POSTED ON FEBRUARY 9, 2011:
Barefoot Budget Brides
All you need is love ... and connections
The day has finally come. Prince Charming has swept the fair maiden off her feet and carried her away on his white steed. The Wedding March sounds from the piano and string accompanists, with an unusually upbeat modern tempo as she floats down the aisle of a picture perfect white steeple church filled with 350 of her closest friends and family. Each of those uniquely close and intimate relationships will soon make their way downtown to ring in the celebration at The Mayo Hotel, 115 W. 5th St., where champagne, a four-course dinner and the perfect live band awaits to assure that the wedding event is front page Tulsa news.
Beep. Beep. The alarm clock is sounding. It's a reminder that it's time to wake up and rejoin reality.
While most every woman dreams of a perfect wedding day where money is no object and anything goes, there just aren't that many Cinderella fairytales to go around. As castles, knights and dime-a-dozen princesses have faded over the centuries, most grooms are looking more like 45-hour-a-week white or blue collar workers with brides who leave the housework and clock in at their own fulltime jobs each day. Even the days of mom and dad footing the bill have largely faded, and couples are left building their dream weddings on shoestring budgets.
For those whose inheritance has fallen through, or couples who instead decided to spend the extra $45,000 on a house instead of a single, albeit, important day, Urban Tulsa Weekly has called in some experts to help guide the way to economical nuptials.
Don't Break the Bank
Before making any large-scale arrangements, experts say you need to set a budget. Step one doesn't end with throwing out a random number, it also staying strong and working within your means. Record everything and add it up each week to know how close the cents are inching toward that final dollar mark.
So, how do you have a dream wedding without a five-digit price tag? There doesn't seem to be any magic mixture, but there are a few tricks that can help budget-conscious couples stay within the $7,000-$9,000 range.
"In the Tulsa market, the average budget is roughly between $13,000-$27,000," said Meghan Hurley, owner of Concepts PR, a local events planning and promotion company. "That's a really conservative estimate, but of course if you're getting married at The Mayo or having some extravagant elements to your wedding, it's going to go up -- way, way up. I've seen weddings that have been $100,000-plus and some that have gotten by with $2,000-$3,000 because they were able to figure things out."
Since there is no A, B and C package to explicitly detail every couple's wants, needs and over-the-top additions, each bride must navigate the wild and crazy world of marital planning on her own.
Then again, if budget is going to be the beginning and end of the special day, going the DIY route is likely a last resort, and one that may not end in success.
"The biggest thing is to talk to people you know. Everybody knows somebody that's connected somehow to this industry," Hurley said. "It's a huge market in Tulsa. Somebody has planned a wedding in some way or somehow in the past. Talk to your connections, they're you're resources."
Rhonda Pattison strikes a pose for camera man, Jeremy Thorn of Epic Photography. McBirney Mansion, 1414 S. Galveston Ave., creates a stellar backdrop for the young bride on her wedding day.
Location, Location, Location
Hurley said a wedding's setting has the biggest impact on the sticker price.
"Keep in mind, the less people you have, the less you have to pay for," she said. "Each person comes with a price tag."
Believe it or not, there are countless locations to choose from in Tulsa. Brides are not limited to the extremes of either a county courthouse or boutique hotel wedding, and most ceremonies will fall somewhere in the middle.
Hurley's advice: find a location that can accommodate both the ceremony and the reception. Paying for two different venues tends to raise the cost significantly, not to mention adding the headache of explaining to out-of-towners how to navigate Tulsa's sea of orange cones and reach two separate destinations.
"You see a lot of brides are having the ceremony and reception at the same place now to consolidate the cost," said Clay Clark, owner of DJ Connection, an entertainment company that provides a soundtrack to many local weddings.
The season of the wedding also plays a role in choosing the location. If an outdoor wedding is a possibility, check into local parks and museums like Centennial Park near East Sixth Street and South Peoria Avenue, or the Tulsa Historical Society, 2445 S. Peoria Ave. While an outdoor wedding might best be accompanied by a tent-rental in the same location for the reception, this is something that brides may want to be careful of. The rental itself may not seem to soak up much money, but adding all the tables, linens and chairs could take well over $2,000 from a moderate budget.
