Maybe you're a bride or groom who is planning your wedding. Or maybe you're a parent who isn't so much planning the wedding but is planning to cover the expense of your child's wedding. Either way, your goal is the same: to create the beautiful, wonderful, unforgettable wedding of your dreams--but without spending a fortune in the process.

Hindsight is great, but if you're a bride or groom who is planning a wedding for the first time, it's hard to know where your money will be well- and not so well-spent.

So I called in an expert: Monte Durham, a bridal consultant, entrepreneur, speaker, consultant for major wedding venues, and fashion director for Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. (If you've ever watched Say Yes to the Dress, you know Monte well.)

Here are Monte's tips for planning an amazing wedding and making sure you spend your money where it counts:

1. Start with the location and venue.

Don't get ahead of yourself and start planning decorations until you know the venue. Do you want a destination wedding, a church wedding, a barn-with-country-chic wedding...?

Keep in mind your dollars will go only so far if a particular venue has limited facilities. If your venue doesn't already have an onsite kitchen, a dance floor, tables, chairs, etc., that will definitely add to your total cost. As you walk through a beautiful venue, always think about what you have to bring to the table--literally.

The only thing included may be the structure.

2. Never skimp on guest basics.

While it sounds obvious, many couples forget that every guest must have a table and chair. Don't try to save money by assuming some of your guests won't actually attend.

No matter what else you do or don't provide, your guests will be comfortable as long they have a place to sit, enjoy the meal, and watch you enjoy your big day.

3. But where you can sometimes save is on decorations.

Take a venue like the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. The architecture takes on a life of its own; it needs very little additional decoration.

That's a great reason to choose a venue with built-in architectural interest. While there's nothing wrong with renting a conference room in a hotel, or a country-club dining room, without extensive decoration your wedding-reception venue could look like an accountants' convention.

Always consider what you need to add to the venue to make it fit your vision.

4. But you could also save on infrastructure.

While using a hotel or country club might require significant decoration, on the flip side many will provide chairs, tables, china, linens, kitchen, a dance floor, etc. That can create huge savings, offsetting the cost of decoration.

5. So try to find both.

In a perfect world, your venue will have architectural interest and won't require extensive decoration and will provide many of the things you need, like tables, chairs, china, etc.

If you can, try to find a venue with both: Not only will the planning be easier, you'll potentially save a lot of money, especially if you...

6. Try to bundle services whenever you can.

Again, let's use the Homestead as an example. The Omni Homestead Resort can provide beautiful ballrooms, linens, a kitchen, food, drinks, tables and chairs, valet parking ... and that can mean you will get a better deal because you can negotiate the price of the entire package.

When you do everything ad hoc, you can't negotiate as well.

But if you do use a number of separate vendors, bundle as much as you can. Have a florist quote all flowers. Have a caterer quote food and drinks and china, linens, etc.

7. And don't be afraid to say what you can spend.

When you talk to vendors, let them know you're willing to give them all--or much--of your business, and go ahead and share your budget. Say, "I have $8,000 to spend, and here's what I'm looking for."

That gives the vendor the opportunity to suggest ways for you to get what you want within your budget--often in ways you never considered or even knew existed.

Be willing to work together. Be willing to compromise.

But how will you know when it's OK for you to compromise?

8. Go in with a "look" note card.

Before you start your search, write down on a business card three things that describe the look you want. An example might be "Elegant. Understated. Simple."

Then, every time you go to an appointment, pull out your card and remind yourself what you want before you walk in. Then make sure what you choose matches your card.

You may not get them all, but you should get at least two of your three items. If you get all three, great!

It's easy to get distracted by all the choices; knowing what you want, and reminding yourself what you want, will help you stay focused--and will help ensure you don't make spur-of-the-moment decisions you might later regret.

And speaking of decisions...

9. Focus on the cake...

Your guests will definitely remember your wedding cake. Everyone wants to see you cut it (and wonders if your spouse will smear it on your face). So don't skimp on the cake, or its presentation. Cake cutting is a showpiece moment at every wedding.

10. And the bar.

You also want an ever-flowing bar. There's nothing worse for a guest than going up to the bar and saying, "I'll have another," only to find out the bar is shutting down.

And don't set up a cash bar. Guests shouldn't have to pay for drinks. If your wedding is at a destination, your guests have paid for travel, a hotel, etc.... They've already made a big investment. Plus, they need to buy you a gift.

If you can't afford to cover the cost of the bar, consider serving wine with dinner or not providing a bar at all.

Or find other compromises, like the following.

