15 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding Reception

According to Bride magazine, the average cost of weddings in the United States increased to $26,989 in 2012, despite the fact that the Wall Street Journal reported in June 2012 that the median annual wage fell to $26,364 for the same period. While its true that the cost of living has gone up in recent years, and prices for caterers, entertainment and other vendors have increased as well, one still has to wonder how the average American is able to afford to invest approximately one year’s salary into a single-day event.

Some of the biggest costs associated with the wedding budget include the wedding gown, which costs $1355 on average. Bridesmaids dresses have increased in recent years, costing approximately $145 per girl, and the average groomsman invests approximately $137 for wedding attire. That’s just the wedding clothes. Beyond the dresses and the suits, there are fees that just can’t be cut, such as the cost for using the church or venue for the ceremony and the cost for renting the wedding reception hall for the after-party. Catering, entertainment, the cake, the decorations and other reception-associated costs, however, can be reduced with a little ingenuity and financial common sense.

This article features 15 ways for you to save money on your wedding reception. There are many more than are listed here, but consider this guide as inspiration to help you think outside the box and find new and unique ways to decorate, plan and enjoy your special day.

#1 – Plan It Yourself
You will hear a lot of advice suggesting that you hire a wedding planner to take care of all the details for you, and while that’s a nice to have service, it just isn’t feasible for most brides. Be encouraged in knowing that in 2012, more than 65% of all brides stated that they planned the entire event themselves, so you’re not alone. Only 8% stated that they had a wedding planner from day one and 3% stated that they had a planner for just the last couple of weeks leading up to the wedding.

#2 – Go Local
A lot of wedding magazines will show you beautiful centerpieces, amazing champagnes, gorgeous wedding cake designs and must-have menu items, but they all come at a price. Spend some time checking out local offerings. Many brides are proud to only feature items that come from local farms, vineyards and florists. Southeastern Massachusetts has a bounty of amazing local foods that can easily become a part of your celebration. Not only is it good for the environment and local economy to keep it local, but it also reduces your wedding budget by eliminating shipping fees, special order fees and other associated costs.

#3 – Reduce Bar Costs
The costs associated with having an open bar at your wedding can be astronomical. Speak with the venue manager for your wedding reception to find out about alternative ideas that will help you to reduce costs, yet still offer something special to your guests. Having a special cocktail hour prior to the meal being served is a great way to stick with your wedding budget compared to an all-night-long-open-bar. Ask about only serving wine and beer as opposed to mixed drinks or shots, which can really add up quick.

#4 – Seasonal Blooms
Pick flowers that are readily available through your local florists and farms for the season. The cost of flowers will be much less if you buy them in season than if you insist on having a specialty floral bouquet made of blooms that must be shipped in or ordered from a special greenhouse in the dead of winter. You could cut your floral cost for wedding reception centerpieces, floral garland, bouquets, corsages and more in half just by sticking with the season.

#5 – Buffet Style
Eliminating the need for servers at your wedding reception can help you save a lot of money. Serve your wedding dinner buffet style and invite guests to come up, take a plate and serve themselves. Offer a drink station with water, tea and coffee to eliminate table servers as well. Speak with the venue manager about costs associated with hiring a couple of staff members to help clear the tables after the meal or find out if that service is included with the catering costs.

#6 – One Meal
If you don’t want to do a buffet style meal, consider serving just one meal. Some couples are choosing a dinner duet that includes two entrees rather than offering two separate meals. This also reduces the amount of time required for servicing your guests, as everyone will get the same plate. Two smaller entrees are served on each plate, reducing catering costs and allowing you to know up front how much it will cost for each guest to attend.

#7 – Dessert Bar
Rather than serve a formal dessert after the meal, many couples are opting to have a dessert bar for their guests. Your display can include home-baked treats shared by family and friends, such as cookies, pastries, pies, tarts, cake pops and more. Make sure to speak with the venue manager about serving homemade treats at your wedding reception to make sure there aren’t any rules against it. Include treat bags near the bar so guests can take home some desserts to enjoy later.

#8 – Reduce the Guest List
Almost every bride knows the scene from “Father of the Bride” where Steve Martin goes a little crazy trying to reduce the number of invited guests for his daughter’s wedding. He even asks his wife if they can ask people to “not eat” to save money. Rather than losing your mind trying to cover the costs of feeding and making room for a huge guest list, take the time to look at your list of invites and seriously think about how many really need to be invited. Sometimes a small affair with 100-200 of your closest friends and relatives can be even more enjoyable than trying to greet and spend time with 500-600 acquaintances and people you haven’t seen in years.

#9 – Tapas Party
Forget the sit down dinner entirely and have a tapas party for your guests. Tapas is a tasting menu that allows your guests to try a number of different dishes served on tiny plates or cocktail napkins. It negates the need for renting large volumes of tables, linens and dishes, and can reduce your catering costs compared to a traditional sit down meal. Ask your local caterer about options for a tapas menu that can include a wide variety of unique foods and dishes.

#10 – Bigger Tables
You can also reduce costs for linens and centerpieces for your wedding budget just by opting for bigger tables. This can also bring your guests closer together, give you more space on the dance floor and give people more room to walk around and mingle with other guests. Compare rental rates for larger tables compared to smaller sets to see the difference.

#11 – The Cake
There are lots of wedding cake ideas that can help you get around investing hundreds of dollars into a traditional wedding cake that allow you to still have your cake – and eat it too. One way is to speak with the caterer about a display cake. A display cake is a fake cake that has a single real layer – the layer that you and your groom will cut during the wedding reception. The rest of the cake is decorated to match your wedding colors and theme, but is just for display purposes only. To serve the rest of your guests, sheet cakes that are decorated in the same colors and style are cut by servers in the back and brought out for the guests to enjoy with none being the wiser. Other wedding cake ideas include a cupcake tower, smaller cakes and homemade cakes.

#12 – Decorations on Sale
Once you choose your wedding colors and theme, it’s easy to plan the type of decorations you will need for your wedding reception. Shop party stores and other suppliers when seasonal decorations are put on sale to reduce stock. Lots of pink, red and white will be available after Valentine’s Day, black decorations will be available after Halloween and pretty pastels will be offered at a reduced rate after Easter. Most weddings are planned months in advance, so there’s no reason not to take advantages of all the post-holiday sales throughout the year.

#13 – Wedding Entertainment
When it comes right down to it, choosing the entertainment for your wedding reception can be a scary proposition. Hiring a band can be really expensive, but the live entertainment can be a huge hit with your guests. Finding a local DJ in the Southeastern Massachusetts area that will adhere to your lists of must-play and do-not-play songs can also be a challenge. Consider hiring a single musician, such as a pianist or a violinist, to play during your wedding reception and use a pre-set playlist of songs during the dancing segment of your party.

#14 – Weekday Wedding
It can be challenging getting all of your guests to be available for a wedding during the week, but planning your ceremony and wedding reception on any day other than Saturday can save you a lot of money in reservation fees and other vendor costs. Speak with the venue manager for information about hosting your wedding reception on a weekday to compare the fees.

#15 – Casual Reception
You can have a big, formal ceremony, but celebrate your wedding with a much more casual wedding reception. Speak with the venue manager at the reception hall for ideas that can help you reduce costs while still enjoying their facilities. You can still have your first dance, toss the bouquet and cut the cake, just in a more casual and less formal setting.