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Secret Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Vendors

By: 
Elaine Stewart

Browse budget advice by category: 

► Stationery
► Entertainment
► Catering
► Flowers and Décor
► Wedding Cake

Your Venue

Elegant options abound but costs vary significantly, so take this expert advice into account before you start scouting locations.

bride looking out the window

Getting More For Your Money
The venues that offer the best value are dedicated event spaces, like hotels and banquet halls (generally speaking, sites with prescribed wedding packages). This is because many services you would otherwise need to hire come included, and bundling them together makes your dollar go farther. When shopping around for a venue, "The number one thing is to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples,” says planner Claudia Hanlin of NYC’s The Wedding Library. "Bringing-in always costs more because you have pick-up and delivery charges for every single thing." Many brides make the mistake of thinking an outdoor wedding at a family member’s home will result in a big savings. There’s no site fee, but the cost of transforming a backyard into a full-service reception space (tents, lighting, dance floor, portable toilets) can exceed even the most lavish pre-set package.

Paying Less For Places
Another way to save, says Hanlin, is by holding your ceremony, cocktail hour and reception in the same venue — such as a church or synagogue with an attached hall, or a restaurant with multiple party rooms. The cost of a few extra hours on property is considerably less than renting an entirely separate space, and you won’t have to pay to transport guests between locales. Religious and charitable organizations tend to rent for nominal fees, as do government-run sites like cultural institutions and state parks. Plus, what you do pay to rent these places benefits the community. Parks, in particular, can be great bargains, considering they often include scenic backdrops.

Naturally picturesque locales don’t need much adornment, which reduces your decor budget. The key is working with what you’ve got: "In California there are a lot of missions that rent for very little," says Sasha Souza, the Napa-based event designer, "and they often already have benches in place so you save on furnishings." Similarly, if your site features a stone patio, consider using that as the dance floor rather than renting one.

Pro Tip: At first glance, the fee for renting an empty loft may seem like a steal compared to a ballroom. But as soon as you factor in all the vendors (caterer, servers, bartenders) and rentals (tables, chairs, china, glassware, linens), you’ll see the price tag go way, way up.

Next: Stationery ►

Stationery

There's so much info to share with your guests before and on your big day. But all those printed pieces add up. Here’s how to get pretty paperie without paying a pretty penny.

stationery

Comparing Print Prices 
A significant factor in stationery costs is your choice of printing method. At the most expensive end are engraving and letterpress techniques, where the script is artfully raised off the page. If you like this formal feel but don’t want to pay top dollar, consider thermography — it's much less costly. Offset printing comes next on the price scale, while digital printing is very economical — especially for incorporating multiple colors. Because offset and digital printing are cheaper to produce, stationers recommend using them for all your day-of needs, like ceremony programs, escort or place cards and menus. "These pieces are often left behind at the end of the night," says Karen bartolomei, founder of grapevine design studio in boston. "Splurge on the items that will be delivered to your guests’ homes."

Saving by Consolidating
The more elements there are in a wedding invitation, the higher the price. One insert that’s easy to eliminate is the reception card. "If you’re getting married in a church and having your reception at a loft, print 'Dinner and dancing to follow at tribeca rooftop' on the invite itself," says Cheree Berry of Cheree Berry Paper in St. Louis, MO.

Rather than printing and sending out a veritable booklet of guest logistics in early mailings, stationers now recommend putting travel and lodging details on your wedding website and printing the URL on your save-the-date cards. Day-of items can be scaled back, too. Rather than calligraphed escort cards, print names and table assignments in a nice font on fine paper and display them in frames, or write them on a chalkboard.

Next: Entertainment ►

Entertainment

From the melody that plays as you walk down the aisle to the band or DJ that gets guests out on the dance floor, memorable music is a must. Follow these tips to save on the soundtrack to your soirée.

bride and groom first dancePaying Less For Live Acts
Musicians are almost always more expensive than DJs, so hiring instrumentalists to perform at your ceremony and cocktail hour, plus a band as the main act, will cost top dollar. But cash-strapped couples don’t necessarily have to forfeit live entertainment. If you’re having a religious service, check your venue contract before booking anyone, says Deanna Jones, of NYC’s The Deanna Jones Orchestra. "Often you are already paying for a musician at your church or synagogue and just don’t know it."

