For our homegrown Kentucky wedding, we wanted to keep things simple, romantic, and very personal. While we soon realized in the wedding planning process that truly "simple" was almost impossible, we did learn some money-saving tips along the way!
The most important thing to remember is that the day of your wedding, the planning should be done, just let go and enjoy! It is about families and friends coming together, and it's about your love!
*Note all photos courtesy of Amanda Egan Photography
That said, here it goes:
Dress: I couldn't help but think after a while of looking through a sea of white dresses that most wedding dresses looked the same. I ended up getting a unique dress for hundreds (and even thousands) of dollars cheaper than most brides by buying a dress off the rack. Many great designers who don't necessarily do wedding collections have gorgeous white dresses that can be used as wedding dresses. This may be a difficult option for those brides who don't necessarily wear a standard size, but is a great way to save money.
Also, we had our bridesmaids just wear any navy dress that they liked--the dresses they wore ranged in price from $30 to $230. Everyone got to choose something that they truly liked and that they would definitely wear again. Similarly, the groomsmen wore a dark suit that they already owned and we gave them coordinating ties as gifts. They looked like a million bucks and everything fit everyone perfectly. Often, tux rentals, which cannot be tailored to each person, look ill-fitting! After all, aren't your friends and family people you want to honor in your ceremony, rather than treat as color-coordinated accessories to the bride and groom? Do them a favor and make things easy on them! It will look better too!
We splurged to buy my now-husband a beautiful black suit, but it was money well-spent as it will be his go-to dress and work suit for years to come!
Invitations & Paper Products: Why is it that bride's feel that they must spend thousands of dollars to get great invites? For our Kentucky wedding, we wanted an elegant but relaxed and romantic farm feel. To set the mood, I found an old Kentucky postcard and scanned it into my computer. I removed the old handwriting from the back and added in our wedding invite text with free fonts found online at dafont.com. There are dozens of online sites that offer very inexpensive postcard printing, so we printed a 5 x 7 "postcard" invite; a 4 x 6 accommodations card; and a 4 x 6 double sided postcard for the RSVP. Having your RSVPs as postcards saves money as there is no need for an envelope and there is less postage. Many of these same websites have pre-made invitation or postcard designs that you can use for free! Also, the web is filled with free clipart and vintage drawings that are perfect for invites.
It was also easy to purchase pre-scored programs online (about $7 for 50 at LCI Paper) and the website had a free Microsoft Word template to use to create programs. The same goes for placecards and signs. People don't usually keep programs anyway, and so you mind find that it is a waste of money to spend lots of cash getting programs done.
Petal Toss: Using fresh petals or freeze-dried flower petals for aisle decor and/or a toss is sure to add on at least hundreds of dollars to your cost. SaveonCrafts and other online herb companies sell dried whole roses that are beautiful and a fraction of the price of individual petals. An added plus is that they smell fantastic. We put small handfuls in glassine bags sealed with stickers with instructions.
I printed the stickers at home and purchased the glassine bags online for pennies a piece. As with any other craft purchases, you often pay more on wedding dedicated sites! Check around with froogle.com or with simple searches--stamp collecting sites, craft sites, scrapbooking sites often have cheaper prices.
Favors: Before you spend the money on plastic swans filled with Jordan almonds, ask yourself, would I want to receive this? Seriously though, do you want to spend that extra couple hundred dollars on truffles, or perhaps just more dessert options on your cake table? Do you want to spend the money on miniature flowers in vases for everyone to take home (and will they really bring those with them on the plane home??), or on more and nicer flowers on the tables. We ended up spending $60 to make mini button pins online (Beaver Buttons) integrating our invite vintage postcard design, but most people probably didn't care or notice.
Food: Go local! Paying a fancy caterer for a plated dinner is always going to cost a lot of money. And really, is anyone going to get that excited about the chicken breast and salmon filet? Frankly, it's not likely. Instead, try going with something local and fun. Nearby my hometown, there was a BBQ joint that would do two kinds of meat and three sides for $10/head! They also offered a catfish fry (they brought huge industrial fryers with them!). Live in southern CA, why not hire the local taco truck and the guy that makes the homemade icies with tropical syrups? Or I also found a local gourmet pizza company with an entire truck with an oven inside so that they could make fresh, homemade pizzas on site!
While it's not always cheaper, we went with food "stations" at our wedding with seasonal food. We had a shrimp and grits bar, for example, where grits could be placed in martini glasses and guests could choose their own toppings (e.g. bacon, scallions, cheese)
Also, the best wedding dessert I ever had certainly did not consist of a fancy cake with fondant icing. Our good friends asked guests to bring their favorite pie. Instead of paying $7/slice for decorated cake, why not do homemade fruit pies, or hire the local Ben and Jerry's to do ice cream? Not only will these food options be much cheaper per person, they will also be more fun and a welcome change from the stereotypical plated wedding meal with the stale cake.
Alcohol: While some people decide to go without alcohol, it is a big part of many weddings. We saved lots of money by buying cheap (and delicious!) wine at Trader Joe's. Many stores will also give case discounts. And do you really need to do the Champagne toast? Why not try the cheaper (and just as delicious) Cava or Prosecco sparkling wine. We had Kir Royales (we did ours with sparkling wine and the currant-flavored liquor creme de cassis) during cocktail hour along with lemonade. Still much cheaper than champagne, and we stopped serving them during the wedding meal service. Also, limiting alcohol to a few signature cocktails is often much cheaper than hosting a full bar. As we have Southern and Eastern European heritage, we had only bourbon and vodka drinks! Also, if you buy alcohol locally, you can often return unopened bottles for a refund.
