Success Story: Jacqueline Pittenger

Woman stretching $100 bill

When William and Jacqueline Pittenger sat down to plan their big day, they were certain of one thing: their budget.

Her parents had given them $10,000, and they were using their savings to splurge on a $3,500 honeymoon at a Sandals resort.

"None of us were willing to acquire debt to pay for the wedding," says Jacqueline, 25, a technical writer in Glens Falls, N.Y.

But throwing a wedding for $10,000 would require some cost-cutting. In 2006, the year the Pittengers married, the average cost of a wedding in the United States was more than double that.

(The average cost fell to $21,814 last year, according to The Wedding Report, a 24% decline from $28,704 in 2007.)

Jacqueline began by limiting the guest list to 100, which wasn't easy, considering that she and William both come from large families.

"We sent invitations to two rounds -- first to family, then to friends -- so that we'd hit as close to 100 as possible," she says.

They ended up with 95 guests after last-minute cancellations.

A venue also provided a challenge. Although the couple lives in New York, they needed the wedding location to be central to their three grandmothers, who would be traveling by car from Chicago, Philadelphia and central Alabama.

They chose Louisville, Ky., and booked the Louisville Zoo.

Unfortunately, the locale was not central for the wedding party, who would be driving or flying from New York City, Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y; Phoenix; Huntsville, Ala., and Denver.

"We did not pay for transportation, but we did provide two nights in the hotel for the wedding party as part of that budget," Jacqueline says. "Our wedding party was coming from so far away, the least we could do was pay for their hotel rooms."

The couple also paid for hair and makeup for their mothers, the bridesmaids and the flower girl. The cost: $320, including the same for the bride.

Jacqueline originally planned to treat everyone to manicures as well, but scrapped those plans to stay within budget.

As her gift to the bridesmaids, Jacqueline made accessories to match their dresses.

She also made her garter but spent nearly a tenth of the wedding budget -- $800 -- on her dress. On her feet were $18 sandals from a discount shoe store.

Her choice of flowers, and the limited amount she used, also provided a huge savings. "The only flowers were 'people flowers,' " Jacqueline says.

Those included her bouquet of red roses, baby's breath and greens; the three bridesmaid bouquets of baby's breath; the maid-of-honor bouquet of red roses with baby's breath; 10 one-rose boutonnieres; five three-rose corsages for their mothers and grandmothers, and a halo of roses and baby's breath for the flower girl.

The couple e-mailed a bunch of area photographers for quotes and met with the cheapest of the lot.

"We liked her, so we didn't talk to anyone else," Jacqueline says.

They also liked her price: $450 to photograph the wedding and provide a DVD of the shots.

(Looking back, Jacqueline wishes she'd made sure the photographer got all of the pictures on their list, and that they'd made a longer list.)

Instead of hiring limos, the wedding party was transported from prewedding photographs to the zoo in a caravan of Ford Model As. Wedding guests owned the vehicles and were "more than happy to show them off," Jacqueline says.

"The Model As did two trips so most of our friends could ride over with us," she adds.

The hotel had a free shuttle that picked up guests after the festivities.

Having the wedding and reception in the same room, with the same seating arrangement, also helped keep the budget low.

Jacqueline only had to decorate one venue, which she did sparingly. She purchased a lighted arch because it was cheaper than renting one, and then sent it home with an engaged guest for reuse.

The table centerpieces were large candleholders from Big Lots that she filled with glass pebbles from Kmart. Favors -- name cards in picture frames -- cost less than $1 a person.

Attached to the reception room was a kids' room, with games Jacqueline found inexpensively online. It also featured a viewing wall.

"We splurged and paid $200 for an orangutan to hang out with us on the other side of that wall," Jacqueline says.

Food proved to be the largest line item in their budget: about $2,000, including gratuity and tax.

But Jacqueline and William saved money by using the in-house caterer. The meal -- a buffet of lasagna, pork roast, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, salad and rolls -- was eaten off plastic dishes.

Jacqueline opted out of a traditional wedding cake.

Instead, a 12-inch-round angel food cake covered in chocolate ganache was topped with bride-and-groom-decorated, chocolate-dipped strawberries.

"We fed each other the strawberries instead of the cake," Jacqueline says.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen also were treated to chocolate-dipped strawberries. Guests ate the cake and dessert bars provided by the caterer, or feasted on a chocolate fountain.

There was no band or deejay, typically a major expense. Instead, Jacqueline created play lists timed out for the entire evening and used her iBook to run them through the room's sound system.

Although they rented a small dance floor, there was very little dancing, she says.

"We had a 'honeymoon dance' to raise money for massages and mementos from our honeymoon," she says. "This is not a tradition in either family, but everyone thought it was fun."

In the end, most guests had no idea they had attended a budget wedding, Jacqueline says.

"The food was awesome. My hair looked fantastic. The location was great. I'd rented my very own orangutan for the evening!"

Jacqueline's tips for hosting a budget wedding:

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