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Wedding Planning Basics: Tips On How To Splurge and Save On Your Wedding

Our top tips on how to plan and pick your wedding priorities.

When it comes to planning your wedding, there's no bigger reality check than looking at your wedding budget and realizing the harsh truth -- you can't have it all (ouch!). But don't hit the panic button yet. We've uncovered plenty of spending shortcuts that won't make you feel like you scrimped. Of course, how much you decide to spend on each element is ultimately up to you. Figure out what's most important to you and go from there.


Your Wedding Dress Style

Makeup SAVE This might come as a shock, but you shouldn't look like a completely different person on your wedding day. Translation: It's completely fine to apply it yourself or have a beauty-savvy friend help.
Wedding Dress SPLURGE Okay, so this isn't a free ride to remortgage your home so you can walk down the aisle in a $25,000 dream gown. But your dress -- the dress -- is a definite "spend" when it comes to your budget. Sure, you'll save more money with a cheaper fabric and less beading, but those extra bucks are worth getting what you really want.
Wedding Veil SAVE Putting a huge dent in your budget so you can have the dress of a lifetime? We get it. Whipping out your credit card for a veil that's almost the same price? Not so much. Stick with a basic design with minimal lace and beading to cut costs.
Wedding Shoes SPLURGE You might not need Manolos, but comfy shoes are a must. Go with a pair in a metallic shade that you can wear again (say, on your honeymoon).
Accessories SAVE Borrow a necklace, bracelet or earrings from the women in your family. Added bonus: If it's a sapphire, you'll have your something borrowed and your something blue! Now that was easy
Wedding Dress Alterations SPLURGE Even a couture gown can look cheap if it doesn't fit properly, so don't skimp on the alterations. Once you have the right fit in the bodice, there's wiggle room with the hem. If you only need the dress raised an inch or two, wear higher heels -- as long as you can walk comfortably in them!


The Flowers

Bridal Bouquet SPLURGE You shouldn't settle for flowers you don't love if you have your heart set on a soft bouquet of pricey peonies. Still looking to save? Have your bridesmaids carry bouquets of fringed tulips or garden roses to get a similar romantic feel with a much more reasonable price tag.
Flower Girl SAVE Instead of having her carry a posy or pomander bouquet, the youngest member of your bridal party can scatter rose petals in your wedding colors down the aisle. Better yet, buy fabric petals at a craft store. Your guests will be admiring the little lady too much to notice that the flowers she's throwing are actually fake.
Centerpieces SPLURGE The centerpieces are a major part of your reception look, so if your venue has high ceilings and calls for tall arrangements, don't downsize. Instead, choose locally grown flowers to cut down the cost, along with cylindrical vases, branches and even feathers to add some height. 
Ceremony Chairs/Pews SAVE Adorn pews or chairs with small clusters of blooms and long ribbon every few rows. If your wedding is in an ornate house of worship, you might be able to ditch these accents altogether.
Alter Arrangements SPLURGE The altar is the focal point where you'll exchange vows, which is kind of the whole point of the day. Spruce things up with two eye-catching arrangements.
Entryway Decor SAVE Instead of marking the entryway to an indoor ceremony with elaborate, expensive wreaths, hang pomanders from the door handles. You'll only need two, and you can use them again at the reception to decorate the doors or hang from the front of your bridal table.


The Catering

The Bar SAVE An open bar, though a favorite of wedding guests everywhere (and why wouldn't it be?), is expensive. Only offer wine, beer and a signature cocktail that matches your color scheme, like an orange-colored mango mojito or a chocolate martini.
Late-night Eats SPLURGE If you're hosting an after-party, feel free to treat guests to burgers, fries, milkshakes or other yummy bites to keep the party going. This isn't required, but they'll love the laid-back menu.
First-course SAVE After chowing down on a few appetizers, guests don't need a soup and salad. Cut out one of these starters depending on the season. For winter months, serve butternut squash soup, or go with refreshing greens for the summer.
Entree SPLURGE You could save money if you serve spaghetti as your main dish, but that's just no way to start a party. To control costs, instead of letting guests choose from steak, chicken and fish, serve two or three options together: Think small filet mignon and crab cake or lobster tail on each plate.
Dessert SAVE Cake not your thing? Satisfy your sweet tooth by having a dessert table filled with cookies, macaroons and pastries, or an assortment of chocolate truffles. If you're having a cake, skip the extra sweets completely or box them as favors for guests to take home after the reception.
Hors D'oeuvres SPLURGE You want your guests to eat -- especially if your cocktail hour includes, well, cocktails. This is often a favorite part of the day for guests (who will likely be starving after the ceremony), so have food stations ready and offer passed bites as well. Oh, but you might not need that ice sculpture by the raw seafood bar.


The Wedding Cake

Cake Baker SPLURGE Your cake isn't a DIY project, so if your best friend swears she can bake like a pro, unless she is a pro, take a pass. Not only do you want someone who knows what they're doing, the cake also needs to be transported to the venue properly -- as in, not in the backseat of a Jetta.
Tiers SAVE A six-tiered cake looks formal and expensive because, well, it is. Order a cake with fewer layers, or add faux tiers of frosting-covered Styrofoam if height's a must. Then you can serve sheet cake in the same flavor and frosting to guests. Trust us, they'll never know the difference!
Flavor SPLURGE Fancy fillings will cost you, so talk to your fiance about whether to spend on a fresh filling or to forgo fillings altogether. However, when it comes to your actual cake, don't skimp and get a basic vanilla taste when you covet green tea, white chocolate raspberry or cappuccino.
Frosting SAVE While fondant has a smoother, porcelain look, it's pricier and has a chewy texture and not-so-pleasant taste. Buttercream might not look quite as smooth as fondant, but it tends to taste better and, if done right, you can barely tell the difference in appearance. Only caveat: Since buttercream spoils faster, stick with fondant if you're having an outdoor wedding…in Florida…in August.
Display SPLURGE Add drama to your display by going all out on a cake stand in your wedding colors, LED lights under the table or a mirror beneath the cake. Surround the stand with fresh flowers or create a glowing backdrop with votives. Another way to dress up your display: custom cake toppers! Order cute (and okay, slightly kitschy) figurines in your and your groom's likenesses online.
Accents SAVE Sugar flowers may look pretty, but those mini, edible blooms take a lot of manpower to make, which will cost you. Go with a simple design (think: white icing dots or ribbon bands) and spruce it up with fresh blooms matching your bouquet.


The Reception

Table numbers SAVE Embrace your inner DIY diva and make these on your own. Personalize each table number with engagement photos, postcards of places you've been together or funny childhood snapshots.
Music SPLURGE Pick the wrong band or DJ, and you might as well just send your guests home after dinner. We know $5,000 sounds like a lot, but music dictates the mood of your reception -- not a task for amateurs.
Lighting SPLURGE A sea of hanging lanterns can turn a tent into a romantic venue. We also love spotlights on dramatic centerpieces and an ultra-modern, illuminated monogram projected on the dance floor.
Favors SAVE In lieu of favors, donate to your favorite charity on behalf of your guests. Print a note about the donation on your escort cards. Most guests will be happy to help a good cause rather than take home a mini frame or bag of almonds.
Photography SPLURGE You'll cherish your photos from the wedding forever, so check out different photographers' websites and choose someone who suits your style -- even if they're a little expensive. Our advice: Hire a photographer with an assistant so you have two roaming lenses on your big day.

-- Caitlin Moscatello