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Wedding Experts Reveal Their Best Cost-Cutting Secrets

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By Sharon Naylor for Bridal Guide

We went straight to the source and asked top wedding-industry pros to spill their best cost-cutting secrets. Here's how to save on everything from cocktails to cake, flowers and more.

“Ask yourself: what are my top three dream elements? Is the food most important? The band? The dress? Craft your budget around what you know you want, to splurge there and cut back on some things that aren’t as important,” says Christopher Confero, of Christopher Confero Design in Atlanta, GA.

Site Fees

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Photo Credit: Love Bird on Bridal Musings via Lover.ly

“Booking on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon or evening can be a big savings over heftier Saturday night costs. Also consider a Thursday night wedding, which can shave approximately 10 percent to 20 percent off your budget, and you and your guests get to enjoy a three-day weekend (just make sure to send out save-the-dates first!),” says Jenny Orsini, of Jenny Orsini Events in Berkeley Heights, NJ.

“Sunday mornings are also becoming more popular, since you have the option for a terrific brunch with a large spread, at a cost of 30 percent less than a dinner,” says Andrea Correale, president of Elegant Affairs Off-Premise Catering and Event Design, in Glen Cove, NY.

“Prices are lower during the months of December through March, and can add up to $40 to $50 less per guest,” Orsini says. (Adds Confero: “Renting a venue in January can save you around 25 percent.”

“When looking for a venue, you should always ask about the special events planned for the space both before and after yours. Many times, you can see what equipment (lighting, staging, draping, etc.) they are using and potentially ‘share’ the cost of the equipment if both events have similar needs,” says Dallas event designer aka “America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru” Steve Kemble.

Flowers & Decor
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Photo Credit: Laura Murray Photography on Bridal Musings via Lover.ly

“Put your money where guests spend time and are going to appreciate it. If you aren’t having a sit-down dinner, don’t use your flower budget on expensive table centerpieces. If you’re having a cocktail reception and everyone will be lined up at the bar, have your designer create a ‘wow’ floral piece in that area so guests enjoy it all night! If you concentrate the decor in one area instead of spreading it out around the room, this could easily save you 20 percent on your decor budget,” says Confero.

“Roses are affordable all year long, and it’s no more expensive to include big Ecuadorian or Colombian roses than it is to use California roses,” says Michael Gaffney, director and owner, American Schools of Flower Design, in eight cities nationwide. (Check to see which flowers are in season for your wedding date, here.)

“Carnations are one of the most cost-effective flowers available. When they’re used in dense monochromatic designs, they have a lot of impact. Although they aren’t as lush as roses or peonies, these hardy little flowers can be used to create a similar look for half the cost,” says Pennylyn Kaine, owner and floral designer, Blossom and Bee, Oak Ridge, NJ.

Ask your floral designer to make blooms look pricier. “For instance, avoid ‘antique hydrangeas’ that have wine-tinted blossoms, since they cost about $24 apiece retail. Your floral designer can use specialty floral spray to make regular hydrangeas look like the pricier kind, saving you $20 apiece,” says Gaffney.

Let your floral pro suggest fabulous fillers. “Bear grass gives a striking architectural look to centerpieces and costs 60 to 70 percent less than some other fillers and greenery. As for baby’s breath, a bunch may cost a mere $6, but for an impressive look, you’ll need a lot...which could add up to $80,” says Gaffney.

“Tall centerpieces on average start at approximately $150. You can easily save 50 to 60 percent by eliminating height and opting for low centerpieces. Add an intimate feel with more candlelight than florals,” Orsini says.

Food

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Photo Credit: Dominique Bader on Snippet and Ink via Lover.ly

“Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, chef-attended watch-while-they-cook ‘action stations’ can add an interactive element to the evening,” says Confero. “Everyone gets fed without the hassle and the wait of table service, and cutting down on the wait staff should easily shave 15 percent off of your catering bill.”

Buffet style can usually be more cost-effective than formal, sit-down service, saving approximately 20 to 30 percent,” says Orsini.

