The average wedding costs around $27,000, according to theknot.com. In Los Angeles, it's $37,000, and $65,000 in New York City. It's no wonder the wedding industry is a $30 billion behemoth.
It's common sense that such a special occasion -- involving venues, food, beverages and flowers -- wouldn't come cheap, but there are ways to realize your dreams at a price that works for you.
Watch the full story on "20/20: Wedding Confidential" Friday at 10 p.m. ET
|Strive for Fun, Not Perfection|
"The industry sort of tries to encourage you to have the 'perfect' wedding," said Denise Fields, the co-author of "Bridal Bargains." "Instead, we try to tell people, you need to have a fun wedding, because perfection just doesn't exist. In that striving for perfection, there's this tendency to think that money will get you exactly what you want."
|Pick Your Season|
The most expensive time to get married is summer. "If you get married in April, that's the off-season, and you can save 20, 30 percent," said Alan Fields, co-author of "Bridal Bargains." In addition, flower prices fluctuate widely. Roses are outrageous in February; tulips can be pricey in their off-season, which is summer. To stay on budget, stick to in-season blooms.
|Avoid "Wedding" Shops|
"Don't shop at stores that have 'wedding' [or 'bride,' etc.] in their name," Alan Fields said. "You can find lots of wedding-related products at other places. I mean, even Costco sells engagement rings."
"White shoes are white shoes," added Denise Fields. "Why do you have to buy them at a bridal shop? You can buy them at PayLess."
|Don't Succumb to the Mercedes Syndrome|
Don't drive your fancy car and wear your designer clothes to your vendor appointments. "We've actually spoken to florists, for example, who say that the price of flowers that they quote to a bride can change depending on what the bride drives up in," said Denise Fields. "Take the bus!"
|Check Your Emotions at the Door|
"Any time you throw emotion into the mix, things can go wrong," said Alan Fields. Realize you are vulnerable and don't let a salesperson convince you to spend more than you can actually afford.
|Nix the Engraving|
According to "Bridal Bargains," it costs $700 or more for engraved invitations. Thermographed ones are 50 to 70 percent cheaper and look just as elegant.
According to "Bridal Bargains," you can save 30 percent or more on your reception by serving lunch or brunch instead of dinner. Save even more money by having an afternoon reception with cake and light hors d'oeuvres.
According to "Bridal Bargains," many cities and towns rent out parks and other civic-owned sites for wedding receptions at affordable rates. A city park clubhouse might rent for $125, while a comparable private site would be $750.
|Deal to Die For|
The Fieldses suggest you check out funeral homes for the best deals on limousines. Many have limos that sit idle on weekends, available to rent out at good prices.
|D.J. Over Band|
Instead of a live band, hire a disc jockey. Denise and Alan Fields say bands can cost $1,000 to $2,000, while a D.J. can cost as little as $400 for four hours, can play a wide variety of music -- Sinatra for the Father-Bride dance, James Brown for when the party really gets going -- and doesn't take breaks.
"Be nice" is the main suggestion from "The Bitchless Bride," a wedding planner who provides incognito etiquette advice to brides-to-be on her website. "[For amiable clients] I've been known to throw in top-shelf booze, upgrade the wine...get special linens," she said. "We just want to go the extra mile for the people that treat us with respect."
"You have to ask the right questions," suggests The Bitchless Bride. "You have to ask at the venue, 'Is this inclusive or exclusive of tax and gratuity?' Because if you don't ask that question, you're tacking on between 27 and 30 percent."
"You absolutely should negotiate," said The Bitchless Bride. The venue is the most negotiable expense, she said. But "you have to know when to stop," she added. "You can't expect to pay medium prices for a high-end product."
|Get It in Writing|
Chris Evans, the founder of Evans Sales Solutions, trains wedding professionals to grow their business. "You want to get everything in writing," he said. "I mean, every single thing. And anybody who won't put it in writing, run."
"And don't just take the ones they give out," said Evans. "If you're looking at images in a [photographer's] book, you say, 'What's her name and what's her phone number, I'm going to call her.'"
|Less Is More|
Don't be afraid to edit down your jewelry, for instance. Julie Sabatino is the owner of The Stylish Bride and The Stylish Dresser, a bridal fashion styling company. "Earrings highlight your face more than a necklace," she said. "Pick one piece and make it your statement." Consider skipping the handbag as well. "Some of my brides like having a handbag," said Sabatino, "but others find they don't even use it."
|Rent A Dress|
Julie Sabatino specializes in helping brides select their dream designer dress. If you are determined to have a designer dress on a tight budget, she says one idea is to rent a wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses. "It saves your wedding party some money," said Sabatino.
|Build Up a Plain Dress|
"A great way to save money is to buy a more plain dress and then accessorize it," suggested Sabatino. "With a simple nice blank canvas, you can add your spin and style -- adding belts, accessories, a really cool hairpiece."
|Cheaper May Cost You|
Don't buy a wedding dress just because the price is attractive. "There are people who buy something wrong for them for the price," said Sabatino. "Then they hate it and have to get another." Even if you keep it, that inexpensive dress might require pricey alterations.
|Quality Not Quantity|
If you can't afford a top photographer for your entire wedding day, hire one for less time. Jason and JoAnne Marino, destination-wedding photographers for imaginephotoaz.com, said it's important to hire a photographer you trust and whose company you enjoy -- even if it's for less time than you wanted.
"Maybe we can't get the early-morning wedding photographs or the drunken antics after the reception," said Jason Marino. "But we'll get the meat of what is going on."