It's a classic tale: The wedding couple goes overboard on their budget and spends the next five years paying it off. But spending smarter on your wedding doesn't have to mean sacrificing a pedigreed affair. Use these time-tested tricks to create a realistic financial plan, and you'll pull off a fabulous event that won't leave you in the doghouse.
1. Come up with a spending plan.
Figure out how much money you have to work with, and then determine how much you'll put toward the various elements of the wedding. Just avoid calling your financial arrangements a "budget." "That 'b' word is nasty," says financial planner Jill Gianola, author of The Young Couple's Guide to Growing Rich Together. "I prefer 'spending plan,' which puts more emphasis on how you're going to spend the dollars. Don't think about it as cutting back, but rather as using limited resources in the best way possible." Handle things as a team; for instance, if the cake you want costs more than you'd budgeted, you and your groom both need to agree that the overage is worth it.
2. Search for bargain spots.
Hiked-up airfares and a weakening dollar have made some international locales extremely pricey, but there are still deals to be had. "People are staying within the U.S. or Latin America," says Lisa Light of Lisa Light, Ltd. in New York. "Asia's a great deal -- it can be expensive to get there, but once you're there, you can custom-make everything for pennies. Cruises also offer a big bang for your buck." Head slightly off the beaten path -- say, a smaller city outside a larger metro area -- and you'll likely see considerable savings as well.
3. Pare down your guest list.
Every extra person costs you money for invitations, food, cake and more, so check your list twice, and make sure everyone on it is an absolute must-have. "It may sound crass to put a dollar amount on someone's head, but once you have estimates for the cost of the food, flowers and other details, you'll be able to figure out how much you'll pay per person and who is essential to the event," Gianola says.
4. Skip the weekend.
"Everyone is already on vacation, so why not have a Monday or Tuesday wedding?" suggests Kelly Werder of No Worries Weddings & Events in Florida. "You can usually get a much better deal with the venue, with vendors and even on travel costs. That dream location that has an outrageous site fee on a Saturday may waive it on a Tuesday just to get your business."
5. Stay open-minded.
The stricter the parameters you put on your wedding (it has to be a certain date, the flowers must be roses), the less chance you have to find a deal. "Flexibility is really important," says Jennifer Brisman of Jennifer Brisman Weddings in New York City. "Reverse the question: Instead of saying to your venue, 'I want to get married on this date,' say, 'I'd like to get married in the summer; what date can you give me where I can save money?'" Consider giving your florist leeway by asking for a "market buy," where they choose the best deals from the floral market for your wedding while keeping your color scheme in mind.