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 www.cakerental.com 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 www.bluenile.com, 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 bridalinsider.com, 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 Greenwish.com 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: www.stupidweddingcrap.com. I’d welcome your tips and ideas for minimizing wedding costs. Comment here or email me at laura at laurarowley dot com.