When Suzanne Walsh and Tom Manley of Roseville were making plans to tie the knot, they didn't want to share their commitment with their credit cards.
"I'm frugal, and we were paying for the wedding ourselves," said Walsh, 30, a program manager at a nonprofit.
The couple prioritized what was important (150 friends and family on the guest list, a memorable reception) and what wasn't (flowers, favors, decorations, a fancy wedding cake and engraved invitations). Even a gift registry was off their list.
"We're in our early 30s, and we already had everything," she said. "I didn't want another set of plates that I'd just have to get rid of."
With most couples in the Twin Cities dropping between $15,000 and $26,000 on their wedding, Walsh and Manley are among a growing number of brides and grooms who don't want the recession to cast a blue hue to the beginning of their lives together. They were among several Twin Cities newlyweds who responded to Dealspotter's request for advice on how to spend $10,000 or less on their Big Day.
For Manley, 31, a software engineer, and Walsh, the result was a more personalized wedding last year that let their guests play a bigger-than-normal role. To stay within their all-inclusive budget of $10,000, they let guests register to bring a wedding cake or a centerpiece instead of a gift.
The result? Twenty wedding cakes from friends who like to bake, each labeled by flavor. Friends with creative flair also made centerpieces, including a sculpture made of bike parts to pay homage to the couple's biking hobby, an herb minigarden, a handmade vase with fresh flowers, and a large dog toy with treats for the couple's dog.
Walsh admits that her wedding wouldn't suit everyone's taste.
But she encourages couples to buck tradition. "Don't just do what people tell you you have to do, and you will save tons of money," she said.
Timing is everything
Tipsters recommend considering getting married in an off-peak season from November to March, and to save on expenses including the photographer, the DJ and the venue.
One couple suggested having a late-morning ceremony followed by an alcohol-free lunch (an open bar being a large expense) or an evening service followed by hors d'oeuvres and desserts, minus the expensive sit-down dinner and cake.
The average cost is $659 just for invitations, and thank-you and save-the-date notes can add another $200, according to TLC Discovery Communications. Nearly all the couples who responded mentioned making their own at sites such as www.Vistaprint.com or www.123print.com. "I ordered mine for $1.50 each, but others are less than $1 each," wrote Amber Pierson of Shoreview.
Or do them yourself using templates and card stock selection at Paper Depot, suggested Ed Zamora of Minneapolis.
Choose locations for the wedding and the reception that are beautiful, wrote Amy Wenell of Plymouth, so you don't have to spend money dressing it up with tulle, fabrics, tablecloths and tons of flowers. She and her husband, Dave, chose Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.
With its gorgeous interior, all she added were pew ends and several rented candelabras for the altar. Their reception took place in the Titanic Lounge at Kieran's Pub, which Amy describes as "full of character and ornate Irish charm."
Zamora and his wife rented a picnic area in Fort Snelling State Park for $250. "We brought in chairs and had a beautiful river background," he said. Consider renting a park area, but you might have to rent chairs, and alcohol is usually not permitted.
If you want a church wedding without muss or fuss, get hitched during a regularly scheduled church service. "The minister, organist and flowers are already there," advised one recent bride.
Brides suggested choosing flowers from farmers markets, grocery store florists and warehouse clubs. You can pre-order large amounts of flowers that are regularly stocked at Costco or Sam's Club at the same prices as in the clubs, but www.Costco.com offers a larger selection of bouquets, boutonnieres, corsages and centerpieces.
Save by paring down the guest list, but cash bars are frowned upon. If you're inviting people to a party, they shouldn't have to pay for anything while they're there, according to www.TheKnot.com.
To cut down on the price of food, some readers suggested a pot luck or a buffet. For a summer wedding, try a cold buffet of meats, cheeses, rolls, potato salad, veggies and fruits, suggested Sarah Lewerenz of Duluth.
Depending on where you have the reception, ask about bringing your own beer, wine and liquor. Ask friends to tend the bar but be aware that a city permit might be required. Limit the alcohol to one or two signature drinks, or just beer and wine.
And the wedding favors? Skip 'em, said Wenell. "Most guests probably toss the trinkets before they leave the reception."
Many suggested mining for talent among friends and family members. They might charge less or do it as a present to the couple. Lewerenz asked three friends who consider themselves photographers to take pictures. She volunteered to pick up the printing fees, but as a present, the photographers paid.
After the party's over
For the honeymoon, try a home swap to save. Minneapolis residents Timothy Blazek and his wife, Sara, did an exchange with a family in Paris for their honeymoon.
Once the gifts are put away or returned and the thank-yous are written, many frugal couples sell the wedding detritus on Craigslist or a local consignment shop. Bride to Be Consignment store in Burnsville (612-267-4004, www.bridetobeconsignment.com) accepts nearly all wedding items. Occasional sales are also popular, including the I Do Redo Sale held May 15 in Bloomington (612-208-2436, www.idoredosale.com).
"We sold vases, candle holders and dried flowers and got back 50 to 80 percent of what we paid," said Shannah Moore Mulvihill of Howard Lake, Minn.
A toast to couples starting their lives together debt-free.