Tag Archives: wedding

An unconventional engagement ring

Engagement ringThe diamond engagement ring is one of those traditions that many frugal people shun. After all, diamonds are expensive, mining practices are often unethical, and who says you even need one?

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a traditional diamond engagement ring. I love my engagement ring. It is the fanciest piece of jewelry I’ve ever owned (and probably will ever own), and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. But honestly, it’s important to me because he gave it to me. It could have been anything, and I would cherish it the same way.

My best friend and her soon-to-be official fiance are trying to plan a wedding and start their lives together in this awful economy. Like a lot of people, they’re making decisions to help them save instead of spending more. So when they decided to make their engagement official, they chose an unconventional route for the engagement ring.

My best friend’s fiance’s parents are divorced, but his mom kept her diamond engagement ring. She offered to give it to him so he could propose. They’re having the stone reset in a white gold band that my best friend picked out to make it her own. The cost for this beautiful half-carat diamond ring? Just $350 instead of the usual $1,000+ most people pay.

Because the ring came from his parents, it has sentimental value, and now it will be worn proudly instead of hidden away in a jewelry box. I absolutely love this idea.

Another option for frugal fiances is the non-diamond engagement ring. My sister’s husband gave her a beautiful sapphire ring that cost a fraction of the price of a diamond.

Whatever you choose to symbolize your commitment to your fiance, remember that the important thing is the commitment — not the jewelry.

Photo by wumpiewoo

How I planned an elegant wedding for under $5,000

Since Tony and I just celebrated our first anniversary, and my sister-in-law is in the process of planning her own wedding, I’ve been thinking about wedding planning a lot lately. Before I started planning my own wedding, I believed that it had to be all or nothing: either an all out, extravagant affair or a quick run to the court house followed by a backyard barbecue. That isn’t the case, though. If you prioritize and plan carefully, it’s possible to get everything you want out of your wedding on a very limited budget.

I never thought I was the type of girl who wanted a big fuss on my wedding day. Looking back, though, I’m so glad we had a traditional wedding. It really was the most special day of my life.

Last year I wrote a series of posts on how I planned my wedding on a budget. If you’re in the middle of planning a wedding for you or someone you love, I hope you’ll get some useful information from my experience.

Getting your priorities straight.

Make a plan and set a wedding budget.

Planning a beautiful wedding ceremony on a budget.

Hosting an elegant reception without spending a fortune.

Dressing your wedding on a dime.

Minimize your wedding flower budget.

Do it yourself wedding ideas to save money.

It’s okay to spend more on what’s important to you.

How to buy wedding bands online without getting ripped off.

Planning a budget honeymoon.

As I planned my wedding, I also found a lot of great tips from one of my favorite frugal bloggers, Kacie at Sense to Save. She recently rounded up all of her frugal wedding planning ideas and reposted them. Check it out for some more tips!

Honestly, though, my advice for planning the wedding of your dreams on a budget comes down to this: Set your priorities, use the bulk of your budget on what’s really important to you, and don’t spend money on something just because wedding etiquette rules say you should. It drives me crazy when I hear people paining over how much they’re spending on things they don’t really care about just because they don’t want to be “tacky.” The wedding industry makes millions of dollars a year off these so-called etiquette rules. It’s no wonder they keep them alive.

This is your wedding. It should be a celebration of you, your relationship, and the people who love you most. Saving money on your wedding is the same as saving money on anything else — you have to do what’s right for you, and you can’t worry about what people will think of you. The most important people in your lives won’t care a bit how you choose to celebrate your wedding, and they’ll never ever think you’re tacky for saving money. They’ll just be happy to be there with you no matter how you choose to celebrate.

Budget weddings: You don’t have to skip the honeymoon

With Tony in grad school and me working part-time, we could barely afford to pay our bills let alone go on an extravagant vacation right after the wedding. We decided to put the honeymoon off for a couple years until after he graduated. We’d save now, then we’d go on a big vacation later.

