Wedding bliss on a budget

By Andrea N. Browne
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 11:46 AM

Long gone are the days when brides- and grooms-to-be could depend on their parents to pick up the tab for their big day. Given this economy, many engaged couples are footing the bill themselves. From flowers to food to footwear (remember Carrie's blue satin Manolos in "Sex and the City"?), planning a wedding can be expensive. And if a watchful eye isn't kept on the budget, a couple can start off their lifetime together with unnecessary debt.

With proper planning, however, the future Mr. and Mrs. can host a top-notch affair without spending a fortune. Several experts weigh in on how to cut costs, not quality.

Trim your guest list

Sharing that special day with as many friends and family members as possible is a natural reaction for the newly engaged. This is the first place, however, that many couples go wrong, says Catherine Sabino, author of "Stylish Weddings for Less: How to Plan Your Dream Wedding on a Budget."

The actual wedding ceremony isn't where the price starts to add up; it's the party after. "The reception takes up about 35 to 40 percent of the overall cost," notes Sabino. The bigger the guest list, the bigger the reception budget -- which includes the cost of venue, entertainment, food and drinks -- needs to be. Paring it down, Sabino recommends, is a step in the right direction.

Be fashionably frugal

Rather than spend thousands on a gown that'll be worn once, brides should be smart and comparison shop, suggests Nicole Brewer, a celebrity stylist and fashion expert for David Bridal's Style Council. "Plan your gown search around upcoming bridal store sales, so you can take advantage of the reduced-priced offerings," she advises.

Brewer reminds women that in addition to sales, there are other cost-cutting options available: "Ask your bridal retailer if they offer a discount on alterations if you purchase your dress from that store," she recommends. And for those who have their hearts set on a gown that's pricey, inquire about special financing or layaway programs, she adds. "In this economy, many bridal boutiques offer these to stay in business . . . ask as many questions as you can, because sometimes these packages are not advertised."

And for grooms -- who get off easy when it comes to the fashion department -- Brewer says, "You can never go wrong in all black." But rather than buying or even renting a tuxedo, she suggests guys wear one of their own business suits. And if necessary, rent the accessories, such as a cummerbund, vest or tie, Brewer adds.

Take shortcuts -- it's OK

You don't have to adhere to tradition, especially if it means spending less. "Throw all of those old, preconceived etiquette notions out the window," says celebrity wedding planner Colin Cowie.

A simple change that'll have a huge impact is which day of the week you plan your event, says Cowie. "Anything done on a Saturday is going to cost extra." If you pick a less popular day, such as a Thursday or Friday evening, the cost will drop considerably.

For the reception, instead of wine and champagne, set up a cocktail or martini bar, Cowie advises. Assorted hors d'oeuvre stations are much cheaper than a catered dinner -- but don't skimp on the quality of the food, he warns. And when it's time to party, if the budget is really tight, he says, "Loading up an iPod with your favorite songs or cocktail music is totally acceptable."

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