Say ‘less!’ to the dress

Frugal brides and grooms get creative to keep their wedding days special

Cassie Pirkle and her fiancé, Morgan Shealy, design their own “save the date” cards. Pirkle found lettering she likes from an online sample, and Shealy will draw and scan the design. They plan to marry in November. Bita Honarvar

Cassie Pirkle and her fiancé, Morgan Shealy, design their own “save the date” cards. Pirkle found lettering she likes from an online sample, and Shealy will draw and scan the design. They plan to marry in November. Bita Honarvar

Metro Atlanta’s average cost is $24,544.

New car price tag? Nope. Down payment on a house? Wrong. Lottery winnings? Not even close. $24,544 is the average cost of a wedding in the Atlanta area, honeymoon not included, according to Anja Winikka, senior editor at, a wedding planning site.

And Atlanta is below the national average of $26,984, Winikka said.

“Say Yes to the Dress” and other reality TV shows might lead one to believe everyone goes into debt over their wedding, even in these tough economic times. But it’s not necessarily so.

Many Atlanta brides-to-be are planning dream weddings for less than what others spend on just the dress.

“We’re seeing a lot of smart, savvy brides out there,” said Winikka, noting, for instance, that many are avoiding the peak wedding months — May, June, September and October — to avoid seasonal upcharges.

Winikka also advises them to prune guest lists as much as possible to save money. “This is so important because if you cut down your guest list you save money on everything,” she said. “If you cut 10 guests from your guest list, you just took away one centerpiece, 10 people at the bar, 10 invitations and so on.”

A family affair

Bride-to-be Cassie Pirkle found a deal at the Densmore Farm in Cleveland, only a few miles away from where she grew up and only a mile from her grandparents’ home. Every other venue she found in the area was charging about $3,000 for six to eight hours of use. The farm cost about $1,000 — for two days — covering the rehearsal dinner, ceremony and reception.

But what’s really allowing Pirkle and her fiancé Morgan Shealy to stay true to their frugal natures is the involvement of their friends and families. “Everyone has approached me asking me what they can do,” Pirkle said.

Friends and family are performing the music for the ceremony, providing professional videography services and helping out with the honeymoon — her future mother-in-law is contributing enough time-share points to let them go wherever they want.

Plus, they’re planning a potluck reception.

“If it was in another venue, I probably wouldn’t do it,” said the Marietta resident. But the farm’s rustic environment and its location near family, plus guests and relatives who cook well, made it a logical choice. The couple is also going to have barbecue catered from a local restaurant to complement the side items.

Pirkle reminds brides-to-be that a wedding should be about the couple’s needs and wishes — and theirs alone. “If you do what everybody else says, it’s going to add up,” she said. “For example: wedding favors. I always thought they were pointless.”

The couple might make a homemade wedding soundtrack and give copies to guests. “But other than that, we just don’t see the point in having our name printed on something so they can remember it.”

Paying their own way

Rebecca and David Cameron married at Rebecca’s aunt’s property — a horse farm in Dahlonega. The North Georgia College & State University culinary school catered the reception.

Rebecca and David Cameron married at Rebecca’s aunt’s property — a horse farm in Dahlonega. The North Georgia College & State University culinary school catered the reception.

Rebecca Cameron and her husband David footed the bill when they married in October 2007, so being economical was a priority. The Camerons paid for their own wedding, as do 13 percent of all couples, according to They also picked an unconventional venue: an aunt’s horse farm in Dahlonega. “Once we figured out we were going to do it at the [farm’s] house, everything else formulated around that,” Cameron said.

The biggest challenge was the food, she said. “I started looking at local caterers and realized, OK, I do this [and] there’s no way I’m staying inside budget.”

Instead, Cameron contacted Aramark, a commercial food services vendor, to see if it catered. Not only did it provide a full buffet with appetizers, beef and chicken entrees, vegetables, a salad and the three-tiered wedding cake, but it also included chairs, tables, tablecloths and styling options for less than $1,000. Even her husband, who’s “kind of a picky eater,” was pleased with the cuisine.

“We actually used pumpkins as centerpieces,” Rebecca said.

“We actually used pumpkins as centerpieces,” Rebecca Cameron said of her outdoor reception.

Cameron and her husband already had a house in Braselton and the staples that go along with it, so many guests opted to give gifts of money.

“We came close to breaking even on the wedding because of all the cash that people gave us,” she said.

Another thrifty option is substituting a cocktail hour with a candy bar at the start of the reception, said Jade Ladson, a certified wedding consultant with The Special Occasion in Roswell. Offering candy, instead of more-expensive drinks still serves the purpose of holding guests over while the bridal party finishes having photos taken. A candy bar starts at about $5 per guest, whereas serving beer and wine will cost $9 a person plus a bar fee, bartender fees and taxes, Ladson said. And the price goes up for more premium drinks.

“Candy buffets have been really, really big this year because we do them in the bride’s color scheme,” Ladson said.

Even traveling for a wedding doesn’t have to break the bank, Ladson said, noting more brides are planning destination weddings than ever before.

“People tend to think it’s more expensive, but if you know far enough in advance, you do get great discounts on the travel.”

And some traveling couples have their own private ceremony, then return home for a public reception.

