For the wedding of your dreams, make a budget early

Two may be able to live as cheaply as one, as the old saying goes, but the act of getting hitched these days often comes with a hefty price tag.

Every year more than 2.4 million American couples say “I do,” and according to a wedding Web site — — the average couple spends $19,000 on the big event.

Today’s wedding ceremonies are so varied in their celebration of love’s promise that, except for the part about love, frequently there is little comparison to the formal ceremonies of past generations.

“The younger-aged marrying couples are coming from a more individualized place, they’re more independent of tradition. Whereas our parents were doing what their parents did,” observed Rita Brown, who runs Vermont Country Weddings, which specializes in weekend-long events featuring horse-drawn carriages, gourmet food and breathtaking views as part of the package.

Managing the cost of a memorable ceremony needn’t spoil the nuptials. With the aid of the Internet, even the regular Joes and Janes can spice up their modest weddings with doves being released when they say their “I do’s.”

All they have to do is click onto a wedding Web site, where they can find not just dove suppliers, but get competing bids for those doves.

While the high-tech and the high-service ends of the wedding industry add more variety, there are still plenty of standard bridal magazines and guides. There has never been a larger range of resources, ideas and assistance for the betrothed.

Among the most useful resources available are the budget planning services offered by both the high-tech and human weddings experts. Planners often offer free consultations.

Many of the Web sites, such as and, offer budgeting templates you can use to enter in your own numbers to help crystallize the financial reality of staging a wedding.

These wedding-planning templates reveal in a flash the difference between a formal sit-down meal for 50 and buffet for 100, sticking with wine or splurging on cocktails, having a string quartet or a DJ. Food will be the biggest expense in most cases, and the range of price tags is enormous depending on your region, tastes and style.

Cakes can cost from $200 for a simple bakery confection to $1,500 for a tiered custom-made affair designed to match the lace on the bride's gown.

Wedding dresses can cost everywhere from zero for an heirloom dress from the family to $200 for an off-the-rack cocktail-style dress to the multi-thousand-dollar gowns of popular designer Vera Wang.

Flowers can run from $100 for having a friend run out to the local farmer’s market to $14,000 for top-of-the-line exotic blooms in every bouquet, decoration and centerpiece.

Videographers can charge $300 to $800 for a standard video to several thousands to hire multiple cameramen to create a Hollywood-style movie of your big day.

Again, the Internet is your friend to find variety and competitive pricing.

Where to hold the event is another big variable. Renting an art museum or historic mansion is memorable but pricey. A hotel ballroom or restaurant saves on headaches by offering one-stop shopping, but you pay for the convenience. If you organize the wedding yourself, you can hire a wedding-day facilitator, who comes just for the big day to keep things running smoothly.

Professional wedding planners like to point out that they are connected with vendors, they know the landscape, they know the best place to get quiche, they know the subcontractors who are reliable. One area experts say not to scrimp on is wedding photographers, for those pictures will become heirlooms.

You can get professional photographers for as low as $200 to beyond $6,000, depending on what region you live in and the extent of services provided.

There is also wedding insurance. For $125 to $400, you can be insured against such disasters as ruined bridal clothes, closed venues or serious illness.

Or skip it all and run away to Vegas to get married, as more than 100,000 couples do yearly, according to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.