Planning an Inexpensive Wedding

In an era when the expense of a wedding can exceed $10,000 for a modest event, many families need to know there are alternatives which will allow the “dream wedding” without the nightmare price tag. When my daughters married, we researched every opportunity to save money and our groundwork, well worth the effort, can help other brides on a budget. Check out the links on the right for more assistance.

Begin with a plan. Whether you have a few weeks or an entire year, as we had, to prepare for your wedding, a plan is essential. We used a ring-bound notebook to keep track of names and phone numbers, prices, needs and wants, menus, ideas, lists and correspondence. My daughter taped pictures from magazines and stapled receipts into the notebook. With this record, we not only managed the event, but had a wonderful record of the evolution of her ideas and tastes as the special day came together.

Books and Magazines help. Bridal magazines are expensive, but you can get some for free at the bridal registry desks of department stores, in bridal and floral shops. The better guides will offer information on every aspect from the engagement through the honeymoon, along with pages where you can note your own preferences, needs, desires, dollars and plans. Don’t ignore the ads and expensive dresses. My daughter cut out pictures of several gowns for the bow from one, the sleeves of another, the lace on a third. She also looked for bouquets and brides’ maid dresses. Having an idea what she wanted before she went to the florists and dress shops saved time and money because she was less likely to be swayed by emotion and impulse.

Bridal consultants. Can you save money by using a consultant? Possibly. But, if you have the time to track down the best prices and alternatives yourself, you can save that fee. We found there is a great deal of latitude in prices between florists, bakeries, and printers. By visiting several dozen of each and making wise choices, we saved hundreds of dollars. Check with the church, if you are planning a church wedding. Many have a bridal consultant to assist you. While she most likely won’t shop for you, or plan the event, she may have information about florists and she may be invaluable in decorating the church. She may also be present during the rehearsal and wedding to conduct it. It is necessary to have someone, other than a member of the bridal party, to direct everyone.

Establish a written budget. Estimate every expense, total and add fifteen percent and you may come close to your actual spending. A budget is merely a guideline. It will not be possible to be accurate, however, you can have control over the expenditures if you operate with a budget. There are many aspects of the wedding which require cooperation and agreement between mother and daughter at a time when a daughter is trying to establish herself as her own adult person. The budget is the place to begin the process of working together as adults. For mothers, it is an exercise in learning to let go. For daughters, it is a lesson in negotiating. Be as realistic as you can, but allow for surprises and indulgences.

Choose your date. Usually the couple will know precisely when they want to marry. My daughter’s wedding was two days before Christmas. Not an ideal time in most people’s books because the season is already busy enough and your anniversary will forever be combined with Christmas. However, she graduated from college the week before and her husband-to-be’s company shut down for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, allowing them time for a honeymoon. For them, the timing was perfect. For families traveling great distances, it was difficult. To assist this, they compromised and set the time of the ceremony for early afternoon. Families could drive or fly home following the reception and save on the hotel bill. A Christmas wedding gave an added bonus in that the church was already decorated and presented a theme to work around.

Places, everyone. Scheduling a holiday date, however, can be a problem if you cannot work early enough to secure reservations for the rehearsal dinner, church and reception site. We were surprised to find many restaurants did not reserve rooms months in advance, even the week before Christmas. Florists, on the other hand, do need months of advance notice at holiday times. We choose to use our church’s fellowship hall for the reception, saving several hundred dollars and taking advantage of the proximity. Our out-of-town guests appreciated not having to find another place and, we didn’t have to worry about inclement weather making transporting the bridal party more difficult. My daughter was concerned that a church hall could not be transformed into the elegant backdrop she wanted, however, cleaning, moving some furniture and a few creative touches gave her exactly what she wanted. There are all sorts of alternatives for weddings and receptions, with widely varying prices. A friend’s daughter was married on a pier overlooking a beautiful river at sunset, her reception in the family’s backyard. Another chose sunrise at the beach, followed by breakfast at a local restaurant. Check parks, gazebos, women’s clubs, river cruiseboats, historical mansions, a library meeting room, even the castle at Disney World.

Themes, Dreams and Decorations. With Christmas to work around, our theme was obvious, but we still had plenty of opportunities for creativity. The church had a tree with tiny white lights and gold and white decorations and battery-operated candles and greens on every window sill. We added greens and white lights above doorways. In the hall, we had two trees, one blocking a soda machine, the other in front of a trophy case. Smaller table-top trees graced the gift table and a round table with food. I wrote the names of the bride and groom in glitter on gold and silver balls and encouraged family and members of the party to take one home in remembrance. I also framed small pictures of the bride and groom together and hung them on the tree. Other decorations were carefully boxed and taken home by the newlyweds for their first tree.

My daughter loves angels, so we used them liberally in decorating trees and tables. Bulletin boards were covered with white paper table cloths and bows to resemble Christmas packages. Even the soda machine was wrapped with gold foil and a red bow. One of the bride’s maids added a card addressed to the bride and groom and many guests asked if they had received a refrigerator.

