Local brides and wedding gurus walk through cost-cutting techniques for your big day.

When Michelle Park Lazette and husband Steven Lazette began planning their wedding, their excitement quickly faded to sticker shock.

"I realized stations-style catering would consume all but $500 of our total budget," Park Lazette says. "Catering is not inexpensive. So we did exactly what most people say is the top cost-cutting technique."

They cut their guest list down from 85 to 60.

Park Lazette also did something a little more unusual-she began to barter.

A financial reporter for Crain's Cleveland Business newspaper, Park Lazette approached wedding vendors and offered her writing abilities in exchange for wedding services.

"I felt strongly that the wedding industry is full of small companies. It's a small-business kind of community," says Park Lazette, who also runs a wedding storytelling company, Story of Your Life, with her sister. "I figured many of them may not have the talent for executing some things in-house. I was hopeful someone would need writing, marketing or blogging. I stressed that I wasn't asking for something for free. We bartered for discounts with nearly every single one of our vendors."

All totaled, Park Lazette bartered for nearly $4,000 to $5,000 worth of services or items. The budgetary breathing room they created allowed the couple to spend money on things they might not have otherwise-like hiring a wedding planner for day-of coordination, which was a big help for those loose ends, like decorating.

"We were able to have the kind of day that we wanted to have, and a lot of it was due to the fact that we were able to work for it," Park Lazette says.

Do not, however, expect vendors to sacrifice for your exchange.

"These are not big bad wedding wolves," Park Lazette says. "These people have businesses to run, so it's unrealistic to think they should take a loss to plan your day."

Bartering, of course, is not a realistic option for most brides. So Park Lazette recommends brides concerned with cost find a venue (after making their guest list, of course) that best fits the motif of the wedding reception. This allows you to save money you'd otherwise spend on extreme decor and more.

"We wanted a rustic wedding, so we needed a space that we wouldn't have to change," she says. "We didn't want to have to do something extravagant to make it look rustic."

Park Lazette and her husband wed at a lakeside community center. "If you want a seaside scene, consider having your reception at a yacht club or a lakeside or riverside location," she says. "All of this helps cut down on decor costs."

Also build in wiggle room in your budget. Park Lazette recalls taking her wedding invites to the post office; the invites were highly stylized in brown envelopes wrapped in twine.

"I had to pay more to ship them," she says. "Something's going to come up where it costs a little more than you planned."

Speaking of planning that budget, don't believe everything you read about how much to budget and for what.

"One of the first things I suggest to people is: 'Don't put too much thought into the online budget guides,' " Park Lazette says. "You should dictate how important something is to you and budget accordingly."

She and her husband, for example, decided not to put a lot of money into their wedding flowers or into buying Champagne flutes for the toast. Instead, they put more funds toward buying pumpkin ale with which to toast, a better representation of their reputation as beer aficionados.

Empower your budget with knowledge, adds Kasey Skobel-Conyers, owner of Bliss Wedding & Event Design. Do that by asking lots and lots of questions.

Park Lazette researched at least three vendors per category-photography, videography, catering and so on-before deciding on which to hire. Before Skobel-Conyers books a facility, she asks to sample a menu from a past event similar to her client's reception's time of day and year. [FYI: The quickest way to cut costs is to have your wedding reception on a weekday, holiday weekend or Sunday-this is often significantly cheaper than having a wedding on a Saturday.] This also gives clients an idea of how quickly things like sales tax, gratuity and fees can jack up the initial rental cost.

"Read the contract," Skobel-Conyers says. "Ask for those details upfront."

Another often overlooked aspect to consider when planning your reception, Skobel-Conyers says, is time allotment for set-up and tear-down. There might be some savings in renting the facility longer.

"How long is load-in time? Some will only give you two hours, which is totally unrealistic," she adds. "It's good to ask how much a whole-day rental is, versus a half-day rental. The labor fee to tear down the reception space when it is over can be astronomical. Sometimes there can be a 20 percent increase in those labor costs if they are tearing down on a Saturday. It may be cheaper to rent the space for one more day and tear down the next morning."

Want more quick tips? Skobel-Conyers offers a wealth of wedding-budgeting information, including these need-to-know gems:

Have your ceremony and reception at the same spot to cut down on transportation costs. Repurpose or reuse your ceremony decor during the reception. Transferring the decor may add some labor costs, but it's still cheaper to move the decor than to buy double. Really consider that guest list. Keep it manageable-a general rule of thumb is that a table of eight people is worth about $1,200. Invest in lighting. A strategically lit dance floor, cocktail space or dining room can set the mood for a space better than many other design aspects. Decorate every other or every third table with the expensive linens, floral arrangements, napkin rings or glassware and decorate the other tables with simpler versions of those fancier designs.

Perhaps most importantly, recognize when it might be better to pay someone to do something for you.

"A lot of people think doing DIY stuff is a cost-saver. I disagree with that on some level," Skobel-Conyers says. "People do this professionally for a reason. You don't want to waste time and product when you could have just hired someone to do it."

Skobel-Conyers, for example, often lets clients itching to do a DIY project make their own favors. However, she encourages brides and grooms to avoid projects that must be made or set up close to the wedding.

"Hotel welcome boxes for visiting guests are not a DIY project you want to take on," she says, laughing. "You're trying to entertain and relax when you guests arrive, and you don't realize how much time it is going to take to assemble and deliver those."

Well aware of DIY-fatigue that can come on suddenly for brides, wedding professional Tracie Zody started her event rental company, Uncommon Accents, last year.

Uncommon Accents rents accessories that are difficult to make on your own or buy cheaply in bulk, such as candelabras (the sleek black ones are incredibly popular, Zody reports), cake stands, vases, bird cages, candle holders and stylized table numbers.

Renting nice accessories, Zody adds, can be an opportunity to cut expenses elsewhere. For example, one nice vase could require just a single elegant flower instead of a whole arrangement.

"We're just trying to bring weddings up a notch," Zody says. "You can have a unique wedding and have these special touches. We want your wedding to be something no one has seen before.

"That's why we developed the product line," she continues. "Very few people can afford to buy all these items, and those who can find that it can be a lot of work and cost to try to resell and ship them after the wedding."

Bottom line: Your wedding's bottom line isn't something to be afraid of. Ask questions, plan far in advance and do what will make your day the best for you and your beloved.