A destination wedding doesn't have to break the bank

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We’re celebrating the month of June by sharing the success stories of a dozen savvy brides who threw the wedding of their dreams on a surprising budget.

Molly Cue and Jonathan Brown wanted to show the 80 guests at their 2013 Memorial Day weekend wedding some Southern hospitality.

Even though the couple lives in Indianapolis, they decided to have a destination wedding in Nashville, after a friend offered them her home for their outdoor ceremony and reception.

"Both of our families were going to have to travel anyway," says Cue, 43, an attorney. She's originally from Michigan, while Jonathan, 41, also an attorney, is from Arizona.

Plus, not having to pay for a venue or ceremony location, or being tied to certain vendors, helped keep them to their $20,000 budget.

The average wedding cost $25,656 last year, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks wedding-related expenses. Couples typically spend $1,194 for the ceremony site and $3,226 for the reception site.

A second wedding for both, Molly’s Southern and shabby-chic theme was fitting for what she was hoping to achieve this time around.

"My first wedding was pretty formal," she says. "I wanted something more casual, with closer family and friends."

That guest list also included children, whom she excluded last time. Many of her guests have kids now, as does Jonathan.

Molly chose her colors of pink and green based on her friend’s cutting garden, which she used for all of the flowers except the bouquets and boutonnieres.

Guests were treated to classic Southern fare — fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans and homemade sauces — that Molly found for $25 a person at a local restaurant offering catering.

"It wasn’t a health food wedding, but it was really tasty," she says.

Molly borrowed as many mismatched china plates from family and friends as she could, then she filled in with finds from auctions and thrift stores.

"Apparently no one buys china anymore," she says, which explains how guests were able to eat off china for cheaper than she could have rented dishes.

In total, Molly spent about $200 on an assortment of plates, which she needed most, and two full sets of china, which came with matching serving pieces she was also able to use.

Since the two sets coordinate, she decided to hold on to them and resell the rest.

In lieu of a fancy wedding cake, Molly bought a smaller, simply decorated two-tier cake for $150. The average wedding cake cost $421 in 2012, according to The Wedding Report.

"The cake was not a huge priority," she says.

Plus, she was able to supplement with a dessert table filled with more traditional tastes of the South, like chess (custard) pie and caramel Bundt cake, as well as cookies.

She served those on the collection of cake plates her mom has given her over the years.

Lisbeth Levine is co-author of
“The Wedding Book: The Big
Book for Your Big Day.”

Many sophisticated brides with a DIY sensibility like Molly's are drawn to the independent artisans who sell their wares on Etsy, the online marketplace.

But there’s nothing like seeing the goods in person. I've noticed a new breed of bridal fair emerging to cater to the DIY-loving crowd, most of whom want nothing to do with a traditional bridal expo.

An outstanding example is Indie Wed, which showcases a curated selection of independent wedding vendors twice a year in Chicago (the next one is July 21) and has started to expand to other locales.

I’ve seen everything from infused doughnuts to handmade garters and vintage-inspired dresses at this event, along with innovative photographers, florists and caterers. To see if there’s a similar event near you, do an online search for "DIY bridal fair."

Mason jars served a dual purpose: Guests found them on a table alongside the dinner drinks of lemonade, Southern-style sweet tea and iced tea, and a tag attached to each with baker’s twine detailed names and table assignments.

Molly repurposed picture frames, turning them into miniature chalkboards on which she painted the table numbers.

A bartender served alcoholic beverages, including spirits left over from Jonathan’s surprise 40th birthday party, where the two got engaged. They filled in with wine and bottled beer.

After wearing a pricey designer gown for her first wedding, Molly didn't want to spend a lot on her dress this time.

She found a simple wedding dress online and bought it for $425 after a 40% discount — well less than what the average dress costs.

Molly complemented it with a birdcage veil that she found on the craft marketplace website Etsy for $40 — far less than $108 brides typically spend on a veil.

Attire for Jonathan and his three boys, ages 13 to 17, was part of their budget too. Tuxes seemed too formal for the feel of the wedding, and she was afraid suits would be far too expensive.

But Molly found a way to extend her Southern theme when she came across a 3-for-1 suit sale at the men’s clothing chain Jos. A. Bank.

"We were able to get seersucker suits for less than $70 each, which is less than a tuxedo rental," she says.

She paired them with classic white suede buck shoes that she found on sale at the closest outlet mall for $47 each. The boys received matching ties as gifts for standing up in the wedding.

One item Molly didn’t want to scrimp on was the photographer.

"But I realized, if I went with the photographer and package I really wanted, it would represent a disproportionate chunk of the budget," she said.

She compromised by purchasing a lesser package from her favorite for $3,200, which included fewer hours and no album up front.

They can add to the package later on, for birthday or Christmas presents, she says.

A self-confessed "lover of all things paper," Molly couldn’t justify spending $1,500 to $2,000 to get the invitations she truly wanted.

"I appreciate and I love them, but most people literally throw them out," she says.

Molly settled for ones that cost about $600 — still higher than the average cost of $230 — and then attached the information and RSVP card to the main card with baker’s twine. A personalized stamp from Etsy put their initials in pink on the back of the inner envelope.

"It took a little extra time, but I felt better when I cutesied them up a little," she says.

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