Wedding Savvy: Simplicity Saves

Couple holding hands
Couple holding hands

Marriage licenses in Benton County cost approximately $52, however Corvallis couples, on average, spend $25,306 in preparation for their “big days.” Local expenditure ranges between $18,980 and $31,633, and to-be-weds can expect each guest to cost them between $193 and $236.

If these figures churn a gut-slicked sickness in you, too, if your sanity sits at a far more moderate figure, fear not. I’ve sniffed out all the tricks at keeping that post-nuptial debt at bay, with a $3,000 cap in mind.

I’m not saying such cherished ceremonies don’t call for some expense. Some like their thrills frilled, though top-notch professionals, brands, and venues often increase prices by 50 to 100%. By my calculation, with the utilization of near and far resources, I can guarantee a wedding of epic aesthetic proportions at a far fairer price.

Lands of the Free
It’s easy to guess where most of the money gets spent—food, booze, and venues. The average cost for such services is $11,064 in Corvallis. Popular spots like the Vue and OSU’s Alumni Center slip immediately off the list, each costing $2,000 at least. The Corvallis Country Club and the Garden of Gentle Breeze might be manageable, rates beginning around $1,000, although the price swells with the girth of the guest list. The Odd Fellows Barnum offers six-hour block ballroom rentals, with an additional $200 kitchen cost.

Business manager and event coordinator Rachell Hoffman refers to Odd Fellows as a “DIY kind of place” where couples can customize the space according to budget and vision. Understanding that catering and alcohol prices are big money-suckers, Hoffman suggests going half catered, having the caterer provide only small dishes, or self-catered, buying from bulk grocers such as Costco and Safeway for pinwheels and bread loaves as low as $1.99. Throwing an appetizer-only reception with varieties of salad and pasta dishes is a great way to cut down on cost. Hoffman suggests scheduling the reception around 1 to 1:30 p.m., as guests are likely still digesting lunch.

Clients can bring in outside caterers to Odd Fellows, or personally provide food and booze—no hard liquor—at the expense of Odd Fellows’ OLCC-certified server. Venues typically require liquor-licensed servers, and certification can be completed online for $25. Caterers might allow clients to provide boozery, but will likely charge a corking fee (to literally open containers), between $10 and $35.

Owner/brewmaster Dave Marliave of local Flat Tail Brewing Company declares discounts on kegs or bulk purchases unavailable due to OLCC laws, but offers consideration of barters and advertisements.

“Basically if you’ve got a trade skill or product you think is worthy of trade, give it a shot. The worst we can say is no,” he said. Among accepted Flat Tail trades are mechanical, commercial and certified contractor services, cordwood, and farm animals such as suckling pigs.

Personally, I suggest investing in a home-brew kit, costing upwards of $300 for the initial batch and equipment, then around $50 for each five-gallon batch afterward. This requires time, as batches typically take up to three months to brew, but would cut down on alcohol expenditure, tabs Hoffman has seen reach $10,000 heights. Other options are setting a bar limit and closing shop when it’s reached or only serving the couple’s favorite cocktails. It may sound cheap, but will likely come off as très cute.

Hoffman suggests keeping the ceremony short, around 30 minutes, outdoors, and intimate, as a guest list of immediate family will greatly cut down on cost. Couples can open the celebration up to extended friends and family during the reception, best booked indoors, where guests are comfortable and sheltered from any surprise elements.

A scroll through the Benton County Parks Department webpage reveals that couples can book a four-hour block in Central, Bellfountain, Fort Hoskins Historic or Bald Hill Barn for as low as $50, depending on added utilities and attendance totals. For a guest list of 50 or less, Avery Park offers use of its Rose Garden starting at $100. Plus, the backdrop of the roses cuts the cost of pre-bought flowers.

Take advantage of friends and free land. Ask a friend to help some brethren out by becoming ordained to wed for free through Universal Life Church. Borrow another’s sweet backyard, or better yet, haul folks to the coast, where free beaches abound. Under a three-hour drive away, Cannon Beach legally allows the consumption of alcohol, plus a view of Haystack Rock, made famous in the opening scene of The Goonies. Beachside nuptials are even better for cutting the cost of tables and linens, if opting for a picnic-style meal. Provide thrift-picked blankets and baskets—a great place for those fresh loaves, meats, and cheeses.

Some think it tacky, but I’ve always been partial to a potluck affair, having everyone contribute one delicious dish. Also suggested by Hoffman is ditching the cake and offering bulk-bought cookie or cupcake bars, catering to guests’ creative tastes, or serving tea, coffee, or punch, cheaper alternatives to alcohol.

Diamond Diets
I’ve always considered the cost of rings a side expense, as they symbolize the last gift exchanged between to-be-weds before their merry mergers. However, jewelry is listed as the second-greatest expense for Corvallis couples, spending $3,931 on average.

Well-known ways around jacked-up jewelry costs are by buying smaller, accentuating stones and keeping diamonds at a minimum, or by selling old pieces at local gold exchange stores and buying new.

Wedding Factory Direct lists wholesale, closeout jewelry for as little as $50 and sites like and Etsy likewise list low-cost options. If, like me, you have an aversion to diamonds, check out the website A Practical Wedding, featuring 30 non-traditional rings under $500.

