Planning A Wedding During A Recession

Updated Oct 12 2015
2008 Leftovers: Dime © by daveoratox, used under Creative Commons license.

Planning a wedding is tough stuff. Unless you have a ton of disposable income or can count on the 'rents for a large chunk, it can put a real dent in your wallet and in your credit score. Pile on a recession, sky high fuel costs, scarce job market and less than savory housing situation — and you've got a full scale wedding budgeting nightmare.

Nervous brides are scraping the bucket and turning their luxury destination weddings into backyard BBQs, all in the name of saving a little dough. In fact, for the first time in over ten years the average cost of an American wedding is expected to drop, and nearly half of all caterers and event planners have noticed a drop in wedding spending due to the recession.

Monica, a fellow Offbeat Bride Tribe member, is downright apprehensive:

"Is all this recession chatter making any one else nervous? Our wedding is about five months away and every time I hear about people losing their jobs, the economy, high gas prices, grocery prices, etc. it makes me really nervous. I'm concerned people won't be able to travel because they can't afford it, or our caterer will have to charge us more for food or travel expenses."


A majority of the monetary strain on bride-to-be's and their mates seems to come from either a lack of employment or fear of an impending layoff. Teri B is in the same boat.

My poor fiance has been having to work as a temp for the past two years, with long, long stretches of no work. She's looking really hard for a job, but there just dont seem to be enough to go around … I don't know what the hell all those Bachelors Degrees were for.

Job security is a hot topic right now whether you're planning a wedding or not. Some Offbeat Brides are worried about making ends meet period, much less deciding between beef and fish for their full-dinner reception.

If you aren't pulling your hair out over the steadily-increasing guest list, and in turn increasing dollar signs, then you're likely feeling guilty for wanting something grand, like Melissa.

"I too am planning a wedding in this summer and feel a recession may have an impact on my wedding (guests not wanting to travel, price of food, etc.) but my wedding is not a lavish affair. I'd feel guilty for having a big bash when a lot of other people are falling on hard times. "

Even if you're rolling in the money and have no problem paying for the wedding of your dreams (or letting your parents or fiance's parents pay for the wedding of your dreams), the guilt factor may still come into play. More and more couples are paying at least a portion of their own wedding costs. In these economic times, sometimes our parents aren't any better off than we are. I know that my parents struggle in general and I wouldn't dream of expecting them to fork over more than they have. Especially when their credit card debt far exceeds mine (not to mention loans out the wazoo for my schooling).

Mich is staying optimistic, and through being a savvy planner and doing a little leg-work she's managed to do a little damage control on the financial end:

I've found other ways to save during this recession… I'm getting most of my accessories off of etsy.com. Some vintage, some new. But on the bright side, at least I'm helping someone who might do their craft as a side job out a little more.

There is hope for us, cash-strapped brides on the verge of a planning breakdown. DIY Bride put together a great tip list on ways to recession-proof your wedding, mainly in regards to finances and how to manage yours. The list won't save a slipping budget but it will help you stay organized and keep your eyes on the prize.

  1. I think the silver-lining in all this disheartening/depressing economic turmoil is that our credit card, consumer culture bubble is being popped. As we plan weddings, we'll be forced to distinguish needs from wants and we'll have to get creative about how to make weddings meaningful and memorable with sincerity and creativity rather than money.

    My partner and I got married in July with a $2,000 budget because we didn't want to let ourselves get pressured by the Wedding Industrial Complex to spend, spend, spend in order to create The Perfect Day. We also wanted to save money for our first house, as opposed to dumping it into one day.

    Honestly, our wedding was better off because of our tight budget.

    I don't mean to make light of the serious economic trouble our country (and the world) is in, but I do think it will help make weddings less "over-the-top" and narcissistic.

  2. sara, i totally agree. i think that we had a fairly generous budget of $5000 (the wedding was yesterday and i'm not sure of the numbers but i'm pretty sure we came in under-budget) we had a beautiful, FUN wedding that was about people and love, and not about things. i'm so glad we are thrifty and did it within our means because two days before the wedding, i found out that my dad had just been laid off. obviously it was a stressful and unsettling thing to learn, but it was a sudden reminder of how glad i am that my frivolity wasn't a huge drain on my parents or anyone else.

