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Your Step-By-Step Guide to a Budget Wedding: Part 1 of 2

Part 1: How to save thousands on venue, music, bar and more

Congratulations! You — or your kid — said Y-E-S to one of the biggest questions in life. I don’t have to tell you how significant a decision it is to spend the rest of your life with someone. But it’s no small shakes financially either.

The average cost of a wedding is at an all-time high — $32,641, according to a 2015 survey by The Knot. And although some people have been dreaming of the perfect since before they could walk in heels (and have the Pinterest boards to prove it) that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a one-day event. These days, experts report engaged couples are cutting costs on the big day to save for other goals. “Brides want to put that money into buying a house or going on a really fantastic honeymoon,” says Anastasia Stevenson, the DIY Wedding Planner. Her first tip? Wedding insurance — “worth every penny” — so you don’t lose any money you do put into the wedding, just in case. You can get a million-dollar insurance policy (excluding jewelry) through WedSafe or Wedsure for about $125, she says.

Here are the other ways you may be able to save:

Guest Count

“Your cost increases exponentially based on every person you add to your list,” says Jessica Bishop, creator of The Budget Savvy Bride. If you’re having trouble, use the one-year rule to cut people: If you haven’t seen someone in person or had a conversation with them in the last year, you can probably leave them off. And limit plus ones to couples who are living together, engaged or married.

Invitations

Some people spend upwards of $500 on invitations, you can save hundreds (with minimal effort). You can print invitation templates (as well as menu cards and RSVP cards) online for about $10 using sites like Etsy or Creative Market. If you’d like something even more unique, you can message an artist or graphic designer on Etsy and ask them to design a template for you, says Bishop. From there, it’s about $60 to get a set of 50 blank paper envelopes from FedEx, Staples or Walmart. If you’re a non-traditionalist, you can send online invitations using Greenvelope.com or PaperlessPost.com for between $6 and $20 (there are also free options).

Officiant

You can cut $200 to $1500 here, says Stevenson, by having a friend or family member get certified for free as an officiant at the Universal Life Church. It’s not just more personal, it’s trendy — Lady Gaga and Benedict Cumberbatch have done it. If you’re religious, sometimes an official of a religious organization you belong to will officiate for free.

Venue and Bar

Choose a date that’s off-season in your locale and steer clear of key holidays. New Year’s Eve drives up prices, as does Valentine’s Day. Choosing a Friday night or a Sunday over a Saturday night can save you between $500 and $2,500 on the venue alone. And opting for a few signature cocktails instead of an open bar cut your costs in half. That’s because for 100 guests, an open bar costs an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 (even $7,000 for a big city like Los Angeles), while signature cocktails plus beer and wine set you back about $2,000 to $2,500. Stevenson suggests having a champagne hour, then signature cocktails or a beer and wine bar, then returning to champagne for the last hour. Another pro tip: Hire a bartender from a catering company, not a whole bar service.

Dessert

Grand tiered cakes are beautiful, but are they really worth $2,500 to $10,000? Stevenson suggests opting for a self-serve dessert station instead for about $1,500 to $2,500. You can hire a baker to come in and create handcrafted mini pies, doughnuts and cookies. If you’ve got your heart set on a cake, though, get a “naked cake” with minimal icing — a three-tier one will cost you about $750 to feed 100 guests, and you can add your own flowers on top for a unique touch.

Music

If you’re looking to cut costs, opt for a DJ instead of a band, says Bishop. And if you’re really looking to cut costs? If your venue has a great sound system, you can connect your iPhone or laptop with your own playlist and save between $1,000 and $3,500.

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky