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Sunday, June 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Wedding budgets: Making do on I-do's for a lot less

By Marc Ramirez
Seattle Times staff reporter

BRIAN CASSELLA / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Lara Harper, left, has her hair done by Ranaysa Alford in preparation for her wedding while Kari Carroll, her aunt and maid of honor, waits for her turn in Harper's Capitol Hill apartment.
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THE PICTURES on the fridge say it all — happy couple, arm in arm in Las Vegas or sitting beside the swimming pool. A Post-It note nearby reads: "You are my treasure."

Lara Harper is getting married soon. A stack of Modern Bride magazines rises from the floor of her Capitol Hill apartment where, a few weeks before her big day, she's about to have her hair done by co-worker Ranaysa Alford.

Alford is no professional stylist, but when a mutual friend recently recruited her for last-minute wedding hair duty, Harper, an executive assistant for Qwest, was blown away by her handiwork. "It stayed exactly the way it was supposed to, all day," Harper marvels. "And it was on the Oregon coast!"

On a budget, she signed Alford up. In all, she and her live-in fiancé, Higinio Rueda Escobedo, will spend about $6,500 on their wedding, far below the national and state average of $20,000.

Here's how they and other local couples are making their various budgets — from $6,500 to $20,000 — work for them, stretching and improvising to meet their desires.

Bellevue's Stacey Stuplich and Paul Weldin will spend just over $20,000 on their August event, while Alaska natives Summer Beattie and Matt Pinard of Bothell will spend almost $10,000 on theirs.

HARLEY SOLTES / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Stacey Stuplich, left, and Paul Weldin keep a sense of humor while deciding on the menu for their Aug. 14 wedding at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville.

Heather Johnston of The Bridal Connection, a Portland-based magazine, sees wealthier brides price shop and low-enders take out second mortgages to achieve dream nuptials. The magazine showcases unions ranging up to $60,000 and occasionally beyond: Last year it featured a $128,000 Northwest wedding with $9,000 flowers and caterers flown in from New Jersey and India.

It's possible to do the whole thing for $4,000 if you go simple and put family and friends to work, says Howard Jensen of the annual Seattle Wedding Show. Score platters and a cake at Sam's Club, get some cheap flowers at Safeway, let your amateur photographer cousin take pictures and hand pesky Uncle Joe the camcorder.

That's more or less Lara Harper's strategy. Back at her apartment, amateur stylist Alford, armed with curling irons and other implements of hair care, is ready to roll. Harper's aunt and maid of honor, Kari Carroll of Bellevue, produces a page from Modern Bride with a picture of a Jessica-Simpson-esque 'do. I can handle that, Alford says.

"I just told her, you can't please everybody," Carroll says. "You just can't. You have to do everything for yourself. It's your day."

Then she hears that Harper and Rueda are expecting up to 80 guests. "Wait," she says. "Didn't you only plan on feeding 60?"

"That's the most expensive part, man," Alford says. "Feeding people."

$20,000 affair

Nips and tucks courtesy of wedding planner

ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Summer Beattie, a trained massage therapist, gets a makeup consultation from Austin Leno, Stila counter manager at the Alderwood Mall Nordstrom.
It's true. Receptions — site rental, food and beverages — usually eat up half the budget. For Stuplich, 23, and Weldin, 25, former Seattle Pacific University sweethearts getting married at Woodinville's Willows Lodge, it's more than half.

When she decided on a $20,000 budget, based on her stepsister's wedding not long ago, Stuplich vowed not to compromise on location. "I wanted a place I really liked," she says. "For me, it's having a mix between elegance and simplicity, so it doesn't feel overdone."

Stuplich, a Starbucks chefs' supervisor, and Weldin, who hopes to start his own business, got engaged in March. Fewer than six months remained until their Aug. 14 date, and Stuplich's mom lived out of state. "That's when I thought it was best to get a wedding coordinator," she says.

They enlisted wedding planner Stephanie Wilson, of Mill Creek-based Every Last Detail, who enjoys seeing couples not freak out on their wedding day. Wilson's is the classic wedding-planner story: Girl likes making flower arrangements and homemade greeting cards; girl has friend who needs help with her wedding; girl finds she's got a knack for the job.

("It just kept building," says Wilson, 28. "Both my parents got remarried the same year.")

Ranaysa Alford, left, and Kari Carroll get ideas from a bridal magazine.