The more we thought about it, though, the more we realized that you can’t really recreate the honeymoon two years later. We wanted that special time to just be together and marvel at the fact that we were actually married. You don’t have to go to an expensive resort on a secluded beach to get that feeling, though. It doesn’t matter where you go.

Here are some tips we used to plan a romantic adventure for under $1,000.

Stay close to home.

You don’t have to travel across the world and spend thousands on plane tickets. Just choose someplace that neither you or your spouse has ever been. Experiencing it together for the first time will make it extra special. We chose Washington D.C. because we’d never been there, and our new home is only a 6-hour drive from the nation’s capital.

Drive, don’t fly.

Even if your destination is a bit of a drive from home, it’s often cheaper to drive than fly, especially if your car is fuel efficient. We had to travel to Indiana for the wedding and then to Washington for the honeymoon. Flying would have involved three expensive one-way tickets for each of us. Because our car gets 35 miles to the gallon on the highway, we only spent $200 on gas to drive about 1800 miles.

Don’t forget to factor hotels into the overall cost if your destination is too far to drive in one day. Remember, though, when you’re honeymooning, the drive is part of the adventure.

Choose your destination wisely.

What kind of traveler are you and your future spouse? Are you looking for a relaxing beach getaway with no stress, or do you like to sight-see and stay moving on vacation? Choose a destination that will suit both of your travel styles.

My husband and I are sight-seers, and a beach vacation sounded boring to us. Washington D.C. was perfect because we love museums and historic sites.

Other frugal destinations include:

North and South Carolina’s Beaches – If you live on the East Coast and you’re looking for a beach vacation close to home, the Carolinas offer resort beaches at lower prices. Check out Myrtle Beach, SC or the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Mountain Getaways –
If you both love the outdoors, consider a secluded mountain cabin or camping trip to reconnect with nature and each other.

Cruise to Nowhere –
If you’re desperate to spend your honeymoon on a cruise,  “cruises to nowhere” (with no port stops) or cruises with just one stop are a very cheap option. You can spend a few nights at sea with all the luxuries of a cruise ship for a fraction of the cost.

Road Trip –
Tony and I considered this option, and ultimately decided we’d have more fun in D.C. But a honeymoon road trip is a good way to see a lot of sights without spending a lot. Stay in cheap bed and breakfasts in off-the-map locations to reduce hotel costs. We still want to plan this kind of trip through New England before we move away from the East Coast.

Stay away from tourist traps.

Keep expenses in mind when you’re looking at things to do in your prospective destinations. Vegas might not be the best option for a honeymoon on a budget because you really have to spend money to have fun there. Remember, spending inhibitions are particularly low on vacation, so do some research and try to choose a place with a lot of fun, frugal activities that will keep you busy without tempting you to spend money.

Washington D.C. was the perfect frugal destination. None of the museums, monuments, or historic sites that we visited charged an admission fee, so we spent next to nothing on attractions.

Bring groceries.

Eating out is one of the biggest money drains on any vacation. Tony and I found a wonderful hotel in Georgetown that offered suites with full kitchens so we could cook some meals in the hotel room. Scout out a grocery store in the area and stock up on food when you arrive. If you cut your food budget by cooking in the hotel, you won’t have to feel guilty about splurging on a couple really nice meals.

Don’t forget to mention you’re on your honeymoon.

You shouldn’t bank on this when planning, but make sure you let people know you’re honeymooning. Many times people will go out of their way to make your travel experience extra special if they know you’re newlyweds. We even received a free upgrade to a luxury suite at our hotel (worth an extra $75 a night) when they found out it was our honeymoon. Even if they don’t offer upgrades, you’ll still get some nice well wishes. :)

Get a great price on wedding bands online without getting ripped off

My husband and I agreed that we didn’t want to spend a fortune on wedding bands. I know, it seems counter-productive to spend less on something you’ll keep forever. I’m just not into jewelry, though. Anything flashy (read: expensive) would have looked out of place on my hand. The same is true for my husband. We opted for plain, white gold bands.

