Hire a wedding coordinator to save you time and money.
Most brides think that hiring a wedding coordinator will break their budget. It's a little-known fact that wedding coordinators can actually save you money after you get all the discounts and perks they have arranged with partner vendors, says Sharon Naylor, who has written 30 wedding books including 1000 Best Secrets for Your Perfect Wedding. But use caution when selecting a planner: Anyone can call herself a "wedding planner." Look for someone who is certified by organizations such as the American Academy of Wedding Professionals or the Association of Bridal Consultants (www.bridalassn.com) who have consultants throughout North America.
Take a class in wedding planning.
Before you start your wedding planning, learn from the experts by going on a weekend course. Although these courses are designed for people embarking on wedding planning as a career, you'll pick up huge amounts of inside information. You could also treat the chief bridesmaid to a hair and make-up course. She may then be able to take care of the bride and other bridesmaids, as well as the bride's mother, and perhaps save you dollars on your bill.
Cut to the cake.
Plan to cut your cake and toss your bouquet early in the night. Your wedding guests will never know you've done this to let your photographer and videographer leave early, and it will cut down on the per-hour costs. Plus, after the professional photographers leave, your guests will be more likely to keep snapping pictures themselves.
Focus on flowers.
This nugget comes straight from a former florist: "The cost of flowers is minimal—it's the labor it takes to arrange them that costs so much," says Deb McCoy, president of the American Academy of Wedding Professionals. "To save money on flowers, put your money into your bridal party flowers and go with nonfloral table centerpieces at your reception." The flowers in the bride's bouquet and on your mom, dad, bridesmaids, and other relatives are the flowers that will forever be in your photos, so that's where you want to invest. Rather than having floral centerpieces, McCoy suggests something you can make yourself: "Put beautiful, tall candles on the tables and surround them with glass pebbles, or float votive candles in water." You will save a ton of money.
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Buy booze by the head, not by the drink.
Even if most of your wedding guests are nondrinkers, don't let the caterer talk you into paying by the drink. The secret about teetotalers is that many actually do imbibe when the liquor is free, and what's free for them costs you about $7.50 per cocktail.
"I was pulled into this trap when I planned my stepdaughter's wedding a few years ago," says McCoy. "Because most of the people in my family don't drink much, the catering director persuaded me to pay for the liquor by the glass. It ended up that the liquor bill was more than the food bill."
It is almost always cheaper to buy liquor by the head. Caterers "may charge you $20 per head for a four-hour event where guests can drink as much as they want," McCoy says. "With a per-head liquor contract, there will be no surprises when it comes to paying the bill."
Consider your credit card your secret weapon.
Even if you have a million dollars in the bank, experts will tell you to pay for everything related to your wedding and reception with a credit card. This will protect you should anything go wrong with your vendors. If the first-rate photographer you booked gets hit by a bus the day before the wedding and you put the deposit on a credit card, your money will be refunded. If you had paid with cash, your money would have gone down with the photographer. Your credit card is like a free wedding insurance policy in your wallet, so use it.
Skip the custom-printed invitations.
Here's a secret: Most people couldn't care less about other couples' wedding invitations. Your guests will probably never even notice the scalloped edges and silver ink that cost you an extra $2 per print. Therefore, they probably also won't know if you've made your invitations yourselves. Instead of ordering them custom made, use invitation software; although they are the enemy of wedding invitation designers, invitation software packages offer modern fonts and graphics, and they are easy to use.
Book a budding musical talent.
If you have always dreamed of having a live string quartet or even a rock band at your wedding reception, but can't afford their fees, hire music students. A local school (perhaps one that specialises in the performing arts), university or music college will be able to recommend some students. To avoid disaster, hold a brief audition for your musicians before you hire them, or ask if you can hear them perform at a concert or gig.
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Use local expertise.
Ask around and you'll quickly discover bargain talent in your area, whether you want a wedding dress or outfit stitched, a cake baked, special ties or cravats made for the bridegroom and his party, or flowers arranged for your church and reception.
Before you commission someone to do any one of these jobs, be very clear about what you want and what you are asking them to do. Collect pictures and recipes torn from magazines, visit wedding shows and try on dresses you can't afford. If suppliers won't give you illustrated brochures, make careful notes and sketches just after your visit.