David Tutera: How to Get Dazzling Wedding Decor on a Budget

Tutera wedding planner
Tutera wedding planner

Getting married on a tight budget? You want to surprise and delight your guests with elegant decor for your wedding reception that sets a mood, creates drama and turns heads -- for all the right reasons. You also don't want to break the bank.

Don't fret. David Tutera, celebrity wedding planner and host of We TV's My Fair Wedding With David Tutera, offers insider tips and decorating ideas -- from the flowers to the table settings -- that reflect a personal touch and "give your guests the 'wow' factor without the 'wow' budget," he says.

Less is More

Beware of a common syndrome that's bad for newly engaged couples' bank accounts. "I call it hyper-bride mode," Tutera says. "They spend money as quickly as possible because they're so excited."

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Awash in post-proposal glee, many brides-to-be make a mad dash for the wedding accessories store to scoop up trinkets and tchotchkes -- from picture frames and napkin rings for the table settings to favors for the guests -- without first looking at "the big wedding puzzle," and the important larger costs associated with the event, he says.

It's only until after you've considered the basic wedding expenses that you should think about what to spend -- and if to spend at all -- on the little things, he says. "You don't necessarily need to buy every little thing you think is cute because you're getting married."

Instead, ask yourself: "Do you really need favors? Gifts upon arrival? Tchotchkes on the table?" The answer is, often, "not necessarily," Tutera says. "Those things add up when you're on a budget."

Flower Power

The perception that what you'll shell out for wedding flowers, alone, will put you in the poor house often paralyzes couples, Tutera says. "People make a big assumption that if they get flowers, it will cost a lot of money -- so they wait until the last minute."

But they don't have to cost a fortune. "People are going to cringe, but you can do gorgeous things with carnations, baby's breath and gladiolas," he says. These flowers can quickly shed their cheesy image because when their arrangements are done creatively, "they look ridiculously amazing and are a fraction of the cost" of other flowers, he says.

The secret is designing an arrangement that creates a bold burst of a single color. "If you use not only one flower in abundance, but a monochromatic color in abundance, visually, it creates a bigger impact to the eye," he says. "Imagine a glass cylinder vase with a big explosion of baby's breath. It looks like a cloud. It looks ethereal."

Candle Drama

Wedding Candles
Wedding Candles

"Another way to create ambiance with drama and without a lot of money is the abundance of candles," be it pillars or votives, Tutera says. "I'm talking about 20 to 30 candles on a table with flower petals around the candles."

A sea of candles will bring a theatrical glow to a table setting -- a design element you can pull off for very little money, he says.

To save big on candles, check out closeout stores, tag sales and even seasonal inventory sales at local studios and design companies with their own warehouses, Tutera says. "You can buy used candles at a big discount," he says. "Once they are lit, no one would be the wiser."

Thematic Bar Fun

It's also possible to create an interesting and inexpensive food and drink presentation, Tutera says. Just as a monochromatic flower arrangement makes a statement, so can a bar of all red drinks, for example.

This can include everything from red wine and cosmopolitans to black cherry soda, which means you're cutting out the cost of a full open bar while making a fun, thematic statement, Tutera says.

Personalized Favors

Lastly, don't drop a lot of cash on wedding favors. "They only make sense to me if they tell the story of the couple," Tutera says.

And there are inexpensive ways to do just that. One idea is to attach an index card with the recipe for your late grandma's apple pie, for example, to a bushel of apples. "You want to feel like she's there in spirit," Tutera says. "And your guests leave with the ingredients to make an apple pie and knowing more about you as a bride."