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Saving on Weddings

This week’s Yahoo!Finance column looks at the wedding industrial complex, investigated by New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead in her new book, One Perfect Day. Mead, who is British, told me that in most countries, weddings aren’t the enormous production they are in the U.S. “There’s a lot of stuff people spend money on at weddings that isn’t about the core of a wedding, which is getting family and friends together and celebrating,” says Mead. “All of the accessories, the wedding favors and the bits and bobs that are all part of the package – that stuff is not what anyone really remembers.”Mead herself got married during the writing of the book. She and her fiancé were wed at City Hall in New York with a few witnesses on a Thursday and then threw a party for 80 friends in the garden of their Brooklyn home that weekend. “I described what I did to a wedding planner and she said, ‘oh, I’m planning a wedding just like that,’ and I thought, ‘no you’re not, because the point is, I didn’t have a wedding planner.’”


That said, it’s still expensive to throw a dinner for 100 of your closest family and friends. I wanted to include a couple of practical ideas here to save money:


Wedding Dresses: Consider cheap chic. Target has begun selling wedding dresses for $50 to $150. (The average price is $1,025.) J. Crew offers a few styles in the $200s. On Ebay, brides are offering both never-worn and second-hand dresses. Last fall, H&M offered a $350 wedding dress with its special Viktor & Rolf line. When I got married, my cousin made mine as her gift.


The Fake Cake: Companies like will ship a display cake that’s foam on the interior and contains a compartment to place a small portion of edible cake for the cutting ceremony. Then the display is removed and guests are served a regular sheet cake from a local bakery or wholesale store. 


Receptions: Consider renting a space rather than going with a full-service hotel or reception hall. Recent bride Anne Marie Acosta emailed me about her experience: “There was a new community center in the city of Coronado (near San Diego) right along the water with a breathtaking view.  There was a flat fee to rent but we could choose our own caterer and bring in our own alcohol with bartenders hired through the caterer (no corkage fee). We paid $400 for 2 bartenders and went to Costco to buy our alcohol.  For a total of $1500, we had open bar all night, and not with cheap alcohol either.”


I did something similar for my wedding — rented a ballroom space in New York that provided only tables and chairs and a catering kitchen. Like Anne Marie, we bought our liquor wholesale, and hired a friend to freelance cater the dinner. (We were lucky in that another friend owned a restaurant nearby where we could cook the food.) On the downside, we had to hire a day-of wedding coordinator to make sure the rental items, from tablecloths to glasses and utensils, were moved in and out of the space.


Engagement rings and wedding bands: Doug S., a Yahoo reader from North Carolina, suggests using a wholesaler like, which he says offer the same products as a jeweler at 33-50% off the retail price. “Just compare a basic platinum wedding band at bluenile to a retail franchise, and the difference in price is shocking,” he wrote in an email. You can take the ring to an independent appraiser to verify that you received what you paid for (and you’ll need to do this anyway if you want to insure the ring).


Musicians: Contact local colleges or universities, especially if the institution has a school of music, suggests reader Doug S. Most flagship state universities have these, and they typically keep a registry of contacts available for public distribution in their front offices. Ask for experienced student ensembles, such as a string quartet; or soloists who can play piano or organ, or even a singer.  

Flowers: Green wedding coordinators suggest getting flowers from a farmer’s market. I was lucky again in that my future sister-in-law was a florist and did our flowers wholesale. But we put two bouquets at the entrance to the reception space and substituted votive candles on each table, a big cost-savings. For more on green weddings, check out this story at The Green Life.

Local discussions boards: Search online for a local website where you can get honest feedback on the prices and qualities of wedding vendors. Acosta says she found an array of affordable vendors through, a San Diego site where brides can chat about their experiences. As Acosta put it: “The best part of the discussion board: brides that finished their weddings and posted reviews of their vendors and mistakes they’ve made. A goldmine for a newly engaged bride-to-be.  I found all my vendors here and even a tip off for my venue.  Not all brides are Bridezillas, and are really great at helping one another!”


Alternate Registries: Older brides and grooms typically have a lot of the stuff you’d find in a department store registry. A number of websites allow couples to set up registries to fund their honeymoon, including The Big Day, HoneyLuna, Distinctive Honeymoons and Traveler’s Joy. Websites like encourage couples to register for their “dream wish” – including a home downpayment. Click here for a sample from their registry. For the generous couple who would like their well-wishers to give gifts to charity instead, consider this site.


