- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

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 Mrs. Hendrix, a 29-year-old Atlanta lawyer who has been married for a year. She and her intended planned the wedding knowing they didn’t want to add 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.

Miss 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 will sleep under after the wedding. She may 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 are making their centerpieces themselves and the bridesmaids will carry $3 parasols from New York’s Chinatown.

“Money doesn’t buy chic class,” Miss Mattie said. “I’ve been to some pretty expensive weddings that were tacky.”

Frugal brides such as Mrs. Hendrix and Miss Mattie are bucking a trend. Before World War I, the average wedding was one-third of a family’s median annual income, but the cost as a percent of income has been rising ever since, said Alan Fields, 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 that much.

Kelly Hamilton, owner of a consignment shop called I Do Bridal in Chicago, 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 Miss 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.

Mrs. 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.creativehomemaking.com, outlines tips for $100 receptions. Her West Richland, Wash., wedding reception was potluck, with extra food bought at the Costco deli department, and was held in a park. Her sister’s was held close to Thanksgiving, so relatives brought side dishes and the family prepared turkey and ham.

“For people on a budget, there is nothing wrong with borrowing a wedding dress, making your own simple decorations and having your family help out with the food,” she said. “The more you can make it a family affair, the more memorable it will be.”

Joni Rendon, 32, had a destination wedding in Jamaica for less than $11,000 in 1997. She and her husband rented a villa for their 23 guests and planned the whole thing on the spot. She wore a dress from a bridal store’s sample rack.

“The day of my wedding, I think I was in the pool until 2 p.m.,” she said.

By contrast, she attended a wedding she calls “a society page wedding” on the top floor of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel last year. The bride redesigned her custom gown three times.

“Everything was so expensive; it just kept getting ratcheted up a notch every week,” Mrs. Rendon said.

The couple is now divorced.

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