Wedding-savvy tips for tight budgets

March 1, 2010 8:35:38 PM PST
No matter what the economy is like, people will marry. But those taking vows seem to be spending less.It's estimated that wedding expenditures were down 10 percent last year. So there may be some opportunity to cut a deal. For brides and grooms on a budget, now may be the time to be wedding savvy.

It was a day they'd hoped for, sharing their union with family and friends.

Ruben Sevilla is a Marine. He and Erica Wilson eloped in the anxious days before he was sent to Afghanistan. Sevilla returned safely so they could have the wedding of their dreams.

"The fact that our friends and family will be there, that's important," Wilson said.

The couple learned that weddings take a lot of planning and, more importantly for many couples these days, financial maneuvering.

"I had no idea what a wedding cost at all," Sevilla said.

Sevilla's now in school, and Wilson is a stylist-in-training. They're paying for most of the wedding, so they got creative, making the programs and invitations.

The same economic forces weighing on brides and groom are weighing on wedding vendors, so those planning a wedding can have a competitive edge in negotiating.

"We went to one place and said, 'Oh, this is good, but we have a place that's a little less.' And they were real quick to say yes, and that really helped," Wilson said.

"There's always ways to save money. You have to ask around. You gotta bargain. You can get it done," Sevilla said.

Caterers, like Chef Fredy, work with couples to make their budgets work. Instead of a seated meal, maybe a lighter buffet or only passed hors d'oeuvres.

Some wedding experts suggest that to keep costs down, start with a realistic budget. How much can you afford? And can parents or grandparents help financially? Consider having the service and the reception at the same venue. Consider having the wedding during the day or any day but Saturday.

"The days of the week make all the difference. Saturdays are going to be more expensive, Saturday nights more than a Saturday morning," said Laura Wrasman, publisher of Wedding Guide Chicago.

"I'm a morning person, so it fits me. I don't know how it's gonna work with everybody else, but I'll be there," said bride Amanda Williams.

Williams and her fiance will wed on a Saturday morning in July. Williams and her mom were looking for dresses at White Chicago, a wedding dress consignment boutique where dresses are 30 to 70 percent off retail prices.

Even though Williams' mother is contributing to the wedding, Williams is watching the budget. Her dress will likely be "once wed" or previously worn.

"My fiance and I are down to earth, laid back people," Williams said. "It just didn't make sense to buy a dress that you're gonna wear one time that's the cost of the catering or a salary."

White Chicago recently hosted a workshop for the wedding recessionista. Kyra Fitzgerald, a newlywed herself, led the workshop after booking the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing at preconstruction costs and focusing on the few things that mattered to her and her husband most, like the videographer and great dance music.

"Pick three to five things and do those things very well. That was the best advice anyone ever gave me," Fitzgerald said.

At Sevilla and Wilson's wedding, the guests didn't seem to be disappointed with their affordable wedding. They saved money by having a Friday wedding, negotiated with vendors, made what they could and borrowed what was available. It is reason to celebrate.

Other cost cutters: Some couples put off a honeymoon or spend the money that would have gone toward it on the wedding instead. If you're lucky like Wilson and Sevilla, maybe you'll win a trip. Also, flowers can be very expensive, so look for flowers that are in season. They'll cost less. You may even find them at a grocery store. Of course, the ceremony is most important. Heartfelt, thoughtful vows and passages read during the service don't cost a dime.