Bringing Hollywood glitz and glamour to a Texas wedding

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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.

Chris and Laura Elizabeth Welch wanted their December 2012 wedding to be glamorous and over-the-top — all for $20,000.

Not exactly champagne wishes on a beer budget, but more than 20% off the average wedding cost of $25,656, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks such expenses.

"The goal was to put together an event that would always be remembered, something that would be really fun," says Laura, 26, a public affairs account executive in San Antonio, Texas.

She and Chris, 30, a partner at a San Antonio creative agency, decided having the ceremony and reception at the same venue would cut costs, since they wouldn't have to transport the wedding party between two locations or rent hotel rooms for everyone to get ready in that day.

But the couple also wanted two separate spaces for the ceremony and reception. Laura says hours of watching TV wedding shows demonstrated to her that having to transform a single space from ceremony to reception would provide an unwelcome hiccup for guests.

For $2,800, they booked Casa Los Ebanos in San Benito, Texas, a Colonial-style home used for hosting events within a private, 82-acre nature park in the Rio Grande Valley.

Laura says the home and grounds have an "old Hollywood" feel that allowed them to have their ceremony in the front yard and reception out back.

Guests didn't even see the reception setup until they followed a walkway to the back of the house.

"It kept the wow factor," Laura says.

Photo Credit: Eric Sierra Photography

Full disclosure: Laura and Chris won a wedding contest, which offered them discounts on a number of items.

However, in some instances, they believe they spent more than they would have without a discount because they ended up looking at higher price points.

For example, their wedding cake was $800 — after a $500 discount — which is almost double the average cost of a wedding cake.

Their caterer was included in that package.

For $3,000, about $1,700 less than the average cost for reception food, their 150 guests had a plated salad and a simple buffet dinner consisting of a Tex-Mex chicken entree, asparagus and mashed potatoes.

"A sit-down dinner was significantly more expensive," she says. "We also felt it was a bit more formal than what we were looking for."

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

Flowers bring beauty and style to the ceremony and reception, and while they can present a very costly line item, they’re also one of the smartest places to trim when you’re over budget.

Laura made excellent decisions to reuse flowers and to dye inexpensive flowers to match her décor.

A top florist I know masses carnations in large bunches to make a lush statement, either as tall centerpieces or in low containers on tables. That same trick applies to many other inexpensive blooms as well.

I’m also seeing a stylish alternative to carrying flowers down the aisle — brides are opting for brooch or button bouquets made of an assortment of vintage brooches or buttons, and both can be a wonderful way to incorporate something old or items from family members.

Some brides make their own, and others turn to Etsy to find them. They’re not necessarily less expensive than a floral bouquet, but they can be reused (or resold) and make a gorgeous keepsake.

After a grand entrance flanked by a mariachi band, Laura and Chris sneaked away from the reception and had an intimate dinner alone.

This gave them a chance to eat — something few brides and grooms remember to do at their reception — as well as reflect on their ceremony.

"It was really nice to take in the moment," Laura says. "We just got to be married for that first hour."

When Laura and Chris returned to the reception, they made their rounds and, more often than not, sampled the wines and other alcoholic beverages their guests had brought to toast their union.

The couple didn't supply booze, just a bartender, who provided mixers, cups and napkins.

A BYOB wedding is more fun and not uncommon where she’s from, Laura says. "That way, they can drink what they want."

It’s also a money-saver: The average cost of reception bar service was $2,456 in 2012.

To cut costs on flowers, Laura incorporated the flowers from the ceremony into the reception centerpieces.

The groomsmen were enlisted to transport them to the backyard while the couple was having photographs taken.

"Most of the day, the bridesmaids were the ones helping with everything," Laura says. "So they didn't mind. It was their one job."

Her florist also skipped greens and chose less expensive carnations and hydrangeas and dyed them red — one of the wedding colors — so Laura didn't have to spring for the pricier and naturally red peonies and dahlias she originally wanted.

Laura originally planned on having her mother make her wedding dress, just as she had her quinceañera and prom dresses. But with the tight wedding timeline, there simply wasn't time.

With the wedding contest discount of $1,000, she paid $3,000 for her gown, nearly triple the average cost for a wedding dress in 2012.

But Laura did ask her mom to make her veil. "When I tried one on in the store, I screamed it was so expensive," she says.

A pricey veil was hard to justify when she only planned to wear it for the ceremony and photos.

For $200, her mom created a cathedral-length veil trimmed in lace and adorned with 200 Swarovski crystals.

"She was there with tweezers and glasses, putting them on there," Laura says. But, "the one time you're going to wear a veil is at your wedding. It might as well be over-the-top."

Her mom also made her bridal belt, because the one to match her dress at the bridal salon was $700. Her mom embellished the belt with beads and crystals. Like the veil, Laura hopes to pass the belt down to her daughter someday.

Not crafty herself, Laura turned to the online marketplace Etsy for her garter and other items she had a difficult time finding in stores.

She found her red heels, embellished in crystals, on eBay for $250; Chris wore red socks to match.

"I love wearing red," she says. "It makes me feel very glamorous."

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