Careful Planning Can Keep Wedding Costs in Check

Careful Planning Can Keep Wedding Costs in Check

Weddings. Those hearts and flowers occasions when families gather around a couple and celebrate their union with good food, good music, good wine … well, that’s the general idea anyway.

The average wedding costs $16,000, according to Brides magazine, enough for a down payment on a house. By the time families start adding up bills for florists, caterers, cake-makers, photographers and musicians, the blissful ceremony can evolve into one expensive party.

There are ways, however, to keep costs down. It takes some footwork, some ingenuity and some flexibility, but it can be done.

One of the biggest mistakes couples make is not planning ahead, which means the people footing the wedding bill get stuck paying full price for everything from flowers to invitations, said Sherrie Miller-Evans, owner of Angelic Wedding Consultants of Las Vegas. It’s not unusual for couples to plan their big day one year in advance, she said, which is much more economical than trying to get everything done in a few months.

It is also good practice for couples to sit down together and decide exactly what kind of wedding and reception they want, Miller-Evans explained, rather than trying to pick and choose elements of the occasion along the way. Miller-Evans has the bride and groom sit down separately and fill out a form rating their priorities for the celebration. They may, for example, be more interested in having great entertainment at the reception than having an expensive honeymoon. The idea is to spend money on what the couple deems important and cut back on the other items, she said. ‘There are so many elements and they all come with a price tag.’

Setting a budget and sticking to it is also critical, noted Leah Ingram, author of ‘The Portable Wedding Consultant’ (Contemporary Books, 1997). Couples can get carried away adding details or continually upgrading elements of their wedding whether it’s the flower arrangements for the church or the menu offerings at the reception, she said.

If a couple is not getting married in a church, the wedding site can be expensive, Ingram noted. A good way to avoid this is to find nontraditional locations such as parks, museums or historical homes rented out by cities and counties, she said. For example, there is a working firehouse in New Jersey that has been refurbished and the upstairs is rented out for special events such as weddings.

The best way to find these places is to call the local chamber of commerce, go to the library and look for directories of public places or ask friends, she said. Word-of-mouth is often the best way to find these gems, she added.

Reception halls can be costly, particularly if couples are required to use the on-site catering service because this is where most of the money is made, Ingram said. Finding a place such as a church hall where families are allowed to cater the event themselves can create a huge savings.

It is also a good idea to control what is offered at an open bar because of the large markup on liquor. Ingram suggests limiting the choices to wine and beer. If there is hard liquor at the bar, include only a few selections such as gin and vodka. ‘If you keep choices to reasonable items you won’t be handed this huge bill at the end.’

If possible, hire an independent bartender and buy the liquor at wholesale outlets or go to a retail store and ask the proprietor for a break on cases of wine or hard liquor, Ingram added.

It’s always a good idea to avoid the peak wedding months because businesses are more willing to cut a deal during the slow periods, noted Alan Fields, co-author of ‘Bridal Bargains,’ (Windsor Peak Press, 1996). In the Southwest, the busiest times of the year are usually spring and fall, unlike the East where June and August are still the biggest wedding months of the year, he said.

Even flowers can be cheaper if the season is kept in mind. Tulips, for example, are easier to get in March than late summer, Fields said. There are also certain flowers that tend to be reasonably priced year-round such as daisies, gladiolus and freesia.

The average floral package, including bouquets and arrangements, is about $800 but the cost can reach into the thousands of dollars, Fields said. One way to significantly cut the cost of flowers is to order them through a wholesaler, he said. These businesses offer wedding packages, or the flowers can be shipped through the mail and arranged by, say, an aunt with a knack for arts and crafts. Silk flowers are also a cost-saving option, he added.

Wedding consultants can be good sources for finding the best deals, said Millie Bratten, editor of Brides magazine. They usually charge a small percentage of the entire cost of the wedding but in the meantime have access to discounted items such as invitations and flowers. They also know who offers the best services, who has the best rates and are great during a wedding emergency, she said. Some of them can even be hired just for the wedding day to make sure everything runs smoothly, she added.

Families need to know what they’re buying so they should check all the fine print on each contract they sign, Bratten said. If a band gets paid overtime for playing more than the allotted hours, for example, the family should make sure they know how much it will cost, she said. If a wedding hall charges a per-plate fee, it’s important to know what that fee covers such as decorations, rental of the hall, even the tablecloths. ‘Make sure you want and need the things you’re paying for.’

It’s also important to check the references of bands, photographers, caterers and consultants, Bratten noted.

Finally, couples should have fun, Miller-Evans said. There are no set rules anymore when it comes to weddings so couples can plan just about any kind of celebration they want. ‘The rules of 20 years ago, you can just throw them out. You can do what you really want today and that’s wonderful. It’s really about time.’

Stretching the Wedding Budget

Here are some more cost-saving tips from the wedding experts:

  • Find a professional photographer who will use 35 mm film instead of medium-format film, which is more expensive. Then develop and enlarge the exposed film yourself.
  • Check the classified ads for a wedding dress. They have been worn only once and sometimes not at all, and are usually a fraction of the original cost.
  • Make do-it-yourself centerpieces for the reception by using balloons or potted flowers that can be taken home by the guests.
  • To find musicians, call the music department at the local college and ask for professors who play at weddings.
  • For a wedding and honeymoon in one, call resorts and ask for special wedding packages that include the price of the ceremony and honeymoon stay.
  • Use a mail-order company for the invitations.
  • Pick a favorite restaurant or gourmet market to cater the reception.
  • Whittle down the guest list. If you’ve invited 200, cut it down to 175 or 150.
  • Have the wedding in the afternoon since lunch is cheaper to serve at a reception than dinner, or have a late-afternoon wedding and serve drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
  • Instead of renting a limousine, rent a luxury car and have a friend do the driving.
  • Have the wedding on a Friday or Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday.
  • Find a photograph of the ideal wedding dress, take it to a bridal shop and ask if they have something similar in your price range.
  • Serve an expensive appetizer such as filet mignon or lobster but keep the dinners to less-expensive items such as chicken.
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