Originally created 12/12/04

Bargains for brides



NEW YORK - Christina Hendrix had her dream wedding: a ceremony, reception and honeymoon that cost less than $12,000, total.

Her aunt made her dress. A friend of a friend of a friend took photos. Her father officiated, after being ordained online. She bought card stock at Office Depot Inc. and printed invitations on her cousin's printer. She ordered three cakes from her favorite restaurant without mentioning they were for a wedding.

"If you asked the guests, not a single one of them knew or would know that we cut corners," said Ms. Hendrix, a 29-year-old Atlanta lawyer who has been married for a year. She and her then-fiance planned the wedding knowing they didn't want to add any more debt to their loans for graduate school.

Bargain-hunting brides are buying dresses on eBay, baking white-frosted cupcakes instead of a lavish wedding cake, shrinking guest lists and handcrafting their centerpieces. As the cost of the average wedding tops $20,000, some couples are working hard to keep their nuptials simple - and inexpensive.

"At the end of the day, it's about being with the person you want to spend your life with; it's not about impressing your guests," said Jenn Mattie, 27, who is watching costs as she plans her summer wedding.

Ms. Mattie, a fashion merchandising student in New York, took a jewelry design class and made her fiance's wedding band using $3 worth of material. She and her fiance will get married under a wedding canopy made from tree branches and a $36 duvet cover, which they'll sleep under after the wedding. She might buy her dress online from J. Crew's Web site, where wedding dresses run from $220 to $550, much cheaper than the five-figure dresses at high-end boutiques.

The couple is making their centerpieces themselves and the bridesmaids will carry $3 parasols from New York's Chinatown.

"Money doesn't buy chic class," Ms. Mattie said. "I've been to some pretty expensive weddings that were tacky."

Frugal brides such as Ms. Hendrix and Ms. Mattie are bucking a trend. Before World War I, the average wedding was one-third of a family's median annual income, but cost as a percent of income has been rising ever since, said Alan Fields, a co-author of Bridal Bargains.

At the high end, a videographer can cost $5,000 and a pair of silk bridal shoes from designer Peter Fox can cost $415.

Low-budget brides refuse to pay.

Kelly Hamilton, the owner of a consignment shop in Chicago called I Do Bridal, said some brides come to her with "sticker shock."

"They realize they're only in that dress for 12 hours, and $5,000 later, they've got a dress that's sitting in a box," said Ms. Hamilton, who sells dresses that start at $100. "They would rather spend the money on a honeymoon or furniture."

Sarah Gray Miller and her husband, Tony Stamolis, were married in 2003 at New York's City Hall with four friends in attendance. She carried a bouquet from the grocery store and wore the dress her mother had worn to her own engagement party.

Ms. Miller, who is editor in chief of Budget Living magazine, has no trouble thinking of ways a bride can cut costs. For instance, a bride wearing a floor-length dress doesn't have to pay a fortune for shoes, because no one is going to see them, she said.

"It's ridiculous," she said. "It's not like you're investing in a pair of brown suede knee-high boots you're going to wear all winter! They're not even leather."

Rachel Paxton's Web site, www.creative homemaking.com, outlines tips for $100 receptions. Her West Richland, Wash., wedding reception was pot luck, with extra food bought at the Costco deli department, and was held in a park.

Her sister's was held near Thanksgiving, so relatives brought side dishes and the family made turkey and baked ham.

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