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The Smart Bride


I used to fantasize about my fabulous wedding, replete with handsome groom, masses of white roses and the Rolls Royce in which I’d be whisked away with my new husband. Now that I am an adult and newly engaged, I’ve had to edit my dream. The only part I can afford is the handsome groom, and that’s because he’s free.

Once you start to plan your own bash, reality sets in. Everything is expensive — flowers, invitations, food. But for the 2.3 million couples who will say “I do” this year, there are many ways to save money.

Here’s how to cut corners, save on frills, get away with less — and still stage a memorable event.

The Place
Yes, hotel ballrooms and private clubs are grand settings, but rental fees are high and you are roped into using the facility’s expensive caterers. Other appealing options abound, such as public historic homes, parks, vineyards and beaches.

Or you might hold the reception at your house. A friend of mine had both ceremony and reception at her parents’ place, an inviting setting for a summer wedding, as their house is on the waterfront. My friend capitalized on the situation, making a dramatic entrance by boat.

The ceremony will cost you, too — churches and synagogues can charge hefty amounts. So shop around before you set your heart on the church you went to as a child. And, to avoid this fee altogether, stage the ceremony where you hold the reception.

Food and drink are pricey, and an open bar can cost a small fortune. I once attended a posh wedding where the bar bill alone ran the couple $20,000. If your ceremony is to take place at a club or hotel, make sure alcohol is included in the set price per person and verify that no extra charges are levied. Those on a tight budget might consider serving only wine or champagne. And, if your wedding is a casual affair, simply pour sangria or margaritas from pitchers.

And the guests must eat! Sit-down dinners are the most expensive dining option, whereas brunches take a smaller chunk from your wallet. A buffet is the next notch down in price. But even these can seriously cost you — broiled salmon and asparagus with hollandaise don’t come cheaply. Another possibility is to have a caterer make loads of hors d’oeuvres and pass them for two hours rather than one. People will fill up (this is an old professional party-giver’s trick).

For a small wedding at home or in a park, you can even prepare a cold buffet table yourself (or call on friends or Mom). A variety of cheeses, raw vegetables and dips, tea sandwiches and salads are elegant and inexpensive.

A tip about procuring the iconic dessert: Before you hit bakeries to shop for a wedding cake, take off your engagement ring. Once a bakery hears the cake is for a wedding, the price of a simple three-tier cake can double. Order a plain iced cake and, once it arrives, decorate it with flower petals or ribbons to add a ceremonial air.

And the utensils for these delicacies? The price of renting china and glasses can depress any bride-to-be: If you have little cash to spare, opt for attractive disposables. With great food, no one will care (except your snooty Aunt Mildred).
A wedding gown can set you back as much as a Caribbean honeymoon, but smart shoppers will be able to find one at a low cost. There are always wedding-dress sample sales to storm. Or try the evening-wear department of a large clothing store. Simple silk sheaths are in vogue as wedding dresses, and many are sold far from the wedding department, for a fraction of the price. Consignment shops and vintage clothing stores make also great hunting grounds for both traditional and nontraditional wedding dresses.

Did your mom preserve her wedding dress? Try it on even if you aren’t crazy about the style, as a seamstress can modernize an outdated gown. One woman I know completely revamped the bodice of her sister’s wedding dress for a mere $75. I attended both weddings and never would have known it was the same dress if the bride hadn’t confided in me.

One last tip: Just as a groom often rents a tuxedo, you can rent a wedding dress.

Engraved invitations are beautiful — and that beauty comes with a high price tag. Opt for a printed version instead. Choose an elegant script font on traditional ecru-colored paper for a refined appearance; or, for a casual wedding, colorful, printed invitations make a modern choice. To really save money, create your own on a computer with design software. For homemade invitations that look professional, buy matching envelopes and use a laser printer.

Only inviting a select few to your nuptials? Handwritten invitations are a charming surprise (hire or cajole someone with great handwriting to do it if yours is a scrawl).

Weddings and flowers are synonymous, but blooms are ridiculously expensive.

Fortunately, there are many ways to save in this department. Go to a professional for the bride’s bouquet (unless you’re Martha Stewart). You can tackle the rest of the floral decorations yourself if need be. For bridesmaids’ bouquets, buy flowers — such as lilies — that look gorgeous just loosely arranged. Tie the stems together with a satin ribbon and use wire to keep them alert. Another possibility is for each bridesmaid to carry a single rose or a large sunflower.


Since you will be spending less time in the church or synagogue than at the reception, allocate your flower budget accordingly. Consider renting flowering plants from a company that supplies plants to offices. Place the plants at the church or synagogue’s entrance, altar and at each aisle. (A ribbon tied around each pot is festive.) If you are having your ceremony before or after another couple’s event, talk to them about sharing decorations and splitting the cost.

To avoid expensive floral arrangements for each table at the reception, invest in inexpensive glass vases and fill them yourself. Not talented at flower arranging? Go for elegant simplicity: Set one type of flower in each vase.

For a winter wedding, evergreens are a handsome option at a modest price. Ice sculpture, of all things, is making a comeback. A wholesale food or catering supplier will sell you a mold — swan or otherwise — for about $35. The price of a glistening sculpture is a far cry from that for a large floral arrangement, and makes a dramatic object on the buffet table.

Photos & Music
As you will leaf through your wedding album many times (one hopes), don’t skimp on the photographer. If a professional wedding photographer is financially daunting, choose a camera person with a good portfolio but without wedding experience. He or she won’t charge as much. Give the novice lots of instructions about what and whom you want captured on film. You’d like your wedding to be filmed but don’t want to pay for a videographer? Ask a friend or relative to video scenes of the wedding.

Good bands are expensive, but if you hire a nontraditional wedding band you’ll pay less. Regardless of the type of band, the number of musicians is directly related to price – so pare down the group as much as possible.

A disc jockey is another option. And a great DJ beats a lousy band any day.

If you’re serious about saving, skip the wedding reception altogether and, instead, combine vows and honeymoon into one trip. Go off alone or with your immediate family and exchange rings on a mountaintop or at an inn. As newlyweds, back from the trip, you can throw a “tied the knot” party to celebrate with everyone imaginable.

Or elope the old-fashioned way! One couple I know, who had been dating for several years, woke up one morning and decided to make their commitment official. To bypass the months of planning, the expenses and fretting relatives, they headed a few days later to City Hall with the two requisite witnesses and got hitched. That night they threw an informal, intimate party in their apartment.

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