How To

Your Wedding: DIY or Buy?

With websites like Etsy and Instructables spurring the DIY movement, many a bride has tried her hand at floral arranging or cake-decorating to cut costs. But given the high stakes of a wedding, is it smart to do-it-yourself or should you enlist a professional? That depends. We asked professional weddings planners for their advice on the six main ingredient of a wedding: the dress, wedding cake, invites and save the dates, favors, flowers and music. Here’s what they told us:

Dress – Buy
Unless you’re a professional seamstress, the consensus is a resounding “No” to sewing your own wedding dress or bridesmaid dresses. “I’ve seen homemade dresses, and with the amount of money you spend [on quality fabric], you could have bought a dress,” says Linnyette Richardson-Hall, Creative Director of the Baltimore-based Premiere Event Management. “Often they’re using cheap fabric, and it’s the day of the wedding and they’re still sewing dresses. That’s a hot mess!”

If you want to save money, consider buying one gently used on eBay or OnceWed.com. With a little digging you can try on the dress in a bridal boutique, then find the same designer and style online.

Wedding Cake – Buy
“If you’re doing a traditional wedding cake, always pay a professional,” says Kimberly Allen, co-partner and co-founder of Something Fabulous, which handles weddings in Boston, DC, and Detroit.

The intricate decorations and multiple layers of a wedding cake require more time and skill than most amateur bakers realize. You’d need to know about “dowel rods and other equipment to not make it look like a Duncan Hines cake,” says Richardson-Hall. And you’ll want yours freshly baked and decorated, so in most cases it doesn’t make sense to do it yourself right before the wedding.

Instead, Allen suggests paying for a modest two-layer cake for the ceremonial cake-cutting and stashing extra sheet cake in the kitchen for guests. Choosing a simple, yet elegant cake is another way to  cut corners costwise.

Paper Goods – DIY or Buy
Paper items like Save the Dates, invitations, menus, and programs could go either way. “It’s about skill sets,” says Richardson-Hall. “If you have graphic skills, you might be able to pull this off, but if you don’t know anything about wording or font style or paper weight, it’s not going to look right.” She adds that you’ll need to consider postal regulations and adjust your budget for unusual-sized envelopes or items that add extra weight.

Although paper items can be made ahead, time is a limiting factor. “Sometimes it takes a few runs to get it right,” Allen points out. “Be realistic about how much time you allow yourself and how complicated you want to get. Brides take on all this stuff and don’t recruit the help to see it through.” Sometimes this can mean spending more money at the last minute for a rush printing or mailing job.

Favors – DIY
Like paper goods, favors can fall under the category of DIY if you create them well in advance. Allen suggests enlisting the help of your bridal party for tasks like assembling favors or addressing invitations. “Have a pizza party,” she adds. “Let the ones who have great writing write, others can lick. You’ve saved yourself some money and created fun memories.”

But don’t spend time and money on something that guests will leave at their tables (who needs another keychain or a glass with the couple’s names hand-painted on it?). Richardson-Hall says the best favors are “edible or drinkable.” For instance, little bags of almonds with a note explaining the symbolism of almonds at weddings.

Flowers – Buy
Before becoming a wedding planner, Allen arranged the flowers for her own wedding – and ended up regretting it. “I had no idea that hydrangea are water suckers and they wilt easily,” she says. “I went from fresh flowers to ‘let’s get into bridezilla mode.’” Unless you know a lot about flowers or you’re willing to keep things really simple, it’s best to hire a professional florist.

If you need low-cost blooms for your big day, Richardson-Hall suggests asking the florist for a Carnation Pavé. “A Pavé is grouped together flowers,” she says. “Carnations come in so many different colors, you can pave them together, wrap it with a pretty bow. It’s a cost-saving method, but it looks like velvet.”

And forget having flower arrangements at every single table, because there are plenty of simple, potentially DIY tabletop arrangements that don’t require flowers. Consider using photos of you and your fiancé, seashells, candles, or even colorful candy to set the mood.

Music – DIY or Buy
Now that iPods are so widely available, some wedding couples choose to forgo the DJ or band and create their own playlist. “That could work if the feel of your event is more like a party,” says Allen. Keep in mind that you’ll need sound equipment for larger venues and that an iTunes playlist can’t respond to the vibe of the room. That’s where DJs come in handy. “You want someone who can look at the crowd and read it,” says Richardson-Hall. “Plus they have all the auxiliary equipment that costs money to rent equipment and set up.”

DJs are generally cheaper than live musicians. But if you have your heart set on live music, Richardson-Hall suggests hiring music students from a conservatory in your area. “They’re very inexpensive compared to ‘adults’. You close your eyes and you swear you’re seeing the symphony.”

Ultimately, all this depends on your priorities. Spend money on the things that matter to you and your betrothed and economize in other areas. Richardson-Hall has a saying that will save you money: “keep it simple, sweetie” (or KISS).

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers business and lifestyle topics.