A huge guest list doesn’t require a huge wedding budget

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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.

The sheer size of the guest list at Theresa and Adam Roma's wedding is amazing enough.

But the cost to host the affair at both a century-old Gothic church and a century-old armory listed on the National Register of Historic Places is truly something to marvel at.

The Buffalo, N.Y., couple invited 450 people to their May 2011 nuptials and reception. Some 380 guests attended.

"We have a large family," muses Theresa, 27, an employee benefits administrator for an insurance agency.

And the couple didn’t want to exclude anyone.

"That was the one thing we weren’t going to sacrifice," she says.

Still, they managed to pull off this big affair — the largest we're featuring this month — for little more than what the average wedding costs.

The couple spent a remarkable $29,000.

That tally is remarkable because the average wedding in the year the Romas married had 138 guests and cost $25,631, according to The Wedding Report, a research firm that tracks industry statistics.

But throwing such a large wedding isn't without some big challenges.

"It was very difficult to find a venue," Theresa says, especially one that she and Adam, 27, a member services representative for an insurance carrier, considered unique.

In her research, she noted that Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Jim Kelly had hosted a large wedding at the Connecticut Street Armory in Buffalo, a historic National Guard facility built in 1899 that looks a bit like a castle with its massive limestone towers.

Photo Credit: City Lights Studio

The couple booked the space for $2,700, and only then learned there were few caterers who could accommodate a large crowd and do so in a building without an on-site kitchen.

Theresa negotiated a package deal for $15,500 that included an antipasto appetizer table; a family-style Italian-themed dinner of chicken, pork, asparagus and rice; a full bar; and tables, chairs and staffing.

"We wheeled and dealed and negotiated the best rate," Theresa says.

The couple’s fancy wedding cake was just for show, although she doesn’t think many guests noticed.

The bakery Theresa hired went out of business two months before the wedding, and she couldn’t find another bakery willing to prepare a traditional wedding cake on such short notice.

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

Large weddings present a particular challenge due to the inherent costs of hosting so many people. The Romas used savvy negotiating to secure deals, but I also know some couples who have had success with bartering to keep costs down.

One bride told me that her father approached a local wedding gown designer about creating her website — in return, the bride walked down the aisle in a spectacular custom-made gown without adding a dime to their budget.

When bartering, keep in mind that it’s easier for vendors to negotiate on services they provide (think photography) or on items that represent sunk costs (rentals) as opposed to, say, catering, which comes with heavy out-of-pocket expenditures for ingredients and staff.

But one bakery offered her its fondant-covered Styrofoam window display cake and sheet cakes with amaretto filling to serve guests.

"During the cake-cutting ceremony, we didn't truly cut into the cake, just posed for pictures," she says.

Best of all, at $500, the sheet cakes were half the cost of the cake they had originally ordered.

Throughout her and Adam’s yearlong engagement, Theresa collected 200 green wine bottles to use as vases for centerpieces on the 40 tables.

She removed the labels, a painstaking process that involved baking the bottles for 15 minutes, peeling off the sticker and then using the solvent Goo Gone to remove any residue.

Each table was adorned with five bottles filled with cut flowers Theresa ordered from warehouse giant Sam’s Club for $400.

"It was beautiful," Theresa says. "It was actually better than we envisioned."

She spent another $1,500 at her aunt and uncle’s upscale florist shop on a few larger centerpieces, as well as her bouquet, bouquets for her 12 bridesmaids and boutonnieres for Adam and his five groomsmen.

When the wedding party arrived at the reception, the bridesmaids placed their bouquets in empty vases on the dessert table.

Theresa and Adam rented a tour bus to transport about 40 people, including the wedding party and close family members, from the ceremony at the historic 1889 St. Louis Catholic Church to the nearby armory.

The $1,000 they spent was half the estimated cost she received from a limousine company.

Theresa also found having so many bridesmaids was handy for her many do-it-yourself projects.

They helped with the favors by filling hundreds of small glass bottles with bulk olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then placed shrink wrap on the tops to prevent them from leaking.

Theresa says those cost her 85 cents each.

Her bridesmaids, along with her mother and grandmother, also helped with the laborious task of making 30 tissue paper pomander balls to decorate the church pews.

The supplies — Styrofoam balls and green tissue paper — came to $30, Theresa says.

She thanked her bridesmaids with attendant gifts of pasta bowls, wine and pasta, for which she budgeted $30 each. Adam’s groomsmen received bocce ball sets at $25 a piece.

The Romas' custom wedding invitations.

Theresa was unable to find the simple wedding gown she envisioned at a bridal salon. "I knew exactly what I wanted," she says.

On a whim, while Adam was being fitted for a tuxedo for another wedding in which he was standing up, she headed next door to national bridal chain David’s Bridal.

Perusing the clearance rack, she found her dress in her size. “I was really shocked,” she says.

And happy. The dress came to just $285 after tax, about $900 less than what a typical dress costs.

A friend of her grandmother’s made the few minor alterations she needed for free.

Theresa refused to pay more than $100 for the veil she found in a salon. Instead, she bought one on the auction website eBay for $35.

Adam paid nothing for his tuxedo, after Theresa called around and found a shop that offered great pricing for groomsmen and a free rental for the groom.

The couple’s Italian theme was carried through their 220 invitations, which her cousin designed and they paid $450 to print and mail.

Another cousin sang at the ceremony.

"Family was a big thing," Theresa says.

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