“Brunches offer a large spread of food, with many light and healthy dishes that are far less expensive per menu item than the heavier and more indulgent foods found at cocktail party stations and in sit-down dinners,” Correale says.

“The days of gluttony are over,” Correale continues. “It’s now in good taste to tantalize guests during the cocktail hour with just one or two stations as opposed to four or five, and offer hand-passed hors d’oeuvres, choosing healthier, lighter foods, which cost a lot less than heavier hot-station foods.”

Drinks

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Photo Credit: Abby Jiu on Munaluchi Bridal via Lover.ly

“House liquors can save you 15 percent over the cost of top-shelf liquors,” says Orsini.

“You don’t need to do a full open bar,” Orsini continues. “Just provide a few signature drinks, and house wines and beers. Hard liquor is not a necessity at a wedding and can often drive up the cost.” (Check out more budget-friendly alternatives to an open bar, here.)

“Plan a cocktail hour where you pass champagne or offer one signature cocktail, but then switch to just beer and wine at your reception. That will easily save a good 30 percent or more on your bar tab,” Confero says.

“We all love champagne, but limiting the reception toast to just the bride and groom can save a chunk of cash. With an average guest list of 140, you would save approximately $420 by not having a reception-wide toast,” says Chris Easter, groom-centric wedding and etiquette expert, co-founder of TheManRegistry.com.

Cake & Desserts

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Photo Credit: Courtney Clarke Photography: on Wedding Chicks via Lover.ly

“My rule of thumb is to only plan on having cake for 75 percent of your guests,” says Confero. “And do you absolutely need a groom’s cake? Absolutely not.”

“Design a cake that has some faux layers for making a big visual impression while cutting it, and also have a sheet cake in the kitchen for serving, which can save 15 to 20 percent,” says Orsini.

Go with standard icing flavors like vanilla and lemon, and opt for buttercream over fondant, which can save around $1 per slice,” says Anne Heap, owner and cake designer at Pink Cake Box in Denville, NJ.

“Choose crowd-pleasing classic flavors. “For cakes, vanilla, chocolate, lemon and key lime cost a bit less than red velvet and carrot cake,” Heap tells us.

Bring in your own candy buffet instead of having a big, expensive Viennese dessert hour. Or, have a plated dessert with two to three desserts of your choice, to serve along with the cake,” suggests Orsini.

“Instead of a Viennese dessert hour, it's now an elegant trend to have waiters hand-pass little dessert options. Since the caterer can control the portions, it often saves $8 per person,” says Correale.

Photography

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Photo Credit: Bryan N. Miller Photography on Bryan N. Miller Photography via Lover.ly

Consider going with a smaller photo package up front with the potential to upgrade after the wedding, such as ordering your DVD later. Or put aside some of your wedding gift money to buy prints,” says Picone.

Consult with photographers about your planned timeline. I usually recommend coverage only through to the cake cutting and bouquet toss. After that point, many of your shots will be repetitive dancing shots. If everything is occurring in one location, six hours of coverage might be enough and save you hundreds of dollars over a longer time frame,” says Picone.

“You might only need one person taking photos if it’s a small wedding. Cutting a second and third shooter from the list can save at least 20 percent,” says Confero.

Music & Entertainment

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Photo Credit: Leigh Miller on Snippet and Ink via Lover.ly

“A DJ is often going to be a lot cheaper than a full band, and would probably save you 60 percent or so,” Confero tells us. (Get song recommendations here!)

“Check out local bands that haven’t made it big yet. Go out for drinks with the girls and scope out some local talent at the bars you frequent. If you have your heart set on one act, talk to them and see if negotiation is possible,” says Confero.

“Rather than have your DJ work the cocktail hour, ask the venue if they can stream in music from an iPod. Or, if you have a friend or family member who is a musician, try asking them to perform during cocktail hour. It adds a nice personal touch. Cutting out the DJ’s extra time can save approximately 10 to 15 percent,” says Orsini.

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