A Lavish Wedding Reception, for Less

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

Desserts-Only Party

THE COUPLE: Karla and Caleb Lindquist
LOCATION: Cathedral Square, Mobile, Alabama

The strategy: "Ours was the third wedding in Caleb's family in seven months, so we really wanted to have a unique event," says Karla. "And since we were paying for everything ourselves and we had a large guest list, we also needed to do something that was more economical than a formal sit-down dinner. That's why we chose to do a desserts-only reception. We were able to serve a wide variety of goodies, like mini cheesecakes and homemade cookies and brownies, as well as a full ice-cream sundae bar. In keeping with the sweets theme, my bridesmaids wore candy-colored dresses, and rock candy was incorporated into their bouquets."

Money-saving moves: "We wanted to have our reception outside, but when we started looking at venues, it seemed that every place wanted at least $900 for the site fee alone; the linen rentals and catering would have been extra. Then a friend suggested we hold our wedding in Cathedral Square, in downtown Mobile. I hadn't realized that you could rent a public space for a wedding, but it turns out the city has all sorts of places for rent. The square was perfect for us, and it only cost $25!

Another way we saved was that, rather than rent chairs and tables, we had picnic-style seating, plus we brought in chairs for older people and one very pregnant woman. We told our guests about this ahead of time, so they knew to dress casually. For the picnic-style seating, we asked our friends and family to lend us quilts to lay out on the lawn. The colors looked spectacular against the grass. And we draped some quilts over the food and beverage tables. It looked quite festive."

Biggest splurge: "The largest chunk of our budget went to the photographer. I'm an amateur shutterbug myself, so having beautiful pictures that documented the day was very important to me. I wanted someone who had a photojournalistic style and didn't take a lot of posed, traditional wedding shots. I've heard time and again from other brides that the day goes so fast, you don't remember half of it, so I wanted to be able to look at my pictures and really feel the atmosphere of the event."

Best money-saving tips: "When people offer to help you, let them. We saved so much money this way. For instance, one friend offered to act as DJ, using a portable sound system we borrowed from our church. And rather than our hiring a caterer to make and serve lemonade and iced tea to guests, two friends agreed to handle it. They came up with a great idea of freezing half of the drink mixes in different-shaped Jello molds for use as "ice cubes" to keep the rest of the beverages cold. The drinks looked great, and we didn't have to buy ice or ice chests. Also, it's smart to think ahead.

During your engagement, be on the lookout for sales on items for the reception. In my case, whenever holiday candy went on sale, I bought it. So even though we had lots of sweets at our reception, I didn't pay full price for any of it."