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Wedding Dresses, Pictures and Other Ideas: 9 Ways to Save Money

Eve Troeh is determined to have a fairy-tale wedding, but she says the realities of the economy demand a little cost-cutting.

So the Los Angeles bride has shunned the traditional Saturday ceremony for the much more cost-effective Sunday; bought her designer dress from a recently wed reseller on Craig's List; and nixed the open bar in favor of the trendy (and cheaper) "signature cocktail."

"If you want it to look a certain way and feel a certain way, it costs a lot," said Troeh, 31. "You have to decide what's important to you."

As wedding season gets into full swing, Troeh is part of a growing community: Brides on a Budget. “A wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and many women have been dreaming about the day for their entire lives,” said Nancy Mattia, senior articles editor at Brides magazine. “But they’ve got to make every dollar count.”

The good news? There are plenty of ways to cut costs without sacrificing elegance. The bad news? Elegant weddings still aren’t cheap. The cost of the average wedding is now about $28,000, down from $29,000 a year ago, according to Rebecca Dolgin, executive editor at the popular wedding website The Knot.

But prices can vary wildly. The wedding calculator at estimates that “traditional” nuptials in Los Angeles, for example, could run $53,000 or more — but shows you could cut the price tag in half if you go casual or drop a few bells and whistles.

Some strategies to trim the wedding bills:

1. Limit the Drinks

If you have an open bar with all types of alcohol, you can spend thousands of dollars on libations alone. A better bet is to limit the alcohol selection to a few selections, such as wine, beer and a “signature” drink — the Jim&Suzy-tini, for example. Estimated savings: 10 to 20 percent.

2. Get a Deal on the Dress

It can cost more than $5,000 to buy a designer dress. But you can get that same dress for a fraction of the cost, if you go to a “sample sale” or follow Troeh’s lead and buy it slightly used. Try dresses on in person at bridal shops, she advises, but then bargain shop on the Internet for sales and re-sales. Troeh found a recent bride selling the exact dress she wanted for $600, rather than the $1,100 that it cost at the sample sales she’d attended. It was a lot of work, says Troeh, but the dress required only minor alterations to be “perfect.” “I’ve found you can either spend a lot of time or a lot of money,” she adds.

There are also increasing options for those who don’t want designer dresses. J. Crew and Ann Taylor, for example, have recently come out with bridal lines, where most dresses sell for hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars. David’s Bridal also has a substantial selection of wedding dresses, many for less than $500. You can even rent a gown – you’re not going to wear it more than once, right?

3. Trim the Guest List

Each guest is going to cost you between $80 and $250. It’s not just the meal and drinks, says Sharon Stimpfle, deputy Web site director at The Knot’s Eliminating eight guests means one less table and floral centerpiece, eight fewer party favors, invitations and reply cards. It even saves a bit on photographs, she says.

Trimming the list can get tricky, especially since the parents of both the bride and groom are going to want to include people too. Peggy Post, etiquette expert and director of the Emily Post Institute, suggests that you try to cut entire categories, such as young children or distant relatives. That can alleviate some of the acrimony on an otherwise dicey decision. If there are people who you can’t invite without adding a landslide of guests — great-aunt Mabel and her six children and 32 grandchildren, for example — consider having a separate lunch or casual event with them alone to show that you care.

4. Find Flowers in Season

Peonies are pretty, but they’re about twice as costly as in-season roses, which, fully blooming, look much the same and are available year-round. Don’t like roses? No problem: Just ask the florist what is readily available at the time of your nuptials. Going in-season can save up to 20 to 30 percent on an expense that can easily start at $2,000 or more.

5. DIY Where Possible

If you’re artistic, you can save even more by doing some of the work yourself, said Susan Bain, co-creator of On the flower front: Costco has a wedding flower collection that gives you a fixed price for “packages” that include a bridal bouquet, boutonnieres, corsages and a set number of centerpieces. A 40-piece package, for instance, comes with four brides’ maid bouquets and six centerpieces and runs about $750. And the fact they came mail order from a big box retailer? We won’t tell. (You, of course, have to make sure that the flowers are trimmed and watered after delivery, and transported to the venue and placed on the tables before the reception. But that’s what in-laws and best friends are for.)

Crafty friends can also help you put together simple party favors — tie up Jordan almonds intulle and you’ve got a good-looking, tasty giveaway. And if you have a friend or two who are skilled photographers, you can save a small fortune by having them take the candid shots at the reception.Or consider hiring a photographer from the local paper. Give him an 8-gig compact flash card and a few hundred bucks, and you’ll get professional shots at a fraction of the cost of an official wedding photographer. (You may still want a pro for the formal shots, however.)

6. Negotiate the Photo Deal

While we’re on the subject of photos: Digital technology gives couples a new option, letting you pay a photographer for time and a disk, rather than prints at $50 a pop. You may still want some professionally developed shots, particularly for those formal photos you plan to frame. But it’s increasingly easy to negotiate a deal where you buy some and get some on the disk.

7. Change the Date

Summer Saturdays are high season for weddings, says Dolgin. If you can wed in the winter or on a less popular night, like a Friday or Sunday, you can save up to 30 percent on the catering and reception venue. Some brides are even giving up the traditional afternoon wedding and dinner reception for an early Sunday ceremony and a brunch. That makes for a less expensive meal and guests are likely to drink less too.

8. Take Charge of the Music

A live band is likely to cost you upwards of $1,500, or even more if the band’s got several members and is going to play all night. Getting a D.J. is more affordable, but an increasingly popular option — the iPod — is the most affordable still, and gives you complete control over the set list.

A couple of caveats, however: Although bands come with their own speaker systems, your iPod does not. And even if your venue has the speaker setup to accommodate your iPod, you’ll need somebody – whether a friend or a professional – to run the music to make sure it stops for toasts and starts when you want to dance. That way, when mom and dad want Sinatra, they get Sinatra, and when your college roommate wants Burning Down the House well, you get the idea.

9. Save the Postage

Postage can really add up when you’re inviting 200 people (hoping that 150 can attend) and putting 88-cent stamps on the invitation and the 44-cent stamps on the reply card. Save-the-date announcements are one easy place to go electronic, says Stimpfle — a move that has an eco-friendly appeal and saves roughly $150 on printed announcements and postage. She also cautions that while odd-sized invitations are becoming popular, they’re exceptionally costly to mail. Check mailing costs before you go unique, she advises.

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