Budget brides online

Planning a summer wedding doesn’t have to be as stressful or as expensive with a little help from the Web

Adrienne’s mountain lake wedding theme is topped off with gear like pewter toasting goblets with engraved pine cones. All items were bought online.

Adrienne’s mountain lake wedding theme is topped off with gear like pewter toasting goblets with engraved pine cones. All items were bought online.

For months after we got engaged, every time my fiancé, Gabe, and I tried to start planning the wedding, the conversation inevitably ended in stress and crankiness. Just the word “wedding” was enough to make me bristle.

Like many women, I started planning my wedding in junior high, but that was before I understood crucial concepts like “budgets” and “etiquette” and “being the center of attention for roughly 100 people all damn day long.”

If you’ve ever read a wedding magazine (and I highly recommend that you don’t), you may be under the impression that all American brides are ceaselessly perky, independently wealthy social butterflies. So where does this leave the rest of us—the poor, busy, stressed-out, imperfect brides?

As I’ve learned in the past year, planning a wedding doesn’t have to be as hard—or as cookie-cutter “perfect"—as the wedding industry would lead us to believe. All you need is a little creativity, loads of patience and an Internet connection.

Getting started
Without a doubt, the best way to get the wedding juggernaut rolling is to get online. Wedding magazines cost way too much and are generally packed with tons of information you can’t use and products that are way out of your price range. And for the love of Pete, stay far, far away from any publication by Martha Stewart.

Start with an all-purpose wedding site that offers ideas, products, planning tools and more, such as WeddingChannel.com, ModernBride.com, USABride.com, WeddingDetails.com or TodaysBride.com. I can personally recommend TheKnot.com, but feel free to poke around these sites and see which one you like best.

No matter which one you choose, your site should have a few essential online tools to make your job much easier: a wedding planning checklist, a guest list and a budget.

When I sign on to The Knot, it immediately lets me know how many days are left until my wedding and how many items on my checklist I have yet to complete. The checklist is broken into sections—"9 to 11 months,” “6 to 8 months” and so on—so I know if I’m on schedule. If you prefer, The Knot can organize your checklist by category ("Ceremony,” “Food & Drink,” etc.), and you can also customize the checklist to add items specific to your life.

My online guest list planner not only organizes all of the names of my guests and how many will be attending, but it also stores their addresses, seating arrangements and a gift log. Trust me—trying to keep track of all this by hand or on a basic word processing program is not fun.

The budget planner on The Knot is not as user-friendly or customizable as it could be, but it’s still an easy way to keep track of your expenses and get advice on what you can afford.

Bridesmaid Carli Cutchin models this dress (sale price $35) bought off the rack at JC Penney.

Once you’ve felt your way around a few wedding sites, you’re ready to start working on what I believe is the hardest part of planning a wedding: choosing, and sticking to, a unifying concept or theme. When Gabe and I first started planning, we decided that our colors would be blue and yellow. Later, when we booked an outdoor reception site in South Lake Tahoe, we realized our colors were more suited to a spring garden than to mid-summer mountains and pine trees.

With wedding rules becoming more laid-back every year, why not choose a theme that suits your tastes and interests? Medieval themes, beach themes, Western themes and holiday themes are all popular ideas. Turn your wedding into a retro affair; put your wedding party in flapper dresses and zoot suits, or play Elvis tunes and top your cake with a model ‘57 Chevy convertible. Keep in mind that a wedding is supposed to be a celebration, and have fun with it.

Gabe and I have taken the Tahoe theme to heart, from the mountain lake scene on our invitations to our pewter toasting goblets with engraved pinecones around the rim. For one of our favors, we’ll wrap little bundles of pine-scented incense with raffia bows, and our centerpieces will feature homemade candles embedded with pine needles and pinecone chips. Besides providing us with a pretty unifying theme, pinecones and pine needles are free for the taking in the Reno/Tahoe area.

The wonderful Web
No matter what you’re trying to find, whether it be a wedding theme or the perfect dress or 100 yards of lavender tulle, I can’t stress the importance of two Web sites enough. The first is Google.com. As far as I’m concerned, Google is the best Internet search engine ever. It has a bare-bones design and no endlessly looping pop-up ads, and I usually find what I’m looking for quickly and easily.

The second site that has been invaluable in my budget-conscious wedding planning is eBay.com. Many sellers offer inexpensive personalized favors or do-it-yourself supplies, plus accessories like cake toppers, guest books, garters and more.

Believe it or not, you can even find—gasp!—your ideal wedding gown at this online auction site. Many traditional bridal shops now operate online businesses on eBay, so you can get a brand-new dress, or one that’s only been tried on as a sample, for a fraction of the cost. Although it pains her when I mention this, a co-worker and I bought a very similar gown made by the same designer, and she paid about $800 compared to my $230.

No matter what you’re looking for, avoid using the word “wedding” in your search when you can. Wedding retailers are not your friends, and they will overcharge you because they can. For example, the average price I found for a fancy, lace-and-satin-covered traditional wedding guest book was about $40. The non-wedding guest book I bought, which also incorporates our nature theme, was only $18.

Invitations are also easy to order online, and most suppliers will send you free samples and paper catalogs. And with a little imagination, you can forgo the expensive extras and dress up your invitations at home. Print out your own reception cards on fancy paper from a craft store. Instead of a monogrammed seal, choose a stamp and ink color that fit your theme.

Choosing sites for the ceremony and the reception are difficult to do online, but it’s much easier when you live in a tourist destination like the Reno-Tahoe area. Gabe and I researched the wedding offerings at many hotels, chapels and resorts online before making the trip up to Lake Tahoe for our final selection.

And finally, take advantage of free Web site providers like Geocities.com or Homestead.com to get important information out to your wedding party and guests, such as directions and hotel accommodations. Even if you know nothing about HTML, most providers can offer you easily customizable templates and page-building tools.

Signing off
You probably won’t find everything you want on the Web, and even an Internet junkie like me has to unplug eventually. When I’m stuck for unique ideas, sometimes I’ll wander around a craft store until something catches my eye. After hours of frustrated searching through $150-plus dresses online, I finally found the perfect bridesmaids’ dresses on sale in the prom section at JC Penney for just $35 each.

Good deals are out there if you have the patience to find them and the flexibility to stray from the norm. No matter what Miss Manners says, it’s your wedding, so make it what you want it to be.

Next: Truckee River tourin’