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Money-saving wedding tips

It's possible to have a wonderful wedding without breaking the bank. Here are some tips from bridal party experts:

Food charges make up a third to half of a wedding budget and represent the most obvious way to cut costs substantially. To save a lot, have a wedding breakfast or luncheon. For moderate savings, plan a cocktail reception instead of a sit-down dinner.

Skip hard liquor and serve only wine, beer and soft drinks. Terri Flood, manager of The Flower Shoppe in New Port Richey, suggests avoiding an open bar. "An open bar is very expensive because you pay per drink. Another way to go is paying for the bartender per hour and then buying all the liquor yourself. A cash bar is a personal choice. A wine or champagne fountain is good for budgeting. The way liquor is handled depends on the mood you are setting," she says.

Schedule the wedding on Friday or Sunday night.

Choose a location that will permit you to bring in your own food and beverages, such as a church basement. Make some items yourself.

Don't order engraved invitations. Thermographed invitations are less expensive. Or have a calligrapher do a master invitation and have it reproduced by offset lithography.

"Use a disc jockey instead of a band," advises Anne Farrell, owner of Party Consulting by Anne in Tampa. "You'll be paying one person vs. paying four or five; 75 percent of my customers use a D.J.," she says.

Select a ceremony-only package for photography and videography and you might save 40 to 50 percent of the cost of these services, according to Denise and Alan Fields, co-authors of the book, Bridal Bargains. Let guests take candid shots at the reception and offer to pay for processing. Or have them drop rolls of film in a basket as they leave.

Select a color scheme for flowers and let the florist choose varieties with currently favorable market prices.

"Bridesmaids can carry a single rose instead a whole bouquet," suggests Mary Landes, co-owner of Especially Yours Florist/Balloons in St. Petersburg. "Instead of using expensive flowers like roses, you can combine flowers by using carnations, which are one of the least expensive flowers," she says.

Interesting decorations that can be executed even on small budgets include ribbon garlands, bud vases on the dining tables and small Victorian style nosegays known as tussie mussies for the bride's and bridesmaids' bouquets.

"Use balloons," Flood suggests. "It's inexpensive and gives a big look. But balloons depend on your theme and time of the wedding."

If you're short of time or feel overwhelmed by details of organizing, turn to a professional wedding consultant. The right one has experience and contacts that can save you money and trouble. A consultant will charge either a flat fee, a percentage of the costs or a combination of the two. When hiring a consultant, ask for and check references and meet the consultant face to face, to make sure the chemistry is right and communication is clear.

Staff writer Pamela Davis-Diaz contributed to this story