Let’s be honest: no one really cares about the wedding favors. Most people eat whatever is edible, then toss the rest or shove the favor into a drawer. But couples stress about wedding favors. Yes, you want it to represent you, but you also don’t want it to eat a substantial portion of your budget.

Buy or DIY Favors?
If you have the time and really want to make it personal, you can make the favors yourself. My husband and I made handrolled 4-inch beeswax candle pairs. The cost was around $90 for the wax, purple ribbon, and homemade labels printed on leftover invitation paper. We ended up making so many that we’re still using the candles five years later, and have given my aunt several more batches, too.

My sister’s were sort of DIY and sort of not. She bought cheap small frames, then scanned a photo of herself or the groom with each person attending. Since everyone who attended was on old friend (even the dates), she was able to find photos from other events or occasions. She didn’t spend a lot of money, but the guests really loved those frames.

Another friend bought purple votive holders, dropped in a votive candle, and wrapped ribbon printed with the wedding date and their names around it.

There’s really no right answer to the favor question. If you DIY, you can save money but it will take some time to assemble. If you buy, the favors are less personal and more likely to get stuffed in a drawer.

If you do buy favors, don’t spend a lot. If you make, don’t spend a lot of money on the materials or it defeats the whole purpose.

I once read about a bride who spent $10 on each favor. They were some sort of crystal googaw. I’m going to assume she had a high budget, but really, how many people want some crystal googaw that suits the couple’s taste rather than their own?

How to Choose Favors
Whether you buy or DIY, the wedding favors you choose should go with your theme or colors. For example, if you’re having a fall wedding, consider a small candleholder with leaf details. A packet of seeds is nice for a spring wedding. But before you get there, first you need to establish your budget.

  1. How many people are you expecting?
  2. Are you giving a favor to each person or to each couple?
  3. How much do you want to spend on your favors total?
  4. Divide that by the number of people/couples.
  5. That’s how much you can spend per favor.

Don’t go over budget. Keep looking until you can find something you right that fits your budget. When in doubt, choose a simple bag of Jordan almonds or chocolate. No one ever minds these tasty treats, even if they’re not the most creative favors.

Getting engaged is exciting and frightening, and it’s easy to get carried away in the moment. Hopefully you and your intended have already laid everything on the table before you even considered taking the next step, but if you haven’t, take some time to ask yourself and your intended these five questions before a ring is in the mix.

Do You Want Kids? How Many and When?
So many couples go into marriage with the vague idea that they’ll start a family “eventually.” For some men, that means in five years. For some women, that means the wedding night. To avoid surprises and ensure that you’re financially prepared for a child when it happens, you should discuss when you think the appropriate time to start a family is before you get engaged. Life happens and there may well be a “surprise baby,” but don’t operate on the assumption that “it will happen when it’s meant to.”

What Are Your Career Goals?
At this point, you probably both have jobs, so it’s easy to skip over questions about career goals. Don’t. It’s important to know whether one or both of you expects to attend graduate school, start a business, or quit working in the future. Again, plans and goals can change, but it’s important to agree on what’s best for your family before you start a family.

Do You Have Debt? How Much?
When I was planning my wedding, there was a quick poll on the Knot asking how many couples had discussed their debts. I was startled to see that over 70% of couples had not discussed their debts. If you’re getting married, you NEED to know how much debt your partner has. Even if your partner doesn’t expect you to help pay it off, the fact is that debt may prevent you from working toward joint financial goals, or prevent you from enjoying vacations and other activities. All debts, whether they’re school, credit card, or even family loans, should be discussed and you should agree on the approach to paying them off.

What’s Your Financial Picture Right Now?
If you’re getting married, there shouldn’t be any financial secrets. Bad things happen when couples keep money secrets from each other. Discuss your income, investments, savings, and other holdings.

What Are Your Financial Goals?
Although your goals may change, you should be aware of each other’s current financial goals. If one of you wants to buy a house in five years and the other wants to quit working and circle the globe on a yacht in five years, there could be a problem. Once again, your plans may change, but you have to change them together.

