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You’ve heard the rumors about how expensive weddings can be — now you’re experiencing it firsthand. Whether you’re fortunate enough to have family members who are footing the bill or you’re scraping the cash together on your own, there are many ways to cut costs without feeling like you’ve made sacrifices.

1. The Venue

If you absolutely must get married on a spring or summer weekend, prepare to pay top dollar for the venue. Alternately, you can save a lot if you get married outside of this prime window.

“If you’re on a budget, it’s important to be flexible,” Kate Franzen, owner of Glint Events, an event-planning firm in Richmond, Virginia, said in an email. “Know what your priorities are and let the rest go. This may mean planning your wedding for a weekday — you can save bundles by staying away from a weekend celebration. ”

2. Cocktail Hour

There is more than one way to hold a cocktail hour. The venue will probably offer a package, but ask if there is any wiggle room.

“If you’re having a cocktail hour, opt for food displays like cheese boards or antipasto instead of passed plates — you’d be surprised at how much you can save per person,” Heather Jones, catering sales director for Wente Vineyards, a wedding venue in Livermore, California, said in an email. “You should also ask yourself about the drinking habits of your guests, as it may not make sense to have a beverage package if the majority will drink less than one alcoholic drink per hour. Instead, inquire about setting a maximum dollar amount to host the bar. After the amount has been reached, the bar will close or become a cash bar. This way, you can set a strict budget, but still buy everyone a drink or two.”

Opting just for wine, beer and possibly one signature cocktail is also a good way to avoid a whopping bar bill.

3. Lighting & Décor

Many venues will let you handle some or all of the decorating so you can personalize your event. You can use this to your financial benefit.

“It’s not difficult to DIY lighting effects with the help of some LED string lights,” Audrey Isaac, spokeswoman for 100 Candles, an online discount store for candles and other decorations, said in an email.. “Whether they’re strung across the room or coiled under the centerpieces, they can certainly add dramatic effect to any room. … When shopping around for lights, consider buying in bulk as it can save on cost per product.”

4. The Dress

The dress can eat up a big part of your budget, but there are ways to shop smart. Be open to vintage or consigned dresses, or even dresses that aren’t specifically for the bride.

“Don’t just shop for wedding gowns — look at bridesmaids’ and formal dresses too!” Araceli Vizcaino-S, community manager for made-to-measure dress etailer, Azazie, said in an email. “In many cases, you can find white dresses that come at a much lower price than a traditional wedding gown simply because it doesn’t have the word ‘wedding’ attached to it. If you find a style you love, go for it!”

5. Destination Weddings

Dying to get married somewhere exotic? It may not be as pricey as you think. First, fewer guests will be able to attend, which will reduce your headcount (harsh but true).

“Believe it or not, opting for an all-inclusive resort can make all the difference when it comes to your wedding budget,” Megan Velez, VP of product at Destination Weddings Travel Group, said in an email. “While it may seem extravagant, all-inclusive properties offer unlimited services for one flat rate so it can definitely be the best bang for your buck. Keep in mind that many all-inclusive resorts provide discounted rates for groups, as well as wedding packages that can save you bundles.”

6. Room Blocks

Once you have decided on a venue, choose a hotel nearby and get those room blocks reserved before another wedding party snags them.

If your whole group is there, you can often get perks like a suite upgrade, hospitality room, or even a couple of extra nights for you and your partner, Amy Green and Melanie Marconi, owners of block procurement service Where Will They Stay?, said in an email.

Note to guests, while it’s fun to stay at the same place as everyone else, compare prices with other hotels nearby. Staying elsewhere may be a concession you make to stay on budget.

Remember, when budgeting for a wedding, some people opt to take out a personal loan to help cover the expenses (some lenders brand these as wedding loans). How you decide to pay for your big day is a personal choice, but if you do consider using credit cards or a loan to cover some costs, keep tabs on your credit, before and after applying for any new accounts. Good credit scores can help you qualify for the best rates on financing and high debt levels post-wedding (and any late payments related to them) can wind up hurting your credit. To see how where you credit stands, you can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and a free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Image: Halfpoint

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