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Budget Wedding: Get the Dress for Less

I admit: When it's raining and I have nothing else to do, I enjoy a few back-to-back episodes of Say Yes to the Dress on TLC. (Well, OK, sometimes the weather is absolutely gorgeous and I still tune in.) How can I not? The popular series takes you inside the famous Kleinfeld Bridal in New York, which boasts the largest selection of wedding dresses. Randy, one of the employees, is a hoot. He has little tolerance for indecisive brides and he isn't afraid to show it. (It makes for great TV!)

It's also fun to discover how outrageously expensive some of the dresses are. It's often mind-boggling. Once, I saw a woman say yes to a $9,000 dress. Not with cash. Not with a check. Instead, she took out her credit card and planned to pay it off over time.

I'm all for having the wedding of your dreams, but not if it means sinking further into debt as you make your way to the altar.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to look amazing on your wedding day without breaking the bank. You don't have to spend anywhere in the thousands for a great dress. I know, because my financially savvy friend Kate is getting married this fall and is teaching me some more affordable wedding dress strategies. I'm still single and living vicariously through her - so I am taking copious notes. Here's what I've gathered:

Pick Pre-Owned
Some brides want to sell their once-used dresses, either because they're trying to recoup costs or be environmentally friendly, or because they indecisively bought multiple dresses for their big day and are getting rid of the excess. (I am not kidding; this actually happens, say the folks at resale Web sites.) Buying a pre-owned dress can save you 50 to 90 percent off the retail price. At PreOwnedWeddingDresses, for example, you can find designer gowns from Carolina Herrera, Vera Wang, and Monique Lhuillier for a fraction of the price.

Depending on where the seller is located, you may be able to arrange an appointment to try on the dress. If not, just make sure you have a few fittings at bridal stores to know your size - some designers run big or small. WoreItOnce and OnceWed are a couple other sites that sell pre-owned wedding gowns.

Browse J. Crew
The preppy-chic retailer just opened its first bridal boutique in Manhattan earlier this month. Dresses starting at around $300 . If you don't live in New York, J. Crew has wedding specialists throughout the country at select stores. You can also check out styles on the store's Web site.

Go for a Cocktail Look
A short dress means less fabric, and often less money. If your wedding will have a casual vibe or take place during the morning or afternoon, a shorter dress may be quite perfect. One tip: Browse bridesmaid dresses, which usually run $150 to $300, and ask to try them on in white, off-white or cream if available.

Make It Your 'Something Borrowed'
Perhaps you can borrow a dress from your mother, sister or close friend? If they'll let you alter it, even better.

Hire a Seamstress
Find a dress you love and bring it to a trusted seamstress who will likely charge you just a fraction of the retail price. Added bonus: You won't have to pay extra for alterations or shipping.

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