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Small-Business Grants: Where to Find Free Money

They say there’s no such thing as a free ride. In the world of small-business grants, you’ll pay your dues by searching websites, clicking out-of-date links, or struggling with government databases before finding a grant that suits your business goals.

To make things easier, we’ve started compiling a list of resources to help direct you toward free financing on a federal, state and private level.

NerdWallet is a free tool to find you the best credit cards, cd rates, savings, checking accounts, scholarships, healthcare and airlines. Start here to maximize your rewards or minimize your interest rates. Jackie Zimmermann Get Your Free Personal Credit Score Every Week from NerdWallet Open more doors for financing your business.Set your goals and track your progress.Signing up won't affect your score. Get your free credit score Federal small-business grants

Government agencies are some of the biggest distributors of grants. They will likely be highly specific and offer support for a range of enterprises from environmental conservation to child care services. The application process can be intimidating and requires a lot of hard work, but the grants offer a great opportunity for small-business owners looking to grow.

Grants.gov: Though daunting, Grants.gov is a comprehensive database of grants administered by various government agencies. You can search for financing opportunities for products or services your small business offers. To make sure you find the most relevant grants, click the “Browse Eligibilities” tab in the middle of the home page, then select “small business.” Next, select “Grant” under “Funding Instrument Type” on the left-hand side.

BusinessUSA: Slightly more user friendly than Grants.gov, BusinessUSA uses a questionnaire to help you find relevant grants for your business. It’s important to note, however, that the options it provides aren’t always grants — some are loans that have annual percentage rates. Click “Starting a Business?” to complete the questionnaire.

Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs: The SBIR and the STTR are grant programs focused on research and development, particularly for technology innovation and scientific research. The programs help connect small businesses, universities and research centers with federal grants and contracts from 12 government agencies.

State and regional small-business grants

Economic Development Agencies: Each state’s agency helps new and established businesses find financing, secure a location and recruit employees. They also can help point you to state or regional grant opportunities.

Small Business Development Centers: You can turn to your local SBDC, which provides support to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. They’re often associated with local universities or the state’s economic development agency, and many can help connect business owners with mentors and networking opportunities, as well as training on basic business skills. Your SBDC can also help you find financing opportunities.

Corporate small-business grants

Many corporations or large companies have a philanthropic component, offering their own small-business grants. While some provide grants only to nonprofits servicing specific industries, some do give directly to for-profit companies. With these types of grants, it’s important to be aware of submission deadlines because they often come around only once a year.

OrganizationDescription FedEx's Small Business GrantDuring its annual grant competition, FedEx awards 10 small businesses with grants up to $25,000 and FedEx office supplies up to $7,500. Miller Lite Tap the FutureTap the Future is a live-pitch competition. Twenty-five businesses pitch in front of judges in five major US cities for a chance to win $20,000. The winner from each location will go to the national competition for a chance to win a $100,000 grand prize. National Association of the Self-EmployedNASE offers monthly $4,000 grants to small businesses. Must be a NASE member to apply. LendingTreeLendingTree offers a $50,000 grant to help small businesses that are having trouble scaling. One award per year. Specialty small-business grants

To help spread entrepreneurial success across demographics, many organizations focus their funding efforts on specific communities.

We’ve put together lists of:

» MORE: Sign up for our monthly small-business newsletter

Need small-business financing?

NerdWallet has come up with a list of the best small-business loans to meet your needs and goals. We gauged lender trustworthiness, market scope and user experience, among other factors, and arranged them by categories that include your revenue and how long you’ve been in business.

Compare business loans

Jackie Zimmermann is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: jzimmermann@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @jackie_zm

Consumers Have Powerful Tool in Credit Card Chargebacks

Credit card users who feel helpless when dealing with merchants that provide shoddy goods and services should know they have a powerful tool available to them: chargebacks.

