tips from the pros :: how can I save money on my wedding at the last minute?

The question’s been popped. The date’s been set.

In fact, your wedding is just weeks away and most every detail – from the veil to the venue – has been arranged and paid for. Now, you’re wondering if there are ways to defray some of the mounting costs.

The pro: Cynthia Zatkin, owner of Cynthia Zatkin Events, Signature Weddings & Celebrations

How far into planning can you change things?

It depends on the flexibility of the contract you signed. When it comes to food and beverage at a hotel, that is pretty inflexible. Couples need to consider this when signing that contract, because it is something that is truly set in stone.

But many vendors, if you go to them with financial concerns, will be pretty flexible. A linen specialist, rental company or florist won’t need a finalized contract or final counts until about two weeks before the wedding.

Linen specialist?

One thing a couple can do is increase their table size. By choosing a 72-inch round instead of a 60-inch round, more guests can be seated at fewer tables. A larger table means fewer linens.

Table linens are somewhere around $40 apiece. If you take out a couple of tables, that’s an easy way to whittle some costs.

And flowers?

Centerpieces can cost in the realm of $75 to $300 each, depending on what you are doing. That definitely adds up.

Downsize your flowers. If you thought maybe you wanted a $300 centerpiece, ask your florist what can be done for $100 a centerpiece. Most florists are pretty willing to negotiate.

The way to do that is to say, “This is how much I have to spend. What can you create?”

Are there other ways to economize?

Cut off an hour from the event. This can save you in alcohol, DJ or band, and photography costs.

Wedding receptions don’t need to go more than five hours, and you can shorten it a bit if you want. If you host an open bar, shaving an hour off the event can save significantly. Consider your alcohol cost is essentially $5 per person per hour. If you have 300 guests, you could save nearly $2,000 by losing that last hour.

With the photographer, you don’t need more than six hours. Have the photographer start two hours before the wedding to get the portraits and beautiful shots of the bride and friends while their makeup is still perfect. These are the shots people frame and keep forever, the memory photos.

As a wedding coordinator, I just stack all the events that need to be photographed toward the beginning of the reception. I make sure the cake cutting, bouquet and garter toss, money dance, etc. are all done before the photographer leaves.

A good photographer is $500 an hour. You can save $1,000 by shaving a couple of hours from your photography time.

Any other cost-cutters to consider?

I’m a big fan of using nice chairs, but they can be $8 to $20 a chair. A couple on a budget could use chair covers instead. There are some good companies out there with chair covers renting from $2 to $3.50 a chair.

Downsize the musicians. Instead of having a quartet at $500 an hour, choose a duo for $200 an hour.

Downsize the tiered wedding cake. Wedding cakes range up to $15 a slice depending on the pastry chef. If you do a tiny cake for the ceremony with sheet cakes for serving, it can be $2 to $4 a slice.

Eliminate any kind of “night of” transportation, like a limo or trolley. I’ve seen couples have just as much fun driving their own transportation decorated by the groomsmen. Or, if they are going to be drinking, enlist a friend with a nice car.

I’ve also seen family and friends network to borrow great cars like a red convertible for the getaway car or a big Chevy Suburban to transfer family and friends between church and reception site. There are ways to get creative with transportation without having to pay for it.

Written by Caroline Dipping for the San Diego Union Tribune