A crafty wedding in the Oregon woods costs just $7,200

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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.

Brooke Stehley kept costs down on her Oregon wedding with a little craftiness, in every sense of the word.

“To me, the wedding wasn’t about spending money — the focus was on the event itself, as far as coming together and celebrating,” says Brooke, 31, who is a marketing professional for a company that makes bicycle wheels.

She married Zach, 32, a purchaser for a custom bicycle frame manufacturer, last October at Dancing Deer Mountain, a wedding venue in rural Cheshire, near Eugene, where they live.

Their wedding cost just $7,200, far less than the average wedding cost in 2012, which was $25,656, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks wedding-related expenses.

Being outdoor people, the couple knew they wanted an outdoor wedding.

After researching venues online, they booked the first and only one they looked at in person.

Not only did Dancing Deer Mountain meet their requirement of accommodating both an outdoor ceremony and a reception, the couple was able to gain an off-season discount as well as an additional price cut for paying in full up front.

All they had to do was ask, Brooke says. “That got it down to about $1,600.”

The venue was their major expense, along with catering for their 90 guests.

The couple shopped around before finding a caterer who would allow them to supply their own alcohol. They wanted to take advantage of a discount on craft beer from Oakshire Brewing, a Eugene brewery that had sponsored Brooke’s cycling team in the past.

That also enabled them to bring in their own wine. Brooke notes that she and Zach did their own taste tests of white and red wines on sale at a local market that took an additional 10% off cases.

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

Personalizing the food and beverages really helps convey the couple’s personality, background and culture, and the Stehleys did a wonderful job by bringing in Wisconsin cheeses, local craft beers and making the apple butter favors.

I’ve also seen couples ask the caterer to make a family recipe and replicate a dish from a favorite restaurant, especially if it’s a place where they had their first date or got engaged.

When actor Kevin James married Steffiana de la Cruz, they wedded their cultures and tastes by using her father’s recipe for lumpia, a type of Filipino egg roll, and the recipe from Ruth’s Chris Steak House for their favorite barbecued shrimp dish.

Their chosen vinos — a Ravenswood Shiraz and a Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling — came in at $6 to $8 a bottle.

During the cocktail hour, guests were entertained by a guitarist and snacked on cheeses from Zach’s home state of Wisconsin, which his mom delivered and Brooke served alongside local fruit on $4 plastic platters.

“Having some cheese options you don't often find easily in Oregon was a huge hit,” she says.

Brooke also cut costs by providing her own linens, which she found on Craigslist from a bride who had bought them new for her wedding and used them only once.

“After my wedding, I put them back on Craigslist and got almost as much for them as I had bought them for,” she says, “so in the end my linens cost me about $40."

Brooke put a lot of thought and work into the favors guest would take home. “I wanted it to be a personal item when it came to the favor,” she says.

After dismissing homemade granola as too big of an undertaking, she decided on jars of apple butter.

“That turned out to be a lot cheaper than I thought it would be,” she says. “I was going to buy a bunch of apples from one of the local farms but found that my dad had trees in the backyard overflowing with apples that he wasn’t going to do anything with.”

For three weeks, Brooke made batch after batch of apple butter in a slow cooker while she was at work, then came home and canned it using a pressure cooker. She topped the 4-ounce jars with fall-patterned fabric her mother-in-law found.

(Click here to see Brooke's apple butter recipe.)

Brooke also created her own centerpieces, after deciding small bushels of wheat, not flowers, would best match their autumn theme.

“I found bushels of wheat were not easy to get your hands on, or very cheap, so I got a little creative,” she says.

One day while she and Zach were doing yard work, she noticed overgrown grass that resembled wheat on the other side of their fence.

She cut the grass down in 3-foot lengths and dried it out on their chicken coop for two months, turning it every couple of weeks.

“It turned brown and looked all the more like wheat, and I just tied it up with ribbon,” Brooke says. On the tables, she complemented her “wheat” bundles with gourds and inexpensive votive holders wrapped with twine.

Another item Brooke wanted to save significantly on was her wedding dress.

“I wanted something I felt comfortable in, that I loved, but I didn’t see why it had to cost so much,” she says.

Brooke’s goal was to pay $300 for her wedding dress, so she decided to look for a used dress.

The Stehleys at their reception in Cheshire, Ore.

Her family wanted the bridal salon experience, so she spent an afternoon modeling new dresses to give them that moment. Then she headed to a boutique in Portland that carries both used and sample dresses.

Brooke was shocked to find plenty of nice, well-fitting gowns.

“I thought it would be a lot of the big shoulders, ‘80s-style stuff,” she says. “It was very easy to find modern styles, and a lot of different styles.”

Her dress came in at $450, which was over her budget but far below the average cost of wedding dress, $1,187. She’s uncertain if it had ever been worn, because when she had it altered — for $100 — her seamstress noted that the train had never been bustled.

To cut costs, Brooke and Zach also made their own invitations and had guests RSVP online, instead of by mailing back a separate stamped card and envelope.

The professional photographer they hired, and who demanded a $150 deposit, disappeared a month before the ceremony.

But they quickly found a replacement, a local college student looking to build her wedding portfolio, who charged just $500.

Brooke is glad she and Zach decided to think outside the box for their big day.

“It wasn’t about having the perfect décor,” she says. “We wanted it to be us.”

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