We were disappointed by the prices in brick and mortar stores even for plain gold bands. The prices online were much more reasonable, but buying jewelry online just seemed so risky.

After much deliberation and research, we ended up buying our rings online. We paid about half the price we would have paid in the store, and they engraved them for free. Here’s the process we went though to make sure we were getting the right rings from a reputable dealer at a good price.

Shop in a brick and mortar store first to find the right style.

Jewelry is a lot like eyeglasses; you never know what’s going to suit you until you try it on. I originally wanted a much thinner band than I ended up buying. After trying one on in the store, I realized the thin band looked weird on my hand. That’s why it’s important to shop in a brick and mortar store, try on a lot of different rings, and find the style you like best.

Have your ring finger professionally sized.

Many women already know their ring size. Most men don’t. If you’re unsure about either of your sizes,  just ask a jeweler to size your finger while you’re shopping in a brick and mortar store. Some online stores offer free resizing, but you’ll still have to go through the hassle of sending back the ring and waiting.

If possible, have your finger sized on a hot, humid day. Your fingers swell in the heat and humidity and shrink in the cold. Sizing your finger on a humid day will ensure a comfortable fit year round.

Compare prices and special offers at several online wedding band retailers.

We had a lot of different options since we wanted plain bands; everybody carries plain bands. Most of the prices we saw were comparable. However, the site we chose, iweddingband.com, offered slightly lower prices, free shipping, and free engraving.

Make sure you’re buying from a reputable online jeweler.

There are several things you can do to check up on an online seller. First, look for a Better Business Bureau online seal. Clicking on the seal should take you to a unique verification page specific to that site at the Better Business Bureau website. Here’s what it looks like:

Beware of sites where the logo is a dead link. As you can see, it’s easy to copy and paste the BBB logo. The logo must be linked to a unique verification page in order to be legit. Most reputable sites also link to secure transaction sites like VeriSign, GeoTrust, or Authorize.net to ensure that your credit card information will be secure. Be sure to click on these logos to verify their legitimacy, too.

4. Find out what other customers are saying.

Just because a jeweler is legit doesn’t mean they offer good customer service. I researched potential sellers exhaustively for customer reviews.

Many online businesses list their products on Amazon. This is a good place to find credible reviews for online sellers. You can see the Amazon profile for iweddingband.com here. I’d say 100% positive reviews in the past 30 days is a pretty safe bet to me. The comments say things like, “Fast shipping, great product,” etc. Seeing all of those happy customer reviews made me feel pretty secure.

We ended up paying a total of $150 for both of our 14K white gold wedding bands including shipping and engraving. They are also the “comfort fit” bands that are designed for a better fit without cutting into your finger.

Here’s a list of some of the other sites I considered. Don’t take my word for it, though. Be sure to do your own comparison shopping and research on the companies before buying so you can feel secure in your purchase.

E-Wedding Bands – Offers free shipping and free sizing. 30-day return policy.
Blue Nile – Huge selection of wedding bands and diamond engagement rings. Free shipping and 30-day return policy.
James Allen – Loose diamonds, engagement rings, and wedding bands. Free insured shipping. Free sizing up to 60 days.

Budget weddings: It’s ok to spend a little more on what’s important to you

Every couple has a different set of priorities. Some couples choose to spend next to nothing on the wedding so they can take the trip of a lifetime for their honeymoon. For some brides, a designer dress is the budget buster.

For us, it was photography. When we first started planning, we weren’t going to hire a photographer at all. My mom has a professional-grade camera that she uses to take photos for fun. We were going to put her in charge of photographing the day.

Then I started talking to my married friends. Their advice? “If you’re going to spend money on something, it should be the pictures.” Why? Because the day flies by so quickly, you probably won’t remember any of it without the photos to remind you.