If that’s not the case, look into nearby civic organizations and music conservatories. "In some areas, you can book an excellent jazz group or classical trio from a community theater or symphony for a donation or nominal fee," Jones says, and pre-professional students may charge even less. For reception music leads, explore your city’s nightlife scene. A group that performs in local bars or clubs tends to be more cost-effective than a traditional wedding band. As with venues, you may get a bargain rate by holding your wedding on a weekday or a weekend in slow season. Saturday events incur the most competition for services, so they yield the highest price tags.

Thinking Outside the Band 
DJs typically cost less than bands, and some couples prefer them because of the greater variety of songs they can play and the fact that they don’t take breaks. Although iPods let individuals create a playlist and "spin" their own tunes, DJs double as emcees — introducing the bridal party and announcing special dances and toasts. They also provide and hook up speakers, which you may have to rent unless your venue has a built-in sound source.

Lastly, don’t overlook talented friends and family members. Asking your choir-star cousin to sing a hymn at your service or some college buddies in a cover band to play your first dance track adds the excitement of a live performance for free.

Pro Tip: When it comes to booking a band for your reception, size matters. A five-member group will almost always cost less than a nine-piece orchestra (not to mention individual tips and the number of mouths you will have to feed). 

Next: Catering ►

Catering

Refreshments are an important part of every party, but feeding all your friends and family can eat up a good chunk of your wedding change. Here’s how to get more bite for your buck.

wedding food

Planning Frugal Fare  
You can reduce almost every wedding expense by editing your guest list, but nowhere does that tactic have more impact than in catering costs. Think about it: Food and drink may run hundreds of dollars per head, meaning that 10 or 20 fewer chairs will result in significant savings. If you can’t get your numbers down, buffets may come in as a budget-friendly option because you don’t have to pay for waiters; however, it’s important to serve less expensive fare that can be easily prepared in bulk.

If you prefer sit-down service, request that guests make their dinner choice in advance. "Taking an order at the table means the kitchen has to have eighty percent of every option available, which costs a lot more," says Seattle-based caterer Lisa Dupar. She recommends including an entrée selection line or insert with your invitations so the chef can plan ahead. Also, giving guests fewer choices to begin with (filet mignon or wild mushroom risotto, for example, instead of a meat, fish and vegetarian dish), or the same sides with each alternative, is less work for the cooks.

Barely noticeable omissions or substitutions can have a profound effect on your final bill, too, says Brian Kiefer, a senior sales consultant at the Chicago-based caterer Food for Thought. "If you’re serving a beautiful salad with seasonal veggies and simply leave off the cheese, you’ll save one dollar per person," he says. Whipped potatoes cost less than fingerlings but make an equally fine side. And if you must have a fancy food like lobster on your menu, offer a small portion as an appetizer rather than an entrée. 

Nixing Excess Expenses
If your catering budget is tight, don’t fall into the common trap of overestimating how much your guests will consume. Do you really need assorted passed hors d’oeuvres, a made-to-order sushi station and a mammoth crudité platter at your cocktail hour? "Pick one hearty, filling display — like a local artisan cheese table with fruits, breads and crackers — and have that be it!" says Dupar.

Another way to cut back is by shortening the event. "Costs are driven by length of time, so stick to an hour or less for cocktails," says Kiefer — noting that, on average, people consume one canapé every ten minutes—and consider trimming an hour off the reception. For even deeper savings, skip dinner altogether, and opt for a brunch, afternoon tea and dessert, or late-night cocktail reception. If you stay flexible and open to new ideas, you'll find lots of creative approaches to throwing a great party that will also save money.

Pro Tip: Don’t get talked into splurging on top-shelf liquors. Go with one or two signature drinks in addition to red and white wine and two types of brews. And if the drinks are passed on trays as guests enter the room, most won’t even realize the bar has been scaled back.

