02/06/2012 11:33 am ET | Updated Apr 07, 2012

Proposal Planning For The 99%

My business is to design and produce elaborate, luxurious marriage proposals. For most of my clients, cost is an afterthought. No expense must be spared in the pursuit of matrimony! In other words, they are The 1%.

But what about marriage proposals for the rest of us? I firmly believe that it doesn't take a massive budget to create a memorable marriage proposal. What can a regular guy (or gal) -- one who can't afford a private jet to Paris, an exclusive rooftop in New York or a yacht in the Caribbean, do to make this a truly special moment? Some suggestions:

Start With a Package: This one makes me cringe a little because it goes against my cardinal rule -- make your marriage proposal personal. But packages give you get a lot of bang for your buck and they are a great jumping-off point. They'll also give you a location to pop the question and potentially some other perks as well. A good resource for engagement packages with a low cliché factor is Proposal Ideas or, reach out to a local hotel to see if they have special occasion packages. Don't stop once you have a base, you still need to make it your own.

Get Luxe for Less: I recently designed a marriage proposal inspired by the TV show Sex and the City. It involved various clues throughout the day, a chauffeured car for the entire day, a celebrity stylist, designer shoes from Christian Louboutin and lingerie from La Perla, a photo shoot with a photographer that has captured Sarah Jessica Parker, suite at one of the most exclusive hotels in the city and a marriage proposal inside Pierre Cartier's private office at the Cartier Boutique on 5th Avenue. Certainly an amazing proposal with a price to match. How can you replicate this luxe proposal for less? Start by getting crafty and resourceful. The clues can be made inexpensively with a nice computer font and some paper from your local craft store and deposited at each stop on her proposal journey. Second, did you know that many major department stores offer free (yes, FREE) fashion styling? They'll have a private fitting room set aside and a one hour personal shopper all for her. Next, splurge on a photographer for one hour to give her the celebrity photo shoot experience -- call wedding photographers who will be eager to book you as a wedding client after she says yes! Finally, if a private room in Cartier isn't within your means, pick out an equally special location for your proposal. Are you high school sweethearts? Call up your school and work with the janitors to decorate the old gym with candles. Met at a bar? Ask if you can come in a few hours before they open and have the place to yourself to set up a special setting.

One special request that many of my proposal clients make is to include a rooftop overlooking the city skyline. I've designed proposals on some of the most expensive and exclusive rooftops in the country -- some were surrounded by hundreds of flowers, others accompanied by a choir of singers and even one with a sidewalk chalk mural adorning the rooftop beneath them. But, rooftops can be expensive and the uncertainty of the weather has caused a lot of last-minute changes. Instead of reserving your own private rooftop, get the same experience with a suite at a local hotel that has a view of the city, at the very least, a table at a restaurant with a view. You'll still feel like VIPs without having to max out your credit card.

Don't Waste Your Money on Stupid Stuff: If you're going to spend money, make sure there's a reason behind it. Expensive champagne, red roses and limos are all things that can easily eat up a small budget and may not have a lasting personal effect. Worried about drinking and driving after the Yes? Grab a cab home rather than spending big on a limo. Use the money you saved to personalize the proposal package you bought -- purchase a wine time capsule that can be sealed on your wedding day and opened on your 10th anniversary, order specialty paper to write her a love letter to be opened the morning of your wedding, or hire a film student from your local university to create a video montage of your relationship.

It's the Illusion That Counts: If you're proposing to a girl who loves France, don't bemoan the fact that you can't afford to fly her to Paris. Instead, find a package that gets you a special room at a French restaurant or museum. Take a sick-day and transform the space into a mini-Paris: load the Amelie soundtrack on your iPod, pick up some macaroons and string tiny white lights from the ceiling. Most importantly, pour your heart and soul into something meaningful, like writing 80 reasons you love her, one for every district in the City of Lights, on vintage French postcards you find on eBay or Etsy. She'll keep the postcards forever and you won't need the bank account of a hedge fund manager.

Perfect is Different for Everyone: Most women cringe at the thought of quintessential romantic gifts like stuffed animals and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. So instead of trying to wow her with the usual cheesy stuff, think about who she really is. If she's an outdoorsy girl who loves s'mores over an open campfire, or a bohemian beauty that starts every day with yoga and herbal tea, then her dream proposal idea certainly does not involve luxury cars or designer shoes.

Here's the real truth: I know ladies who dream of being proposed to in the corner bar over a can of PBR and others who wouldn't say yes unless they saw at least four carats on their finger. Regardless of what camp you come from, thoughtful details and creativity always trump dollars and cents.

My fiancé proposed on a surprise trip to Jamaica with the ocean just steps from our picnic blanket. My favorite part of the proposal wasn't the exotic location or the private boat -- it was that he had scoured his email archives to find our first few email exchanges that I had always lamented not being able to find. After I said yes we read through those emails and it was, hands down, the best part of our engagement. Total cost for those emails? $0.

Sarah Pease, The Proposal Planner ™ is recognized as the foremost expert on marriage proposals and is the pioneer of Marriage Proposal Planning. Based in New York City, Sarah and her team at Brilliant Event Planning have designed and produced dream engagements for countless lucky couples from across the world and are the go-to source for all things regarding "Will You Marry Me?" Sarah is available for press, speaking engagements and appearances as a subject-matter expert on marriage proposals and wedding planning.