Wedding Planning

Multimillion-dollar weddings for celebrities like George Clooney ($13 million) or Kim Kardashian and Kanye West ($12 million) are fun to see in the news, but what about the rest of us who want to plan a first-class wedding but don’t have that kind of cash to spare?

According to TheKnot.com, the typical wedding now costs $29,858, and even that amount is rather large at a time when household incomes are falling and money is tough to save. Is it possible to plan a beautiful, fun, inspiring wedding without sinking yourself in debt? You bet. Here are 11 big ways to save:

Engagement ring: There are many myths associated with engagement rings – like the one propagated by diamond sellers that says a suitable and acceptable ring must be worth the equivalent of the groom's entire income for a month or two. Nope. The whole idea of such a large financial commitment can be harmful when the money can be better used to bulk up savings, buy a house or reduce student loan debt. If you want a nice engagement ring and don’t want to enter wedded life in debt, try visiting local antique dealers to find a ring that is attractive, meaningful and affordable.

Wedding dress: Like engagement rings, wedding dresses are surrounded by an assortment of myths and fables, especially the idea that it makes sense for every couple to spend thousands of dollars for the perfect ensemble. In reality, a wedding dress is a remarkably expensive item that is only worn once (usually) and has no further utility. How to avoid wedding dress bankruptcy? One approach is to borrow from a friend – you can be sure the dress will not be damaged from over-use. Another strategy is to shop for a used dress – try local consignment shops or take a look at websites that sell ‘pre-worn’ wedding dresses, such as WoreItOnce.com

The venue: Lots of places would like your business for the big day, but beware of hidden costs. For instance, maybe a location has a good rental rate but also insists that you only use their caterer, bartender, photographer or florist. In the end, the total cost for the venue is likely to resemble the national debt and that's not a good way to start married life. Make sure any agreement with a venue spells out all charges and specifically gives you the option to name your own suppliers without additional cost. Because venues may want to use only approved suppliers, it’s important to get approvals in advance and in writing. 

As an alternative to such sites as a restaurant or historic mansion, consider holding the reception at someone’s home or in a religious facility. Religious centers can have large and modern kitchens, big common areas, and are often available to members of the congregation at little or no cost. However one needs to ask about what is allowed and not allowed in their food and beverage policies. If the event is at a friend’s or family member’s private home, there's typically no cost. However the bride and groom should make sure there is a plan to clean up after the event.

Catering: When it comes to caterers, there is split advice: First, if you are going to hire a caterer, just hire the best one in town. Why? Experience. They will have not only great food but also people and equipment on hand to make the whole day a much better event. Hiring a cheap caterer probably won’t go well. If you want to save money (a lot of it), then have everyone bring a dish to the reception. This approach can produce large volumes of food at no cost to the wedding party, especially as everyone tries to outdo other guests with the best possible cuisine.

The cake: Wedding cakes are often serious blends of culinary skills and baking architecture. They are also routinely expensive, costing $1,000 or more – sometimes much more. An alternative comes from a skilled pastry chef: Instead of a cake with lots of layers and decoration, she and her groom opted for pies. Why pies? If you have a variety of pies then guests can pick and choose as they like. No less important, the cost will be substantially lower than the expense of a good wedding cake. Another approach: Cupcakes. They taste good, they’re easy to eat and no one will bicker over who gets which piece.

Photography and video: You surely want photos and videos of the wedding and reception. Photographers know this and will often charge thousands of dollars for such work. The best low-cost approach to photography is to ask managers at local camera stores for their recommendations. Some managers might want the assignment for themselves. You can also speak with photography teachers at local high schools and colleges, as some may do such work. If you do elect an affordable option for photography or videography, always have a back-up plan in case they flake.

If you do use a professional wedding photographer, read proposed contracts with care. Some photographers may allow the use of images online but only if their name and contact information is also shown. Fail to follow all requirements and you could face significant costs. While such agreements can create big liabilities for brides and grooms, they are somehow much less imposing when it comes to the photographer. For instance, they might limit the photographer’s liability for not showing up to a token sum, such as any money already paid for professional services. Make sure your contract is fair and reasonable. You have the right to negotiate and to go elsewhere.

Wine, liquor and beer: You will save a huge amount of money if you can buy your own wine, liquor and beer. Be sure to check with the venue and the caterer to see if you're allowed to buy your own spirits and if there are any related fees or changes. Also, check to see if you can return unopened bottles, another way to save money.

Flowers: Flowers don’t last long, but they do last at least a few days. That means you can buy your own flowers for a rehearsal dinner, trim them yourself, and then re-use them at the wedding. Members of the wedding party will be happy to lend a hand.

Gifts: No doubt you can register at virtually any store and ask guests to chip in for a blender or place setting. At the end of the process you will then have lots of stuff to chip, move, store and break. Many couples are now getting married later in life and the result is that they largely have household items. Because of later marriages, and as a practical matter, it often makes sense to ask for the most-portable gift of all: cash. Many guests actually prefer giving checks and envelopes stuffed with bills because there’s less work involved with no wrapping and no worries about style or shipping. If you do ask for cash, explain why you want it: Telling people you want cash to assemble a down payment for a house is perfectly acceptable.

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