Real Simple Wedding Tips

May 6, 2009 7:00:55 AM PDT
I was almost 35 and had yet to kiss a frog that turned into a prince. Maybe I'm just meant to be a great aunt and godmother, I decided. And almost on the heels of that decision, a story took me to the Miel Patisserie in Cherry Hill on a story about making chocolate. With a name like Rocco, I expected the chef to be a harried, middle-aged European with a wife and kids. I was instead brought up short by a handsome young man with dark curls and eyes and a kind smile. Some part of my heart, long asleep, sat up fully awake. Within months we were engaged, buying a house, and planning a wedding. How in the world would I pull together an event on a budget that took most people over a year and cost thousands?

In this economy, I'm sure the money question is on the minds of many a bride and groom, regardless of how long they have to plan. Can you believe the average cost of the American wedding is now $27,000? A lot of folks shelled out for that special day?and now are suffering through years of debt. But you don't have to: You can have a beautiful wedding at a reasonable price, if you're willing to be creative and open-minded. I have some ideas of my own to pass along, but I also wish I had had a copy of the current Real Simple magazine budget wedding guide. Here's some of the best stuff, both from me and the editors:

  • Save the Date for Savings: June brides are the stuff of daydreams, so much so most venues know they can get away with charging top dollar that month. If you want to save money, consider planning your wedding for any month but June, especially if you're open to non-summer months. And cut into the cost even more by opting for a Friday night or Sunday afternoon.

  • Register Smart: Hopefully your loved ones will outfit your house with fine linens and lovely dishes. Some may even surprise you with big ticket items like furniture. But there will probably be some things you don't get, some of them items you know you need and would use daily. So register in a place that offers a "completion package." That's a place that will offer you a discount - usually between 10 and 20-percent - on the items you buy after the shower. But with so many people marrying later, maybe you and your betrothed already have all the household goods you need. Some great websites gives you a way to direct shower and wedding gifts into things you can use more than stuff: If you'd rather money to go towards debts or a new car or house, register for cash gifts with Or if you have a head for the markets, guests can gift you with your preferred stocks at Or here's one if you're trying to be frugal and would like some help on a nice splurge: let's your guest purchase aspects of your honeymoon. Maybe they can upgrade your suite, pay for a nice dinner, a surfing lesson or a couples massage.

  • Party like a Princess, Pay like a Peasant: Some wedding dresses cost as much as a car. And you'll wear it for only one day!. And if you've been a bridesmaid or groomsman, you know at first you feel honored... and then you feel strapped.

    How to avoid the big price tags but look beautiful? A couple of ideas: First, a lot of popular retailers, like Ann Taylor and J. Crew, have gotten into the wedding biz. If you're open to simple designs, they can dress you and your wedding party for just hundreds of dollars. Also, think outside the bridal store box. If you time it right, you can find white and cream designer evening dresses on sale. A great seamstress can add crystals and rhinestones and make a veil. And look in surprising places: I walked into Jessica McClintock, expecting to find nothing but prom dresses. Instead, I walked out with a gold confection that cost little but made a gorgeous bridal gown.

    If you are going to invest more in the dress, again consider a good seamstress. A friend in D.C. found the woman who tailored all of Jackie O's White House gowns. She still had all the classic patterns from the 1960s. For much less than she would have paid at a big bridal store, my friend got a classic gown and elegant, lushly colored bridal party wear.

  • Higher Learning, Lower Earning: If you are willing to reach out to local vocational schools, you can get dresses, food, pictures, and hair and makeup for a fraction. Ask to see portfolios for the photographers or dress designers. Ask the student chefs and stylists to give you a small sample session.

    The savings can be substantial. For example, I couldn't find a professional photographer for less than thousands. I turned instead to University of the Arts student John Bernardo. He and a fellow student spent the day with us, taking great shots from the wedding on into the evening reception. Some were portraits, some were artsy, some were candids. All were great. He got pictures for his portfolio, I got a price tag under $1000. (You can reach John at

  • Rethink the Reception: Not too long ago, receptions meant ice box cake and punch in the backyard. Now the only thing missing is an appearance from the Queen. This is where most people watch the money flood out of their wallets.

    Real Simple has two main tips: First, consider a cocktail party with passed hors d'ouerves rather than a sit down dinner. A chef can still whip up delicious, creative bites but at lower prices than a sit down dinner (where lots of food goes wasted on plates or buffet tables).

    Also, consider offering a signature cocktail with wine and beer instead of a full on bar. For example you could offer a mojito in honor of your Miami engagement or a pomegranate cosmo as a nod to your big move as a couple to New York City. That's a lot less expensive than offering a full rail bar.

    Here's another idea from my own wedding: Rocco and I kept the wedding small, just our immediate family. That meant we could hold the wedding dinner in a restaurant, where everyone had lots of scrumptious, cooked-to-order choices for dinner. The next day we held a barbecue reception for our extended group of friends and family in our new home. One friend brought ribs, another handmade lasagna, and yet another made us a second wedding cake. Add in burgers and steaks on the grill and kids playing ball in the alley, and we had a ball. A lot of friends told us they enjoyed being able to relax with a beer in shorts rather than picking between the dry chicken or overcooked steak in a tight suit and painful heels. And it cost far less than the typical $100-$150 a head.

  • Flowers at a Find: I had a relatively small flower order: two bouquets, a handful of lapel pins, and three small table displays. No church or hall to decorate. It still set me back hundreds.

    Here's some tips to be thriftier than me, but to dazzling effect. Pick a wedding day away from flower-heavy holidays like Valentine's or Mother's Day. Everyone pays more for blooms then, and so will you.

    Let your favorite flower be a theme. It's a lot cheaper for a florist to get in a single order of zinnias, roses, or dahlias than to place multiple orders for mixed blooms. And the single bloom in your bouquet and across the room will look a unique signature stamp.

    Or click on the websites for Proflowers or 1-800-Flowers and order the flowers yourself. You can get them dethorned and ready to arrange. Task a close friend with artsy flair or turn it into a bonding activity for your bridesmaids

  • Odds and Ends: Consider letterpress or invitations printed out on your computer (there are lots of ready to roll options in stores ranging from paper stores to Target). Make one big seating chart rather than individual place cards. Consider the off season at resorts for destination weddings; if you plan smart, you can have the beach or mountains to yourself, miss the rains or cold, and save a buck. And slip an empty CD into the gift bags, along with a little note asking guests to upload their candid shots and send it back to you as a post-wedding gift. More great pics for pennies!

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