Photography: Don't skimp on photography--you'll regret it! The pictures are the only thing you have left at the end of your wedding. That said, we hired a photographer who had been assisting on weddings for years, but was just going out on her own. She had a ton of experience (and came with an assistant!), but her prices were low since she wanted to build up her personal portfolio with her new business. She also did a free engagement session for us once we booked her, and agreed to give us a DVD with our hi-res digital images.
Getting a disc of images is key. Many photographers charge $700-$2,000 just for the ALBUM! This is understandable as it takes hours to edit photos and place them nicely in a book. However, if you have the DVD of edited images, there are many places online that you can print gorgeous photo books for a fraction of the price (blurb.com for example).
Finally, consider setting up a website with a username and password before the wedding where you guests can upload their photos. This way, you don't miss any of the late-night action! At the tables at the wedding, place business cards (easy to print out at home or for a few dollars online) with the website URL, username, and password, that encourage guests to share their photos. Guests will love to post pics friends caught of them dancing to Facebook, and you'll have tons of wonderful candid photos to remember you big day by!
Music: We splurged for a 17-piece big band (they were actually very reasonably priced!), but we couldn't afford them for the whole wedding. Instead we hired them for three hours, but since we wanted to dance until dawn (literally! and we did!), we spent $35 to rent a large sound system and CD player that we could kick on after the band finished. We had the large speakers set up on the side of the stage and the band agreed to plug it in as they took down their equipment. We just stocked the CD player with lots of CDs of sure-fire dancing hits (Beatles, motown, Michael Jackson), and the transition between the band and the other music was seamless--people danced till 4 in the morning!
Consider an iPod wedding, just make sure that you have someone to make sure the system runs well (our day-of coordinator made sure it was all set up and my brother agreed to be back up). Since the band acted as emcees earlier in the night for the family dance, the chair dance, toasts, etc., we didn't need a mic or an emcee once we kicked the speakers on.
Finally, if you want live music, consider checking in with the local or nearby universities. The music schools often have jazz or classical combos perfect for cocktail hour that are at student rates! If they don't know of anyone, they might be willing to post flyers for you or make an email announcement to their students. You just might find the big band or bluegrass band you were dreaming of at a huge discount.
Flowers and Decor: We originally thought we'd do our own flowers and ended up splurging on an incredible florist. However, we did use my grandfather's antique copper kettle, bucket, and bowl collection to arrange flowers. It made a huge impact and cut down on price since we didn't have to rent or purchase vases. Even in smaller cities, there are usually wholesale flower markets that will sell to the average Joe, and there are also websites online (fiftyflowers.com, for example).
If you have the resources and free family labor, impressive decor can be had. We used tobacco cloth (protects the young plants) for "curtains" on the bar we married in front of, and my uncle and grandfather hung one of my grandfather's chandeliers inside of the barn and ran wire to it to light it up for free--making a dramatic statement on the cheap.
Also, you can have simpler flowers if you make a dramatic impact with lighting. While many people only put a few tealights on a table, our florist suggested uneven numbers of 7, 8, or 9 tealights on each circular table. It was gorgeous and you can get packages of tealights and holders online for very cheap (we got ours at candles4less.com at $37 for 72 votives and holders). I also resold the holders after the wedding to offset the price even more. We also used antique jars filled with sand (both either free when scavenged or very cheap!) as holders for large pillar candles. IKEA has great prices on large pillars. We also used antique lanterns to light the area around the tent.
Finally, while getting someone to light a tent or room can be very expensive, but doing just a small bit of lighting can be affordable and make a huge difference. Simple "can" lighting with flattering rose or amber colored gels over them should be of minimal cost to rent and can make wonderful uplighting.
There are some things worth spending on:
We had great vendors that already knew each other (which always helps) and who were very professional. However, my mom and I still wanted to not field any questions on the day of the wedding. I put together a detailed schedule along with all vendor names, phone numbers, and hours they would arrive at the wedding site. We paid a local woman who ran a wedding/homewares shop a few hundred dollars to be a day-of coordinator. It is the most invaluable money we spent on the wedding and it kept everything on schedule and running smoothly ("Okay, time for your portraits." "Don't worry, there's plenty of toilet paper in the bathrooms!", etc....)!
Guests also loved the program of events, directions to all events and to the airport, and general guide to the area that was placed in every guest hotel room. Helpful touches like this don't cost much money (just a ream of regular paper, a stapler, and some time) but they are very appreciated by guests.
Finally, the thing that we still get the most complements about for our wedding was the ceremony. It was short and sweet and we wrote the whole thing together. Half of our guests were sobbing as we read aloud our personally-written vows (we kept them secret until that day!). Our ceremony was so important to us and remains so--we have our hand-written vows tucked away and read them over again from time to time. We all spend lots of time on the party aspect of the wedding day, but don't forget what it's all about--getting married! Consider spending some real soul-searching time on this aspect of your big day. You'll not regret it!