Not Your Ordinary Wedding Budget Tips: How to Save Some Serious Cash

My fairy-tale wedding -- which included a couture wedding gown, buffet dinner with table settings for 150 people, and a ceremony at a church that is so popular, it is booked every Saturday of the year -- cost under $8,000. When you consider that the average cost of a Sacramento wedding is over $31,000, I consider that pretty impressive.

Now, you can find many budget-saving wedding articles on the web and in magazines. In fact, some of the ones you come across, might even be written by moi. Professionally, I've written countless wedding articles with tips backed by well-known experts. But those are not the tips I'm including here.  

These are the tips for someone on a limited budget who doesn't need or can't afford to have professionals run the whole show. These are the tips that require doing your research and asking friends and family for help. These are the tips that saved me thousands.

1.) Start with an affordable venue that lets you provide your own services. Think community centers, universities and nonprofits when it comes time to select a venue. You don't need an all-inclusive venue that charges per head for the dinner or has the gall to charge for things like corkage or cake-cutting. That is some BS, if you ask me.

You can save hundreds to thousands with your reception selection. In my opinion, the old hardwood floors, beamed, vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, floor-to-ceiling windows and art deco foyer of my reception at Clunie Community Center's Grand Hall provided a far more stunning backdrop than some of the pricier and cramped banquet rooms at hotels.

2. Buy instead of renting reception items. You might think this sounds odd, but if you shop around -- and that includes shopping used (the things you rent are going to be used, after all!) -- you can save some serious bucks this way.

For example:

Providing your own tableware? Buy baby, buy. For my wedding, we found a caterer on Craigslist who was downsizing her business. She sold us plates, glasses and silverware at a fraction of the price renting would have cost. What do you do with table settings for 150 people after your wedding? Re-sell, of course! You can likely recoup all or almost all of your money.

While I did rent royal blue tablecloths for my round guest tables, we bought ivory damask tablecloths for the rectangular tables at a much lower price than any party rental place charged. We shopped at Anna's Linens.

I found everything from my hoop skirt to fairy-tale decor pieces on Craigslist. After the wedding, I re-sold the hoop skirt for the same price I paid.

3. Serve homemade food. I am rarely impressed with catered wedding food. In fact, only one wedding with catered food has ever wowed me. So why pay $50 a head for mediocre food? Choose a venue with a kitchen; you can reheat homemade meals that were made in advance and then frozen.

Select someone you trust to cook savory dishes your guests will never forget.  At my wedding, the main course was my mom's famous lasagna. She cooked batches of it ahead of time, froze them, and then they were reheated at the venue.

If you're uncomfortable having a friend or family member cook for so many people, hire someone with professional experience but without the storefront, such as a culinary student or someone who works out of their kitchen. You can also cut costs by hiring your favorite restaurant to provide only the main course, and then provide your own hors d'oeurves, breads and drinks. Why pay someone to display trays of meat, cheese, crackers and fruit or baskets of rolls when you have family and friends who could prepare those platters in their sleep?

4. Find what you love, and then get on the phone and see who will offer you the best deal. Shops and vendors want your business. Often, the listed price is not the final price.

For example:

I found my wedding gown at a shop in Sacramento. I wasn't thrilled with the service or the price, but this shop was the only retailer in my area who carried this higher-end designer.

After checking the designer's website, I found an authorized retailer in the Bay Area, which is less than a two hour drive from Sacramento. I called, and told them I was from Sacramento and wanted to know how much they sold *my* dress for. Not only was their price less expensive, but they threw in a discount since I was from out of town. I saved hundreds. They also gave me the "out-of-town" discount on anything I wanted in the store. The little bit spent in gas and time was nothing compared to my overall savings. Plus, I didn't have to settle for the sub-par customer service from the local shop.

5. Make what you can, and enlist the help of your craftier (and less busy) friends and family for the rest. Even friends who aren't artistically-inclined can help with simple tasks, such as folding DIY programs or tying ribbons onto bubble wands.

You don't need to buy a pricey unity candle or sand kit. Take a coupon and buy the supplies at a craft store. Not only will you cut costs, but you will have a keepsake that is truly your own; not a carbon copy of the candle sets on fireplace mantels across the country.

Ask around. If you don't personally know a florist, maybe someone you know has a relationship with one who will give you the friends and family discount. And while I am all for supporting independent artists and crafters on Etsy and the like, a lot of times, you can make what they're making, too.

For example:

My stepsister wanted whimsical wood doll cake toppers at her carnival-themed wedding. These are a popular, but somewhat pricey item on Etsy. My mom looked at Etsy pictures and then made her own for less than $5 with round wooden balls, scrap fabric, pipe cleaner, markers, hot glue and hand-stitching.

My Beauty and the Beast enchanted rose centerpieces were also handmade. I bought the supplies, and my family-friend florist assembled.

Pro tip: If you don't have the fabric on hand for your craft, go to a thrift store and browse the linen and clothes sections. For small crafts, fabric from a $0.99 T-shirt goes a long ways.

6. Spend wisely on the professionals you do hire. Just because a photographer has name recognition and is listed in your local wedding magazine, it doesn't mean that photographer will do a better job than the one you found on page three of Google. If you've met with both photographers, and they both have impressive portfolios, great attitudes, use professional equipment and have solid reviews (check Yelp!), think about what is really driving the cost difference.

Name recognition, advertising and studio rental hike up your package cost. Hiring the photographer working out of his home is going to save you a lot of money.

Also, when hiring a professional, make sure you're getting who you're paying for. Is the main photographer coming herself or sending an assistant in her place?

Is the owner of the cake shop you met making your cake, or will an employee who has only seen a rough sketch do the decorations? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with "just an employee" decorating the cake as that can be common practice, but what I am saying is then that is the person whose portfolio you should see and who you need to speak with. Seeing the portfolio of the owner's personally-made cakes does you no good when someone else is doing the actual work.

When you get your dress altered, are you paying for an employee to steam it, and how much? You may find you're better off buying your own steamer and having a friend or family pull the trigger. My seamstress actually recommended this as a way to cut costs.

Bottom line: Speak up, ask questions and negotiate. You don't have to be a bridezilla to get what you want at a price you want.

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