LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Ten weeks before my wedding, I put 140 invitations -- beautifully letter-pressed on Crane lettra paper with silver ink -- into the mail, eagerly anticipating the flood of RSVP cards marked yes.
Two days later, my soon-to-be-husband got laid off from his newspaper job.
I went from sorrow to anguish to rage to worry: We'd just invited 300 of our nearest and dearest to eat and drink on our dime, and it was too late to postpone the festivities without paying hefty cancellation fees. After a one-day pity party, we set about reworking our wedding in a way that would be a little easier on the wallet without sacrificing the elements of a very special day.
The first casualty: the pro videographer that I'd booked months before. I forfeited the $100 deposit and recruited a college friend who'd majored in broadcasting to record the ceremony. What happened to us isn't uncommon.
Weddings, typically one of the most recession-proof industries, are getting smaller as the economy struggles. The average price of a wedding was $28,385 in 2009, down 3 percent from 2008's average of $29,334, according to the 2009 Real Weddings Study by TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com. Brides are cutting back, most heavily in favors, rehearsal dinner costs and catering, the study said.
The easiest fix? Trimming your guest list, Sharon Stimpfle, deputy site director of WeddingChannel.com. advises. And rethink the traditional Saturday night wedding; Friday and Sunday weddings are significantly cheaper, as are daytime events, she said.
Even before Jake lost his job, we tried to be thoughtful about how to spend money on our wedding, picking certain areas to splurge and others to save. We knew we'd spend the most on food and drinks at a great reception spot, as well as on a talented photographer and an unbelievable honeymoon. Everything else, we tried to do on the cheap.
One afternoon, I lazily browsed pre-owned dresses on eBay, more out of boredom than anything else. One seller offered an ivory Anne Barge sample in my size from a few seasons back. It retailed for more than $3,000, and I impulsively made an offer of $500, thinking it would never be accepted. I stepped away from the computer, ran a couple errands, and when I came back I'd received the congratulatory email. The gorgeous silk-satin strapless dress was mine (and luckily, thankfully, wonderfully, it fit!).
And post wedding, I got a tax deduction by donating my dress, veil and slip to Brides Against Breast Cancer (directions available at BridesAgainstBreastCancer.org).
For my five bridesmaids, I ordered dresses from NetBride.com to save at least 40 percent. We also skipped the bridal shop for my flower girl's dress, opting instead for the affordable online retailer PinkPrincess.com.
THE PAPER STUFF
I got all my paper goods from sellers on Etsy.com. Sure, the thriftiest thing is to DIY all paper stuff, but I didn't have the skill, time or patience to do that. However, paying individual artists throughout the country to craft our paper items made me feel a little bit better than dropping $5 a set at the local wedding shop.
We customized our invitations to keep them within our budget (we used only one color of ink for the letterpress, skipped the reception card and used an RSVP postcard) and we got a lot of bang for our buck.
Likewise, we also used Etsy for our wedding programs -- although totally optional, I wanted them -- and got them for less than $1 each.
Decorating isn't my thing. The idea of elaborate, expensive centerpieces didn't appeal to me even before Jake was out of work. Another thing that didn't merit a lot of excitement was a big, traditional wedding cake, so we killed two birds with one stone by putting three-tiered stands filled with cupcakes at every table. Bada bing, bada boom, done.
Mywedding.com has fantastic, free web sites that look just as good as the paid ones.
I'd have also skipped the wedding-day transportation -- we got a 22-seat trolley to drive six blocks -- and saved $500.
But still, regrets are few. We had a sunny, 65-degree day, good friends and family with us and an open bar. We didn't notice a single cutback.