A chargeback occurs when a credit card holder disputes a charge and the transaction is reversed. People tend to think of chargebacks as remedies for billing errors or fraudulent purchases. But consumers can also dispute a charge if they’re dissatisfied with the quality of merchandise, service or delivery and the merchant refuses to make things right, according to the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.

Experts say that although the law hasn’t changed, the power of chargebacks has surged, to the point that banks and credit card processors typically side with consumers. When Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit rater of local service vendors, asked its members to share stories about chargebacks in 2016, more than 100 replied, and 90 percent said they were successful, according to Executive Director Kevin Brasler.

Disputing a charge allows consumers to at least temporarily avoid paying without risking damage to their credit. They can also dispute paid charges from previous billing cycles. And the process has become as simple as making a few clicks from an online bank statement or taps in a bank smartphone app.

“It’s really easy to do,” Brasler says. Consumers’ Checkbook has called the chargeback “a consumer superweapon.”

A tool to be used judiciously

But with the great power of a chargeback comes great responsibility.

Chargebacks are costly to retailers. Not only do they lose money from disputed sales, but they also incur chargeback fees and potentially higher processing rates. Credit card processors may even drop retailers that have too many chargebacks.

A January 2016 study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that the overwhelming majority of successful chargebacks — 80% to 90% — from 2013 to 2014 were resolved as a “merchant liability.”

Merchants would prefer consumers dispute charges as a last resort, as the law intended. But because the process has become so easy, retailers say some customers use a chargeback instead of returning an unwanted item for a refund or getting in touch to work out a solution. Consumers might even dispute charges in an attempt to get their money back and keep the merchandise, a behavior sometimes dubbed “friendly fraud.”

“One of the rules is, you have to try to work it out with the merchant first,” Brasler says. “That’s only fair.”

And as merchants incur the costs of chargebacks, they pass them along to consumers in the form of higher prices, says Craig Shearman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

“Most retailers are very glad to work with their customers. They want to resolve the dispute and have a happy customer come back,” Shearman says.

Why chargebacks are increasing

Retailers report a surge in chargebacks following a behind-the-scenes change related to the new security chips in credit cards. On Oct. 1, 2015, liability for in-person fraudulent purchases switched from banks to retailers if the disputed charge came from a credit card equipped with an anti-fraud microchip, but the retailer’s card reader didn’t accept chip cards.

Some retailers who usually saw a few hundred dollars’ worth of chargebacks per year were suddenly seeing thousands’ worth, Shearman says. Much of that was due to fraud, but consumer disputes were also being automatically charged to retailers who didn’t yet have chip-card readers, he adds.

“There’s been a surge in malicious chargeback activity in the past year and half or so … and a certain number of consumers are taking advantage, too,” Shearman says. The retail federation wasn’t able to quantify the problem, he adds.

Brasler says merchants’ fear of chargebacks has given consumers new power that they should use sparingly. “Don’t be shy about saying, ‘I have this option, and I’ll use it if I have to,’” he says.

Gregory Karp is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.

This article was first published by The Associated Press

 

What to Buy (and Skip) on Presidents Day and Where to Find It

Presidents Day pops up on our calendar just after we’ve taken down our heart-shaped Valentine’s Day decorations and just before we plan our spring break vacations, but the often overlooked holiday brings worthwhile savings on some of life’s necessities.

If you’ve been putting off purchasing a mattress, furniture or major appliance, here’s what you should know about shopping over Presidents Day weekend.

What to buy (and skip)

Presidents Day is Feb. 20, but sales will start before the holiday and last for at least a few days after. Plan your shopping accordingly, especially if the item you want is in high demand.

Furniture tops our list of worthwhile purchases. Historically, department stores discount their home departments during the holiday weekend. Last Presidents Day, J.C. Penney took 40% to 60% off furniture and mattresses, Wayfair discounted home furniture by up to 70% and Target took 25% off rugs and bedding online.

