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Your Special Day at a Special Price

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Rebecca Thorpe, a wedding planner in Fairfield County, Connecticut, planned her own wedding in 2005 for 130 people at The Garrison Golf Club in Cold Spring and paid $28,000 total (with filet mignon and a full bar all night). Kimberly Ingersoll, who’s getting married in October at a church in her hometown of Valhalla (with a reception at the Canyon Club in Armonk) guestimates she’s spending about $35,000 total. Harrison resident Susan Squillante’s reception at The Fountainhead will cost $30,000.

And that’s economical! According to Condé Nast Bridal Media’s most recent American Wedding Study, the national average wedding cost is $28,082 (with $1,075 for a dress). But we live in Westchester, where a $2,000 wedding dress is considered “inexpensive,” and a wedding for less than $50,000 can be a real challenge. Many brides (and their parents) don’t like to discuss what it’s costing…but, believe us, it’s upwards of $50,000. (Check out costofwedding.com and plug in your zip code for proof. We did. In Tarrytown, the cost is between $48,496 and $80,827; in Bedford, $54,463 to $90,771, and in Scarsdale, it’s anywhere from $87,660 to $146,101).

But more and more couples (and their families) are looking for ways to create the affair of their dreams without going into debt. The good news? It can be done, as long as you’re willing to negotiate, compromise, and be creative.

”The easiest way to save money on your wedding is to limit the number of guests,” says Melisa Imberman, owner of Chappaqua-based The Event of a Lifetime. That’s a no-brainer. Here, more tips from local experts on how to save tons of money.

Avoid Impulse Purchases

The best way to stay within budget is to control your spending early in the planning process. Typically, couples spend the most on the venue, food, and drink (50 percent), the dress (2 percent), photography (5 to 10 percent), and music (10 to 15 percent), with flowers (10 to 20 percent), stationery (1 to 5 percent), rings (1 to 5 percent), cake, officiant, transportation, gifts, and beauty (1 to 5 percent) not far behind. “It’s very tempting to upgrade different aspects of your event in the final weeks,” says Thorpe, whose company, Girl Admiral (girladmiral.com), specializes in creative approaches to wedding planning. “Avoid these impulse buys; when the bills come in, you’ll be happy you did.”

Choose a Nontraditional Day

The most expensive time to get married is on a Saturday evening, with the priciest months being May, June, September, October, July, and August (in that order). Booking something “off-season” or “off-night” like a Monday, Thursday, or Sunday can save you a lot of money. Take The Globe in Larchmont. Book on a Saturday night and expect to pay between $15,000 and $20,000; book on a Saturday afternoon, and the entire space costs between $8,000 and $10,000. Being flexible is key to ensuring an economical wedding, stresses Imberman. Winter is the most economical time to get married. Consider a day other than a Saturday or a daytime rather than an evening wedding.

Kathleen Ruscigno saved big bucks by getting married the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. “Because everyone has that Monday off from work, it was like having a Saturday wedding but for Sunday prices,” she says. Bride-to-be Susan Squillante is saving money by getting married in February, another off-peak time. She also cut her guest list to keep costs in the $30,000 range. (Sunday during a holiday is also a great time, say experts.)

“Afternoons often can be a bargain,” says Imberman.
Savings: $6,000 to $10,000

Consider an “All-in-One” Venue

Find one location for your ceremony and reception to avoid having to provide transportation between venues recommends Kate Harrison, author of The Green Bride and a newlywed herself (who says she saved thousands by going green). Consider, too, a venue that has all of your rental needs included in the base cost for renting the venue, says Harrison. And, if you don’t like the venue’s chairs or linens, negotiate. Also look for a place that doesn’t need a lot of décor, like a historical site, as this will save on flowers and other decorations.
Savings: $5,000

Be Creative with Food

Skip the Champagne and let guests toast with Prosecco, often $10 to $20 less a bottle. Rosita Fichtel of Larchmont did this successfully for her daughter’s May wedding. Alcohol is a big expense, notes Leah Ingram, author of Tie the Knot on a Shoestring, which is why she suggests reducing the length of your reception and not announcing a last call for drinks. “This could cause a rush on the bar, which, if you’re paying for an open bar, can increase your alcohol bill significantly,” she says. Or, suggests wedding planner Thorpe, just use a signature drink as the main liquor drink and have beer and wine (billed on consumption) after the event. “This helps to reduce the cost of a full bar but still manages to be elegant and fun.”

