Throw a wedding without throwing away your savings

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Your wedding is a big day -- but is it worth going into big debt?

Statistics from The Wedding Report, an industry market research firm, indicate that wedding costs peaked at over $28,000 in 2007, but fell to around $19,000 in the first quarter of 2009, then to $16,000 in the second quarter.

Local wedding planners offer advice on how to stick to a budget and still have the wedding you want.

Rosie Conrad, professional wedding consultant with All Occasions in Cape Girardeau, said the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is $18,000 and estimates that most couples in Southeast Missouri spend between $10,000 and $20,000. She said the cost of a wedding depends largely on the number of guests.

"Start with the guest list, because that's what really drives the cost up -- how many you serve, seating, party favors," Conrad said.

If you can't possibly trim down the guest list, consider a cake and punch reception instead of a full-course meal, said Jim Finley, a Cape Girardeau party planner who specializes in weddings at Younghouse Party Central.

Flowers are another huge cost in most weddings, but Finley, a former florist, said they're a wise investment.

"Decorations can be very expensive if you get carried away," he said. "A lot of people say you can scrimp on flowers, but when you go to a wedding, everyone's going to be looking at the flowers. I think that's an important part."

Don't be afraid to go to several florists to compare prices and find out how you can cut corners, Finley said. Ask to see things they've done in the past, and note that some flowers are cheaper than others but just as beautiful.

But for couples on a tight budget, even the cheapest flowers are a lot to spend on something that can only be used once, Conrad said. If that's the case, she recommends going green -- and budget friendly -- by choosing artificial flowers or non-floral arrangements. Artificial pieces cost less, can do "double duty" in the church and then the reception hall, and can even be reused for future events.

Like flowers, costs for wedding apparel can quickly get out of hand, but it's still best to value quality above all else, Finley said.

"The bride is the focal point as she's coming into the church. All eyes will focus on her," he said. Today's bridal gowns range in price from very inexpensive to very expensive. If you're careful, you can find a dress that looks expensive but does not have the Vera Wang price tag, Finley said.

When it comes to party favors, select something your guests will actually use, like candy, Conrad said. Be choosy with rentals, as they also drive costs up, and avoid purchasing decor or supplies that will never be used again.

"Look at things that people will keep," she adds. "Don't spend a lot on invitations, because most people will throw them away."

Still, if it's something you really want, Conrad said it may be worth the splurge -- as long as you don't overspend on everything else. For many couples, the splurge-worthy item is flowers.

She also believes it's worth your money to hire some help on the big day. A wedding planner will probably help keep your budget in check.

"Once they get a feel for the wedding, they're likely to find places where you can get a low cost and still get what you want," Conrad said. Some planners even include basic wedding supplies or decorations in their fee, and they'll also do a lot of the "legwork" so the couple is free to enjoy the wedding.

"It's the biggest party you'll ever throw, so you might as well enjoy it," Conrad said.

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