Planning budget-friendly nuptials and maintaining your sanity can be a challenge, so we consulted our favorite industry experts to bring you some must-have wedding knowledge.

This week we caught up with Dana LaRue, the sassy gal behind The Broke-Ass Bride media empire. What started as a personal wedding website detailing her own experiences has now turned into a helpful resource for budget-savvy brides across the world. Oh, and did we mention that The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide is hot off the presses, too? Read more to learn about Dana and her wedding planning know-how.

Interview with Dana LaRue, the Broke-Ass Bride blogger and author
Interview with Dana LaRue, the Broke-Ass Bride blogger and author

Please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become the Broke-Ass Bride, and what’s your involvement in the wedding world like now?

I started out writing about my own wedding as a broke-ass bride myself! I needed a creative outlet, a place to record my ideas and experience as I planned the wedding, and [I] consumed wedding blogs like they were lifeblood … but none of them really addressed my particular circumstance. So I started my own.

Honestly, I never expected anyone besides my mom and fiance to read it, really, so when it caught on it was a nice surprise. By the time we married, I had developed a very strong following, and Google named us the Blog of Note the following month. After that, it was clear that the Internet needed a site like mine, so I decided to keep operating it as a wedding resource rather than continuing it strictly as a personal blog. Through experience and exposure, I became known [as] a wedding expert, speaking at events internationally, to brides and wedding professionals alike. I got a book deal in 2011, and it was released last December. I still make appearances and speak and run the blog, so I stay pretty close to the world of weddings!

What are your favorite thrifty wedding resources?

Of course, my favorite resource is my new book, The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide, which is a great overview of approaching your wedding planning with a “creativity is your currency” mindset. I share a lot of outside-the-box ideas for saving money and smart spending, from quirky and fun to more practical and down to earth – hopefully covering ground that can appeal to every kind of couple out there.

There’s also a large focus on personalizing your wedding – letting it share a bit of your unique love story, so your guests come away feeling like participants rather than spectators. And it even has DIY project tutorials and recipes! It’s just full of goodness.

Other than that, I can’t get enough of A Practical Wedding and Offbeat Bride, Pinterest (of course), and wedding site message boards that often teem with great deals on gently loved decor and fashions just waiting to make another bride’s day all the more special!

According to the latest report by the XO Group, Inc., the average U.S. wedding costs about $30,000. This can be super intimidating for newly engaged couples. What advice do you have for people who are just sitting down to make a budget?

Prioritize! Sit down with your partner, and each list out your top three priorities for the wedding … and your three lowest priorities. Compare, and discuss and find a common ground of about five areas to which you’ll apply the most of your money. See what elements you can dramatically downsize or eliminate completely in order to save. Going into it with a plan of action that represents your values and interests best will help you keep the wedding – and budget – in perspective.

Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Can you share any budget-friendly details about your big day?

Thank you! Our wedding is really pared down to the bits that matter most to us: the food, the company we keep and the atmosphere. So rather than a big dance party blowout, we’re having an intimate 40-person, super gourmet dinner party in a private room at our favorite restaurant. And because the space is already well decorated, we don’t have to bring in any decor for the reception. It’s almost too easy! I can’t wait.

What are three of your favorite money-saving tips and tricks?

1. Negotiate. It’s a bit taboo, because it’s so often approached incorrectly. I dedicated a whole chapter of my book to it, though, because it’s a necessary skill – not just in weddings, but in life!  And the correct approach can net huge savings and opportunities that you never expected! For instance, in my first wedding, I bartered away half the cost of my custom couture wedding dress by trading invoicing and fabric-cutting services with the designer!

2. Re-use. So many weddings employ the same decor, such as mason jars, tea lights, lanterns, baskets, chair sashes, etc. There’s no reason for those items to go to waste afterwards … they’ve only been used for one day! You can save money and the earth by recycling items from past couples, and it’s easy to find them via Craigslist, bridal message boards/classifieds and flea markets. And think outside the box – instead of renting dishes for 100 guests at several dollars a piece, why not collect an eclectic assortment of dollar plates at estate sales, antique shops, flea markets, Goodwill and the like? Then after the wedding, save your favorites as your dinnerware at home – and each time you eat, you’ll remember your wedding day! Re-sell the rest or donate to Goodwill for another person to enjoy, and pocket the money you saved!

3. Buy off the rack. Include stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, even Target in your bridal gown search. You never know what you’ll find in their formal department! My best friend found her Nicole Miller gown at a JCPenny on sale for $80 and it looked like a million bucks! There are so many gorgeous white dresses out there just unclassified as “wedding gowns,” and their prices are much fairer. It’s an often-overlooked “shopportunity!”

Where do you recommend couples choose quality over low price? What are some wedding splurges that might be too good to pass up?

Photography is definitely very “get what you pay for.” So unless you have a super talented photographer friend or family member who wants to give you a reduced rate…  always go pro. I’ve heard so many horror stories from couples who hired students or amateurs and will never forgive themselves.

The rest is really dependent on the couple. I recommend splurging on the elements that are most important to you to create the mood you want, whether it’s the food, music, fashion, decor or more. Put your money where it matters most to you.

Last-minute, unexpected costs can really hit a budget hard. What do you recommend couples look out for so they’re not blindsided so close to the big day?

Don’t forget to account for hair and makeup, your hotel room (if you have one), little accessories like a handbag or earrings, and things like vases or candle holders, which are often forgotten about until the last minute. Also, always know if the prices your vendors give you include taxes and/or gratuities so you can plan ahead to have those in your budget.

What are your favorite wedding trends for 2014, budget-friendly or otherwise?

Overall, I’m just thrilled to see weddings becoming more and more reflective of each couple and their unique taste, rather than a more cookie-cutter idea of what weddings “should” look or feel like. From the invitations, to decor, to ceremony writing … every area of the experience can be personalized, and should be! And every day, I see more and more of that creeping into weddings, and it’s beautiful.

Do you have any final advice for couples on their wedding day and beyond?

HAVE FUN. Remember, it’s only a party. It’s only one day. Don’t put too much pressure on it, or yourself, and on the morning of the day, give yourself a pass to just enjoy it – no matter what happens. As long as you’re married by the end of the day, you’ve won.

And there you have it, straight from the Broke-Ass Bride herself. We’ll be back soon with more vendor spotlights, real bride interviews and money-saving tips that will help you plan and keep you sane.