Next: Flowers and Décor 

Flowers and Décor

Nothing says "wedding" like bountiful blossoms — but bouquets, centerpieces and other floral arrangements can make your budget grow out of control. Here’s how to nip overspending in the bud.

decor

Choosing the Blooms 
Flowers can be as dramatically different in price as they are in appearance. The best way to get more for your money is by selecting seasonal blooms that can be purchased locally rather than shipped in. As soon as you set your date and location, ask your florist to suggest flowers that will be available in that place and time of year. You can also save by using a less expensive flower en masse. It makes a striking statement but requires less effort for your florist than arranging multiple blooms, says Hanlin.

Alternatively, by using cheaper blooms like carnations at the base of your arrangements, you can get away with fewer, more prominently placed pricey blossoms. Chicago-based event designer Marina Birch boosts centerpieces with inexpensive greenery, like ferns and ivy. "Any kind of leafy filler adds a lush, organic touch and volume, so arrangements don’t appear skimpy," she says. For ceremony decor, Souza counsels couples marrying in a large church to skip the flowers because they’ll be overwhelmed by the space; just place wreaths on the entry doors.

Non-Floral Looks

Souza loves using hardy perennials like succulents and chicks-and-hens plants in reception displays instead of fussy, fragile blooms; they aren’t pricey and can be replanted and enjoyed long after the event. Branches, topiaries and tree-trunk slices make great nonfloral centerpiece elements, too, while embellishing with fruits and vegetables adds texture for far less than a flowers-only arrangement.

Purchasing decorative items like candelabra or vintage vessels is often cheaper than renting them, says Hanlin, and you can always sell them after the wedding. If your floral budget is really limited, stick to adorning the center of the room (no one will notice if the perimeter is a bit sparse) and find other ways to spruce up the table and chairs. Many venues offer basic linens in an array of shades besides white, and a profusion of one color looks purposeful rather than penny-pinching. Similarly, standard ballroom seats can be dressed up by tying ribbon into bows on the backs.

Pro Tip: "One trick I love is going with the house china but adding colored napkins and wine goblets from a rental company," says Hanlin. "It looks as if you’ve done a custom table, but you haven't."

Next: Wedding Cake ►

Wedding Cake

A decadent confection makes a fitting grand finale, but that fancy finish may not come cheap. Here's how to sweeten your deal and score a cost-conscious cake.

wedding cake

Impressing For Less
Some brides are surprised to learn how expensive wedding cakes run. But they have to look as good as they taste, and that takes effort. "The cake is a dessert, but it also plays a decorative role in the reception — similar to the flowers," says pastry chef Cheryl Kleinman of Betty Bakery in Brooklyn, NY. When a couple’s eyes are bigger than their budget, a baker might suggest preparing a "fake" cake, made of iced tiers of cardboard or foam except for the tier that’s sliced during the cake-cutting ceremony. The guests are then served pieces of an inexpensive cake that’s cut in the kitchen.

Alternatively, you can have a diminutive but dramatic cake that serves 35 presented on a pedestal stand on the escort card table; this way guests notice it when getting their seat assignments but later eat slices of an unseen sheet cake.

Scaling Back on Sugar
Although cakes are priced by the slice, it’s not likely that every single person will indulge — so you can usually get away with ordering a confection that feeds just 75 percent of attendees. Square cakes yield more slices than round ones, and rich flavors like chocolate make people full faster, meaning you can order less and cut thinner slices.

To further cut costs, have your cake divided into very small pieces to be passed on trays during the dancing; this way, you may only need to budget for 25 percent of the guest count. Finally, while it's fun to work with a pastry chef, it isn't absolutely necessary. If your venue has an in-house caterer, consider booking their baker to save on delivery fees. And consider offering a number of single layer cakes in a variety of flavors displayed on a collection of pretty cake stands.

Gorgeous Wedding Color Palettes

By: 
Debra Witt

Something Blue
Antonia Christianson has three words when considering color: Go for it. "If you’re only focused on using it for the big things, like the bridesmaids' dresses or the flowers and cake, it will look like random pops of color thrown in. It won’t look cohesive," says Antonia, who’s the force behind Antonia Christianson Events of Virginia Beach, VA and Pasa Robles, California.

