Bride on a Budget

As businesses brace for the possibility of a double dip recession, brides and grooms should plan for the unexpected when planning their wedding day: job loss, vendors going out of business, rising prices and traveling limitations.

While weddings still take place even in a down economy, brides and grooms are scaling back and trimming the excess from their celebrations. The numbers show the dramatic shift:

The average cost of a wedding dropped $10,000 in a year after the recession began. Last year the cost began to recover, rising from $19,581 (2009) to $23,867, according to The Wedding Report. But the latest figures show weddings are taking a hit again, with the average cost of a wedding for the first half of 2011 sinking to $21,277.

Scarcity of jobs, a sour housing market and high fuel costs are making wedding planning a challenge – for couples and vendors alike. Florists, caterers and bakers are feeling the pinch of rising prices and are passing those costs onto their clients.

But there are ways to recession-proof your wedding and make your day of celebration a little easier on the wallet for everyone involved. Here are several ways.

1. Go off-peak. Choose an off-season month (January, February or November) to get married, and an off-peak day and time. Saturday afternoon and evenings are the most desired spots, so go for Saturday morning, or Friday or Sunday night to save money on venues and services.

2. Limit the guest list. Most caterers charge per-person, so the difference between 100 guests and 150 is significant. The reception is usually half of your budget – and with food prices rising, feeding your guests tastefully will be hard. Simplify the reception by serving high tea, dessert buffet, brunch or finger-foods instead of compromising on options for a multi-course meal.

3. Buy discounted gift cards from GiftCardGranny.com. Use them to purchase decorations, supplies and materials from stores like Hobby Lobby, or your wedding attire from Macy’s or J.Crew, which is among a growing number of retailers with affordable wedding boutiques. Combine the cards with coupons or promo codes and increase your savings.

4. Shop around and negotiate prices and packages with vendors. Don’t ever settle for more than you think you should be paying. Vendors will be happy for your business. Get everything in writing and have one to two backup vendors you can call should something go south with your first choice.

5. Get your hands dirty. The key to any successful budget wedding is doing it all yourself. But it requires delegating to friends and family, who are often honored and happy to play a part in your big day. Get your friends and family in the act of addressing envelopes, folding programs, creating favors and making a headpiece or a veil. Some might be willing to cover some costs involved as a wedding gift to you. The greatest benefit of going DIY is saving money, which will allow you to in turn spend on what you can’t do – or don’t want to leave to chance, like photography.

6. Get thrifty. Twenty-two year olds Jonathan and Rebecca Mooradian of Tennessee scoured Goodwill, thrift stores and yard sales for practically everything they needed for their wedding this year. After paying about 50 cents to a $1 for each item (including a 25-cent wedding gown), they sold their wares in their own garage sale after the wedding, according to The Tennessean’s Ms. Cheap. Keep an eye on your local Craigslist and Freecycle for potential finds, and don’t forget to ask friends if you can borrow crystal or glass vases, dishes, glasses, serving trays and utensils.

7. Consider insurance. Wedding insurance can protect you in the event a vendor goes bankrupt or out of business. If you’re spending more than $5,000 on your wedding, it might be worth the extra cost. Talk to your insurance agent for advice, or check out online offerings like WedSafe.com.

When couples or their parents are faced with the choice of paying for a 150-person reception or putting money toward a down payment on a house, the more practical option may win the day. Do what’s best for your situation and remember a lot of people are going through what you are. Friends and family will understand if you don’t throw a soiree of Kardashian proportions.

Weddings expert Cara Davis is the author of Cheap Ways to Tie the Knot and blogs from her home in Orlando, FL, about cheap ways to spend and save at CheapWaysTo.com.

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