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Here comes the bride! On every budget

Every bride wants her dream day to be perfect, but wedding planning can be stressful — not to mention expensive. Real Simple magazine's Kris Connell offers some straightforward advice and suggestions for planning a wedding, whether you’re looking to splurge or save:

Invitations
Invitations are the first impression guests will have of your wedding, so pick something that reflects your personal style. If you’re at the high end of the budget and want to create a formal invitation, consider engraving from Mrs. John L. Strong (www.mrsstrong.com). Engraving is the most expensive printing option at about $35 per invitation. The “bruising” that surrounds each word separates engraving from other printing styles; it’s expensive and time-consuming, but it’s the king of printing techniques. 

If you’re looking to trim costs, flat printing — also known as offset printing — is a much cheaper alternative. This style, like from Kenzie Kate (www.kenziekate.com), is smooth to the touch, inexpensive and can usually be done fast for about $10 per invitation.

And when you’re choosing your invitation, keep the shape in mind. Postage is pricey these days and a rectangular invitation will cost about 17 cents less per invitation than a square.

Flowers
If you’re looking to cut wedding costs, there are some simple rules of thumb to consider when planning your flowers. Avoid planning your wedding near the floral heavy holidays, like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, when you’ll have to deal with supply-and-demand issues.

Consider the season. Flowers at their peak are like tomatoes in the summer — priceless and affordable at the same time. Some flowers — no matter the season — are always expensive. For example, orchids can cost up to $26 per stem! A beautiful, extravagant centerpiece from Blue Meadow in New York costs approximately $250 per centerpiece, and is filled with hydrangea, cymbidium orchids, peonies and roses.

A more budget-conscious centerpiece might include alstromeria lilies, wax flowers and carnations. This would cost approximately $150 per centerpiece, but it’s also beautiful.

Freesia, snapdragons, stock and carnations are great options if you’re looking to save money. They’re available all over the country, year-round, at less than $2 per stem.

Wedding gowns
If you’re at the high end of the bridal market, you can cherry-pick every element of your gown with a couturier, and a one-of-a-kind pattern can be created for your exact measurements. Or you can work with a couture wedding dress designer, like Christos. Every Christos gown is handmade in New York and can be customized to reflect the bride’s individual style. Dresses in this category generally start at around $3,000 and go up from there. They are characterized by luxurious fabrics and a high level of handiwork.

If you’re on a budget, there is an array of off-the-rack options from many popular retailers these days — like J. Crew. And you won’t sacrifice service. J. Crew even has a bridal consultant service that will work with you in-store or by phone.

We paired both looks with stylish shoes from Stuart Weitzman and jewelry by Tejani and Roberta Chiarella.

Party favors
Party favors are no longer a “must,” but it’s a nice personal touch and gives your guests a wedding memento.

Offer guests a local delicacy, like New Orleans pralines (www.auntsallys.com) or small bags of coffee beans in the Pacific Northwest (www.blissweddingsmarket.com). You can even personalize the coffee beans with a message and image.

We also love chocolate-covered pretzels, along with a note that says “Thanks for helping us tie the knot!” (www.fretzels.com)

If you’re willing to spend a little more, the famous chocolatier La Maison du Chocolat has beautiful, small white boxes with a chocolate inside. Boxes are wrapped with the ribbon of your choice, and you can add a personalized message inside each box.

And finally, a personalized bottle of wine or champagne is a great touch. Choose your wine and design a label for guests to remember your special day. (www.signaturewines.com)

For more tips on wedding planning, check out Real Simple Weddings, available at Crate & Barrel or wherever magazines are sold, or visit their Web site at:

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