This year, Joss & Main shoppers can use code EXTRA20 until Feb. 23 to take an additional 20% off home categories, including rugs, outdoor furniture, bedding and wall art.

Appliances will also be a bargain. If you spring for a major purchase, check for free shipping and  delivery offers, which could save you a considerable amount.

At home improvement store Lowe’s, select appliances will be up to 30% off through Feb. 28.

The weekend will be a prime opportunity for savings on mattresses and winter clothing, says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, professor emeritus at Golden Gate University and author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy.” She calls Presidents Day an undervalued shopping holiday.

Presidents Day sale events offer a chance to nab a discount on something you really need, but think twice before you start spending your Benjamins. For instance, deals on spring items won’t be so hot. They’re less likely to be discounted than winter products because they’ve just been released.

“My advice to shoppers is to think carefully about the item, not just the price,” Yarrow said in an email. “It’s all too common to get overly excited about a discount and buy more than you need or something that’s not quite right.”

Where to go

Once you’ve narrowed down your shopping list, decide where to go. Here are additional deals available over the weekend:

Ashley HomeStore: Through Feb. 20, get 25% off online purchases of $3,000 or more, among other savings. Some exclusions apply.

Best Buy: Save $300 on select gaming PCs and $200 on select MacBook Air 13-inch models.

Cabela’s: Shop discounts on sofas, recliners, TV stands and more in the Presidents Day Furniture Sale.

Converse: Feb. 17 through 20, take an additional 40% off clearance sneakers in store at Converse Factory locations. Valid on select clearance styles. See store associate for complete details.

La-Z-Boy: Find sale prices on recliners, sectionals and more both online and in store.

Mattress Firm: Through Feb. 26, or while supplies last, save up to $500 storewide. Selection may vary by store.

National Park Service: On Feb. 20, get free admission at National Park Service sites that normally charge an entrance fee.

Overstock: Feb. 17 through 23, get an extra 20% off area rugs and mattresses and an extra 10% off bedding and bath, among other sale categories.

Sears: Through Feb. 26, save up to 40% on appliances and up to 30% on vacuums.

Sleep Train: Save up to $400 on Beautyrest mattress sets through Feb. 26.

Visit your local store or check online for full redemption details, including possible exclusions.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

7 Ways to Lower Your Cable Bill

Cable bills never seem to get less expensive. Instead, they might jump $5, $10 or $20 without warning or a clear reason.

Those small increases can really hurt, especially considering the average cable bill already tops $100 per month, according to an annual survey by Leichtman Research Group.

But you can take control of your budget and your cable bill. Here are seven ways to lower it right now.

1. Get rid of extras

It’s hard to say goodbye to HBO, but doing so can shave as much as $20 off your monthly bill with some providers. Let go of Showtime and you could save another $5 to $15 per month.

Farewell doesn’t have to be forever, though. If you can’t live without “Game of Thrones” or “Homeland,” remove the channel when the season wraps.

Premium channels aren’t the only extras you can trim. Additional receivers often cost $3 to $12 per month. Maybe the receiver in your bedroom isn’t necessary after all.

2. Nix the DVR

Miss your favorite show? There’s a good chance you can watch it on-demand the next day. Even local news segments live on via the stations’ websites. Trading in your DVR for a standard digital receiver could trim $10 or more off your monthly bill.

3. Question your fees

Call your provider’s customer service line and question each fee on your bill. Some will be unavoidable, but you can sidestep others, such as those for HD technology, by tweaking your plan.

4. Downsize your plan

Trimming your cable package to include just your must-haves can save you as much as $40 per month with some providers — and you probably won’t even miss the extra channels.

A September 2016 report by Nielsen revealed that, on average, American adults watch only about 20 channels, though they get around 205.

5. Bundle up

Pairing your cable and internet service with some providers will save you more than $1,000 over two years.

Just don’t get talked into bundling services you don’t need, such as a premium cable package when you only want local networks or blazing-fast internet service that you only use to watch Netflix. These may indeed be great deals for some users, but that doesn’t make them great for you.

