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15 ways to save big on your dream wedding

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By Maryalene LaPonsie/MoneyTalksNews

No blowout is bigger than your wedding day. So when the opportunity presents itself, many of us want to go all out on the day we'll never forget.

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But increasingly, those big dreams require us to have even larger wallets. Couples shelled out an average of $32,641 on weddings in 2015, according to The Knot.

No matter how you slice it, the cost of getting hitched is soaring.

Instead of spending a small fortune on your nuptials, check out these 15 tips that can help you pare down the bill. That way, you can spend your money on something that lasts more than a day.

1. Decide what is non-negotiable

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There's nothing wrong with spending a little money on your big day, but make sure you're spending it on something meaningful. Sit down with your betrothed and decide together your priorities for the occasion.

Remember you're on a budget, so limit your must-haves to one or two items each.

2. Forget what the experts say

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Once you know where you want to spend your money, eliminate many nonessentials. Worry less about what the wedding industry says you must do and more about what works best for your family.

Here are a few of the items it might make sense to eliminate:

  • Save-the-date cards. Isn't that why we have Facebook and phones?
  • Professional makeup. Do your own or ask a friend instead.
  • Printed programs. Your family and friends do know who you are, right?
  • Champagne toast. Let guests use whatever's in front of them.
  • Guest favors. Guests are there to see you, not get a reward.
  • Videographer. Are you really going to watch the ceremony again and again?

3. Use less expensive invites

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Engraved wedding invitations are a tradition, but you'll spend a lot of money on paper that might be destined for the recycling bin.

Depending on your comfort level, there are several less expensive options to consider:

  • Buy some high-quality paper and then design and print your own at home.
  • Use a website such as Vistaprint or Mixbook to design and print less expensive invites.
  • Look for thermography invitations. The raised words mimic the look of engraved ones but at a lower cost.

4. Invite only those you truly love

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This is a tough one. Once you start inviting some people, you start to feel obligated to invite others. However, limiting your invite list is one of the best ways to lower your overall wedding cost.

Obviously, unless there are extenuating circumstances, you should probably invite your immediate family and best friends. Beyond that, be stingy with the invitations. If there is anyone you're secretly hoping won't attend, don't send them an invite in the first place.

To soften the blow, you could invite everyone who didn't make the cut to an informal gathering -- think "backyard barbecue" -- after the honeymoon. Just don't call it a reception, or your guests might think you are merely angling for gifts.

5. Ask to be gifted with someone’s talent

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You have to walk a fine line on this suggestion to avoid a tacky breach of etiquette.

Within your circle of family or friends, you likely have some talented people. Folks who can bake like no one's business, wannabe DJs who could most definitely handle the dance music, and photographers with an amazing eye.

The problem is that asking for gifts is always a no-no. Instead, you could wait for these people to ask what you want and then suggest a gift of their talent. Another option might be to ask their professional fee and see if they volunteer a discount or gift of their service.

6. Design your own centerpieces

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Head to the dollar store for some cheap vases or glass containers and make your own centerpieces. It could be as simple as putting some marbles at the bottom, filling with water and floating a tea light.

If you have crafty friends, ask for their input. Or head to Pinterest for inspiration.

7. Get married someplace naturally beautiful

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For decorations at the wedding site, use what's on hand rather than trucking in a van full of flowers.

Depending on the time of year, many churches are already beautifully decorated, especially after Christmas and Easter.

Or, if you aren't planning a church wedding, hold your event in a botanical garden, on the beach or at a park, where nature can provide most of the decoration.

8. Keep your flowers in season

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Just as fruits and vegetables have seasons, so do flowers. For the cheapest arrangements and the freshest buds, let the time of year guide your floral decisions.

That may mean tulips or irises in the spring, while June brides may be better off with roses and peonies. Choices may be more limited in the fall and winter months, but sunflowers, lilies and orchids may all be good options.

In addition, you can buy your flowers wholesale and make your own arrangements to save even more money.

9. Buy a used dress

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I know -- you're wondering how I could even suggest this. But a wedding dress is a major expense -- the average bride spent more than $1,469 in 2015, according to The Knot.

You can save 50 percent or more by buying a used dress. Your local bridal boutique may have a consignment section or you can shop online at websites like Nearly Newlywed, PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com and Once Wed.

(For more ideas on how to save, check out our other tips to save on your dream dress.)

10. Have a Friday or Sunday wedding

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Saturday is prime time for weddings, but you may save a lot of money if you buck the trend. Hold your grand affair on a Friday evening or a Sunday afternoon, and you may find that vendors charge significantly less.

11. Look for cheaper venues

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The best venue for your wedding isn't necessarily the nearby resort. (Here's a list of 10 cheaper and better wedding locales.)

If the reception will be elsewhere, find a location that offers a discount. For example, if you belong to a church, you may be able to use the parish hall for little or no money.

Likewise, if a family member belongs to a union or fraternal organization, he or she may have access to an inexpensive hall.

These halls may be of the "plain Jane" variety, but you don't need a fancy room to have a good time.

12. Rethink your reception food

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Food can be one of your biggest expenses. Rather than a traditional sit-down, plated meal, investigate other options that may be cheaper.

  • Dinner served family style
  • Appetizers and cocktails after a Friday night wedding
  • Brunch for a Sunday wedding

13. Rein in the open bar

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Having an open bar will leave you with a huge tab at the end of the night. However, if the thought of a cash bar seems tacky, find a happy medium.

Offer the open bar but keep it stocked with limited choices. It's your wedding, and there's no need to provide your guests with every form of liquor known to man. Consult with the bartender to find what's most popular, but offering a red wine, a white wine and a couple of varieties of beer may be plenty.

Another way to rein in your alcohol costs may be to buy your own beer and wine at a wholesale club such as Costco. Then, at the end of the evening, you can return anything that is unopened.

14. Serve sheet cake

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The Knot says that in 2015, couples spent an average of $575 for their wedding cake -- a cake, I might add, that many guests probably didn't even eat.

Cut your cake costs by serving up sheet cake instead.

No, I'm not suggesting you have sheet cake on display. Pay for a small, beautifully decorated cake for you and your loved one to cut and share. Then, back in the kitchen, have a sheet cake cut up and put on plates at a serving station for guests to help themselves.

15. Have a fall or winter wedding

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Finally, June may be the most popular wedding month, but fall and winter brides may save the most money.

By some estimates, you can save 20 percent to 30 percent by holding your nuptials between November and April, which is the wedding off-season. However, avoid Valentine's Day, when prices may go back up.

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