Planning weddings during a downturn

Andrea Lown, president and founder of, overlooks her website. In an online survey by SmartBride of more than 500 brides, 76 per cent felt today’s brides are pressured to have extravagant weddings beyond their financial means.

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TORONTO — From the decor to the dresses, food, flowers and entertainment, tying the knot can be trying enough on finances under normal circumstances.

A 2008 online survey by Weddingbells magazine of more than 2,000 readers found the average expected cost of weddings among those surveyed was $19,038.

In the face of tough economic times, engaged couples likely aren’t putting off plans to get hitched, but could be seeking out ways to scale back while still having the day of their dreams.

Andrea Lown is hoping to help newlyweds who want to recoup some of their costs as well as assist brides-to-be who want to save on their impending expenses.

Lown is president and founder of SmartBride Boutique, a free local classifieds website devoted exclusively to wedding-related items.

“I think there’s just some really practical people that say: ‘OK, wow. We just spent $20,000 (on our wedding). If I can get $600, $700 back, at least I can pay off some of those bills,” said Lown, 28, who was married in Lake Louise in 2007 and lives in Toronto.

“Then you get the people who are environmentally friendly and they say, ‘This dress is literally sitting in my closet. I’m not going to wear it again. I’m going to have to remind myself to open the box once a year just to look at it. Let somebody else enjoy this.”’

There are so many keepsakes from a wedding day — photos, video, guestbooks — that maybe it’s best to let the dress go and pick another item of the attire to hold on to, like a veil, which is smaller to store and not as big an investment, Lown said.

In an online survey by SmartBride of more than 500 brides, 76 per cent felt today’s brides are pressured to have extravagant weddings beyond their financial means.

“That’s pretty compelling that people are almost feeling pushed into having big weddings, having more guests, more lavish receptions, better food, more expensive dresses, those kinds of things.”

Catherine Lash, owner and creative director of The Wedding Co., whose company held the Wedding Show in Toronto earlier this month, said one of the biggest costs of any wedding is food and drink.

By downsizing your guest list by 50 people, you’ve actually eliminated a huge amount of money on both catering and decor, Lash said.

“It’s not an easy way because it’s very difficult not to invite a lot of people to a wedding, but I think you have to decide what your cutoff point is.”

Lash recommends couples select the thing that means the most to them and decide on other areas where they’ll cut back.

“If you’re foodies, really go for a great menu,” she said. “That person might go, ‘I’m going to buy the $500 dress because I don’t care, but the food is really key.”’

That’s the mindset of Christina Cheng as she prepares for her August nuptials in her hometown of Vancouver.

Cheng, 29, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Thousand Oaks, Calif., near Los Angeles, will have about 150 guests at her wedding.

“I think one of the more important things we want to spend money on is the food and the drinks, something for our guests, because a lot of them are flying in to the city to celebrate with us,” said Cheng, whose fiance hails from Michigan.

“We weren’t going to skimp too much on that, but it was going to be more like the details, the decorations, the flowers and things like that.”

There are things many consider wedding essentials — like photography — that are difficult to scrimp on.

Lash, who worked as a wedding photographer for a decade, suggests if you find a company you like, ask if they have a junior photographer with fewer years of experience.

“Chances are, if it’s with a company that’s been in business for a while, (in) the post-production you’re going to get the same quality and the same service and that’s key.”

When you go to see any vendor, whether it’s a photographer, videographer or DJ, opt for a lower-priced package as you can always upgrade, said Darsi Pizzolato of

Looking to save money on flowers? Consider opting for silk flowers instead of fresh, Pizzolato suggests.

“You have the centrepiece game, somebody at the table wins it, they get to take it home, but what do they have after a week? They have a vase,” she said.

“Sure, they can use the vase later, but if it’s a beautiful centrepiece, they can keep the flowers and everything after.”

Some of the do-it-yourself craft ideas are priceless, Lash said.

At the Wedding Show, they brought in the idea of origami, creating crane placecard holders which double as a take-home item.

Tennis fans may opt to put tennis balls at place settings with names inscribed, or buy racket-shaped moulds and make homemade chocolates as gifts, Lash said.

“If you make something for your wedding and give it to each guest, that will mean more to them than just going out and buying a cheap present. To actually make something with their hands, they will love it.”


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