It's been a while since I've mentioned Swagbucks, so I wanted to highlight it again for any of you who aren't familiar with it. Swagbucks is a great way to score free gifts cards to use for your wedding or honeymoon!

Here’s how it works: Register for an account and you can get started earning points right away! You earn points for free by searching the web using the Swagbucks search engine. You will randomly be awarded points for conducting a qualified search, and there is no limit on how many you can earn a day. I'm usually awarded 9-12 swagbucks when I earn them, although I've earned as much as 100 in a search. You can also earn points by taking polls, playing games, etc.

Save your Swagbucks and redeem them for gift cards! In our opinion this is the best value for your “money”, but there are tons of prizes available too. These gift cards could play a big role in helping with wedding costs.  And unlike many online rewards systems, earning points is relatively easy and gift cards are reasonably "priced", meaning it isn't going to take you three years to earn a prize. Here are some of my favorite ways to use Swagbucks for your wedding:

1.     Make money to use at retailers like Amazon, Target, etc. to buy wedding supplies. These stores often have great prices on basic elements for your wedding. You can redeem your Swagbucks for gift certificates (or e-gift certificates) to these stores, which can be used on any merchandise. Use them to buy anything from invitation supplies, decorations, honeymoon apparel, or attendant gifts!

2.       Accumulate points to purchase attendant/parent gifts or a small gift card to go with a gift. You can use your points for actual gift cards to Starbucks, Lowe’s, iTunes, etc. which could be a perfect gift for one of your favorite wedding helpers.

3.       Save the Swagbucks for yourself! Saving your bucks for you and your sweetie could seriously help with wedding or honeymoon expenses. Right now, for example, you can get a $50 e-gift certificate for Southwest Airlines for 5795 Swagbucks. How great would it be to save up for a few of these and earn enough to gift certificates to cover your airfare?? Need a smaller scale? What about redeeming your bucks for a Starbucks gift certificate to treat your new spouse to coffee at the airport or breakfast near your hotel? Or a $25 e-gift certificate to Macy’s to buy yourself some fabulous sunglasses for your tropical paradise?

4.       Use your points to take out your maid of honor, bridesmaids or parents as a thank you for all of their wedding help. Your Swagbucks could buy gift certificate for dinner, coffee, events through Ticketmaster- any of which could be a nice way to express your gratitude without costing you a cent.

5.       Make a cheap date night out of it! There are tons of restaurant and movie gift cards, so redeem your Swagbucks for a night out with your honey!

So many possibilities!  Sign up here to get started- you get 30 Swagbucks when you register!
 
 
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Source: Business Wire
I just came across the graphic above, which is a nice way to visualize the results of the 2011 Wedding Survey by The Knot and The Wedding Channel. Survey says.....the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $27,000!

I personally feel you can have a stylish, modern, and special wedding for much less than this, and I see several areas where you could cut costs easily.

What do you think? How does this compare to your budget? Too high or too low?
 
 
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Starting today, Valentine's Day candy and decorations go on sale. And who's going to be there to snatch up all of the bargains? Why, all of you Belles readers of course!

The sales are the perfect time to score wedding details for cheap! Keep an eye out for:
- Cheap candy for your candy buffet, favors, or welcome bags. Use the coupons I've been posting about for an even sweeter deal!
- Tissue paper- especially in hues of red and pink. This will come in handy for tissue poms!
- Candles
- Silk rose petals
- Love-inspired decorations that would work with your wedding style
- Heart themed paper plates, napkins, etc. for a bridal shower

Be sure to come back to share what deals you find!

 
 
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For all those celebrating, I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas! My husband and I will be spending the rest of the weekend enjoying time with our families. Have a great holiday!

And get ready for those after Christmas sales on Monday! These sales can actually be a huge help in saving on supplies and details for your wedding.

