How to Save Big on Your Special Day

I don't mean to be a total killjoy, but given that the average wedding these days will set you back nearly $20,000, you may be looking for ways to keep your special day from costing more than the down payment on your first condo.

A stroll down the aisle doesn't have to mire you and your lovely in debt. A little creative thinking can cut your wedding tab 25% to 50%. Think nontraditional. Think memorable. Think laser tag, as my colleague Robert Brokamp and his bride did for their nuptials.

OK, don't think laser tag. (Although I know a few grooms who would go teary-eyed with joy if their bride suggested it.) Here are a few ways to save on your big day:

Fire your wedding planner. Hiring a helping hand may be tempting (and a lifesaver during certain situations), but anti-etiquette bride Stephi Stewart told us that assertive brides and grooms need to just say "no." Party favors? Feh. Engraved napkins? Puh-leeze. Here are more of her tips on shaving the nuptial budget.

Timing is everything. Lovebirds pay a premium to tie the knot on a Saturday or in June. Pair the two and you're facing a few extra Gs on the bill. Off-months such as March and April are more affordable, as are morning weddings where expenses such as food, transportation, and hall rentals can be a lot cheaper.

Location, location, location.Modern Bride estimated earlier this year that the same wedding reception in San Diego costing $4,000 would cost $9,000 in Chicago and $15,000 in New York City. See? Even not-so-small towns have their charm. Wouldn't your mom be thrilled if you got married in your childhood stomping grounds? Your guests will certainly appreciate cheaper lodging costs. Even if you live in a high-priced city, nontraditional places such as public parks and art galleries can cost less than rental halls and hotel ballrooms.

Bite your tongue. Anything that has the word "wedding" attached to it can instantly fetch a 25% premium (or more) over the generic version. When shopping for your cake, flowers, tablecloth, "ring pillow," or dress, beeline away from any options preceded by the "w" word.

Put your pals to work. In lieu of another Crate & Barrel tchotchke, ask your talented friends for a gift that you could really use: their help. Perhaps you know someone who can perform music at the service (or change the CDs you and your sweetheart make yourself), take photographs, tend bar, or play videographer -- all functions that will cost you $500-$900 to have someone else do. Chances are your best friend's brother won't charge a corking fee.

Trim the guest list. At $80 per person for food, wine, cake, and napkins, and every one of your variable costs, this is the fastest way to save. Remember, this isn't just some kegger that's open to all of your office mates. It's your wedding.

Dream of the future. Before you shampoo the rice and rose petals out of your hair, start planning your financial future -- together. Saving for a house (here are tips!), college for future critters (more tips!), paying cash for a vacation (ditto!) -- these things should all be in the back of your mind before you write a check for your wedding gown.

You can also turn to online resources like The Knot (Nasdaq: KNOT  ) and iVillage (part of GE's (NYSE: GE  ) NBC unit). By putting just a few money-saving steps into place, couples can begin their married life in a rare and blissful state: debt-free.

More on making money whoopee:

This article was originally published on March 8, 2006. The Knot is aRule Breakersrecommendation.

Dayana Yochim isis co-editor ofGreenLight, Motley Fool's new personal finance service. She does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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