Do you dream of hosting a luxury wedding, but fear that it is not a financial possibility for you and your fiancé?
Fear not! Here at The Bella Sera Event Center, a local wedding venue in Denver, Colorado, we’ve spent years perfecting the art of hosting spectacular events that leave your guests in awe, all while helping you maintain your overall wedding budget.
With a little ingenuity and a firm grip on your top priorities, you can create an unforgettable experience for you and your guests without investing beyond your means. We’ve got 65 tips to prove it…let’s get started.
When Will Your Big Day Be?
The first step to planning your wedding is choosing a date and venue. This choice can set the tone for your entire experience from both a personal and financial perspective. Make sure to consider all variables before choosing the one day that will impact your entire wedding budget.
1. Engagement Length: Your engagement should be one of the most exciting and fun times in your life. Savor these moments of anticipation and planning. A short engagement can become very expensive with rushed decisions and limited vendor availability. Consider giving yourself a bit more time to plan, which will open up more options and allow you to set a wedding date based on what you can afford. Not only will you save money, you will be able to sit back and make the most of this happy chapter in your life.
Engagement period planning
2. Off-Peak Months: When picking a wedding venue, be smart and bear in mind that special pricing is available for weddings during the first three months of the year (except Valentine’s Day). Winter weddings can add intimacy and decadence. Guests will be excited to have an event to look forward to amid the winter slump, and their enthusiasm can make the experience of the day even grander.
3. Seasonal Sanctuary Décor: If you plan to get married in a church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship, consider a wedding during any of the major religious holidays that your spiritual sanctuary celebrates, such as Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah etc. During these special times these buildings will often be decorated with Poinsettias and other seasonal flowers and decor, and may allow you to use these decorations during your ceremony. This could save you on the cost of ceremony flowers and other decor in the aisle ways and throughout the sanctuary.
4. Skip Saturday: Friday and Sunday weddings are becoming trendier as savvy brides realize that even the finest vendors and venues may offer discounted prices on these non-traditional days if it is open on their busy calendar. This is a great option for couples with an unconventional work schedule, or many in-town guests.
5. Off-Peak Venue Pricing: Don’t just assume you’re getting the best deal possible. Talk directly with the wedding venue manager to find out what their off-peak seasons and times are and whether these periods offer lower investment levels. Some venues may have unique circumstances, such as local festivals or events that drive prices up or down accordingly.
6. Off-Peak Vendor Pricing: If you choose a wedding in an off-peak month, ask your DJ, photographer, florist, and other vendors for an off-peak rate. Don’t be afraid to negotiate! Many local companies will be happy to work with you on pricing, especially if it means a happy customer willing to give a rave review.
7. Date Flexibility: Be flexible by providing the venue with 2-3 date options, you may be able to enjoy attractive rates for the dates they want to fill.
Where Will Your Wedding Take Place?
Where you hold the wedding and how the venue operates will heavily influence where you invest your wedding budget, so it’s important to be educated on all the elements to consider when selecting your location.
8. Dual Purpose Wedding Venues: Many locations have the ability to be both a ceremony and a wedding reception venue. This adds convenience for guests who will not have to drive from the ceremony to the reception. Additionally, you may reduce costs by only having to decorate one room. Have a light cocktail hour, or pass around appetizers between ceremony and reception to break up the event and keep guests entertained while tables are arranged and pictures are taken.
9. Set Up Time: Be aware of what the venue expects in terms of time. Some venues will allow you to come in and set up the day before, which can allow you to potentially save on outsourced set-up costs if you handle some of this yourself. Other venues only allow a few hours of set-up time, which may result in needing to invest in help. Likewise, some venues handle set up and décor for you, which is always a nice bonus. Ask how long the room will be yours in order to plan (and budget) your decorating, arriving, and break-down accordingly.
10. All-Inclusive Services: Rather than having to look for services from different vendors, look for venues that offer multiple wedding services in-house as an all-inclusive package including catering, DJ, photography, flowers, etc. Not only will this cut your own personal investment of research and interview time, it is highly likely that these vendors will be far superior in quality. Venues tend to be rather discerning when it comes to the suppliers they entrust to create an experience their clients will be thrilled with.
