Smart Buying

Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding

Your wedding will be one of the happiest, most romantic, and most expensive events of your life. Save thousands with these cost-cutting tips.

The average wedding in the U.S. costs $29,858 (excluding the honeymoon), according to TheKnot.com's 2013 Real Weddings Study. For my own upcoming nuptials, I'm determined to slice that figure in half.

My fiancé, Tom, and I are footing most of the bill ourselves, with a little help from our parents. We want to treat our guests to a good time, but we also want to focus on what the day is truly about. As long as we end up saying "I do," it won't matter whether we have the most dazzling décor or serve a gourmet meal. Plus, unromantic as it may sound, I'd rather save that money for a down payment on a home or stuff it into a retirement account.

We're reining in our spending in the following areas—and you can, too.

Location

Tom currently lives in Las Vegas, Nev., and I'm in Washington, D.C.—both pricey places to host a wedding. But we went to high school together in Ohio, and our families are still in that area. Choosing to marry in a small midwestern town will save us thousands—and also gives us a setting where we share roots. Market-research company The Wedding Report estimates that the average amount spent on a wedding is $27,678 in Las Vegas and $35,839 in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. In the city where we're marrying—Piqua, Ohio—the average cost is $20,266.

You might also save by having your wedding somewhere other than a traditional venue. A campground, a restaurant or even a backyard may be just the setting you're looking for, says Maddie Eisenhart, managing editor for the blog A Practical Wedding. You may need to do a bit more planning because these alternate facilities are not necessarily equipped to entertain such events. But you'll likely pay a lot less than you would at a wedding factory—and enjoy a more unique experience.

In addition to location, your timing can affect the price, too. You could save money by having your wedding on a Friday or Sunday or during the winter, says Jamie Miles, editor of TheKnot.com. Venues have less demand during those times and may cut you a break.

Food

By choosing to have a buffet rather than a table-service dinner, we expect to save at least $4 per person. At a wedding that could have up to 200 guests, that means up to $800 in savings.

But opting for a buffet isn't the only way to save money and sate guests' appetites. If a plated meal is a must-have, consider trimming the number of courses you serve—say, from five to three.

For dessert, you may not need enough cake to give every guest a full slice. By the time you cut the cake, guests are often full of dinner and have hit the dance floor—and they likely won't notice if you provide half servings instead, Miles says.

And don't be afraid to think outside the box. "There are lots of ways to feed guests that don't involve a sit-down meal," says Eisenhart. For example, you could hire a food truck and let guests order meals and snacks, or have an afternoon reception with hors d'oeuvres and dessert.

Bar

Miles advises against having a cash bar, forcing guests to pay for their drinks. You'll risk looking tacky, and your guests may not have any bills in their wallets to pay. But you can trim costs in other ways. Limit the number of hours that alcohol is available, or offer a small selection of drinks. Many couples choose to have a signature cocktail, plus wine and beer. If you want a broader range of liquors to be available, you may want to nix the top-shelf options.

For Tom and me, part of our venue's appeal is that we can buy our own beverages and hire bartenders of our choice. We plan to stock the bar with champagne, wine, beer and soda (total budget: $1,500), and we've hired two bartenders who each charge $20 per hour (total: $200, plus tip). Had we chosen a venue that comes with a full bar and staff, we might have spent $2,370—the average for bar expenses in Piqua, according to The Wedding Report.

Wedding Dress

Thanks to my diligent mother, who scheduled appointments on sale days with several bridal shops near my hometown, I saved $100 on the dress I chose. (It didn't hurt that I shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, when Black Friday bargains stretched to wedding attire, too.)

Another idea: Shop at sample sales, which stores run to get rid of extra dresses in stock. That could cut the price of your dress by as much as 80%, says Miles.

And keep in mind that you don't need to buy a dress cut from high-end fabric to look like a million bucks. "Inexpensive wedding dresses are not necessarily cheap dresses," says Eisenhart. Extensive beading and lace probably won't fit into a tight budget, but you may be surprised at the quality you can find in a polyester gown. (And we all know that a happy bride looks great no matter what she's wearing.)

Honeymoon

By keeping a sharp eye out for travel bargains—Travelzoo's weekly "Top 20" newsletter is one of our favorite sources—Tom and I hope to score a cheap deal for our honeymoon. Although we've been watching for vacation packages to Ireland, we're flexible enough to switch gears if we find a better deal somewhere else. We'd like to keep the price below $1,500 per person.

Some couples choose to take a "mini moon," spending a few days at, say, a nearby bed and breakfast rather than taking an exotic trip, says Eisenhart. That leaves time to save money for a bigger vacation later. If you're getting married during the high point of a travel season, putting off the honeymoon can also mean capturing a better deal during an off-peak time of year.

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