Tie a slightly cheaper knot

Decades of brides have walked down the aisle in something old, something new, something borrowed or something blue. Jessica Kavanagh’s clients can also boast something black — the bottom line of their wedding day budget.

Can’t afford a carriage? Many couples are opting for less-lavish weddings

Can’t afford a carriage? Many couples are opting for less-lavish weddings

TORONTO — Decades of brides have walked down the aisle in something old, something new, something borrowed or something blue. Jessica Kavanagh’s clients can also boast something black — the bottom line of their wedding day budget.

Kavanagh, 23, may have had to spend hours walking the bride through second-hand stores in search of the perfect dress and likely devoted days to arranging the nuptial flowers by hand to keep costs down, but believes the time is always well-spent.

Creating a big day on a small budget is a key focus of her Toronto business, J. Kavanagh Events, and weddings are no exception. If anything, Kavanagh says, a marriage celebration represents an ideal time to exercise fiscal restraint.

“It’s only one day,” Kavanagh said. “Yes, this is your wedding and it’s so exciting and a big life moment, but this is like the pregame show to the marriage. It’s just a celebration, not the be-all-end-all of your life. People won’t remember you for your wedding, but they probably will remember if you’re a great couple.”

The first thing Kavanagh needs to adjust is not the price of the entire event but the expectations of the couple.

She urges couples to look beyond traditional wedding vendors and time-honoured venues, saying conventional thinking can often lead to a dizzying price-tag.

Kavanagh’s advice struck a chord with Alison MacKenzie, whose budget for her October wedding threatened to spiral out of control without some timely intervention.

She and her fiance were willing to shell out for their wedding attire, rings and an open bar reception, but felt the rest of the day needed a thriftier touch.

Their decision to serve cocktails and appetizers instead of a sit-down dinner went a long way to keeping costs down, MacKenzie said, adding Kavanagh stepped in with other practical suggestions.

“Jessica was great about warming me up to the idea of doing our own flowers,” she said. “You don’t have to spend 50 to 100 bucks for centrepieces. We’ll have flowers throughout the venue, but we’ll do those ourselves. Little vases from Dollarama versus renting them for 30 bucks apiece from a florist is such a smarter way to go. ”

MacKenzie’s guests will mingle at the reception in the glow of cost-effective candlelight and munch on cupcakes instead of a traditional, pricier wedding cake. They won’t leave bearing a conventional wedding favour, but will learn that a donation has been made in their name to a charity that matters to the couple.

MacKenzie said these decisions will allow her and her fiance to celebrate their big day with a clear conscience.

“We didn’t want to be saddled with a huge Visa bill or debt at the end of it,” she said. “That’s a great way to start your marriage, ’Let’s talk about a repayment plan.”’

Cost-cutting opportunities can be found in nearly every aspect of the wedding planning process, experts agree, adding there is one notable exception.

Darsi Pizzolato, co-founder of FrugalBride.com, said couples who opt for a traditional ceremony must be prepared to pay for the venues, officiates and musicians.

Savings can be found nearly everywhere else, she said, adding the Internet offers plenty of bargains for the discerning couple. Pizzolato suggests digital printing outlets for wedding invitations, while websites such as Etsy.com offer brides an affordable place to shop for customized accessories.

Second-hand stores are also worth a visit for people hoping to save money on the wedding dress, she said.

“You figure any item that’s being used on the wedding day is being used for a maximum of 12 hours,” Pizzolato said.

Kavanagh also suggests reusing traditional wedding trappings to get the most bang for your buck.

Bouquets that figure prominently in the ceremony, for instance, can be reused as centrepieces at the reception.

Financial planning web site SmartMoney.com contacted wedding consultants for ways to nip and tuck wedding budget.

And there’s lots to cut. According to Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. runs between $21,000 and $24,000.

Here are tips from the pros at SmartMoney:

l Avoid the High Season — In case you haven’t noticed, the majority of weddings take place from May through October. So you could save across the board on limos, photographers and caterers, etc., by getting married during one of the quieter months, such as January or March, says Carley Roney, editor-in-chief of TheKnot.com, a Web site focused on weddings.

l Daylight Savings — Wedding consultants agree: Reception halls charge the highest fees for 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Any other time is a bargain. “I always encourage brides to consider Sunday brunch,” says Mimi Doke, owner of The Wedding Specialist in Arizona. “Or, if late-night drinking is important, then go for Friday evening.”

l Bond With Other Brides — Doke also suggests her clients network with other brides to divvy up the decorating costs at catering halls. “Talk to the bride who is getting married immediately before or after to see if you have similar ideas for decorations,” she says. “If so, you might be able to split the cost.” Reception halls often recycle the decorations, but charge every bride for them anyway, as if new.

l Cut the Cake — Another unnecessary reception budget-breaker: overloading on sweets. “People really overspend on desserts,” says Marcia French of Stardust Celebrations in Dallas. “They’ll get a three-tiered bridal cake, plus a chocolate one for the groom, and have a full tray of desserts at the reception.”

She points out that after an evening of eating, drinking and dancing, many guests forego dessert altogether.

For smaller weddings, she recommends using a faux bottom for the lower tiers of the bridal cake.

For bigger weddings: Choose a smaller version of your dream wedding cake and then get sheet cake (in the same flavor as the wedding cake) that can be cut in back and served to guests.

l Greens Are Good — “Stay with what’s in season, use more greens and fewer blooms,” advises Carol Koch Waldmann, a wedding consultant in Natick, Mass.

Roses are always available, but brides should steer clear of floral-intensive holidays such as Mother’s Day, when high demand will drive up costs.

Another flower tip from Regina Tate of Regina’s in Nederland, Texas: Don’t feel the need to adorn the church with flowers for the ceremony. “People expect churches to be less ornate, and they’ll spend a lot more time at the reception,” she says.

l Dress Down the Gown — Assuming that no one at the wedding will be checking out the tags on your bridal gown, the dress can be another good place to economize. Tate says that cheaper fabrics are almost always available for every dress design, and that using a lower-end satin can cut the cost by almost two-thirds. Sample sales and outlet stores are other good bets, and remember, the gown doesn’t need to fit like a glove right away: having a too-large dress fitted will still be cheaper than buying one that’s custom-made. For those who favor less complicated designs, consider using this trick from Erin Smith, a bride-to-be in Boston. “I went to a bridal shop and picked out one of their bridesmaid dresses, ordered it in white, and voila — simple wedding dress,” she says.

l Do Yourself a Favor — According to Markel, the average number of wedding guests is 157, which means that overspending on seemingly inexpensive items such as invites and party favors can add up to a big hit on your checkbook.

“If you use candy kisses in the favor instead of truffles, you’ll save about $3 per bag,” French says. Other experts recommend letting place cards double as favors, or incorporating the favors into a creative table centerpiece of chocolates or candles.

One bride French knows used giant, colorful seashells for her centerpieces; guests loved it.

l Save a Tree — Waldmann, who estimates that most brides end up overshooting their initial budget by about 15 per cent, encourages her clients to think twice before spending hundreds of dollars on a seven-piece hand-engraved invite.

The invitation liner is completely unnecessary, she says, as are separate enclosure cards. Keeping it to a single sheet, she notes, saves on the costs of both paper and postage.

Of course, talk to wedding consultants, and you’ll hear that the Number One must-do savings tip is . . . hire a consultant.

In theory, the consultant will do all the legwork for you, shop around for the best bargains, and use their network of vendors to get insider deals. But with some of these pros charging up to 15 per cent of the total wedding budget, we’ll leave you to determine if that’s a cost-cutting move you want to make.

With files from Advocate news services.