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Couples Say ‘I Don’t’ to Expensive Weddings

wedding

Heather Strickland fashioned her bridal bouquet from wholesaled pink roses. Ashley Butler and Kevin Cohea catered their own cheese and veggie plates for their wedding reception - with the help of Sam's Club. And Tina Czech is planning her big day for the holidays, when her local church already will be outfitted with glittering trees and more than 300 poinsettias.

Whether out of propriety or necessity, weddings are being tweaked - if not turned upside down - by the recession.

These days, couples who can spring for six-figure weddings are re-prioritizing their wish lists to strike a more sensitive, subdued tone - trading, say, the $200 monogrammed iPod party favor for something less showy, like a monogrammed cookie.

And those who can scarcely swing four-figure weddings are getting crafty: scouring the Web for gently used gowns, haggling over hotel rates for guests (and cutting children and not-so-significant others from guest lists), going for grocery store - vs. bakery - cakes and do-it-yourselfing everything from décor to dinner.

Either way, the big, fat boom-time wedding of the past few years has been deflated. "People are really changing their mind-set from over-excess to really trying to be more frugal and saving, like how my parents' generation thinks," says Christina Joo Sethi, 31, who rented the diamond and gold drop earrings she wore at her wedding in February.

The recession is "teaching people to rethink how they were living their lives before, and I think it's a good thing," says Sethi, a former health care consultant from New York. "I think it was really was getting out of control."

Wedding planner Jung Lee's high-end New York clients are scrapping after-parties, 15-piece bands, bottomless Dom Perignon and even coveted (but pricey) Saturday dates. "That's a little unheard-of," says Lee, co-owner of Fête, the focus of a TLC television series premiering this fall, Wedded to Perfection.

Some knot-tying consultants predict today's trend toward more modest nuptials will be permanent. Once there's a correction in the marital marketplace, brides are going to remember the bargains their sisters and cousins bagged during the downturn and wonder, "Why can't I do it now?" says David Tutera, who plans weddings for A-list and Everywomen alike, the latter on his WE TV show, My Fair Wedding. "We're re-looking at things."

'Getting more creative'

For many brides and grooms, it's about revising expectations. Couples are satisfied even if it's only their Prosecco wishes and salmon roe dreams that get fulfilled.

A March survey by wedding website The Knot found 40% of brides have reduced their budgets, typically by 16%. Editor in chief Carley Roney predicts that as couples start planning their nuptials, those figures will rise.

Last year, 48% of caterers and event planners surveyed by the National Association of Catering Executives reported declines in wedding spending. More than half (52 said more customers were opting for less-expensive Friday and Sunday events (other couples are choosing less desirable months such as November and January), and 62% said clients were purchasing lower-cost meals and avoiding luxury items, such as martini bars, ice sculptures and dessert stations.

Meanwhile, The Knot has seen a jump in activity on its Trash to Treasure message board, a forum for offloading gear such as tiaras, cake toppers and batches of bridesmaid dresses. The company also has launched a blog, My DIY (or Do It Yourself) Wedding Day, "because attention on that topic was so strong," Roney says.

It's going to be an "interesting, challenging" year for the wedding industry, Roney says. "Brides are getting more creative. The profession is getting more creative, with some reticence, of course - they were liking those boom times." So vendors "are under tremendous pressure to provide amazing service at a time when everyone wants a deal."

Czech, a conference planner turned veterinary technician, has been applying her research and negotiation skills as she puts together her wedding in Tampa Jan. 2. After checking with five florists, she took the lowest quote to her favorite flower shop and scored a price that was less than the quote, on the same kind and quantity of flowers. Calls to six bridal shops in search of a particular bridesmaid dress yielded prices ranging from $152 to $192. (She steered her bridesmaids toward the cheapest.)

And after investigating a half-dozen invitation purveyors online, she went to her nearby Party City store, which threw in free shipping and reception cards. She shaved about $50 off the lowest Internet price. "It never hurts to ask questions when it comes to what you want," says Czech, 38, who lives in Lakeland, Fla.

Tutera says survival for planners and other vendors hinges on doing more for less. "We take everything we can get here," he says. "Business is business."

Lee knows of wedding photographers who used to charge $20,000 but now are discounting their fees by nearly 50%, "just to get some jobs." One venue she knows of is charging less than half of last year's rate. "It was shocking," she says.

Some businesses, however, are capitalizing on the economy. For New York-based Adorn Brides, which rents out bridal jewelry (including Sethi's earrings, which cost $100 for the weekend), the recession "really has worked in our favor," says co-founder Laura Carrington. "Even if a bride is spending $200,000 or more, a $10,000 or $20,000 necklace is still not a practical purchase" when you can rent one for $350.