When I really thought about it, I realized they were right. I wanted a permanent keepsake that would last long after the food was gone and the flowers had wilted. Tony and I will never be that dressed up again. We wanted professional photos to remember it forever.

We started looking for a photographer who could take professional photos at amateur rates. After interviewing several people and looking at their work, we just weren’t impressed. Their portfolios matched their amateur rates.

In the end, we decided to hire a professional photographer who was highly recommended by a friend. We spent less in other areas so we could devote almost half our budget to photography. It was worth every penny.

Because we were married in our college town, the pictures serve as a reminder not only of the wedding, but of the place we met and fell in love. The picture above is us in front of our favorite college bar. Ha!

We were married on campus, and our reception was held in a restaurant downtown. We walked from the chapel to the reception, and the photographer followed and took some great pictures of us in the heart of Bloomington.

It’s only been four months since the wedding, and I already feel wistful when I look at the framed wedding photos on our bookshelf. I know I’ll cherish these photos even more when we’re old and gray.

If you’re getting married in the Indianapolis area, I hope you’ll consider Zach Dobson Photography for your photography. All of the beautiful wedding photos in this series were taken by Zach Dobson. We were thrilled with his work.

Maybe your top priority is the honeymoon. Maybe it’s an open bar or a professional DJ. If it matters to you, then it belongs in your budget. The important thing is that you’re not going overboard on everything.

Figure out what your priorities are, and adjust your budget accordingly. If there’s something really important to you, it’s ok to work it into your budget even if it’s expensive. Just remember, you’ll have to cut corners in other areas to make room for it.

What about you? What was your wedding budget buster?

Budget weddings: If you can do it yourself, you’ll save a lot of money

The do-it-yourself philosophy of wedding planning has been around as long as the budget wedding (forever). As I said in the last post about wedding flowers, many people even choose to do their own floral arrangements.

We were very conventional in the aspects that we chose to do ourselves. Even taking on only the simple tasks will save you a ton of money, though, and you’ll be surprised how easy it can be.

Here are the things we chose to do ourselves:

Wedding Invitations

This is the old standby for do-it-yourself brides. Modern printers and online stationery sites have made it so easy to print your own invitations that I can’t imagine why anyone would pay hundreds for someone else to print them.

If there was a theme to my wedding, it was roses. They were the only flower at my wedding, and I chose red and cream as my colors. So I had a very particular idea about how I wanted my invitations to look. I wanted a plain invitation with a single embossed rose.

I searched all over the Internet for blank invitations with this look. Finally, I found the perfect paper at LCI Paper Company. They have many other options, and some of them are sold in invitation kits that include matching envelopes and RSVP cards. Lucky for me, the exact paper I wanted came in a complete invitation kit for $50 for a set of 50.

I only needed to send out 35 invitations for my 50 guests, so one 50-pack was perfect for me. I designed the invitation in Microsoft Word with the fonts and wording I wanted. My mom offered to print them and put them together for me. They turned out beautifully:

I ordered an extra set of RSVP cards and envelopes, printed the words “Thank You” on the front, and used them as matching thank you cards!


I don’t know that you could call what we put on the tables “centerpieces.” I wasn’t into the idea of something big crowding the table, especially since space in our reception venue was already limited. So I bought some little votive candle holders with roses on them (10 at 50 cents each) and put rose-scented candles into them (I think I paid about $1 per candle). They made the entire reception smell like roses, took 5 minutes to put together, and cost under $25.


My husband is an M&M fanatic. He loved the idea of personalized M&Ms. Sure, they’re pricey and a little cliche, but he loved them. We ordered cream and red (our wedding colors) and had our names and wedding date printed on them. I ordered organza bags from an online party favor site, and we made the favors ourselves.

All together, the favors cost under $100. A little more than I wanted to spend, and in hindsight we probably could have skipped them. But it’s nice to send your guests away with a little gift to thank them for coming.