By the time a location is chosen, a rough estimate for the guests should also be established. While the average wedding event in Tulsa is subject to 150-200 pairs of eyes, our experts advise the wisdom of limiting the guest list to a mere 100. Friends who haven't popped in for the last decade or conveniently forget to update their Christmas card list each year will surely understand their presence isn't worth the extra dollar signs.
Hurley even offered up an out-of-the-box suggestion for Tulsa's barefoot brides. Reiterating the use of connections, she recommended finding a friend or a friend-of-a-friend who owns, rents, lives or squats in a downtown building with unique character like exposed brick or concrete floors. With so much of downtown undergoing renovation, be sure to choose a building with running water, heat and air. Finding such a space allows couples to spend their money on stocking the room.
Dress for Success
Once the prince has popped the question, many brides want nothing more than to run out the next day and pick up their dream dress. Covered in hand-stitched embroidery, made with the finest silk and dragging a 10-foot train, a dress that will only be worn for a few hours on one day isn't worth cashing in any crown jewels. Try to remember this while flipping through the last five issues of Brides magazine.
Try to keep the dress under $500. Sure, David's Bridal is notorious for $100 dress sales after the New Year and where there's a will, there's a way. Of course, one may never have the willpower to crawl, claw and fight through hundreds of other budget-conscious brides on the gown hunt.
Try looking in department stores around town. Pick up a classic prom or simple white gown for a few hundred bucks and head over to the best tailor in town.
Tara Kerr, a local budget bride crackerjack, stumbled upon her dream dress while scouring secondhand stores. Alterations were necessary, but with a little extra planning, Kerr stayed well under the $500 mark for her once-in-a-lifetime, feel-like-a-princess, float-down-the-aisle dream gown.
As for the fellas: Men's Warehouse and similar establishments tend to rent tuxedos at reasonable rates. But renting a monkey suit and returning it after a single use seems slightly foolish. Instead of paying $100 or so for the rental, a groom could instead spend an extra $100 and actually purchase a nice suit. The rules mandating grooms wear traditional tuxes have started to fall by the wayside, and suits for grooms and groomsmen are become trendy.
In Full Bloom
Who needs beautiful flowers when there are dead tree branches waiting to be used? This may not sound like the greatest plan, but adapting branches found on the ground or sold by Hobby Lobby and local decorative and flower shops is a great way to add a little flare and save a little coin.
Flowers can be ridiculously expensive and are the least durable wedding elements. The bridal bouquet and the bridal party bouquets should be left to a professional. If penny-pinching is a factor with flowers, time and effort can supplement expense.
It might be easier to focus on reception centerpieces and leave delicate blooms in the hands of the pros. Flowers take some serious planning and most brides are bombarded with a slew of thoughts and tasks in the days just prior to the ceremony. If taking on fresh flowers is one of those tasks, be mindful: flowers fall apart, die and are hard to reorder quickly for a decent price.
Planning guru Hurley raves about taking advantage of half-off Hobby Lobby sales for vases, ribbon and (classy) fake flowers.
Wedding photography and videography often proves to be more difficult than assumed. To capture the perfect day, point and click doesn't quite do the trick.
Many brides rely on the do-it-yourself disposable cameras placed at reception tables. This has real potential and gives the couple the opportunity to see the event through the eyes of their guests. But somehow, guests never quite know what to do with the little yellow and black boxes.
Couples should reiterate the importance of the wind-up cameras to weddings so as not to end the night without record.
Still, photography is a great way to save money. Find a friend who is good behind a lens and issue a checklist of the necessary shots. Professional photographers make sure certain photos are taken by the end of the night and a stand-in photographer should do the same. The kiss, the bouquet toss, and the family photo are all shots that shouldn't be missed.