Case in point is this Norfolk, VA wedding, which featured an abundance of turquoise and emerald —colors chosen because they so perfectly matched the historic grounds at the Hermitage Museum and Gardens where the intimate fall ceremony and reception took place. Upon arrival, guests were greeted with vibrant splashes of turquoise — a nod to the nearby water — which popped out as table settings, the three-tier cake color and the seat cushion hues. The bridal party also wore vivid turquoise dresses. And while the color grabbed guests' attention, what held it was the layering of soft greens everywhere else.

green and turquoise reception decor

Succulents were handed out as favors with a reminder that "love grows." The turquoise and white fondant lattice cake by Patti Cakes, Inc. is almost too pretty to slice. 

bridesmaid with favor

turquoise wedding cake

Tucked inside the centerpieces were green apples, grapes, baby artichokes, and cabbages. The stemware and table settings were a shimmering mix of blues and greens — a detail that was unexpectedly highlighted by the setting sun as guests made their way from the ceremony to the reception.

centerpieces

The plates are both something borrowed and something blue. Menus and all paper goods by RSVP Stationery. The china was another lucky find: "I was able to borrow a friend’s china set that just happened to have strong touches of turquoise," Antonia says. "This couple had fun with their color choice: It became a sophisticated, subtle theme for the day that perfectly told their story."

turqoise china

Vinatge keys draped around bouquets and centerpieces represented the "unlocking of their love story."

bouquet with key

Photo Credit: Eleise Theuer Photography

Next: Citrus wedding ideas 

Citrus Chic
Laura Grim had three must-haves for her wedding: "I wanted the ceremony to take place in a lush setting, I wanted every detail to reflect my love of all things vintage and I wanted to pull it all together with one bold color."

citrus chic

Her choice of marigold came easily, as it’s "my favorite happy color," says Laura, who happens to be co-founder of Portland, Oregon’s Double Take Event Styling. To stay on budget, Laura scoured her own home (and those of close friends and family) for several of the accent pieces, like the heirloom dishes that graced the custom candy bar. Other repurposed antiques included wire bird cages that covered several small centerpieces and reclaimed picture frames that had been painted a uniform gold and placed down the center of the tables.

birdcages

candy bar

Stylish suitcases and trunks from various eras were strategically used to help put the 250 guests in a Great Gatsby-type of party mood, as well as to mark different areas of the reception. She also used her own vintage costume jewels and baubles to artfully accent table arrangements, including flowers and stacks of old books that she’d tied together. Gold-leafed initials punctuated tidy green wreaths. 

suitcases

wreath

What Laura couldn’t borrow she made. Table runners, for example, were cut from rolls of basic burlap, which she hand-stenciled and topped with a narrower piece of marigold-striped silk. "Layering gold and crisp white into the details along with touches of black allowed the vibrant marigold to be the star," she says. "Using my favorite color strategically — I put a lot of thought into when and where to use it — I think it lent a real French charm to the day. It was exactly what I wanted!"

Menus were tucked into rose wrapped linen napkins. 

yellow tablescape

The bride chose a vintage-modern look for her bridesmaids: sunny yellow dresses with black accessories. 

yellow bridesmaid dresses

Photo Credit: Krissy Allori Photography

Next: Coral wedding ideas 

Red may be known as the color of romance, but there’s a strong case to be made for coral, which gives off its own romantic vibe with an added burst of happy and playful that red just can’t compete with. At least that’s the opinion of this Virginia couple, who asked Shannon O’Kelley, the design partner of Sage Nines Event Productions in Nashville, to make coral the central theme of their wedding at The Inn at Willow Grove in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

coral centerpiece

The bride, a letterpress designer for Lennah Press, had already chosen her hue before she met with Shannon. She’d also gotten a head start on creating the invitations and other paperie. So Shannon simply picked up on those cues and ran with it. "We wanted to use coral everywhere we could," says Shannon, "but we also knew that finding the right accent colors would make the coral really stand out."

coral invitations

The historic Inn at Willow Grove welcomed guests for the festivities. the inn at willow grove