Keep one thing in mind when you’re planning do-it-yourself projects: don’t take on too much. Saving money is important, but it’s not worth stressing yourself out by taking on a project that’s beyond your scope. If you want something elaborate, it’s probably best to leave it to an expert.

Be realistic, keep it simple, and you’ll have fun and save money!

Minimize your wedding flower budget

I’ve never been that into flowers. To be honest, I’ve always thought they were overpriced considering their short shelf life. I told my husband early in our relationship that I wouldn’t mind if he never gave me flowers. Apparently, he didn’t mind too much, because he never has. :)

I always wanted a red rose bouquet for my wedding, though, because I’ve always loved the classic elegance and simplicity of red roses. I felt that if I was justified in spending money on flowers one time in my life, my wedding day was it.

Because they weren’t a top priority for me, I was determined to keep my flower costs low. Here’s what I did to minimize the impact on our budget:

Keep your attendants to a minimum.

The more bridesmaids and groomsmen you have, the higher your flower costs will be. Most of the florists I called estimated $40-$80+ per bridesmaid bouquet and up to $15 for boutonnières and corsages. Keep that in mind before you decide to ask 10 people to join your bridal party.

Decide what you want before you talk to a florist.

I had a really hard time finding a florist who would work with me from a long distance without a “consultation” to pick out my arrangements. Why? I’m convinced it’s because they wanted to sell me huge, expensive arrangements, which is easier to do when they’re sitting in front of you with a big book of expensive floral arrangements.

If you don’t know exactly what you want, look through some bridal magazines and research some flowers before you start calling florists.

Make sure the flowers you want will be available in your area on your wedding day.

Exotic flowers or flowers that must be shipped from somewhere else are more expensive for obvious reasons.

Skip the centerpieces and altar flowers.

We chose to skip the decorative flowers. The only flowers we had were red and white roses for the bridal bouquet; an attendant bouquet; boutonnières for the groom, best man, fathers, and grandfather; and corsages for our mothers and grandmothers.

Decorative flowers can add hundreds, even thousands of dollars to your flower costs. If your budget is small, leaving them out is a great method for keeping costs down.

If your budget is super small, you might consider skipping the corsages and boutonnières for the parents and grandparents. I considered doing that when some of the florists estimated $30 each for the corsage. We decided to leave them in when we found a florist who only charged $10 each.

Shop around, and get several estimates before you choose a florist.

I was amazed at how much florist prices vary. I was given estimates that ranged from $200-$700. Yikes! That’s why it’s so important to call many different places and insist on estimates.

I called every florist in town, told them exactly what I wanted, and asked how much it would cost. The florist I chose was about $500 cheaper than the most expensive florist in town. It pays to do your homework.

Do it yourself.

Many brides swear you can save a ton of money by buying fresh flowers and arranging them yourself. You can find instructions all over the Internet for handmade boutonnières and bouquets.

If you decide to go this route, be sure to do some research and compare the cost of fresh flowers to florist prices. Depending on what kind of flowers you want and how elaborate the arrangement is, doing it yourself might not be worth the headache.

My bridal bouquet was made of 3 dozen roses and only cost $60. I don’t think I could have saved much by doing it myself. The florist’s bouquet was a lot prettier than anything I could have done, and having it arranged and delivered saved me a lot of stress.

For brides who aren’t sentimental about fresh flowers, silk bouquets can save you a ton of money. The bonus is they never wilt. I was partial to the look and feel of real flowers myself, but silk flowers might be your best option if you want to hang on to your bouquet for years to come.

Make sure all of your flowers are delivered.

With so many things happening all at once, it’s difficult to keep track of it all. When the flowers arrive, be sure to take a few minutes before you start handing them out to make sure everything was delivered. Flowers are expensive, and if something was left out, you shouldn’t have to pay for it.

We ordered a floral cake topper that should have been delivered to the reception site. It wasn’t. Luckily our quick-thinking cake baker put some extra frosting roses on the top of the cake when she delivered it so it wouldn’t be bare.

