COLUMBIA — For a third of what the average American couple spends, Sarah and Dustin Overfelt invited 287 guests to the memorable wedding they had dreamed of, followed by a reception at Les Bourgeois Vineyards.
The average cost of a wedding in America today is $23,500, said Richard Markel, director of Association for Wedding Professionals International.
Do-it-yourself-weddings.com offers a variety of tips for saving money at a wedding including:
- Instead of a DJ or band, hook up an iPod to speakers and create your own wedding playlist.
- Skip the caterer and host a potluck reception.
- Votives with tea lights candles are an inexpensive but effective way to improve any table decoration.
- Fruit makes a colorful centerpiece.
- The main advice? Remember it's your wedding. Do it the way you want!
The Overfelts spent $7,000.
They saved thousands of dollars by finding the bride's dress on eBay, using tissue-paper flowers as centerpieces, purchasing a sheet cake for guests and making their own invitations. Like a growing number of couples in a shaky economy, the Overfelts wanted a memorable wedding, but they didn't intend to blow a tight budget.
Sarah Overfelt, 22, who is in college, and her husband, 24, who is in his first job out of college, say they were committed to financial restraint and refused to "get caught up in the wedding industry."
To have the wedding she envisioned, Sarah Overfelt knew she would do most of the work herself, with the help of family and friends. "If you have the time," she advised, "do it yourself."
The Overfelts ended up spending just $24 per person on the reception, and they still managed to pull off a classy, black-tie affair.
For starters, Sarah Overfelt designed and printed all the invitations using a kit from Michaels, an arts and crafts supplier. The invitations cost $250, including the 44 cents per card for postage.
Sarah Overfelt then found a J. Crew wedding dress in her size on eBay that auctioned for less than $200. She personalized it with a champagne-colored sash tied at the waist and cascading down her back.
The couple hired a friend from school with professional experience in photography to take wedding pictures for $500.
"People don't often realize asking a photography student is a great way to go," Sarah Overfelt said. Because a top-of-the-line photography package can cost as much as $1,950, she and her husband saved nearly $1,500.
A tiered cake large enough to feed everyone at the Overfelts' reception would have cost $4 to $5 a slice — more than $1,000 total. Instead, they ordered a small, tiered cake for the cake-cutting tradition and purchased a sheet cake for guests, spending about $360.
A friend who married in June gave them leftover candles for nothing; another loaned a set of classic cars to transport the wedding party, eliminating the expense of a limo.
Debi Hake, a wedding planner in Columbia, said she believes the average cost of today's wedding in Columbia to be $15,000 to $20,000. She sees more brides sharing supplies and using simpler flower arrangements to cut costs.
"I have noticed a decrease in what you would consider excess," she said.
Sarah Overfelt originally wanted green spider mums for her table decorations but balked when she received an estimate of $1,000. She found a way to make arrangements that matched her "vision" by purchasing long, willowy tree branches online from a decor furniture store and a florist site, spending only $250.
She wrapped the branches in green ribbon, added white flowers to the centerpieces and hung green-and-white paper lanterns from the ceiling. The flowers were made from tissue paper by her sister and maid of honor, Olivia Taylor.
"You have to have Sarah's creativity to pull this off," one guest said.
Katy Menzel, 27, of Rocheport, is planning a do-it-yourself wedding in May. Like the Overfelts, she has asked friends and family to help — "exploiting everyone we know," as she puts it.
At Menzel's wedding, most of the food and alcohol will be provided by guests. Her fiance's cousin, who owns a hog farm, is providing a pig for the main course. Friends who make home brew are bringing kegs of beer.
Menzel, like the Overfelts, still wants a wedding to match her personality.
"You can save money if you're willing to compromise," she said.