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Wedding Alterations
By Laura Leon

Thirty-five ways to save money and still have the wedding you want

Dino Petrocelli

OK, so you’re planning your wedding, and of course, you want everything to be absolutely perfect. But the more you think about all you want, the more you have that gnawing feeling in your gut that you will be swamped with an ever-growing list of expenses.

Part of this stems from the fact that people in the wedding industry (no matter what they tell you) want you to spend a fortune on their products. (Hey, it’s their livelihood. Can you blame them?) Plus, you’re trying to please relatives, friends and yourself, and if you show signs of economizing, you feel like the biggest cheapskate who ever walked down the aisle.

First lesson: Remember that you are in control of your wedding. With good planning and a little imagination, there’s no reason why you can’t have a stunning day and still have a savings account. The following are some money-saving ideas for you to consider in planning a more economical wedding.


1. Anyone who’s ever thumbed through a bridal magazine will know that prices for brides’ dresses can go as high as several thousand dollars. Start—or continue—a tradition by wearing your mother’s gown or another relative’s or friend’s.

2. Scour antique and secondhand clothing stores, where you just might find a vintage gown for under $100. Also, some retail stores donate overstock or discontinued lines to local thrift stores. Be sure to check for wear and tear, and be open-minded—a little tailoring can make a dress truly your own.

3. Have a seamstress you know make your gown—not only will this be much less expensive than buying one off the rack, but you’ll have greater control over the design, fabrics and fit of your dress.

4. Look in the classified section of local papers for gowns on sale—chances are, they’ve never been worn.

5. When it comes to all the undergarments, the things that provide a foundation for your dress and cost a small fortune by themselves, consider going to a rental shop that specializes in formalwear. After all, you’re never going to wear that bustle again.

6. The materials that go into making a veil can cost as little as $15. Considering that you could pay a few hundred dollars for a veil and that, in all likelihood, it won’t survive the 25 years it could be till someone else wants to wear it again, look at all your options. If you or someone you know can sew, design your own. You’d be surprised at how simple they are to make. Also, consider renting. Another option is to go without—choose a hat, an antique comb or lace, flowers or just a pretty hairstyle.

7. Consider gowns for you and your attendants that aren’t “bridal” dresses—depending on your style, you might consider Laura Ashley, Ann Taylor, Talbots, Web of Threads, etc. You might even come up with that elusive dress that can be worn after the wedding.

Flowers and Decorations

8. Find out if someone else is getting married where you are within 24 hours of your ceremony. If so, contact that person and try to work out a plan whereby you both use the same ceremony site flowers (altar pieces, aisle flowers). Even if your color schemes are different, you might be able to work out an arrangement that’s suitable to both weddings and saves both brides money.

9. Have your attendants each carry a single-stem flower such as a rose or calla lily.

10. Rather than order prearranged bouquets for the bridal party, buy flowers such as roses or tulips by the dozen, or wholesale, and tie them with tulle, lace or ribbons.

11. Consider holding your reception at a site that, because of its inherent splendor, doesn’t require massive decoration. Historic buildings and parks are two such options.

12. For spaces that do require decoration, consider renting greens and small trees to provide, cheaply, a unique backdrop to the festivities.

13. Instead of floral arrangements, have edible centerpieces such as baskets of fruit or platters of cookies (made by a friend as a wedding present) wrapped in festive foils, tissue paper and ribbons. Other easy-to-make table ideas are seashells for a lakeside wedding; pine cones, berries and votive candles for a Christmas wedding; or baskets of Easter eggs and chocolates, found cheaply at your local candy outlet, for spring.

14. If you have a seating plan, as opposed to open seating or a cocktail-style reception, you may want to provide each guest with a party favor commemorating your wedding. As thoughtful a gesture as this is, most people will either forget theirs or throw it out once they get home. So don’t spend a fortune! At fabric and party stores, as well as basket warehouses, you can often find very inexpensively priced miniature baskets. Spray-paint them to complement your color scheme or keep them natural. Then fill with chocolates, candies and nuts that you can get by the pound at candy outlets. Trim the baskets with ribbon or lace—all told, this can cost as little as $20 and a couple hours of time.

Attendants’ Parties and Rehearsal Dinner

15. Often the bride and groom will each have some kind of party, breakfast or dinner for their attendants. Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money to do this. Try a touch football game in a local park or a bowling party. Later, order pizza and serve beer and soda from your local discount beverage center. Or have a potluck picnic.