The topper wasn’t that important to me anyway, so it wasn’t a huge deal. I didn’t want to pay for flowers that were never delivered, though. So I called them when we got home from the honeymoon and asked for a refund. They gladly credited the $15 back to my account.

Our grand total for flowers: $180.

The red rose bouquet was honestly my favorite part of my bridal attire, so it was worth it for me. The roses look absolutely stunning in our pictures.

I was sad when the flowers wilted, but throwing them away only reminded me of why I don’t want my husband to buy me flowers. I much prefer chocolate, though it doesn’t last any longer. :)

Dressing your wedding on a dime

I realized early on that no matter how silly it seemed before I started planning, looking the part of “the bride” was important to me. My wedding was really my first and only chance to really overdress, and since I knew I’d have the pictures forever (more on the photography later), I really wanted to look fabulous.

I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a dress I’d only wear one day, though.

Here’s what we did to outfit the bride, groom, and attendants stunningly, simply, and affordably.

Wedding Gown

I’ve heard a lot of things about David’s Bridal, positive and negative. The fact of the matter is they have a huge selection of dresses in a lot of different styles, and they’re pretty affordable. Was I treated like a princess? Um, no, and I didn’t need to be. I just wanted a deal on a dress.

I bought my dress during the $99 gown sale. Unfortunately, the selection of $99 gowns is pretty limited. I didn’t find anything that I liked in my size.

It didn’t matter, though. I had already flipped through a catalogue and found a dress that was exactly what I’d envisioned. I tried on several dresses, but I ended up going back to the first dress I saw in that catalogue, the first one I tried on. It was on sale for $50 off the original price. David’s Bridal has this sale about 4 times a year, so make sure you buy your dress during the sale.

The really nice thing about David’s Bridal is that they usually have your size right there in the store. I can’t imagine special ordering a gown without being able to try it on first. You never know how it’s going to look until you try it on.

I really lucked out as my dress fit absolutely perfectly right off the rack. I saved a ton in alteration fees. Even though it fit perfectly, they tried to convince me to order it a size up and have it altered for a “custom” fit. Um, no, it fit fine. Don’t let them talk you into alterations you don’t need. If you feel comfortable, then it fits. They might try to tell you that it doesn’t, but only you know what’s comfortable for you.

If you decide to go with David’s Bridal and you do need alterations, I suggest you do some comparison pricing at other places. Sure, having David’s Bridal do it is probably more convenient, but you can save a lot by taking it to a private alterations shop.

Wedding Accessories

I went ahead and ordered everything at David’s Bridal. The grand total for dress, shoes, undergarments, and veil was a few dollars over $500. Yikes. It adds up so quickly!

I considered buying things on eBay, but honestly, I didn’t really want to do that. Choosing everything specially to match what I envisioned was important to me, so I made room for it in my budget. I don’t regret it.

The Tux

Our original plan was to buy Tony a new suit that he could wear at the wedding and to future events. He has a black suit that he bought in high school that still fits, but we both wanted him to look extra spiffy for the wedding.

We looked at a lot of suits. Tony wasn’t crazy about any of the suits in our $300 price range. We wanted to stick to our budget, but he didn’t want to buy a suit that he didn’t like just because it fit into our budget.

Just for comparison’s sake, we stopped in at a tux rental shop to check out prices. When Tony saw the classy three-piece tuxedos and I saw the prices (about half what we had budgeted for a new suit at $125), we decided to go with the rental.

The bonus was that his best man wore a matching tux, and they looked great in the pictures.

It would have been more economical to buy Tony a new suit that he could wear later, but he already has a black all purpose suit. The tux looked extra snazzy at half the price.

The Attendants

Choosing attire for our attendants was super simple because we only had a maid-of-honor and a best man. Tony’s best man wore the same tux as Tony. My maid-of-honor and I shopped for her dress when she visited us a few months before the wedding. I picked the color, and she picked out a dress that she liked. Simple.

