The average cost of a wedding in 2012 was more than $28,000, reported TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com in their annual survey. For couples on the frugal side, that big tab could pay their rent for a couple of years.

So how can engaged couples – or their families, if that’s who is paying the bills – create a splendid celebration they can afford? Easy. Ask wedding professionals, who have seen it all.

greensBridget Nannen is an owner of Greens Point Catering, a Longmont fixture for 22 years. Greens Point caters to a variety of venues along the Front Range, including some in Denver and the mountains.

When it comes to budgeting, she has seen a lot.

“There are families that try to stay on a more conservative budget, but it’s a mix – from people with no budget to those with a more conservative budget.”

In any case, she says, first the family has to have a vision of what they want to do. Then, what will the budget be to achieve that vision? “For example, if it is $10,000, take part of it first for the location, or venue. By the way, doing the wedding at home may not be any cheaper; you need a tent because of the weather, and you have to rent china, linen, tables.”

After you settle on the location, then book a caterer; this is the next big chunk of the $10,000. Get an estimate on what the caterer will charge for going into the venue you chose, or for staging it at your home.

“To keep it simple, the budget is divided in a few more areas after venue and caterer. That’s when you shop for the bridal dress, the music, cake, party favors, photographer, and more.”

With so many elements that make up a wedding, what can be cut? “For families that want to be conservative and stay within budget, they can be creative with the centerpieces, choosing something that can be reused and not thrown away – like framed pictures of the bride and groom, or pots with fresh herbs. Don’t spend a lot on party favors; make something yourself. Pinterest has a lot of ideas.”

A key point to remember when allocating the money: “Anything that is going to be in a picture you will look at in the future – the bridal bouquet and wedding cake, for example – spend money on that. And money should go where it can save work for the family.”

So besides saving money, saving work for the bride and her family, especially last-minute chores, is crucial.

wedding“We have event coordinators that we include with every client; they bring the whole day together and keep the time line in check, and everything in the family’s vision of the wedding.  They work with the family for months; they know them and their vision. Choose a caterer who can do that. Or get a wedding coordinator if your budget allows them to be at the rehearsal and wedding; they make everything more efficient and smooth.”

Here are some of Nannen’s money-saving tips: Cut back on the cost of centerpieces. Have two-thirds of the cake you serve be a sheet cake and the remainder a small beautiful cake, and have the caterer bring a cake server (so you don’t have to buy one). Don’t spend on knick-knacks and other little things. Always ask for a “budget menu” – the caterer duplicates that menu at other weddings and saves money, so you get a better deal. For the champagne toast, have the guests use the wine or other drinks that are at hand, and just pour champagne for the bridal party.

Chris Cockcroft of Longmont’s Tip Top Music Entertainment has been a wedding DJ for 20 years and started Tip Top 11 years ago. He has noticed some cost-cutting trends.

“Couples are getting creative and are searching for venues off the beaten path – at a friend’s house if it’s a larger property, for example. Instead of a sit-down dinner, they do a buffet with food stations; from the DJ’s perspective, it’s more lively.”

For couples who like the idea of locally sourced farm-to-table fare, an option might be setting up the event at a local farm, eating outside or under a tent. They can still enjoy music. “From the technical side, I have battery powered speakers, so I’m OK in a rural area,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of clients lately who have been on such a tight budget they skipped the table decorations. They understand the power and value of the music, so they spend more on that than going over the top with the food or an open bar.”

His approach with clients is: “I don’t itemize and nickel and dime them. I give them a flat rate based on the size of the audience and when the music starts and ends. I don’t charge extra for setting up for cocktail hour and then dinner, whether it’s a fancy venue or their backyard.

“I’ve DJ-ed weddings where the bride and groom have chosen to have a food truck or two to three different food trucks show up to serve appetizers, main meal, and even ice cream for dessert.

“I have seen where they book a photographer who can leave early, instead of staying until the end of the evening, and save a little money.”

romanaRaluca Ioan, owner of Romana Cake House in Longmont, has been making wedding cakes and decorating them as works of art for 10 years.

“I have noticed couples working on a budget,” she says. “A wedding is an expensive project.” She has some budget-worthy ideas.

“For weddings with a large number of guests – 150 guests and up – we may create a design for a small cake to match the flowers and other details, and then have a sheet cake, or petits fours, or cupcakes in addition, and the price will be much lower than having one big elaborate cake.” That small cake also is a standout for photographs.

Early in the process the couple should contact all the wedding professionals they want to use. “Putting time in the preparations for the wedding well in advance makes for a less stressful and more affordable wedding, The prices will be higher the closer you get to the beginning of the wedding season in late March into April. Our phone started ringing right after January 1st.”

She notes also, “The trend among older couples is to go with a smaller group of friends for their wedding.”

RT Magley of Twin Peaks Liquor in Longmont has noticed lately that engaged couples are “a little price conscious.” He has five key words of advice for them: “Don’t try to please everybody. When it comes to food and beverage, people like lots of different things, and the couple wants to please everyone – especially those close to them – and have a perfect wedding.” Offering a lot of choices inflates the bill.

As to the iconic champagne toast, Magley cautions: “Don’t over-purchase champagne. You’re not pouring as much of it as other beverages. It’s just a toast – only two or three ounces per person.”

He urges the couple to find out ahead about returning liquor, and about delivery. “With any big purchase, like a wedding, we want to be sure they have enough and don’t run out. So they should ask if they can return what they didn’t use and get a full refund without any restocking fees. Also, if buying from a local vendor, ask if they will deliver and if they have delivery fees.”

– By Judy Finman