6. Negotiate a lower rate

Don’t be afraid to haggle with your cable provider.

“Knocking down the price is as simple as taking the time to call and ask — politely,” says personal finance writer Andrea Woroch.

Woroch practices what she preaches. She recently called her cable company to ask about new promotions. The result? “A $50-per-month savings by bundling my services and switching to autopay.”

Negotiating requires persistence. If at first you don’t succeed, call back and talk to someone else. Woroch suggests asking for a supervisor or manager if necessary.

7. Cut the cord

Still not satisfied with your cable bill? Eliminate it altogether. You can still watch broadcast TV with the help of a digital antenna and binge on your favorite series with Netflix or Hulu. Subscriptions for both streaming services start at $7.99.

Those looking for a less drastic option can try SlingTV or DirecTV Now. Packages start at $20 with SlingTV and $35 with DirecTV Now. Both offer access to live and on-demand TV without all the extra fees of cable.

Whether you go bold or make small cuts, the savings on your cable bill will add up over time — giving your budget more breathing room so you can treat yourself in other areas.

Kelsey Sheehy is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ksheehy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @KelseyLSheehy.

The Rate of Mortgage Approvals in Each State

Millions of Americans look to mortgage loans to help them buy homes, but the number of applications — and the percentage actually getting approved and funded — varies by where you live.

To determine the states with the most mortgage purchase, not refinancing, loan applications and approvals, NerdWallet analyzed 2015 data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database for each state. The HMDA requires that financial institutions report mortgage transactions to the federal government.

To create a comparison across states, we counted the rate of applications and the observed approval rate for purchases per 1,000 residents. For the definition of “observed approval rate,” see the methodology at the end of this article.

» MORE: Looking for a house? Get a mortgage preapproval first

The average mortgage approval rate nationwide was 88.2%. Minnesota was home to the highest percentage of mortgage purchase loan applications approved in 2015, with a rate of 92.3% — meaning fewer than 8% of applications were denied there. Alaska was second at 91.8%.

The state with the lowest percentage of approved mortgage applications was Florida, at 82.9%.

You can find the rate of mortgage approvals for your state in the chart below.

Colorado saw the most mortgage purchase loan applications per capita in 2015, with 18.2 residents per 1,000 trying to get a loan, the analysis found. In second place was Utah, with 17 applications per 1,000 people.

The state with the fewest applications was New York, where only 6 people out of every 1,000 applied for a mortgage.

See the chart below for the number of mortgage loan applications and originations — meaning ones that are approved and funded — per 1,000 people in each state.

Emily Starbuck Crone is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: emily.crone@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @emstarbuck. Daniel Tonkovich is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: dtonkovich@nerdwallet.com.

METHODOLOGY Using data from the 2015 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act database, we looked at mortgages for first-lien and owner-occupied one- to four-family homes, such as town houses. Mobile and manufactured homes weren’t included in the data set we examined. Approval rates were determined by taking the total number of mortgage applications and dividing it by the number of applications that were approved — this is known as the “observed approval rate.” However, the observed rate doesn’t take into account changes in credit availability over time, which has an impact on the number of applications. The Urban Institute, a think tank that analyzes social and economic policies, has attempted to address this problem “by calculating the denial rate for applicants with less than ‘near perfect’ credit” to create what it calls the “real rate.” See the rationale and methodology here.

Your Credit Is About to Get Better

The three major credit bureaus, and one forward-thinking debt collector, are making changes that could allow millions of people to get loans they’ve unfairly been denied.

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion plan to remove civil lawsuit judgments — where a creditor has sued and won in court — and many tax liens from people’s credit reports starting July 1. Striking those public records could improve the scores of as many as 14 million people, some by enough to qualify for mortgages and other loans that are currently beyond their grasp.

