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Couples cut costs and still have great weddings

| Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2009

Carol Nesti wishes she could have a harpist play at her upcoming wedding, and that she could serve steak and lobster instead of a more casual reception menu. She also wishes she could have more flowers.

However, especially in this tough economy, Nesti, 25, and her fiance -- Tanny Deliere, 26 -- need to stick within a $20,000 wedding budget, which is claimed quickly by steep wedding expenses. For her Sept. 26 wedding, Nesti, a Collier resident, has been able to negotiate better prices with many vendors involved, and she has saved money in small ways here and there. For instance, Nesti has saved about $150 by assembling her own invitations, instead of having the printer do it.

"I don't feel that I'm compromising my dream wedding," she says. "I'm still going to have the wedding of my dreams, just on a smaller budget. ... I'm going to have friends and family there, and that's what matters."

With the average American wedding costing a whopping $29,334, according to a 2008 survey by , getting hitched can be financially crippling during tough economic times. Naturally, many engaged couples are looking for places to cut costs, experts say.

However, potentially compromising a dream wedding can be quite disappointing for the brides and their mothers, says Gini Baustert. She operates Events by Gini, a Washington Township, Westmoreland County-based business that rents out wedding supplies such as chair covers and centerpieces.

"Ever since we were little, we've had this outlook of the way we think a wedding should be, based on what's on TV," Baustert says. "I think they have a look they want for that day. If they're not going to get it, they're really upset about it."

Yet wedding planners and experts say that, although a couple might have to skip some of the finest luxuries, they still can enjoy a dream wedding without going broke. While a typical wedding Baustert has seen costs $10,000 to $15,000, many couples are pulling off a nice wedding for $3,000 to $5,000.

Elissa Rodgers, a wedding planner in Irwin, recently did a wedding with a total tab of $4,000. While many people, in an attempt to save money, try to plan their weddings themselves without hiring a professional, a wedding planner's job is to find good deals and save the couple a few thousand dollars more than the planner's fee, she says. Rodgers recommends that couples never skimp on hiring a good professional photographer: Wedding moments are precious and never can be re-done.

Brides are making the biggest cutbacks in flowers, often opting to make their own bouquets and table centerpieces, says Rodgers, who calls her business Dream Day Weddings by Elissa Rodgers.

"The florist gives them a $5,000 bill, and people say, 'Forget it. We'll do this ourselves,'" Rodgers says.

One of the best ways to control costs is by limiting alcohol service, which can cost several thousand dollars, Baustert and Rodgers say. Non-drinking couples might choose to forgo alcohol altogether. Choosing a Friday or Monday instead of a Saturday, which is the most popular wedding day, is another option for saving money, as is choosing an off-season day, like in January, the planners say. Some people are ending their receptions by around 10 p.m. instead of midnight, and having a less expensive buffet meal rather than a sit-down meal, Baustert and Rodgers say.

Some couples opt to skip the traditional, large, tiered wedding cakes, with a price tag that can near $1,000. Some bake their own cakes, while others buy a small wedding cake, then back it with a standard sheet cake to feed most of the guests, planners say.

Charli Penn, managing editor of , says that happy couples absolutely can put on a great wedding on a more limited budget, with careful research and planning.

"First and foremost, it's your wedding day," Penn says. "I think, overall, you want to take your time, weigh options and prioritize. ... Make sure that you are properly executing the wedding of your dreams at the least cost for you -- something you can be excited about."

Ways to save on weddings

Money may be tight during the recession, or any time, but experts say you still can have a decent wedding. Consider these tips.

• Trim your guest list by eliminating people in your outer circle, or eliminating the "and guest" invitation for uncoupled people.

• Consider serving only two signature cocktails rather than a wide drink menu, and two nicely prepared dishes instead of a broad food menu.

• Consider having your wedding any day other than Saturday, or during an off-season month like January, in order to save about 20 percent.

• Morning weddings are cheaper than evening weddings, not only because the venues are more likely to be open, but alcohol and food is probably minimal.

• Buy a large wedding cake with a few fake layers, or buy a small wedding cake, and back it up with a standard sheet cake.

• Look for ways to recycle flowers, which can cost $2,000 on average. Maybe you can take flowers from the ceremony and turn them into centerpieces.

• Consider using cheaper flowers like carnations and baby's breath, rather than roses.

• Look for a venue with built-in decor, like a garden, to save on decorating costs.

• Don't cut corners on the photography. Don't skimp on your wedding dress and its alterations, either. It needs to fit you like a glove.

Source: Charli Penn, managing editor of

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