Weddings can be extravagant, even if their pricetags aren't

You've found your prince or princess and are planning your happily ever after. But fairy-tale nuptials carry all-too-real price tags. The good news is that a trip down the aisle doesn't have to end in debt.

With a little wedding-planning savvy, you can have an upscale event — even on a recession-era budget.

Anja Winikka, editor of TheKnot.com, says before you say "I do" to an overpriced wedding, you and your intended should decide how much you can spend, then prioritize your must-haves, would-likes and can-live-withouts.

"It's all about being flexible and identifying the things that are really important," Winikka says. "If music is going to be the highlight of the reception, maybe you go for a less expensive dress. If the food and wine is the focus, maybe you go with a DJ. Key elements vary from couple to couple and wedding to wedding."

When Amber Dodge Bengston and her fiance found they needed to cut some corners on the cost of their September 2007 wedding, they each made a list of "gotta-haves" and then compared notes.

"The places where we matched, like the photographer, we didn't skimp on," says Dodge Bengston, a Southington, Conn., resident. "Then, in other areas, we looked for ways to do it more economically."

The couple found that once they got into a budget mind-set, they saw plenty of ways to save. They negotiated a discount on the church rental; opted for a reception package that included a cake, limo and disc jockey; and used a computer program to print invitation envelopes rather than hiring a calligrapher. After seeing the dress of her dreams at a local bridal shop, Dodge Bengston found it cheaper online. Armed with the information, she went back to the shop, asked for a discount and got $300 off the price. A new veil cost her just $15 at a bridal consignment shop in Glastonbury, Conn.

"I also hand-strung earrings and necklaces for my attendants," Dodge Bengston says. "We made our votive candles for reception tables, ordered a cake topper from eBay, printed our own programs and Googled coupons for everything we could find."

Making their own wedding favors, though, got the couple into a sticky situation. Literally.

"We hand-dipped and bagged 200 caramel apples two days before the ceremony," Dodge Bengston says. "We were up to our elbows in caramel from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There were some tears, but the apples ended up turning out great. In all, we estimate that we saved thousands of dollars."

These days, more couples are looking to do the same. A survey done in March by TheKnot.com showed that 40 percent of soon-to-be-marrieds had reduced their wedding budgets. Recent research by Modern Bride magazine shows that one-third of brides and grooms are footing the bill for their weddings themselves.

But cutting costs doesn't have to mean shabby chic, Winikka says. Simply discussing your budget upfront with your vendors can help.

"You don't have to go to the cheapest person in town," Winikka says. "Wedding service providers are sensitive to the economy, and they have options and suggestions to help you save."


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