The two biggest pieces of advice I could probably give are: 1) do LOTS of research and 2) look at non-traditional sources for your wedding elements. Doing lots of research will allow you to find the best vendors at the best rates, while looking at non-traditional sources will occasionally allow you to avoid the “wedding mark-up” that many traditional wedding vendors (ahem, florists) will charge. In the early part of our wedding planning process, we did a ton of research into venues and vendors and put together spreadsheets with all the relevant information (including Pros and Cons for each choice), which helped us make better and more informed decisions. We also made a list of specific priorities (i.e. great food over a live band) to help us decide how to prioritize our limited resources.
You should also keep in mind what elements your guests will remember about your wedding — they’ll remember if your wedding had great food, but they won’t remember the fancy chairs that they sat on — as well as what you’ll remember from that day. While I don’t personally believe in spending $5,000 on a wedding dress, you’ll be looking at pictures of yourself on that day for many, many decades to come, so you should choose a dress that you’ll be happy to see again in pictures and that fits you really well. If you’re set on wearing a designer dress, look for one second hand from websites like www.preownedweddingdresses.com or www.oncewed.com for half the original price or less. If that’s still outside your budget, look for white dresses in department stores like Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus — they’re still expensive, but less than a traditional wedding dress and frequently just as beautiful. JCrew also has some beautiful wedding dresses, although their prices aren’t as good these days as they used to be.
Having a smaller guest list was probably the biggest cost-saver throughout the entire wedding — although there are some initial set costs that won’t change regardless of the number of guests you have, having a smaller guest list does help to keep costs down, particularly with the reception. Not only does having less guests mean that you don’t have to prepare as much food as you would for a reception of 250 guests, but it means less chairs, tables, and linens to rent, less floral arrangements and centerpieces to have on the table, less wine/alcohol and cake needed, and less staff needed to serve all your guests. It also affects the number needed in other wedding elements, such as STD cards, invitations, place cards or escort cards, ceremony programs, etc. There is no way that we could have pulled off our wedding on our budget for more than 50 guests.
I know for some brides with large families on one or both sides, this is probably impossible, but I will say that, for us, having a small wedding made the day even more special. We were surrounded by our closest family and friends — the people who literally mean the most to us in the world. Our parents didn’t get to invite their own guests, and we even made the choice not to invite some family members (after talking it through with our parents) who would have made the day miserable for us. And because we had a smaller guest list, we got to talk to and spend time with each one of our guests during the day.
The other area where you can save lots of money is in your floral budget. The biggest factor in your floral budget will be the cost of labor — so the less time spent creating and setting up your arrangements, the lower your floral costs will be (provided you choose in-season flowers, of course). This is why garlands and pomanders are expensive — because they require a lot of labor to create. To keep labor costs down, you’ll need to choose a bouquet that doesn’t require your florist to hand-wire and wrap each individual flower into a complicated arrangement, and it also means no fancy and intricate reception arrangements, like the kinds you see on wedding shows made to look like an “enchanted forest” or something.
I would also highly recommend the book “Bridal Budgets: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget” by Denise and Alan Fields. While not all the advice is completely applicable to every situation, this book was enormously helpful, particularly in giving tips on how to select and deal with vendors. I read every single chapter in this book — quite literally cover to cover. It’s a wonderful resource to any bride trying to plan a wonderful wedding on a budget.
For more info about Nole’s budget garden wedding you can check out her Knot bios.