With a year to plan, I was able to take advantage of after-season sales to purchase many of the decorations at half-price. I bought candles and candle rings, ornaments, garlands, and silk roses for a fraction of their regular costs. My daughter and her friends gathered throughout the year to make the men’s boutonnieres and women’s corsages, and decorate the candle rings using white silk roses.

The church provided tables and chairs and a “going out of business” sale at a fabric store enabled me to purchase cloth for table cloths. Each table was covered with a different Christmas print. Originally, that sounded like it might clash, or be too busy, however, the tables were spaced to allow movement between them and dancing, so the effect was colorful and charming.

At my second daughter’s July wedding, we placed a garden arch behind the cake table and decorated with ivy and tiny white lights to give a wonderful back-drop for photos. Decorating for her wedding involved yards and yards of white tulle and ivy. Check the yellow pages for a silk flower outlet for inexpensive plants and garlands. Tulle is often on sale in July as June is the peak of bridal season.

One of my favorite touches at both weddings was a table of photographs. The groom’s mother and I collaborated on a photo album of our children as they grew up. Pictures of the two of them together were framed in different sizes and shapes. This gave the guests something to look over as they waited for the party to finish photographs in church.

Eat, drink and be merry. The reception site and time of the ceremony may dictate the format of the reception. Many couples opt now for a sit-down dinner which can be a very expensive choice. The bridal party frequently can’t enjoy a full meal because of the emotions of the moment and dinner limits the ability of people to mix and meet. We chose an old-fashioned cake and punch reception for both weddings and had plenty of time and space for socializing and dancing. Again, I began buying ingredients well in advance to save on last-minute expenses. In mid-summer, I added an extra bottle of soda and juice to every grocery trip. My son-in-law-to-be found a special on canned nuts and sent me a half-dozen cans. We bought chocolate molds and one of the bride’s maids had a candy-making party with her friends, making beautiful, custom candies, which could be stored in the freezer until the wedding. A month before the Christmas wedding, I began baking cookies and freezing them. Whenever a friend offered assistance, I sent over a gelatin mold of fruit juice for ice rings to be stored in their freezer.

My daughter wanted chocolate-dipped strawberries, which, of course, were out of season. However, her best friend from high school offered to make them, as well as several dozen cookies and goodies. The groom’s mother brought several trays of vegetables and Cuban sandwiches. In addition to a standard fruit punch, we offered hot, spiced apple juice, which was a big hit.

For a summer wedding, trays of vegetables with dip, fruit and cheese cubes worked well. One of the bridesmaids lopped off the top of fresh pineapples and nestled a votive candle in the center of the leaves for instant candle holders on the food table.

The cake can also cut into the budget. We surveyed prices at several bakeries and groceries and chose a friend who offered her services for free if I provided the ingredients. She showed us photos of cakes she had done before and we showed her pictures of what we wanted. The result was beautiful and tasty. I hired six teenage friends of my children to serve at the reception and gave them written directions. One of their mothers came along to direct and their efforts were flawless. We did have leftover food, lots of leftovers. Some went home with guests. Some returned to my freezer. An entire sheet cake, several gallons of punch and plates of cookies went to a local soup kitchen which feeds the homeless. They were thrilled to have the donation for their Christmas eve party.

We wanted the bride and groom to be the attention of the reception, not a band and DJ and therefore, chose to use tapes. We recorded the music we wanted and had the son of friends operate the sound system and saved the cost of live music or the services of a DJ.

Dress for success. The wedding attire can take a huge chunk out of the budget. The bride wants to be her most beautiful and has grown up with images of the perfect dress. An entire industry is devoted to making bridal dreams come true. But, we found many ways to bypass the price tag attached to the perfect dress. We began with magazine pictures and trips to several bridal shops to determine what we liked and wanted. We found poor quality fabrics and workmanship with exorbitant prices, and undergarments and accessories which, when labeled “bridal” were three times what they would have costs as “evening wear.”

Perspective is a vital ingredient to dress shopping. The dress is worn once for a few hours. Then, relegated to a box or trunk or consignment shelf. The investment can be major and will never be recouped. Most are very uncomfortable, weighing more than any other dress she will ever wear, with several layers underneath than scratch, rustle and heat up. Keep comfort in mind. A form-fitting dress, multiple layers of petticoat, empty stomach and pre-wedding jitters are the recipe for disaster as many a bride can testify.

My mother, an experienced seamstress offered to make the dress. She combined several patterns to come up with the features my daughter wanted. The fabric was relatively inexpensive, but the lace and trims added significantly to the cost. My daughter hand-sewed five thousand sequins and seed pearls to the lace on the sleeves, bodice and train. Her dress was customized, exquisite and cost less than three hundred dollars. She used a crinoline hoop petticoat she had purchased several years before for a prom and ordered a strapless, longline bra from a department store catalogue.

We experimented with several options for a veil. Rather than pay a hundred dollars or more, we decided to make one. The netting is available, already cut to the right lengths from craft stores. We tried making a tiara from silk flowers and pearls but were not completely satisfied with the results. For about $45 the florist offered a headpiece of fresh roses, with veil. In one of the consignment shops we checked, my daughter found a new veil with a headpiece that matched the lace of her dress, and it cost less than all the other choices.

