Monica Noda is a bride on a budget.

When she started planning her nuptials several months ago, she was shocked at the cost of festive matrimony.

“I didn’t realize how expensive a wedding could be,” Noda says.

She wanted a live band and tasty food at the tony Madison Hotel in Morristown, N.J. So, she had to cut corners somewhere – such as holding the reception on a Friday instead of Saturday to save $40 a person.

Noda also saved money by selecting July for her reception, instead of more popular months such as May or June. She chose inexpensive invitations and made the programs, table cards and wedding favors herself. Relatives pitched in to make a Brazilian coconut chocolate dessert for her 180 guests.

Many brides this year have learned the true meaning of compromise as they plan their special day in a tight economy and pay for the wedding of their dreams with a down-to-earth bank account. They are doing everything from bringing MP3 players to substitute for DJs at receptions to cutting out limousines and making table centerpieces themselves.

The cost of getting married has steadily risen in the past five years, to $27,852 last year from $22,360 in 2002, according to a study by Brides magazine. Couples are paying for more of the wedding, too, with brides and grooms picking up 32 percent of the tab last year, compared with 26 percent in 1999, the magazine said.

Newlyweds-to-be have to focus on what is important to stay within their budget, said Millie Martini Bratten, editor of Brides magazine.

“You can cut costs on flowers, music and the guest list,” she said. “People also are negotiating more with caterers, photographers and florists.”

Some brides are bringing MP3 players instead of hiring a band, she said, and they are baking cookies as favors. Instead of flower bouquets as centerpieces, they can scatter rose petals around a candle, she said.

More people also are using silk flowers, which can be half the price of real ones, said Marrion Pratscher, owner of Exotic Flowers & More in Edison, N.J. A silk lilly costs about $4, compared with $10 for a real one, she said.

“I’m selling about 10 percent more silk flowers this year than last year,” she said.

One item brides don’t skimp on is the gown.

“The gown is highly important, and it’s one place people will go shopping around,” Bratten said.

Noda fell in love with a dress that cost $4,500, which was out of her price range. When the bridal shop refused to negotiate, she scoured other stores until she found a stunning gown with a sweetheart neckline for about half the price.

“The dress is so important, because I will be the center of attention that day and I want to look beautiful, so I wanted something I loved,” said Noda, who got married July 18.

Gowns typically cost between $1,000 and $4,000, said Donna Morello, owner of Mariage Couture, the bridal shop where Noda bought her gown. However, brides save some money with so-called destination gowns, such as a clingy chiffon sheath with a low back, which Noda tried on in Morello’s shop one afternoon.

“This is a great example of a dress for someone on a budget, because it costs $500,” Morello said as she cinched the spaghetti straps of the gown Noda wore. “It’s lightweight, with silk and satin inside, and it’s a dress you could frolic around in.”

If a destination dress is too simple, brides can embellish it by having a seamstress sew crystal along the neckline or the shoulder straps or add pearls “or some pretty applique to capture the bride’s personality, if she likes different embroidery,” Morello said.

Michelle Horvath of Spartanburg, S.C., has a $20,000 budget to spend on her wedding.

Her reception will have 120 guests. She saved $10 a person by having guests select their entree, salmon or roast chicken, ahead of time.

Horvath also saved on the wedding album by not having a pre-wedding shoot or a video. But getting married is difficult when you are not working, she said.

“It’s a challenge, because I’m a graduate student, so if I pick up a few jobs between quarters, that will help,” she said.

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WEDDING DAY SAVINGS

Following are some tips to help reduce the high cost of getting hitched:

Reception – Save 15 percent by choosing Friday or Sunday. Have the ceremony and reception in the same place, and some hotels will give the bride and groom a free room.

Unopen bar – Serve beer, wine and one specialty drink to slash the liquor bill.

Semiformal – Ditch the tuxedo and gown for a terrific suit and a great dress. The bridal party can cut costs with the off-the-rack look.

Gown – Some frugal brides can rent gowns, instead of paying thousands for one they’ll wear only once.

Flowers – Use a mixture of candles and flowers as centerpieces, instead of flower vases. Also, silk flowers can be half the price of real ones.

Favors – Forgo the favors, which can range in price from $1 to $23 each.

Cake – Order a small cake for pictures and a sheet cake for guests. Ask your local vocational school if student chefs make wedding cakes.

Music – Use MP3 players for small cocktail receptions. For larger affairs, hire a DJ for about $600 to make announcements and get the crowd going.

Invitations – Design and print your own invitations, programs and place cards. Check out theknot.com, brides.com and papermart.com.

Makeup – Have your makeup done by a Mary Kay or MAC beauty consultant for about $70.

Honeymoon – Replace Paris with Montreal for its French cafes and bistros, Bora Bora with Belize for its Mayan ruins and Tuscany with Portugal for its old world cuisine. Also consider Vietnam, Croatia, Hungary, Costa Rica, Thailand, Argentina and Honduras.

SOURCES: Isis Petrie, Posh Events; Carol Davidson-Toby, theivorywedding.com; Millie Martini Bratten, editor of Brides magazine.

RB END PERONE

(Joseph R. Perone is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He can be contacted at jperone(at)starledger.com.)

2008-08-07-BRIDES-ECONOMIZE

AP-NY-08-07-08 1643EDT


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