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Image: Bride and groom cut their wedding cake
Joni Chatman
Rachel and Brad Kerstetter, seen here at their May 2011 wedding, saved money by buying alcoholic beverages for their reception at BJ's Wholesale Club.
updated 4/24/2012 2:07:06 PM ET 2012-04-24T18:07:06

Sweethearts since high school, Rachel and Brad Kerstetter tied the knot just two weeks after graduating from college. Before the big day, friends had the same question on their minds: Will there be an open bar?

The couple, both 22 when they married in May 2011, wanted to offer sophisticated drinks and a full bar, but beer was the only alcoholic beverage included in their catering package.

They were, however, allowed to bring liquor into their reception hall, and after a trip to a BJ’s Wholesale Club, they stocked their bar with premixed cocktails like pomegranate martinis, Champagne and wine, all without breaking their budget.

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“As a young couple paying for most of the wedding by ourselves, it helped us get what we wanted,” said Rachel Kerstetter, of Louisville, Ohio. “It was nice to say, ‘Yes, we are having an open bar.’”

Though the wine came from boxes, none of their 150 guests was the wiser. “It was really good,” she said. “I was surprised.”

With Americans spending an average of $25,631 on their weddings last year, according to The Wedding Report, couples are turning to membership warehouse clubs for substantial savingson staples like flowers, food and alcohol, candy and coffee, and decor items like urns and tables.

Like the Kerstetters, Lori and Chris Heiselman paid for their own celebration when they married in Nashville on March 31. With a budget of about $10,000, they couldn’t justify spending several thousand dollars on colorful blooms, and instead ordered pre-arranged bouquets, boutonnieres and corsages from Wal-Mart's[WMT  58.14    -1.40  (-2.35%)   ] Sam’s Club for $300, tax and shipping included.

Although the corsages and boutonnieres arrived lifeless (Sam’s issued a generous refund), the green and white roses, calla lilies, hydrangea and snap dragons in the bouquets were beautiful, said Heiselman, 41.

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“They were really gorgeous and I couldn’t believe how many flowers came in those bouquets,” she said. “Everybody was raving about them.”

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Don’t think that shopping at warehouse clubs is solely for budget brides or do-it-yourself weddings.

Even high-end wedding planners are drawn to the clubs' vast aisles stocked with individual-sized snack packs, cases of bottled water and small packets of pain reliever for the morning after.

JOWY Productions, a wedding design, planning and production company in Beverly Hills, Calif., creates custom welcome bags for guests that they fill with popcorn, pretzels and other treats purchased at Costco[COST  86.625    0.005  (+0.01%)   ] .

Though the company’s clients spend anywhere from $200,000 to more than $1 million on their weddings, there’s no stigma to warehouse club shopping, says co-owner Sarah Lowy.

CNBC.com: Does It Pay To Be A Warehouse Club Member?

“Everyone, at some point, has a budget,” Lowy said. “All of these welcome bags do add up, so Costco gives the best bang for your buck.”

It’s not clear how much couples spend on weddings at warehouse clubs. Sam’s, Costco and BJ’s declined to release sales data.

At Costco, though, sales of engagement rings and wedding bands have been up for the past two years and now exceed pre-recession levels, says Megghan Harruff, assistant general merchandise manager who oversees jewelry.

Couples are doing their homework, she says, and they buy at Costco because of the high-quality, yet discounted, diamonds.

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Brides, Harruff said, are “always very excited for the quality and the value that they got at Costco after going out into marketplace and finding like items and seeing how expensive they are.”

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Still, with any item at a warehouse club, you’ve got to know your prices.

“You have to be very selective about what you get and make sure it’s the right quality and value,” said Hana-April Chughtai, president of Mani Mela, a wedding planning company in Minneapolis.

Though you’ve got to be choosy, there’s a lot to choose from. The variety of items available for weddings has grown in the last five years, and the quality has improved as well, Chughtai says.

“A savvy bride will look at all options and will include a bulk store in her research,” Chughtai said. “Definitely don’t count it out.”

CNBC.com: Extreme Retail Experiences

No wedding is complete without dessert. Couples fill out dessert buffets with warehouse-bought cupcakes and specialty chocolates. Some even buy extra sheet cakes that get cut in the kitchen to supplement a formal wedding cake. But not all brides are keeping their bargains in the back.

One bought three round cakes from Sam’s and served them on a plastic three-level cake stand that was covered in satin and decorated with fresh rose petals. The total cost was about $40, compared with about $450 from a traditional bakery, says her planner, Patricia Ann Gibbons of The Wedding Studio in San Antonio, Texas.

Saving money on the cake enabled the bride to spend more money on other things that were more important to her. “She had put a lot of money into her dress,” Gibbons said. “Now that the money is spent there, it doesn’t leave much else, so we have to get creative. If the cake isn’t a big value, we don’t need to put a lot of money in it.”

TUNE IN:“The Costco Craze” premieres Thursday April 26 at 9 p.m. ET on CNBC, with a re-air at 12 a.m. ET.

© 2012 CNBC.com

Video: Wedding dress trends: Sexy slits, disco sparkle

  1. Closed captioning of: Wedding dress trends: Sexy slits, disco sparkle

    >>> the one piece of wardrobe you've probably thought of since you were a little girl ?

    >> string bikini? i'm guessing that would be a wedding gown ?

    >> the latest dress trends that you're seeing down the runway and down the aisle. we were just talking about josh's wedding. how many years have you been married?

    >> almost nine years.

    >> do you remember your wife's wedding dress ?

    >> i do.

    >> and? what do you remember?

    >> she only wore it once.

    >> by the way, what a beautiful , beautiful picture. now what's great about this segment, too, these wedding dresses are affordable. that's the key.

