Over the past 9 months, this bride has tried her hardest to stay on a pretty strict budget. And I feel as though now that I'm almost on the other side of it all, I've got some wisdom I can share with those who are just starting to go through this crazy wedding planning thing and help you avoid spending $50,000+ for just one night of fun. I won't break it down penny-by-penny for you, but I will give you some helpful hints for getting to the altar with out breaking your (or your parents') bank.
Set a budget and stick to it.
I can't stress this enough. As soon as my parents gave us our wedding budget, I went on over to weddingwire.com, signed up for a free account, and used their budget planning tool to figure out exactly what amount of money would be spent where. From limos, to flowers, to my gown, to the food... every costly piece of the big day was estimated and accounted for before we started spending any money. That way, I knew I wasn't allowed to fall in love with a $5,000 way before I went crazy trying on gowns, thus preventing me from getting my heart set on something out of the budget. Talk about a stress reducer!
Use your resources.
You may not realize it, but your friends and family are made up of awesome people who are extremely talented in many ways. And I highly encourage you to figure out what these good folks are good at... and then ask them to do it for your wedding! The best part is, most of them will offer their skill to you in place of a wedding gift. A pretty sweet deal, if I do say so myself (and I do). As for me, my wedding planner, florist, photographer, videographer, hair stylist, invitation designer, reception musician/dj, and personal first-dance teacher are all family members, friends, or friends of friends. And I couldn't be a bride on a budget without them.
Dream big, but not too often.
There are going to be some things you just really need to have for your big day. And I'm going to tell you right now... that's totally ok. But, the key is that you can only have a few of these "really important things" on your list. For me, it was chiavari chairs. I had to have them. And by the way, they're not cheap. But, that was basically the only "must have" on my list. Oh, and the limo big enough for the 12-person wedding party. Yes, expensive. But, one of only a few splurges. Once you decide what the big ticket items are going to be, put aside the money for them and then make sure to be more flexible and frugal with pretty much everything else on your wedding-spending list.
Find cheaper alternatives.
Or in other words, shop around before you settle. So, you fell in love with the $5,000 dress even though you knew your budget was 1/5th of that. Oops! Well, the good news is, you can still make it in under your budget and have the gown of your dreams. You'll just have to do some research. Usually you can find used or even unworn wedding gowns for sale online. Or, you can check out your local bridal consignment shop. For me it was Merry-Go-Round in Houston, TX (where I found both my gown and my veil for half of their original prices). Or, even better yet, you can usually find a gown similar to that expensive designer one at a more budget friendly gown shop, just made by a different designer. When you think about it, there aren't many designs out there for gowns, so you're bound to find an almost identical gown made by another designer somewhere out there. And, never forget to check out etsy.com for anything and everything wedding related. The sellers on that site are more than happy to custom make pretty much anything you need for your wedding and usually at reasonable rates.
Do it yourself.
Don't be afraid to tackle some wedding projects on your own. You can save hundreds (even thousands) just by spending a few extra hours working on something for yourself. For example, if you're not careful, you can spend thousands on your wedding invites alone. Why not design them yourself? There are plenty of sites out there that print them for cheap... or you can buy some cardstock at your favorite paper-carrying shop and print them at home. Then, have a small party with all your bridesmaids and have them help you assemble and address the envelopes. Sure it won't have the fancy, swirly calligraphy, but who's going to keep the envelope anyway? Just be careful with DIY projects. As the bride you've got plenty to do, so don't take on too many tasks for yourself.
Overall, just remember to relax, smile, and have fun. Planning can be stressful, and trust me... it's even more stressful when a strict budget and an over-priced wedding industry are involved. But, if you heed my advice and plan that budget early on in the process, I promise it'll all work out and be 100% worth it in the end.
And if you have any "bride on a budget" tips from planning your own wedding, please feel free to share...