In general I would say all Weddings and Receptions can be broken down to some very basic elements:
*Entertainment and Music
There are many ways of doing all of these that can be perfectly romantic and pleasant whist being quite affordable.
It may be tempting to splash out and spend $10,000+ but in our times of economic uncertainty it is imprudent to start your married life with an enormous debt. So here is my suggestions on how to have a wedding as cheaply as possible.
Step 1: Pick Your Dress
There is a vast array of dress designs you can choose from on Google Images.
There is also a vast array of Chinese Dressmakers who you can access through eBay. If you seek out a store on eBay that makes custom dresses from China you should be able to get your desired dress for around $155 materials included, although it can take 2-4 months to arrive.
Make sure the images you select to send to the dressmaker are clear and highly detailed. Also make sure you have taken your measurements accurately. If you plan on loosing weight for your big day then adjust your measurments accordingly.
If this is all too much for you you can try buying a second hand dress over eBay, newspaper ads or second hand shops. You may also have a relative who would lend you their dress for some vintage style and added meaning.
Most men own suits but if your beau lacks one try the local second hand store. You'd be amazed at what you can find there sometimes.
Step 2: Select Your Venue
If you regularly attend a Church it is likely that they will let you use it for free. Otherwise it is likely that you will know someone who has a large backyard you could use.
I DON'T recommend parks. You will end up paying around $200 in a city area per hour and then when you get there on the day no one will clean it for you and you will most likely have to chase people off of the area yourself.
Added advantages of having your wedding at a Church is that they will already know about holding events and will be able to advise you on the local laws regarding events of this kind.
Step 3: Make and Send Your Invitations
I highly recomend online invitations. These days you can have a Facebook event open and you can also use online card websites to send invitations for free.
If you are really creative you can use images on Google Images and an online slideshow maker to make your own.
For guests who don't use the internet you can print out an invitation using Microsoft Publisher or even Microsoft Paint and sent that through the mail.
I recomend setting a date when most people won't be working. As another method of cutting costs put "Bring your favourite Food or Drink" on the invites.
This is a highly pleasant choice as it means that there will be a high quality and range of foods and there is a special feeling knowing that your friends made the food rather then some faceless company.
You can also invite as many people as you like without having to worry that you'll blow your budget and low income friends will feel less guilty if they can't afford to give you a gift since they can just make something themselves and bring it.
Step 4: Choose Your Decorations
Without spending around $1000 it can be a struggle to create an atmosphere of sophistication and romance at a wedding.
Which is why I highly recommend buying about 4 projector lamps on eBay for around $30. If you turn off the lights in your selected venue and leave a few of these lamps around the room everything is automatically themed at minimal cost.
Step 5: Selecting a Priest or Celebrant
Once again, if you are a regular church goer it is likely that your Pastor/Preist/Vicar will happily marry you for free, although a cash gift is recommended. But that said, the Pastor may require you to undergo some early marrage classes or Bible studies with him/her.
If you do opt for a celebrant it can take some of the atmosphere out of the wedding. Somehow a suit-clad man or woman doesn't carry the same weight as a Priest fully decked out in their regalia. But a celebrant will give you almost complete liberty in exchange of around $350.
Your marrage licence will cost around another $66 and you will be required to lodge various forms some months before the marriage. Otherwise it won't be legally binding.
Step 6: Entertainment
Unless you are some kind of hermit you most likely know some people who have some musical talent. Failing this you and your friends will own some CDs. Both of these can become a potential form of entertainment if fed through the PA of your chosen venue.
If you are a lover of karaoke then you can form a cheap karaoke arrangement by hunting for well loved songs in midi form on the internet. Then use a converter and a burner to put them on cd and bring a folio of lyrics to your reception. Let people choose their songs. In any case you should choose an MC.
Step 7: Rings
There are many ways the rings can be managed. Perhaps your grandparents or parents own some jewlery they would happily give to you to use in leu of rings for something inconventional with added meaning.
You also have the option of buying your rings second hand for a great discount. I don't entirely recommend using "$2 Shop" rings as they don't stand up to repeated washings very well.
For a low cost option sterling silver and cubic zirconia or man made diamonds are favourable. Some jewlers will also let you pay via an installment plan.
Another good option is to go for rings made from semiprecious stones. Their low price often makes us forget that these rocks were formed in the "big bang" where life the universe and everything came to be.
Step 8: The Cake
No matter what shop you go to they will charge you some exorbitant price for your wedding cake. The only cheap way to manage this is either to get a friend to make your cake or make it yourself.
I recommend keeping your eyes open for unusual materials you can use to decorate the cake (safely) and experimenting with recipes and looking at different cake dishes.
A recent popular option is the cup-cake wedding cake, where you have tiers of different cupcakes which are decorated with icing and ornaments.
For a more time efficient option I recommend buying cheap ready made cakes and ready made roll on icing from your local grocery store and cutting and icing to your desired shape. With food dye you can paint on your own design.
Step 9: Enjoy!
It is wise to relax and have fun on your wedding day. Have some friends or relatives help you do your hair and make up. Don't drink too much.
Remember that if you turn bridezilla your wedding might come out the way you planned but you aren't happy and your wedding party isn't happy, so it's all wasted.
For this reason I highly recommend keeping your wedding itself purely legal and civil and spending all your time and money on the reception. Everyone has hear the words before and the basic set up. What they really want to see is your dress and to have a nice meal with friends.