Taking the stage of a Chicago rock club to say 'I do'

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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.

Michele and Tim Neuendorf wanted their Chicago wedding to be meaningful for them — and a blast for their guests.

The music-loving couple met both requirements when they chose to have the ceremony and reception at Lincoln Hall, a popular bar and concert hall on the city's trendy north side.

It was a pricey choice, but Michele and Tim knew what was important to them. They were willing to go big on a unique venue and memorable party, while cutting back on the stuff that didn't mean as much.

"I wanted to make sure the day reflected me and Tim," Michele says.

"I feel like I've been to a lot of weddings that feel very similar — they feel like a wedding but not necessarily like the people getting married. So we did things that meant a lot to us, knowing that the people who love us would get it.”

The average wedding cost $25,656 in 2012, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks such expenses. Tim and Michele wound up spending about $30,000.

But many urban brides who want a big wedding in an unusual location have to spend more. And the Neuendorfs had a pretty big wedding.

Photo Credit: Andrew Gill Photography

Michele, 39, is an attorney. Tim, 35, works in sales for a beer distributor. They live on Chicago's north side.

Invitations went out to more than 150 friends, family members and professional colleagues. More than 120 showed up for the June 2012 festivities.

To keep costs in line, Michelle and Tim cut out expenses that weren't a critical part of their celebration. So no limos to Lincoln Hall, and no luxury hotel for the wedding night.

They also saved by eating out less and skipping high-priced concerts for a while, which meant no Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field for the newlyweds last September. Michele even purged her closet for eBay auctions.

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

Having their wedding in a concert hall may have been a splurge, but like many modern couples, Michele and Tim wanted a venue that reflected their taste.

Offbeat sites have become commonplace for weddings: raw loft spaces, photography studios, stadiums, theaters, art galleries, museums, botanic gardens and zoos have joined wineries, private estates and castles as sought-after locations.

A chic lighting gallery in Chicago has even hosted small weddings on its gorgeously landscaped rooftop deck, and the Ligne Roset furniture showroom in San Francisco can be rented out for events.

For help finding some of these more unusual spaces available for rental, check out Eventup. The site carries listings for major cities, and most have a price range posted along with capacity and availability.

What a time saver!

Then they turned to their friends for help.

Tim asked a buddy to design the invitations, while a friend of Michele’s made her wedding dress.

She was even able to use a daily deal coupon — $50 for $100 worth of fabric at a D.C.-area store — to buy all the ivory silk dupioni they needed for the simple knee-length, strapless style Michele wanted.

Michele complemented the dress with jewelry she already owned, including two broaches that had been her grandmother’s and great-aunt’s and which she pinned to the back of her gown.

A college pal performed the ceremony while the husband of another friend served as DJ.

“He and his wife have the same musical tastes that Tim and I do,” Michele says. “It was 100% music that we picked. There was nothing cheesy. They know us, so they were really good at moving things along.”

When she ran out of friends to turn to, Michele relied on the Internet.

She paid $80 for ivory shoes on the designer discount website Bluefly, and her photographer was the result of a search of the business review site Yelp.

“I knew I didn’t want to chintz out on photos,” Michele says. “I wanted to hold on to memories from this day.”

But she was shocked to find many wedding photographers charging upwards of $5,000 — and she had hoped to spend $2,000. Plus, she really only wanted prints in a digital format, not an album.

She and Tim clicked with their photographer, who shoots weddings on the side for $1,800.

The Neuendorfs also saved money by being creative.

For table numbers, they bought used 45 rpm vinyl records for a quarter each at a local record store, then placed stickers over the labels.

Place cards were a colorful assortment of paint chip samples, procured for free and pinned to a bulletin board so guests could easily find their names and table assignments.

“It really looked cool because the colors were pretty,” Michele says.

Instead of a traditional guest book, the beer-loving couple brought in their own collection of “growlers” (refillable pitchers) from microbreweries, which guests signed with metallic markers.

Between the generosity of friends and cutting costs, Michele and Tim were able to better justify paying more for the venue and food, which came to $20,000.

Their guests enjoyed passed hors d’oeuvres like bacon-wrapped dates and goat cheese crostini; a sit-down, family-style dinner including barbecue brisket, Cajun chicken salad and macaroni and cheese; a late-night snack of chicken fingers; and an open bar for five hours.

Since guests entered the venue through the bar, Michele and Tim began serving drinks before the ceremony.

"Turns out that that was one of the highlights of the wedding for some people," Michele says.

The Neuendorfs 'first kiss' on the stage of Chicago's Lincoln Hall.

Tim and Michele had their names in lights on the building's marquee, prepped for the ceremony in the green room and were married on the stage with a stock photo of stars projected onto a huge screen.

Michele also didn’t scrimp on her hair and makeup or the three-tier wedding cake (with chocolate peanut butter frosting) and side sheet cake from their favorite baker.

But when the flower estimate came back too high at $4,000, Michele told the florist that she was hoping to spend only $2,500 on predominantely in-season cuttings.

“Normally I’m just not comfortable talking about money,” Michele says. “But all of the vendors were really good about us saying, ‘This our budget, what can you do?’ and then working with us.”

The florist came back with a much lower price that still included Tim’s desire of incorporating hops into the boutonnieres and some of the table arrangements.

And Michele was able to save money by providing the vases, which she got free from — you guessed it — a friend.

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