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Ways to save money on weddings

The Baltimore Sun

As Kathryn Moosbrugger plans her September wedding, she has found two effective ways to save money: Keep a firm budget in mind and meet with people face to face.

These tenets helped her cut costs when she hired a band last year. She and her fiance, Nick Laganza, met with the production company in its office and told the agent that her budget was $6,000. The band asked for $6,500 for a seven-piece orchestra to play at their reception. After an hour of chatting about music and the wedding, they settled on $6,200.

"If you become friendly with them, they aren't beastly," said Moosbrugger, 27, who lives in Norwalk, Conn. "They want to work with you. They want your business."

Weddings are costly affairs, and sometimes it seems the price of a service goes up when you just say the "W" word. But there are ways to save money, experts say.

"It's all about negotiation," said Kathleen Murray, deputy editor of the Knot, a wedding-planning resource firm in New York. "It's all about being honest about your budget. Tell them how much you have to spend. The best professionals will work with you."

The average wedding in America costs $27,000. But there are a number of ways to trim the price. While it can be hard to slash any one cost, it is possible to keep expenses in check so you don't start your marriage deep in debt.

The first thing couples should do once they are ready to start planning is to make a budget, said Alan Fields, co-author of Bridal Bargains, a guide to saving money on weddings. The Wedding Channel (www.weddingchannel.com) and the Knot (www.theknot.com) offer online budgets to help you determine costs and track payments.

Couples also need to determine who is paying for the wedding. More than half the time these days, it is the couple themselves, Fields said, in part because many people are marrying in their 30s, rather than in their 20s.

Here are some other tips from the experts:

Reception: The easiest way to cut a budget is to trim the guest list, Murray said.

Eliminating a few tables can save big bucks. Consider inviting only close family and friends and throwing a more casual party later.

The season, day and time of day you hold your reception also affect the price, Fields said.

Day weddings, for instance, can shave 20 percent. Friday or Sunday affairs can slice 25 percent. Also, many halls charge lower rates for events from January through April, as well as October and November.

You also can lower the bill by forgoing items on the menu. Eliminate shellfish, offer only two entree choices instead of three, or skip the pasta course. And to save money on the bar tab, you can come up with a signature drink and pare back other alcohol offerings.

"You can come up with a fun drink, and no one will know you are saving money," Murray said.

Gown: You don't have to pay thousands of dollars for a wedding dress. If you've fallen in love with a pricey gown, consider a similar design made with fewer embellishments or less-expensive material, experts said.

Also, consider buying a dress directly from the manufacturers in China through companies such as Blue Catalog.com (www.bluecatalog.com) and Julius Bridal (www.juliusbridal.com).

Flowers: Talk to your florist about the price of the flowers in your arrangement. You can save a lot by picking flowers in season or less expensive buds that you consider just as beautiful. Also, instead of using elaborate centerpieces, opt for small ones. It will be easier for your friends to talk around the table and save you money to boot.

Photo and video: Don't look to save too much in this category, experts said.

"You shouldn't skimp on the photo and video," Murray said. "This is what you are taking away from your wedding."

Music: Want a live band at your wedding? It will cost you. The average band costs $7,500, Murray said. But by trimming the number of players, you can trim the bill. And you can ask the band to throw in the cocktail hour for free.

A DJ may not be that much cheaper, with the average charging about $5,000.

The ultimate money saver? An iPod with a playlist of your favorite songs. But there won't be anyone to get the crowd on its feet.

Cake: Wedding cakes can cost between $4 and $20 a head. So consider having a small cake to cut at the reception, supplemented by a sheetcake to serve the guests. The sheetcake can be the same as the display cake, but won't be as expensive because it won't be decorated and on display.

Some couples are even opting for a plastic foam display cake with a real top layer for cutting.

Tami Luhby writes for Newsday.

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