When you have this discussion, you should also include your retirement goals. If one of you wants to retire at 55 and the other plans to keep working until they die, you’re going to have a basic conflict. You don’t have to stick to your targeted retirement date, but you should both have an idea of how you picture the later stages of your marriage.

What’s Your Spending Style?
Want to start your marriage fighting? Don’t ask this question. It’s very important that you both understand and be comfortable with each other’s spending styles. If one of you is a spender and one is a saver, you should agree on who will manage which portions of your finances and how you will manage your spending. Maybe you’ll need separate accounts, or maybe you need a spending limit. Whatever you choose, discuss it before you get engaged.

I can already hear people saying, “Why should we talk about this before we get engaged? Shouldn’t we know we’ll be spending our lives together first?” There are three simple reasons you should talk about these things first:

  1. Once you get engaged, your life becomes a flurry of non-stop activity and stress. It’s hard to slow down and have these important discussions when you’re already too busy and stressed out.
  2. There’s a financial cost to getting engaged and planning a wedding. If you discover you don’t agree on major points, you may lose money on rings, vendor deposits, etc. If you’ve received gifts and then split up over these questions, you’ll have to figure out how to return the gifts.
  3. It’s easier to explain a breakup before you get engaged.

Some of these questions are deeply personal and can make for an uncomfortable conversation, but let’s be honest, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with your partner, you should NOT be getting engaged. Then continue having regular discussions about your finances and goals after you get married.

The bride’s dress is often one of the most expensive components of the wedding, especially when you consider what you get for your money – a dress that will be worn once for 12 hours and then put in the closet. Frankly, wedding dresses are total rip-offs. So, if you’re a frugal bride, your dress is a great place to slash your wedding budget. Before you buy a dress, find your location. Your location will determine the type of dress you need. Then set your wedding dress budget and promise yourself you won’t exceed it.

Where to Find Cheap Wedding Dresses
Bridal salons usually offer dresses in a wide range of prices. When you start searching for a dress online, note the prices of the styles you like. If you like some of the less expensive designers, then you may not need to bargain much. If you like the really expensive designers, it’s time to start searching for alternatives. Start with these five:

Rental Wedding Dresses
I know, most women don’t like the idea of renting a wedding dress, but why not? Your fiancé is renting his tux. If you’re not the sentimental type, you can rent a beautiful dress for just a few hundred dollars and then return it. No one has to know you don’t own it.

Every day new dresses are posted on eBay. Quite frequently, they’ve never been worn. Either the bride found a new dress she liked better or the wedding was cancelled. Before you buy on eBay, try on potential dresses in a real salon and sneak a peak at the size they recommend if they won’t tell you. Wedding dress sizes are not the same as clothing sizes, so buy a bigger dress if you’re not sure what you need. A friend found a Monique Llhuillier dress for $1200 on eBay that would normally sell for $4000.

Wedding Dress Sample Sales
The big designer sample sales are usually held in New York, but local bridal salons also have sample sales. Call frequently to find out when the next sample sale is and then arrive early to be first in line. Usually these are dresses that have been tried on frequently, so be prepared to do some repair work. My cousin bought a sample sale dress for $100. The bodice was trashed, but the full skirt was in great condition. She and my mom made a new bodice for a few hundred dollars. If you can’t sew, find a dressmaker in your area to fix it for you. Once again, wedding message boards are the place to find good seamstresses.

Custom Dresses
I had a theme wedding, so my dress cost $500, including the fabric, which I chose and purchased in the fabric district. However, you can have a fairy-tale dress made by a local seamstress for $1500-$2500. That’s a lot of money, but if you want a $5000 dress, it’s still cheaper.

