The Biggest Day of Your Life, Not the Biggest Bill of Your Life
He wooed you with flowers from the grocery store and picnics in the park instead of fancy dinners out. Your engagement ring might have come from a pawnshop, but who has to know?
So now that you want to marry your bargain-basement sweetheart, where are the two of you supposed to get the more than $16,000 the wedding industry estimates the average celebration costs? That tally includes more than $5,000 on the reception for fewer than 100 people, more than $1,000 on flowers and more than $1,800 on photographs.
With more couples getting wed without financial help from parents or who have other financial commitments and goals – a house, kids, a college education – spending so much on a single event seems out of the question, wedding experts agree.
There are ways to cut costs and, luckily, even the priciest consultants advise, smaller and simpler weddings are considered elegant these days.
“Don’t be embarrassed; don’t be afraid to say I don’t have a daddy with deep pockets,” says Suzanne Kresse, nationally known as “The Wedding Lady” from her syndicated radio talk show, which airs on 135 stations nationwide, but none in Tampa. “It’s not a personal cut on you.”
Actually, in Hillsborough County it takes just $108.50 to get married. That includes $88.50 for a marriage license. The clerks at the courthouse will perform the service for $20.
Anything more can get expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.
“There are a still a lot of big weddings,” says Fred Allen of Almost Heaven Wedding Services, a local company that puts together wedding packages from about $900 to $1,200.
“But there are people who would just rather spend their money somewhere else. We see a lot of people getting away from the traditional church wedding. They still have weddings that are really pretty and a lot less trouble.”
Even people who have committed a large sum of money to an event are looking for a bargain. Take for example the Christensens of East Lake Woodlands, who will be celebrating the first marriage of their four children when daughter Tricia, 25, marries Chris Zygiel, 26, this summer.
The wedding will be a big event – 150 to 200 guests – with family traveling to Florida from the Christensens’ native Connecticut.
But with three other kids in college, the family wants to keep wedding costs to about $15,000.
That’s why on a recent Saturday, Tricia stood in line with about 45 other women to be among the first at the annual $99 dress sale at David’s Bridal’s in Tampa’s West Shore area.
The dresses are discounted; the emotion of the day is not.
“This is so exciting,” says Tricia’s mother, dabbing her eyes as Tricia steps before a mirror in a flouncy white dress.
The consultants say couples need to educate themselves about costs and what each service will provide and negotiate for lower prices or more service for their money. Kresse suggests they also visit liquor stores to learn about the one item that can cost as much as the food and easily can run over budget.
Couples also will have to accept that they may have to do without the extras that can make weddings so costly – limousines, ice sculptures, personal makeup assistants, and those darling matchbooks bearing the happy couple’s names.
But consultant Kresse says don’t cut back so much that the food isn’t good, the entertainment is lousy and there are too few, or poor quality, photographs. Those are the things that make a wedding memorable, she says.
Start with the obvious places to save, say these wedding experts, who come off as well-coiffed warriors in a cutthroat business.
Use the family church to avoid being charged a chapel usage fee, and check to see if family and friends can help arrange deals for other services through their businesses. Don’t – the consultants stress – put family members to work at the wedding to save a buck or ask people to pay for the wedding services as a gift.
From there on, it takes some sharp comparison shopping to find bargains.
Wedding dresses that are close copies of designer originals or bought through large suppliers, such as David’s, are good quality, can be fitted similarly to more expensive gowns and if handled properly can be preserved for the next generation.
Several discount gown outlets are located throughout Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and can be found under the bridal shops listings in the GTE Yellow Pages. Discounted dresses can be ordered from several companies through the World Wide Web – just search under key words “wedding gowns” and “bargain.”
The groom can negotiate discounted tuxedo rentals if there is a large wedding party. Some shops, such as Mitchell’s Formal Wear, one of the area’s largest tuxedo rental chains, offer the groom a free tuxedo with six other rentals and other stores have been known to throw in vests, shoes and ties for free.
Invitations – which can run $500 and up – can be made on a home computer or printed at a copying store on quality paper at a fraction of the cost, Kresse says.
Receptions, which cancost more than one-third of a total wedding’s budget, can be scaled back to just family and friends, says Tampa wedding consultant Joyce Hartmann. Her book, “Secrets of a Bridal Consultant,” available at Barnes and Noble and Borders Books and Music for $21.50, includes dozens of money-saving tips.
