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Toast at a wedding

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It only costs $427 to get married.

Sure, bridal surveys peg the average Canadian wedding price around $27,000 (not including honeymoon and rings), but I'm telling you it costs under $500 to tie the knot.

I've done the marriage math. To get legally wed in pricey Toronto, you need a marriage license ($140), an officiant ($265, which includes a 30-minute civic chamber rental), and a marriage certificate ($22) for a total of $427. That's it. While documentation and officiate fees can vary across Canada, shelling out an additional $26,573 does nothing to get you hitched.

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The wedding industry, a $300-billion per year global marketplace, would like you to buy into the pomp and prestige of big budgets and lavish traditions, but I'm going to debunk this financial junk and show you another way.

I should know. A few years ago I got married for $591.12 in rural British Columbia. Since my wedding budget included my dress, food, bubbly, flowers, invitations, and photos, I'll share my cost-cutting wedding ways to save you some serious marriage money.

Do not say the W-word
Blushing brides and gushing grooms beware: As soon are you mention the word "wedding," you will pay the marriage markup. Vendors have price lists for events, goods and services, and weddings can top the price spectrum by a whopping 25 to 50 per cent. Often the marked-up good or service is the same on offer for birthday parties and other social celebrations.

To save hundreds and even thousands on everything from room rentals to catering, ask to see a vendor's rate sheet to research cost and negotiate price. If you don't want to pay 50 per cent more for a wedding room rental, go ahead and throw yourself a family reunion with a small ceremony. I won't tell.

Timing is everything
Summer evenings and weekends are the most popular and priciest time slots for weddings, so skip hiring photographers and renting wares for a Saturday soiree from June to August. If you must marry in the summer, schedule your ceremony on a weekday morning or an early afternoon to avoid the weekend wedding price push. To save the biggest bucks, become a fall bride and embrace October to November – not only will you save at least 25 per cent, but you'll avoid bridal competition when booking vendors and venues.

The white dress
Given the number of reality TV programs turning white dress shopping into sports documentaries starring Bridezillas without budgets, it's no wonder women feel the pressure to look princess perfect.

Relax. A wedding gown is just a dress in some shade of white.

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The average cost of a Canadian bride's wedding gown was $1,779 last year, according to a Weddingbells survey of around 2,000 engaged and recently married readers. With an estimated 160,324 Canadian weddings in 2015, you bet your bridal dollar you can score a high-end white dress for 50 to 90 per cent less by searching the secondhand market.

Bridal sites like StillWhite.ca, Oncewed.com and Preownedweddingdresses.com boast huge inventories of every dress size, cut, style and designer imaginable. I found my second-hand silk column dress with train on eBay.ca for $100, down from $2,000 retail.

If something new is more your style, J.Crew and Anthropologie's Bhldn.com offer bridal gear for every budget, including bridesmaids dresses.

Send digital invitations
Spending an average of $375 for pretty paper invites (not including stamps) and then tracking responses is both pricey and time consuming. I skipped this step by inviting my guests through Facebook. At a total cost of $0 with no paper responses to stack, I felt pretty good using social media to cut costs – just don't let your wedding go viral!

A classier solution is to use Paperless Post, arguably the gold standard for digital invitations. While many of the themes and motifs are free, there is a cost to e-mail with RSVP tracking. The sample invite I created for a 180-person wedding party cost $40, but the "stationery" looked realistic and gorgeous.

A final frugal option is Evite, where designs and the services of e-mailing and tracking are free.

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Skip the florist
The Weddingbells survey cites $1,674 as the average cost of flowers. Well beyond my humble budget, I bought fresh flowers at Costco and made my own bouquet from a sunflower and a twist of ribbon. Three Costco flower bunches cost $51.96, and my table arrangements were gorgeous and uncomplicated.

Trim the Guest list
Guests have a habit of inflating wedding costs. More people requires a bigger venue and larger numbers means more mouths to feed. With catering and venue rentals running an average of $11,500 in Canada, you can save thousands by inviting far fewer than the average of 129 guests.

I capped my wedding at 15 guests by only inviting local friends and family. It was a bit harsh to keep it so small, but my priority was to marry on our family farm and there was no space for a bigger event.

Cut the cake
Wedding cakes are just an expensive photo opp costing an average of $350, plus many venues charge a cutting fee to plate your dessert. Are you kidding me? I dare you to request the bakery's price list and order a classic white birthday cake or family reunion cake – the prices are hundreds less. I opted for cupcakes; not only were they pre-cut but they were fun and super tasty.

Consider the alternatives
Before hiring a $4,000 photographer or blowing thousands on booze, build an honest wedding plan and budget and consider other ways your money could be spent. A $27,000 single-day event may seem fun at first, but that cash could alternatively become a house down payment, wipe out student debt, fund a trip around the world, or fund your TFSA for the future.

I have zero regrets spending just $591.12 on my wedding. You may love or loathe my tips as weddings tend to be emotional affairs, but the end result was a win – I walked away married and with money in the bank.

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Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at Squawkfox.com.

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