by Laura BlackFeather, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Use these money-saving tips to stretch your bridal budget.* From selecting your venue to planning your table décor, there are many ways to keep the dollars in your pocketbook.

Timing is Everything
Wedding venues charge the most on Saturdays between May and October, as well as on romantic holidays like Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. Reserving your location on a Sunday or weekday during late fall through early spring can cut costs in half.

Know Your Venue
When deciding where to hold your ceremony and reception, consider how much you'll spend on decorating. While a simple venue may cost less to book, you may end up spending more on decorating costs than you would in a more elaborate atmosphere, especially for winter weddings where the venue may already be decorated for the holidays. Check for hidden charges such as uncorking champagne or cutting your cake before saying ''I do'' to your wedding locale. Holding your ceremony and reception in the same location will cut transportation costs and save you and your guests travel time.

Rethinking Tradition
This is your day and it's important to make it that way. Ask yourself what you really want--it may not be a traditional cake and four bridesmaids. Skipping certain formalities can free up funds for other areas that are truly important to you and your groom.
  • Consider emailing save the dates, invitations and thank you letters rather than printing and mailing them.
  • Instead of a traditional wedding cake, make a tiered cupcake cake. Enlist the help of relatives for baking and frosting. Rent cake stands and serving utensils from your local party supply store. Also, if friends and family have special skills and talents you can utilize, ask for their services in lieu of a gift.
  • Set up your own bridal party ''salon'' in your home or dressing room. Invite the girls over well in advance and do each other's hair, nails and makeup. Have everyone bring their own makeup, hot rollers and flat irons. Set up makeup and hair stations. Ask friends and family to help with the application and up-dos. Serve champagne and strawberries along with cheese and crackers, put on your favorite music and pamper yourself in comfort--for next-to-nothing cost.
  • Instead of hiring a live band, compare the costs of hiring a DJ or creating compilation CDs with you and your groom's favorite songs. Or, rent a karaoke machine and let your guests provide the entertainment.
  • Go for bridesmaid dresses that they will want to wear again. Choose a timeless style in a classic, neutral color. When shopping for your dress, bridal boutiques will often sell dress samples at a fraction of their original cost. This is worth looking into, remembering to budget costs for alterations.
With vintage style emerging as a key bridal direction, don't be afraid to shop consignment, thrift and antique shops for your wedding gown. Your reinvented dress is not only an eco-friendly alternative to buying new, it can save you hundreds of dollars on a dress you're most likely only going to wear once. That said, more and more brides are choosing wedding attire they will wear again, opting for calf and tea lengths in year-round shades of off-white, oyster, mimosa yellow, black and white, gold or silver they can keep in their closets for formal occasions and special nights out.

Keeping it Simple

Managing the Guest List
The bigger your guest list, the greater the cost. Every guest equals another meal and drink allowance, for every table are more place settings and table and chair rentals. Pare your guest list down to close friends and family, keeping in mind immediate friends may bring a guest, families may bring their children, etc. Many couples are limiting their weddings to immediate family and one bridesmaid/groomsmen, and having a small reception and local destination wedding, then throwing a wedding party at home for friends and family who were not in attendance at the destination.

Setting the Bar
While every guest loves an open bar, not every budget can support one. Opt for a wine and beer bar, with perhaps a signature cocktail made with well-brand liquor. Price compare beer kegs with bottles in your area. Ask your favorite winery for a bulk-rate discount. Tell suppliers you're on a tight budget and be prepared to go elsewhere if you're not satisfied with their prices. Let guests raise the glasses they already have for the wedding toast, or make paper cones filled with rose petals or confetti for the guests to raise and toss in the air towards the bride and groom.

Building the Menu
Opt for a cold buffet over a sit-down meal. Buffets are easier to manage and cheaper to produce. They also require fewer catering staff. Serving locally sourced food and offering only one main course can cut costs and eliminate waste.

