The major expenses are venue, food, liquor, music/entertainment, flowers, photography, and sometimes dress and stationery (invitations/programs/etc.). Decide which one or two are the MOST important to you and focus on cutting corners on all the rest. You can also save on the important stuff, but I guarantee it will be harder to sacrifice on those.
DIY can save a ton, but you need to recruit help – especially for the week before and day of when everything gets crazy! Choose people who you REALLY trust will come through for you, and give them specific assignments. Play to individual strengths (creative people for decor, organized people for logistics, outgoing people for greeting/directing guests, etc.). I was so gratified that my friends were excited to help in any way they could, and they really stepped up for me.
Specific ways I saved money on the big and small stuff:
– Had the wedding in the “off season,” which cut the site fee in half.
– Picked a venue & caterer that let me supply my own wine/beer/liquor. This probably saved us $2500 vs. fully catered liquor at per-drink or per-head prices (for 75-80 guests). You can also save by limiting options – just beer, wine or sangria, and possibly a signature drink that uses a popular liqour like vodka or rum.
– Bought a sample dress that was not from the latest season, something without a lot of detail. Got a $25 veil from etsy.com. Even cheaper is to buy second-hand, or off the rack from one of the retailers that now offer gowns. I just saw some beautiful gowns on http://www.bcbg.com for less than $500 retail. Also try Nordstrom/Macy’s/J Crew and other major retailers.
– Minimal flowers. DIY candle centerpieces ($5 hurricane vases, pillar candle, bit of sand at the bottom, and inexpensive starfish from orientaltrading.com – less than $15 each). Bridesmaids carried $7 parasols instead of $50 bouquets, which made for great photos and minimized the last-minute DIY. We just made two bouquets (for me + MOH), a few bouts/corsages and some accent arrangements. Flowers were from Sam’s Club online – they even have wedding flower packages that come with everything already made up for very low prices. (Just can’t be picky about the flowers – mostly roses.)
– DIY’d the invitations and programs.
– Skipped the expensive photo album and spent the $$ on a better photographer instead, with full rights to all images in hi-res. Willl make my own photo books.
– Did my own makeup (but not hair). I wanted to look like me! Just might want to study up and practice photo-friendly makeup techniques.
– Used “friendors.” We had a friend officiate, for example.
– Served alternative desserts. We served pie as the main dessert and got a small cake (for his grandma!) – total cost was under $200 for 80 people, and we had way too much left over. Could have been under $150.