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Cheap Weddings: Is That An Oxymoron?

Ylan Mui

I am overwhelmed by weddings this year.

My hubby and I went to a destination wedding in Costa Rica in March. My coworker just got married in Florida over the weekend. My brother-in-law is tying the knot at the end of this month. Hubby's high school friends are walking down the aisle just one week later. And a college friend has invited me to her nuptials in New Orleans in October.

All of these weddings have one thing in common: They're expensive, both for the bride and groom and for the guests.

According to The Wedding Report, a market research firm, about 2.2 million people are expected to get married this year. But the recession is apparently weighing on love: The average couple is expected to spend $20,398 on their wedding, down from $21,814 last year, a 6.5 percent decline.

Some folks have tried to get sneaky about cutting costs. I talked to one wedding coordinator recently who told me that brides-to-be are telling hotels that they're merely planning a big party -- they're afraid mentioning the "W"-word will result in higher rates. Meanwhile, some companies are embracing recession chic. Windows Catering in Washington recently launched a "wedding stimulus package" of eight pre-set menus that start at $80 per person, with a free 100-person wedding cake thrown in.

“With an unpredictable economy upon us, we want to make it easier for brides to make choices as well as save time and money”, chef and proprietor Henry Dinardo said.

For those of us whose attendance has been cordially requested, SmartMoney has a useful guide to wedding gift-giving etiquette. The advice basically amounts to just sucking it up, but remembering your budget. Not Made of Money also offers some good ideas for alternative, low-cost gifts, such as nicely framed photos.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with handing over a check with a thoughtful note. The one thing my hubby and I needed more than anything after our wedding was cold, hard cash. (Actually, we could still use cash. So if you haven't sent us our wedding gift yet, now is the time!) In Vietnamese culture, all the guests try to give an amount that is equal to the cost of their attendance, typically about $100 per person. This often results in the bride and groom actually making money from their wedding, rather than losing it.

I know this idea is anathema to many Americans, but to me it's just practical. I bet any bride would appreciate even a $25 check more than a fancy cheese grater.

By Ylan Mui  |  May 7, 2009; 7:02 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Ylan Q. Mui  
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Next: What Can You Buy with a Dime?


These are not how you cut down on wedding expenses. All told our wedding cost $6000. $2000 of that was my mom buying gifts for the guests... And we served lobster at a restaurant, with a service on the beach. You can have a gorgeous mememorable wedding for well under $10k if you stick to only what's most important to you and don't let the guest list get out of hand.

Posted by: kingstowne_renter | May 7, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that's great! Please share your secrets! Where did you guys do the ceremony and reception and how many people did you have? The number of guests is definitely one of the biggest contributers to the cost of the wedding -- but also the place most likey to cause arguments bt. parties!

Posted by: ylanmui | May 7, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

OK, if you want a frugal wedding, start by NOT using a wedding catering company that sees $80/head as a "deal"! Don't go to Hawaii, don't go to a big hotel; those options are guaranteed to be ridiculously expensive. And frankly, the "wedding" places are all so generic anyway, and the food is always horrid, especially for the amount of money you spend. I have been to so many hotel/caterer weddings that I can't even remember who did what. A ballroom is a ballroom, an overcooked chicken is an overcooked chicke.

If you want a wedding that is both affordable and memorable, just stay the heck away from the whole wedding industry. Find an interesting place that you like -- WITHOUT an attached caterer. Find a restaurant that you like to provide the food. I guarantee that it will cost less, and be far more memorable that some generic hotel banquet hall.

Posted by: laura33 | May 7, 2009 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I once attended a wedding of a friend that I thought was very nice. It was in PA and I caught a ride there and back with friends of my friend (the bride). On the way back the friends were critiquing the wedding and reception--and didn't give it very good grades. They didn't like the food, they weren't wild about the reception hall, thought the church was too small. I think the final score was 6 out of 10. I thought--remind me not to invite these bozos to my wedding. It is not about how fancy a party you can throw. It is about sharing a very special occasion with friends who care about you, hopefully enough to not care how fancy a bash you throw.

Posted by: janedoe5 | May 7, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

My late father in law said my wedding was the best he ever attended. JP in McLean then dinner for 6 at beloved Evans Farm Inn. We have been married 26 years and we are just as married as other family members that needed to have a big shebang.

Posted by: tbva | May 8, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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