smart spending

7 ways to save on an off-season wedding

7. Shop year-round for bargains on wedding gowns and rings.

While bridal gown sales don't hinge around wedding off-seasons, they do go on sale during certain times of the year. When new arrivals come in, for instance, some bridal salons put their sample gowns on sale to make room for the latest styles. To get a piece of the bargain pie, call the bridal salons in your area and ask when the next end-of-season sale commences, says Cambria. "Many places will send you a postcard or e-mail to alert you of their upcoming special sales events."

Also think outside the bridal shop. Hit the department stores in January through March for discounts on dresses, holiday gowns and prom dresses that work as both bridal and bridesmaid dresses, says Naylor.

"The complex process of buying wedding and engagement rings goes more smoothly when there's less of a frenzy," says John Dickinson, a market expert for online diamond retailer James Allen. For less stress, shop during the off-season. The demand for rings soars during the holiday months of October, November and December, when engagement and bridal jewelry sales peak for James Allen. While price remains a consideration, "You want to be able to sit down and talk with someone."

Since ring prices fluctuate year-round with the market, take your time ring shopping at different retailers and comparing diamond grading, he says. When deciding on a diamond ring, use magnification to better see it, have all grading specifics typed or written down when you make the purchase (if there's no grading report), and inquire about the ring's return policy. If the retailer becomes evasive or refuses you at any time, "then it's not a place you want to be doing business with."

Ladies wedding rings retail for $200 to $4,300 at James Allen, while men's wedding bands retail for $500 to $16,000.

A real wedding story

Aside from saving money, the real concern remains: Can you have your dream wedding in the off-season?

According to Aimee Bennett, who wed her husband in January 2004 in Denver, you certainly can. A mere $10,000 bought the couple a formal church wedding and golf club dinner reception for 160 guests -- a sum that at half the national average for weddings, covered everything from the apparel and alterations to the cleanup and thank-you cards.

While January might sound to some like a chilly time for a wedding, Bennett said their wedding day occurred during a pretty mild month in terms of weather. The wedding party wore coats and shawls when walking outside, "but nothing special." In case of a snowstorm, the couple arranged for the priest to get there a few days early. "We took our chances, of course, because you could have a snowstorm at any time. But since it's so dry here, things melt (or evaporate) quickly, and generally, snow one day is gone the next. Between that, snow removal, and a great airport that can handle all kinds of conditions, we felt OK about the nearly 50 people who traveled from out of town to be here."

Asked whether she was satisfied with her off-season wedding, she raved about her timely choice. Business-deprived vendors gave her more attention and served her faster. The slower season also resulted in a more exclusive anniversary date.

"January is actually an ideal time of the year because nothing else is going on. Our anniversary never competes with other holidays, summer busyness, or other events. During what can often be a 'down' time of the year, we can focus on ourselves and our marriage, and have a wonderful reason to celebrate."

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