By Crystal Dempsey
Knight Ridder Newspapers
The national average cost of a wedding, with 175 guests and a sit-down dinner, is $20,000. Staff writer Crystal Dempsey broke the national average into 10 categories and then interviewed brides, a wedding planner and a consumer advocate. Item by item, here's her plan to save more than $9,500.
CATERING/RECEPTION (AVG. cost: $8,400)
CATERING: Cutting the guest list drastically reduces costs, advises Kelly Carson, an events planner with Carolina Weddings & Events.
"Look at your list and think about who you really want to be there," Carson says. "You don't really need to invite Mrs. Smith, your first-grade teacher, if you haven't seen her in 20 years."
A sit-down dinner with full bar is $25 or more per person. A buffet costs $15 a person. Brunch or lunch is about $10.
Buy alcoholic beverages at a discount store or warehouse club. Return unopened bottles. For even bigger savings, don't serve alcohol.
RECEPTION: Popular upscale locations tend to cost the most. Instead, consider church or temple halls, historic sites or civic facilities such as parks or a clubhouse. Be creative: Have your bash at a ballpark, the trolley barn or a corporate rooftop garden. Decorate with a single color scheme. Another big money-saver, but highly unlikely: Find a place that allows you to bring in your own caterer. Most sites have a list of preferred vendors.
RINGS (AVG. Cost: $4,000)
ENGAGEMENT RING: A family piece is the least expensive. Offer to have it reset if she doesn't like the style. Look in pawn shops and consignment or antique stores. Go synthetic: Moissanite, a diamond look-alike, is made by Charles & Covard in Morrisville, N.C. A 1 ½ carat Moissanite in a classic 14-karat white gold setting is $750. A comparable diamond is around $6,000. For a list of Moissanite retailers: www.moissanite.com or toll-free (800) 210-4367.
WEDDING BANDS: Buy 14-karat gold - it's less expensive and more durable than higher-karat gold. Again, consider heirloom pieces or try retailers listed above.
ATTIRE (AVG. COST: $1,400)
GOWN: The average cost is $800 to $1,000. (One Charlotte, N.C., bride spent $25,000 on her dress last year.) Shop at consignment or vintage stores, use catalogs or go online. Rent or borrow. Ask a store if there's a discount if you and your bridesmaids buy your dresses there. If it's a simple style without beading and other detail work, have it made. Alan Fields, co-author of "Bridal Bargains," says watch out for hidden costs such as fees for alterations, rush orders, pressing and delivery.
ACCESSORIES: Buy shoes ($60 at some bridal stores) at a discount shoe store. Payless' Dyelights line is $33-$38 and includes the dying cost. Skip the headpiece/veil ($150), stockings ($20) and gloves ($20). Don't scrimp on the bra or shape wear.
INVITATIONS/PROGRAMS (AVG. COST: $390)
Order through a catalog or online. You can often find the same invitation styles sold through retail stationer shops at half the retail price, says Fields in "Bridal Bargains."
InStyle's Weddings issue recommends using a process called thermography instead of engraving. You'll save 40 percent.
Have a computer and a good printer? Make your own invitations and programs with blank card stock from an office supply store or stationer. Choose a single color and font. (Remember: Less is more.) Also, use full ink cartridges.
FLOWERS (AVG. COST: $900)
Availability of in-season flowers makes them more affordable. Try the less-is-more approach: Carry a bouquet of calla lilies or tulips tied with a ribbon. Wildflowers are usually less expensive. Get married in a garden or park when flowers, trees and shrubs are in bloom. Or schedule your wedding near a holiday when the church will already be decorated.
Check with the facility to see if there's another ceremony before or after yours. Ask the couple if they'd be willing to share flowers.
At the reception, keep decorations simple. Instead of flowers, use foliage, candles, fruits, nuts or vegetables. Rachel Micoli, a recent bride and The Charlotte Observer's entertainment editor, used a glass vase, a white pillar candle, three votives (all from Garden Ridge) and rose petals (from Costco) for table centerpieces. Cost? About $10 each.
CAKE (AVG. COST: $525)
The fancier the cake, the more you'll pay. The average is $3 a slice. Don't get a cake that serves everyone. About 20 percent of the crowd won't eat any. Buy a smaller version of the cake you love but can't afford. After the photos, have it rolled into the kitchen "to be sliced." Your guests don't have to know that they're getting sheet cake that costs about 50 cents a slice. Beware: With sheet cake or regular wedding cake, reception sites may charge a cutting fee. Sometimes it's as much as $2 a slice. Negotiate.
PHOTOGRAPHY/VIDEOGRAPHY (AVG. COST: $2,500)
This is the one category where you shouldn't be frugal. As one bride says, "Flowers fade, cake gets eaten, and invitations get thrown away" but photos and videos last.
Family and friends may volunteer for the task, but unless they're professionals, quality could be iffy.
Save money by skipping a package deal. "You won't know what you want until you've see the photos," Fields says.
MUSIC (AVG. COST: $650)
Ja'Nee Harris of Charlotte, N.C., recommends using a solo musician (guitarist, violinist, harpist, pianist) for the ceremonial music. A DJ for two hours at the reception is at least 40 percent less than a string quartet or a band.
LIMO/CEREMONY SITE/OFFICIANT (AVG. COST: $390)
Skip the limo or the horse-drawn carriage. Don't haggle over the site or officiant's fee.
MISCELLANEOUS (AVG. COST: $800)
This category includes the license, the attendants' gifts, unexpected expenses and late fees. The fewer attendants, the less you spend on gifts. Also, enlist a friend or family member not in the ceremony to double-check delivery times and handle the last-minute details. Meet the return deadlines for items that you've rented, to avoid penalties.
- Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget" by Denise and Alan Fields ($14.95, Windsor Peak Press). The Fields are considered the Ralph Naders of the wedding industry. They've been on "Oprah," "Today" and "Dateline NBC."
- "The Anti-Bride Guide: Tying the Knot Outside of the Box" by Carolyn Gerin and Stephanie Rosenbaum ($19.95, Chronicle Books).
- InStyle Weddings, Spring 2002 special issue. Andie MacDowell is on the cover.
- Wedding planner: Kelly Carson, Carolina Weddings & Events.
- Brides: Ja'Nee Harris and Rachel Micoli.
© 2002, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.