Wilson tells couples to pick their site before anything else on her four-page, itemized budget list. How many guests? Do they want a view of the Sound? "Sometimes budgets don't allow for that," she says. "It's, like, 'Um, how about a lake?' "

While it's her job to make sure couples stay within budget, she also coaxes petite brides away from overlong cascading bouquets. Give her high ceilings and her imagination runs wild with centerpiece ideas.

Stuplich says Wilson has already saved them more than her nearly $1,000 fee; stress has conceded to the comfort of expertise. Her flowers (from a family friend's garden) and dress are other areas where she's cut costs: "The (dresses) I liked were on the simple end," she says. With alterations, the $600 dress she chose came out to just more than $1,000.

Last week, Wilson accompanied Stuplich, Weldin and Stuplich's sister Shannon to Willows Lodge to pick menu items for the after-ceremony social and ballroom reception. The soon-to-be-weds, slightly befuddled by the whole process, lavished each other with reassuring caresses as catering manager Jenn Wenman marched them through the checklist with her four-color pen.

Which way should the chairs face? Would there be assigned seating for the 120-plus guests? What about a receiving line? Chicken or beef, fish or pork? Questions were answered, delicate assumptions made on the spot. "You have an exaggerated idea about how much I like pine nuts," Weldin said, teasing his fiancée.

"It hasn't been at all a struggle to stay within budget," Stuplich says. "Definitely having (Wilson) monitoring us has been the greatest thing."

$9,000 bartered bash

Bride swaps services for a twist on something borrowed

Yeah, he says. Make those cheeks pop out.

Money-saving tips


Site selection: Planners and industry experts say more people are having the wedding and reception in the same place, rather than the traditional church-and-rented-hall format. "If you're paying a photographer by the hour, you don't want to waste 45 minutes on a commute," says Stephanie Wilson of Mill Creek's Every Last Detail. "One untapped resource — they're not too elegant, but you can really dress 'em up — is community centers."

Food and drink: Wilson suggests going with an Italian buffet. "Pasta is a lot cheaper than meat, and it's filling," she says. For beverages, switch to a no-host bar after the main course.

Dress: Many shops have sale dresses at the end of the season, but Nicole Pickett of Seattle's Magical Moments says they all pretty much look the same to her. "A lot of brides don't like to look for used dresses, but there's a lot of consignment shops, and a lot of dresses are only worn once."

Flowers: Order them online and make your own bouquets, says Pickett. "One wedding, it cost us $400 to do the centerpieces," she says. "We enlisted the bridesmaids to help. Normally it would have cost $3,000."

Decorations: Fabric. Wilson's a big believer. "You can put colors or patterns on a white table," she says. "Fabric alone changes a room, and you can always find coupons in the paper."

Invitations: Pickett says to shop around or even do them yourself with a high-quality laser printer.

Date: Scheduling your nuptials for any day but Saturday, when demand is highest, can also save you money on much of the above.

Attire: Some suggest Discount Bridal Service, a national outfit offering designer gowns without the overhead of bridal stores.

Guests: "One huge way to cut expenses is to lower the guest count," Wilson says. "If you're spending $45 to $60 per person for food and beverages and you cut two people, that's $100. I tell (clients), if you haven't seen somebody for a year and they're not family, cut 'em."

Photos: One of the most difficult categories to save in without regret. "If you were to ask my opinion what not to bend on, photography would be my choice," Pickett says.

Resources: "A lot of it comes down to your stress level and willingness to do it yourself," Pickett says. She recommends Web sites such as theknot.com as well as weddingshow.com. But if you're not up to the task, Wilson says, experienced wedding planners know vendors who do quality event service but don't advertise.

Summer Beattie, planted high on a stool under the glare of a Nordstrom cosmetics counter, peers into the mirror and sees that the spiky-haired young man in black pullover is correct. It's the trial run before Beattie's wedding, and Austin Leno now applies blush with pinky and ring finger, wrist splotched with color samples.

Beattie, who is marrying Matt Pinard on Friday, has taken a unique approach to saving. A trained massage therapist about to graduate from Bastyr University, she realized she had something to offer instead of money.

She asked Leno, who'll do her wedding-day makeup as a freelancer, if he'd trade some of his fee for massages. "He was totally fine with it," she says. ("It works out good for me," Leno says. "I've got lots of stress.")

By offering massages, Beattie, 27, has bartered down half her makeup fees, half her cake and nearly $400 of her wedding-photo package. She and electrical engineer Pinard, 24, just starting out their lives, have almost nothing to spend, and they're expecting 100 guests. Actually, make that 130. Or possibly 150.