16. Depending on the time of year, have a pool/lake party with barbecue or a day of ice skating, which can be followed by mugs of hot chocolate or pitchers of beer at your favorite pub.

17. Consider the alternatives to the restaurant rehearsal dinner. Invite family and attendants over for a potluck supper or a backyard barbecue. Not only is this less expensive than a restaurant, it also provides you and your families with better opportunities to spend quality time together before the big day.

Ceremony and Reception

18. Consider marrying on Friday, Sunday, or (the emerging trend) Thursday evening—often, reception sites are less expensive on these days. Be sure to ask.

19. Marry “off-season,” when the costs of services such as florists and caterers might not be as high. Plus, this gives you a better chance of getting excellent service.

20. Look into alternative sites for your wedding or reception. Obviously, a major hotel will be very expensive, but if your guest list is small, you might want to consider a quaint country inn. Also, city/county sites, such as parks and municipal buildings, can often be had inexpensively. And let’s not forget galleries, studios, museums and academic spaces.

21. When ordering invitations, consider size and weight as it pertains to postage. Also, include “reception to follow” on the invitation itself and avoid the expense of a separate reception card. If you are going with the RSVP cards, however, consider using a postcard rather than a card and envelope. You’ll cut the cost of postage by one-third.

22. Sit-down dinners are expensive! Depending on the style of your wedding, consider a wedding breakfast; a cocktail-and-hors d’oeuvres party; a dessert-and-champagne reception; or a backyard barbecue.

23. When shopping for a caterer, ask around to find out whether any local churches have people who, for a fee, can do your dinner. Sometimes, the people who actually put on church suppers are available for parties and receptions. The food is down-home and delicious, the price is reasonable, and your money can go to a good cause.

24. Another less-expensive catering option, particularly if your reception is at a home or a non-restaurant site, is to check out area cooking schools or programs for a qualified group of student chefs (under supervision) eager to prove their mettle.

25. Don’t think you have to impress people by having a continuous open bar—most guests will overdo it anyway. One option is to have an open bar at cocktail hour, after which guests pay for their own drinks. Or you could provide tables with preselected wines (you might save hundreds of dollars or more by providing the caterer with your own cases of wine).

26. When going over menus with the caterer, be specific about what you want and don’t want. Don’t order food that is out-of-season or labor-intensive.

27. If your caterer provides the wedding cake, check into its cost factor. If it seems a little steep—and especially if you don’t really love the caterer’s cake—look around for an alternative baker and have the caterer discount the price of his cake from your total bill.

28. One of the first things to ask is whether your caterer charges a cake-cutting fee. This ridiculous charge is often applied when you do bring in your own cake, but sometimes even when the caterer provides it! If there’s no getting around it, ask a friend or relative to cut the cake for you and another to help box it.

29. Don’t pay for a dessert; if it comes with your reception package, ask to have its cost factor removed. It’s silly—and a waste of money—to have both a dessert course and a wedding cake.

30. If you are marrying in the same place or right next door to your reception site, don’t bother with limos. Also, if your ceremony site has a place for you and your attendants to change, you have even less reason to rent a car.

31. For ceremony music, you might ask a musician/singer friend to perform as his or her gift to you. Another option is to recruit a local student of music to play at your ceremony—check at area colleges that offer degrees in music.

32. Entertainment can be one of the costliest parts of your reception. Know what you want before settling. If you’re using a band for the reception, be sure to shop around. You should get a demo tape, a list of the band’s songs and a chance to observe them live. Make sure your favorite songs are on the list. Also, get the date, times and cost in writing. Often, a band can be persuaded to play longer, but some pack up as soon as their set ends. But don’t feel obliged to hire a band for your reception. Consider using a DJ who can play all of your preferred versions of your favorite songs. Often, a DJ can better provide the various moods and styles you require (jazzy for cocktails, Motown for dancing, etc.) than one band. And don’t forget that you’re required to feed your performer(s); obviously one DJ costs less to feed than an entire band.

In General

33. Always be prepared to talk to professionals. Think about what you want and know your limits. Let the person you’re talking to know these things right from the start, before he or she can start talking you into those unnecessary extras that could cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

34. Get everything in writing, from the very first estimates you receive from florists and caterers, etc. Make sure deliveries, taxes, labor and tips are included in you estimate.

35. Get in writing what your responsibilities and liabilities are—if your wedding party goes over the allotted time limit by five minutes, do you owe for a whole hour? If a guest is involved in an accident coming home from the reception who is responsible—you or your reception hall?

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