Autumn in New England is a grand setting for a wedding

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We celebrated 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. This is the last in our series.

When Brian Eastwood and Elaine Hom Eastwood married, they threw a big but frugal outdoor wedding.

They had the ceremony and reception at Zukas Hilltop Barn in Spenser, Mass., which was close to family in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

The total cost for 130 guests was just about $20,000 — $5,656 less than the typical nuptials, according to the Wedding Report, a research company that tracks such expenses.

"It was cheap, centrally located, cheap, very pretty, cheap, all inclusive and cheap," Brian says.

About the only thing they splurged on was a Marge and Homer Simpson cake topper.

"I didn't want our cake to be just some boring cake," Elaine says. "I wanted something with a touch of humor that would also be meaningful to us, and the Simpsons are the best representation of a couple that I can think of.

"It's funny that the cake topper ended up being more expensive than Brian's suit."

Brian Eastwood, 32, is a senior editor at CIO.com, and Elaine Hom Eastwood, 27, is the marketing coordinator for The Center for the Arts in Natick, Mass.

The couple got engaged in 2009 but waited until 2011 to get married, which they said gave them time to plan and time purchases to maximize savings for their wedding, which they paid for themselves.

They chose to wed in October so that New England's fall foliage would be the backdrop for their outdoor celebration.

"Decorating the altar and ceremony space was essentially free since it was so beautiful," Elaine says.

They also chose a Sunday date instead of Saturday because it was cheaper, paying the venue a rental fee of $1,000 that included gratuities, cake, linens, setup, a wedding coordinator and use of the guest house across from the property the day of and after the wedding.

Food and an open bar cost an additional — but very reasonable — $65 per guest.

The couple had a head start on keeping costs down: Elaine had worked as a special events manager at a high-end restaurant while in college.

She knew, for example, that favors are usually left behind. "I ate a lot of leftover customized M&Ms in little satchels," Elaine says.

So instead of providing gift bags for their guests, the couple made a donation to the Animal League of Boston, which is where they adopted their cats.

"Not much of a savings," Brian says, "but a lot less work."

Groomsmen wore black suits, and bridesmaids picked inexpensive dresses from David's Bridal.

The couple made their own wedding programs and also bought all their flowers, including the bride's and bridesmaids' bouquets, for just $100 from a supermarket near the venue.

Brian and Elaine created their own centerpieces out of Mason jars they filled with red glass beads, water and bushels of baby's breath.

That's another lesson Elaine learned from working in special events.

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

Outdoor weddings come with the benefit of built-in décor, but to make the most of it, one of your best investments is a trip to the site a year before the big day so you can get an idea of the colors, temperature, humidity and insect situation.

Ideally, you want to be there at the same time of day as your wedding, so you can see how the light hits your intended ceremony site and you can decide how to set it up for maximum effect and comfort — you want to be blinded by love, not by sunlight, when you say your vows.

"Baby's breath looks the same as it dries out, no matter what the temperature," she says.

That allowed them to do all the work the night before and not worry that the flowers would be brown or spotty the next day. Total cost: $1.50 per centerpiece.

They both saved big time on their wedding attire as well.

Elaine pounced on a suit sale she spotted in a Deal of the Day email from Amazon.com. She bought one black suit — which Brian wore for the wedding — and one brown suit, for $99 each.

Her wedding gown came from David's Bridal.

She picked the one she wanted — a convertible dress that would be long for the ceremony and unzip to be short for the reception — then waited to get the best possible deal.

"Because we booked our wedding so far in advance, I waited until the end of the season of the year prior to get my dress," she says. She paid about $200 for it — $400 less than the original price.

That's a steal, considering the average wedding dress cost $1,187 last year.

And instead of paying David's $600 for alterations, Elaine's mom did the seamstress work.

For pictures, the couple hired a young photographer looking to build her portfolio. Total cost was $1,500. Their DJ was a very good friend who slashed his prices for the couple.

Brian and Elaine provided overnight bags for out-of-town guests, using snacks they bought in bulk through Amazon and free maps from the local Chamber of Commerce. Total cost: $2.50 a bag.

Then there was the memorable cake topper.

"We knew we wanted something unique," Brian says. "We thought about penguins, other cute animals and Calvin and Hobbes before settling on the Simpsons."

They spent $120 to celebrate with the iconic cartoon characters Homer and Marge.

As Brian and Elaine tell the story of their wedding, it was money well spent.

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