(OPRAH.com) -- Planning the celebration of a lifetime during the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression is a daunting task, so it's no secret that many brides are cutting back. The average amount a couple is spending on their wedding this year is down more than $5,000 from 2008, theweddingreport.com estimates.
There are ways to hold a wedding without breaking the bank or breaking etiquette rules.
Etiquette author and expert Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of queen of correct behavior Emily Post, assures brides that thriftiness is tasteful. "It's okay to cut back right now," she says. "Economizing isn't something to apologize for so long as you're not doing something that's hurtful to your guests."
Still, there are a few cutbacks Post suggests you avoid. "I don't like seeing cash bars," she says. "I find that inconsiderate to your guests." Other don'ts: Asking guests to help pay for wedding costs on the registry and inviting guests to the shower but not the wedding.
Here are some unique (and Emily Post--approved) ways to save:
Think outside the cake
A large wedding cake can run hundreds of dollars. Add in the delivery and cake-cutting fees, and your confection may burst your budget.
As an alternative, the bride and groom of a wedding Post attended in Vermont opted against tradition and created a make-your-own sundae bar.
"So instead of cutting the cake, they had 'the first scoop,'" she says. "Everybody there had a great time with that."
The Center of Attention
When choosing the flowers for your centerpieces, Post says to always choose blooms that are in season. For a big display on a small budget, more greenery and fewer flowers will give you the look you want for less.
Or, keep the display simple with a single statement-making flower. "I went to a wonderful wedding for a friend of mine who was from Hawaii. They did one beautiful, huge stargazer lily in the middle of each table," she says. "It was very fragrant, and there were about 20 tables, so 20 lilies are not incredibly expensive." Oprah.com: How to make your own floral arrangements
At a friend's recent wedding, Post says she was one of the last people to leave the church and noticed the bride's family taking the flower arrangements from the ceremony to be reused at the reception. "I love flowers and I hate the thought of them going to waste, so I thought this was a great idea."
E-mail invitations are fine for shower or bachelorette parties, but weddings are a different story.
"Even if you're having a really casual wedding, I think -- call me old-fashioned -- this is such a huge day in your life that you don't want to send the wrong message to your guests -- that you don't take it seriously." We may live in an online world, but Post says the printed invitation will never die.
When it comes to food, your guests' expectations will be high -- but that doesn't mean you have to serve filet mignon. "There are fabulous things chefs can do with pork, chicken and with fish," she says. Serving your menu buffet-style will also cost less than a plated dish.
A past trend that Post likes is the wedding breakfast or wedding brunch, which Emily Post wrote about in her first etiquette book published in 1922."This could be a great tradition to revive and could save a little bit of money," she says. "I'm starting to hear about it more again."
If you're set on an evening affair, Post says there is nothing wrong with a hors d'oeuvre and cake-only reception. "This has always been okay," she says. "It's safe to say that most people want to treat their guests to a wonderful day. If this is the way they can afford it, I think it's the absolute right choice."
If you are serving alcohol at your wedding, Post says it's better to save by limiting the choices, not the amount. "It's okay not to have hard alcohol. You could serve champagne, you could serve red wine, you could serve a signature drink," she says. Just please skip the drink tickets. "If you want to limit, limit what's available to people rather than charging them for it or rationing it out ticket by ticket."
Post says to remember that budget cuts are nothing to worry about as long as you keep your guests in mind. "When it comes to etiquette, for me and this was the same for Emily Post, weddings are very much about the people in your life." Oprah.com: How to throw a party on a budget
We asked Oprah.com members to share some of their own bridal budget tips. Here's what you had to say:
Serve a luncheon-size entrée for the wedding dinner reception; no one is going to notice the size difference. Our hotel caterer suggested this to me when I told him I would love to have filet mignon, but there was no way we could afford it. So instead of the $21 per person 9-ounce filet mignon, we served $16 per person 6-ounce filet mignon and everyone was impressed at our beautiful dinner! (Way back in 1991!)
-- Michelle Fourre of Eden Prairie, Minnesota
"This day is about your future, so make the décor all about your future home -- use green plants that you have put in pots from your home or balcony."
-- Liz Ezell of Montgomery, Texas
This tip comes from my daughter's wedding, which took place August 8, 2008. Her name is Amanda, and our budget was $20,000. She wanted a church wedding and full dinner and dance reception, and for as many people as possible.
My tip is this: You have to get your mind and expectations in the right place before you make a single decision. A wedding is not the time to reciprocate every social obligation you feel. It is not for the purpose of impressing anyone. It is a time to celebrate the union of these two people. Once my daughter and I fully realized this, it made every other decision easier. We made a strict budget that we could afford (with a little bit of a cushion), and made each decision accordingly. My daughter had the joyous wedding of her dreams, and it was just under budget!
-- Wanda Holmes of Aurora, Illinois
Elope. Save the money that a wedding costs and put it toward your down payment on a house.
-- Christine Wisniewski Ligas of Cleveland, Ohio
I am planning for my wedding on October 9, 2010, and my fiancé and I are definitely on a budget. I have few mantras regarding my budget: 'Don't fall into the fairy-tale trap,' 'Stay true to you' and 'Focus on your life after the wedding.' I'm probably at an advantage because I'm older and have seen my closest friends have their fairy-tale weddings. So I know what makes a wedding special, and it is not a plethora of flowers, expensive lighting or an overpriced gown. What makes your wedding special is how you and your guests feel. Don't go beyond your means because you feel that having that $600 veil will make you feel like a princess. Your husband, family and friends will do that for free!
So don't be afraid to cut back. No one will notice that you chose the $100 veil over the $600 veil. They are at your wedding to celebrate the love you found, not the money you spent. Personal touches such as handwritten notes, touching toasts or clever favors make weddings memorable and enjoyable. Those personal touches help your wedding stay true to what you and fiancé are all about. (Not to mention inexpensive).
-- Alissa Cohorst of Urbana, Illinois
I've been an event planner for 14 years. Here are some of my favorite budget-saving tips that don't sacrifice style:
• Trim the guest list. Smaller weddings allow the same luxuries of the larger ones at a smaller cost. Many of my clients feel bad about cutting their list until I show them how it is statistically impossible to visit with each guest for longer than a minute if they have a large guest list. Oprah.com: Get more ways to cut your wedding costs
• Hold your wedding at a fantastic location that already has a lot of ambience. For example: gardens, museums, zoos. You save significantly on floral and décor because the space decorates itself.
• Schedule your reception at an off time when guests won't expect a full meal. Instead of 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. when guests will expect dinner, start at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. You can serve delicious light appetizers, saving a significant amount of money vs. the full dinner.
• Choose an off night or get married in the off-season. Any day other than Saturday can be negotiated for lower costs. Same thing goes for months like January and February when venues have less demand.
• Skip the wedding favors -- I've thrown away so many. A more cost effective choice is to use some of the money that would have been wasted on favors and give it to the couple's favorite charity. Create signs for the tables that say "In lieu of favors, the couple gave to X charity." It's economical and eco-friendly.
• Order the same amount of the bride and groom's cake and only order about 75 percent of the expected guest attendance. Not everyone that RSVP's shows up and not everyone eats cake.
• Hire a wedding planner! It sounds counterintuitive, but you'll save money because of the special relationships that the wedding planner has cultivated.
-- Melinda Massie, President Melinda Massie Events of Fort Worth, Texas
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