Spring and summer are prime wedding seasons, and if you're planning to walk down the aisle, you're probably waist-deep in fabric swatches and sample menus—not to mention bills.
According to TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com's annual Real Weddings Study, the average wedding budget for 2012 was $28,427 (not including a honeymoon), up from $27,021 in 2011. Costs vary widely depending on geography; the average Manhattan wedding rang up almost three times the national average, while the average Alaska wedding was just over half the national average.
U.S. News talked to wedding planners, married couples and brides-to-be to find out what expenses can be axed from your budget without shortchanging your big day.
1. The band. When Hilary Levey Friedman and her husband John planned their 2010 Cambridge, Mass., wedding, they opted for a DJ. The couple likely banked big savings, as the Real Weddings Study reports that the average reception band cost $3,084 in 2012, while the average DJ cost $988. "I really like old Michael Jackson songs, Madonna and Britney, and a band can never be as a good as the originals," Hilary explains. "We weren't limited by any genre. Our first dance was more of a fifties-style song, and from there we went into Lady Gaga."
Hiring a multi-piece band also would have increased the catering bill. Even if it's only five more mouths to feed, wedding meals can cost upwards of $50 to $75 per person—sometimes more for lavish celebrations.
2. Favors. Sugared almonds, matchbooks, picture frames and champagne flutes are popular wedding favors, but they often get left behind. "I can't tell you have many times guests leave these items on the tables or take them home and toss them," says Gail Johnson, a Decatur, Ga.-based wedding and event consultant. "Entertaining your guests with a great meal and entertainment is plenty, so there is no need to spend money on wedding favors."
Just ask Ursula Reynolds, who learned this the hard way after she and her bridesmaids assembled 80 boxes of specialty chocolate the night before her wedding. "I was told by everyone that I had to have a favor, and it is highlighted in all the wedding magazines," she says. "At the end of my reception, once guests departed, around 70 percent of the favors were left on the table." Other brides throughout the country last year also felt the pinch, as the average wedding budget included $289 for favors. Skipping such expenses also means reducing the labor costs that accompany assembling and distributing favors.
3. Paper programs and menus. Unless your guests need to fan themselves because it's 100 degrees, you probably don't need printed programs. Stefanie Shuman and her groom decided to forego the unneeded paper and ink for their wedding, which is scheduled for later this month in New Jersey. They're also nixing favors and printed menus, giving guests a "duet" of two smaller entrees rather than offering a choice of entrees. With the money they're saving on programs, menus and favors, they plan to host a brunch for their immediate families and wedding party the day after the ceremony.
Susan Norcross of Two Rings One Circus, a Philadelphia-based wedding and events company, offers a budget-friendly alternative to printed menus and place cards: "Use big chalkboards or have the seating assignments printed and framed like a large piece of art," Norcross says. Then, the menu and seating assignments can become part of your décor, she says.
4. Chair covers. Chair covers are another item some couples are doing without. "Really, who is going to care, and why would you spend [a likely minimum of] $1,500 on it?" says Lisa Larranaga, a Chicago bride planning a May wedding.
While some places try to upsell chair covers, Johnson says they're going out of style. "A lot of brides are choosing to bring in chairs, as the price for Chiavari chairs and folding chairs is becoming cheaper than chair covers," she says. "As a way to save money, brides can choose to use the standard banquet chairs at their venue—typically included in their venue rental—and not cover them. The only time that I would recommend covering the chairs would be if they are in bad shape or the color clashes with the wedding palette."