CHICAGO – Couples everywhere are getting ready to march down the aisle this summer, but the tab for the reception could be a reason to run the other way.
In 2008, an average wedding cost nearly $22,000, according to estimates from The Wedding Report, a wedding market research firm.
The easiest – and best – way to rein in spending is to trim down the guest list, experts say. But deciding not to invite a third cousin, or a family member’s co-worker, can sometimes lead to a knockdown, drag-out, full-fledged family fight.
“You don’t have to sacrifice quality when throwing a beautiful, elegant affair,” said Bee Kim, the founder of WeddingBee.com. “You can still cut costs and have a beautiful wedding.”
There are already signs that couples are taking steps to cut back because of the poor economy.
In the first quarter, the average wedding price tag dipped 12 percent to about $19,000, according to the research firm.
Want to get on board? Here are low-conflict tips to help save big bucks on your wedding – without looking cheap. Just remember that cutting costs can take extra work and require planning well in advance.
•Negotiate: Only an uninformed bride and groom pay full price. The price of almost everything – from renting a limo to hiring photographers and caterers – is negotiable if you’re brave. And if you can’t persuade someone to drop the price, haggle for freebies, like an extra half-hour from the DJ.
“You don’t want to be unrealistic in your expectations, but if you tell a vendor that their prices don’t fit with your budget, you’ll find a lot of vendors in this economy are willing to work with you,” Kim said. “You never know what’s possible unless you ask.”
•Get crafty: The sky’s the limit in what you can do yourself. Make programs. Print invitations. Bake or make favors. You also can commission an artist on Etsy.com to make everything from crepe paper boutonnieres to a one-of-a-kind cake topper.
If you’ve got crafty friends, ask them to pitch in. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew. And beware that things can get very expensive if you have to buy supplies like giant cake pans that you’ll never use again.
•Eat, drink and be merry, simply: Feeding your guests and making sure they have enough alcohol can blow a wedding budget fast. But you don’t want to give them crackers and cheap beer either.
Offering just chicken instead of both beef and fowl can greatly cut costs, says Bobbie Halbrooks, of Irene’s Catering in Milwaukee. And serving buffet style costs far less than a sit-down dinner because it requires much less staff. Couples can also choose cold or room-temperature food like sandwiches or hors d’oeuvres.
To cut booze costs stick to just beer rather than a full bar. Another option: Couples are increasingly having guests pitch in, even just a little, Halbrooks said, and $1 is a bargain for them but a huge boost for your budget.
Although brides and grooms may worry about upsetting their guests by trimming costs, that’s not what guests remember, Halbrooks said.
“The people don’t remember what colors they were wearing, or how extravagant of a meal they were having,” she said. “They just remember if it was good or not.”
•Dress for less: Do legwork and you can score a great dress at a deep discount by finding out when local bridal boutiques hold their sample sales or trunk shows. Discounters and even department stores also offer deals on dresses in the offseason. Dresses can be had for as much as 80 percent off, although you probably won’t find a wide range of sizes.
Web sites like Encore Bridal, Bravo Bride and even eBay abound with like-new dresses, jewelry and accessories for less.
•Music mixology: Nothing beats the energy of a live band, but several hours of musicians on stage can cost big bucks. Opt for a smaller ensemble or a DJ or see if the performer at your reception can pull double duty at the ceremony.
Or make your own playlist on your iPod. Most venues have sound systems that let you plug in your own mixes, or you can rent or borrow a sound system to go with your portable player.
The best part? The only corny songs you’ll hear are the ones you want.