11. Catering Included: If you choose a venue that does not need to bring in outside catering, you’ll save on additional charges, such as servers, administrative fees, tax, etc. If you are doing catering yourself, it’s best that you get linen and tablecloths online at the best price.
12. Non-Hotel Venues: Consider a non-hotel event center as they often offer attractive rates and great benefits. You will reap the benefits of exclusive attention, and won’t have to compete with other overnight guests and hospitality obligations. If overnight lodging is needed, suggest local bed and breakfasts for out of town guests, or rent a home on Airbnb for multiple families to share and enjoy the entire weekend together.
13. Rental Company Options: Consider a venue that doesn’t limit themselves to only one rental company for China, glassware, linens, etc., so that you have options for selecting items that fit within your allocated budget. Mix and match high-low products, prioritizing stem-wear and plate presentation.
Who is Coming?
Your guest list is one of the top factors in determining your overall wedding spend. Choosing the number of people you’ll invite is an important part of the planning process, as every attendee multiplies the overall wedding investment. Some couples choose to scale back on certain luxuries in order to have more people in attendance, while others choose to limit the guest count in order to create a more fulfilling guest experience. Whichever camp you fall into, below are a few ideas to help you navigate through this decision.
14. Quality Over Quantity: Decreasing your guest count will allow you to enhance the overall experience for every attendee, including yourselves. With fewer people to accommodate, you’ll have the freedom to spoil those on your exclusive guest list with only the best in decorations, food, and flowers. According to The Knot 2015 Real Weddings Study, couples are leaning more and more in this direction and investing in the guest experience.
15. V.I.P. Wedding Party: Although members of the wedding party typically fund their own attire and grooming needs, the couple often foots the bill for at least one luxury gift for each attendant as well as the rehearsal dinner and wedding plate costs. Having a more modest wedding party could save the couple hundreds of dollars and make the day more intimate with a close knit VIP group.
16. Frugal Favors: Favors are often a source of stress for couples because they want to keep the investment within reason, yet send their guests home with something they’ll appreciate. Consider a tasty treat that doesn’t take up room in the guest’s home, but is something they can fully enjoy. Gift local goods, such as a dessert infamous in your area, or farm grown strawberries dipped in chocolate. If you’re really looking to stretch your food budget without sacrificing luxury, make the dessert the favor. Box up full size cupcakes and let the guest decide whether they’ll eat it at the wedding or the next day at home.
What Will You Eat?
Upscale weddings are synonymous with the most savory nibbles and tasty beverages, so these aren’t areas you’ll want to skimp on. However, with our insider tips, you can keep your catering affordable while offering a premium eating experience for your guests.
17. Plated + Family Style Combo: To minimize catering costs without removing the luxury of table service, serve a main dish individually to each guest and all other courses family style (e.g. salad, pasta/starch/dessert). Guests will bond while passing food, which can spark conversation amongst strangers.
18. Minimal Appetizers: Many couples are surprised to learn that appetizers can cost way more than entrees; so doing a “stations” reception or “all appetizers” dinner can add up. Sticking with a traditionally served dinner may allow you to fully satisfy your guests’ appetites while keeping your budget in check.
19. Passed Hors d’oeuvres: When serving food during a cocktail reception, opt for hand passed appetizers rather than self-serve stations. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we often over-indulge if we serve ourselves. This minor adjustment will allow you to stretch your catering budget further without guests noticing the difference. This is especially important for decadent seafood hors d’oeuvres, like shrimp, scallops, crab and other shellfish.
Bella Sera’s Elisabeth Montoya says, “For our couples who can’t afford expensive appetizers, but want to make sure their guests are not starving and annoyed while they take formal photos, we have a great solution. We offer $1 or $1.50 “one bite” passed appetizers that will hold guests over until dinner, add a little class while being butler passed, but will not break the bank. Although this may not have been their first choice when they begin their planning, at their final meeting when money is tight, they are thrilled to know they can do something vs. nothing.”