Discount Retailers
In addition to David’s Bridal and Alfred Angelo, both of which carry less expensive dresses, there are a few wedding dress salons that sell discounted dresses. One of the best is Pearl’s Place in Louisiana. I ordered a bridesmaid’s dress from them for $80 off retail. I simply called and ordered it over the phone. It was shipped within a few weeks. When I was getting married, several brides on the message boards I frequented ordered their dresses from there. The key is to find your dream dress in a salon, then sneak a peek at the tag to find out the designer and style number/name, or at least get the name of the designer and find the dress on his or her website. Have a seamstress take your measurements to give to Pearl’s Place, then find a local seamstress to do the alterations locally for a few hundred dollars.

The best way to save money: stop looking once you find a dress. When I was planning my wedding, I saw several brides buying second or third dresses because they just couldn’t stop. Once you find something you like, stop shopping. Unless your culture dictates special wedding attire for different segments of the ceremony, you don’t need a ceremony dress and a reception dress.

In addition to doing my own wedding flowers and wedding album, we also made all of our own wedding invitations, save-the-dates, programs, placecards, and favor tags. I bought thank you notes at Target for $5 a box. My total cost for all of my paper items was around $200.

When to Choose DIY Wedding Invitations
If you want a simple printed card, then it may actually be cheaper to buy your wedding invitations from one of the online printing companies. However, once you start veering into complicated invitations with folded cards and ribbons, it’s time to consider do-it-yourself wedding invitations. Although it will take more time, those fancy invitations can easily cost $4-5 per invitation if you buy them from a printer. If you buy the paper by the ream at a paper supply store or online, you’ll pay less than $1 per invitation in most cases. Visit Neenah Paper to find local paper suppliers.

Ideas for DIY Wedding Invitations and Other Wedding Paper
These days, you need more than just an invitation. Everything is supposed to fit your theme, and you need lots of pieces to accomplish that.

Save the Dates
This is the place to get really creative and express your theme or location. My friend made refrigerator magnets and included a list of local hotels with it. My sister made postcards based on the location of her wedding. Another friend scanned and printed photos of them from a photo booth and attached them to simple cards in their wedding colors. They had a photo booth at the reception to tie it together.

I printed our cards on 8 ½ x 11 inch cardstock, then divided it into three pieces, folded another piece of cardstock around the middle and tied it with a ribbon. The first card had the date and location. The second piece recommended costume ideas for our theme wedding. The third card listed local hotels and our website.

My invitations were scrolls, so we had to make them ourselves. My mom designed the border, then we printed them on an inkjet. We made reply cards out of cardstock so there was no need for an envelope. A friend bought a bubble-jet printer on eBay to make special raised ink on her invitations. Yet another friend had the invitation cards printed at a paper store, but lined the envelopes with another paper to match her theme. Both of them bought small envelopes at a paper store for their DIY reply cards.

If you’re willing to corral your friends and use some elbow grease, you can have fantastic invitations for just a few hundred dollars, but people will think you spent much more. Although calligraphed invitations are still traditional, many brides choose to handwrite the envelopes or simply print them in an attractive font. Let’s be honest – most people don’t care about the envelope typeface or stamp placement. They’re more concerned with the details inside.

If you make your own invitations, you’ll probably have some leftover cardstock. If it’s a light color, you can make your own placecards by printing several on a single sheet of cardstock and cutting them out. Use stickers or a symbol to indicate who chose which meal if you offered options.

Favor Tags
We made our own favors, so of course we made our own favor tags. We printed them on the same paper we used for the invitations, cut them into rectangles, punched holes in the tops, and then tied them to our handmade favors (hand-rolled beeswax candles) with blank ribbon that matched our colors.

If you’ve already got paper for your invitations, you can simply print programs on your computer in colors to match. Keep it simple by folding the sheet in half and tying a ribbon through two holes punched near the crease. One friend bought cheap fans in Chinatown and tied her program to it. We rolled ours up and put them through a cheap “gold” ring intended for favors. Another friend simply folded hers into thirds.

