I have had a few people ask me how I have been able to keep my wedding under $3,000. Well here's the tip- spend the time up front to decide your "themes" and spend a little time every week looking for bargains online and at the store.
When I say themes I mean:
What kind of wedding (traditional, elegant, rockabilly, WWII)
Colors (mine are red & white)
Attire (tux, gown, whether or not the bridesmaids have matching dresses or other items)
This could also mean anything else that is specific to your relationship or history- like you met at a birdwatching convention so birds will be a big part of it, you both love movies and want posters of yourselves in various movie poster poses (something some friends of mine actually did). Keep in mind that you need to be somewhat fluid on your initial choices as some amazing deals might come up that aren't quite what you wanted, but are close enough or cool enough to warrant a slight change of plans.
Once you have a basic idea of what you want, work on the necessities/large items first as those are the ones that will be costing the most and setting precedence of how much the wedding might cost you. Number one on the list has to be where you are going to have the wedding ceremony/reception. Having them at one place can save you money and time and I highly recommend it if you are open to it. I'm doing both at a bowling alley and was able to rent the whole place for less than $400. If you are having them at separate locations, work on the reception location first as this will also affect how much you spend on food, regardless of whether or not you are having a dinner or just dessert, like we are.
Most facilities make their money on the food and drinks they serve which is why they only allow you to bring in your cake. Give yourself enough time to shop around and compare menus and prices 1. so you don't feel stressed into taking the first thing that seems decent to you, even if its not what you wanted and 2. so you can use this info to haggle the place that is close enough to what you want down to the price of the place that is what you don't want but cheaper. We searched until we found a place that would let us bring in our own food and we decided to offer free beer and soda to our guests, so the expected price of those beverages are around $500.
One word of advice on the bargaining front- do your homework and don't haggle just because you can. It will backfire on you if don't really have another place in mind and lie to see if you can get a cheaper price. Some businesses would rather stay closed that night than not make any profit at all. Have a beginning price in your head, but be willing to compromise on some things to get others that are more important to you. Also, BE REALISTIC. Unless you have background or training in something, or know someone who does that you trust, don't try to put a price on someone's livelihood or talent based on what you think is fair or want to pay. You are not going to get a 10 piece big band for $500. Being a professional musician, I can help you out on this one- If you want to get an idea of what you might pay for live music, figure $100 per person per hour. This is not a surefire thing, but at least it will put you in the right ballpark when you are figuring out your budget. Once again, your best line of defense is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and give yourself enough time to compare.
Allright, on to the smaller things that quickly add up to big money if you aren't careful. Remember your vision and themes? Allow yourself to get obsessed and ALWAYS, and I mean always, be on the lookout for sales or bargains. Even if your wedding is a year and a half away, if you see a good deal snatch it up! I found 6 beautiful cream colored cashmere sweaters in a vintage style for my bridesmaids on Target.com for $25 each 10 months before the wedding. I bought those things so fast they were smoking when I got them! I bought a bunch of red & white (our colors) wrapping paper right after the holidays when it was on sale to use for favors or anything else that comes up. I am planning on making out like a bandit on red & white valentine's candy in a week when it goes on sale and freezing it to keep it fresh. Note: I am going to assume that you and your beloved are made for each other and the wedding is actually going to take place- meaning you won't have to worry about returning items later. Most of the steals and deals I got were found at vintage shops and on ebay or etsy and are non-returnable. If this is a concern for you- allow yourself a bigger budget to get things at full price or rethink getting married. 'Nuff said.
I think you get the idea. I will be posting soon on some internet search tactics that will help you to find web sites, blogs or ebay/etsy listings to help you find deals or ideas to save you money.