11. Take advantage of floral trends.

The current trend where flowers are concerned is heavy greenery and a sprinkling of flowers. That's great, because greenery is definitely less expensive than lilies or roses. Add some votive candles and you'll get a huge impact while saving lots of money.

12. Think about the entire table, not just each item.

Another way to save money is on tablecloths and table linens. If you have a sit-down dinner, by the time you put the charger, plates, three goblets, butter plates, bouquets, table runners ... who will see the surface of the tablecloth?

The same holds true for the backs of the chairs. It's great for each chair to have a bow, but once people sit down, the bows "disappear" because your focus goes to people, not chair backs.

One option is to put bows just on the chairs at the sweetheart table. That signifies who you are and the importance of that table.

13. And think about the actual date.

Here's an unusual but very effective way to save money: have your wedding on a Thursday or a Friday. You'll save at least 30 percent.

Of course, that might make it harder for your guests to attend, so choosing a non-traditional day works better for smaller weddings.

On the flip side, don't hold your wedding on a holiday. Some people feel that will make it easier for people if it's a long weekend, but that also makes travel more expensive. And it forces your guests to choose: Will they attend the Fourth of July barbecue their family has every year ... or your wedding?

It's your big day, but still, be mindful of your guests.

14. Choose the right dress.

Say you're buying a dress and you want to stay within a budget. The average gown is $3,500 to order ... so if you want to be budget-conscious and pick a relatively inexpensive dress, make sure it has nothing on it.

The reasoning is simple. With plain fabric you can't identify whether the silk is China silk, French silk ... it's extremely hard to tell. The beading and lacing used on less expensive gowns set them apart. The lace isn't clipped; it's manmade. The crystals aren't Swarovski. So if you want to spend less on your wedding dress, stay clean and simple.

And make sure to tell your bridal consultant how you feel in a particular dress. I can tell you how a dress looks, but I can't tell how you feel when you wear it. When you tell me, and I can find a dress that looks objectively great and also makes you feel great ... that's where the magic comes from.

15. Consider your veil carefully.

I love veils, because I'm a big fan of looking like a bride on your wedding day. (They're called wedding gowns for a reason.) A veil completes the ensemble, like a tie to a suit.

So consider how long you plan to wear your veil. If you will just wear it down the aisle and then take it off, watch what you spend. Many veils can cost between $1,500 and $5,000.

That's true in other cases as well. Think about how you plan to utilize different items on your wedding day, and decide whether the cost is truly worth it.

16. But don't skimp on the engagement ring...

The one place you shouldn't try to cut costs too much is on the ring. Today, most girls expect rocks.

But still, check out local shops, antique jewelers, and antique malls. While you will be
"repurposing" those rings, you may get a better deal. (Does it matter whether a diamond is "new" or not?) But make sure the diamond is GIA certified and is a good-quality stone.

Also consider a legacy ring or dress. When people say they don't want to wear their mother's ring ... the ring did not cause the divorce. The dress wasn't at fault. Nothing is jinxed. (Besides, if your mom got divorced but saved her dress ... that proves the dress still holds a lot of meaning for her.)

Wearing your mother's or grandmother's ring can be a great way to get that "wow factor," save money, and pass on a family heirloom.

17. Or on the photographer.

You get only one chance to capture your wedding day, so choose your photographer wisely.

And make sure you give the photographer a list of what you want. That will ensure you get the images you want and will let you forget about "managing" the photographer on your wedding day. A great photographer will make sure you get everything you hoped for.

For example, when I was doing weddings, everyone wanted their own version of that beautiful photo of JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette as they came out of the church. It's a beautiful portrait, and every bride wanted a photo like it when they left their ceremonies.

One way you can save money, though, is to focus on what you really need. Maybe you want your photographer to capture your preparation, the ceremony, cake cutting, and some dancing ... but not all four hours of dancing.

18. Most importantly, don't see your wedding as a competition.

You don't have to be different. You don't have to be unusual. You don't have to do something no one else has ever done. You just have to be you.

Many people get overwhelmed by the process of planning a wedding. Remember, there's nothing wrong with throwing on a little dress and a suit and then holding a party afterward. The more genuine the event, the more your guests will relax and enjoy your wedding.

The best way to make your wedding great is to make it your wedding: not what you've seen other people do, not what other people say you should do ... but what you want to do, and what reflects you as a person and as a couple.

It's your wedding. Do it your way. That's the best way to ensure you will enjoy the day, and will always enjoy your memories of the day.

Published on: Jan 24, 2017