Reality check

Plan your dream wedding without going broke. (Tribune Co. photo)

According to The Wedding and Bridal Association of America, couples will spend an estimated $30,860 on their wedding in 2009. But in a down economy, many couples are on a tight budget.

In fact, David's Bridal's annual "What's on Brides' Minds" survey found that 75 percent of brides-to-be said that they will have to adjust their wedding budget as a result of the current economic climate, with some admitting that they may even have to cut their budget by at least half. That's a pretty hefty percentage in a $40 billion industry.

The good news is you can plan an elegant wedding on a budget by following a few tips from experts like Carrie Denny, author of "The Bride's Instruction Manual: How to Survive and Possibly Even Enjoy the Biggest Day in Your Life" (Quirk Books, $15.95).

Make a list. The first step in staying on budget is planning where you want your money to go. Make a list of your wedding must-haves. The top two are what you should splurge on.

The dress. There are many inexpensive gown shops, such as David's Bridal, that have classic and trendy dresses at a lesser cost than couture gowns.

"Look around for different dress options," she suggests. "There are some second-hand places that have gorgeous, high-end gowns and are very selective - you're seriously only going to find gorgeous Vera Wang gowns that were only worn for five hours, not mothball-covered ones handed down through three generations of families that aren't yours. Or look into designers like Nicole Miller or J. Crew [that have] lots of beautiful dresses under $1,000."

Filler can be classy. Talk to your florist about ways to use less actual blooms in your arrangements, suggests Denny. Non-floral items like curly willow branch, kale, and even fruits and veggies like artichokes, plums, acorns, apples, and bright citrus fruits can enhance floral arrangements and it will cut your cost severely.

And don't forget to use in-season blooms!

"A sunflower in the summer will cost so much less than an orchid in the winter," she says. "Or, if you're crafty or have a friend who is crafty do your own. Order calla lilies wholesale, bunch them, tie them with a ribbon, and you've got beautiful, simple centerpieces."

DIY (design your own). Couples spent an average of almost $1,000 on wedding invites and stationary in July 2006, according to The Wedding and Bridal Association of America.

Consider designing your own invitations and printing them on high-quality card stock. If printing isn't an option for you, many companies, such as Michaels, will print your pre-designed invites for you at a low cost.

Even better, try sending your invitations via e-mail. Companies like Evite and Pingg make sending out wedding invitations super fast and easy.

Reconsider the reception. For many couples, the bulk of their wedding budget is spent on the reception and other accoutrements. If possible, Denny suggests holding your reception at your parents' or friend's house. A tent typically costs less than a venue.

Additionally, Denny recommends holding the reception on a Friday or Sunday. Saturday is the most popular day for receptions, and therefore, cost significantly more. If a Saturday wedding is a must, consider having dinner earlier in the evening. Some venues will charge you the lunch price if you eat before 5 p.m.

Cost-effective cake. Wedding cakes are beautiful, but they also will be eaten in a matter of minutes. Consider serving guests less expensive sheet cake while you cut a beautifully decorated smaller cake. You'll still get the effect of a wedding cake in your photos, but at a fraction of the cost.

For couples looking for something less traditional, Samantha Talora, wedding sales manager at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club in the Berkshires of Lenox, Mass., says there are a few alternatives that are just as good.

"Brides can substitute an ice cream sunday bar for the traditional wedding cake to provide a refreshing option that everyone loves and that is much less expensive than a wedding cake," she says. "Or, skip the wedding cake completely. Most venues offer dessert as part of the menu package, and couples can order a very small ceremonial cake for photos [and] cutting and then just serve their guests a variety of small desserts."

Seasonal price reductions. A wedding venue can be pricey, and that can be a difficult pill to swallow if you have your heart set on a certain location. Consider talking with an event manager about price adjustments.

"If the fee is a little too expensive [for] her budget, she should ask what the venue's off season is and host the wedding at that time," Talora says. "Many venues - including Cranwell - have special packages designed for those days or will be more willing to customize a package to suit a couple's budgetary needs."

© 2009, Tribune Media Services