Second time around

CareySomers (Large)

Carey Somers and her husband Michael married at Piedmont Park and then held the reception at Midtown's Engine 11, where they enjoyed a brunch buffet.

Carey Somers and her husband Michael married last year and put on the whole shebang for less than $1,500. It was the second wedding for both, and one thing the East Point couple learned from their first marriages was how unimportant it is to spend excessively on the nuptials.

They wed on a Sunday morning in Piedmont Park, which was free at the time. Her husband negotiated with a nearby restaurant, Engine 11, for a brunch buffet reception with bloody marys and mimosas. “Everyone told us it was special and heartfelt,” Somers said. “Nobody missed the sit-down dinner or monogrammed napkins.”

Friends also helped supply music and took photographs. Guests shared photos with the couple through e-mail, Facebook or the photo-sharing site Flickr. They also received 50 free prints through another photo site, Shutterfly, further reducing the cost of scrapbooking or framing their favorite shots.

“We were really cheap. It was beautiful and it was perfect for both of us,” Somers said. “We just wanted to keep it as simple as possible so we could just enjoy it.”

Keys to saving

Prioritize: “A lot of couples get excited about one thing or the next but don’t focus on what they really care about,” said Anja Winikka of wedding planning site “I know this girl, before she had her budget figured out, ordered chair covers for her wedding. Later they realized it wasn’t a priority, but they had already paid for them.”

Know your budget: Determine how much you can pay, and don’t be embarrassed to give a cap to vendors, said Erica Prewett of A Big To Do Event in Woodstock. If you don’t give a florist a range, for example, he or she might create an arrangement beyond your budget. Supply that information up front.

Tap your resources: Have photographer friends? Unused frequent-flier miles? Any connections or resources you have could be beneficial and will make your special day more personal.

Think outside the box: “We’ve got a lot of weddings this year that are on Sundays,”  Prewett said. “Even though that’s always been an option, brides are embracing that more.” Times, places or options that veer from what most couples are choosing can all result in more savings.

Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses: If you’re visualizing your wedding as a way to impress people, you’ll overspend. Instead, think of your wedding as a way to celebrate your new life with someone, starting with a party. “If your favorite food is chicken nuggets and pizza, find a caterer who will deliver chicken nuggets and pizza,” Prewett said. Keep it personal.

Sources:’s Anja Winikka, A Big To Do Event’s Erica Prewett and The Special Occasion’s Jade Ladson

Details, details, details

It’s the little things that can add up.  Here are some ways to save more.

  • Repurpose bridal bouquets as table centerpieces.
  • Skip the chair covers and the aisle runner.
  • Keep the invitation to one sheet of paper. Choose in-season flowers.
  • Use only one or two large floral arrangements; supplement with candles or other decorations.
  • Consider a cocktail reception instead of dinner.
  • Instead of an open bar, go with a limited number of beers, wine and a signature cocktail.
  • If you love a particular dress designer, find out when specials or discounts are offered.

Sources:’s Anja Winikka, A Big To Do Event’s Erica Prewett and The Special Occasion’s Jade Ladson

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

See a great deal I should know about? Email me at You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @atlbargains.

9 comments Add your comment


March 21st, 2011
3:39 pm



March 21st, 2011
3:59 pm

This article is even great for those of us who are trying to help friends plan for their weddings. Thanks, Lauren!!


March 21st, 2011
4:45 pm

Enter your comments here


March 21st, 2011
4:53 pm

My face is all over the interwebz…weird.

I really, really love the NGCSU culinary school idea; I’m kind of kicking myself for
not having thought of that!

Ashley - (once like a spark) photography

March 21st, 2011
5:20 pm

Love this article! We talk to clients frequently who ask us for tips and tricks on having a fun, unique wedding without going into debt. Totally agree that it’s important to prioritize the things that matter to you, and spend money there, and cut down on the other small details that don’t matter! We met with a client today who was looking for ideas on great catering that wasn’t too expensive – we’ll definitely send the culinary school idea along!

(once like a spark) photography

Scholz Communications

March 21st, 2011
8:21 pm

[...] “Say ‘less!’ to the dress” to learn how to save on your big day. One of our clients, Jade Ladson of The Special [...]

been there, did that

March 23rd, 2011
7:12 am

Did this last year. A few suggestions: New Natalie’s Bridal for the dress. Designer stuff at a fraction of the cost. Rent a personal home for the weekend and make it a party for 3 days. We sued a place on at Lake Burton, 7 bedrooms and 10 baths, The immediate family stayed there and got to know each other. Do your own flowers. We used “Cut Flowers” and a creative friend. Rehearsal Dinner, Wedding and reception all in one gorgeous venue on the water, with a large in doors area for the reception if it rained. Also had a tent on ready for the ceremony, it was not needed. Used the natural flora around the house as most of the “decorations” We rented tables and chairs for the lawn. Did the playlist on an IPOD and brought a nice stereo/speakers. For favors we did a photo booth, one set of pics for the guests, one set went in a book for us to keep

been there, did that

March 23rd, 2011
7:13 am

used, not sued

Kate Maine @ NGCSU

March 24th, 2011
3:51 pm

Just a correction to make… we do not have a culinary program at North Georgia College & State University. The group that catered Rebecca’s wedding is the university’s food service vendor – Aramark.
- Kate Maine, director of university relations at North Georgia College & State University