The guest list’s size is the biggest determinant of your total wedding cost, so keeping expenses trim is of the utmost importance. But if you’re worried that you’ll offend people by not inviting them to your wedding, stop now. Of course you wouldn’t leave out your nearest and dearest, and anyone else you’re considering would likely be flattered to be invited but not bothered if they’re not (think: the group of college friends who live on the other side of the country whom you’ve not seen in five years). Your best bet to tighten your list is to make some wedding invitation list rules (for you, your fiancé and both families) and stick to them. That is, first cousins, but not second. Spouses and live-in or serious partners, but not random dates. Your boss, but not your whole office. One caveat: don’t split up groups, says Syd Sexton, owner of Syd Sexton Event Productions, in Denver. “If you can invite your office gang, great. But if you can’t, don’t just invite one of them.”
The first time you gazed upon your wedding reception site, you saw veritable fields of flowers, right? It’s no surprise, though, that piles and piles of blooms can ratchet up your costs quickly. Sexton notes that you don’t need to fill every corner of your venue with flowers for a lovely look. Work with your wedding florist to use the freshest, most in-season blooms to their strategic advantage, then fill in the rest of the decor with budget-friendly candles or greenery. If you just adore flowers, check out botanical gardens in your area—you’ll have a bounteous backdrop of blooms at your disposal (for not a penny more).
One cocktail-hour trend these days is to overload (read: over-impress) guests with everything from sushi bars to towering displays of cheese, to passed hors d’oeuvres to pasta and carving stations. But there’s no reason to make this a blowout, says Mindy Weiss, celebrity wedding planner and coauthor with Lisbeth Levine of The Wedding Book: The Big Book for Your Big Day. “Keep it short and sweet—this ensures that you’ll need less food—and have your hors d’oeuvres hand-passed instead of having stations. This limits the amount of food you’ll need.” Stick with just enough food to keep guests from getting too tipsy too early in the evening, advises Meghan Walls, owner of Meghan Walls Events in New York City. A pretty display of cheese, fruit and crackers will do just fine.
“Unless you’re having a dessert reception, you don’t need to go overboard on sweets. Wedding cake is so spectacular that offering a dessert buffet, a crepes suzette station and mini ice cream cones is just excessive,” says Levine. “After all, you don’t want to weigh guests down with so many sweets during your wedding reception that they don’t have the energy to get out on the dance floor!”
First of all, says Weiss, feel free to skip the champagne toast. It’s no longer considered a must-do at weddings. Simply toast with whatever wine you already have on the table. As for your bar options, remember this is your party, so it’s entirely up to you, not your hard-partying college friends or the snooty aunts who prefer top-shelf martinis. Work with your reception site or caterer to create a bar you can afford, whether that means offering only beer, wine, water and soft drinks; a signature drink at the cocktail hour and red and white wines with dinner; or less-expensive liquors for mixed drinks rather than pricey brand names. Also, keep mixed drinks as simple as possible: The more varieties of liquor that are involved in assembling the drink, the more you will pay. “If you’re hiring an off-premise caterer and can buy your own alcohol, you can save even more by shopping around and being able to return unopened bottles,” notes Walls. Instruct the wait staff not to automatically top off guests’ wineglasses and, finally, arrange to have your bar closed an hour before the end of the party. You’ll be doing the drivers a favor.
We know—you’re worried about wedding guests going home either hungry or unhappy with your food choices. Those worries have caused many brides and grooms to go down the path of offering too much—up to seven courses—and paying too much for it. If you’re looking to cut costs, “eliminate one course in the meal, and just serve an appetizer and an entrée,” says Walls. You can also stick to offering one or two choices for the entrée. Or instead of offering chicken, steak or salmon entrées, assemble a plate that combines, say, a few grilled shrimp and medallions of beef, plus a creative array of vegetables. (You may save 40 percent or more on your wedding reception, because your chef will know exactly what to buy for your head count.) Once you find a caterer that you really trust, you can work with him to find the most economical options. Rest assured quality always trumps quantity, and that no one will end up stopping at McDonald’s on the way home.
Engraved or letterpress wedding invitations are the ultimate, yes. And heavy cardstock, of course. But all of this is very costly. Choosing an unusual color, paper or design may also raise your wedding invitation costs more than you’re prepared for. If you’re a DIY-er (or if you know someone who is), design and make your own wedding invitations by hand or on a high-quality computer printer. Some calligraphic fonts are so good that it’s really hard to tell they’re not done by hand.