smart spending

Pull off a wedding day quickly and cheaply

4 ways to save when tying the knot
By Jean Chatzky

Some sought-after wedding vendors convince brides that it takes a year or more to plan a wedding. After all, don't all the best venues and suppliers book far in advance? Not necessarily. While they don't like to advertise it, many hot spots can host several weddings at once, even on prime time Saturday nights.

Shhhh ... here's another secret: If you have a little flexibility and make decisions fast, you can save big bucks on your wedding day.

As Chris Mohr, a longtime wedding minister at Foothills Chapel in Colorado, explains, "People pull off pretty elaborate funerals in just a few days all the time." Not to be macabre, but weddings aren't that different -- location, ceremony, flowers, music, food ...

According to Alan Fields, co-author of "Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fantastic Wedding on a Realistic Budget," the average American wedding costs between $25,000 and $35,000, depending on whether jewelry is included. However, Fields believes averages can be misleading. "A few weddings over $100,000 throw off that figure dramatically," he says. "The true median is closer to $15,000." That means half of all weddings cost less than $15,000 and half cost more.

5 ways to cut wedding costs

  1. Negotiate discounts, custom packages.
  2. Winnow the guest list.
  3. Plan simpler events.
  4. Select off-the-rack options.
  5. Be adaptable.

"There are a number of things the wedding industry promotes to puff up its image: that it is recession-proof; that everybody is spending $35,000 on a wedding," Fields says. "But, we're seeing a lot more last-minute weddings in the last year."

1. Negotiate discounts, custom packages

Some wedding vendors, such as reception sites, caterers and disk jockeys, offer discounts for bookings made with little advance notice (one to 10 weeks usually) because they'd rather fill gaps in their schedules than let the slot go fallow. Such discounts can range from 15 percent to 30 percent off advertised rates. "We're hearing from more and more wedding vendors that they would much rather book a wedding and strike a deal than let the person walk out the door," Fields says.

While Fields likens counting on last-minute deals to "playing chicken with your wedding budget," he believes that politely negotiating discounts or custom packages is always a good idea.

Wedding vendors typically work based on set packages with set pricing, which they hope ensures everyone spends a minimum amount. It's common inside wedding industry circles to hear vendors such as a DJ say things like, "I won't leave the house for less than $1,000." But, that's not always true.

The trick, Fields explains, is to ask for a custom package that better fits your budget. "You have to remember that most wedding vendors view themselves as artists -- artistes," he says. "So, you kind of insult them if you ask, 'What kinds of discounts do you have?' You have to make them feel like they are still creating art. By custom designing a package for you, it makes them feel like they are putting a little bit of personal expression into it."

Vendors most likely to negotiate

  • Reception site managers and caterers.
  • Bakers.
  • Gown shop proprietors.
  • Florists.
  • DJs and bands.
  • Photographers and videographers.

Essentially, wheeling and dealing is easier for vendors who have unused capacity and more flexibility. A baker and support staff, for example, can handle perhaps six cakes in one day, whereas a photographer can shoot only one wedding at a time.

2. Winnow the guest list

Shorter notice typically means fewer guests attend, and the more time families ponder guest lists, the longer the lists get.

Precious Knudsen started planning two weeks before her Aug. 5, 2006, wedding in the Hamptons. Prior to her fiancé's redeployment to Iraq, she threw together a simple beach wedding and restaurant reception for under $7,000. "The wedding wasn't going to be big anyhow because we gave people 10 days' notice," she says. "We invited 50 people and around 30 to 40 showed up. We saved thousands upon thousands of dollars, without a doubt. If we'd had more time, we would have invited more people, and more would have shown up. We would have needed a bigger venue, a more traditional type of venue."


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