A Lavish Wedding Reception, for Less

Couples reveal clever ways to have a stylish party and get plenty of bang for your buck.

Destination Wedding

THE COUPLE: Teresa and Preston Meyer
LOCATION: Marquis Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
HOMETOWN: Asheville, North Carolina

The strategy: "Preston and I are a very unconventional couple, so we loved the idea of having a destination wedding," says Teresa. "Had we held a traditional wedding in either of our hometowns, we would have had well over 200 guests in attendance, and the wedding probably would have cost us $50,000! However, only 66 guests were able to make the trip to Mexico, and so we saved on all sorts of costs, like floral table centerpieces and catering."

Money-saving moves: "We negotiated everything. My husband talked the resort into agreeing to waive the $3,000 site fee if we could fill a certain number of rooms. Also, rather than having to rent chairs, tables, linens and china, he got them to throw in the use of all of those things at no extra charge. We also negotiated with the mariachi band we hired for our cocktail hour and for dinner music. They charged $1,000 an hour, but we got them down to $600 an hour just by asking.

We also saved money by forgoing a champagne toast. The resort fee for a single bottle of champagne was more than we knew that brand cost. That wasn't where we wanted to focus our dollars, so we skipped it, and no one seemed to notice.

Preston and I also did some DIY projects, rather than paying pros for certain services. For example, even though I have no graphic design experience, I created our ceremony programs and menus on our computer. I simply printed them out on sheets of pretty colored paper that I purchased at an art supply store. Then Preston punched holes down the left side of the programs and tied the pages together with ribbon. Also, I made simple boutonnieres for all of Preston's groomsmen out of seashells and ribbon."

Biggest splurges: "We did not skimp on food and alcohol. My husband was emphatic about having top-shelf liquor, but even so, we found ways to save. We instructed the resort to bill us based on consumption, rather than a flat, per-person fee, because some of our older guests weren't going to be drinking much. Also, while we originally wanted to serve ‘surf-and-turf' plates of lobster tail and filet mignon for dinner, that doubled our food estimates. A nice compromise was to serve lobster bisque as an appetizer, and give guests a choice of filet mignon or grouper as the main course."

Best money-saving tips: "Speak up if you're not happy. The cake we got was disappointing and looked nothing like the one we ordered, so we complained—and got it for free. Also, hire undiscovered talent. Find high-quality vendors who are just starting out or need to add to their portfolio and help them out by letting them ‘use' you for the experience.

Our photographer, for instance, had been with a big wedding-photography company, and left to start her own business. Because she'd never done a destination wedding before, she agreed to shoot ours for only the cost of her travel expenses. She was with us for four days and took pictures of all our activities, from the rehearsal dinner to the reception, and even honeymoon shots. We paid $3,700 for her services, and now I hear she's in such demand that she charges much, much more."