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Counting the costs of getting hitched

Culture

When Marguerite Bowker from Long Island, N.Y., received an email wedding invitation last year to a “Barbecue Wedding” for her daughter, she was stunned. “Casual dress,” the invitation said. “And please bring a dish.” No white dress, bridesmaids, father-daughter dance, or large guest list included.

On the big day, Bowker brought paper plates, napkins, cups, and plastic silverware, plus chocolate cupcakes stuffed with chocolate chip cookie dough. The couple served brisket, salads, side dishes, and champagne-liquor drinks. The bride wore her favorite flowered sundress, a gift from her husband-to-be, and the groom wore jeans and his favorite T-shirt. The homemade yellow wedding cake displayed the couple’s favorite activities. And guests kept it casual, with some wearing Hawaiian shirts and shorts.

The wedding party focused on food, family, and friends in a simple ceremony that committed two people together. A small city backyard prevented a large party, so they didn’t invite many people. No one needed to spend extra money for “just a backyard barbecue.”

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But few couples take such a simple route. According  to the Real Weddings Study released in March, the average wedding bill tops $28,427, without the honeymoon. TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com surveyed brides last year to find the average cost of getting hitched, from the priciest items, like a $12,000 venue, to nearly $300 in wedding favors. Geography affects price the most. Weddings in Manhattan, the most expensive place to marry, cost an average of $76,000. In Alaska, the average is just $15,000.

But couples don’t have to host a backyard barbecue to marry inexpensively. Ken and Tavon Ferguson paid $6,000 for their 2009 wedding with all the expected trappings, according to ABC News. They held it in the morning, saving thousands, and used a package deal venue that covered small expenses, like table settings.

Tavon booked a DJ and photographer for free, since they wanted to break into the wedding market, and offered references in return. She used online coupons, designed her own save-the-date announcements, and bought bridesmaids’ dresses at a department store to avoid designer markups. She bought flowers from Costco and ordered sheet cake from the supermarket. She found her favorite David’s Bridal dress, with the tags still attached, on Craigslist, for just $200.

“Me and my wife had a fantastic time,” Ken Ferguson told ABC. “The guests had a fantastic time. And nobody missed the $14,000 dollars that we didn’t spend.”

Before World War II, American girls didn’t dream of marrying with the pomp of English nobility. Now, whether they plan backyard barbecues or ballroom formals, a wedding signifies much more than its price tag.

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