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Cost-cutting guidelines to plan by.


THE VENUE
It’s all about timing. Avoid marrying in the fall; it’s the most popular wedding season in New York. Look at dates in January, February, July, or August. You’ll save around 20 percent on everything and have more bargaining power to negotiate freebies (such as valet parking or a discounted bridal suite). Celebrating on a Friday or Sunday can also translate into an average of 20 percent savings (your trade-off is less animated guests). And, if you don’t book until the last minute (whether deliberately or accidentally), you could be looking at big savings as well. Don’t wait to negotiate after contracts are signed. It’ll all be moot then.



THE BAR & CATERING
No matter how tight your budget, do not have a cash bar. A wine-only bar’s thriftiness is just as obvious. Instead, serve a signature cocktail or two (an inconspicuous money saver). If you’re in a BYOB scenario, arrange to return unopened bottles (you can’t return anything chilled). Be sly about cutting corners: Replace Champagne with Prosecco; filet mignon with hanger steak; sautéed foie gras with foie gras mousse. Ask for a free “silent option” (e.g. a vegetarian meal), and negotiate with your vendor for kids’ meals at half-price. Don’t offer a choice of entrée. Draw the line at family-style service. What’s next, wine bottles on a lazy Susan? Honestly, you’re better off eloping.


THE RENTALS
Book a reception site that doesn’t require additional flourish (or decoration from scratch in the case of lofts and tents). If a blank-canvas challenge is what you’ve gotten yourself into, choose simple stuff. Round tables are cheaper than their square counterparts. Who knew? Make sure load-in is easy: Is the elevator working? Is there more than one? Scan your contract for hidden costs such as elevator charges and cleaning fees. To avoid late-night pickup charges, arrange for rentals to be gathered the day after your wedding, or better yet, on Monday to bypass weekend overcharges. And make sure you’re only taxed on goods—not services. New York City tax is steep!



THE FLOWERS
Three words: Stay in season. In spring, there are peonies, lilacs, viburnum; in summer, you have sunflowers, dahlias, and hybrid delphinium; in winter, French tulips and amaryllis; and in autumn, magnolias and mums. Bring that list to the market or to your florist, since it probably sounds like horticultural mumbo-jumbo. Simpler: Instead of a traditional bouquet, carry a single, dramatic, long-stemmed bloom or a bunch of one kind. It’ll still look great. At the reception, think beyond flowers for décor. Candles are inexpensive and romantic, especially along a runner of green leaves. If the florist tries to charge you for the arrangements in the bathroom, don’t bite your tongue.



THE MUSIC
For cocktails, don’t go crazy if your party is small (fewer than 120 guests merits a duo or trio; more than 120 could use a quartet). On average, a D.J. is cheaper than a band. If you’re going with the latter, ask a few musicians to play at the cocktail hour at a reduced rate. But don’t worry: Barring something spectacular (i.e. the groom’s smoking-hot Scottish friend making love to the keyboard in a kilt), people are busy catching up, so if your venue is equipped, simply pipe in a playlist through their sound system. Ask the musicians to play continuous music and to bring their own equipment. Make sure it’s not covered in logos. Your wedding isn’t a networking opportunity!



THE PHOTOGRAPHY
Don’t get a fresh-from-ICP artist to shoot your wedding. You’ll regret it, always (unless you inadvertently discover the next Ryan McGinley). You could opt out of the engagement shoot and save about $500, but that’s when you’ll realize if you love your photographer or if you’ll have to prepare for more of this kind of creepiness later: “Okay, now run towards me, hold hands, look at each other, smile, don’t smile too much, okay, now skip a little.” Schedule it on a weekday for less. Ask for immediate delivery of negatives and low overtime rates. Hire a second shooter for a few hours only to capture your fiancé, pre-ceremony, cheering over whiskey with his buddies.



THE STATIONERY
Though you might think of your invitation as a keepsake, most guests will consider it just another piece of paper on the fridge. Get ready-made stationery, rather than custom. Feel no pressure to match your save-the-date to your invitation, and get creative with the former. DIY sassiness will disguise frugality (think black-and-white postcards, oversize flat cards stamped with a customized rubber design, etcetera). If you’re co-designing your invitations with a graphic designer, pick a single ink color, and avoid engraving, letterpress, and shapes that don’t fit into regular envelopes. And, print all of it at once. Skimp tastefully. Example: A save-the-date magnet isn’t the best idea.



THE BOTTOM LINE
Dominate Excel. Make a super spreadsheet with every component and balance it more often than your checkbook. Keep the guest list as small as possible. The average cost per head in New York City is $225. Factor in the “plus-plus” (service and tax, an additional 30 percent) and you’re probably looking at a big number. Put all your wedding-related expenses on a fee-free credit card with special rewards for the betrothed (American Express has such a card). Seek freebies but don’t devolve into a scavenger-like being in the process. A great place to start: Event-design companies Fête and A Wedding Library offer free one-hour consultations. Go, and don’t waste a minute.

Additional reporting by Kathryn Axelrod and Arielle Winnik

Photos: istockphoto (Calendar and Bouquet)

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