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Budgeting for a wedding

The bride wore white and the ceremony took place amid redwood trees towering over a deep, blue lake.

And the couple didn't part with a lot of green.

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When Ericka Cikalo and Seth Kreiss exchanged their wedding vows, the Milpitas, Calif., couple paid just a few hundred dollars -- considerably less than the national average of about $20,000.

"I was surprised that you can have a decent wedding and not go broke," Cikalo says. "I would love to be able to have a lavish wedding and invite everyone we know and have a fairytale wedding, but we can't afford that."

They didn't settle for a justice-of-the-peace ceremony in a courthouse. About 75 guests attended the ceremony in a public park overlooking Lake Tahoe in Nevada. The reception took place at nearby vacation rental houses where wedding guests stayed. The accommodations didn't cost much because the wedding took place during the off-season.

Cikalo and Kreiss didn't sit down to develop an overall budget for their wedding. They simply decided to save as much money as possible.

Forming a budget plan
Although most people arranging a wedding work from a budget, drawing up a realistic plan can be tough, says Alan Fields, who, with his wife, Denise, wrote "Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget."

"One place to start is to look at what the average is," Fields says. "Sometimes you can look at it (the national average) and decide what kind of wedding you want. Or you might say, 'All I have is $5,000 and that's what I'll spend.'"

Rachel Sanfordlyn Shreckengast, a freelance wedding consultant says, "I suggest that they start with a budget that they can afford without help from their relatives." That way, she says, the couple will have a more realistic notion of how much they will have to spend. As a bonus, no relative will be able to call the shots by threatening to withhold money.

That's not to say that you should turn down money when it's offered. Two-thirds of the time, relatives chip in at least some cash, Fields says.

No matter how much money you plan to spend, first, the two of you should decide what kind of wedding you want. During this step, you will have to compromise and you will get a better picture of your beloved's values and priorities. What's more, when you decide privately what you want, you stick with it publicly. "You present a united front to the world," Shreckengast says. That makes it harder for your relatives -- what the Fieldses call "the Wedding Industrial Complex" -- to talk you into buying a product or service that you don't need.

Stretching your money
So let's say you decide to spend $5,000 on the wedding -- what can you do to stretch out those dollars?

Do what Cikalo and Kreiss did: choose a slower time of year. In June, don't expect photographers and caterers to give you a price break because that's a busy month for weddings. Ditto for the merry months of May, July and September. Have a wedding in January, February or November "and you can pretty much name your own ticket," Fields says. "In January, (vendors) are very lonely. They don't work a lot. They'll wheel and deal."

That brings up the topic of negotiation. "Most people don't dicker except when they buy a car or maybe a house," Fields says. He advises people planning weddings to shop around and negotiate everything. Never forget that you have the money. Make vendors earn it.

Shreckengast recommends that you seek estimates from at least five vendors in major categories such as photography, flowers, clothing, the reception area and caterers.

Shopping around brings another benefit: You might get lucky. Cikalo says the most difficult part of planning her wedding was buying a dress. She bought one at an online auction but had to return it because it didn't fit. Then she went to a mall and saw the perfect dress in a shop window. It was on sale. With alterations it cost $225. The average, says Fields, is $800, but wedding dresses can cost $3,000 or more.

Shreckengast bought her wedding gown at a Jessica McClintock outlet store in Reading, Pa., for $5. "It just happened to look fine on me, and I liked it, but there were many other dresses for under $50," she reports.

Some vendors, such as photographers, offer packages and tend not to give on the price, Shreckengast says. Don't let them sell you a bigger, more expensive package than you need.

Get artsy and craftsy
Make like you're in summer camp and do arts and crafts.

Shreckengast and her husband spent only $700 on their wedding, but they did a lot of the work themselves. Shreckengast suggests making your own bouquets, veil, centerpieces and party favors. Cikalo made her own headpiece, and relatives took food such as cold cuts and cheese to the reception.

There are two things you should not try to make yourself. Instead, let the experts tackle them: the wedding gown and the cake. Shreckengast says, you really don't want to mess up either one.

Get promises from vendors in writing before you make a deposit, Fields says.

Follow Cikalo's lead and look for deals on the Web and at bridal fairs. Vendors often offer drawings and contests so they can get you on their mailing lists. That's how Cikalo and Kreiss secured a 20 percent discount on his formal wear.

And what if, in your zeal to save money, a well-meaning relative or friend pressures you to spend more lavishly?

"Often a simple reminder is enough," Shreckengast says. Remind your interlocutor that what they're asking for is not in your budget. "That leaves the ball in their court. They can accept your choice -- or pay for it."

-- Updated: May 13, 2005




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