Looking for a little stress relief amid your wedding planning frenzy? Check out this site:


I’d welcome your tips and ideas for minimizing wedding costs. Comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley dot com.

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12 Responses to “Saving on Weddings”

  1. rachelanne127 Says:

    I live in Atlanta and in downtown we have the Market for business owners and wholesalers. I go with my friend who owns a clothing store, but even if you’re not a business owner you can pay $50 for one day and there you can buy an engagement ring, wedding bands, wedding dress, favors, and many other things for wholesale prices. Also by going to the’s message boards there are so many women who give great DIY information for such things as invitations, save the dates, aisle runners, etc. It’s a great vast of information that saves you money!

  2. allie13 Says:

    I’m in Waterford, CT. I went with a smaller venue to host my reception. Most places around here get 30-40 for dinner, ours is 25 pp. I also did silk flowers vs fresh. The site I found got all the attendants, groomsmen, groom, parents, and mine for 122 with shipping!!! We also did our own invites, centerpieces and decorations. I did two silk flower arrangements going into the reception and helium balloons around the outside of the seats. My center pieces are candles with scattered silk rose pedals. My favors are simple boxes with candies. Our other big save (due to this being our second marriages and neither one of us having the wedding before also keeping in mind we have 6 kids between us) was a limited open bar. The cocktail hour and first hour after dinner. It saved tons! I got my dress and Davids bridal for less then 500 and picked tea length dresses for the girls. We used easy to find colors, ivory, champange and red. The biggest expense was the DJ (725) and cake (325). But I designed my cake and chose to go tradition real cake vs the budge cake with styrofoam. Our wedding cost less then 9000.00 and we have 84 guests!!!! I took a 3 ring binder and kept everything in there. I also asked what people wanted for dinner to give a count to the venue and they gave us a discount so they didn’t have to over order food. Our rehearsal dinner was a cook out at a friends house, the biggest expense was the chair rental (50). We had our rehearsal and did the decorating that night with the bridal party – it was alot of fun and it made our wedding day so much less stressful!!!!

  3. travelbetty Says:

    Thanks for the insightful article. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed since getting engaged that I haven’t even begun planning a thing. I live in San Francisco and just can’t see spending $28k on one day when I can’t even afford a house!

    Your blog entry gave me hope that I can get by for a lot less, and that it doesn’t mean I love my fiance any less than Eva Longoria loved hers!

  4. Megan Says:

    I’m confused as to how spending $100 plus shipping on a big fake cake with a tiny morsel of real cake inside is a money-saving tip. Why not take that $100, plus whatever it would cost to buy Costco sheet cakes and buy a couple of GOOD sheet cakes from a bakery? Or a pile of fantastic assorted Italian pastries? Or gourmet cupcakes, like a lot of people are doing these days?

    It’s especially confusing since you lead your post with quotes about people spending money on things that aren’t at the core of the wedding, and that people won’t remember anyway.

    If you can’t (or choose not to) afford a big showy cake, why pretend you can? Just get some good desert and enjoy it with your loved ones.

  5. Denise Says:

    I agree that the cost to bling out a wedding is so out of whack. Couples need to rethink the thousands of dollars they are putting out for a wedding that can be used for paying off loans, downpayment on a house and more.

  6. mmb72 Says:

    I am planing my own cost-conscious wedding for 150 and have a few money-saving tips to offer…

    1. The Dress: instead of a bridal gown, I bought a beautiful floor-length bridemaid gown in ivory — for $200! For a more informal/modern look, this is a great way to go. You can even go to the fancy bridal shops for that full-service bridal experience – you know, where you have to strip down in front of your mom and the saleslady while they discuss the miracle of Spanx? No one should have to miss out on that.

    2. The Cake: When I told the baker I was interested in a wedding cake for 150, the answer was, “$6 per person.” 6×150 = $900! When I switched the request to an assortment of their best cakes, with a small two-tier number to play the part of The Official Wedding Cake, the number went down to $400. We didn’t even have to fight over which flavor to choose — we got them all! And I completely agree with Megan that renting a styrofoam cake is counterintuitive to the whole money-saving strategy.

