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Brides on a budget: Save money without compromising quality

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At a wedding in North Carolina last June, menus in picture frames list signature beer, wine and cocktail choices. Keeping alcohol to a minimum can reduce the cost of a reception. Courtesy Coree Reuter (Buy photo)

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A dessert bar at a wedding reception in North Carolina last June, offers an alternative to a wedding cake, which can save on wedding costs. Courtesy Coree Reuter (Buy photo)

By Coree Reuter/Daily Correspondent

Every bride dreams of a million dollar wedding. Whether it's a vision of her nuptials in a swanky hotel, or on a deserted tropical island, with a Pnina Tornai dress, thousands of dollars worth of diamonds around her neck, and a spread of food that could rival the world's best restaurant offerings. Unfortunately, most brides don't have a million to spend on a wedding, but that doesn't mean they can't have the wedding of their dreams for much less.

According to Sandy Beach of Elegant Events in Front Royal, the average wedding costs about $27,800. This will fluctuate as you move closer to urban areas, like Washington or Richmond. Anything less than the average is considered a "budget wedding."

"Wedding planners and reception venues will tell the bride the best way to save money on the reception is to cut the guest list," said Beach. "By cutting the guest list you not only save on food, you save on decor, labor [and other things]."

In addition to cutting the guest list, brides should consider holding their celebration on a day other than Saturday, or in the off-season, which is any month outside of May through October. Due to the decrease in volume during the off months, reception sites and other vendors often will give discounts in order to bring in more business. Beach also suggests a morning ceremony or afternoon reception, as those times would enable a bride to save money on food.

All about the eats

Speaking of food, what you serve your guests can cause a big price jump. Depending on the type of food you want to serve, food costs can range from $15 to $100 per person.

Kim James of Six Star Catering in Winchester, noted that the time of year does factor into the pricing.

"Certain times of the year it is harder to get certain food items, so working on a seasonal menu is always a good way to keep your costs in check," James said. "When caterers are in their very busy season they are less likely to negotiate on the price."

James said people often have misconceptions about what catering costs actually include, and it's very important for a bride to do her research about how her money is being spent. Catering costs will include labor, taxes and any rentals needed, and the bottom line can be shocking, but she also added that wedding professionals are there to help couples have a wonderful wedding day, so don't be afraid to ask questions.

"To save money I'd advise picking a couple hearty hors d'oeuvres so that people have some food on their bellies before dinner. I'd also limit your entree to a nice universal entree or two at max," advised James. "If you need to get a vegetarian option on the menu, then consider using that as the starch or side dish. A nice pasta would be a good example of this. Finally, don't skimp on your labor. A good service staff will make or break your event. The staff is usually familiar with the food and are trained in getting it out, keeping it stocked and cleaning it up efficiently."

The dilemma of alcohol is always brought up when James works with brides, and James suggests offering beer and wine only if a bride is worried about costs. The couple can also consider a signature drink if they want to add liquor, and she offered the idea of simply serving iced tea and lemonade instead of soda.

Tipping, James said, is up to the discretion of the client, but normally 15 to 20 percent, pre-tax, on the food costs is appropriate.

Cake or dessert?

A gorgeous wedding cake is often the highlight of the reception, but cake costs can start to skyrocket if a bride doesn't educate herself. Cake costs will be much less if the event is more intimate and low key, whereas an extravagant wedding may call for an extravagant cake. Fiorella Valderrama, of Dolcery Desserts in Culpeper, recommends budgeting about $6.50 per guest for dessert.

Valderrama suggests trying a bakery's most basic flavors when going for a tasting, as those flavors are usually less expensive but still delicious. If a bride is planning a tiered cake, she can save money by using the basic flavors for the larger layers and specialty flavors for the top layer. Valderrama also said that butter cream frosting is less expensive than fondant.

"Depending on the experience of the decorator, butter cream icing can always end up looking as smooth as fondant," said Valderrama. "When customers see this they tend to go with butter cream because of its extremely nice flavor and the nice look the decorator can provide. At our shop, 95 percent of our cakes are butter cream, and 80 percent of our clients think it's fondant. The ingredients for making fondant are much more expensive, and covering cakes with it can get relatively tricky."

Many brides think that offering cupcakes or alternative desserts will save money, but Valderrama said they could be just as expensive, as a bride will need to supply at least two or three items per guest, rather than a single slice of cake. She also said that brides could get a smaller tiered cake and have sheet cake waiting in the back to serve to guests.

"Some brides get a nice looking and tasting cake from one bakery, and add cupcakes/desserts from another," said Valderrama. "Your guests can tell. It's best to keep if from the same place. You already know that the place you're getting your cake from is better and you're only going with the other place because it's cheaper; but guess what, the taste will also be not so good. Provide your guests with something you feel good about even if you have to cut it from a sheet cake, they would appreciate this much more than knowing you went with the cheaper bakery for their serving."

Fabulous flowers

While food costs can be overwhelming, flower costs can be just as expensive if a bride isn't careful about her selections. Andrea Harrison Mongold, of Flowers by Snellings in Winchester, recommends brides budget 15 percent of their overall budget for flowers.

"A bride on a budget should be upfront about her budget with a florist," said Mongold. "If she only has $1,000 for everything, let your florist know this ahead of time, then we will be able to tailor an estimate to fulfill that budget. So many brides bring me magazine clippings of elaborate weddings; these are specifically designed for a magazine layout, and there is no budget for photo shoot weddings. Also, those 'Real Weddings' those are also high budget weddings. Let us know what you like about the picture and we can be realistic on how to incorporate that look and feel into your wedding."

Mongold said that your reception location should be considered when choosing flowers, as outdoor weddings in the heat will wilt flowers more quickly than at indoor events. If you're having an outdoor summer wedding, tropical flowers will be your best option, as they love the heat and won't wilt. 'In season' can be misleading. Just because peonies are 'in season' in May, does not mean they are cheap. In season simply means there are more farms and growers producing and availability is better.

She said roses are always inexpensive and come in a variety of colors, and hydrangeas and dendrobium orchids are usually economical. A bride could also consider using live plants for her reception, but Mongold cautioned that the flowers should reflect the style of the reception.

Other tips from the experts:

Many couples are foregoing wedding favors and donating to their favorite charities instead.

Use other items, like fruit, greenery, succulents, candles and old books for table décor.

Deejays tend to be more cost effective than live music. If you want live music, consider having it during the cocktail hour only to save on money.

Cut down your bridal party. Smaller bridal parties will reduce costs.

Reduce filler on your invitations and be willing to print your own if you're a hands-on bride.

Do research on your local area vendors. Make sure they are honest, professional companies that have a good track record and positive reviews.

Be hands on. The more you participate in your wedding planning, the more you will save, and the happier you will be.



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