Meanwhile, leading debt collection company Encore Capital Group has shortened the time it reports paid collections from seven years to two. The company, which owns Midland Credit Management, Midland Funding, Asset Acceptance and Atlantic Credit & Finance, also promises not to report new collection accounts to the bureaus if debtors start making payments within 90 days after Encore notifies them of the debt.

The moves are long overdue, because the system for reporting serious black marks has been broken for years.

Why debt reporting is broken

Credit-scoring companies have long known that people who settle their old debts are a much better risk than those who don’t — but credit scores typically don’t reflect that fact.

The latest versions of FICO and VantageScore ignore paid collection accounts, and FICO’s newest score treats unpaid medical debts less harshly than other overdue bills. But most lenders still use older versions of credit scores that count collections against consumers, which can prevent people from getting loans and credit cards, or cause them to pay higher interest rates. The problem is particularly acute in mortgage lending, where mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require lenders to use FICO scores that are several generations out of date.

Stripping collections from reports ensures they can’t be factored into credit scores, which are based entirely on credit bureau data.

The bureaus have already agreed to kick other types of collections to the curb. As part of a massive settlement with 31 state attorneys general two years ago, the bureaus promised to stop reporting collections resulting from traffic tickets, library fines and other mishaps that didn’t stem from a credit account or consumer agreement to pay. The bureaus also vowed to remove paid medical bills, and medical debts now have a 180-day “waiting period” to allow insurance payments to be applied.

Public records such as judgments and tax liens are another source of problematic data, since many aren’t properly verified or updated, and correcting errors can be tough. Civil court judgments are particularly fraught, since many people don’t know they’re being sued. Creditors are typically granted default judgments, which means they win  — even when they sue over debts that are technically too old or that aren’t even owed — because the debtor didn’t show up.

The number of lawsuits has soared as debt buyers snap up delinquent bills for pennies on the dollar and then turn to the courts for judgments. The costs of filing are so cheap that in some states creditors sue over bills as small as $60, according to a ProPublica investigation.

Small improvements for many

To be reported after July 1, a public record must have minimum identifying information, including name, address and Social Security number or date of birth, and the data must be updated every 90 days. Experian estimated that 96% of civil judgments and about half of all tax liens wouldn’t meet the new enhanced public record criteria.

Credit scoring firm FICO recently analyzed what would happen if the bureaus dropped all judgments and any tax lien that couldn’t be verified, using 30 million consumer records purged of that data that were provided by the bureaus. The credit scoring company found 6% to 7% of roughly 200 million consumers with FICO scores had such records, and that scores rose a median 10 points, says Ethan Dornhelm, vice president for scores and analytics.

Most people who have judgments and liens have other credit problems, which limits how much their scores can rise. That’s also the reason the change would have “no material effect” on FICO scores’ ability to predict risk, Dornhelm said. But the changes could be enough to allow people who just miss lenders’ credit score cutoffs to qualify for loans. To get a conventional mortgage, for example, borrowers typically need a minimum 620 credit score, while getting most FHA loans require a 580 score.

Clearing the garbage data from credit reports would affect more than credit scores, of course. Credit information is used by insurers to set premiums, landlords to grant apartments and employers to hire and promote. Making sure credit report data is accurate — and relevant — helps people save money and live better lives.

Liz Weston is a certified financial planner and columnist at NerdWallet. Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston.

Americans Don’t Know Much About Taxes — or That They Might Get Them Done for Free

A new survey by NerdWallet and Harris Poll finds that Americans are failing at basic tax knowledge, and a significant number of taxpayers could be needlessly paying for tax software and services that they might be able to get for free.

The online survey of over 1,800 U.S. adults who filed taxes last year and plan to file this year found that, on average, respondents correctly answered only about two of eight questions on IRS rules for common deductions, retirement and education savings plans. The survey also found that more than a third of U.S. taxpayers with annual household incomes below $50,000 paid a tax professional or national tax preparation company to do their taxes last year — even though they may have actually been able to get that help for free.

