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On a Budget? You Can Still Have the Wedding of Your Dreams

By Sharon McLoone
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 7:51 AM

So you're engaged. When you're in love, it doesn't matter that the economy is dragging and employment is sagging. But even in the best of fiscal times, there's nothing wrong with a little creativity to keep costs down.

When I was planning my wedding, my fiancé was an ensign in the Navy and we had just bought a house. Finances were tight, but they always are in every stage of life. So we tapped into our network of friends to plan our big day.

Everyone has friends with skills. Two graphic-artist friends of mine designed and printed our invitations and wedding programs as their gifts to us. On our wedding invitation we asked each guest to bring a flower. Friends and family placed them in vases all over the county-owned mansion where we got married. That's one of my favorite memories of my wedding: I enjoyed how each guest discussed which flower they brought and why.

Lisa Hazell runs a small wedding planning business out of her home office in Orange, Va., after her first job working at a lobbying firm in D.C. coordinating events. Most of the weddings she's coordinated over the last couple of years have been first marriages with the couples in their late-20s/early 30s.

She's seen a definite change in wedding planning recently related to the sour economy. A couple of years ago weddings in the D.C. metro region were averaging about 150 to 200 guests but now most couples are choosing to have smaller weddings not exceeding 100 guests, she said.

Hazell offers tips for wedding planning that keeps things special on a tight budget:

Be careful channeling your inner Martha Stewart

Many brides believe they can save costs by taking a tip from Martha Stewart by getting crafty. While it works to do some things ? you can't do everything. "Many brides want to purchase [craft supplies] and put things together but run into difficulty when you take on too many tasks at one time," said Hazell. She has seen brides intend to make their own bouquets, centerpieces and more"but then time runs out on them and what sounded like a great idea turns into a stressful one." Many also thought they would save money by purchasing supplies at art and craft stores, but didn't realize the cost of some of those items. That can lead to calling a florist to make centerpieces, for example, at the last minute, which amounts to a huge expense.

Look for natural settings

If Mother Nature has done her work, a natural setting like a vineyard won't require much decorating. Hazell has seen more fiances "gravitating toward less" when it comes to wedding planning. She also likes vineyards because they often have great package deals bundling alcoholic beverages, caterers and the venue.

Time is of the essence

The cost of a late morning or early afternoon wedding is drastically less than if you had an evening wedding, especially for events in a standard hotel ballroom.

Creative caterers

"Be flexible with your menu and allow your caterer to be creative," says Hazell. I was lucky enough to have my mom -- a baking fiend -- to make my wedding cake.

Photos

Many couples are choosing photographers who will supply their wedding photos on a disk so that they can choose the photos they want and have them printed "at a more convenient time" when they've fattened up their bank accounts again. Our photographer was a friend of a friend employed by National Geographic who did weddings as freelance on the side. The downside we found was that his candid shots were great, but the portraits less so.

Music

It's cheaper to have a DJ as opposed to live band, but a live band "will generate more excitement for your guests," according to Hazell. She said instead of having an 8-piece band, cut it down to five. But she's also seen band fees increase recently because of higher costs of transporting equipment like microphones, instruments and speakers. Got any friends who can play a musical instrument? My mother-in-law tapped her professional pianist friend to play the ceremony's music at our wedding.

Flowers

I went to a wedding of a couple who trimmed costs by sending friends to a flower farm to cut a wheelbarrow full of Gerbera daisies on the morning of their wedding. Hazell says if you prefer to use an actual florist, consider the color scheme over the flower type. "A good florist should be able to provide you with alternative flowers."

Attire

Bridal shops are having great sales because of the economy, says Hazell. "If you're flexible and not particular on a name brand you can find great deals," she said. There are also consignment shops for bridal wear.

Whatever a couple decides, "weigh all options and don't make any hasty decisions," Hazell said.

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