complement your bridal gown, and leave it at that.
15. The Impression Are you worried about wowing your guests? Don’t. Too many couples think it’s their obligation to dazzle their friends at their wedding with every extra on the books. “But all guests really want is to feel taken care of and special,” says Walls, “which you can do in little ways.” For example, be sure your wedding has good “flow,” without an uncomfortable time gap between ceremony and reception. Be sure your traveling guests have little amenities in their rooms, and that older guests don’t have far to walk. Weiss likes to leave milk and homemade cookies for wedding guests at the end of the night. “It makes everyone feel loved,” she says. “And isn’t that the way you want them to feel, when all is said and done?”