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Save $$$ on a Wedding

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Date: June 15, 2014      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source: Alan  Fields       Print:

And Still Wow Your Guests

If you are planning a wedding, you want it to be wonderful—but is it possible to pull that off without spending a small fortune? In the US, the average wedding comes to about $26,000. Of course, wedding-related costs vary widely depending on where you’re getting married and how many people you invite. But even if you’re planning a big-city celebration with a guest list that numbers in the hundreds, there are many ways to save without sacrificing style. Here, nine of the best…

Don’t say this word. When you are gathering your initial price quotes for the site rental, catering and music, you are likely to save as much as 20% if you can manage to avoid using the word “wedding.” Yes, it may sound like sacrilege to a couple wanting to shout it from the rooftops, but the truth is that many vendors mark up their prices for weddings. You could call it a family reunion (it is, right?) or simply a party. Of course, you will have to spill the beans sooner or later, but you will be in a better position to bargain if you have seen first the prices other folks would have to pay.

Time it right. An off-season wedding can be a win-win for all involved. Your guests are grateful to have a party on the calendar in a less busy month such as March or early November, and you can save significantly (15% or more) on everything from food to photography, venue to flowers. The busiest—and thus priciest—wedding months are May, June, September and October…the
December holiday season and Valentine’s Day are quite popular, too. Other time tweaks that can cut costs include setting a date that’s just a few months away (most weddings are booked a year in advance, so open dates a few months out often can be had at a deep discount) or, conversely, one that’s more than a year in the future. Also, consider Friday evening instead of Saturday or Sunday. Example: At one country club outside Boston that has a 500-seat-capacity ballroom, a peak-season Saturday reception costs $17,000, while a peak-season Friday night reception costs $11,000—a savings of $6,000.

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Be creative about location. You can save hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars, with creative site-sleuthing. Think like a tourist-what’s interesting about where you live? Natural settings (farms, fields, vineyards, beaches and parks) range from free to inexpensive, but you need to budget for bringing everything in—including a tent in case of rain. Local landmarks (municipal buildings, airports, train stations, museums and mansions) often can be had at reasonable rates. Aquariums and zoos also can be fun. Go online and add your search term to “wedding” (Example: “museum wedding” and your city), and you likely will bring up an unexpectedly rich and varied list of options in your area. Bonus: If you choose a property run by a nonprofit, you may be able to deduct the rental fee. Helpful: Don’t ignore your own church or synagogue’s community room. With festive decorating and romantic lighting, even the plainest room can look beautiful—and guests love the convenience of a 30-second walk to the reception.

Go digital on invites. You can make a modern and earth-friendly statement by going digital rather than sending out traditional engagement announcements, save-the-dates, shower invitations, wedding invitations and thank-you notes. Many Web sites offer options that are inexpensive, often free—try PaperlessPost.com and Evite.com. Example: Save an average of $97 (plus postage) for digital save-the-dates versus paper. Even if you opt for paper invitations, set up a special e-mail account for responses such as JoeAndGloria@gmail.com.

Tip: You can set up a Web site for your wedding (free at TheKnot.com and WeddingWire.com). This is a great way to make sure that guests get the details right (including where you’re registered), and it’s fun to share your story, photos and wedding pictures later on.

Save on blooms. Wholesale price clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club sell roses and other wedding flowers at 60% less than retail prices. Order them in advance, pick them up the day before the wedding and arrange them in simple containers from ­Michaels, Target or The Home Depot. Also, picking in-season blooms offers significant savings. Example: Tulips cost about $1 a stem in April but $3 in November. If you’re getting married in the summer, a nearby farmers’ market may supply flowers and even arrange them at a fraction of retail florist prices. Another centerpiece option: Potted plants from garden centers. Example: Pink hydrangeas cost $15 at Lowe’s. Add a container for about $20. That’s a total of $35, a savings of $65 off the standard centerpiece price of $100 (or more). On a dozen centerpieces, that’s a savings of $780.

P 14 think-177375100-watermelon-mojitoServe a signature drink. Alcohol often is the highest wedding expense. The most common way couples pay for liquor is to have an open bar, for an average cost of about $52 per guest. Serving a festive “signature drink” such as a watermelon mojito or a prickly pear cactus margarita (search TheKnot.com and MarthaStewartWeddings.com for recipes and ideas) as well as an edited selection of beer and wine comes to about $30 a person. For 150 guests, that’s a savings of $3,300.

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As for the champagne toast, you can save money by serving sparkling wine instead of French Champagne. Champagne generally starts at $30 to $40 a bottle, whereas a quality Spanish Cava or Italian Prosecco can be had for about $12 a bottle. Also, have servers fill champagne glasses half to two-thirds full-many guests take only a sip for the toast. Servers can offer more bubbly to those guests who want it.

P 14 think 177104450-wedding-cupcakesTrade the cake for cupcakes. The average wedding cake costs about $500, and one in five couples spends more than that, upward of $1,000. And that doesn’t include the cutting fee when you don’t use an in-house baker. The cutting fee ranges from $2 to $5 per slice for cutting, serving and cleaning up afterward. Thus many couples have embraced the cupcake craze. You can offer a variety of flavors to please every taste—and cupcakes can be displayed on a tiered cake plate to mimic a tiered traditional cake.

Tip: Instead of wedding favors, invite your guests to help themselves from a candy bar that you have stocked with your childhood favorites. You can buy these in bulk from a wholesaler and display them in a variety of glass bowls. Crate and Barrel has a nice selection, and you can use these in your home later.

Choose a playlist. Guests dance as happily to a well-chosen playlist piped over a great sound system as to a DJ (average cost-$940) or a live swing band ($3,000). When you invite your guests, ask them to send in song requests with the RSVP. If your venue doesn’t have a sound system, you can likely find a local DJ willing to rent one to you at a reasonable day rate (a pair of speakers plus an amp rents for about $70). If live music is a priority for you, top-notch talent can be had for far less when you hire student musicians. Put “student musicians” and your city in a search engine to find ­singers and bands at reasonable rates.

Take candids. Wedding photography is pricey—the average cost is $2,260 for a package that covers everything from the engagement portrait to the end-of-the-evening good-byes. Ways to save include asking a camera-savvy pal to cover some of the event (say, the bridal party dressing-room scenes) while hiring a pro for a few hours of shooting-perhaps the ceremony or up through the first dance at the reception. Ask guests to contribute candid shots after the event, and make your own slide show (easily done on your computer, including music and special effects). It’s fun and far more intimate than having a professional video­grapher—and then there’s the matter of the $1,000 or more you’ll save!

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Source: Alan and Denise Fields, authors of the best-selling book Bridal Bargains (Windsor Peak), now in its eleventh edition. Dubbed the "Wedding Watchdogs," they started writing wed­ding guides 24 years ago after planning their own nuptials. They live in Boulder, Colorado. WindsorPeak.com