No matter what your dream wedding looks like, it's pricier than you think. Gourmet food, robust florals, designer attire, top-notch decor and a worthy venue are expensive on their own. Combined, the tab is huge! It's no wonder the average cost of a wedding is now over $31,000, according to The Knot.
So how can you blend the fantasy wedding with the reality of finances? Start by setting a budget for the overall event and each category.
Fantasy: A high-end plated dinner featuring hot and cold appetizers, salad, intermezzo, your choice of one of two or three entrees and sides.
Reality: Guests have a choice of one of two entrees, as well as a simple salad and rolls.
Catering is one of the biggest wedding expenses but you can trim costs.
"Economical ways to keep this cost down is to keep the number of guests down, to consider a non-weekend day and to hold your wedding at a venue that includes catering on-site, such as a hotel or restaurant," says Heidi Hiller, owner, event designer and planner for Innovative Party Planners.
Fantasy: In addition to the bride's bouquet and flowers for the wedding party, other flowers, like wreaths, arches and centerpieces will be a central decor focus throughout the ceremony and reception.
Reality: You splurge on your bridal bouquet, have modest florals at the ceremony and place simple centerpieces on tables at the reception.
"Flowers are like produce," says Lindsey Neff of Larkspur Botanicals, an eco-conscious firm. "Seasonal and local are always the best."
Work with your florist to create a luxe look on a budget. For example, Neff says if a bride likes an "all-white bouquet" featuring 30 premium roses, the florist can create a similar look for less.
"We can still use some of those beautiful roses, but I also substitute them with what I like to call 'impostor flowers,'" she says, noting "often couples like the look, but don't care about the specific flowers used to achieve that look."
Fantasy: Your event will be drenched in specialty lighting, including custom gobos, wall illumination and chandeliers.
Reality: Tea lights and mirrors on each table at the reception, a spotlight to highlight your first dance and market lights overhead if your venue has them.
"Lighting can be one of the most expensive elements at a wedding," says destination wedding planner Aviva Samuels of Kiss the Planner, who notes an outdoor ceremony before sunset is often ideal because you don't need additional lights.
She recommends checking with your venue to see what they have for lighting, such as decorative lighting on trees and outdoor perimeter walls.
Fantasy: A designer gown, made with luxurious fabric and finished with embellishments and beading.
Reality: A nice off-the-rack gown within your budget that's tailored to fit.
"Brides-to-be should always check out bridal trunk shows and events, as some designers will offer special deals at those events," says Samuels, who also recommends altering preowned wedding dresses and buying "stunning yet affordable options" on sites like Etsy or eBay.
"Keeping these options in mind, she can still have the dress of her dreams and some additional money to spend elsewhere for other wedding details," she says.
*The Wedding Party
Fantasy: You're surrounded by all of your closest friends and family with lots of bridesmaids, groomsmen and attendants.
Reality: You have a smaller wedding party, with a maid of honor and a best man.
"The number of bridesmaids and groomsman can add greatly to the expense of rentals, flowers, transportation, gifts, food, prevent activities and more," says Hiller.
Fantasy: Hiring live music for the ceremony, followed by a live band and a DJ for the reception.
Reality: Choose a band whose members can play a variety of instruments for ceremony and reception, with a member who may be able to DJ during band breaks.
"Ceremony musicians, bands and DJs can take up a large chunk of the wedding budget, especially if you are looking to hire all three," says Samuels.
*Cake & Dessert
Fantasy: An over-the-top cake with multiple tiers and multiple flavors, decorated to perfection, as well as a variety of mini pastries, cookies and candies.
Reality: A simply decorated cake with a few tiers of one to two flavors, supplemented by sheet cake for the guests.
If you have a dessert table and cake, there may be lots of leftovers, so buy a smaller cake and "consider sending guests home with a piece of cake wrapped in creative packaging, as a wedding favor," says Samuels.
No matter your budget, it's smart to review your wants and expectations throughout the planning process and make revisions as needed.