Here are some bargains to look for:
- Christmas Lights: Of course this is a good time to stock up on strings of white lights to decorate for your ceremony or reception. Lights like these are an inexpensive way to create a beautiful romantic setting for your big day- especially when you can get them for 50+% off!
- Linens: If you are thinking of buying your own linens rather than renting them, now is the time to get the for cheap- in many cases cheaper than renting them! Stores like Walmart, Target, and Kohl's typically have their holiday tablecloths on sale for 50% off or more- but many of these could work in a wedding! Keep an eye out for plain, striped, or damask cream or gold linens, and then snatch them up! Just make sure you get the right size for your tables.
- Candles: Candles and candle holders are also often on sale. See what colors are available- you will often have the choice of several colors in pillar candles, votives, tea lights, and tapers, and stock up! This works better if you have a vision for how you are going to use them and can buy them specifically for that purpose. Tip- Avoid large amounts of scented candles! Here and there they are ok, but having a several scented candles on each table in the reception can be very overwhelming!
 - Gift Bags: You may be able to find solid color gift bags on sale. If you can find these for cheap, snatch them up! They work well for out of town bags or wedding party gifts.
- Tissue Paper: Tissue paper is usually included in the sales, so stock up for wedding projects like pom-poms.
- Chocolate: Bags of candy tend to have a long shelf life, and they can be perfect for candy buffets. Stock up on candy on sale if the colors work for your big day, and use the coupons available on Coupons.com to make your deals even sweeter. Also, think about candy for your favors and out of town bags!  

And an overall tip for any thing you are trying to buy- If you find the perfect (and perfectly priced) linens, candles, etc. but there are not enough in your store, call those fellow shopper friends and family members! They can check out their Walmarts, Targets, etc. and snatch up the ones in their stores as well!
 
 
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Source: Imperfectly Beautiful
It's fall, which means it's officially time for me to go crazy over pumpkins. And boy do I love 'em-  pumpkin lattes, pumpkin donuts, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cupcakes... yum. But besides my slight obsession with all pumpkin foods, pumpkins can be an affordable way to decorate for a fall wedding and reception.

Buy them directly from a local farm if possible (I recently saw medium-sized pumpkins for only $2 each at a nearby farm!) or hit a grocery store sale to get the sizes of pumpkins you need for the lowest prices (my Safeway, for example, recently had pumpkins on sale for buy one get one free). Depending on the sizes you need, you should be able to score a pumpkin for less than $5, which is often cheaper than a vase!

The great thing about pumpkins is that there are so many ways you can use them- you can carve them and use them as vases, make them into luminaries, have them hold place cards, paint them,  etc. Use pumpkins to bring that warm, harvesty feel to your event through centerpieces, lining the aisle, or other details throughout your venue. Customize, of course, to the feel of your wedding and your budget! Here are favorite examples for inspiration:
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Source: Martha Stewart Weddings
I love this centerpiece: it fits in so well with a fall wedding without going overboard and the effect is stunning. You can have a florist make the flower arrangements in the pumpkins (to save money, buy them and carve them yourself and then deliver them to the florist) or make the arrangements yourself if you are feeling crafty.
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Source: Ruffled Blog
Use the pumpkins to spell out a special message or highlight your monogram. This creates such a stunning effect. Love it!
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Source: Martha Stewart
Elegant pumpkins! Something about the way these are carved is just...pretty. Use pumpkins with candles in them to line the aisle in your ceremony or to light up your reception. Gorgeous!
 
