On a recent Saturday, Iram Weiser searched for a lace gown -- not too poufy -- to look perfect for her upcoming wedding reception.
The 32-year-old economist and her husband are renewing their vows. Weiser said she is looking forward to an upscale celebration, but she's also ready to save a few dollars. So she traveled from Boston to check out Michael's, a Manhattan consignment shop that offers designer gowns for a fraction of the original retail price.
"I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I know it's something I'm only going to wear once," she said.
Dressing for less is a simple way to save thousands of dollars on wedding costs. At a recent visit to Michael's, a size-six designer gown -- sleeveless silk with beaded silver tulle -- was on sale for $1,800, about one-quarter of its retail price.
Brides should be willing to give up some of the niceties of full-price salons. The selection of styles and sizes is limited at Michael's and other consignment stores, and alterations may not be offered on the premises.
Women can also choose elegant white dresses, or even bridesmaid dresses, which tend to be less expensive than bridal gowns. Isaac Mizrahi has designed wedding dresses for Target such as a strapless sheath priced at $89.99.
BIG BANDS EQUAL BIG MONEY
Couples can also look to save a few dollars on entertainment.
The costs of a DJ can range from $500 to $1,000 -- substantially lower than bands, which start at $1,500 and can easily hit $9,000, according to Ray Bialek, owner of a Rockville, Md.-based music-booking company.
"Bands are more labor intensive to put together. The DJ is responsible for himself," Bialek said.
It's important to get a DJ with a good personality who knows how to run a party, Bialek said, and suggested auditioning prospective DJs on the phone. He also disapproves of substituting iPods for a DJ.
"If the entertainment is boring, your whole party is ruined," he said.
For those with their hearts set on live entertainment, Bialek suggested recruiting older and more experienced students at a local music school.
FOCUS ON FRESH, FAMILIAR FOOD
Experts recommend choosing a menu that takes advantage of local food, which doesn't have to be shipped and can be prepared beautifully.
"Choose a menu that is friendly, welcoming, bountiful and colorful -- appealing to the eye but not necessarily expensive," said Anita Ellis, co-owner of Avalon Caterers International, Alexandria, Va.
Add drama by grilling a whole fish or a leg of lamb.
"The fragrance adds to the overall appeal of the meal, but it doesn't mean that you are cooking filet mignon. It's a wonderful experience without costing a lot of money," Ellis said.
If your heart is set on beef, choose cheaper cuts. Just covering the meat, kobi beef can cost $65 per person, and tenderloin $20 to $25. But for $10 to $12 a person, flank steak can be wonderful.
"In the right hands it's a beautiful thing, and it takes to sauces well," Ellis said. "Even the most modest cut of meat can be wonderful."
Here are other tips from experts to control costs:
Choose your favors wisely. Giving guests bags of flower seeds that they leave behind or throw out as soon as they get home is a big waste of money. Try something more efficient and tasty such as chocolate covered pretzels to go.
Find a photography student to document your wedding. Or you can ask a professional photographer about a digital-only package. But only take this option if you are technologically savvy.
Use in-season and local flowers to keep costs down. Fabulous lighting and pin-spotting each arrangement can do a lot to perk up a room and focus guests.
Keep your wedding indoors and avoid paying costs for creating an outdoor space and renting tents.