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Helpful hints to cut your wedding bill

(MoneyWatch) Getting married can be pretty cheap if it's just a visit to town hall. But a traditional wedding is a whole different story.

The wedding industry has grown to be an empire in excess of $50 billion. The good news for brides is that with over 350,000 businesses vying for their slice of the cake, you have some negotiating power. More competition is cropping up every day: Search "wedding" on Etsy and you will be presented with over a million results.

With the upswing in wedding costs, everyone is chipping in. Traditionally, the onus fell on the parents of the bride-to-be. Now, with the average cost of a wedding topping $28,000, it's all hands on deck.

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According to the research firm The Wedding Report, the bride's family still shoulders the largest burden of the cost -- 58 percent -- but the couple and the parents of the groom also chip in 21 percent and 14 percent respectively. With the average age of couples having their first wedding on the rise, most are ready and willing to step up.

No matter who is footing the bill, be sure to pay cash. The last thing you want to do is start your married life in debt. Resist the urge to put expenses on a credit card and instead, go with a celebration you can afford. More and more couples are finding unconventional ways to save. Here are a few more ideas:

1. Make it casual

According to the Knot's annual survey, more brides are going with casual weddings -- climbing from 12 percent in 2009 to 14 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in 2011. A less formal affair means savings from menu to décor.

2. Change the venue

The reception venue is far and away the highest ticket item for the average wedding, pricing in at over $12,000. Historical sites and parks can offer deep discounts, and your fee can sometimes qualify as a tax-deductible donation. If you go the park route, alcohol is often not allowed, dramatically lowering your bar tab.

3. Leave home

A destination wedding can actually save you money. A reception in the bride's hometown can equate to a ballooning guest list. ("What about your old babysitter Sally?") Change the locale to necessitate a plane ride and you'll find a couple of cost cutting bonuses: 1.) You need only invite your "A listers." (Tell everyone it's a small, intimate ceremony for family and a few friends.) Furthermore, you may find that even if you can't cut the guest list, only your nearest and dearest will pony up the cost of airfare plus hotel. 2.) A destination wedding can segue into your honeymoon, lowering your overall bottom line.

4. Give a new kid a break

Think outside the box when it comes to vendors. A great way to save is to hire professionals who are eager to break into the wedding business. Photographers, DJs and florists who are short on wedding experience but long on ambition could offer meaningful price breaks in exchange for a good post-nuptial reference from you.

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