“If you don’t send them a Christmas or Hanukkah card, are they really important enough to have them there on the most important day of your life?” Hartmann asks.
Feeding reception guests at a pleasant – but not resort-level – hotel or banquet hall can range from $25 to $50 a person in the Tampa area. Several restaurants also can accommodate smaller receptions, and, depending on the establishment, meals can sometimes be as little as $18 a guest.
The cost of a reception also can be reduced by having the event on a Friday night or a Sunday, Hartmann and other local wedding experts say. That can cut the bill by one-third because caterers and musicians already booked for Saturday might be more willing to negotiate a lower pricey. Also consider having the wedding during months other than June and September, the prime wedding times, when vendors have no incentive to offer a lower price.
Holding a reception at a private home can save money on hall fees and give the couple complete control over catering and the bar, but also includes hidden costs such as renting tables, chairs, linens and place settings.
The average reception outside the home is about $30 a person, Kresse says, but that will only cover the meal and one cocktail. Choosing a chicken dish and limiting the bar use keep the wedding budget low.
Flowers are another major wedding expense and can run more than $1,000 for a typical wedding. But by choosing smaller bouquets and blooms that are in season, costs can shrink.
Renting silk flower arrangements for the altar and reception centerpieces can cut the flower bill in half, says Jackie Patterson of Patterson Wood and Flowers in Ybor City.
But the things to be very careful on cutting back on are the wedding photographs and videos, Kresse warns.
“Those are the lasting memories of the day,” she says. “Hire a professional for a limited time; tell him exactly what you want. Don’t have Uncle Joe videotape it.”
Veteran Tampa wedding photographer Mickey Sada has built a business giving couples another budget advantage. He includes the negatives in his fee so the couple can make prints as they choose.
Markups on wedding photography can be astounding, Sada says. For example, the large wedding portrait that some shops charge $300 for actuallyy costs $21 to produce. Smaller prints with a retail price of $15 to $45 often cost $2.50.
Budgets aside, the consultants say the most important thing a couple can do is remember that their wedding is about saying their vows and enjoying the company of their friends and family.
“I have never been to a wedding that has been perfect,” says Sada, a veteran of 20 years of Tampa area nuptials. “It’s a joyous, festive occasion and it’s chaos.”
Just because you want your wedding vows to last a lifetime doesn’t mean you have to spend a lifetime paying for the big event. Here are a few cost-saving tips from veterans of the wedding industry:
- Bridal attire – If you can’t find a discounted wedding dress at a store, look in the classifieds. Or be creative. One group of young women who were all the same size chipped in to buy a dress they all love and created a touching tradition as each has walked down the aisle in it. Wedding dresses can be rented at some formal-wear shops and are often found at consignment shops.
- Rings - Search jewelry shops for used and antique pieces, sometimes available at a fraction of the $1,800 cost of the average wedding ring set. Check family jewelry boxes for wedding bands handed down through the years, but ask politely if you can have them. Gems such as rubies and sapphires are increasingly popular as engagement rings and less expensive than diamonds.
- Reception costs – Negotiate as much as you can. In Florida, where there are definite off-seasons in tourist and convention business, find out when a hotel or facility has lots of vacancies and ask for a deal. Check out local parks and historical sites that are often available for a small fee. Seated dinners are less expensive than buffets, wedding consultants say, because people eat less at them; brunches and lunches are less expensive than dinners. Don’t have an open bar if your guests don’t drink a lot, and close the bar down before the reception ends to give your guests time to sober up.
- Flowers – Use what’s in season. Try for less popular colors of roses or consider buying flowers loose and making bouquets yourself using instructions from local floral stores or Martha Stewart’s Internet site. Combine centerpiece flowers with candles and ribbons.
- Wedding cake – Almost every wedding ends up with leftover cake, so order one slightly smaller than you think you need. Also, check out independent bakers who might be more flexible about prices than bakeries.
- Limousines – When cars are hired for the day, the driver spends most of his time sitting around through the service and reception. Use a corporate pickup program where the bride and groom can be dropped off or picked up again. Or, rent a luxury car and get the best man to drive.