Wedding Costs Can Vary Widely, So Setting Priorities Is Crucial

PUTTING A PRICE ON HAPPINESS

January 07, 1996|By Philip Hosmer

There is no such thing as a typical wedding anymore. A wedding can be a simple, low-key backyard ceremony, or it can be a lavish, indulgent affair, replete with extraordinary flourishes and held in a stunningly romantic setting. Most likely, a wedding today is something between these two extremes. Because extravagance comes with a hefty price tag, planning a wedding is often determined by the size of one's budget.

Nationally, the average cost of a formal wedding with 188 guests is $17,470, according to Modern Bride magazine. This figure does not include the cost of a honeymoon, which can add several thousand dollars to wedding costs, depending on if one is more inclined toward the Poconos or the South Pacific.

Locally, an informal survey of wedding-related businesses found costs similar to or slightly higher than the national average, depending again on the level of extravagance that one wishes to indulge in.

Towson wedding-gown purveyor Mary Gamberdella offers sage budgeting advice, based on 17 years of helping people prepare for their walk down the aisle. "The key is do something that you're comfortable with," says Ms. Gamberdella, who counts WMAR-TV (Channel 2) anchorwoman Mary Beth Marsden among her clients. "If you try to do something that's over what you can spend, it turns into a headache. Some people overindulge. It's important to keep things in perspective."

Wedding consultant Elizabeth Bailey says that setting priorities is the key to planning and budgeting a wedding.

"You have to determine what is important and what do you want guests to remember when they leave the wedding," she says. "Whether it's the food, the band, the setting, whatever you decide is most important, you can't skimp on that. And it doesn't depend only on your budget. Attention to detail is often what makes a wedding special."

Her bottom-line advice: "If you can't do it well, it shouldn't be done."

Ms. Bailey charges between $500 and $2,500 for her consulting, depending on her level of involvement. Among the many services she offers are composing menus, negotiating prices with caterers, arranging hotel accommodations, and planning the rehearsal dinner.

The following is a sampling of costs involved with the major elements of a formal wedding:

CATERERS. This is usually the largest expense and can cost more than half of the entire cost of the wedding. Depending on whether your tastes run toward caviar or chicken, there is a wide range of catering costs. The general trend in wedding catering is toward healthy foods and fusion cuisines such as American/French, says Ansela Dopkin of the Classic Catering People. Serving stations are also becoming more popular because of people's diverse tastes.

In the lower price points are catering deals that range between $25 and $50 per person. These typically include nonbutlered appetizers and a chicken entree, with a beer, wine and soda bar.

In the middle range are catering packages that cost between $50 and $75 per person. These include light appetizers, a beef carving station or a chicken or fish entree, with an open bar featuring nonpremium brands.

For a gourmet feast consisting of a five-course meal with a premium open bar, one can pay up to $100 per person. This would include seafood hors d'oeuvres served by butlers, a premium entree such as filet mignon, lobster, veal, salmon or lamb, and creative side dishes such as asparagus in raspberry vinaigrette dressing or wild mushroom polenta.

The wedding cake is often an additional expense and can range from $2.25 to $5.95 per slice, according to Nancy Sachs of Great Occasions Caterers.

RECEPTION LOCATIONS. Urbane venues such as museums and grand estates are trendy for receptions these days, according to Modern Bride magazine. The reception location is often the second largest expense after catering. Sometimes, the reception venue also provides in-house catering as a package deal. This arrangement is common among restaurants, hotels and country clubs.

Basic rental charges for reception venues have an extremely wide range. Renting a fire hall, an auditorium or a museum building, for example, can cost as little as a few hundred dollars. For a unique but affordable setting, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baltimore Orioles Museum can be rented for $400, while the Great Blacks in Wax Museum can be rented for just $250, plus $1 per person.

In the middle price range, a stately mansion or historic building can provide an elegant venue for a wedding party. These range in price from $800 for the Liriodendron Mansion in Bel Air to $1,500 for the Evergreen House, an authentic 1870s carriage house on North Charles Street.

At the upper end are unique and unforgettable sites such as the George Peabody Library, which costs between $1,700 and $2,000. The circa 1878 library, which is the oldest in Baltimore City, has striking interior architecture featuring five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies rising to a skylight 61 feet above the black and white marble floor.

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