    >> they're all affordable and all very trendy.

    >> let's start off. the kay middleton effect. come out, angela.

    >> you can blame kate middleton for sleeves, long veils, ball gowns are all coming back in style.

    >> what's going on here?

    >> she's also removing this because it is a two-in-one.

    >> josh is finally happy he's here.

    >> this is by david's bridal. it is $1,500. that's a whole lot of dress. and it is beautiful . we got the sleeve but can you also remove it for the reception and have a little more fun with it. we personalized it, added a belt there, then of course the beautiful long veil in the back makes it very traditional which she can take off for the reception.

    >> by the way, this is the most beautiful song in the world playing right now, by train. thanks, hon. next up, colors.

    >> we're not talking ivory versus white. check this one out. this is a very beautiful champagne dress by w2. it is about $1,500. it is showing off your personality a little bit. you don't have to wear all white if you don't feel comfortable in it. maybe you like a little pink or maybe you like a little blue . my friend wore purple on her wedding day.

    >> she did?

    >> she did. it was beautiful .

    >> what do you think of color, josh?

    >> i like it. i was actually thinking where there's a trend now where there's not a whole lot of veil?

    >> it depends on the girl. i think veils are coming back in style but for a lot of girls they'd rather just wear nice hairpins. whatever works with your hair. she's got a beautiful big necklace on. it is all about the whole package there.

    >> thanks, hon.

    >> this is your red carpet moment. think about angelina jolie at the oscar is wearing that beautiful slit dress. this is $339.

    >> what?

    >> yes. it looks amazing. father of the bride 's happy. that strap there is removable. if she wants to go strapless, she can do that. the ruching is very trendy, fitted nicely.

    >> beautiful . lastly, let's bring out marissa. she's showing up about sequins and sparkles.

    >> this is about $1,300. we've got the mermaid silhouette which a lot of girls like. it is strapless, very popular neckline. all of that crystal encrusted sort of beading going on gives her that sparkle as she walks down the aisle. i think it would look really nice down the aisle.

    >> all of you come out and show off your wedding

Photos: One month of marriage: ‘A gift no one can take away’

loading photos...
  1. Getting ready

    Bethany and Ryan Smith had to plan their Dec. 11, 2011 wedding in just three days’ time after Ryan's doctors discontinued his cancer treatments. Here are images from their wedding day.

    Bethany has her hair done by Jennifer Siefried from Salon Essenza in Bend, Ore. Bethany's mother, Sue Schmidt, watches in the background. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Wine and roses

    Rose petals form the aisle at Bethany and Ryan Smith's wedding in Bend, Ore. The couple opted to have guests stand instead of sit to make the event feel more intimate. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'So glad I met you'

    When they were dating, Bethany gave Ryan a one-year anniversary card bearing the message, “You will not believe how glad I am to have met you.” Bethany highlighted those words in this chalkboard display at their wedding and also incorporated them into her wedding vows. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Helping hands

    Ariana Fernandez, co-owner and chef of Ariana Restaurant in Bend, Ore., helped Bethany and Ryan pull together their wedding at her restaurant in just three days. Here, Ariana's mother, Susan Asti, opens wine at the wedding reception. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Personalized messages

    Bethany said she wanted to avoid a Christmas theme for the December wedding, but she found paper-monogrammed ornaments at Pottery Barn that made ideal wedding favors. "We picked out a letter for each guest’s first name and I wrote a personalized thank you on the back of each one," she wrote on the wedding website Snippet & Ink. "We hung them on a beautiful birch tree and the guests had to find their ornament during the evening." (Kevin Kubota / Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 'All I wanted to see'

    "I remember walking in the door with my dad, having to turn a little corner, seeing so many people and just searching for Ryan. He was all I wanted to see," Bethany wrote. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Their moment

    Bethany and Ryan planned their wedding as quickly as they did because they knew how little time they had left to get married. Ryan died of a rare form of cancer six weeks after the wedding. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. There for them

    Bethany's godfather, Wade Conrad, married Bethany and Ryan. He handled Ryan's memorial service just weeks later. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 'More love in that room'

    “Looking back on it, there was more love in that room than I have ever experienced in my life,” Bethany Smith said about her wedding day. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A family's love

    Ryan Smith receives a hug from his grandmother, Helen Zaraska. Ryan's father, Peter Smith, is pictured on the far left. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A few quick photos

    Ryan was too sick to stay for the dinner and most of the wedding reception. Bethany and Ryan posed for a few photographs after the wedding ceremony, and then Ryan had to go lie down. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Alone at her wedding reception

    This photo of Bethany was taken shortly after the conclusion of the wedding ceremony. "The plan was to take photos right away but Ryan actually went to the car with his dad to lie down for a minute," Bethany said. "I was waiting for him to come back in to take photos and just got really sad he wasn't feeling well." (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A special engagement

    Bethany and Ryan displayed their engagement photos at their wedding. The couple got engaged in July 2011 and had these photos taken in November. After undergoing intensive chemotherapies, "Ry wanted to wait until he had a little hair," Bethany explained. (Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. A precious gift

    “Although it was way too short, we were able to be married and celebrate our one-month anniversary, and that’s a gift no one can ever take away,” Bethany said.

    To watch a moving video montage of Ryan Smith’s life that was made by Bethany's brother Isaac Schmidt and shown at Ryan's memorial service, click here. To see a video Isaac made celebrating Bethany and Ryan’s relationship, click here. (Kevin Kubota / Kubota Photo-Design) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Kubota Photo-Design
    Above: Slideshow (14) One month of marriage: ‘A gift no one can take away’
  2. Emily Harris
    Slideshow (21) Intimate portraits of bride battling cancer


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