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How to plan a beautiful wedding on a shoestring budget

Bethany Ramos is an editor, blogger, and chick lit author. Bethany works as Editor in Chief for Naturally Healthy Publications.

Why yes, you can plan a gorgeous wedding without going for broke

Weddings are stressful for more reasons than one. Not only are you hoping to get all of your kooky friends and family in one place to celebrate your big day, but you’re expected to do it within the constraints of a budget. It’s no wonder we see brides freaking out left and right on TV.

The average wedding budget in the U.S.

As the saying goes, it’s never wise to compare yourself with others — but when it comes to how much you can expect to spend on a beautiful wedding, it helps to know what you’re getting into. The latest numbers from The Knot, released in 2015 for the previous year, peg the average cost of a wedding at $31,213.

But as you are picking your jaw up off the floor, remember this: An average is an average. There are probably a few fancy couples out there who have had extravagant weddings (that we could only hope to be invited to), bringing up the average for the rest of the engaged ladies trying to keep things modest. Yes, the U.S. average for a wedding looks a little pricey at face value, but CostofWedding.com estimates that most couples are going to spend less than $10,000, not including honeymoon expenses.

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That’s more like it. Getting married is a beautiful and exciting milestone in many women’s lives, but there’s no shame in your game if you want to keep costs to a minimum.

If you need to trim the fat in your wedding budget, rethink these items that most wedding planners consider to be a total waste.

1. The flowers

Flowers in a wedding may be nonnegotiable, but there are several workarounds to ensure that your fresh flowers don’t break your wedding bank. “Wanting peonies, gardenias and garden roses might sound like a great idea until you realize that you can't afford them and instead your florist is suggesting alstromeria and daisies — it's the theory of champagne taste on a beer budget. Know your budget and do some price shopping before you determine exactly what you want in the way of flowers,” says Kristen Tebbetts, floral partner on flower delivery site BloomNation and owner of Bloomers of La Jolla in La Jolla, California.

As a compromise, Kristen advises repurposing any and all flowers used in a wedding to help a bride save money. She says, “Can you take the flowers off your arbor and turn them into a centerpiece for your head table? Can you put your bridesmaid bouquets in vases on a cocktail table after the ceremony (what are they really going to do with them, anyway)? Can your aisle flowers be reused as centerpieces? Moving flowers from the ceremony into the reception is a great way to maximize their use and get your money's worth. Just make sure that if you're paying your florist or coordinator to make the transition for you, it makes sense financially rather than paying for more flowers — sometimes, it's better to enlist an organized friend/guest to help out with a few details.”

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2. The extras

One of the biggest money-wasters Kimberly Morrill, owner of Your Perfect Bridesmaid, has seen in her six years helping couples plan their weddings is sweating the small stuff. “Couples tend to waste a lot of money (and time and stress) on tiny details that no one else notices,” Morrill says. “Couples see these details on Pinterest (usually from unattainable styled shoots), and they spend a ton of money trying to recreate. Details like custom cocktail napkins, signs for everything, favors no one wants, additional pieces of stationary, etc. Guests notice the food, the bar, the energy, the love between the couple. They truly don't notice, and don't care about, the Pinterest-perfect touches.”

Speaking of details, Anastasia Stevenson of How to DIY Wedding agrees that shelling out the big bucks on something as small as wedding favors is a bit much. “More often than not, we see at least two-thirds of the favors left at reception tables after the wedding. Guests are having a good time mingling and dancing and look at most favors as a useless encumbrance. The wise thing is to make sure they have a practical use or are something fun and theme-driven that everyone would want and are easily portable!” Stevenson suggests useful and inexpensive favors like edible favors or personalized drink koozies instead.

3. The wedding gown

While you may have your heart set on the picture-perfect gown, Katherine Oyer of Aisle Planner recommends making a detour before you head straight to the neighborhood bridal shop — and hitting up a sample sale instead. “At the end of each season, bridal salons and designers will typically sell their gowns ‘off the rack’ at a deeply discounted price. Brides will need to give each gown some extra time and attention while shopping to ensure there aren’t any un

fixable tears or major stains, but typically, most loose beading or threading issues can be taken care of during the alterations process. The money saved will be huge, and the best part — you can take your dress home that day!”

4. The wedding program

This one’s a quickie but a goodie that could save you a few hundred dollars on your total budget. Oyer says it’s best to leave the program out completely if you are having a simple wedding since guests most likely won’t need a printed guide for the ceremony. “Most guests end up leaving their beautifully designed ceremony programs on their seats, leaving the couple with a pile of leftovers and wasted printing costs,” Oyer explains.

5. The wedding venue

If you’ve already tried pricing your wedding venue, then you’ve probably had at least one mini heart attack leading up to your wedding day. Michele Velazquez, owner of Pop The Knot, a pop-up wedding company created as an alternative to sky-high wedding venue costs, says, “The biggest thing brides waste their money on is the venue. Venues can be extremely expensive, as high as $30,000 and up. To get a better deal on the venue, the bride should try to book it during off-season or on a weekday. If the bride is open to a pop-up wedding — which is where the couple come in and have a quick ceremony with little or no set-up — this opens all kinds of doors for a very inexpensive venue.”

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“A venue may allow her to have a pop-up wedding at 9 a.m. before their big wedding at noon, and the bride could get that $30,000 venue for $1,000,” Velasquez explains.

How to save even more

If your wedding budget still isn’t budging after considering these helpful tips, there’s a workaround for that, too. Velazquez recommends trying to combine services whenever possible to take advantage of wedding-friendly discounts. “There are many companies out there that offer discounts if you use their husband or wife for another service. For example, if you book an officiant and her husband is a photographer, they will offer you a discount if you book them both. There are a lot of businesses like that nowadays, which offer husband and wife teams and services like photo and video, officiant and photographer, etc.,” she says.

And if you can’t find the two-fer combo Velasquez recommends, this may be the perfect time to brush up on your negotiating skills. As Stevenson tells it, most brides aren’t aware of how wedding planning actually works, leading them to agree to pay full price for services they could have haggled on. Stevenson says, “Negotiations with vendors can and should be done in circumstances where a package of services or items is presented. Let the vendor know that you do not need certain items and have them remove the cost from the package. Some venues will allow you to use your own vendors.” If necessary, Stevenson adds, “You can lower your guest count, which will allow you more room in your budget for expensive flowers and décor.”

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Savvy planning can save you money, but it helps to remember that most weddings are expensive, says Morrill. “My biggest tip for clients is to have a clear budget and to stick with it. Yes, your wedding day is once in a lifetime (for 50 percent of the population, anyway) — but it is still only six hours of one day. Don't put yourself into years of debt just to have a great six hours.”

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