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Couples find ways to afford dream weddings

Wedding planners and bridal gown shop owners say a recession and strained budget are no excuses for not having a dream wedding.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — What's not to love about a wedding?

The cost.

In 2009, nearly 8,000 couples spent an average of $21,005 to tie to the knot in the Raleigh-Cary area, according to The Wedding Report, a firm that tracks the wedding industry.

That average is $7,000 less than in 2007, and many couples say the recession has them struggling to afford the wedding of their dreams.

"It has been a challenge," bride Bethany Osbourne said. "There have been times we've been thinking, 'How are we going to do this?' And then we've gotten creative with it."

Osbourne and her fiancee Mike Schneider set a budget and hired wedding planner Cara Zuehlke to help them stick to it.

"You can have an amazing wedding for a small budget, and your guests are going to have a great time," said Zuehlke, owner of A Southern Soiree.

Start by scheduling the wedding on any day but Saturday.

Osbourne and Schneider booked their wedding on a Sunday to get a lower rate to rent the venue and found that the day got them other discounts as well.

"Not only are more of the vendors available on a Sunday than a Saturday, but lots of times, we get discounts because it's considered an off day," Osbourne said.

Cut flower costs in half by choosing flowers that are in season and going with more greenery. Trade in dramatic centerpieces for designs that are simply elegant.

"Use floating candles, maybe a few rose petals on the table, something like that just to add some color," Zuehlke said.

"What we're going to do is little nosegays with seven different roses, mini-bouquets," Osbourne said. "I actually prefer those to bigger bouquets, because they (the bridesmaids) have a shorter dress on, very Jackie Kennedy."

Heavy hors d'ouerves can fill up guests without blowing the budget. Limit the bar to beer, wine and maybe a signature drink.

Before buying a dress that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, look beyond the bridal shop.

Scout eBay.com for dresses that have been worn only once. Head to a department store, and check out white and off-white evening gowns. They can offer elegance and style for a fraction of the cost of some wedding gowns.

Consider not providing guest favors. "A lot of my brides are doing a donation to charity for a favor or not doing them at all," Zuehlke said.

Osbourne also planned a different way to celebrate her departure from the reception on to her honeymoon.

"Instead of spending a lot of money on sparklers, flower petals, we decided to get little, tiny marshmallows and bag them on our own. It's a lot less expensive, and it's fun and whimsical," she said.

Zuehkle offered some more money-saving tips for weddings:

  • Cut down your guest list. (Triangle weddings had an average of 128 guests last year.)
  • Print your own invitations with invitation kits you can buy at Michael's or AC Moore.
  • Shop around and compare prices
  • If you really like a vendor, don't be afraid to ask if they can come up with something to work within your price range. If they want your business, they will.

Above all, don't worry about anyone judging your wedding, Zuehkle said.

"The guests are there because they love you, not how fabulous your reception is," she said.

Osbourne said that hiring Zuehlke as a wedding consultant helped her save money by coming up with creative, alternative ideas. She and Schneider learned not to get carried away in all the traditional trappings of a wedding, they said.

"None of these are have-to's," Schneider said. "It's about our relationship and celebrating a lifelong commitment."

"It's been a great exercise in letting us control the budget, rather than letting it control us and what we do," Osbourne said. "It's about you and your groom and what you want for the day."


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