20. Brimming Buffet: Buffets can easily replace a sit-down dinner and still be formal when your caterer adds original and fun frills. With less wait staff needed to support a buffet, you may find that this option allows you to serve higher-end entrees than an individually plated meal. Check with your venue or caterer to find out. Presentation is key; label dishes with clever names involving the couple. For example; a seafood dish labeled “Angela’s Catch” or a dessert labeled “Pam and Nick’s sweet surprise.”
21. Beloved Brunch: Move your wedding to earlier in the day and serve brunch or lunch instead of a traditional dinner. This will allow you to reduce costs by limiting the number of courses served, yet still offer a delectable dish that impresses guests. No open bar either; just bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s!
22. Big Bowls: Create an effect of abundance without putting a strain on your catering budget by presenting oversized bowls or giant woks of more affordable items, such as seasoned rice and bean dishes, lush salads of locally grown vegetation or grilled vegetables currently in season.
23. Menu Makeover: Find out if there is any room for customization in the menu and sub in certain items that are less expensive (e.g. in-season local vegetables instead of out-of season vegetables that must be shipped in), or build your own menu with more affordable yet creative options.
24. Meal Modifications: If a caterer presents a dish that sounds mouth-watering, but comes with a hefty price tag, ask if there are any particular ingredients that can be substituted that may lower the cost of the dish and allow for a collaborative relationship between you and your chef to create a top notch dish for a bit less.
25. In Season Fare: Be wary of out-of-season ingredients and see if local, in-season options are available. Out of season or non-local ingredients must be ordered and shipped at a premium, so there may be potential savings if you’re willing to compromise.
26. Buy in Bulk: Instead of providing your guests with a choice between meat, chicken, and fish, choose one to serve to everyone. Catering costs tend to go down when items can be purchased in volume, rather than having to bring in smaller quantities of several different foods.
27. Kid Cost Cutting: If you expect several children to attend, find out if the venue or caterer offers a less expensive, smaller portioned children’s meal.
28. Surf & Turf Skewers: Want to shower your guests with an extravagant dinner, while keeping your budget in check? Rather than a full surf & turf entrée, consider a single combination skewer of grilled shrimp and beef medallions paired with a more affordable chicken dish. Let the chef shine by creating great sauces to accompany these items.
29. Seafood Swaps: To impress your guests with more unusual tastes, serve calamari and mussels instead of shrimp cocktail and scampi, for roughly the same investment. You’ll raise the level of sophistication of your event, not the overall budget.
30. Veggie Variety: Change up your produce choices for appetizers and side dishes; Swap carrot sticks and cucumber rounds for artichoke hearts, broccoli flowers, radishes in heart shapes or other creative choices, with flavored dipping sauces.
31. Scaled-down Soup: Another creative idea is to serve mini cups of clam chowder, lobster bisque, acorn squash soup, or any other flavors that are chic, yet easy on the wallet.
32. Modestly Priced Meats: Inquire to your venue about catering options other than costly filets. Boneless short ribs and cuts of lamb or pork are delicious choices.
33. Starchy Substitutes: Simple, less common starchy sides can sometimes add an extra element of lavishness without adding on costs. For instance, you might replace the usual potatoes with risotto spiced in extravagant flavors.
34. Clever Cakes: Instead of an elaborately designed wedding cake, the venue can provide a very small artistically designed cake for 2 (the couple only) or a larger partially faux cake for the purpose of cake cutting, and then serve the guests sheet cake from the kitchen, which is minimally designed but absolutely delicious with all the fillings, flavors and toppings you desire. When cut and served, guests will be too busy enjoying it to be aware of this budget saving technique.
The Bella Sera has experienced this approach first-hand. Here’s what Elisabeth suggests, “Many brides want elaborate wedding cakes with fondant icing, fondant details, and bling. However, they don’t have the budget to accommodate this vision. Instead of a full sized elaborate wedding cake, request all but one layer be made of Styrofoam cake dummies. The bottom will be used for the traditional cutting by the couple. Have sheet cakes in similar colors and flavor to serve from the back kitchen. When the sheet cakes are cut and served, guests will be too busy enjoying and unaware of this budget saving trick. There are still costs involved for the cake dummies, icing and design labor, but not as much as baking stacking and decorating a real cake. Guests never know the majority of the cake is fake, and the bride achieves all of her goals. If necessary, the real cake layer can be used for guest servings, or it can be wrapped up for the couple to take home.”