Thank You Notes
It’s traditional to order printed cards with your names on them, such as “Bill & Katherine” or your new joint initial or a monogram of your first name, his first name, and your new joint initial: “BMK”. My aunt still uses notes with their names on it to send thank you notes and other correspondence. If you like this tradition, you can order affordable cards from a paper store. Or you could go to a stationery store and buy a box of basic thank you notes in a color that matches your theme. At $5 for 20 cards and envelopes, you really can’t beat that price and you can use the leftovers well after the wedding.

How to Determine Whether You Can DIY
The best way to come up with an idea is to flip through wedding magazines to find invitations you like, then see if you can figure out how to construct them yourself. Visit a paper store to price out your supplies. If it’s less than the cost of the wedding invitations you like, it’s worth the effort. We made ours at Christmas when all the family was together and could help.

If you’re worried people will think you’re cheap, don’t be. When I see a handmade invitation, I’m always impressed by the care and creativity that went into it. Your friends will be, too.

Of course, DIYing isn’t for everyone. If you prefer to buy invitations, choose something original that will reflect you as a couple.

When it comes to your wedding photos, there are good ways to find affordable wedding photography and cheap wedding albums, and bad ways to do it. I didn’t spend thousands on my wedding photos, and I spent less than $200 on my wedding album and parents’ album. Nevertheless, I have a beautiful album and fantastic photos.

Bad Ways to Save Money on Wedding Photography
Let’s start with the bad ways to save money on your wedding photos. If you employ these methods, you will probably hate your photos. All of these apply to your wedding video, too.

Ask your friends to take the photos.
Unless your friends are professional photographers who are offering your services as a gift, you will probably regret this. First, there is an art to wedding photography and capturing the right moments. Our friends sent us their digital snaps, which were lovely, but our professional images were better and higher-quality. Second, your friends are there to celebrate, not to work. If you rely on your friends to capture key moments, you just might miss them.

Hire the cheapest photographer you can find.
There may be a reason that photographer offers super-low packages. It could be that you’ll only get a few hours of his time, he uses poor equipment, or he’s a weekend hobbyist rather than a pro. When it comes to these wedding photos, you want a pro.

Rely on table cameras.
Once again, this is asking for trouble. Those table cameras are cute, but there’s no way you can guarantee that you’ll get usable images from them. Use them for candids to fill out your album, not your sole source of wedding photos.

Good Ways to Save Money on Wedding Photography
You can find a good, professional photographer you can afford if you research carefully and negotiate well.

Research local mid-price photographers.
I paid $1700 for my professional photographer. That included 8 hours of her time, an assistant, unlimited digital proofs and a DVD of the wedding photos, and an engagement shoot. That was about the average for photographers under $2000. Once I knew I could get good photos for that budget. I searched for photographers in that range. They tended to be independent photographers (rather than affiliated with a studio) who had started as wedding photography assistants and been doing their own wedding photography for 1-2 years.

Read reviews from other brides.
Once again, the wedding planning message boards are your friend. I compiled a list of potential photographers in my price range based on the reviews.

Review online portfolios, then interview potential wedding photographers in person.
I reviewed the photographers’ online portfolios to whittle down the list, then showed my fiancé the websites for 4-5 of the top contenders. We then scheduled interviews with 3 of them. We wanted to see complete albums in person and get a feel for our rapport with the photographer.

Negotiate the price.
The photographer we chose didn’t initially offer a free engagement shoot, but the other two we interviewed did. I asked ours to include it free ($200 value) and she did. Of course, you can’t ask a photographer to cut the price in half, but asking for an engagement shoot or an extra hour is completely reasonable if it’s something other photographers offer. Also make sure that you’ll receive a DVD of all of your digital photos or copies of all of your negatives within one month of the wedding so you can make your own prints.

Don’t buy the professional album or prints.
I know, some brides really want the beautiful, digitally printed massive book of photos. I liked those, but I didn’t want to pay $1500 for it, especially considering that most photographers limit you to 40-60 images.

