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How to Lower the Cost of Your Child's Wedding

Clever strategies that couples-to-be and their parents are adopting to snip bills

By Elisabeth Leamy

If your son or daughter is looking forward to wedding bells, you may be bracing for wedding bills.

But in the age of career-minded adults waiting longer to marry than in the past, do the parents of the bride still have to pay? How about the parents of the groom? And more to the point: If you are on the hook, how can you cut costs without incurring the wrath of your child?

Who Pays and How Much?

These days, the bride- and groom-to-be typically spring for more than half of their wedding costs. Marrying couples now pay for roughly 58 percent of the day's bills, on average; the bride’s parents, 21 percent; the groom’s parents, 14 percent and other people, 7 percent, according to the Wedding Report, a research firm.

That may come as a relief especially when you learn that the average wedding costs roughly $27,000, according to Brides magazine.

So how do you discuss the subject of splitting wedding costs with taste and tact?

"The rules have shifted through the years,” says Cynthia Clumeck Muchnick, author of The Frugal Bride. “The bride- and groom-to-be should each talk privately with their respective families to learn what role the parents will play in contributing to the costs of the wedding."

3 Strategic Ways to Keep Your Costs Down

If you do want to help — or have to — here are three strategic ways to lower your load:

1. Provide a set sum that the couple can spend as they need. Linda M. of Knoxville, Tenn., wanted to contribute to her daughter Bonnie’s wedding, but within reason. So she gave her $12,000 and said Bonnie should decide how to use it. (Linda preferred not to use her last name or Bonnie's, because of the sensitivity of the subject.)

“I thought it was great,” Bonnie says. “It definitely gave me a guideline, but I didn't feel like I had to get my mother's permission to spend the money.” Linda’s contribution ended up covering the reception; Bonnie and her fiancé, along with her fiancé’s parents and other family members paid for the rest, including the honeymoon.

(MORE: How to Be a Role Model for Your Adult Children)

2. Agree to pay for certain services. You could choose to foot the bill for things that are important to you, like the food, music or flowers. But if you really want to win your child’s affection, offer to pay for something that’s not vital to the couple, says Sharon Naylor, author of The Essential Guide to Wedding Etiquette and a blogger for Huffington Post's Weddings site. If they don't particularly care about, say, floral arrangements, you can handle them and let the prospective bride and groom focus on wedding matters they feel strongly about.

3. Offer your labor or your home. Either could be welcomed if you can’t afford to hand over cash for the big day. Perhaps you’re skilled in the art of flower arranging or cake making. Or you have a lush backyard that would be an ideal place for the wedding or rehearsal dinner (and free!).

If not, you could take on some of the organizing and schlepping that go into a wedding. Alternatively, if you’re an astute haggler, use that skill with wedding vendors to help the couple shrink costs.

8 Small, but Clever, Money Savers

OK, those are big strategic ways to reduce wedding costs. Now for eight smaller, but equally useful, money-saving ideas. Share them with your son or daughter:


1. Avoid the marriage markup. Vendors often charge more for weddings than for other events because they know people get so caught up in the romance of it all that they'll pay extra. But you can get around these markups by being a little sneaky.

For example, when you contact potential locations for the reception, ask about the cost of having a “party.” You might also work with companies whose primary business is not weddings. For example, you might be able to score lovely invitations at an office supply outfitter. Really.

2. Pick a different date or time. Strategic timing can save 30 percent or more on wedding costs, according to Meg Schneider, author of Budget Weddings for Dummies.

Schneider says January, March, April and November are the least expensive months to get married, because the weather is unpredictable. The least expensive time of day? Morning and afternoon. That’s because you can get away with a nice brunch or cocktail party instead of a costly formal dinner.

3. Downsize the rehearsal dinner. These day-before dinners have ballooned into mini-weddings for all the out-of-town guests — and parents (traditionally, the groom’s) are often the ones footing the bill.

So consider limiting the rehearsal dinner to just the wedding party. Or make it a casual, inexpensive barbecue or pizza party.

4. Shrink the guest list. For every distant relative you delete, ask your son or daughter to ditch a “plus one” date for one of their friends.

5. Get creative with decorations. “Candles, votives, potted plants, balloons, bowls with whole fruits and other alternatives to fresh flowers make centerpieces much more affordable,” Muchnick says. “Potted plants also make great party favors.”

6. Hire pros who want to break into the wedding business. That’s one way Tavon Ferguson of Atlanta, cut her $20,000 nuptials down to $6,000. She booked a professional photographer and a DJ for free because they hadn’t done weddings before and mostly wanted references and materials for their portfolios. You can also try this same approach with florists, bakers and limousine drivers.

7. Skip the DJ or live band altogether. You could enlist a niece, nephew or college student you know to work with the bride and groom to create an iPod play list.

8. Rent a cake. You probably know that brides can save a bundle on their wedding dresses by renting them. But did you know the couple can rent a spectacular wedding cake that’s really hard fondant frosting on a Styrofoam core? Often, there’s a small genuine top that the bride and groom can cut. Then, the wait staff whisks the cake into the back and serves up inexpensive sheet cake from the grocery store or, better yet, homemade by you!

Elisabeth Leamy is the consumer correspondent for ABC News' Good Morning America and also contributes consumer stories to World News and other ABC programs. Leamy is the author of two books: The Savvy Consumer and Save BIG: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands. She has been nominated three times for business and financial reporting Emmys. Read More
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