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updated 12/29/2003 1:21:52 PM ET 2003-12-29T18:21:52

The average American wedding costs $21,500 but can you have the wedding of your dreams for a little less? In style magazine's special issue on weddings says yes. “Today” contributor Charla Krupp shares some tips on cutting costs without sacrificing style.

Great style doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The new issue of In Style Weddings tells 35 ways to scale back cost without having any of your guests even realize it! It’s about making smart decisions. Even if you have unlimited funds, you’ll want to steal some of these ideas because they’ll make your wedding chic, fun and less predictable. For example, serve a zingy signature cocktail that compliments your colors instead of stocking a full bar. Less cost, and your guests will be amused.

Where did you come up with these ideas?
In Style asked the top wedding experts — many of them plan celebrity receptions — how you can get a big bang for less bucks in the major categories — invites, flowers, table, favors, drinks, cake. We are not talking about tacky alternatives. We would never sacrifice style.

Invitations
Here’s a liberating tip: Engraved invites are no longer necessary. Get the same look and feel with thermography — and save about 40 percent. The technology is so good with thermography now, you are not compromising quality. The engraved costs: $480 for 100 invites including response card and two envelopes. The thermography costs: $300 for 100 of the same. That’s $3 each for the thermography; $4.80 for engraved. In New York, the price for engraved is sometimes even higher, $7-10 per invitation. Our Invites: From shwamy.com, 312-337-2147.

What exactly is the difference in printing methods?
Engraving is pricey because it involves making a copper plate of the invitation in reverse. Engraving is commonly used for personal stationery because the copper plate can be used repeatedly at a margin of the price.

Thermography gives a similar look without the added expense of a copper plate. The invitation is offset printed, and while the ink is still wet it is applied with a powder resin that is then heated (this is where the word thermography comes from, thermo meaning heat) giving it the raised finish.

Here’s another money saver: If the timing is right, send your save-the-date card inside your holiday cards. Save-the-dates can go out up to six months before the big day. No one will think you’re cheap — they’ll think you’re resourceful.

Flowers
Usually flowers are ten percent of the bridal budget. An average centerpiece for a table can cost $50; in New York, wedding planner to the stars Marci Bloom, tells us that brides can spend $150 per centerpiece. Here’s an idea we love, and it can cut your centerpiece expenses in half: Use candles instead of flowers as your centerpieces.

Candles of varying heights are beautiful. Ours are from Creative Candles, and you can buy them on the web. Remember, you want unfragranced candles on your table and make sure you check to see that your venue will allow for open flames. If not, use hurricane lamps or votives.

Hot pink and mango orange candles:
Virtually dripless and handcrafted by Creative Candles, at www.ccandlestore.com or call 800-635-0274 to special order from 47 colors. Sample prices:
Votives ($20.50 for 36); 3x12-inch banded pillars ($20 each); 18-inch tapers ($8.40 a pair).

White porcelain candle trays:
From $6-$24 each by Tampopo at Dandelion, 888-548-1968.

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Before we get to more floral tips, let’s talk about the brilliant color palette shown on "Today": Florist Remco Van Vilet of Van Vilet & Trap Event Design (212-352-3385), chose orange as the primary color and electrifying pink as an accent to melt the coldness of a modern table. It is so exuberant and inviting.

On the table:
-Custom pink linen napkins from Chelsea Marketplace, 212-594-8289.
-Orange Love-style glass chargers, $27 each, white dinner plates, $20 each. Both from European Sources Direct, 800-535-0378. (Or, ask them about a rental outfit near you.)

For bouquets: Nix the frilly bridesmaids bouquets. Instead, have your bridesmaids carry simple bouquets of the same flower. Less pricey, especially if the blossom is big as in peonies, tulips or hydrangeas (more volume for less money with just a few stems). Many stylish brides will actually prefer the simpler version, it’s more chic.

To stretch your floral budget even further: Have your bridesmaids’ bouquets do double duty. Cut the stems horizontally, not diagonally. Wire the flowers through stems, tie up the bunch with a pretty ribbon and they will stand on their own. Ask your bridesmaids to place their bouquets on the cake table. This is a great idea because what do the bridesmaids do with their bouquets after the reception? Might as well put them to good use. The added beauty of this idea is that your flowers stand alone so you aren’t paying for a vase plus you avoid the added cost of decorating your cake table.

Will flowers last if they’re not in water?
Hardy flowers will last long enough. Stick them in water when you get home.

Also, be sure to ask your florist what’s in season. Out-of-season flowers can cost three times as much as in-season blooms.

Favors
So do you cut favors altogether to save on cost?
Unless your favor is edible, don’t bother, and save $5-15 a guest. No one needs another cheap chotchke in his or her life. Better to give something from the heart. How about a personal thank you note for coming to celebrate? A handwritten note at each place setting.

For an adorable edible favor: Lollipops, which also serve as your table numbers. Katie Pottinger of In Style made these for her wedding and everyone went wild for them. They’re inexpensive — about 10 cents a pop because you make them yourself. (Even better if you can enlist your mother, mother-in-law, bridesmaid or cousin who wants to help.)