By the time the second daughter married, my mother could no loner sew her dress. We shopped at a bridal shop and bought one that cost more than we originally planned but was the perfect dress for her. Check carefully before you buy into a wedding shops “package.” Their shoes were more expensive than the shoe store. The dry cleaning offer was $30 off of a $150 price. They did provide a hoop petticoat (which we already had). Be very aware that alterations can cost almost as much as the dress depending on what needs to be done. If the hem needs to be shortened, the dress may have to be taken apart at the waist and this is very expensive. An alternative is higher heels or more layers of petticoat. Be sure the dress fits comfortably, especially through the bodice if the bride is unaccustomed to wearing formal wear. Have her practice walking, dancing, going up or down stairs in it.

There were four bride’s maids, two of whom were the bride’s sisters. We took them shopping to a bridal shop to get an idea what would look best and meet their tastes, sizes and shapes. Bride’s maid dresses in bridal shops ranged from seventy-five to several hundred dollars. Catalogue shopping provides a less expensive alternative. We chose dark green velvet and found dresses in a winter department store catalogue. In a pre-season sale, the dresses were thirty-two dollars each. I sewed a rhinestone trim along the neckline to add sparkle and they wore black heels instead of the one-use only dyed to match.

Flowers. We were amazed at the differences in cost from one florist to another, in both silk and fresh flowers. For the first wedding, the church was already decorated with poinsettias so the only flowers we needed were the bride’s and her attendants. Long-stemmed roses tied with a ribbon (“hand-tied roses”) were less expensive than a bouquet and my daughter liked that look for her attendants. She chose a rose bouquet for herself. Her “throwaway” bouquet doubled as a centerpiece on the bridal table at the reception. Total floral bill, less than one hundred dollars.

For the summer wedding, the bride designed her own bouquets and altar flowers with the assistance of the florist. Total bill for six bouquets, altar flowers and the groom’s boutonniere was $175. All other boutonnieres and corsages were made from silk flowers for less than $30. How-to books are readily available at craft stores.

Photography and videography. The photographer was the most expensive single item on our budget. Since we had saved so much i
n other areas, we did splurge here and hire a professional photographer. We did, however, choose one of his less costly package deals.

I also took pictures, standing alongside him whenever possible. That way, I got many of the same poses and pictures, using his special lights, but the cost of getting prints of them was a fraction of his cost for the same. And, in fact, some of my pictures were better than his and he offered me a job when he saw them.

Many couples place disposable cameras on tables at the reception and ask guests to take pictures. That isn’t cheap and often you will end up paying for photos you would not have taken had you had control over the camera.

A high school videography instructor who was a friend of my daughter’s from school offered his services and equipment and we paid only for tapes and copies of tapes. The result was a professionally edited tape of the wedding and reception.

Wedding stationery. Invitations and printing costs also varied greatly from one printer to another. We visited several and requested samples from mail-order companies before selecting one. We opted for the “RSVP” and phone number rather than added expense and postage of a return card.

For the second wedding, the bride and groom made their own invitations, embossing the cards, then using their computer to print them. They printed the reception information on business cards.

I can truthfully say that the invitation list was the only area of disagreement and negotiations. With the size of the reception hall and food budget, I wanted to limit the guest list to one hundred and twenty-five. Both families alone totaled almost half that number and since this was the first wedding for both families, friends were important considerations. With much patience and cooperation on both sides, we were able to stay within limits. One hundred and fifty invitations were sent out, realizing some of those would not be able to attend and about one hundred people actually came. A plain thank you card from a local card shop was half the cost of cards ordered from the printer.

Tradition. Tradition is the number one foe or the best friend of the bride. Decide for yourself what you want at your wedding. It is your day and you should have a wonderful, memorable time. You don’t have to follow every tradition and you may wish to make some of your own.

Bird seed has become a popular alternative to rice, however, it makes a mess, scratches cars and can hurt. We did not throw anything at the bride and groom as they left. In fact, they were among the last to leave. They were having such a good time, I finally suggested they go so that we, who were older and more fatigued from the day, could leave. At the summer wedding, small bottles of soap bubbles were distributed and the bride and groom left in a gale of bubbles.

It is the personal touches which make the day. The morning of both weddings, I surprised my brides with a single long-stemmed rose. She, in turn, placed it on the altar for the wedding. Because we supplied our own music, the groom’s mother was able to bring a favorite song for a dance with her son. Working around a holiday worked well for us. Instead of lighting a unity candle, the bride and groom used the Advent wreath and recited a prayer specially written for them, describing the significance of each candle. At the summer wedding, the bride and groom chose to have several of their friends participate in the ceremony with readings and words of encouragement that made the ceremony very special to them.

A wedding can be beautiful, unique, imaginative and the day of your dreams, and affordable, if you plan, use a budget, communicate your wishes and desires, negotiate when necessary, and remain flexible.

Most important to all your preparation, have a good time, and remember your wedding isn’t the culmination of all your planning and hard work, but the beginning of a new life full of memories and traditions waiting to be created.

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