Other ideas: opt for a cocktail wedding rather than a five-course dinner, serving finger foods and passed hors d’ouevres. Another possibility: consider a brunch over an evening event.
Savings: $1,000 to $5,000

 

 

Be Creative with Your Cake

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Kate Harrison, author of The Green Bride, saved money by using local seasonal flowers and wearing an heirloom necklace.

Instead of a huge wedding cake, serve an array of desserts: everything from flourless chocolate cake to lemon tartlets and heart-shaped cookies, these from New Rochelle caterer Dinner in Hand.

On average, 20 percent of guests don’t eat wedding cake, which costs an average of $5 per slice. Many pros suggest buying a smaller decorated cake for wedding photos and having a plain sheet cake in the kitchen to serve guests, or simply buy a small cake (not necessarily a “wedding” cake) and serve an assortment of desserts for each table. Mother-of-the-bride Fichtel bought a $60 10-inch cake for the bride and groom (along with her own wedding toppers at the vintage store Carol Charney in Larchmont), then, on each table, she had an array of desserts—everything from flourless chocolate cake to lemon tartlets—served by New Rochelle caterer Dinner in Hand. She guestimates it saved her about $400.

If you’re hell-bent on a large wedding cake, consider one with butter-cream or cream-cheese frosting instead of expensive fondant and go with an independent baker who bakes out of his or her house rather than a full-fledged bakery.
Savings: $200 to $1,000

Ask Friends For Help

As soon as you get engaged, update your Facebook status to mention your upcoming nuptials, says Ingram. See if family members or friends might be able to help you save money. This is how Kathleen Ruscigno saved hundreds of dollars on her invitations; she asked her friend Katie, a graphic artist, to design the invites. Susan Squillante is saving about $1,500 having one friend do the video and $200 having another friend do her makeup.
Savings: Approximately $1,000 to $2,000

Scale Back on Flowers

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You can achive similar looks at different price points.

Centerpieces courtesy of Diana Gould

Conventional flowers for a typical wedding cost, on average, $2,000 and are usually shipped in from South America, covered in pesticides, and sprayed with artificial scents, says eco-friendly bride Harrison. Local, organic flowers cost $200 to $400.

Ingram suggests finding a wholesale flower company (e.g., Main Wholesale Florists, or East Coast Wholesale Flowers in Norwalk, Connecticut). Usually a designer on-site will take on your event at a fraction of the cost of a more expensive florist. Monica Chimes of Monica Chimes Floral in West Harrison (914-428-7212; monicachimesfloral.com) suggests using a large, inexpensive flower, such as a Gerbera daisy or sunflower, that takes up a good amount of table space. Another option: order from an online source, which cuts the middleman and saves brides about 30 percent off their floral costs. Chimes also suggests having your bridesmaids carry either one single lush or striking flower like a Peony or very small bouquet of Cymbidum Orchids or even Mini Calla Lilies.
Savings: $500 to $1,600

Buy Your Gown On Ebay

The cost of an average wedding dress can be astronomical ($2,000 or more). That’s why experts suggest seeking alternative routes like eBay, donate and recycle websites, thrift shops, and plain old bargain hunting. Most of the big bridal shops have huge sales once a year. Check the local paper and websites (e.g., rkbridal.com, thebudgetfashionista.com, nymag.com), or our favorite, The Bridal Garden, a nonprofit bridal boutique with designer and couture wedding gowns for up to 75 percent off retail prices.

 

 

Consider looking in unconventional places and off-season—after New Year’s Eve, for example. Rebecca Thorpe found her wedding dress “at a tiny boutique that looked like nothing special. I just popped in, looked in the discontinued styles, and found my dress. It was originally two thousand five hundred and I got it for eight hundred and fifty with minimal cost for alterations—around two hundred.”