Do-It-Yourself Lollipops with table numbers from LorAnn’s Sweet Shoppe at www.lorannoils.com. Or, call 888-456-7266.

To make the lollipops, you need lots of corn syrup and sugar plus:
-Flavored Oils (1/8 oz), $1.19 each
-Candy Coloring (1 oz),  $1.50 each
-Large Sucker sticks, $2.50 per bag of 100
-Sucker bags, $2.50 per bag of 100
-Silver twist ties, 95 cents per bag of 50
-Numbered stickers from Paper Access at www.paperaccess.com.

Drink
So how do you keep the liquor bill down?
The pros say: Serve wine and champagne plus a signature cocktail in your color scheme. That way, you don't have to stock a full bar. Our signature drink is the Pample-mousse champagne cocktail because the orange-pink color of grapefruit juice matches our décor.

Grapefruit-colored Cocktail:Pample-mousse champagne cocktail from Callahan Catering, 212-327-1144.

Glassware and flatware: from Crate and Barrel stores or www.crateandbarrel.com
-Oona flatware: 5-piece setting,  $19.
-Footed Cooler glasses, $2.95 each or a set of 12 for $29.95.

Another way to cut your liquor bill: Forget the champagne toast. Toast the happy couple with dinner wine. Here’s why this idea is not only less pricey but better: Most everyone is drinking something else at the time so they just take a sip of the champagne and put it down to continue with whatever they're drinking. So pouring all those glasses of champagne is a real waste. Plus, when you mix champagne with other drinks, you’re likely to get a monster headache.

More cost-cutting liquor tips: Some hotels and clubs charge three times the retail price for alcohol. So it’s worth asking if you’re allowed to bring in your own. You may have to pay a corkage fee, but it’s negotiable. If you do buy your own liquor, ask if you can return unopened bottles.

Cake
Go with a frill-free cake using real rather than handmade sugar flowers (as Jamie Lynn DiScala of "The Sopranos" recently did). No one eats those sugary flowers anyway. Mary Cleaver of The Cleaver Company who baked our cake says that cakes decorated with hand-crafted designs of fondant and pulled sugars start at $15 a slice because of the time it takes to decorate them. Some go as much as $25 a slice. Our cake is $7.50 a slice so you are saving 50 percent when you decorate with fresh flowers.

And that’s not all: Cheat with a sheet (cake). Order a small cake to display plus a big sheet cake made with the same filling to serve the guests. You will save money by not having a massive cake to decorate. Plus, it’s a lot easier to cut a sheet cake than a wedding cake. No one will know which cake his or her slice came from.

The sheet cake for 50 is $6 a slice, another twenty percent savings. So the combo ideas of using a cake with real flowers plus a sheet cake will cut your per-slice cost from $15 to $7. That’s more than a 50 percent savings.

-The Cleaver Company cakes at Chelsea Market NYC. To order, call: 212-741-9174
-Three-tiered vanilla butter cream icing cake for 100, $750. Sheet cake for 50, $300.
Cake plates: Shake cake plates, $12 each from European Sources Direct, 800-535-0378. (Ask about rentals near you.)

More ways to save: Skip the dessert course. Serve wedding cake instead. And don’t have a food orgy. Those dessert smorgasbords are as over as the days of gorging out! Everyone is more health conscious. No one wants all that food. You end up having to find organizations to donate it to -- another stress you don’t need.

Dress
And there’s a new way to spend less on the dress?
Brides spend ten percent of their wedding budgets on the dress. Designer gowns average about $3,500 and can go beyond $28,000. (More than the average American wedding!) A gown under $1,000 is considered a bargain. But you can do even better online. Guess how much we paid for the gorgeous gown on our model Amy Grant? Would you believe $200? We found it on eBay! Of course, there are drawbacks: You can’t try it on beforehand and you can’t return it. But you can turn around and sell it again.
-
$200 Gown: New wedding ball gown by Zure (ours from ebay.com) For information about this brand: impressionbridal.com).

More smart money-savers:
1. Consider alternate days of the week like Sunday as Saturday night bookings are the most expensive.
2. Choose a location with in-house catering; unusual locations will cost you more because you have to bring everything in.
3. Hire a DJ instead of band. If you want a band, cut down the number of band members.
4. Don't automatically agree to the standard wedding package. Be more creative, and save yourself money.

Charla Krupp of In Style magazine has been a beauty and fashion contributor to “Today” going on eight years in a segment that’s followed her from In Style magazine to Glamour (as beauty director) to eve.com (as editor-in-chief and vice president) and back to In Style. She’s an award-winning journalist known for her accessible, “real woman’s” approach to fashion and beauty. For more information you can call 888-689-1643 or visit the In Style Web site at: www.InStyle.com or pick up the latest issue of In Style magazine on newsstands now. You can read the entire "What's Hot" list in the January issue of the magazine.

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