35. Creative Cake Concepts: If you have your heart set on a spectacularly designed wedding cake, speak with your baker about alternative décor options that may be more affordable than labor intensive, intricately designed fondant details. Simple accents such as real floral blooms, lace trim or satin ribbon can create a lavish look with less investment.
36. Dessert Diversity: Many couples are shirking the wedding cake tradition altogether in favor of fun and unique desserts. Whether its cupcakes, specialty cookies, fine chocolates or a sundae bar, you may find that exploring other affordable dessert options can spare your funds for the upscale details you’d like to add to your wedding.
37. Flavor Factors: Talk openly with your baker about which flavoring options drive the price up, such as certain gourmet fillings like cannoli cream. Simply being educated about your options can allow you to have more control over where you allocate your budget. And with a tasting, you may find that you prefer the less expensive fillings anyway.
What Will You Drink?
Pass the bubbly, please! When talking dollars and cents many couples particularly dread the drink portion of the bill, but there is no question that keeping your guests hydrated is an essential element to throwing an upscale celebration. Over the years, we’ve come up with a few simple ways to stretch your beverage budget while still keeping the drinks flowing and good times going!
38. Happy Hours: Limit the number of hours the open bar is available to the most critical parts of the reception. It will allow your guests to fully enjoy some spirits during the height of the celebration without overextending you financially.
Elisabeth says “You truly can afford to host some complimentary alcohol at your wedding, if you don’t host a bar tab all night. The most important 2-2 and a half hours of a wedding celebration is the cocktail hour and dinner hour. You can typically get away with a bar tab of under $1500 for 100 guests if you limit the hours. Ask your venue if they can prepare a sign that says, “Complimentary Beer and Wine through Dinner,” or whatever alcohol you choose to serve. Once the dinner hour is over, the sign can change to say, “The Bar is now a Cash/Credit Bar.” These are the kinds of tips we give our couples to help them achieve some of what they want without having to cut things out entirely.”
39. Dinner Drinks: If you have a bit more room in the budget, give your guests the luxury of an open bar during the cocktail hour but switch to wine and beer during the dinner to reduce costs. You can always open up the bar again once dinner has ended.
40. Wine Service: Ask servers to pour the wine throughout the night so guests can drink what they want without wasting half-finished bottles on the table. This saves money, and adds a feeling of sophistication.
41. Fixed Mixed Menu: Mixed drinks with upscale liquor can really add up costs, but many guests enjoy the variety. Ask your venue to create a special menu of the most popular mixed drinks using only 3 house liquors (ex. rum, vodka, and gin), rather than every type of liquor available.
42. Signature Sips: Offer creative signature drinks with one type of affordable liquor and fun garnishes such as curled lemon and lime peels, or mini fruit kebabs on toothpicks. Choose a concoction that expresses your personalities as a couple. Guests will love the unique experience of honoring you as they try something new.
43. Say “Ciao” to Champagne: Skip the champagne for your wedding toast and instead have your guests toast with the drinks they have in their hand.
44. Last Call: Close the open bar thirty minutes to an hour before the celebration ends to help transition to the close of the event and avoid overtime fees. Guests can enjoy iced water and coffee until they are ready to say their goodbyes.
45. Host With House: Guests love an open bar and we at The Bella Sera believe it is a large component to a successful event. If you need a bit more flexibility in your budget for some higher end items in other areas, consider the house liquor open bar, rather than the top shelf bar.
Who Will You Hire?
Your venue is only part of the equation. The vendors you choose to bring onto your event team can make or break your entire wedding experience, so these aren’t decisions that you should enter into lightly. An inexperienced emcee can foul up the entire wedding party entrance or turn guests off, just as a novice photographer can miss the most important moments of the day.
