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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor
Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| June 23, 2014
Your wedding will be one of the happiest and most romantic events of your life—as well as one of the most expensive. Before you walk down the aisle, make sure your big day doesn't outweigh your budget. Save thousands on your own nuptials with these proven cost-cutting tips from "Starting Out" columnists Lisa Gerstner, who is getting married later this year, and Stacy Rapacon, who has been happily wed since 2009. See how much you can save.
Choose your location wisely. Lisa's fiancé, Tom, currently lives in Las Vegas, Nev., and she's in Washington, D.C.—both pricey places to host a wedding. But they went to high school together in Ohio, and their families are still in that area. Choosing to marry in a small midwestern town will save them thousands—and also give them a setting where they share roots. Market-research company The Wedding Report estimates that the average amount spent on a wedding is $27,678 in Las Vegas and $35,839 in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. In the city where Lisa and Tom are marrying—Piqua, Ohio—the average cost will be $20,266 in 2014.
Your timing can greatly affect the price. You could save money by having your wedding on a Friday or Sunday or during the winter, for example. Venues have less demand during those times and may cut you a break.
For Stacy and her husband, David, October 10 might have been easier to remember (10/10!), but October 17 was easier to afford. Waiting the extra week pushed their special day out of New Jersey's peak fall wedding season and dropped the Saturday evening rate at their choice venue from $138 to $117 per person.
Savings: $4,200 for a 200-guest wedding
When pricing potential venues, watch out for service charges and taxes that can drive initial price quotes much higher—only to be recognized too late. When Stacy and David shopped for venues in 2009, they realized that one place's $156-per-person rate—which included a 20% service charge and New Jersey's 7% sales tax—was actually less costly than another venue's seemingly lower $140-per-person quote that excluded those charges.
Also ask about ceremony and rental fees, any discounts for minors, and the cost of meals for children and vendors such as band members and photographers.
Savings: $4,360 for a 200-guest affair at the first venue
Stacy found "the perfect invitations" with matching save-the-date announcements at an upscale stationery store. But at more than $2,000 for 125 of them, excluding any extra printing fees, the price was less than perfect. Instead, she and David mixed and matched items for invitations and all of their stationery, via WeddingPaperDivas.com and MyGatsby.com to create similar substitutes for half the cost, including shipping and printing fees.
For even less costly invites, try the DIY approach. You might try Gartner Studios stationery, available at Michael's, Target, FedEx Office and other retailers. You'll spend extra time assembling and printing everything yourself, but all the supplies will only cost you about $400.
Invite your wedding guests to the digital age, and save on stationary and stamps while you're at it. A lot of the information you might have considered sharing in print, such as directions, bridal party details and hotel recommendations, can be posted on your very own wedding Web site for free. You can even send out electronic save-the-dates and have guests RSVP online. Plus, many sites offer tools galore, such as guest and gift trackers, to help make the planning process more organized.
You can start building your own page for free at WeddingWindow.com, MyWedding.com, TheKnot.com and many other sites.
Savings: $430 to skip 100 save-the-dates, 100 RSVP cards and associated postage
At Lisa's wedding, by offering a buffet rather than table-service dinner, they'll cut their bill by at least $4 per person.
Savings: $800 for a 200-guest reception
For a traditional seated dinner, trim the number of courses you serve—say, from five to three, says Jamie Miles, editor of TheKnot.com.
And go easy on dessert. By the time you cut the cake, guests are often done with dining and on the dance floor—and they likely won't notice if you provide half servings instead.
Think outside the box for even bigger savings. For example, you could hire a food truck and let guests order meals and snacks, or have an afternoon reception with hors d'oeuvres and dessert.
For Lisa and Tom, part of their venue's appeal is that they can buy their own beverages and hire bartenders of their choice. They plan to stock the bar with champagne, wine, beer and soda (total budget: $1,500), and they've hired two bartenders who each charge $20 per hour (total: $200, plus tip). Had they chosen a venue that comes with a full bar and staff, they might have spent $2,370—the average wedding bar bill in Piqua, Ohio, according to The Wedding Report.
Thanks to Lisa's diligent mother, who scheduled appointments on sale days with several bridal shops near her hometown, she scored a 10% discount on the dress she chose. (It didn't hurt that she shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, when Black Friday bargains stretched to wedding attire, too.)
Another idea: Shop at sample sales, which stores run to get rid of extra dresses in stock. Stacy's friend Kyaiera braved the infamous Filene's Basement annual bridal sale in 2008 and snagged her dress—originally marked $3,000—for $250.