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Most brides don't have a friend who can hand-sew a gown or whip up a reception dinner for 200. But if your friends can tie a bow, fold a card, or stuff a bag, they can help you DIY your dream wedding decorations.
"Going DIY is a great way to save a bundle while letting the bride's personality and creativity shine through," says Wenona Napolitano, author of The Everything Green Wedding Book.
No matter your budget, once you've chosen a venue, you and your groom need to pick a color palette—and you need to be prepared to stick to it. "It makes decorating so much easier," Napolitano says. Instead of looking at five million or so centerpieces (or paper lanterns, or napkins), you’re forced to choose from those in your color palette. This may not save money, but it will save time, which is just as valuable when you're planning a wedding.
Once you've picked your palette, read on for our experts' crafty tips for decorating on the cheap.
If you have a particularly artsy friend, have her draw a "logo" for your wedding, such as a monogram, an animal (birds are popular for spring), a flower, or leaf. The logo can be used on programs, seating cards, favors, and thank you notes (and before the big day, save the dates and invites). No Van Gogh in your group? Search for a free clip-art logo online. Use a corner punch to further embellish a homemade stationery suite and such.
Rather than shelling out for a pre-made guest book, buy a blank book and decorate it with self-adhesive crystals, accents, or ribbons, suggests Sharon Naylor, author of 1001 Ways to Save Money and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding. Or use two pieces of fabric—one for the front, one for the back—trimmed with pinking shears (to prevent fraying) and affix them to the book with spray-on adhesive.
Instead of ordering monogrammed cocktail napkins or settling for plain, buy unembellished napkins in bulk and decorate them yourself. Naylor and Napolitano both like using rubber stamps. Choose a simple image (intricate ones will blur) such as a letter, and a non-toxic, waterproof inkpad. Another option: Order a custom monogram embosser and use it on your napkins and stationery suite.
If you don't have the time (or desire) to decorate napkins, look for same-size napkins in different patterns in you palette. Mix polka-dots, stripes, gingham and more for a look that's charming and cohesive; stick to two colors—just two!—unless you're going for circus-clown chic.
FLOWERS, CENTERPIECES & DECORATIVE ACCENTS
One of the best ways to save money on flowers is to skip them—if not altogether, then at least in the centerpieces.
As an alternative to flowers on tables, Napolitano likes to use mix-and-match glass bowls from thrift stores to hold floating candles. (D'oh! alert: Don't use plastic bowls to hold candles.) Naylor arranges a series of different-size glass globes (from an online vendor, crafts store, or borrowed from your reception site), and fills each with rose petals; silk or freeze-dried petals can easily stand in for fresh, so you won't need to deal with a florist (or have friends beheading roses) day-of. Freeze-dried petals won't last forever—order them about a month before your wedding to ensure their edges won't turn brown.
Another less-expensive alternative: Use arrangements of readily available seasonal items, such as evergreen boughs in winter or gourds in fall, or even sand and seashells in summer, says Barbara Cameron, author of 101 Ways to Save Money on Your Wedding. (These elements can also be scattered around your cocktail or reception room for added color.) To elevate even simple centerpieces, Cameron places each on a mirrored tray; Naylor opts for mix-and-match silver platters from online auctions or yards sales.
To add personal touches on tables or throughout, Cameron buys matching picture frames from a dollar store and fills them with photos of the bride and groom—with each other, or with guests.
If having floral centerpieces is important to you, place a bulk order with a flower shop (or even a supermarket) and have friends arrange the blooms. You should choose a loose, informal arrangement if you go this route, and have your "florists" over for a practice run if they live in the area; provide a printed picture to give them guidance day-of. Since your bridesmaids will be busy, ask friends who aren't in your wedding party. Getting married before noon? It's best to skip this idea, Naylor says.
To that end, if your friends have never arranged bridal or bridesmaid bouquets, don't ask them to make yours unless you want something very simple (a few blunt-cut calla lilies tied with a bow) or extremely unstructured.
There's no reason to buy pre-made favors, Naylor insists. Ask your bridesmaids to spend an afternoon making favors assembly-line style. Even if you only have a few hours, you should be able to finish everything in a single sitting. Fill cellophane bags with candy, either the bride and groom's favorites—a mix of penny candy is cheap and charming—or something that matches your palette; tie off each bag with a ribbon or raffia bow, or for an even easier finish, fold back a bag's top and seal it with a sticker. For an unexpected twist on baked-good favors, send off each guest with a jumbo-size cookie in a windowed CD envelope. Choose a cookie that will keep for a few days (such as chewy chocolate chip or oatmeal), and assemble the favors two days before the wedding. Cut a square of parchment paper to line each envelope (you can do this weeks or even months ahead of time), and store finished favors in a single layer—not stacked—with their bottom-side down to prevent grease stains on the front of the envelopes.
Story: Copyright 2009, Shoestring LLC. Image: iStock.