Saving big on weddings and events

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2008

By BETH J. HARPAZAssociated Press WriterGoing into debt for a wedding is no way to start married life. Maxing out credit cards is a bad example to set for the teenager having a bar mitzvah, sweet 16 or quinceanara. And by the time 50th birthdays and golden anniversaries roll around, people know that friends and family matter more than pricetags.
Besides, it’s easy to have a big, beautiful bash on a budget. Here are eight tips.
1. INVITATIONS. Thermographed invitations cost 50-70 percent less than engraved invitations, “and no one can usually tell,” said Alan Fields, co-author with his wife Denise of “Bridal Bargains.” Or make your own invitations, said Sharon Naylor, author of “1,000 Best Wedding Bargains.”
She recommends for invitation software and paper, with CDs starting at $29.99. Or order invitations online from a site like, which Naylor says offers 40 percent off retail prices.
Limit enclosures so you don’t go over the one-ounce maximum for envelopes with a 41-cent stamp. Note that square envelopes and oddly shaped envelopes cost more to mail. Consider postcards for the RSVP ó less postage. Or skip reply cards for teen parties and informal weddings; ask for RSVP by e-mail or phone.
For kids’ parties, you could even go paperless with e-vites.
2. GOWNS. “Buy online,” advised Fields. Online discounters can order name brand-name dresses for 20-40 percent off retail, and some wedding dress factories in China have Web sites that will ship gowns direct to consumers for $50-$100 ó a bargain even with $100 shipping. Fields’ recommendations include,, and
Filene’s Basement runs a famous bridal sale slashing prices on designer dresses.
Robert Brokamp, who writes about personal finance for The Motley Fool said he found a dress for his wife Elizabeth at David’s Bridal, which has 285 stores, for $250. “It was on the discount rack,” he said.
Check out department stores when prom season ends: “You might find sophisticated prom dresses that work for a wedding gown,” said Naylor.
To save on high-end gowns, wedding planner Samantha Goldberg advises brides to sign up for trunk shows at department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue or wedding retailers like Kleinfeld Bridal. Also compare state sales taxes. Buying a $5,000 dress in a nearby state with no clothing tax could save hundreds, said Goldberg, who is known for her work with Style Network’s “Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?”
3. FLOWERS AND DECOR. Fields recommends Costco for flowers. Costco’s “Simply Elegant Wedding Rose Collections” (40-piece sets including bouquets and centerpieces, $760; 20-piece set, $430). Order online for delivery anywhere in the U.S. Hydrangeas and calla lilies available too; prices vary.
Naylor notes that the cheapest flowers will be those in season the month you’re getting married; that “greenery filler is less expensive than flowers and makes for a beautiful natural look”; and that smaller bouquets show off gowns to greater advantage.
Casey Cooper, co-author of “What’s Your Bridal Style?”, says do-it-yourself brides can learn the basics of designing centerpieces, boutonnieres and bouquets. The event design firm Botanicals in Chicago offers classes like “Wedding Design.”
Inexpensive ways to dress up tables: candles, bright balloons, wildflowers in jars, potted plants in season ó tulips in spring, mums in fall.
At Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, N.Y., kids celebrating bar and bat mitzvahs sometimes make centerpieces by filling baskets with nonperishable food for a soup kitchen. Wrap the baskets in colored plastic wrap, add a bow and card about the charity, and you’ve got a centerpiece that’s both beautiful and meaningful.
4. DRINK. Instead of open bar with bartender, have a serve-yourself table with wine, beer and/or champagne. Wine retailers can recommend wines in your price range and often give discounts by the case.
If you opt for the full bar, Goldberg notes that restaurants and hotels charge more for premium brands like Johnny Walker and Grey Goose. Ask for Smirnoff vodka or house brands for a lower price.
5. FOOD. Catered meals with chicken or fish can run 35 percent of your budget, “but if you start getting into filet mignon, prime rib or lobster, you’re going to find yourself in the 40 percent bracket,” Goldberg said.
Buffets are cheaper than sit-down meals, because you don’t pay for table service. But you might want a server to control portions on the buffet for pricey items like smoked salmon, steak or sashimi.
Consider ethnic food. Having a Thai restaurant cater chicken sate ó grilled chicken on a stick ó with pad Thai noodles might cost less than traditional alternatives.
Brokamp, The Motley Fool writer, had his wedding at a relative’s home in the countryside where the food was “basically a cookout ó hot dogs and hamburgers.”
For birthday or anniversary parties, guests might bring potluck food instead of gifts. For teenage parties, order pizza, wings, 6-foot-hero sandwiches or see if a Mexican restaurant will cater a taco bar.
6. CAKE. Have the cake of your dreams ó only smaller. Then order a sheet cake with the same frosting and flavor, Naylor advised, and have servers plate dessert off the sheet cake in the kitchen.
Also: “Skip the dessert table” with three other choices, said Fields. “People are eating fewer desserts these days anyway.”
He added that buttercream frosting is cheaper and tastes better than fondant icing, and that fresh flowers “spruce up a plain cake” and cost less than labor-intensive frosting flowers.
7. TIME AND PLACE. Most popular months for weddings are May, June, September and October. Daytime events are cheaper than nighttime, especially if the photographers and DJ get to leave early enough to make a second gig that night.
“A daytime wedding in April costs a third of a nighttime wedding in September,” said Naylor.
Lunch and brunch food is cheaper than dinner. A midday party saves guests money too: They drive in early and get home that night without paying for a hotel overnight.
If you hold the wedding in a private home, park or other venue outside a hotel or restaurant, you might save money – or not. Research costs like renting tables, chairs, linens, plates, tent for rain, etc.
If the ceremony and reception are in the same place, you won’t need a limo and you won’t be paying photographers for 20 minutes spent in transit.
Destination weddings are cheaper for two reasons: You combine honeymoon and wedding costs, and fewer people come. “For smaller weddings, second weddings, if you fear you’re going to have to invite your entire office, if you fear the wedding will spiral out of control, destination weddings are a great way to save money because not everyone can fly off to Bermuda to stand on the beach with you,” said Fields.
8. FUN, NOT FANCY: Brokamp’s 1999 wedding, with 150 guests, cost less than $5,000, thanks to inexpensive choices – like the cookout, gown off the discount rack, reception at a sister-in-law’s home, old family photos on the tables instead of centerpieces. Others pitched in – Brokamp’s mom, who is a florist, did the flowers with the help of other relatives; a friend tended bar; a cousin manned the grill.
“If you want the traditional wedding with all the traditional stuff, you’re going to have to pay for it,” said Brokamp. “We focused on people having fun rather than people being too fancy.”