Free Falling

As a daughter in the three-girl, one-boy lineup of children my parents have raised to adulthood, being economical is something that has been instilled in me since my childhood.

I rarely pay full price for any item of clothing — I even opted to buy two different sized shoes (they were the only ones left) for New Year’s Eve just to get the $10 discount on top of the already discounted heels — and hand-me-downs are still a luxury I cherish from my two slightly older sisters. So when my now fiancé proposed to me last April, my fourth thought — behind “Is this a real ring!?” “Are you serious!?” and “Of course I’ll marry you!” — was, “But let’s not spend $20,000 on our wedding.” It was only natural that I would cut corners when it came to my wedding attire.

My siblings are my wedding heroes. All four of us were engaged in 2012, and with one wedding behind us, the rest of us have several leftover glass centerpieces, candles, tablecloths, and unused ideas for our own days. Luckiest for me, my sister, Tara, wed a U.S. Air Force airman, and during her resourceful wedding research, she found a nonprofit organization, Brides Across America, that offers free wedding dresses to military brides. Engaged to a soldier boy myself, I hit the jackpot. The organization, which started in 2007 at a bridal boutique in New Hampshire, teams up with bridal salons across the U.S. to offer a selection of gowns to brides who are either in the military or marrying into it. To date, the program has given away more than 5,000 brand-name dresses.

Though I don’t feel like I’ve done anything more deserving than any other “civilian” bride, I couldn’t pass such an opportunity. When I learned Rebecca’s Wedding Boutique in Louisville, Ky., was hosting the program last November, I was the first bride-to-be at the salon’s doorstep — literally. I tried on four dresses of the more than 50 Rebecca’s had donated for the Brides Across America event, and in 20 minutes was out the door with No. 3 and a gift certificate for a manicure. Call me crazy, but it’s a much easier decision when it’s free. Still eight months out from our August 2013 wedding date, I can’t reveal too much about my free dress, though I’m confident it will fit right in next to my groom’s fancy Army service uniform.

Getting my dress was like my shotgun start to begin heavy wedding planning. And like most brides who go for the church ceremony, open-bar reception, white gown, and honeymoon tradition, I’m realizing that $20,000 — which is well below the average price tag on modern-day weddings — is a difficult target to miss, even without the expense of a dress. Still, I’m sticking to my fourth instinct, and refuse to pay that much for a wedding. Call me crazy, but I’ve still got some tricks up my sleeve.

My advice: Visit Pinterest. It has so many do-it-yourself ideas to help you save money. Also, be sure to research your options and use any resources you have, such as a crafty father who can build you your own photo booth (as my dad did for my sister) or a baker cousin who can do your wedding cake for half the price.

For more information visit Brides Across America.

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