Wedding Watchdogs

January 09, 1994|By Beth Hannan

You know this isn't the average bridal advice book the minute you glance at the page called "A Record of Your Wedding."

In addition to the bride's name and wedding date, it has space for "date at which you knew things had gotten out of hand" and "date at which either of you uttered: 'But I thought planning a wedding was supposed to be a happy experience?' "

This book lives up to its title: "Bridal Bargains: Secrets to Throwing a Fabulous Wedding on a Realistic Budget."

If it didn't, its authors, Denise and Alan Fields, wouldn't be called "the Ralph Naders of the bridal industry." Unlike most wedding-guide authors, the Fieldses leave etiquette questions to Miss Manners, Letitia Baldrige and others. It deals instead with the more practical issue of how to have the wedding you want without going broke or insane.

The average couple marrying today is older than those of the past, Mr. Fields said. Both partners probably work. They are planning their weddings themselves rather than letting Mom and Dad make all the decisions.

"The whole age thing has completely changed the way weddings are held and marketed today," Mr. Fields said. "Instead of blowing a few thousand dollars on flowers, brides and grooms are looking at that [sum] and saying, 'That's a couch.' "

The Fieldses fell into their occupation, appropriately enough, by getting married. When they became engaged in 1987, they didn't have much money. Industry estimates put the average cost of a wedding then at $12,000 to $13,000 (now it's about $16,000), Mr. Fields said.

"We just thought that was an obscene amount of money," said Mr. Fields. "We thought, 'There has got to be some way of doing this affordably,' so we went out to see what books were out there. We found a lot of etiquette guides that talked about how to word an invitation, but very little on how to get an invitation at a discount."

The bridal magazines were of little help.

"They tended to focus on expensive nuptials or as they put it, 'doing things beautifully,' and we were interested in doing things affordably," said Mr. Fields.

They combined '80s entrepreneurship with a desire to help others cut through the aggravation, and started their own guide.

"We 'mystery shopped' the merchants in Texas and then we expanded to Colorado and California," said Mr. Fields. "We visited photographers and caterers posing as a bride and groom and we wrote these little local guides to planning a wedding. The most popular part of those local guides talked about how to get the most for your money, and that kind of led us to doing the 'Bridal Bargains' book."

Shoppers' guide

Each chapter of the guide covers one part of wedding planning, such as ordering flowers and hiring caterers and photographers. Within each chapter are lists of questions couples should ask; pitfalls to avoid; money-saving tips; ideas and trends; resources; myths; and step-by-step shopping strategies.

What kind of tips can be found in this guide?

Using thermographic printing rather than engraving for invitations saves money. Both methods produce raised print. For engraved invitations, a steel or copper plate is etched with your wording. In thermography, a resinous powder is dusted over the wet ink and then heated to produce the raised lettering. Thermography is about half the cost of engraving and is available in a variety of colors.

Don't buy an oversize or very heavy invitation because it will cost more to mail. An extra 20 cents times 200 invitations is $40.

Instead of using a separate card for the reception, print reception information at the bottom of the invitation.

"One bride recommended buying an embosser with your name and address rather than having them printed for $30 or $40 on the back of your invitation," Mr. Fields said.

To decorate the reception, plants and trees can be rented at a fraction of their retail cost.

"Flowers are like pork bellies -- [prices] fluctuate up and down with supply and demand," said Mr. Fields. "So you have to say, 'My wedding's in September. I can't have tulips. They'll have to be flown in from Holland.'

"You need to hook up with a good florist who will tell you, 'This is available in October so it's cheaper.' You need to look at those choices because if you go against the flow you're really going to be zapped for price."

Shop carefully for the gown.

The Fieldses like designers whose gowns are stylish and very well made for the price. "The designers are finally waking up and saying, 'Gee, people can't spend $2,000 on a gown,' " said Mr. Fields. Among their favorite labels are Ginza and Private Label by G; Jasmine; and Vows & Vogue, a new line debuting this spring.

Mr. Fields also recommends alternatives to buying through bridal shops. Consider hiring a seamstress. Try consignment shops and watch classified ads. Consider a rental -- the Fieldses like Formals Etc., a national chain that rents bridal and bridesmaid gowns.

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