Shrink the guest list. With the reception usually the biggest expense, it's the most obvious place to cut costs. The math is obvious: Fewer guests mean fewer invitations and party favors, as well as a smaller food and alcohol bill. "You feel like you have to invite everybody in the world," said Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had about 110 guests at her January wedding. "We made a guest list by following the rule that if you don't have them over for dinner, don't invite them."
Consider holding the wedding on a day other than Saturday. Besides lowering the reception costs, it makes it easier to book photographers, videographers and other vendors who might otherwise be busy. Philipp Novales-Li and Ingrid Plooy held their wedding reception at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco on Labor Day, a Monday. "It was like we had the hotel for ourselves," Novales-Li said.
Don't forget to negotiate. "The first price they quote you is usually open to negotiation. If not, be willing to walk away from it and go elsewhere," said Plooy, who chose a different ceremony location after the first wouldn't haggle. The couple compared prices of several hotels before picking the Ritz-Carlton, which threw in a wedding cake at no extra cost.
Enlist the help of family and friends. Yvonne Pelle's neighbor officiated the ceremony; her father, a former restaurant owner, made spaghetti that was part of the catered buffet, and relatives helped set, serve and clean up the food. "Sometimes when you ask people to participate, that just makes it all the more special," said Pelle, a Livermore resident.
Plan early. It's easier to find bargains when there's more time. "You can find sites that are less expensive and book them on a good date," said Kat Clifford, a wedding consultant in Oakland, Calif., who planned her own wedding at Oakland's Highland Country Club in July.
Don't feel pressured to spend. Some couples shaved costs by not renting chair covers or using a friend's car instead of hiring the traditional limousine. As Julie Thompson's wedding drew closer, she felt compelled to make last-minute purchases. But she held back from buying an extra $200 of poetry books for the guests. "You start thinking, 'I need this, I need that.' But in the end, you don't," she said. "It was tempting in the last few weeks. It was something I almost fell into."
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