We got her dress at David’s Bridal as well. I really like that they have many different styles in the same color. It makes it easy even for brides with large bridal parties to allow their bridesmaids to choose something flattering and unique to their styles. An added bonus was that my maid-of-honor was able to order her dress in North Carolina when she visited and pick it up in Indiana.

We spent a total of $625 for bride and groom attire. We were very grateful that our attendants picked up the tab for their own attire.

When I look at the photos, the only lasting thing we have from our wedding day, I’m really glad we didn’t cut corners on attire. We both looked our best, and most importantly, we felt great in what we wore. That’s what’s really important when it comes to choosing your wedding attire.

Planning an elegant wedding reception without spending a fortune

In the past two Wedding Wednesday posts, I discussed getting started on the right track and planning a stunning ceremony on a budget. This week I’m sharing some tips for an elegant reception without spending a fortune.

The reception is usually the most expensive part of any wedding. With catering, entertainment, and venue costs, a typical reception can cost as much as $20,000. My total budget was only $5,000 for the whole wedding, so obviously I had to get a little creative.

The reception is your only opportunity all day to spend time with your guests and thank them for joining you at the wedding, so I wanted to find a balance between frugality and elegance. I didn’t want a wild and crazy party; I wanted a simple, intimate affair where I could spend some quality time with my guests.

Here are some tips for finding that balance yourself:

Look into unconventional reception venues.

I called many places in my rush to book a reception venue before we moved. I was shocked at the prices. Most of them charged a facility fee of $500-$2000 for the space. They also required a minimum catering bill of $1000-$2000, which wasn’t tough to reach with catering packages that started at $20 per person. Yikes. I did the math, and even for my small guest list, I was looking at a minimum of $3,000 for the food and venue alone. That wasn’t going to work on my $5,000 budget.

Out of curiosity, I called a classy little restaurant and art gallery where Tony and I used to eat Sunday brunch. With a gourmet menu and table linens even for brunch, I was pretty sure it would be out of our price range. To my surprise, it was exactly what we wanted.

For $13 per person and no facility charge, we chose 5 of their gourmet appetizers with non-alcoholic beverages included for our guests. We had chicken, steak and cheese quesadillas; artichoke and kalamata spread with fresh bread; mozzarella crostini; Thai-style chicken wings; and chicken sate with peanut sauce. The presentation was gorgeous. The appetizers were replenished throughout the night, so even though we opted to do appetizers instead of a sit-down meal, there was plenty of food.

The best part? There was no down-payment to book the date. This was a huge relief for us since we’d only been engaged for a few weeks and hadn’t had time to save the money for the wedding yet. All of our savings was going to the move, so we were relieved to have extra time to get the money together for the reception.

Part of the reason this restaurant was so affordable and elegant is because it was super tiny. The absolute limit was 50 people with no room for dancing, so they probably don’t host a lot of weddings there. My number 1 priority was elegance, not a dance floor, so this was perfect for me. Holding your reception at a small restaurant is a sure way to save money if you’re willing to sacrifice space for a DJ and a dance floor.

A bonus tip: When you call, don’t tell them upfront that it’s a wedding. Just tell them you’re planning a party for X amount of people. When people hear the word “wedding,” they’re inclined to charge you more.

Skip the sit-down dinner.

This is becoming an increasingly popular option. Many couples are opting for trendy cocktail parties with champagne and appetizers instead of traditional sit-down dinners. I chose to do it this way not only to save money, but because I liked the idea of spending the whole night mingling and sipping champagne instead of spending part of the reception tied to a table for dinner.

If you choose this route, just be sure to order enough appetizers that your guests won’t be starving when the food is gone. We had an unlimited supply, so there was plenty of food.

Don’t let the crazy wedding culture pressure you into paying thousands for an open bar.

I never even considered an open bar. It’s just too expensive. I also didn’t want a bunch of sloppy drunk people killing the elegant mood of my reception. I doubt anyone on my guest list would have been “that guy” anyway, but I wanted a classy affair … not a college kegger.