("We didn't think they'd all come," Beattie says.)

Pinard had been at her life's periphery for years; both lived in tiny Hoonah, Alaska, where their moms worked in the same office. But it wasn't until they landed in Seattle that things blossomed, after a mutual friend called them both to keep him company during a layover at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Though Beattie's parents have given them their honeymoon — a use-it-or-lose-it timeshare deal — and paid for her $2,000 dress, she and Pinard are footing the rest of the bill.

Their $8,000 budget, piling onto a freshly minted credit card that will pay them back in frequent-flier miles, has inched higher as the date approaches. "Zero percent interest for nine months," she says excitedly. Now that they'll be roommates, they'll pay it off monthly with the income that would have gone toward Matt's rent.

They're saving in other ways, too. Beattie hired a woman trying to get into the wedding-planning business at a low rate for her last-minute wedding emergencies; she held her bridal shower in her apartment complex's leasing office after hours.

Their Friday wedding will be at Seattle's Gas Works Park, the site of one of their first dates together. (Rental fee: $410.) Their decorations are white Christmas lights and candles in glass jars; their party favors are jars of honey from an Arlington farm.

Beattie, though, refused to skimp on her dress. ("Your dress cost more than my whole wedding," her mom told her.)

The photography expense, too, is higher than she'd hoped, but she's seen the shoddy results of lower prices. "My mom's wedding album is really nice," she says. "My sister and I have looked at it hundreds of times. I want mine to be like that."

Leno finishes her up with dark lipstick that offsets her suddenly dramatic eyes, and she loosens her ponytail to let red hair fall around her shoulders like a brush fire. "What do you think?" she asks her mom, Connie.

"It's gorgeous."

Her face brightens. "Do you like it?"


By the numbers
Here's how our three couples, at last report, were allocating their wedding budgets, with figures approximated for easy comparison.
The goods Harper/Rueda Beattie/Pinard Stuplich/Weldin
Catering/Food $2,500 (75 guests) $2,100 (130 guests) $9,300 (130 guests)
Site fee $200 $400 $2,200
Ceremony $300 $350 $700
Hair/Makeup $50 $175 $100
Dress $700 $1,700 $1,050
Photos/video $950 $2,800 $2,700
Flowers $200 $525 $600
Invitations/Stationery $275 $350 $400
Transportation $800 0 $150
Total (including other expenses) Approx. $6,500 Approx. $9,000 Approx. $20,500


$6,000 and change

Dinner on credit and Hershey's Kisses

They met in a club and actually hit it off, right from the first dance. And by the time Lara Harper and Higinio Rueda got engaged in March, wedding plans were already under way.

"Initially I thought, let's see what we can do for $1,000," she says, then realized: "You can't really do a lot for $1,000."

So $5,000 became her next goal, which she might eclipse by $1,000 more, even as she's tried to save along the way.

She hasn't decided whether to spring for a limousine, but she and Rueda, a Guadalajara native who works at a Seattle restaurant, are marrying at Ballard's Sunset Hill Park (site permit: $200) and using Anthony's Homeport as an after-wedding dinner location. "I'll just put it on my card," she says. "It's going to be a little chunk of change, but that's all right."

A wedding planner was too expensive, but she hopes her officiant can offer advice, and Carroll, her aunt, gave her a notebook filled with notes from her own wedding five years ago. ("My advice," Carroll says, "is to get people you know, and don't be so picky.")

Her invitations came from Costco. Smarties and Hershey's Kisses will populate her party favors. The ring she liked exceeded her aims, so she had one made. The one must: an awesome dress, which she had trouble finding for under four digits. Finally she scored one for $700 at David's Bridal, including alterations.

Amateur stylist Alford sits Harper down. After spraying in some hold, she grabs healthy bunches of hair and eases them back in gentle swirls. Of her friend's wedding, she says, "I think it's a lot more special when you have people you know adding little pieces to it instead of just looking somebody up in the phone book."

Harper checks herself out in the mirror. "Wow, kinda full and bushy," she says.

"We can fix it," Alford says.

"Oh no," Harper says. "I like it."

She puts on her veil and faces the mirror again. "That is totally cute, Ranaysa!" she says, then giggles with glee. The possibilities! Even on a budget. She turns to her friend and aunt with a satisfied smile.

Marc Ramirez: mramirez@seattletimes.com and 206-464-8102

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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