Flexibility on a wedding date can save a bundle

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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.

Although Erin and Michael Tarabula had their hearts set on a spring 2013 wedding, they moved up the date when their venue of choice offered them a big price reduction on its last open date of 2012.

Their flexibility earned them a 40% discount at the Wheeler House, a historic home in Ball Ground, Ga. — well worth the three-month scramble that ensued to plan their big day.

"We got a great deal, so we said, 'Hey, let's just do it.' So we did it," says Erin, 22, a stay-at-home mom in nearby Canton, about 40 miles north of Atlanta. "It really was their last date for a nice outdoor wedding."

Plus, it helped the couple meet the goal of hosting a budget-friendly wedding.

Erin and Michael, 23, a contents manager for a fire and flood restoration company in Lawrenceville, Ga., agreed in advance they didn’t want to spend too much on their big day in order to avoid any stress, arguments or "freaking out" about money afterward.

"We also wanted to have fun in the process," Erin says.

In the end, they spent $8,500 on their wedding day, far less than the average wedding cost of $25,656 in 2012, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks wedding-related expenses.

Erin and Michael’s $5,600 tab at the Wheeler House included the venue rental fee, a catered dinner and a disc jockey, as well as the assistance of a wedding coordinator during the planning process and on their wedding day.

Photo Credit: Nina Parker Photography

The venue set up everything, from the tables and chairs to a wooden arbor draped with fabric and twinkle lights.

Their 85 guests were treated to a simple dinner of teriyaki chicken, Southern-style green beans and mashed potatoes, which Erin says really helped keep costs down.

"We just decided, it’s our wedding; it’s not a restaurant," she says.

The couple took advantage of the Wheeler House’s fire pit and put together a s’mores bar, with marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers they bought at the grocery store.

They also had a traditional wedding cake, which a friend of Michael’s who specializes in cupcakes and children’s birthday cakes baked at no cost. Erin showed the baker a photo from the online bulletin board Pinterest as inspiration for the white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.

"It was really, really good," she says of the three-tiered cake adorned with fresh flowers.

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

Seeing what other couples have done can be a great help in planning your wedding. Erin, for example, found the inspiration for her cake in a photo on Pinterest.

On the main page of that site, you’ll find an entire category devoted to weddings, and once you start to narrow things down, you can search for “aisle runners” or get more specific and search for “beach aisle runners” and still get dozens of images.

Adding “DIY” to most wedding-related searches will also help you find ideas you can develop.

Not only will you see what other couples are doing, but I know many top wedding planners, florists, photographers and cake makers who create boards showcasing their latest work as well as looks that inspire them, so it’s a great way to tap into their expertise without spending a dime.

The couple was able to use the venue’s alcohol liability insurance policy and save money by bringing in their own beer, wine and champagne.

They made sure to order enough chardonnay and merlot to get bulk discounts at their local Total Wine & More retailer, which helped them spend just $400 on libations.

The couple decorated tables with burlap, lace and framed mirrors, which the Wheeler House let Erin and Michael borrow. Erin added candles in glass baby food, pickle and canning jars.

Most of the jars were borrowed, Erin says. "I had a lot of friends with random Mason jars. Everyone pitched in and brought them over."

The baby food jars were the easiest to come by, thanks to the help — and healthy appetite — of the couple’s infant son, Liam.

"Every time I fed him, I washed them out in the sink and peeled the label off," Erin says.

Some of the Mason jars served as vases for garden roses and wildflowers, which Erin arranged simply with the help of her family.

Her mother-in-law, a former florist, was able to use her wholesale discount on the flowers for the tables, as well as bouquets for Erin and her five bridesmaids.

The cost for all of those blooms? Less than $200, Erin says.

The couple eliminated one budget item altogether by not giving wedding favors to guests.

"That was something that could be excluded to cut costs," Erin says.

Erin found her almost-perfect wedding dress at national bridal chain David’s Bridal — a designer Vera Wang gown marked down to $650, far less than the $1,187 the average wedding dress cost in 2012.

The only issue: It was a one-shoulder style. "That sleeve was driving me crazy," Erin says. "I looked like a Greek statue."

She felt that the look, although pretty, didn’t exactly go with their reception at a Southern mansion. Her mother-in-law used her sewing skills to easily transform the gown into a strapless style.

Erin’s veil, which she bought at the same time as her dress, was on sale for $50.

A packet she received from David’s Bridal had a coupon for tuxedo rentals at national men’s clothing retailer Men’s Wearhouse.

Michael used it to receive half off his tuxedo, son Liam’s miniature tuxedo for free and discounts for the groomsmen.

Erin ordered their invitations, along with return-address labels, from online discount paper goods supplier Vistaprint. She spent a mere $50 with a coupon code.

"I don’t think we got anything full price for the whole wedding, which was pretty awesome," Erin says.

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