Tying the knot on a shoestring

January 09, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

A couple's wedding can be the most memorable day of a new life together - and one of the most expensive. Such wedding-related costs as attire, rings, flowers, photographs and reception fare can add up to a debt that might saddle newlyweds long after they say their "I dos."

Though costs vary greatly from region to region, the average wedding tallies about $19,000 - with food and beverages for 200 reception guests topping the bill at about $42 per head, according to information from the Association of Bridal Consultants in Connecticut.

And that doesn't include the rehearsal dinner or honeymoon.

With smart planning, however, you can "save a fortune without compromising on the quality of your special day," said international wedding planner Melinda Barton, author of "Save Thousands On Your Wedding" with a Web site at


"If you were going to buy a car, would you go to the showroom with no idea of what type of automobile you wanted, what features you're looking for, or even how much you were willing to spend? Of course you wouldn't, unless you wanted to be ripped off," Barton said. "So why wouldn't you take the same precautions when you are planning your wedding?"

Research, budgeting and clear-headed decisions are key to planning memorable nuptials without going into major debt, she said.

Hagerstown residents Amanda Miller and Eric Skjeveland didn't want to start their marriage with a stack of wedding bills, so they found creative ways to tie the knot without breaking their bank account. The couple made their own wedding invitations to send to about 25 close friends and family members, Amanda (Miller) Skjeveland said. She bought her dress off the rack rather than spending thousands for a designer gown, and decorated for the fall ceremony with mums from a local garden store - perennials to remind the couple of their wedding day when the mums bloom in their yard each year.

On Sept. 27, 2003, the couple said their vows in the back yard of their home. Photographer friends Barbara and John DiPietro of Baltimore donated their services as a wedding gift, taking advantage of the free scenery at nearby Pangborn Park. Because they'd shaved many typical wedding costs, Miller and Skjeveland were able to splurge on an elegant reception at a local restaurant, the bride said.

"We really did it up," she said.

Martinsburg, W.Va., residents April Hine and Joseph Speakman are trying to keep it down - costs and wedding-related stress, that is. Hine said her future sister-in-law has volunteered her services as wedding planner, doing for free the legwork for which some brides pay big bucks. Speakman's brother will take photos at the wedding planned for July 10 in Hagerstown's City Park. And the couple plans to keep reception costs manageable by limiting the amount of open-bar time for their estimated 100 guests, and choosing a menu that's extensive yet reasonably priced, Hine said.

Barton gave the following tips for cutting wedding costs:

  • Get married on a weekday to avoid peak expenses. Reception halls generally charge the most on Saturday evenings.

  • Cut costs on a designer dress by requesting your favorite design in a less expensive fabric.

  • Instead of a three-course meal, use your wedding cake as dessert.

  • Purchase a smaller version of your favorite wedding cake, and order an additional sheet cake to help serve all the guests.

  • Pool floral resources with other brides getting married at the same venue on the same day. Contact the other brides and propose that you all go in together to purchase a package of flowers, then split the costs and reuse the flowers during all of that day's ceremonies.

  • You also might buy flowers from a wholesaler rather than a florist.

  • Schedule reception photographs and videos at the start of the gathering to save hourly photographer and videographer costs.

  • Save up to 50 percent on your reception beverage bill by purchasing your own bottles of alcohol from a warehouse or wholesaler. Call around for price quotes, and ask if you can bring back any unopened bottles for a refund. To save more money, only purchase one bottle of alcohol per table.

  • Book honeymoon vacations via the Internet - including bidding for bargain trips on online auction sites such as e-Bay.

Other money-saving tips include getting married in less busy months such as January and March, decorating with more greens than blooms, and substituting high-dollar reception favors for less expensive - but still tasteful - wedding souvenirs, according to the SmartMoney Web site at

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