Bridal Bargains

Wedding experts share their money-saving tips—from hidden cakes to $125 gowns to the secret of restaurant rentals.

■ Buy a used or sample gown. A used gown was probably worn only once. I Do-I Do in Gaithersburg has more than 900 consigned gowns that have been discounted, sometimes up to 90 percent, and range in price from $150 to $5,000.

The once-a-year Running of the Brides at Filene’s Basement stores isn’t for everyone, but brides up to the challenge—waiting outside, then charging through when the doors open—will find designer gowns marked down to $249, $499, or $699. The next sale is August 1 at the Mazza Gallerie location.

In March, Goodwill of Greater Washington held a bridal sale, similar to the one at Filene’s, at Westfield Wheaton mall; plans are to make it annual. All dresses were donated and sold for $400 or less; many were under $125.

Some bridal shops, such as Hitched in Georgetown, host sales where sample gowns sell at reduced prices.

■ Think winter. “January, February, and the beginning of March are usually a good 10 percent less,” says wedding planner Jodi Moraru. “July and August used to be off-months; not anymore.” In December, weddings compete with corporate events, which drives up prices.

■ Consider restaurants. For weddings with fewer than 150 guests, you can rent out a restaurant for the evening for $10,000 to $15,000 including food. You won’t have to rent tables, chairs, and linens or pay for decor: “Restaurants are already aesthetically pleasing,” says Jennifer Stiebel of SoCo Events.

Stiebel has planned weddings at DC restaurants Equinox and Zaytinya. “If a couple wants a top-notch meal,” she says, “buying out a restaurant is a bit unknown.”

■ Friday is the new Sunday. Sunday weddings used to be cheaper than ones on Saturday. But because many Jewish weddings are on Sunday, Stiebel says, there’s no longer much of a price break. She’s seeing couples opt for Friday-evening weddings followed by cocktail parties.

“It’s cheaper to rent on a Friday anywhere,” says Steibel. “A lot of my brides want to move away from the stuffy sit-down dinner.” A cocktail party with heavy hors d’oeuvres eliminates costs for linens, centerpieces, and place cards.

Moraru says that bands, photographers, and other vendors can be easier to book on Fridays—and willing to negotiate.

■ Buy the liquor yourself. Most caterers will let you buy the alcohol for the bar, says Rachel Gittins of Ridgewells Catering. That can save up to 50 percent on liquor.

Depending on the laws in a jurisdiction, the caterer may charge a corkage fee—Ridgewells charges $3 a person in DC but nothing in Virginia or Maryland.

At good wine stores—Gittins recommends Ace Beverage in DC—staff can help select beverages. The caterer can advise on the quantity needed, says planner Elizabeth Duncan of Pineapple Productions.

Anything unopened and not iced can usually be returned. You’ll need someone to take the wine, beer, and liquor to the reception and pick it up afterward; most sites will not keep leftovers overnight. For $10, Ace Beverage delivers to sites in DC; it’s illegal to cross state lines with alcohol.

■ Don’t be too particular about flowers. Choose colors you like and ask florists what blooms would be affordable in those colors. “If you’re just going with a color palette, let a florist design it within your budget,” says Moraru.

■ Be your own DJ. Some couples are forgoing bands and DJs for iPods or laptops programmed with their own songs.

This money-saving tactic gets mixed reviews. One music-savvy DC couple spent months fine-tuning their iTunes playlists—they created separate ones for cocktails, dinner, and dancing—and couldn’t have been happier with the result. Another bride opted for a DJ after attending an iPod wedding where “the couple just played their favorite songs and nobody danced.”

■ Cut back on the cake. Many bakers offer a money-saving trick: Select a small, beautiful display cake for the cake cutting, then serve that plus sheet cake to guests.

After the bride and groom take their first slice, the fancy cake is taken into the kitchen and cut the same way as the sheet cake. “Once the cake is cut, you don’t know the difference,” says Marge Schinnerer of Just Cakes in Bethesda. “The ‘kitchen cake’ is just as delicious.”

Tiered cakes often cost more than $4 a slice, while a sheet cake is $1.50 to $2.50.


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