You’re getting married in this economy?

29 ways to cut the crap

You’ve probably done it. Opened up a wedding magazine and looked at the budget planner worksheet they provide with disbelief and a bit of terror: “Calligraphy? Parents’ albums? Guest-room gifts? Menu cards? Do I really need all this?” The short answer is no. Much of what the wedding industry says you need is not necessary, especially if your personal budget squeeze is beginning to take on 1800’s Victorian corset proportions.

According to The Wedding Report’s, the average couple in Reno spends between $21,210 and $35,350 for their wedding, and that doesn’t even include the honeymoon, engagement ring, videographer, transportation or live music. If those numbers sound laughable—in a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry kind of way—it doesn’t mean your only option is the county courthouse. Nor does it mean you have to have a wedding that looks like your event planner was the Salvation Army. It does mean you’ll need to be a bit more creative and fine tune your priorities when it comes to putting on a wedding.

Vanessa Ornelas of event planning company Happily Ever After says the biggest mistake couples make is to not have a definite idea of their budget. “They just start spending and hope it will be kept within that,” she says. “It has to be a solid number they’re both going to stick to.” You can cut costs in every category—food, cake, dress, etc. Once you’ve set a budget, you can start setting priorities.

The following are ideas from Ornelas and from Ann-Marie Fenner, co-owner of Infinite Moments event planning, for cutting wedding costs without sacrificing overall quality.

1. Limit the guest list. A lot of people tell their single friends to bring a guest. “Those ‘and guests’ can really add up, and they might not even be in your life in a year,” says Ornelas.

2. Limit the bar. Rather than a bar full of cocktails and hard liquor, many couples just do beer, wine and a signature drink. “That alone can save thousands on the cost of alcohol for the reception,” says Ornelas.

3. Nix the champagne toast. The flutes, the champagne, the corkage—it all costs extra. Most guests will likely already have a drink of some sort in their hand; toast with that.

4. Wedding favors: Limit them, do without, or make your own. Very few people ever remember or save wedding favors.

5. Food. Buffets and barbecues cost less than sit-down dinners of steak and salmon. If the wedding isn’t held around dinner time, you could just serve hors d’oeuvres—though a bunch ofthem can cost more than a meal, so keep them in check. Fenner says potlucks can be a fun, personal touch that allows everyone to feel they’re contributing. She and her husband, Infinite Moments co-owner Chad Fenner, bought food in bulk that family and friends made and brought to their wedding, costing them about $700 compared to the $10,000 they were looking at for catering. A reception after 8 p.m. could offer solely desserts.

6. The cake. Have a “dessert table” with special cakes made by friends and family members. Ornelas says fake wedding cakes with real frosting are also available, which can be displayed at the wedding while sheet cakes are sliced in a back room for guests.

7. Flowers. Try farmers markets when in season. A number of online sites deliver in bulk or already prepared. Costco, for instance, has great deals on bulk flowers. And while orchids may be beautiful, so are less expensive tulips, sunflowers or even sagebrush.

8. Invitations. If ordering your invitations online, look for coupons, advises Fenner. “We saved 40 percent on our invitations just because I found various coupons for them,” she says about her own wedding. RSVP cards also cost extra; instead say “RSVP to [your email]” on the invitation. Fenner says you can also make an elegant, simple invitation with cardstock and vellum.

9. Photos. Many photographers are willing to work within your price range and could customize a more budget-friendly package for you. One cost-saver is to get a disc from your photographer of high resolution photos and develop them yourself. This can cut photography costs nearly in half. Also, leave little notes on the table asking guests to take photos and email them to you. (You can do this with disposable cameras, too, but remember the photo development costs of 50 non-digital cameras add up.)

10. Decorations. It may not be necessary to buy an altar or a unity candle or sashes on the chairs. Decide which decorative and ceremonial elements are most important to you.

11. The centerpieces. Rather than have elaborate displays, make your own with some votive candles in a jar with ribbon tied around it, or just a flower in bud vases throughout the tables. Pinecones, even leaves, can be free and elegant decorations for an outdoor or more rustic wedding.

Vanessa Ornelas of Happily Ever After adjusts the top of a fake cake at the Wedding Design Center in Reno. Fake cakes can be used for presentation while inexpensive sheet cakes can be sliced in a backroom to serve for guests at the reception.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

12. Do your own hair and makeup.

13. The dress. Don’t forget to add accessories, such as shoes, slips and alterations to the cost of your dress. They can add at least $300 and often more. If you’re willing to wear a used dress, you can find some at

14. The veil. Many brides aren’t wearing them.

15. The wedding party. The fewer members of it you have, the less money you’ll spend on their attire, alterations, jewelry and gifts. Fenner says not to feel a need to “even out” the wedding party: to match the groom’s six best men, for instance, with six bridesmaids when you really only want three, or to have a flower girl just because you have a ring bearer or vice versa.

16. Venue. The day of week and time of year can make a difference in your venue fee. Ask about discounts for having it on a day other than Friday or Saturday. Also, look for low-cost alternatives like a family friend’s ranch or backyard. The Fenners got married in a neighbor’s field and spent $100 to rent a 4-H building for the reception in Anne-Marie’s hometown of Lovelock. “Nontraditional wedding places don’t cost as much because they’re not used to having weddings there,” she says.

17. All-inclusive vs. do-it-yourself. The initial price tag of all-inclusive packages offered by many venues—catering, rental equipment, venue—may be startling, but it can cost more and be more stressful to do everything yourself. Make sure the cost comparison warrants your decision.

18. Programs. These may not be necessary. You could also make them yourself with cardstock, a little ribbon and a computer.

19. Pick a theme beyond color. Be it country elegant, chic geek, fancy shmancy or Old West, picking a theme will help narrow your focus and keep you from buying things you ultimately don’t want or need.

20. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Vendors may be willing to give you a deal. Or not. But you can ask.

21. Plan ahead. You can make more things for yourself, and spend less doing so, if you don’t have to do everything at the last minute.

22. The parties before the party. Have a potluck or barbecue rather than a rehearsal dinner at a restaurant.

23. Use your laptop. If you can’t afford a DJ, create your own mix on your laptop and plug it into a good stereo system at the reception.

24. Look online. From flowers to favors to a cheap set of bud vases, many deals are to be found online. “A lot of people want to do-it-yourself, but before you sit down and agree to tie 400 little bows, see if you can find it online,” says Fenner. “Sometimes it goes the other way. You see it online and say, ‘I could do that myself.’”

25. Getaway car. Find a friend with a cool car, maybe an old classic. They’d likely be honored to escort you away.

26. Ordain a friend. You can have a friend marry you once he or she gets ordained for free through the legitimate and fast Universal Life Church website,

27. “If you insist.” If a family member, let’s say your mom, has her heart set on getting you a 12-piece orchestra or elaborate flower display that you simply can’t afford, by all means, let her buy it herself.

28. Ask for help. It depends on who you’re inviting, but Fenner says, “The weddings I’ve been to, people are willing to help.” Little things like setting out centerpieces or stringing lights are things you can also mention in your thank you notes later.

29. Take regular reality checks. Ask yourself, “How much difference will this truly have on my wedding?” says Ornelas. “Frequent budget checks are good, too—‘it’s only $200 over flower budget; it’s only $300 over on food. Only a little over in each category turns into way over everything.”