Wedding Bells on a Budget

Haggle your way to a fabulous yet frugal affair.

A rotten economy is the poisoned apple in many fairy-tale weddings this year. Some 75% of brides-to-be are tightening their white satin belts, reports a recent survey conducted for retailer David's Bridal. Some couples are even delaying their nuptials, says Denise Fields, who co-wrote the book Bridal Bargains with her husband, Alan.

The average cost of a wedding fell 24% last year, from $28,704 in 2007 to $21,814 in 2008, according to the Wedding Report, a research company that tracks the industry. In 2009, the average is expected to drop to $20,398. With the industry feeling the pinch, many vendors are offering discounts and incentives, says Fields. Knowing what competing businesses are charging will help you get a fair price. Plus, you can use the information as a bargaining chip.

Name your own price. To capture some big savings for her Saturday-night event, June bride Jackie Ko challenged rival hotels to go head-to-head for her business. She and her groom, Greg Dillon, had their hearts set on one hotel in New Jersey, which originally quoted a whopping $275 per person. A nearby hotel came in at $215 a head. Ko let both venues know that she and Dillon were interested and asked for a $195-per-person rate. The hotels agreed but set different requirements for the minimum number of guests.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

Ultimately, the negotiations took nine days and saved the couple, both 28, $16,000 on a 200-guest wedding at their first-choice hotel. "The moral of the story is: It's just like buying a car," says Ko, who haggled on everything from musicians to centerpieces. "If you play it right, you will end up getting what you want -- especially in this economy."

A destination wedding, which combines the ceremony with the honeymoon, can be another way to save. For one thing, says Fields, "only a handful of people come." But be careful: Vacation-destination resorts "tend to mark things up dramatically, and the bills can get very high," says planner Jenny Orsini, of Pampered Bride Weddings, in Springfield, N.J.

Kyaiera Mistretta and Ryan Tucker, both 28, of Darien, Conn., decided to head west for their wedding last August when they discovered that a venue with an ocean view in Monterey, Cal., would cost them $16,000 less than places they found on the water near home.

To save money on her gown, Mistretta braved last year's Running of the Brides at Filene's Basement, an annual one-day sale of designer gowns at bargain prices. "Every time someone found the right dress, the whole store would erupt in cheers," she says. The best part: Mistretta scored her designer dress -- originally marked at $3,000 -- for $250.

Other ways to save. In the past six months, Fields has seen many mom-and-pop wedding-apparel retailers close up shop, stripping brides of their dresses and deposits. If you buy your dress (or anything else for the wedding) at a boutique, she recommends paying the deposit with a credit card so that you can dispute the charge if you end up without a gown.

The more you do yourself, the more you'll save. For instance, order in-season flowers from wholesalers, and make your own centerpieces and bouquets. Buy liquor in bulk and stock the bar yourself. Even though places that allow you to BYOB may charge a fee, you could still spend less. Orsini suggests serving wine, beer and a few custom-blended drinks.

And both of the couples we talked to saved more than $1,000 by making their own save-the-date announcements and invitations. "We spent nights cutting, pasting, tying and folding, and we've lost plenty of sleep," says Ko. "But it was worth it."

NEXT: See Six Ways to Save $10,000 on Your Wedding

Stacy Rapacon
Online Editor,

Rapacon joined Kiplinger in October 2007 as a reporter with Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and became an online editor for in June 2010. She previously served as editor of the "Starting Out" column, focusing on personal finance advice for people in their twenties and thirties.

Before joining Kiplinger, Rapacon worked as a senior research associate at b2b publishing house Judy Diamond Associates. She holds a B.A. degree in English from the George Washington University.