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By Marie Anderson
MoneyMix Contributor

With every dream wedding comes a dream wedding dress. But as any bride will tell you, every dream gown comes with a price. Use these suggestions to decrease that price tag without compromising your idea of the perfect dress.

shop sample racks, trunk shows

Bridal boutiques hold sample sales a few times a year, and if you're a size eight to 10, you're especially in luck. Most sample dresses come in sizes close to a 10. Even if you're close to this size, you can buy a sample dress at a discount, pay for alterations, and still save money on your gown. You also can look for discounted accessories such as veils and shoes at sample sales.

Choose a dress with a simple silhouette or a smaller train; dresses with less fabric usually cost less. 

Trunk shows offer another alternative to shopping for full-price gowns at a bridal store. At trunk shows, dresses might not be sold at a highly discounted price, but designers may be willing to include other items (like straps or other embellishments) along with the dress. You also might be able to create a split-size dress (different sizes on top and bottom) for the price of a regular dress, saving money on alterations.

Popular stores like David's Bridal also offer outlet sale prices on many of their dresses. You can shop the online store to find discounted or discontinued gowns.

consider department stores

A number of department stores carry white and ivory dresses intended for formal events. These dresses sell for about half the price of a gown from a bridal store, and they have the same look and feel as most wedding gowns. Retailers like J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and Macy's all feature bridal wear. Your bridal party also can save money shopping at department stores for bridesmaid dresses.

pay attention to fabrics

Many designer gowns are made from lace and other expensive fabrics. If you're shopping on a budget, choose a dress made from a lower-quality fabric. Look for lower-priced dress lines, such as White by Vera Wang, created with synthetic fabrics rather than the silk you would see in a couture dress line.

Another option is to choose a dress with a simple silhouette or a smaller train, since dresses with less fabric usually cost less.

"Be open to different styles of dresses," advises Lynn Meinholz, assistant manager at David's Bridal, in Madison, Wis. "You might be surprised by what you find."

buy used

While you might be a little leery of buying a used wedding gown, this trend is gaining popularity. Buying a used dress is a great option if you're looking for that designer gown but are shopping with a strict budget. Some online sites act as trading grounds for brides who want to sell their dresses for reuse. Many of these sites offer ways to contact sellers directly, so you also can negotiate price.

PreownedWeddingDresses.com connects buyers and sellers of new, sample, and used wedding dresses. This service helps you choose the perfect wedding dress by providing lists of designers and types of dresses as well as tips for getting the best deal.

You also can try popular sites such as eBay.com to find a used dress. Before you buy a dress online, make sure you know exactly what you're looking for. Find the retail price of the dress you are about to buy so you know if you're getting a good price.

Ask the right questions about the dress before you make your final purchase. Ask to see pictures of the dress, especially areas where the dress touched the ground or other parts that could potentially have tears or damage, like the zipper. Also request the measurements of the dress, not just the size, so you know for sure if it will fit you. Finally, order your dress well in advance so you have time to get alterations if you need them.

what not to do

Now that you have strategies for finding the best wedding dress on a budget, here are some other things to consider in your hunt for your perfect dress.

  • Avoid extensive alterations. Avoid dresses that will need significant alterations. Making changes to a gown, even something as simple as altering a sleeve, can cost hundreds of extra dollars.
  • Keep it simple. Stick with a classic gown—don't choose a dress with over-the-top embellishments. Ruling out dresses with lace or beading on the hemline, waistline, sleeves, or train will keep the price down.
  • Stay on budget. "My best advice for any bride would be to not try on a wedding dress that you know is not in your budget," says Meinholz. "Inevitably, if you try something on that is not in your price range, you are going to run into trouble if you like the dress."

No matter what style of dress you're looking for, chances are, you can find it at a discount. If you're set on wearing a designer gown, search online until you find it at a lower price. If you're sure that you don't want a used dress, keep an open mind and hit up sample and trunk sales to find the perfect dress within your budget. By keeping these shopping tricks in mind, you should be able to find your dream dress while still saving money.

Published October 11, 2011

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