Cutting Wedding Costs With a Little Help From Your Friends

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Despite numerous claims that the institution of marriage is on its way out, the wedding industry is still booming: In 2009, just over two million American couples pledged their eternal troth to each other. In the course of their trips to the altar, these happy newlyweds spent more than $40 billion.

With an average cost currently topping $24,000, weddings can be a brutal expense, especially for young couples who are just starting their lives together. However, with a little bit of thoughtful planning, there is a way that canny couples can save money and get their families and friends even more closely involved in their special day: Calling on their extended circle for help.

When my wife and I got married a few years ago, we wanted a big wedding, but couldn't afford to go the traditional route. The cheapest caterer in our area charged $25 a head for clay-like banquet chicken, and a good photographer would have cost us at least $500. Flowers would have been thousands of dollars, a band would have run over $1,200, and a cake would have eaten up a few hundred more. Rather than bankrupting ourselves -- or compromising our vision of the wedding day -- we found ways around the higher priced options.

When it came to catering, we called on our friend Rich, a professional chef who was able to procure much of our food at a restaurant discount. Later, he and a few other friends helped us prepare it, and chipped in as informal waitstaff. For music, we hired another friend's rockabilly band: As a wedding gift, they charged us about half of their usual fee. Our photographers were also friends, and my sister, a sculptor, made the flower bouquets. One of my wife's friends made our cake for cost, and yet another friend officiated. Other friends chipped in for wine, helped out in the kitchen, or waited on our other guests.

Admittedly, this type of wedding is not for everyone, but my wife and I love to informally entertain our friends and family, and it's not unusual for our kitchen to be crowded with people cutting vegetables and mixing ingredients as they hang out. This method allowed us to give many of our nearest and dearest the option of having a part in the celebration. More than just saving money, getting our friends involved meant that we were able to spend a lot of time with the people who are closest to us. We've gone to expensive weddings in which the happy couple were only able to spend a few seconds with each guest: For us, it was important to have a more personal experience.

In the end, even if you choose to hire professionals for most or all of your wedding needs, consider finding ways to involve family and friends in preparations for the festivities. Not only will you save some money, but you'll also remind yourselves -- and your friends -- about the full meaning of the day.

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