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How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

Posted on 3/29/2012 16:32 EST

(also read How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget Part 2)

Still basking in the afterglow of a holiday or Valentine's Day proposal? Sooner or later (preferably sooner), you'll have to start calculating how much the wedding is likely to cost -- and whether you can afford it. You may think you're planning a cheap wedding, but adding up everything from hors d'oeuvres to flower arrangements catapults the average total to beyond $27,000 (and, like many things, is typically much pricier in large metro areas). That's according to the recently released 2011 Real Weddings Survey by supersites The Knot and WeddingChannel.com. If this sounds like more than you can manage, Cheapism's resident newlyweds have put together some tips on planning a cheap wedding.

Part One: Date, Location, and Head Count

Photo by sxc.hu/bjearwicke
If you're in the early stages of planning a cheap wedding, think critically about the date, location, and size of your event. These big-picture considerations can affect your bottom line far more profoundly than DIY centerpieces.

Set an off-peak date.

Summer is traditionally considered "wedding season," but the most popular month in which to marry is September, according to the Real Weddings Survey. Peak season means peak pricing on everything from venues to vendors, so choose another time of year if you're planning a cheap wedding. In December, for instance, family and friends are likely to be taking time off work for the holidays, and a site already decorated for the season can save you money on decor.

The day of the week also makes a difference, and a popular suggestion for frugal couples is to stay away from Saturdays. If you worry that guests won't feel free to let loose or stay till the last dance, look into a Sunday over a holiday weekend. It may cost more than a typical Sunday but less than a Saturday.

Keep your guest list short.

Between invitations and postage, dinner and dessert, drinks and favors -- not to mention plus-ones -- each extra name can easily add $100 or more to your total. Make a list of friends and family whom you can't bear to be without and be strict about whom your parents can invite. A lean guest list can also broaden the selection of venues able to accommodate your head count, potentially letting you choose a cheaper and more intimate space.

Find a free venue.

Before you Google "cheap [your city here] wedding venues," try to brainstorm offbeat and original locations for a wedding. Your guests will be impressed at how beautiful a barn, garden, park, warehouse space, or family home can look when decorated. Inquire at locations with sentimental value, such as a favorite restaurant, a weekend getaway spot, or the site of your engagement or first date. Keep in mind that such venues may end up costing more once you factor in catering, furniture rental, portable restrooms, and the like.

Photo by sxc.hu/theswedish
Some venues are all-inclusive, offering in-house catering, bar service, tables, chairs, and flatware. This limits opportunities to find savings but may be less expensive than renting separately. While a restaurant may not let you bring in booze bought in bulk, you also don't have to pay for every open bottle -- unpoured liquor can go back behind the bar and be served to other patrons. With so many variables, the important thing is to ask questions and compare costs.

Shrink your wedding party.

As much as you might want to include every childhood friend and college roommate, bear in mind that you will be treating these VIPs to not just one night of dinner and drinks but two in a row. The rehearsal dinner can easily become the equivalent of a small wedding reception if you're not careful. Fewer bridesmaids and groomsmen also means fewer attendant gifts and flowers for bouquets and boutonnieres. This can add up to hundreds in savings.

Use free online tools.

Resources abound on the web for couples planning a cheap wedding. Commune with other budget-conscious brides at Weddingbee, seek inspiration from Style Me Pretty, and track your spending at Project Wedding. Pinterest is becoming a popular visual resource for ideas on everything from decorations to cakes to gowns. Use this "online pinboard" to find inspiring images, curate your own collections, and narrow down your wedding style and vision.
(Continue to How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget Part 2)

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