Tax knowledge is low

The survey highlights a striking lack of basic understanding among Americans about the country’s federal income tax system. About half (46%) of taxpayers don’t know what tax bracket they’re in — or even what a “tax bracket” is, for example.

In addition, more than half (58%) of taxpayers incorrectly believe that getting a tax extension means they can delay the due date of their income tax payment, according to the survey. Nearly 3 in 5 taxpayers (57%) don’t know what a W-4 is or that April 18, 2017, is the deadline for making a tax-deductible contribution to a traditional individual retirement account (59%) for the 2016 tax year.

The lack of tax knowledge can lead to poor financial decisions and even costly mistakes, says NerdWallet columnist and certified financial planner Liz Weston.

“Knowing your bracket can help you determine the value of any deductions you take and whether a tax-advantaged investment is worthwhile,” she says. “When you pay a dollar in mortgage interest, for example, your bracket determines whether you can save 10 cents or 39.6 cents.”

Overlooked free options

More than a third (38%) of taxpayers making less than $50,000 annually hired an accountant (26%) or a national tax preparation company (12%) to do their taxes last year, according to the survey. But many of those taxpayers might actually be able to get tax software and help for free.

In addition, 33% used commercial software to do their taxes — and some may have filed with free tax software. Many of the big-name tax software companies allow customers to file simple federal returns, and sometimes even state returns, for nothing.

People who made less than $64,000 in 2016 may also qualify for free tax software from the IRS’s Free File program to file their federal and often state income taxes. In fact, the IRS estimated in 2016 that more than 70% of Americans — or about 100 million people — qualify to file their taxes for free.

Those options may go overlooked because, as the survey found, Americans who use tax software don’t shop around. Four in 10 respondents in the survey say they’ve used the same tax software provider for at least five years.

For Americans who want human interaction, programs such as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance offer free tax help to those who generally earn $54,000 or less, have disabilities or have limited English skills, Weston says. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly program also gives free tax help to anyone, though it specializes in issues relevant to older taxpayers.

“Most people do not need to spend hundreds of dollars to file their taxes when there are so many free and low-cost options,” Weston says.

Click here to see the full survey and the methodology.

Tina Orem is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: torem@nerdwallet.com.

19 Ways to Save on a Wedding

First comes love, then comes paying for the wedding.

Weddings cost an average of $35,329 nationally — excluding the honeymoon — according to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study. That’s the highest reported average cost since the survey began in 2006.

But you’re not obligated to spend that much, and many couples don’t. We asked experts how you can set a reasonable budget and cut costs on some of the most expensive elements of your upcoming nuptials.

The budget 1. Be realistic

Don’t start your marriage in debt, says Anne Chertoff, a trend expert for WeddingWire. “Most couples don’t anticipate how much a wedding is actually going to cost, so they end up underestimating what they’re going to spend and then going over their budget,” she says. Set realistic spending limits from the beginning that account for all areas of your wedding. If you overspend in one area, cut back in another.

2. Use a credit card —  responsibly

It can be smart to use a credit card for wedding-related purchases — as long as you’re not taking on more debt than you can afford to pay off. Chertoff recommends using accumulated points toward your honeymoon, particularly if you have a card with travel rewards.

The date 3. Consider a winter wedding

Not all wedding dates are created equal. Find out which are most popular on WeddingWire’s wedding date calendar. If there’s more demand for a given date, you’ll usually pay a higher price for a venue. You could score a discount for choosing a less popular month, such as January or February, Chertoff says.

4. Book a Sunday

Saturday is a popular day for weddings, but it’s also generally the most expensive day to get married. You can likely reserve your venue at a lower price if you hold your wedding on a Sunday, or even a weeknight.

The guests 5. Put a twist on ‘plus one’ etiquette

Instead of giving all guests older than 18 a “plus one,” limit them to couples you socialize with regularly, says Sharon Naylor, author of dozens of wedding books, including “1,001 Ways to Save Money … and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding.” To avoid awkward questions, explain how you’re determining the guest list.