Amateurs and Professionals
Corvallis couples spend more than a pretty penny for pictures and filmography—on average, $2,734. Package prices vary between $600 and $3,000 for local photographers.

I suggest contacting OSU’s Arts Department for hook-ups with rookies thirsting to fill their portfolio pages. OSU photography professor Julia Bradshaw recommends current student Heather March, whose rates begin at $600 for a four-hour time slot, as well as recent graduate Shae Williams, who charges $1,500 total. Local professional Travis Johnson charges between $700 and $3,000, with his packages inclusive of proof books, loaded USB drives, and online galleries accessible to guests.

If these prices seem steep, I again advise you to use your connections. Ask a photo-savvy friend to snap a few as a favor. Take advantage of Instagram, Dropbox, or Eversnap, which allow guests to upload pictures directly to a personal web address or hashtag.

Think Thrifty
As for attire and accessories, the average Corvallis couple spends $1,616. It’s important to most brides to stay strict to vision, but landing the dream dress without breaking the bank is possible, I promise.

The closest local go-to is the Shabby Chic Bride consignment shop in Salem, stocked with new, used, and sample gowns, ranging between $150 and $1,500. Always worth a look is Craigslist, with dresses selling as low as $130 locally.

Local coordinators Kate Lacey and Heather Bodenhamer of Everything Else Events suggest seeking out discontinued dresses, as well as having bridesmaids and groomsmen purchase their own suits and gowns as contributions. Planners such as Lacey and Bodenhamer are the fourth-biggest expense for Corvallis couples, averaging $1,538.

Most popular is Lacey and Bodenhamer’s Build Your Own package, which tailors to couples’ budgets. The cost of full service, with Lacey and Bodenhamer doing all the work, would be $2,500. If opting out of extra help, Lacey and Bodenhamer advise giving one person a master list to track expenses and responsibilities.

Timing is everything to cost-cautious couples, and save-the-date Saturdays should be avoided, as venues tend to charge more compared with weekdays, Fridays, or Sundays.

“Whenever you’re in an emergency situation, your cost goes up,” said Lacey, who advises pacing and careful calculation. Likewise, Hoffman suggests couples give themselves six months at least.

Affordable Arrangements
Flowers and decorations cost Corvallis couples an average of $1,471. Arrangements from local Penguin Flowers range between $50 and $30,000. Penguin works according to ballpark figures and preferences, and bunches are discounted at 15%.

One factor is seasonal variety in cost of floral arrangements. The Knot, a go-to site for to-be-weds, offers a seasonal flower guide. Year-round low-budget go-tos include Peruvian lilies, carnations, and bouvardias. For winter weddings, try daffodils, camellias, or Dutch tulips, and for summer, coxcombs, cosmos, dahlias, and daisies. Spring pickings include camellias or Queen Anne’s lace, and for fall, chrysanthemums.

As for decorations, I stress again the art of getting thrifty. Be on the prowl for deals and discounts via sites like Groupon, Ideel, Hautelook, and Gilt. According to Hoffman, now’s the time to load up on hand-me-down twinkle lights, discounted post-holiday season. Hoffman refers to Pinterest and Etsy as “frenemies” for their plethora of DIY ideas, some of which can be extremely time-consuming.

Hoffman stresses ribbon as “the best way to get color at a low cost.” Last and definitely least, the Dollar Store is a good source for table toppers and favors, especially bubbles.

Tunage to Beauty, Just DIY
Our next biggest expense is for entertainment, averaging around $1,272 in Corvallis. If not dead-set on a band or DJ, there are countless premade playlists online for free. Try 8tracks or Spotify. Picking your own tunage might require the expense of speakers, rentable locally at Peter Corvallis Productions. Browse your phone or Facebook for a musical friend and pull some strings, or rather have them pull strings for you.

One of the first cuts suggested when on a budget is favors for guests, costing Corvallis couples $647 on average. However, if you’re really milking the guestlist, it might be wise to offer at least some small token of appreciation. Here I’d suggest bulk-bought candies or getting back on that DIY grind. Think mason jars, soaps and photo coasters, etc., etc., etc.

Speaking of photos, invites are another source of overspending, costing local couples an average of $882. Go green by using sites like Evite, Weddingwire, or Paperless Post to send electronic invites. Postcards are less costly, too—or you could try finding a Photoshop-friendly friend to digi up some printables.

Least spent locally is in the category of spa and beauty, with couples shelling out $124 on average. Most marriage-preparing women should be well-practiced in painting their faces and YouTube tutorials exist by the billions. Remember to reach out to those beauticious acquaintances or ask your mom’s life-long hairdresser to cut you a deal. Just be resourceful and remember…

It’s a Party, Not a Performance
Maybe it’s my lack-thereof knack for theatrics but I have a feeling that if celebrating your special day means putting on a $20,000 show, there might be some intrinsic misfit to your union.

I see the ceremony as a rare chance to have all my favorite fellow beings holed up in a place of my taste to celebrate the merger of me and my betrothed. The goal is have a good time “I do”-ing it, not dazzling the guests. As mentioned, the only vital cost is the license itself. Everything else depends on whether your disposition tends towards traditional extravagance.

It’s easy to get carried away with preparations for a most special day. And sure, people are easily enthralled by expense. But careful your guests don’t get too distracted. You want their attention on the merger itself, not how the day is dressed.

By Stevie Beisswanger