Guests got a hint of what was to come seeing the coral-befrocked bridesmaids carrying bouquets from Sugar Magnolias, but the big reveal was saved for the reception itself: coral, mint and gold cushions, and lavish floral arrangements in every iteration of coral from spicy-toned dahlias to almost-pink garden roses to pale peach astilbe.

coral bridesmaids
Silk chiffon flowers and dried palms bedeck the bride's and groom's chairs. Table numbers were hand-stamped onto small blocks of wood while voltives were wrapped in coral paper. 

chair decor

blue and coral tablescape

Mint green table linens served as a quiet, neutral background while gold-leafed vases and candlesticks added a shimmery, elegant touch. 

tablescape

table decor

The four-tiered cake with adorable dog topper was accented with fresh blooms and pretty voltives. 

dog cake

"This couple really knew how to use color to their advantage," says Shannon. "They picked key elements and focused their attention to color there. The coral suited their romance, their style, the setting, and set a happy, relaxed mood for their guests. It became the perfect theme for the day." 

Photo Credit: Elisa Bricker Photography

Beauty-Themed Bridal Shower

The vision: to create a bridal shower with a unique, girl-powered spin — and pampering galore. The bride, Jennifer Betts Conroy, an entertainment publicist, called upon event designer Liza Naguib of DessArt Designs along with a host of beauty brands to bring her ideas into Technicolor life.

Deciding on the party location was the easy first step: With its pretty pool, gardens and a gazebo, Jen’s parents’ home in Arcadia, CA, provided the perfect setting. "I always wanted to have my bridal shower at my parents’ home, the house where I grew up. It was a dream setting for family and friends," said Jen.

Photography by Alexandra Wyman Photography.

beauty-themed bridal shower

Guests arrived to a full bar and lavish buffet that included sundried tomato and mushroom pasta and chicken salad with almonds, catered by Green Street Restaurant. Throughout the afternoon and into early evening, partygoers could roam the grounds and partake in mani/pedis, faux eyelash application and mini-massage stations. Talk about sweet indulgence!

Mason jars with decorative straws were displayed on a pink striped bar where guests helped themselves to mimosas, ice tea, strawberry lemonade, and flavored water. bar area

There was plenty of room for the star attraction: a dessert-slash-beauty bar. "I wanted a candy bar, but one that broke with tradition," Jen says. Think chocolate-dipped Rice Krispies treats and luscious NYX Cosmetics lip gloss, cake pops and nail polish!

rice crispies treats cake pops

The theme, "Jen's Bridal Beauty Bash" was woven throughout the decor and details, from the gift bags to the signage to the colorful fuchsia and yellow dessert takeaway boxes. There were bowls of grab-and-go beauty minis including Nivea hand cream, NYX Cosmetics lip gloss, tiny hand mirrors, sponges and emery boards. 

jens beauty bash cremebeauty bags

A cheery welcome sign displayed amidst shower gifts and a quotation from Christian Dior in a lattice frame serve to set the theme in motion. Framed quotations on the subject of beauty were placed throughout, and guests were asked to spill their best-kept secrets to a happy, glamorous married life in an album set up on the gift table.

bridal bar sign and gift area christian dior quote

Each product was personalized with Jen’s name so guests would remember this event long after it was over. Attendees recieved hair spray, shampoo and conditioner from Joico and chose from a glass bowl brimming with NYX Cosmetics lip pencils and gloss in pink, fuchsia and rose.

hair spray and shampoolip gloss

Guests were treated to manis and pedis featuring OPI Nail Lacquer and lash application with Lola V Lashes.

guests getting manis

7 Secret Money-Saving Tricks, Revealed

By: 
Catey Hill

bride and groom kiss on forehead

Look in a "next-door town" for venues and vendors.
If you live in a big city, you should consider looking at venues, caterers, florists photographers and more in "next-door towns," which are just smaller towns outside of big cities. Often you can save 20 percent or more on fees. Here's what to ask before booking your vendors ►

Put a "15-minute warning" into your contract with the photographer.
A lot of photographers and videographers charge big-time fees if your wedding goes longer than the time you've booked them for. To prevent that unexpected bill, put a "15-minute warning" clause into your contract stating that they must give you a 15-minute heads up before they begin charging you overtime, and that if they don't, you will not have to pay for those overages. Learn how to negotiate with vendors ►

Take  a tax deduction — on your wedding.
You can get a tax deduction for donating some of your wedding purchases to a qualified charitable organization (note that "qualified" is very important) or even just by having your wedding ceremony at certain venues.