Floral Flourish
Keep bouquets and centerpieces simple, using only a few flowers with more foliage, and one single flower for the bridesmaids. Use wildflowers and pick them the day of your wedding (NOTE: this can be a great photo op for your wedding album).

Centerpiece Options
  • Buy potted flowers from your local greenhouse and wrap in newsprint, craft paper or recycled gift wrap and tie with raffia or ribbon. Double the centerpieces as wedding favors.
  • Scour thrift shops for mismatched tea cups, glass mason jars or glass bowls. Place one or two blooms in each, or for large bowls use several different blossoms per centerpiece, and incorporate with your tablescape.
  • Fill the bottoms of clear glassware, vases and mismatched dessert glasses with beach glass or solid-color glass bead assortments to brighten floral centerpieces.
  • Mini terra cotta and enamel pots can be purchased for pennies a piece, the drainage hole corked, filled with water and used to hold individual blooms. Arrange collectively in heart shapes on the guest tables and individually as accents to the cake table. An alternative is to use potting soil and plant lavender or fragrant herbs such as thyme, sage, mint and rosemary that can also serve as favors for your guests.
  • Ask friends and family to save their empty canned goods containers. Cover the cans with contact paper and use as flower vases or planters.

Use local greenery, including shrubs and branches, whenever possible. Place large branches in pots filled with sand or plaster (depending on the weight of the branch and size of the pot) to add volume to the room. Incorporate smaller versions for the tablescape. Hang crystals or faceted acrylic beads from the branches that can also serve as favors for your guests.

DIY table décor and wedding favors
When considering your table décor, keep in mind less is more. While the guest tables may seem as if they call for elaborate centerpieces, once the place settings and stemware are in place, you'll be surprised at how little room is left for décor. Set up a sample table with settings to determine how much space you'll have per table for adornment.

Smoke and Mirrors
Candles and mirrors make an easy and elegant centerpiece for evening weddings that can be tailored to fit your color scheme and theme. Round, square and rectangular mirrors, minus a fancy frame, can be inexpensively purchased at home improvement stores. Visit your local discount shops for deals on candles in your wedding colors (use white for the bridal party table). Place the candles onto the mirrors and scatter a mix of crystal beads and components around the base. When lit, the flickering glow of the flame dances off the crystals and reflects onto the mirror for a spectacular light show. Invite your guests to bring the crystals home. They can transform the beads into pendant dangles and earrings, or mix with gemstone beads for stretch bracelets and as necklace accents.

Floating Panels
''Crystal'' and ''pearl'' panels are another affordably elegant accent to your décor. Use faceted acrylic beads or glass pearls, in clear and/or colors of your wedding palette, and string in long, floor-to-ceiling strands suspended from dowels that hover a foot or so above the floor and below the ceiling. Use beading wire to crimp the strands onto the dowel (or drill tiny holes and use cord, adding a small bead at the top to hold the knot) and FireLine® to hang from ceiling.

Natural Touches
River rock and driftwood are inexpensive accents to beach weddings and outdoor receptions, especially when paired with crisp white linen table dressings. Fill large clear glass vases with river rock and driftwood. Stick bare, slender branches into the vases. Scatter more river rock around the base of the vase. Embellish some of the rocks with handwritten affirmations. Use permanent marker to calligraphy inspirational, wedding-related words such as joy, love, hope, cherish, forever, eternity and trust onto individual rocks and place next to each table setting as wedding favors for your guests. River rocks can also be used as place cards for seating by scripting the names of your guests onto the rocks and leaving at each table setting.

Crystal Votives and Charming Napkin Rings

Use colorful flat back crystal components and cabochons to decorate glass votive holders that can dual as table décor and wedding favors. Use the same flat back components to decorate clear acrylic or metal napkin rings. Sterling silver or pewter affirmation charms can be made into beautiful napkin rings by knotting onto sheer organza or velvet ribbon and tying in a bow around a rolled cloth napkin. Guests can keep the charms as favors.

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Additional Money-Saving Wedding Resources

*Tips taken in part from Cosmopolitan Bride magazine.

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