Kate Harrison, our green guru, found her dress in the sale rack at the back of an Asian boutique and was able to snag a gorgeous pair of Vera Wang heels for $50 on eBay, which, after the wedding, she resold to another bride for $50.

Emily McCarthy, who recently moved from Tarrytown to Suffern, New York, got her Amsale dress on eBay for $1,500—less than half its $4,000 value—in mint condition. “Make sure you check the seller’s reputation by reading the feedback comments to avoid getting swindled,” she says. “Also, ask how it will be shipped and whether or not it will be insured.” Also, know if the photos on the site were taken after the wedding (to make sure there are no stains).

Others swear by bravobride.com, a website on which you can buy and sell gently used wedding, prom, and special-occasion attire. Also popular: woreitonce.com, oncewed.com, savethedress.com, idonowidont.com, and preownedweddingdresses.com, which feature pre-owned, “lightly loved” dresses at substantial savings, in all sizes, styles, and prices. The J. Crew website (jcrew.com) also has beautiful dresses, often in the $300 to $800 range. And if it doesn’t fit, you can return it to a brick-and-mortar store. Also check out whitexchange.com, a new website that offers online designer consignment for brides, maids, and moms.

Sometimes, just venturing beyond your backyard (in our case: across the Tappan Zee to Rockland or up the Hutch to Connecticut) can be cheaper (and more fruitful) than staying within Westchester. Try Marie’s Bridal on Black Rock Turnpike in Fairfield, Connecticut (about a 40-minute drive from Westchester). It has a great selection in all price ranges and its service is old-school. In Rockland, there’s Bridal Accents in New City (845-638-3956). Also, don’t forget to check in with your local Goodwill or thrift store for affordable options.

For great costume jewelry, check out Siren in Mamaroneck. You also can find affordable extras on websites like bridetobrideboutique.com and theknot.com’s “trash to treasures” board. Or rent jewelry for the big day (think of it as Harry Winston meets Netflix) at adornbrides.com.
Savings: from $200-$2,000.

Free tux for Grooms

Andrea Most Gottschall and Elyssa Feldman Most, owners of the wedding-planning company A Most Creative Affair in Tarrytown, suggest saving money by having the groom and groomsmen wear dark suits. Of, if you prefer black-tie, have the groomsmen rent their tuxes; often, the groom gets his free of charge. For instance, for every five tuxes rented at Men’s Wearhouse, which has locations in Yorktown Heights, Scarsdale, and White Plains, you get the sixth one free.
Savings: $500-$1,500

Use Less Paper

Invitations may be gorgeous, but think of the trees felled and the money wasted. Use Evite (evite.com) instead. Don’t want to offend the older generation with virtual invitations? Choose a company with inexpensive options, like VistaPrint, to print your invitations. Then save even more money by using a postcard for RSVPs and having your directions online for your guests to print. “Avoid oversized or bulky invitations, since this greatly increases your postage costs,” says Leah Ingram. “Save postage and additional paper cost on your wedding invitations by forgoing the inner-envelope reply card and asking guests to reply online or by phone. Skip ordering reception cards, and have the reception information printed on the bottom of the invitation instead.” Finally, don’t pay extra for your invitations to arrive assembled. Rather, buy a few bottles of wine, gather friends, and have an invitation assembly party!
Savings: $2,000 to $5,000

Consider a Photojournalist

Newspaper photographers are often cheaper—about $2,000 to $3,000 on average—than regular wedding photographers. Ask the photographers of your local newspaper if they freelance as wedding photographers. The caveat here is that you will be the one putting together your album. It was due to all the compliments he got on his own wedding album five years ago that Sleepy Hollow resident Mark Liflander (914-552-0802), who works in Yorktown for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, began freelancing for weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs. Many area brides also swear by Port Chester-based Leslye Smith of Smith Studio (914-939-6500), who packages photos in gorgeous boxes and, if you like, gives you the disk to make your own album.

