Erin’s Engagement: Budget Bridal Tips

It might be fun to go over the top spending money for your wedding, but Erin discovers that planning a wedding on a budget can be a good time, too.

There’s a show on TLC that I can’t get enough of. It’s called Platinum Weddings, and it profiles couples who spend an insane amount of money on their weddings. These couples think nothing of shelling out $100,000 for flowers or $30,000 for a cake. I saw an episode where the bride had a $1,000 dress custom-made for her dog. My favorite, though, was the couple who ordered a pony to serve as their ring bearer.

The truth is that most of the items the wedding industry peddles are extras. Case in point: I just received an e-mail from a wedding Web site encouraging me to host a welcome party for my out-of-town guests in addition to the rehearsal dinner. “Don’t worry—nothing fancy!” the e-mail shouts, “Consider a festive riverboat cruise with a buffet dinner and cupcakes.” I think I should forward it to a Platinum Weddings couple because it clearly wasn’t intended for me.

Obviously, I’m a budget bride. I love shiny things as much as the next girl, but when it comes to my wedding I’m more interested in a celebration that’s genuine and personal. Throughout my planning, I’ve tried some of the budget-friendly tips I’ve gleaned from friends and wedding-planning books and Web sites. Some of them have worked better than others.

For example, I read in a book called Bridal Bargains that you can cut costs on your wedding cake if you ask the baker to decorate a smaller cardboard cake and have a sheet cake in the back to be served to your guests. When I brought this up to a baker, she explained that I wouldn’t save much money doing this because it ends up being essentially the same amount of labor and materials for her.

The same book advised against mentioning the word “wedding” when inquiring about pricing for events at reception sites. The authors explained that pricing for weddings is drastically different than pricing for other events, such as family reunions or anniversary parties, because venues know they can charge more for weddings. I actually tried this. I contacted one of the hotels where we were considering having our reception and said that I was planning a family celebration (not a lie) and would like pricing information. The reply I received said, “Is this a wedding? If so, congratulations!”

I’ve been successful in some of my cost-saving measures, though. A friend of mine is a graphic designer, and she offered to design my invitations as a wedding gift. She’s almost done with them, and they look beautiful. She designed them as pocketfold invitations, and I’m buying the paper and having them printed through a Web site called cardsandpockets.com. The whole process will end up being less expensive because of my friend’s help and the do-it-yourself nature of the Web site.

I’ve also had luck buying used items from recent brides. A few months ago, I saw a posting on the theknot.com from a newlywed who was selling a ring-bearer pillow. Her nephew held it for only 15 minutes, so I bought it from her so my nephew can hold it for 15 minutes.

Craigslist was a gold mine when looking for a photographer to shoot our engagement photos. I wanted find someone who had a lot of talent but was just starting out and didn’t have high prices yet. There are a lot of photographers in this area who are looking to build their portfolios and will charge very little for a photo session. Randy and I found a photographer named Ben Rasmussen who has been doing wedding photography for a while but does it part-time. I felt so lucky to find him because he did a great job and his pricing was reasonable.

I’ve heard that the wedding industry is impervious to dips in the economy. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I think couples who are motivated to find bargains will find them, and I’ve seen some vendors offer “recession discounts.” At the same time, there’ll always be couples who feel that their reception is incomplete without a performance by Cirque du Soleil. I love those couples. I want their weddings to be televised so I can watch them while I eat popcorn. I just don’t want to be them. I’m going to find a way for my wedding to be special, even if it isn’t platinum.

Do you have any bargain wedding tips, readers? If so, leave them in the comments below!

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