 
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Photo: Hunter House, Vienna, VA
Finding your venue is such an important and fun aspect of wedding planning! The site of your ceremony and reception sets the overall tone of the reception and the overall tone of your budget. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable venue options to be had! Here are some quick tips for finding that affordable venue that is perfectly you:
  1. Go for the off-seasons. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, wedding venues (and many vendors for that matter) will offer high discounts during the wedding off seasons.
  2. Opt for a different day of the week: Saturday is the most popular and the most expensive day to host an event. Any other day of the week should be cheaper- even switching to Sunday can give you a significant discount! 
  3. Consider the package. Like all things wedding, make sure your venue package meets your needs. Need coffee and tea service but don’t want a soup and salad? Want too add an extra hour on your package but nix the bridal champagne toast? Talk to the event manager at your venue to work out the best package to meet your needs and your budget.  
  4. Think about the décor- venues like gardens, parks, wineries, etc. often already have so much natural beauty that they require less decorations, meaning you will save money on flowers and décor.
  5.  Negotiate. Most venues are willing to work with you and discuss options to suit your needs, and even if they are not willing to budge on a certain point, it is worth asking. You’ll know you tried, and that will help you make your final decisions.
  6. Look for those hidden fees. Knowing all of the fees upfront will help you to make your final venue selection, and will give you comparable prices when you add everything in. 
  7. Make sure to price everything out. Before making your final selection, be sure to write down all associate costs with each venue so you know what each will cost realistically. Include all room, rental fees, any extra charges, food and drink costs, gratuity, and any rental costs. This will give you accurate price comparisons, and may surprise you!
  8. Expand your search to more non-traditional venue options. While hotels, conference centers, gardens and inns can certainly have affordable options, consider thinking outside the box when looking at places to have your ceremony or reception. These different locations may be more budget-friendly. 
  9. Get out of town? Look at venues in neighboring areas. Depending on where you live, going  just 30 minutes out of town may have a big impact on the prices of venues!
  10. Above all- don't panic! It may require a little creativity and a few compromises on your part, but can definitely find a fabulous venue on a budget.
Want more tips? Read the full article here.
 
 
Of course we all want guests to have a good time and enjoy themselves at our events. One of the things to think about when planning your wedding and reception is to go through the guest experience from start to finish.

This will help to make sure you consider all of those details that your family and friends will experience on your big day. When guests arrive at your ceremony location, for example, is there a place for them to park? Can your unsteady Grandma and Grandpa easily access your ceremony and location? Are there bathrooms nearby? What do they look like? Is there a place for elderly visitors to sit during cocktail hour? How does traffic flow from your cocktail hour to your reception space?

Walking yourself through the day from a guest's perspective will help you ask the right questions when meeting with vendors and deciding on a venue- and will give an opportunity to address any potential issues before your big day.
 
 
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I had a big event for work this past week and it reminded me of the so many lessons I've learned as an event planner. I thought it would be fun to share a few of these in the coming weeks as all of you plan weddings, engagement parties, and/or bridal showers.  Maybe my lessons learned will spare you some stress along the way!

My #1 Lesson Learned: Something will always go wrong/not according to plan.
No matter how many events I plan or problems I anticipate, a new one always arises. There will always be little glitches or unexpected issues that come up. Always. The trick is to know that they will happen and understand that it will not effect the overall outcome of your big day. Stay calm and problem solve (or let someone else problem solve for you). Thinking on your feet will get you far! And once you've come up with a solution, just let it go. Obsessing about it will only make you miss all of the things that went right. And who knows- those little glitches may become your favorite moments of your event!

So it's time to share! For all of you who have planned any kind of party or event, what hasn't gone according to plan??
 
 
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Photo Credit: Crate & Barrel
For all of you brides about to start registering, check out my guest post on Hip2Save today! I talk about my favorite places to register based on the perks and extras they offer to couples. Hope this helps some of you!

And if you are new to Hip2Save, be sure to check it out. This is one of my absolute favorite sites- it's full of fantastic tips and deals for life on a budget!
 
 
Okay- maybe just the first two! Borrowing items for your big day can translate into big savings. Just imagine not having to pay for a whole aspect or detail of your wedding! Your first stop- recent brides. Ask any brides you know if you can borrow items leftover from their wedding. Many brides will love to help out- especially for items they really don't know what to do with after the big day. Vases, mason jars, candles, picture frames, and containers for a dessert bar are all good options.

Another possibility is to ask family and friends if you can borrow something from them (this may be where the begging comes in) and then put together a cool, eclectic mismatched collection. You could, for example, ask family members if you could borrow any table linens they have in a certain color. Or do something similar with lanterns or vases. This could help you save tons and will bring a fun personal vibe to your wedding! Just make sure to keep track of the borrowed items to return them after your big day.

And after the wedding is over- return the favor! Offer any leftover items (that you've purchased or made- not borrowed!)  that you don't need anymore to another bride-to-be to help her stretch her budget too!