Steal the Time, a New York-based luxury watch leasing company, recently outfitted a Manhattan groom and his four groomsmen with Rolex Submariners (the company's 30-model collection ranges from $52 to $308 a week, pieces that go for $850 to $14,200 retail).

"We do live in an image-obsessed society, and people always want to portray an image that may not be there anymore," says founder Justin Figari.

But at Chicago's Cakegirls bakery, gone are the elaborate $7,000 confections. Starting in January (a big planning month for summer weddings), co-owner Mary Maher noticed a shift "right away": Couples began choosing smaller, simpler creations. Right now, the average cost is about $900 for a cake; a year ago it was $1,200 to $1,500.

The change indicates "they might be curbing the guest list and doing weddings that are a little more modest," says Maher, whose shop appears on WE's Amazing Wedding Cakes.

Butler made the cake - three tiers of white cake with vanilla filling and buttercream icing - the star of her nuptials June 13 in Prairie Grove, Ark.

She initially planned an evening of drinks and dancing for 150 at a reception hall in nearby Fayetteville. But by March - after she had lost about a month's income from her job as a theater stage manager, thanks to rehearsal cutbacks - she cut her budget from $10,000 to $3,000. The wedding shifted to the afternoon, to punch, coffee and cold appetizers at a community building near the church.

'Wonderful people' pitch in

Like a lot of brides, Butler, 25, got by with a little help from her friends and family.

She had her plans sewn up early on, at least partly. One of her bridesmaids, a costume designer, volunteered to stitch together the celadon silk dupioni dresses and pantsuits for herself and her fellow attendants. It was her gift to the couple. Her man of honor did her hair and makeup (he's a professional stylist). Her minister grandfather officiated.

"I just have wonderful people who've gone, 'Here, let me help,' " Butler says.

As she scaled back, Butler was concerned about the sacrifices her 60 to 70 out-of-town guests were making.

"I would feel bad having people pay all that money to fly in, get a hotel, have a 35-minute ceremony, a two-hour reception, cut the cake and be done," Butler says. They've been more than understanding, she says. And she chipped in where she and Cohea could, paying for their eight attendants' outfits - rental tuxes for the guys and fabric for the maids - and opting for low-price gift registry items at widely accessible stores (Target, Wal-Mart, Bed Bath & Beyond).

Roney approves: "This is not the time (to ask) for a $250 cappuccino maker."

Today's bride typically is "the opposite of a bridezilla," says Antonia van der Meer, editor in chief of Modern Bride. "They feel relatively little guilt about their own spending, but they feel guilty about what their guests and bridesmaids are spending."

Even deep-pocketed couples are trimming the trappings. Sethi trimmed her $300,000 Bahamas wedding - to the tune of $50,000 - by using local musicians instead of flying in a band and nixing hand-calligraphed menu and seating cards. She felt "really guilty" about asking her 62 guests to travel, given the expense and time off required. So for some, she and her husband, Raj Sethi, helped pay the hotel bill.

The goal is to cut costs while sustaining style. "You don't want to look back on it and say, 'What a great budget wedding I had.' But you do want to be a smart consumer," van der Meer says.

For Ivy Concepcion, that means shifting her 150-person festivities Nov. 7 30 miles west, from Dallas to Fort Worth, where a comparably boutique reception venue is $2,800 (vs. $5,000 in Dallas), bouquets start at $45 (vs. $175), linens average $15 to $16 a table (vs. $25 to $55) and the same gown can go for $1,250 (vs. $1,625).

"I was just amazed," says Concepcion, 27, of Grand Prairie, Texas, who expects to be laid off from her job in commercial business operations and so is "always looking at the numbers" when it comes to her nuptials. (Her fiancé, Kenneth Tirado, was out of work for four months last year.)

"You can have a very elegant wedding for $7,000," says Strickland, 24, a magazine editor. Sure, she got married at a recreation center, but one on the water, in her hometown of Clearwater, Fla. She lined the aisle with pink tissue-paper floral pomanders she and her maid of honor Mac Gyvered. She hung 60 paper lanterns, but lit them with LED lights and lithium batteries shipped from eBay sellers in Hong Kong, for about $1 each (vs. $5 for a traditional lantern light).

She toasted her new life with thrift-store champagne flutes - dolled up with twisting strands of green and pink beads from Michael's. "People think weddings have to cost so much money," Strickland says. "They don't."

1 Responses »

  1. We're scaling back on our wedding. DIY invites, no RSVP (website only), fake flowers, etc. Our biggest expense is the reception, but it's all-inclusive & it will be where our guests are spending the majority of their time. We will be splurging a bit on specific vendors, like a DJ & a photographer.