How to whack wedding costs

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There are several ways to bring down the cost of a wedding and still have the celebration of your dreams. (Thinkstock)

THE AVERAGE 140-person wedding in North and Central Jersey will cost $47,868 in 2016, according to a study by the consumer research firm ValuePenguin.com. South Jersey weddings will cost a little less, coming in at $41,273. Either way, it’s a small fortune — but there are plenty of costs you can tamp down and still have a dream celebration. Here’s how:

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Q. After paying off debt with wedding gifts, we will have about $10,000 remaining. We both save $5,000 a year in our 401(k)s. We need a down payment on a house. Where should we save this money?A. First, decide how much of a home you can afford. If you’re paying $1,500 a month in rent today, the equivalent payment in mortgage and property taxes would be about $2,150, assuming a 30 percent tax bracket, says Jerry Lynch, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

“That means because the mortgage interest and property taxes are tax deductible, the monthly out-of-pocket costs are reduced by around 30 percent,” he says. Also be sure to pay attention to property taxes, which can have a huge impact on your monthly payment.

Speak to a mortgage expert to figure out how much of a mortgage a lender will give you, and remember that you don’t have to buy the most expensive home you can afford.

Your wedding cash is a good start, but it probably won’t be enough. If your 401(k) does not have a match, Lynch says, consider a temporary redirection of contributions to your down payment fund, which should be invested in a savings or money market account. “If you need money in the near future, do not risk it in the stock market,” Lynch says.

Next, develop a budget and see where you can cut expenses. “Can you live with your parents, or get a smaller apartment, a cheaper car, cut back on vacations?” Lynch asks. These savings can be earmarked for your future home.

— K.P.M.

THE BIGGEST COSTThe reception is the biggest cost, and the time of year in which you set your date will greatly impact prices set by wedding halls. September and June are the most popular months and the most costly. You’ll get a price break if you get married from November through April — as long as it’s not on Valentine’s Day or during Christmas week. Also, Saturday nights are the most popular and the most expensive. Consider a day wedding or a less-common day of the week. The type of venue you select also will impact the price. Hotels and catering halls will be the most expensive, but if you’re willing to be flexible, you’re bound to find a great location for a far smaller fee. Think of our state’s beautiful public parks and farms. And our beaches. Any place that’s special to you as a couple could be a bargain.

THE FOOD AND THE BOOZE

If you use a nontraditional setting, you’ll have to shell out some dough for catering, tables and chairs, tents and even portable toilets, but it may still be cheaper than a traditional wedding venue. As for the booze, you’ll save a bundle by providing your own. No one says you have to offer a sit-down dinner. Think about a barbecue or a pig roast. Drop the white-glove service cocktail hour. Ask a friend to make your wedding cake. You could even have a potluck reception and ask guests to bring a dish or two. Skip tradition altogether and have a dessert-and-drinks-only reception. If you go traditional, offer less costly entrees.

THE CEREMONY

You’ll save big if you get married in the same location as the reception. That will cut extra hours for car service, eliminate the need for flowers and decorations at your house of worship (your on-location decorations can double for the reception) and cut the costs for the pastor/rabbi and musical accompaniment. Ask one of your loved ones to get ordained online and he or she can legally perform the ceremony for you.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Long after the guests are gone, you’ll still have your wedding photos to remember your special day, so it may be worth spending a little more here. Look for a photographer who will offer you a disk or online access to all your photos. Rather than pay a bundle for fancy albums, create some yourself after the event. Same goes for wedding photos you may want printed. Doing it yourself will cost less than prints provided by a photographer. If your budget is tight, consider asking friends to take photos throughout the event, or call a local college and get prices that a photography student would charge. Consider investing in disposable cameras for guests to take candid shots.

THE MUSIC

Bands and DJs comprise another big wedding cost. Consider asking performers from a local college music department to provide the music for the ceremony. For the reception, create a playlist for your iPod and get some WiFi speakers — or borrow them from your tech-loving friends.

THE FLOWERS

Think simple. If you choose a nontraditional venue, you may have most of what you need already on-site. But if you need to provide something, consider larger blooms that are in season and use lots of greenery. Or you can go ultra-simple, with a single rose for a bouquet or centerpiece. Then again, how about no flowers at all? Think of something that’s important to you as a couple and use a theme: dollar store vases filled with sand and seashells, pinwheels or golf balls — or goldfish in glass bowls.

INVITATIONS AND THANK YOUS

You can find nice-looking papers online for less than you would pay at local print shops, but who says you need to do it with paper? Consider an online-only wedding invite. Just Google. You’ll see lots of inexpensive sites where you can create a personalized wedding website from which you can email invitations, receive responses, give information on registries and more.
WEDDING INSURANCE

One item that’s worth buying is wedding insurance. Even if you’re sure your fiance won’t skip out on the big day, other things can happen: Reception halls can go out of business, photographers may have a transportation mishap, etc. Just read each policy carefully, so you understand exactly what’s covered.
Karin Price Mueller, the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com, writes the Bamboozled consumer affairs column for The Star-Ledger, and the Money and Biz Brain columns for Inside Jersey. Send your money questions to her at Bamboozled@njadvancemedia.com.

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