6. Mix up your invitations

You’ll probably want to mail out traditional invitations, says Stephanie Cain, an editor at The Knot. But you can post wedding weekend itineraries on your wedding website and email save-the-date alerts. That’ll save you the cost of printing and postage.

The dress 7. check out a prom shop

Brides aren’t finding dresses at just the bridal shop these days, Naylor says. You can pick up a white dress in the prom or party dress section of any department store. The popularity of colored dresses makes formal gowns a nice substitute, too.

The national average spent on a wedding dress was $1,564 in 2016, according to the The Knot’s latest Real Weddings study. A simple Google search for white prom dresses pulls up options that cost a fraction of that.

8. budget for your accessories

There’s more to your dress budget than the dress. Cain suggests taking extras such as tailoring fees, shoes, jewelry and a clutch into account when setting a spending limit. To save on your veil, Chertoff recommends making it your “something borrowed” and wearing a family member’s.

The venue 9. negotiate

Lots of unexpected expenses can pop up during planning, including cake-cutting and corkage fees or power for your DJ and photo booth. Naylor says you don’t have to take them as they are. If a cost seems unreasonable, respectfully request to have it removed.

10. Use the venue’s resources

Some venues provide tables and linens, Cain says. If you opt for a backyard wedding, you’ll have to rent items like these. Always read a venue’s contract in its entirety before signing so you know what is and isn’t included.

And keep an eye out for requirements. You might not want to be obligated to use the venue’s caterer, for instance.

The decor 11. communicate with your vendors

Naylor says some floral designers have warehouses with excess inventory they’re willing to give away or lend out for free. Once you’ve placed an order, ask about expanding your options.

12. borrow from other newlyweds

Ask friends who have recently gotten married if you can borrow centerpieces or other items that they have left over.

13. Scout out decorations at craft stores

Look for wedding decorations — especially light-up decor — in places like craft stores. They have “more than glue guns and glitter,” Naylor says.

The flowers 14. Stick to in-season blooms

You might have your heart set on pink flowers to accent your bridesmaids’ bouquets, but consider settling for a different shade or variety. Local blooms that are in season at the time of your wedding are generally less expensive. Also, “local flowers tend to look fresher because they didn’t have to travel for days,” Cain says.

15. Get the most out of your flowers

A larger flower, such as a hydrangea, naturally looks fuller and takes up more space with fewer stems, Cain says. And you can repurpose ceremony flowers for the reception, instead of buying more. For instance, use a ceremony arch to adorn your sweetheart table at the reception.

The menu 16. Go for a shorter cake

The more tiers on your cake, the more it’ll cost you. Cain suggests sticking to two tiers and having sheet cakes to serve. The cake you cut for your pictures doesn’t have to feed all of your guests.

17. Cut down on drink sizes

Arrange for the bartender to serve your signature drinks in smaller glasses. “Most people will go and try the signature drink, take a sip, put it down and go back to their regular drink,” Naylor says. Minimize the cost of your bar tab by opting for shooters.

The rest 18. Choose a charitable favor

Don’t want to buy a favor for each wedding guest? Make a charitable donation on behalf of all your guests, Chertoff says. That way, you can set the amount you’re comfortable spending, donate to a cause you care about and write off the contribution on your taxes.

19. Limit your photographer’s hours

Save money by shaving off some of the time your photographer and videographer are present, Naylor and Cain suggest. You’ll likely want them there for the ceremony, but you might not need footage of the end-of-reception dancing.

Bottom line, these experts suggest keeping a close eye on your wedding spending. “Anybody — whether they have a $10,000 budget or a $500,000 budget — is still working on a budget,” Cain says.

Devote the biggest parts of your budget to the areas that are most important to you and be willing to compromise on the rest.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

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