A big wedding in a big city can mean big costs

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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.

Planning a big wedding in only three months would be a challenge for any couple.

If that wedding is in the New York area and you're determined to throw a memorable bash for 160 guests, you've got some particularly difficult and expensive choices to make.

The fact that Tamara and Kai Campbell were able to pull that off for just $35,000 is pretty remarkable.

This is definitely the priciest wedding we're featuring this month.

But big-city nuptials routinely run tens of thousands of dollars more than similar ceremonies and receptions held anywhere else in the country.

Anyone who's gotten married in New York or San Francisco or Chicago has discovered how expensive venues and caterers can be, and that they're often booked far in advance.

Nationwide, the average wedding cost $25,656 in 2012, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks such expenses.

In Essex County, N.J., however, where the Campbells were wed, the average cost is $31,493.

When you take all of that into account, we think the Campbells threw quite a large and elegant wedding in May 2011 on a surprisingly reasonable budget.

Tamara, 37, is a marketing and corporate events planner, while Kai, 31, invests in real estate.

When they started planning their big day, they agreed it needed to be a reflection of them individually and as a couple.

That meant they had to get married in north New Jersey, specifically Newark, where they live, fell in love and want to support financially.

As a result, $25,000 of their budget was devoted to the venues and their goal of providing guests with great food and music.

They chose a Newark landmark, historic St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral, for the ceremony and a renovated former bank building for the reception.

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

Tamara and Kai were smart to book a Sunday to reduce costs, and they were fortunate to find a weekend date on short notice.

At popular wedding venues, it’s becoming harder to find an off time or off season, making midweek weddings a growing trend, especially when couples discover they can rent a site for as much as half off the weekend rate and can also negotiate lower rates with photographers, bands and deejays, who aren't typically booked those nights. In New York City, Thursday evening weddings have become increasingly chic.

I also love the way Tamara carried through her theme, using the paisley motif on the invitations, favors and the backdrop; a cohesive style makes an event look pricey and polished and is the type of look you expect from a top-drawer wedding planner.

The Mezzanine gave them a discount for booking a Sunday but required them to use an exclusive caterer.

So, while the reception included a lavish dinner, there was no shopping around for a better deal on the food.

Guests strolled between four buffet stations serving Indian and Southern cuisine to honor their roots, Thai food because the couple was engaged there and Latin dishes they both love.

African drummers ushered the newly married couple into the reception and entertained guests during the cocktail hour. A five-piece band played the rest of the night.

“Other things weren’t important to us,” Tamara says, and that's where they looked to cut costs.

The guest list, for example, might have been even longer if the couple hadn't imposed a strict rule about plus-ones: Only people who were living with or engaged to someone were invited to bring a guest.

From her sister’s 2008 wedding, Tamara remembered that basic invitations were pricey. So the Campbells decided to make their own distinctive but affordable version.

What she and Kai had in mind — an ornate card in a folder with a slot for the RSVP and card relaying wedding information — started out at $10 an invite.

Never having designed an invitation but possessing some knowledge of desktop publishing from work, Tamara came up with a paisley motif, for her Indian heritage, for the invitation package.

She bought the paper and envelopes in bulk online, printed everything out on their home printer, and then went to work — with Kai — cutting, gluing and sticking.

“There were many pieces of it,” Tamara says. “Luckily, he’s patient.”

An RSVP postcard, which required less postage and no envelope, helped reduce costs. In the end, their homemade invites came out to about $1.50 each.

“People were asking where we got them done,” Tamara says.

Tamara also created their floral centerpieces for the reception after a local florist wanted $100 each.

“I hate flowers,” she says. “I’m so not the girly girl.”

Tamara and Kai experimented with flowers they could buy a day ahead that would still look fresh on their wedding day.

They settled on orchids submerged in long glass vases from a wholesaler for under $20 each.

White candles on round glass plates, ordered online, also helped decorate the space. The centerpieces for the cocktail hour were faux flower balls, which Tamara made herself out of tissue paper and also used to decorate the pews for their ceremony at St. Patrick's.

Table numbers were movie posters in 99-cent frames from IKEA.

“I knew where I wanted to save money and where it didn't make a difference,” Tamara says.

The Campbells in the vault of the renovated bank where they held their reception.

After the wedding, Tamara sold her homemade faux flower balls, along with the candle plates, vases and frames, on a wedding marketplace and Craigslist.

The guests’ favors were truffles they stuffed into red boxes adorned with a sticker she designed to match the invitation motif. Similar logos were used on a backdrop for the guests’ red carpet entrance and photo stop.

Tamara knew she would need a go-to person on her wedding day to make sure everything was set up and executed exactly as she and Kai had planned.

“I didn’t want to be stressed out doing stuff myself,” she says.

She found day-of wedding coordinators too expensive, so she contracted a “big, burly man” who had previously helped her with work events and paid him by the hour.

“I wasn’t sure how he would handle wedding details,” she says, but the $500 turned out to be money well spent. “We overtipped him because he did everything so well.”

Since much of Tamara’s family abroad wasn’t able to attend her wedding on such short notice, a videographer was on her wish list.

Finding one for free through Facebook Marketplace was an added bonus. A videographer looking to build his portfolio enabled to her to send DVDs overseas.

“Our family abroad was grateful to be a part of our day without being able to be here in person,” Tamara says.

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