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Say ‘I do’ to a wedding budget

Say ‘I do’ to a wedding budget

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While a couple’s devotion to one another may be unlimited, money for their wedding is not. With the average wedding costing just under $30,000 (according to, how does a couple decide where to spend and where to save?

We asked local wedding experts — and one newlywed couple — for their advice. Here are their tips for stretching those wedding dollars.

Budget basicsWhen Cassie and Kyle Littel started planning their April 27, 2013, wedding, their first step was creating a budget with Cassie’s parents, who had offered to pay for the wedding.

“We came up with something reasonable based on my dad’s income and what Kyle’s parents could help with,” Cassie Littel said.

The couple then prioritized, designating some items (like the photographer and a photo booth at the reception) as “must haves” and others (like the reception venue, decor and cake) as negotiable.

Working with a $15,000 budget, “this let us make decisions based on the things we really appreciated, and identify those things that are nice to have but maybe not what people would remember a wedding by,” Cassie Littel said.

The venueCouples can expect the venue to take up nearly half of their budget. But if the ceremony and reception are at the same location, you may save costs on transportation.

Venues that have on-site catering also provide another option to save by bundling the cost of the room with the meal. That doesn’t mean couples shouldn’t consider venues that allow off-site catering, said chef David Perez of Chef David’s Catered Events in Kenosha.

Venues that let couples choose their caterer (and sometimes bring their own alcohol) can offer substantial savings if the couple knows how to shop around.

“The good thing about off-premise caterers is you can choose the caterer to fit your needs,” Perez said.

As a chef who has catered many weddings, Perez has picked up a tip or two about planning a wedding. Now that his daughter is engaged, he is applying the advice he has learned and given to other couples over years, like having a backup plan.

“If you can’t have your wedding in your month of choice or at your place of choice, have an A plan and a B plan,” he said, noting that he advises couples to consider the months just before and after the peak wedding season.

“I personally think September and October are best,” he said. “The weather is better and there is more availability.”

The dressSaying “I do” to your dream dress doesn’t have to cost a fortune. But it does require planning. It’s possible to get a dress in less time, but most bridal shops recommend ordering the gown no less than six months in advance to avoid rush fees. That means starting your search even earlier, and building in time between the dress’s arrival and your big day.

“Order time for a gown is six months. So ideally, plan on budgeting nine months to a year,” said Kathy Bobeck, manager at LaSposa Bridal.

Let the salesperson know your budget, then stick to trying on dresses within that price range. If you have a question about the price of a dress, speak up. It saved Cassie Littel $750 on her wedding dress.

“I was trying on dresses for fun, and I just knew this particular one was the one,” Littel recalled. She looked at the price tag: $900. Then she noticed another price tag for $150.

“Because I saw the $150 price tag and it was the store’s mistake, they honored the price,” she said. “It saved me a lot of money. So it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

Some brides search online bridal stores for deals. Deals exist, but be careful about hidden fees. A local shop may waive shipping, pressing and storage charges for dresses purchased through them.

“Some places will get you at the end,” Bobeck cautioned. “Realize where you’re getting your dress from, and ask about all the costs.”

The foodAccording to, the average couple pays $63 per guest on food. To get the best value, “educate yourself on what things cost,” Perez said. “I get inquiries everyday and I really want the client to be educated so they can go out and compare prices and make informed decisions.”

A little food knowledge can go a long way when creating the menu. It not only gives the couple an idea of what they want, it also helps the caterer tweak the menu to the couple’s tastes and budget.

“For example, sliced bread is less expensive than a dinner roll,” Perez said. “In the summer, a salad might be an important part of the meal, but in the winter, it might be an area where you can save.”

Also, think outside the box for the entree.

“Consider pork over beef,” Perez suggested. “It’s less expensive than prime rib, but there are so many things you can do with it. If you have a destination wedding to Mexico or Jamaica, bring back the local flavors to your menu.”

If the wedding cake isn’t a top priority, opt for a smaller display cake and have sheet cakes in the back to cut and serve guests. This trick let the Littels serve 225 guests for $250.

The decorAfter the wedding, votive lights, vases, tulle and ribbon — sometimes even entire centerpieces — sit in a basement collecting dust. Cassie Littel suggested looking for opportunities to borrow or buy these items from recently married couples.

“There are a lot of brides out there who want to loan stuff or get rid of it after the wedding,” she said. “Check sites like eBay or Craigslist because people buy crazy things for their wedding that they never use again.”

By asking around, she was able to borrow many of the items she needed to decorate the reception hall, including LED lights she borrowed from her church.

“That right there would have cost us $300,” she said. “We got all the glass jars for our centerpieces for free, borrowed our tulle from a couple that was recently married and bought tea lights for super cheap from another.”

The photographyOne of the most common — and costly — photography mistakes photographer Kevin Mathewson sees couples make is having a hobby photographer — maybe a friend or family member — take photos of the big day.

“Couples think they’re saving money, but, by trying to cut corners, the photos often don’t turn out like they’d hoped,” Mathewson explained. “They actually end up costing more in the long run because the couple either hires a professional photographer to touch up the photos or recreates the day and reshoots it.”

Cassie Littel knew having high-quality photography was one of her priorities. That helped her find other areas in the budget to save so she could afford the photographer as well as a photo booth for the reception.

“It sounds kind of silly, but I appreciate photography and creativity. And I wanted to give guests a reminder of our wedding that they wouldn’t just throw away,” she said. “Almost a year later, friends still have their photos displayed from the booth.”

Mathewson reminds couples that time is money, so use the time with your photographer wisely.

“Have a list of your must-have portrait combinations set up before the wedding,” he said.

He also suggests buying more time than you expect to use.

“Always select the package with a little more time than you think you need. Add-on hours the day of are more expensive than buying a larger package in advance,” he said.

Most photographers increase their rates on an annual basis, so when you find a photographer you like, book the date.

“Obviously, the further in advance you book, the better rates you’ll get because rates tend to go up,” said Mathewson, who already has 2015 weddings and even a 2016 wedding on the calendar.

The rest of the detailsWith some of the major items checked off, look through the rest of the budget categories and eliminate anything you don’t need. Or, as the Littels did, find dual purposes for certain items, the way their photo booth doubled as reception entertainment and guest favor.

Also, have money set aside for gratuities, the marriage license and other incidentals.

“Many of our vendors had gratuity in the contract. So expect to pay a little more than the flat rate you originally saw. And don’t forget about the tax,” Cassie Littel said. “They add up and are expenses to think of.”


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