I was appalled when I read wedding books that said that cash bars are downright tacky. The thought of couples putting themselves into thousands of dollars of debt for liquor just to avoid being deemed “tacky” really upsets me.

Obviously, if an open bar for your guests is a priority for you, then by all means work it into your budget. But I’ve known too many people who say, “I don’t really want an open bar, but I don’t want people to think we’re tacky.”

If you’re not really into it, then don’t spend the money just because you’re worried about what people will think. This is a good rule of thumb for all of your wedding planning. If you spend money just because the etiquette tyrants say it’s tacky not to, your wedding will end up costing about $30,000 (the national average).

The fact is nobody that cares about you is coming for the free booze. Sure, people like to have a good time at weddings, but the people who matter most (the only ones who should be there, in my opinion) don’t care a bit about what beverages you’re serving. Besides, if they’re only coming for the free booze, do you really want them there?

The restaurant that hosted our reception had a full list of beers and wines that our guests could order in a cash bar system. We bought enough champagne for all of our guests to have a glass at the toast. If they wanted more alcohol, they picked up their own tab.

It worked out beautifully. There was an extensive wine list sold by the glass or by the bottle, so the tables that wanted wine with dinner just ordered a bottle. The wines were reasonably priced and quite good.

Another option is to do a partial open bar by supplying beer and house wine for your guests. Personally, I’m not that into that idea, either. My honest opinion is that the wine and beer served is usually not very good. Most of the time I’d rather shell out the extra money to get a glass of good wine, but the only option is the cheap house wine. I love cash bars, and I think they work out well for everyone involved.

As for full open liquor bars … well, in my opinion asking your guests to buy their own drinks isn’t as tacky as a reception hall full of sloppy drunk people who eventually end up behind the wheel. It’s also not as painful as a $5,000 bar tab at the end of the night.

Make your own centerpieces or decorations (if you have them at all) and keep it simple.

We didn’t have floral centerpieces at our reception. The restaurant supplied elegant white linens and pretty candles for each table. Roses were the only flowers at the wedding, so I bought some rose-scented votive candles and some fancy candle holders for each table. The room smelled like flowers, but the whole thing only cost about $30 with no labor beyond dropping the candles into the candle holders. Simple.

We skipped additional decoration because our reception venue doubled as an art gallery. Paintings and photographs by local artists adorned the walls, and I thought that was much prettier than any decoration I could come up with.

Be your own DJ.

DJs and bands are fun, but they’re also expensive. Because there was no room for dancing at our reception, we didn’t care much about the entertainment factor. Music is important to both of us, though, so we knew we wanted a special playlist for the reception.

We carefully combed through our music collections and uploaded a list of meaningful songs onto my iPod. We chose songs that symbolized different times in our lives and our relationship. At the reception, we hooked the iPod up to some speakers and pressed “play.” It was a personalized playlist for next to nothing.

Find a freelance baker for your cake.

When I started calling around for cake prices, I was disheartened. Since practically everyone was traveling a couple hours to come, even us, we knew that nobody would even be able to take home leftover cake. I didn’t want to pay hundreds for something that was ultimately going to be wasted.

I wanted a traditional cake, though. So I contacted Kacie at Sense to Save to ask who baked her cake, because she was also married in Bloomington. She recommended a friend of a family member who bakes cakes out of her home. She made us a beautiful cake that was exactly what we wanted for half the price of professional bakeries. She also delivered it and set it up for free.

It’s important to get referrals if you’re not going with a professional business, because you really never know what you’re getting when you hire a freelancer. Kacie was pleased with her work, so I trusted that it would be fine even though I paid her before the wedding and never even met her. If she hadn’t been recommended by a friend, I would have requested references so I could speak with other couples who had hired her to bake their cakes.

The grand total for our entire reception including food, champagne, entertainment, decorations, cake, and gratuity was $800. Not too bad for a beautiful evening of food and fun for 50 people.