    3. The DJ: I used to play in a band so music is very important to me. But spending $750 on a cheesy (or even not-so-cheesy) DJ makes me kind of lightheaded. Although the wedding magazines advise to the contrary, we are creating the world’s best iTunes party shuffle and running all the music off the computer. We have enough tech-savvy family and friends to help keep things rolling smoothly, and the PA system I’m borrowing from a friend (although you can rent them cheaply) includes a microphone for those best man / maid of honor speeches, etc. Best of all, we’ll be connected to the internet so if there’s a request or a song we don’t have, we can download it right there. How Wedding 2.0!

    The one thing I WOULD recommend spending money on: a gym membership.

    Spanx are so uncomfortable.

  7. Joseph Says:

    I’m a DJ and I think that this was the first wedding savings article that I’ve ever read that didn’t include something about getting a cheap DJ or some friends to run an Ipod. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about that. No news is good news, I suppose.

    My wife and I are ballroom dancers. We were married at a dance studio. The owner (who also taught us West Cost Swing where we met) played the music. We didn’t have any alcohol. All together, I though we could have gotten married for less than $2000 dollars. Unfortunately, family and friends expected more than pizza, punch, and a dance studio for the wedding.

    We found a photographer through a friend for around $1000 (which was a lot less than the photographers that I knew from DJing). We also rented a ceremony site for less that $1000. Our dinner was still less than $2000. We got an armature videographer for $300 (which was a huge mistake).

    The thing is that my wife and I are pretty simple people. We didn’t care about flowers, food, pictures and a whole lot of other things that people cared about. She wanted a particular person to perform the ceremony. I wanted particular vows and a lot of dancing.

    As a DJ, I have had a bride spend more money on a platter of exotic cheeses than on my service. I’ve also been hired just to do some exhibition dancing and been paid more than some of the DJs that I know. Of course, that couple also had members of Cirque De Sole do a performance as well so they obviously weren’t trying to save a lot of money.

    I think that two things are important when planning an affordable wedding and they are the same things that people should do when planning for anything that typically costs money. Count the money that you will spend and prioritize.

  8. nschollard Says:

    We used HoneyLuna ( for our honeymoon registry. It worked really well – our friends loved that they could buy us a fun “piece of our honeymoon”. We took pictures of the activity that bought for us (i.e. Jim on horseback on the beach or me enjoying my massage on the beach) and mailed them with our thank you notes. It was a great way to receive help with the honeymoon and save money. HoneyLuna also has a great blog with helpful honeymoon articles

  9. antonyz Says:

    We bought our engagement ring in a rather unique way – we bought the stones (a Tanzanite and Tsavorite sidestones) from and then had it set by a local jeweler. Honeymoon was also booked online – we went to the Maldives – definitely recommend it – perfect honeymoon destination. A google search will give you lots of options but we went to CocoPalm on Dhuni Kholu – spectacular.

  10. sarahruby09 Says:

    My best advice (just got married last month, huzzah!) would be to get a planner who can give you discounts on everything. We found a great local lady through and she was able to get discounts on the linens, venue, DJ, even favors. The only thing she couldn’t discount was the dress, but it was my boy’s mother’s anyway. Sure you’ll have to pay a fee for the planner, but work out ahead of time what she can save you money on and you’ll probably come out ahead.

  11. Richard Says:

    In N.Y. and N.J the average wedding plate is $75-$350 plus 20% tax and tip. Who really gets the tip? Ask your banquet hall if you can distribute the tips personally. Ha ha – it will never happen. Do you think the food is fresh? It is saved from Friday to Sunday, used and reused, most is purchased from Sysco. This is not all venues but most I have come in contact with, many in the last 30 years being in the business. Do you realy think you get your money’s worth at $100 a plate? The bride and groom think the service is great there is 1 maitre’d assigned to the bride and groom; that’s 1 person to serve 2 people and over look the immediate family.There is usually 1 overworked server per 30 guests (they know they don’t get the tip). While the bride and groom are treated like a king and queen the rest of the guests have average service. Who will tell the host about bad service? Most will not.
    Compare plates for a anniversary party — it’s probably $40-$100 for the same wedding menu. Call your venue and see how you are being ripped off. Did you wonder why your banquet sales person pushes the house vendors? That’s a scam too — there is always a kick back to the house, usually 10-20%. Who pays for that mark up? The host. The reception hall is the first place to spend logically and the sales person knows that you have a savings account and they want it all.

  12. Melancholy and Wedding Folly | Money & Happiness Says:

    [...] definitely an affair to remember.  We paid for it ourselves and found lots of ways to budget (see this post for ideas) and didn’t run up debt that haunted us after the honeymoon. I think that’s [...]


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