Instead, my photographer referred me to a local professional photo printer and I made my own album. I used Imagexperts to print my photos. This is a pro lab that also serves the public. I got my wedding album from BoundCustomBook.com (full disclosure: I know her and it was a gift). I spent $100 to print about 120 photos for my album. I used scrapbooking supplies from Michaels to assemble it. Total cost: $115. If I’d paid for the album, the total would have been $380. I created my parents album in Photoshop and then uploaded it to MyPublisher.  I used a 50% coupon I received from them by email, so the total cost was $56. Tip: send them your email address shortly before you plan to order the album to receive your email coupon.

For your video, you can do all of the above except edit your own video, unless you know a professional editor or have your own video editing software. Like photographers, you can find videographers in all price ranges and negotiate to get what you want.

These are the keepsakes you’ll have for a lifetime, so you don’t want to go uber-cheap, but you can find quality, affordable wedding photographer and wedding album if you research carefully and negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

wedding bouquetWhen they see the pictures, most people think I spent hundreds of dollars on my bridal bouquet. The truth is, I spent $180 on ALL of my flowers. That included my bouquet, five bridesmaids bouquets, my mom’s bouquet, a floral candelabra for the reception, 12 chair hangers for the aisle, and a rose-petal strewn aisle. My sister spent under $300 for her wedding flowers using the same techniques, but didn’t have access to the deals I did.

You can do your own wedding flowers if you choose simple arrangements and get help assembling them. In my case, my aunt used to own a flower shop. She isn’t experienced enough to do complicated arrangements, but she easily handled the loose arrangements my sister and I wanted. My other aunt helped assemble.

Go Simple with Wedding Flowers
If you plan to do your own flowers, you can’t expect a formal wedding arch or ornate bouquets. Three options reign supreme with DIY bouquets: simple rose balls, single-type arrangements, and “wild” arrangements. For wild arrangements, you can simply choose several different flowers in colors that suit your theme, or several different flowers in one color and not worry about exactly how they’re arranged in the bundle. You can find videos and instructions online showing you how to arrange them. Single-type arrangements can have several blooms in them, but they should all be the same color and type of flower.

For floral centerpieces, you also have three options: three vases of varying heights with one type of flower in each, loose arrangements, or rose balls. All three can be done by you and your helpers.

Ask for Help Arranging and Delivering
As I said, we recruited my aunts to help, but I know of other brides who recruited their bridesmaids to help. In my case, my parents rented a suite with a large table for arranging. I didn’t stay at my apartment the night before the wedding, so a dark closet and cranked up A/C served as our “cooler.” In my sister’s case, my mom found a florist who would let them use her cooler and supplies. We both had our wedding coordinators pick up and deliver the flowers to the event.

Buy In-Season Wedding Flowers
This is my number one tip for saving money on wedding flowers. Buy in season flowers, by which I mean flowers grown in the US during that month. While most flowers are available year-round, they’re flown in from South America during the US off-season, which drastically raises the price. To find out what was in season, I simply visited my local flower market exactly one year before my wedding. I based my choices around the options I found there. If you don’t have a local market, visit a florist to ask what’s in season or check out Martha Stewart‘s list.

Also, don’t get married on Valentine’s Day or near Mother’s Day. Flower prices also drastically increase during this time. Avoid the two weeks surrounding the holiday if possible.

Buy from Wholesalers or Order Online
Los Angeles has one of the world’s largest wholesale flower markets and they open it to the public, which is another reason we were able to save so much money. I bought bunches of 25 roses for $6-10, depending on the stem-length. We’ve since learned that most other cities don’t have flower markets like mine. For my sister’s wedding, my mom ordered the flowers through the florist whose shop she rented.

If you want to go with simple flowers, you can also order bulk flowers from Costco, FreshRoses.com,  and FTD.com. They ship to your home or office, and come with instructions for prepping the flowers. If you don’t have a local flower market or a florist willing to rent you space, this is the next best option.

