1. Host your wedding on a weeknight to save around 15 percent. The season also matters. Pick a date in February, March, or April for more negotiating power. Bridgewaters charges 10 to 20 percent less in the off-months. Or wed at a donation-fee-only venue, like the Hungarian Cultural Center ($2,500).
2. For invitations, find designers at Parsons (212-229-8940) or SVA (212-592-2370). Student fees are about $2 per invitation, but costs can rise with paper stock and printing method. Engraving is twice as much as thermography, and heavy paper stock is 50 percent more than lightweight.
3. 3An off-hour event, like tea, can save you 30 percent on food. Set on dinner? Go family style or with a single plated entrÃ©e. Beware the buffet: You save on servers, but planner Claudia Hanlin warns, “You need much more food”—not only in terms of quantity but variety also.
4. If you want a traditional multi-tiered cake, stick with one flavor and avoid fondant frosting (opt for buttercream instead). Or better still, get a “decoy” cake: The top tier is real, but the rest are frosted Styrofoam. Serve sliced sheet cake and no one will be the wiser.
5. To avoid beverage markups—sometimes as much as 300 percent—buy your own. Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck is too identifiable, but many of their $5 wines are well regarded (Bear’s Lair, Coastal, and French Market). Cut hard-liquor costs by arranging to bring back unopened bottles: Astor Wines & Spirits accepts returns with a receipt.
6. Choose seasonal blooms: sunflowers in summer, tulips in winter, and roses all year long (except for February). Spruce’s Gaige Clark says a centerpiece using only 40-centimeter roses costs $100, whereas a mixed, out-of-season arrangement could be $300. Whatever you do, don’t utter the word wedding—most florists hike prices as soon as they hear it.
7. If you can’t afford the big-name bands, but want a string quartet or jazz combo at cocktail hour, call on the musicians at Juilliard or NYU (212-998-5424). A Juilliard string quartet costs one fifth of what Le Quatuor DuCette charges.