If you think you'll have leftover food from your reception, contact a local homeless shelter and see if you can donate it. If you're not going to reuse your flowers, contact your church to ask if you can donate them (if you had a church wedding, you may be able to leave your flowers there as a donation) or reach out to a local hospital or nursing home. If you have a wedding in a church or synagogue, or at a government-owned locale like a state park, you may be able to deduct the fee paid for the ceremony (check with the locale to make sure it's tax deductible). 

Consider "business" hotels.
Hotels that cater primarily to business travelers are typically packed during the week, but have lots of vacancies on weekend. (These hotels tend to be located in cities' downtown or business districts.) That means they may offer better-priced packages for weddings than those catering to leisure travelers — and typically they're just as nice! Find out how to prepare for out-of-towners ►

To find photographers and videographers, contact your local newspaper or television station.
Photography and videography can be super-pricey. While it may be tempting to hire a photography student, you may be better off by looking for a more experienced photographer from your local paper (look at bylines on the photos and reach out to those people to see if they freelance) or a videographer from your local television station. Often these pros will provide these services for less than "official" wedding photographers and videographers. 

Skip the wax seal on your invitations.
While a pretty wax seal may seem a classy way to seal your wedding invitations, this can end up costing extra. That's because the wax can gum up the post office's sorting machines, which means you will need to have each invite hand-canceled, at around 20 cents per piece. See more ways to save money on invitations ►

Get a "student" to do your flowers.
You may have heard about brides hiring cosmetology students from nearby schools to do their hair and makeup, but few people think to hire a "student" florist. Big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have floral design schools. Contact these schools to see if there is a star student who could do your flowers. If there isn't a floral school near you, see if there is a horticultural school nearby (check out GradSchools.com) that offers floral design classes or Google "floral design classes" — then hire the teacher of that class or ask her if she can recommend a great student. Get gorgeous ideas for your wedding flowers ►

Photo Credit: Picotte Photography

the bridal detective
Finance expert Catey Hill is a member of the David's Bridal Style Council and a journalist whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney, Worth, Seventeen, Forbes.com, New York Daily News, and dozens of other publications and websites.

 

 

10 Ways to Maximize Your Floral Budget

bride with bridesmaids
Photo Credit: Charlotte Jenks Lewis Photography on Grey Likes Weddings via Lover.ly

1. Use in-season or locally grown flowers. They're a much better value than the flown-in, hothouse varieties. Find out what's in season during your wedding month ►

2. Holidays can affect prices. Around Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, general demand for flowers increases, as do their costs. On the other hand, if your wedding is held on a holiday, the church or reception site may already be festively decorated with flowers and lights and you'll need less adornment.

3. Add greenery — such as ivory or ferns — to a bouquet or the chuppah. Greenery looks lush, and you'll find it's less expensive than flowers.

4. Choose larger blooms for your bouquets, like orchids and calla lilies. You'll need fewer of them. Get 50+ creative ideas here ►

5. Add ribbon or tulle to an arrangement — this sweet, romantic detail will make the arrangement look larger and helps keep your expenditures down. Get more non-floral ideas ►

6. Rent trees to decorate the ceremony and reception sites; they look especially romantic when the branches are woven with masses of tiny white lights. Read more about wedding rentals ►

7. Fill in empty table spots with votives or small potted plants that can also be used as wedding favors.

8. Split the cost of decorating a ceremony site with another couple getting married in your church/synagogue on the same day.

9. Let your ceremony bouquets do double-duty. Most florists can creatively repurpose them into centerpieces on reception tables. See 75+ gorgeous tall centerpieces ►

10. Elaborate arrangements mean more of your money is going for the florist's labor than for the flowers themselves. Check out 30+ impressive low centerpieces ►