If you have your heart set on a summer wedding, you are looking at the peak season for the $72 billion U.S. wedding industry’s feeding frenzy. Since 50% of all weddings in the U.S. take place during the five months of May through September and the caterers, tuxedo rentals, florists and photographers are all able to charge premium prices this time of year.But the competitive market can also work to your advantage.
If you aren’t willing to have an off-season event, there are still many ways to save if you get creative, negotiate shrewdly and plan ahead. And, if you are getting hitched this summer, you're already in the thick of it. Much of the planning is done and contracts have been signed. It may be too late to change the date or fire the caterers but there is still time to take advantage of some of our cost-cutting advice.
Of course, before you do anything, set a budget. According to TheWeddingReport.com, the average wedding in 2009 cost $19,580 (not including the engagement ring or the honeymoon). If that kind of expense is not within your means, you can still plan an elegant and memorable event that costs a fraction of the average — it all depends on how creative you're willing to get. If you want to remain mostly traditional, look for ideas on TheKnot.com. They challenge top wedding planners to budget a $10,000 wedding in cities all over the country. And if that figure is still too steep and you're willing to get a little DIY, you can cut that number in half and half again. Prioritize what is most important to you allocate your budget accordingly. Whatever you do, make a budget and stick to it.
The average U.S. guest list is 178 friends and family long. Shortening that list will be the first step in significant savings. Since food expenses, space needs and invitation costs increase the longer the guest list, the difference between inviting 200 people and 100 people will significantly effect your budget. Understandably, this gets complicated — you invite one friend from work, you need to invite them all. You invite the bride’s third cousin, you have to invite the groom’s 17 first cousins. But if you make the decision to keep it small and intimate, you’ll be able to get more bang for your buck and throw a much more lavish event for the people who really matter to you.
If you're looking to book a more traditional and popular wedding spot, think about scheduling your wedding on a weekday if you can, or earlier in the day (think brunch, for example). You can negotiate with all of your vendors for better prices if you are operating at non-peak hours. Your favorite restaurant, a city park, or the college you graduated from are all places that you also might look into booking for better rates (parks are often free). Or, try getting even more creative. Places that aren’t typically used for weddings can often be very cheap. You’ve heard of people getting married at amusement parks, hockey rinks, zoos, and donut shops. Why not? You may have to bring in more rentals (and make sure there are bathrooms) but you’ll be assured that sought-after one-of-a-kind unforgettable experience.
Skip the multi-pieced invitations. They are redundant and a big waste of paper and postage. If you still want to get the professional custom invite, look into tri-folds with a tear-off rsvp postcard. And, if you are already the DIY-type, or are game to try, how about making your own invitation? It takes more time, but if you invite a friend or two over (the ones with the best handwriting), you could all do it together in one evening over a bottle of wine in front of the TV. If you really want to save money, and paper, how about an e-mail invite or a wedding website. EWedding.com lets you get started for free and you can keep your guests informed up to the minute with anything they might need to know. It's very wedding 2.0.
If you are willing to buy online, Web sites like oncewed.com offer pre-owned wedding dresses for sale. And, since wedding dresses are usually only worn once, you can generally count on the condition of a used wedding dress being pretty good. Or, if you are willing to buck tradition just a little more, you don’t even have to buy a wedding dress. Buying a white dress off the rack at a boutique or department store will save you money. And, you might also be able to actually wear this one again.
If a religious service isn’t a priority, try City Hall. You have to go there to get the license anyway. Many have really nice “chapels” and a friendly judge to do service. You will likely have to go on a weekday during business hours, and keep the crowd small — just closest family and friends — at least two to act as your witnesses and make sure someone is shooting video and taking pictures. Then, have the reception with your extended guest list that night or the next day. You can play a video of your exchange of vows for everyone who might have missed it.
Food can be one of your biggest expenses. But even if you’ve already booked the caterers and are adamant about having a sit-down catered affair, you can still save by doing some of the shopping yourself. For instance, talk to your caterers about renegotiating their rate if you go out and purchase the meat yourself. Also, buffet-style is cheaper than table service and lunch is cheaper than dinner. And, it's summer, think barbecue. And, if you and your friends are game (and, again, you’ve kept your guest list manageable), you can make food yourselves.
This gets very pricey. Think about limiting open bar hours or limiting drink options. If you only offer one or two “signature” cocktails, wine, and beer (and champagne for a toast) you can also consider buying the liquor yourself and saving a bundle.
Flowers and Decorations
Stick to one or two kinds, make it seasonal, and more green, less bloom. Gather your friends for a bouquet, boutonnière, and flower arrangement party the day before the event. If you are having your party outside, how many cut flowers do you actually need? It's summer, everything is in bloom, take advantage of what’s already around you. And, if you are using a catering hall that is booking multiple events on the same day, see if you can piggy-back with another wedding party and share some of the decorations. The catering halls themselves reuse most of the frill anyway — why should they get all the savings?
Photography and Videography
Hiring a professional wedding photographer costs upwards of $2000, but a photography who is just putting together a wedding portfolio might cut you a better deal. Or, if you’ve got an aspiring shutterbug or two among your family and friends, give them the job. The more cameras, the more coverage — and you won’t have to worry about missing an important moment. And buy or borrow some Flip cameras and enlist a few guests you trust to shoot the video.
If you know some musicians, it’s always more personal and special to have friends part of the proceedings — and often a lot cheaper. Even a young cousin learning the trumpet can probably toot a nice wedding march and make everyone saw awwww... Even less expensive than live music would be your own iPod mix. You can’t go wrong with your personally programmed favorites.
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