When you're planning a wedding, elopement grows more tempting every day. But you don't have to cheat your mother out of a wedding ceremony to save a buck... or $18,000. Just fire your wedding planner, says author and anti-etiquette bride Stephi Stewart. "Have a wedding! It's a great day -- it's your day," she says.

Stewart revealed her money-saving matrimony tips last week on The Motley Fool's NPR show. Her advice for avoiding bridal industry bill padding? It may take some assertiveness training, but brides (and grooms) need to just say "no." Party favors? Feh. Engraved napkins? Puhlease. A wedding photographer? No thanks.

While you might think that the last item in that list is a must-have, Stewart says to scrap the word "wedding" and instead hire a fashion photographer. She saved 80% on the cost of capturing the moment when she did so for her nuptials.

Similar savings can be had on all the big-ticket items:

  • Shop for your frock in the months of April, May, September, and October. Even wedding dresses go on sale. Stewart got hers at a 96% markdown.
  • Buy flowers at a floral wholesaler and rent containers and trellises from companies that rent to the florists themselves. Avoid florists (and their 300% markup) that have the word "wedding" anywhere on their signs. And use flowers that are in season and abundant.
  • Lunch is always cheaper than dinner. Cocktail parties are de rigueur and much kinder on the wallet. You can cut the number of required servers if you go with a buffet rather than table service. And chicken and fish are less costly than red meat.
  • If you (or a talented friend) is going to bake the wedding cake, make sure to do so many days in advance. Friends and family will also appreciate a practice treat or two.
  • Buy your booze from a discount store like Costco to cut the alcohol tab up to 60%. Some stores even take returns of items that are not opened or damaged.
  • Music adds a lot to the ambiance, as well as the check. If you can't stomach the idea of a DJ instead of a live band, scout local colleges for musicians at student prices. Make sure you actually hear them play live before your first dance.

Need to shave wedding costs down even further? Read on:

  • Buck the June wedding trend entirely and consider getting married in March, instead.
  • Fearing your mother-in-law's reaction to booking the reception in a barn instead of a banquet hall? Real-life brides-to-be and recently wedded ones shared their stories in an online chat (transcript here) with Dayana Yochim and The Washington Post's Michelle Singletary.
  • Once you tie the knot, there are a host of additional ways for two to save. Exactly how financially compatible are you two lovebirds? See if you're a money match made in heaven with this compatibility quiz we wrote for TheKnot.com's newlywed website, TheNest.com.
  • As long as you're talking money, you might as well settle the joint versus separate accounts issue.