If there is money left in the budget to hire a pro, consider a group that gives a reasonable flat rate for unlimited photographer time. Epic Photography has several packages available and couples are free to utilize the photographer's time as they see fit.
Liz Coffman and Roger Jaeger discuss their wedding colors and venue with planner, Meghan Hurley of Concepts PR. Working out the details of the special day is made much simpler by consulting with a professional.
The ceremony was beautiful, mom and dad cried, the wedding song was perfect, the groom dipped and kissed in a tasteful manner and now it's time to eat and get the party started.
Providing food for each reception guest can be one of the largest wedding expenses. This is one reason why keeping the guest list small, choosing the right venue and deciding on a time of day is so important. If sending out the invite and praying they miss their flight or have a sudden stomach bug is the contingency plan, it might be time to reevaluate the guest list.
"When you're talking free food, possibly free booze, free cake, a free party, people will come, they will show up," Hurley said.
While everyone's adorable southern cookin' grandma has thrown pot-lucks to make even the Baptists jealous, a wedding may not be the time to entrust such a huge responsibility to dear granny.
The idea behind a great wedding is to plan well enough for everything and to delegate enough responsibility to not have to worry if it doesn't.
Catering costs include everything from the food to the chaffing dishes, the china and the wait staff -- each with its own price tag. Experts suggest finding a caterer who can supply the food, supplies and staff, as well as cook and take care of the glitches as they join the party. Then there's the cleanup to consider. Mom, dad and granny aren't likely to be eager to stay and clean hundreds of accumulated. A mid-afternoon hors d'oeuvres setup for $15-$18 per guest should be sufficient.
"The reception is where most of the money is spent," DJ Clark said. "As people are on a budget, we're seeing more and more people go, 'I can do without certain aspects but I want my people to stay, so I want the entertainment to be good and I want the cake (to be nice) because everyone sees it.'"
Programming the iPod to play the best of Celine Dion and Etta James is probably not the most efficient way to make sure guests are having a good time. And while a full band is a great asset, each guitarist, pianist and drummer takes a turn lightening the wallet. A good DJ is a great way to make sure the crowds stay entertained and they're always willing to rally the troops for the Electric Slide.
Once the party's hopping and the guests have eaten, it's time for cake. Most wedding cakes average $3.25 per slice, but baking one yourself is an opportunity to learn and save. Amateur confectioners can learn just about everything from YouTube, and studying techniques to layer icing might be a fun way to let loose. Take a class or two and turn on the cake creativity.
The necessary add-ons are likely to creep up on unsuspecting brides and should be accounted for in the overall budget.
Be sure to plan for invitations. Using an invitation website can be helpful and easy. The photographer has already taken the pictures and now the process of placing one on an already designed invitation or program is simple and cost-efficient.
When it comes to party favors, think: fun, unique and personal. Party favor candy bowls strategically placed at the exit door are no longer in fashion, and guests aren't likely to get warm and fuzzy feelings of remembrance from a piece of sugar with initials tattooed on the package.
"I'm a big fan of something personal," Hurley said. "If you don't have a lot of people coming to the event, maybe write a personal note to each of them. Their party favor can be drink coupons or hand-dipped candy; put a personal note on there. Those are fun little things."
Including the ring in the budget is a personal decision. At the end of the day, Hurley pointed out that everything from the cake to the flowers to the clothing will be consumed. The ring is an investment and should be treated like one.
"Don't skimp on the ring," she said. "Ask a girl, don't skimp on the ring."
After all is said and done, there is no need to spend the mortgage on a single day's festivities. The ultimate goal is to live happily ever after, not just in the lap of luxury for one afternoon.
Keep in mind, penny-pinching in some areas will allow some freeway in others. There is no exact science to pulling off the perfect wedding with little cash because the perfect wedding looks very different to each bride.
"This is one day, you have a whole marriage to live through and you don't want to live through it in debt," Hurley said. "Whether it's your parent's debt or yours, you want it to be a special day but you want to be able to survive after it financially. It's just one day and it can be beautiful and unique by making a lot of homemade, handmade items."
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