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.
“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 , couples are turning to on 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 , boutonnieres and corsages from [WMT 58.14 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.
“They were really gorgeous and I couldn’t believe how many flowers came in those bouquets,” she said. “Everybody was raving about them.”
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 .
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.
“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, 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.
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.”
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.”
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.