As expert event planners for our clients, we learned long ago that there are a few key considerations you want to keep in mind to avoid the pitfalls of bringing on amateurs, while still keeping your overall budget in check. To stretch your wedding venue budget furthest, bring the right suppliers on board and be educated about your options.
Photo & Video
With today’s technology, it is incredibly easy to capture the magic of your day and re-live it over and over. A great wedding videographer can provide that everlasting memory for you!
46. DIY Video: If having your wedding on video is on your nice-to-have list, but not your top priority, look into a more affordable service like WeddingMix by StoryMix Media, which gives you access to video cameras and editing tools or services at a very affordable rate. Entrusting your guests with your video clips could help you save on a videographer, putting thousands back into your wedding budget.
47. Hidden Talent: Take the time to research a good photographer who is reasonably priced, yet offers the quality of images you’re looking for. They do exist! Here in the Denver and Boulder areas of Colorado, we find many couples spending over $3500 on photography even though there are talented photographers in the $1,800-$2,500 range. Some of these photographers may simply be hard to find without a website or social presence. Pricing all depends on your region but choosing a lesser-known but equally as talented photographer could give you the financial cushion you’re looking for.
DJ & Entertainment
48. Better DJ, Less Time: If fun is your first priority, choose a top-notch DJ, but forgo on the overtime. Ask for video of their performance at a few recent weddings to see them “in action”. The right emcee can make or break your event so, if need be, we often advise our clients to re-allocate funds from other areas of your wedding where guests are less likely to notice (ex. sheet cake options, favors) so that you can give them a truly fantastic entertainment experience, free from embarrassing moments or announcement blunders. Speak to your venue about which professionals they trust. When you’re looking to create a fun, upscale experience for your guests, this is one area you’ll want to get right, even if it means compromising on other wedding ideas.
So how can you save in the DJ department? Skip the overtime. While entertaining guests later in the night can be a fun luxury, it’s the one additional DJ cost that put couples over budget. It’s a wiser investment to get the better DJ for a little less time than the questionable DJ for extra time.
Flowers & Décor
49. Thrifty Florists: An innovative and experienced florist will know exactly how to get you the luxury look you’re going for at a fraction of the cost. Research florists and venues who have previously put together weddings in a similar style to yours. Ask for samples of past work, and interview to find someone who seems collaborative and creative.
50. Go Local: Remain on budget by discussing with your florist which flowers will be in season, rather than picking flowers that need to be imported. Take advantage of native vegetation in your area.
51. Decked Out Venues: Save both money and time by selecting a wedding venue that comes decorated on its own or has its own vast collection of décor to choose from. You’ll enjoy significant savings by not having to rent decorations and will also free up more of your time to actually enjoy your engagement period.
52. Homemade Haute: Ask permission from the florist to add bling to the centerpieces on your own. You can buy rhinestones, gems, and cubic zirconium for a bargain from online craft stores. This will add sparkle to your décor without raising the rental costs.
53. Bridal Party Built Bouquets: Have your florist make your bouquet, but create your own bridesmaids bouquets using flowers purchased online or through membership retailers, like Costco. This can be a fun activity for the bridal party the night before the wedding.
54. Monochromatic Bouquets: Monochromatic bouquets and arrangements with one single flower type are quite trendy and chic these days, and allow you or your florist to buy in bulk for a lower cost when creating floral arrangements.
55. Repurpose Arrangements: To drastically reduce your flower investment, transfer all arrangements from the ceremony to the reception venue before anyone steps in. Repurpose bridesmaid bouquets into table centerpieces or add them to the head table as well.
56. Hike It Up: To save a bit on the décor budget, choose shorter, elegant table linens instead of floor length linens. Once chairs are positioned around the tables, guests can’t see the table legs anyway. This tip can save you hundreds of dollars.
57. Faux Flowers: Many couples long for the extravagance of fresh flowers, but when this luxury isn’t within reach, there are alternative options couples can consider to recreate the look of live blooms without the expense.
