By AnnaMaria Andriotis,
News Assistant, SmartMoney.com


EVERY BRIDE DREAMS OF the perfect wedding day, full of lifetime memories. But planning such a wedding typically comes with a very real price tag -- one that can be more stress-inducing than joyful. According to TheKnot.com, the average U.S. wedding costs a whopping $27,000.

But that savvy bride knows how to cut costs in such a way that the guests never notice a thing. Tip number one? Take a close look at the packages offered by various reception halls. What's included -- and what's not -- could make what looks like a good deal quite pricey. Are you being charged extra for basics like linen, china and chairs? A venue that includes these costs in their package may look pricier, but you'll still save more than if you had to furnish an entire room from scratch.

Here are other ways to save:

1. Invitations

Invitations can range from $250 to $800 for a wedding with 150 guests, according to Alan Fields, wedding expert and co-author of "Bridal Bargains." And some wedding invitations now come with more paperwork than a college application. "Brides get pitched all kinds of crazy enclosures, like reception, registry and response cards," says Fields. "They're a waste of money and guests tend to forget about them." Here are two other ways to cut costs:

Click here for more info: Rather than inserting reams of material on where guests can stay and maps on how to get to the church, include a link to your personal wedding web site where guests can RSVP and get all the information they need. Even non-webby types can create a page at TheKnot.com for free. By eliminating the enclosures, you'll save $50 to $100 per invitation.

Do it yourself: Hand calligraphers charge about $4 per invitation. But you'll pay close to nothing by printing your guests' addresses from your computer. Also, stick to buying only an outer envelope for each invitation. You'll save on printing and postage.

2. Flowers

Flowers cost an average of $1,485, according to TheKnot.com. One way to cut costs is to skip having extensive flowers at the ceremony site since guests will spend the least time there. Focus instead on the reception hall. Other ways to save:

Be open-minded: Peonies sell for $7 a stem in the spring and $14 in the fall. But red cabbage roses, which have a similar color and shape, sell for just $4 each year-round except during major holidays. "The trick is to fall in love with the color and shape, not the actual flower," says TheKnot.com's editor-in-chief Carley Roney. "Look for cheaper flowers that have the same features." Also, choose big flowers, like dahlias and hydrangeas. The bigger the flowers, the less you'll need to make an arrangement.

Consider alternatives: Rather than choosing flowers for centerpieces, consider filling glass cylinders or bowls with candles, fruits or shells. "The most affordable items are the ones that you can assemble yourself," says Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings. "They're also the most memorable and reusable."

3. Cake

The average wedding cake costs $514, according to TheKnot.com, due to the work that's required to smooth the frosting and stack each tier. Consider these sweet alternatives.

Cupcakes: Wedding cakes require skilled bakers, but cupcakes require much less workmanship. Create the illusion of a cake by placing the cupcakes on a cake tower, which you can find at your catering hall or a wedding supply store. Got a Martha Stewart type in your family or on your guest list? As your wedding gift, you could ask her (or him) to be your official baker.

Skip the boutique bakery: Discount stores are hidden gems for cakes, says Diane Warner, author of "How to Have a Big Wedding on a Small Budget." Discount chains like Wal-Mart sell tiered and pillar cakes for as little as $65.

Sheet cake: For big weddings, keep a two- to three-tiered cake in the reception hall and a sheet cake with the same flavor that can be cut in the back and served to guests. Sheet cakes cost 75% less than tiered cakes, and your guests will never figure out the difference. For more on this, click here.

4. Shop Online

The average bride spends $1,279 on her wedding gown, according to TheKnot.com. In large cities, like New York, she spends almost double. And that doesn't include her veil and other accessories. But why shop at overpriced bridal stores when the Internet offers more choices at lower prices?

Buy a second-hand gown: It might not sound romantic, but it is one way to get a designer gown -- perhaps even unworn -- at a great price. Focus on national web sites like eBay and Craigslist. Around two million women get married each year in the U.S., and many of them sell their gowns online at a 50% to 60% discount. Some brides never make it down the aisle and sell their dresses for 25% off the retail price. For more on this, click here.

Veil: The average price of a veil sold at a bridal store is $200 while web sites like romanticheadlines.com, wedding-veil.com and veilshop.com charge $40. Plus, veils sold online tend to be in better condition. "Many brides try on veils at bridal stores," says Fields. "They ruin easily the more they're handled." These sites also sell tiaras, garters, gloves and other accessories.

Bridesmaid dresses: In the past year, retailers like J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Chadwick's and JCPenney added "Special Occasion" sections to their web sites and catalogs that sell affordable silk dresses that can be worn after the wedding. J. Crew sells a silk chiffon gown with an empire waist in mosaic blue, fresh tangerine, espresso or black for $165. (Some dresses may be available in stores.)

5. Get Out of Town

If you really want to save money, skip town for an exotic destination. Over the past 10 years, destination weddings in the Caribbean have increased by 200%, according to Richard Markel, president of the Association for Wedding Professionals International.

A seven-night, all-inclusive honeymoon at the Sandals resort in the Caribbean costs $5,000 and features a complimentary wedding ceremony, known as the "WeddingMoons package," which would normally carry a starting price of $750. It includes the bride's bouquet, the groom's boutonnière, Champagne, a Caribbean wedding cake and more. You'll also save money since only the people closest to you will attend. Sandals offers group discounts year-round. In September, its Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa will deduct 35% off room rates when you reserve 10 rooms for a week. For more on destination weddings, click here.


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