When to splurge, when to save: Juggling the cost of your wedding

June 25, 2008

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This article is faaaaantastic and I want to share. I also have some of my own opinions to share as well.

NEW YORK—Khris Cochran splurged for her wedding seven years ago. The ceremony was in a rose garden overlooking San Francisco Bay. The cake was made by a star baker featured on the Food Network. The honeymoon was in French Polynesia.

Then came the debt. She was $5,000 in the hole before she lost her Silicon Valley job in the dot-com bust.

“It took years to get out of that debt,” she says. “By being so tied to the wedding dream, I ended up in a financial nightmare.”

Weddings are said to be recession-proof, but the same can’t be said for couples’ budgets. As the economy takes a hit, many nearly-weds are looking for ways to scale back on a lavish wedding without sacrificing a special day.

Wedding spending is expected to dip slightly this year to about $28,700 per event, according to trend tracker The Wedding Report Inc. That’s down just $28 from last year’s high, but it bucks the 48 percent growth that surveys by the Conde Nast Bridal Group documented from 1999 to 2006.

At the same time, the fever for budget-busting weddings hasn’t broken. Wealthy couples are now focusing on understated flourishes, says celebrity wedding planner Marcy Blum: “Serving Cristal, for example, as opposed to having elephants.”

What’s worth the splurge, and what’s a smart save? Here are some ideas for richer and for poorer:


You can always elope. Barring that, if you want to save money, trim the guest list.

“You really don’t need to invite everyone you know or have a party of 20 bridesmaids,” says Maria McBride, an editor at Brides magazine and author of “Party Basics for New Nesters.”

If you really want a big crowd, consider a smaller wedding with a separate cocktail reception. It beats a 300-person sit-down dinner in both cost and atmosphere, says Blum. “There’s no way to go about making it affordable and really fabulous, unless you’re a rock star or someone you know is Kuwaiti.”

If your parents really want all their friends to attend, or your colleagues at work expect invites, remember it’s your day. A good rule of thumb: Have you had dinner with this person in the last year? If not, and you live in the same city, consider a cut.

Looking back, Cochran wishes she and her husband had invited only the people closest to them.

“It’s not only an instant budget saver but a way to make the whole event more intimate,” she says.

AMBER’S ADDITION: I know this is much easier said than done, but if money is an issue, and it always is, TRIM THAT LIST!!! Weddings between 75-100 people are the perfect size–it’s small enough to be intimate but big enough to be a P-A-R-T-Y!


David Tutera, who planned Star Jones’ wedding, advises couples to focus their spending on the venue and decor, including flowers. One of his clients is spending $1 million on flowers and design, including 50,000 roses.

“People walk away remembering the unique experience you create and not the food that you served,” he says.

He and Blum each stressed the importance of lighting, which they say many couples overlook. “They spend tons of money on decor and they have a great band, but if they don’t spend on lighting, you can’t see what they’ve done,” Tutera says.

For Eda Kalkay, design and location were the most important decisions for her October 2007 wedding. The 150 guests to her city-meets-country wedding at an estate in New Hope, Pa., were treated to a white fantasy in the woods, with globes of white hydrangea, white candelabras and a surprise performance by a gospel choir.

The price tag? More than $300,000. But she has no regrets.

“It was so beautiful it felt surreal,” says Kalkay, whose wedding was being featured on WE TV’s “Platinum Weddings” this summer.

If you want a luxe setting at a discount, ask for a deal on a Friday or Sunday wedding, or cut costs with a daytime affair. And consider alternatives to expensive floral displays, like smaller “tablescapes” of candles and fruit, or centerpieces using a single type of flower, bought wholesale.

AMBER’S ADDITION: Lighting! Lighting! Lighting! Lighting! In my opinion, lighting is more important than the flowers and the cake. I know that sounds crazy, but bear with me for a minute. Think about your favorite romantic restaurant–what is the lighting like? Chances are it is sultry and and ambient and when you walk in to that space you feel warm fuzzy feeling all over, right? It’s because a lot of thought has been put into the way the space is lit. Candles, uplights, pin spots, etc create a MOOD. You want your guests to feel the romance in the air. No offense, but the cake ain’t gonna do it. If brides could personally see a ballroom before and after it has been professionally lit, there would never be a question about this. Unfortunately, lighting is one of those intangible things that seems less important than peonies in the bouquets. If you honestly can’t afford to have your reception professionally lit, then go overboard with the candles. Good luck with that in LA though–the fire permits seem to be getting stricter.


Cochran, who now runs the Web site, says invitations are an easy way to cut costs.

“Paper is cheap and most people have a computer, word processing software and a decent printer already at home, which makes invitations an easy way to save some cash and be creative,” she says.

Invitations set the tone for an event, but Tutera, author of “The Party Planner,” thinks guests are more likely to remember the last moments of a wedding.

Etiquette experts still frown on electronic invitations, so prepare for raised eyebrows if you cut that corner.

Instead, Blum suggests cutting down on invitation inserts and heavy stock that waste paper and increase postage.

AMBER’S ADDITION: Hmmmm, I do and don’t agree with this one. I am a paper snob. Cheap paper is… paper. No way around it. I do, however, advise my brides adding a personal touch to the invitation to get your guests excited about your wedding. I had a bride who ordered very simple invitations and we were using feathers at her reception, so I suggested that she add a single white ostrich feather to each invitation. The guests loved it–it was mysterious, playful, and sassy. Add crystals to your invitations or a “wax” monogrammed seal to the inner envelope. One trip to Michael’s Craft store is all you need!


A wedding is only one day, but the photos last forever. Even on a budget, brides rarely lament the amount spent on a quality photographer.

“We really love our wedding photos and still get compliments on them to this day. She was worth the extra cash we spent,” Cochran says.

Photos were so important to Kalkay, she spent $50,000 to bring in photographers who regularly shoot celebrity weddings.

If you’re cutting corners, however, you may be able to find a skilled student photographer who’s eager to earn extra cash and build a portfolio. And you can forgo a videographer altogether.

“It’s very passe compared to photography,” says Tutera.

AMBER’S ADDITION: Amen on the photography. I don’t agree about videography. I think videography is incredibly important (even if it is not professional) to have. I heard one person say “get the photographs for yourself & your parents. Get the video for your future children”. What I would give to see a video of my parents getting married…


You might really love that silver box with your monogram on it, but guests who have been to several weddings will probably toss it when they return home.

“Nobody needs another placecard frame, or a bottle of crummy wine with your name on it,” Blum says.

It may seem like a small expense, but even cheap trinkets add up when you have a lot of guests. Odds are, there will be no complaints if you skip the favor entirely. (Cochran also points to money-wasting extras like toasting flutes as a bad idea.)

If you really want to give your guests favors, Blum suggests something edible.

“You’d be much better off to have all your bridesmaids or ushers bake cookies and enclose a great recipe,” she says.

Another nice touch: offering a coffee cake or brioche on the way out for the next morning’s breakfast.

AMBER’S ADDITION: I could not agree more. Unless the favors are edible or something on par with an iPod, you are wasting your money. After each wedding, we pack up all of the favors and send them home with the bride. HALF of the favors on each table are left there and sent back to the bride & groom. Put that money into lighting!

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