Elisabeth suggests, “Fresh flower centerpieces seem to be the first thing that gets cut when things go over budget, unfortunately. When this happens to our brides, we help them achieve the “look” of fresh flowers with our realistic silk flowers, but achieve the fragrance of fresh flowers by adding a filler flower called ‘Stock flowers.’ Stock flowers come in many colors, and they are super fragrant. The wholesale cost of a bundle of 10 stems is around $10.00. This is a very economical way to achieve the fragrance and look of fresh flowers without having to make the entire centerpiece real. We suggest adding a bundle of 3 stems to the bottom of the centerpiece where guests will enjoy the fragrance and look. Silk flowers can then be used on the rest of the centerpiece as long as they are very realistic in appearance. The guests will never know. This is something we do quite frequently, and our brides really appreciate the tip.”
58. Keep Guests Close: Try to choose a venue that doesn’t require guests be shuttled in from far away to save on guest transportation costs. If this is unavoidable, rent one coach bus or trolley instead of multiple cars to leave at one time for everyone.
59. Free Parking: If your guests will be driving to the wedding ask the venue to provide complimentary parking for your guests. You can make cute signs, “Johnson Party of 2 this way!” to lead guests to the right entrance.
60. One Way Ride: If you want to treat yourself to luxury without cutting into other important aspects of your wedding experience, rent a limo just one-way to get you to the reception, where your own cars are waiting to drive back home. Or, if you plan to indulge in a little bubbly, then schedule an Uber to pick you up or ask a designated driver to escort you back home.
Add Meaning and Save Money
Despite all the talk about lavish luxuries, we know that your wedding day is really about the sentiment; the people, the memories, the traditions, the story of you, the celebration with friends and family. That’s why our final tips are probably the most important; how you involve your loved ones in your event. It just so happens that many of these ideas will allow you to stretch your budget a bit too.
61. Married by a Friend or Family Member: Have a friend marry you! Unless you have a special relationship with a certain religious leader at your local place of worship, consider the modern approach of asking a close friend to officiate your ceremony. Here in Colorado anyone can marry you.
62. Homemade Cake: Have a friend or family member who is an exceptional baker? If the venue can allow for it, ask them for the gift of making your wedding cake or another bulk dessert they are famously known for.
63. Family Funded: Many times family members or friends, beyond the parents, deeply desire to be involved in the wedding planning process and to contribute financially. If you’re comfortable, involve a few extra family members in the planning and see what surprise blessings may come of it!
Elisabeth shares our experiences with this at The Bella Sera, “Many times there are relatives who would like to contribute to a couple’s wedding expenses, but can’t afford to pay a large amount, and therefore, would prefer to pay for something special a couple desires. Since we take the time to get to know our couples’ desires and visions for their wedding, we try to help them obtain everything they can. We host private food tastings for our catering, and it is very common to have parents and stepparents attend the tasting. Recently one of our couples mentioned how they wished they could afford to treat their guests to some sort of complimentary alcohol, but they just couldn’t afford it. With all of the parents and step parents at their private tasting, this was a great opportunity for our catering manager to give the bride’s Mother and Step-Dad a suggestion to host a 2-hour beer and wine tab for the cocktail hour and dinner hour. They were thrilled to hear that they could contribute and give the couple something they really wanted, but couldn’t afford. This also made them feel like they contributed to the guest experience. Looking for these opportunities to help our couples is what makes it a win-win for everyone.”
64. Friendly Face: Have a friend who is fantastic with makeup? Let him or her do yours for the day. It will be more fun to chat with a friend working on your face than a hired stranger, and you will be able to trust they are fully invested in your look.
65. DIY Boutonnieres: Have a crafty friend make the groomsmen’s boutonnieres, which do not necessarily need to be crafted with flowers to look great.
Elizabeth says: “As you can see, a little ingenuity and flexibility can make a more upscale wedding within your reach. There is no need to sacrifice class, sophistication or quality when you’re trying to stay on track financially if you understand your options and resources. Find top-notch vendors, including a creative and resourceful venue, and you’ll be well on your way to designing the wedding you’ve always envisioned with the budget you already have.“