If you’re really feeling frugal, ask friends and family to bring their cameras and snap away. Many online sites offer Photoshop Elements so you can airbrush photos, whiten teeth, get rid of zits, even digi-tan. You even can make your photos into a movie for as low as $99.99 for 75 photos and $174.99 for one tape and 50 photos. Go to realtimedvd.com.
Savings: $1,000 to $5,000.

Be Clever with Your Centerpieces

Lots of candles always work, pros say, as do blooming plants, potted orchids, or vases filled with fruits (lemons, limes, apples). Aisle markers used in the ceremony can double as centerpieces at the reception. Or, do something fun and multi-functional, like filling inexpensive glasses with Hershey Kisses—and having them double as your favors. Another option: buy a few extra roses and scatter red petals on the tables.
Savings: $500 to $2,000

 

 

Favor Frugal Favors

Don’t forget about Freecyle and Goodwill. Depending on what you need for your wedding—from ribbons to tablecloths—you just might be able to find it for free from your local Freecycle list. Kathleen Ruscigno says she and her husband, Anthony, handed out lucky bamboo plants (two stalks symbolizing man and wife) in square glass vases with river rocks. “Our florist was able to provide these at four dollars fifty cents apiece,” she says. Kathleen also handwrote her own thank-you tags on rice paper, which were attached to a ribbon tied around the stalks as a way to not only save money but to make them more personal.

Melisa Imberman suggests edible favors, Maria Valente at Chocolations in Mamaroneck (914-777-3600) is happy to work within any budget. You can also buy bulk candy, e.g., jelly beans in assorted wedding colors and place in a pretty pouch with a ribbon. Or skip favors altogether. If people really enjoy the wedding, they’ll never notice.
Savings: $200 to $1,000

Use Your iPod

Thanks to the iPod, a fancy band or DJ doesn’t have to factor into your budget—you can have your wedding coordinator or helper manage the music. Or, hire a student quartet to play at your wedding. Check with local colleges and schools like Hoff Barthelson in Scarsdale (914-723-1169) or the PAVE (Performing And Visual Arts Education) program at New Rochelle High School (914-576-5643) to see if a professor can recommend a group you can use. Also, try Eliot Magaziner, an incredible 86-year-old violinist who conducts the Manhattanville College Community orchestra and coaches piano and string quartets, or Flora Kuan, an accomplished pianist who teaches the college’s most advanced piano students (914-694-2200). You may also have luck with artists. Hastings resident Alyssa Cooper (914-552-4115) not only sings beautiful tunes (a mixture of jazz, gospel, pop, and folk) but can get together a duo of three or four for a negotiable price. Also check out Sarah Jane Inc., a New York City-based small music agency with a database of more than 1,000+ musicians at negotiable prices.
Savings: $500 to $5,000.

Be a “Do-It-Yourselfer”

Print your own invitations. Or snag an artist friend like Kathleen Ruscigno did. When newlywed Rachael Diamond, who got married in Mamaroneck last October, was close to her budget, she designed her wedding program on her computer and printed the programs (pictured below) at Kinko’s. “I personally hole-punched 200 of them, bought the ribbons, and put them together. It saved me hundreds of dollars.” She and her fiancé (now husband) also drove around Westchester to various addresses that held importance to them, took photos of the numbers, uploaded them on Kodak Gallery, then printed them out in sepia and put them in frames she found at The Christmas Tree Shop for $1 each. She used those as her table markers—another expense saved. Rosita Fichtel also wrote out the cards for the tables for her daughter’s wedding in frames she found at a craft store. “I didn’t think it was necessary to spend money on those,” she says. “Plus, I think it added a more personal touch.”
Savings: $200 to $600

Be Thankful for What You Have

In the end, the fact that you and your guy love each other is most important. Getting married surrounded by family and friends is what matters most.
Savings: Priceless.

Jeanne Muchnick is the former editor of The Bridal Guide Magazine and has written for numerous national and local publications including Brides, Modern Bride, and the New York Times.

 

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