How to get the most out of every penny in your budget.

Wedding Cake Topper Standing on Money
Credit: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

The best advice we can give you about planning a wedding: Set a budget before doing anything else. More specifically, set a realistic budget. What's realistic? Since no two couples are the same, there's really no one-size-fits-all wedding budget either. Everyone has their own unique styles, tastes, preferences, and priorities. For some couples, the most important part is the photography and capturing a dreamy, magazine-worthy setting (and if you have photos to share, please send to For other couples, it's all about the party. That means throwing the most unforgettable, over-the-top reception of the year or making sure that the guest list includes everyone your mama wants invited—from Dad's second cousin's best friend to your 4th grade piano teacher. But the truth is that everything, from flowers and favors to cakes and cake toppers, adds up. It also adds up fast. It's important to decide where you should save and where you should splurge. Here are a few of our best tips for making the most of your budget and creating the wedding of your dreams.

Where To Splurge:

Wedding Coordinator/Planner. Yes, we mean it. Paying someone to do something you can, in theory, do yourself is cost-effective? In some cases, yes. Wedding planners are experts at weddings. These folks eat, sleep, and breathe every detail of the process. Not only are they very familiar with venues and vendors, but they can advise you on where you'll get the best value, and may even have some discounts for you to help your bottom line.

Food. There are a few reasons you'll want to put a good chunk of your budget towards making sure you have the best food and plenty of it. For one, a Southern girl always makes sure her guests are well-fed. Also known as, Mama will not be happy if we run out of appetizers or signature drinks. Unfortunately, it's hard to do good food on the cheap. Invest in it because everyone will remember the food at your wedding. And they'll be talking about it for years.

Venue. Your venue dictates a lot about your wedding: your signature colors, your style, the overall vibe. It also determines many of the logistics like food, alcohol, and party rentals. A venue that delivers the whole package can save you a headache–and even some money.

Music. Southern guests will talk about the music almost as much as they'll talk about the food. While you don't have to book the most popular (aka the most expensive) band in town, we do recommend opting for live entertainment. They'll lead the crowd in getting the party started and you can count on their energy for keeping the dance floor packed all night long.

Photographer. Weddings can be high stress so make sure you have a photographer who can handle the pressure and can still create gorgeous images. Our suggestion: Ask around. Get recommendations from friends, family, and other brides on people they have worked with–and love. Good photographers don't come cheap; the beautiful photos you have to commemorate your Big Day are worth it.

Where You Can Save:

Alcohol Or BYOB (Buy Your Own Booze). Depending on venue policies, you may or may not be able to provide the alcohol served at your wedding. If permitted, we recommend that you consider taking this route. You can cut major costs by skipping the venue's upcharge on every single glass of wine your guests drink.

The Date. When you set the Big Day can impact your budget. Plan around the popular months–June, September, October, November–when brides are fighting for venues and dates. Saturday night affairs are also usually most expensive. Considering a destination wedding? Destinations that thrive on a certain season of the year often have great deals in the off seasons. Most people aren't headed to the beach in January, so you may be able to find a luxury package at a budget-friendly rate around that time.

Talented Friends. Now's the time to tap into those good, creative friends. In particular, when it comes to certain details like the wedding cake, calligraphy, invitations, and centerpieces. Keep in mind that you are asking a lot of this person during your personal high-pressure planning mode. Keep perspective and remember that your friendship is much more valuable than a few wedding details.

Your Dress. On one hand, it seems crazy to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a dress that you will only wear one time. On the other, this is your wedding day; your gown has to be perfect! There is a way to get the gown of your dreams without paying full retail price. Scour websites like Oncewed, which provide a platform for listing used dresses and making communication available between buyers and sellers. You can find dresses at 35-80% off the original retail price. Or you could always plan on selling your dress –just plan on recovering as much as 65% of the price you paid.

Guest List. This will probably be the most difficult task because there are so many people we want present for the celebration. Decide on the "must-attend" list, and then edit it down. as much as you can.

Do it Yourself Details. What you can't find at a great price, you can make yourself. Do you love to bake? Consider making your wedding cake. (And we have a few ideas on how to do so here.) Do you know how to sew? Elaborate table settings that include eclectic place settings and beautiful linens aren't cheap to buy or rent at retail value. Pick up fabric in bulk and make your own runners for the reception tables. Browse estate sales for one-of-a kind pieces for using on tables or on the bar.

Ceremony Music. Yes, you can plug in your iPod. For most traditional ceremonies, the playlist is pretty straightforward. Save money by skipping the string quartet and streaming the music right from your own device.