Stock Up on Sale Supplies
Even if you can’t access your local flower market, there are usually floral supply stores nearby that will sell to the public. You’ll find everything you need at drastically reduced prices. If you can’t find a store like that, then check the newspaper for Michael’s coupons and buy your vases and other supplies when they go on sale. My friend bought one vase a week each week with her Michael’s coupons. You may also be able to find rental items near the flower market. We rented our candelabra for $22 from a store next to the market. One of my bridesmaids returned it the Monday after the wedding.

For my flowers, we needed the following supplies: 5-gallon buckets from the hardware store, flower food, Quick Dip, Finishing Touch (all three are chemicals), stem stripper, floral knife, floral wire, packing tape or floral tape, hot glue and gun, and flower foam.

When I was planning my wedding, I would see some brides say they were planning to spend $7,000 on flowers. That was unfathomable to me even then. If you choose a pretty location and keep it simple, you can easily do your own wedding flowers for just a few hundred dollars, which frees up room in your wedding budget for something else.

Once again, we’re at the height of wedding season. We’re also at the height of engagement season. This week, I’m focusing on saving money on your wedding. Weddings are expensive, and many brides are looking for ways to cut costs, so I’ll look at the big things where you can save the most, as well as the simple things that add up. Today, we start with the budget. Before you do anything else, you need to set up a wedding budget. Then you need to stick to it. I know, that’s the tricky part.

How to Create a Wedding Budget
It’s definitely not romantic, but it’s practical. When I got married several years ago, I started with a wedding budget tool I found on the Knot.com. It gave me a jumping off point. Then I created this wedding budget worksheet in Excel. It’s yours to download free.

The More Detailed the Better
The Knot budget had some detailed line items, but also several general portions. I broke it out into even greater detail. I didn’t list “clothes.” I listed shoes, undergarments, jewelry, and dress separately. I didn’t list “flowers.” I listed the individual flower categories, like my bouquet, mom’s bouquet, bridesmaids, aisle flowers, etc.

Get Estimates in Advance
The first step is to pre-research. Ask recent brides what they spent to get an idea of what flowers, cakes, etc. cost in your region. This is where wedding message boards are your friend. The other brides will happily share their budgets. You can also review the websites of potential venues for an idea of the cost breakdown.

Determine a Total Wedding Budget First
If you start by entering what you want to spend in each category, you’ll go over budget right away. Instead, start with your total budget, then divide it between your categories. If you run out of money, you’ll have to start cutting. Also allow for about 10% overage, because things will come up and prices may rise between the time you start planning and the time you book.

Four Quick Tips to Reduce the Wedding Budget
There are some areas where you can reduce your wedding budget right out of the gate. Not all of them are simple, but they’re big savers.

First, cut all the crap you’re supposed to buy with your name on it, like cocktail napkins, favor tags, matchbooks, etc. Our venue supplied cocktail napkins. Guests can bring lighters if they smoke. We printed favor tags on our computer. Trust me, not one of your guests cares about these things. Save that money for the things that really matter.

Second, reduce your guest list. This is hard, but it’s key if you want to save money. This is the time to tell your mom that no, you’re not inviting your neighbor’s third cousin who you met once when you were five. Tell your crazy aunt she can’t bring her young escort. You also don’t need to invite every couple whose wedding you attended. Smaller, more intimate weddings definitely save money.

Third, consider alternate dates and times. If your peak wedding season is June through August, consider May or September. You could also consider Friday nights and Sundays. Most venues offer reduced rates for non-Saturdays (except on holiday weekends.) If most of your guests aren’t traveling from out of town, a Friday night wedding is a fun way to kick off the weekend. Follow it up with a Saturday barbecue at your parents’ house to keep out-of-town guests entertained.

Fourth, DIY what you can. I’ll talk about this more as the week progresses, but we did our own flowers, invitations, programs, favors, and wedding album and it saved us a lot of money.

Some brides don’t start with a budget and realize about halfway through the planning that they’ve spent $50,000 and aren’t done yet. If you want to start your marriage on the right foot, create a budget and then prepare to get creative. Consider it practice for your life ahead.

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