In the course of covering the upcoming Northern Michigan wedding of Ginger Zee, Good Morning America’s celebrity meteorologist, we’ve taken a real shine to her wedding planner, Francesco Bilotto. He’s talented, warm, pragmatic and lives in New York but grew up near Lake Michigan. No wonder we love him. Ginger has been keeping Francesco to a strict budget for her Petoskey-area wedding—a challenge that has only fed his insatiable creativity. Well, knowing that Ginger is not the only bride watching her bank account, we asked Francesco for his top ten ideas for throwing a fabulous wedding on a budget. In the space of one phone interview from NYC to our Traverse City office, Francesco just may have saved our brides thousands!

Find Out More About Ginger Zee’s Wedding With This Q&A With Francesco Bilotto

Let Your Venue Help Define Your Décor Colors
Choose your venue first. Yes, even before you dress. The venue is the frame for the artwork of what the wedding will be. The venue sets the tone for color, budget, everything. Once you have your venue, working its décor into your colors will help your budget. If your space is a neutral palette go with that. White is usually the safest since most venues have white linens. So sing it out—that’s what Ginger is doing. True, a lot of bride’s have a favorite color they want to work in. They might have purple in mind. That’s great. Use that for your bridesmaids dresses maybe. But if you have a purple napkin you are going to need purple in your floral, gold chargers maybe and how about those seat covers?

Also, let the event planner at your venue help you. Does the venue have a hundred extra clear cocktail glasses? Those are vases in my eyes. Place three or four in center of each table and pop a white rose in each one.

Trim that Guest List
Keeping the guest list down is the best way to save money. Maybe keep the ceremony and reception to just family and closest friends, then throw a big casual picnic or barbecue for everyone in your lives later.

Use Cash or Gather Credit Card Points
Some venues and vendors will give a discount for cash. So if you have the means, that’s a way to save money. But if you don’t, try to put all your wedding expenses on one card—don’t dilute them by paying all kinds of ways—and use the points for a honeymoon.

Begin Your Gown Shopping at a Department Store
Wedding dresses are such a touchy subject. It is the one thing that brides across the board care about most. One thing you might try before heading to that wedding boutique is to go to a department store and try on off-the-rack formals. If you find one you really like, go online and see if you can find it in white or cream.  You might end up paying $400 versus $7,000. And at the very least, you’ll have an idea of what styles you look good in before heading to the wedding gown boutique.

Save on the RSVP cards
I still love a formal printed invitation such as Tableau Events is doing for Ginger’s wedding. But why not make a special email account have people RSVP in an email? Make a new account like for example. You’ll save on card stock and postage.

Fill Up With Filler Flowers
First, remember that your relationship with your florist is more important than your relationship with your mother-in-law. I’m kidding. Well, not really. [Laughs]. They are the key to making your event great. We are working with Jennifer Haf of Bloom Floral Design for Ginger’s wedding and she is giving us simply beautiful designs within our budget. We’re using filler flowers—the forgotten flowers: carnations, baby’s breath … they are cheaper than other bouquet flowers. But used in a lush mound they are stunning.  You know, take your worst and make it your best. Sing it out Louise! … That song from Gypsy keeps running through my head!

Another creative way to save money at your wedding might be to put a single rose on each napkin, or just one in a vase on the table. Maybe sprinkle rose petals around a candle.

One important thing to know is that florists get the best prices when they buy in bulk. So once you choose a flower, go with it!

Let the Bridesmaids Re-use a Dress
To be honest, bridesmaids really get stuck at weddings. They have to pay for a dress that they are probably never going to wear again. One cool tip is to invite them all over for a frock party—let them bring dresses from their closet that they like the best. If Sarah, Lisa and Robin like their blue dresses, that’s your dress. Maybe even have a tailor their so she can give ideas to help make them uniform … change the hemlines?  Add sashes? Have wine and cheese and giggles.

Set Up Grazing Stations
Food tends to be another huge cost. One good way to keep the cost down is to skip the sit down dinner and opt for a casual cocktail environment. Set up grazing stations or buffet tables around the room. No one really wants to sit next to your Aunt Sally from Utah who wears too much cologne anyway. Stations are a fresh and modern approach and they lend themselves to being very budget friendly.

You can still have pretty table settings, but you don’t need a 3 to 5 course dinner. No one needs a salad after they’ve had cheese, appetizers and cocktails. Salads are just time placeholders. Save the money and save the staff.

Maybe spend that money on late night bites after the drinking and dancing. Something fun like a pizza station. At Ginger’s wedding we’ll be doing those bagel dogs that are a Michigan specialty. We’re also doing a s’more station by the outdoor fire pit.

Let Them Eat Sheet Cake
Opt for a small cutting cake for photos and then use the same cake recipe for a sheet cake big enough to feed all the guests. Who cares when it is just going to get cut any way. Make the cutting cake look bigger and more interesting by putting it on a really tall stand—use something inventive like a wine barrel.

Build a Relationship with Your Party Favor Purveyors
Go to local farmers market, boutiques and vendors throughout the months before the wedding and collect cool, locally made items—30 handmade soaps, or 20 hand-dipped candles for example, to set out on a little table so that guests can choose what they want. If you tell the purveyor that you will include their contact information they may give you a special rate. At the end of the day, a wedding is business after all. A business is where the bride is president. [Laughs]. Or the boss. [Laughs].

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Photo(s) by Francesco Bilotto