  3. I agree with Jennifer.

    While we have been fortunate with a few finacial windfalls throughout of the planning process, we will be paying the vast majority of the $5000 we are spending on this wedding. I found that by doing things myself or with the help of friends I could cut corners like nobody's buisness. And since the wedding is in a week I guess we will see how it all comes out.
    I guess the best advice to brides who are trying to keep it low-budget (because who wants huge debt hanging over their heads to start their new life) Would be to not be afraid to shop around at places not related to wedding and don't be afraid to get your hands dirty doing some of it yourself. 🙂

  4. I love this article, and I'm going to share it with everyone I know getting married.

    We actually decided before ANY planning (since we're paying for this whole wedding ourselves) that nothing is going on a credit card. Zero.

    We're actually paying for a wedding over the course of a year and are enrolled in a debt management program.

    What's fabulous also is that we're having an amazing wedding IN Washington DC for only $4500. (Seriously, for this city, that price is almost unheard of.)

    It is possible, and I remember feeling like a doom cloud hung over us because we didn't have a lot of money for a wedding… but now I feel like we're really getting the wedding WE want.

  5. Ooh yes, no credit at all. We were so pleased that we'd done this top tip: work out your budget, divide it by the amount of months until your wedding, and then save that amount a month. If it works out as too much to save, then adjust your budget. Do this before you even start and by the time you're married it's all paid for! Oh, and have that spreadsheet on hand at all times so that you don't go over budget!

  6. FYI: The recession ended up not having much of an impact on our wedding in the end -perhaps because we had our wedding 8/30, before the economic crisis really hit. The only fear that came to fruition is that we had to pay a larger delivery fee (due to gas prices) to have our rental items delivered.

  7. I think the central question is what is your goal??? To get married or to have a "wedding"…you don't need a wedding to get married. We were married in our living room with only two people each invited…and NO family as that would have been impossible. It was lovely and intimate, as is our marriage.

  8. During these times we all have to look at our spending habits, in particular spending for luxury items. Unfortunately, our future spouses may think a wedding is a luxury expense. There are still ways to cut back but have a great day to remember! Good luck to all of those getting marred in the end of 08 or early 09!

  9. Thank you so much for this post! I've been feeling ridiculous about planning a wedding lately when our country is going through so much, and our economic future is uncertain. I see this as a great opportunity to focus on the things that really matter, instead of matching your napkins and candles. Having a less formal, less expensive wedding can be more fun for everyone anyway!

  10. Thank you thank you thank you! for writing this Story! my fiance and I are also having trouble finding the money to even afford to put a down payment on a church. We can't even get together $400 bucks! he is a musician and landscaper and I am a receptionist.we don't have a lot of money. We want to have a party but it is ridiculous right now. I am afraid to order food from el pollo loco to feed my guest but i am not kiddin' you that is our budget for food! I told him that i cannot justify spending hundreds of hundreds of dollars to buy a dream dress if I can barley pay my rent. I have managed to save money by making my own invites and save the dates and i am hving my dress made.As for food we are giving a continental style brunch After the ceremony and later we are going to give a (yes) El pollo loco dance party for a few of our friends. if they don't like it then hey aren't our friends!

  11. Thanks for posting this one. We're doing ours for under $1k total, and it's the smartest decision we ever made. We're 2 and a half weeks from the "big day" and I'm not even a little stressed. It's all totally under control and going to be just plain FUN.

  12. It is always possible to find a cheaper alternative when you are planning your wedding.

    Whatever you decide for your wedding celebration; an intimate meal with close friends and family or even a picnic on the beach, your day will be beautiful. You will be amazed how quickly the day goes so make sure you have someone taking lots of photos for you to look at later!

  13. What a great topic!
    I was pretty broke *before* the economy decided to fall out its own ass, so I really did worry a lot about how we would pay for everything and how my relatively well to do family would feel when their pockets were getting a little more empty. Hey, *I* was pretty used to it!
    I did find myself wishing I could stash more away than I did, but I was really proud that we stayed under our fairly conservative budget and only put our honeymoon flight on credit (and this was just to get the tickets purchased before prices skyrocketed). We got married just over a month ago, and I will feel great to have it paid off next month!

  14. Love this topic!
    Tom and I decided early on that we were not going into debt to have a wedding. Our budget has been around 3 K, and I *think* we've stuck to it. (Now I need to go check!)
    I am SO glad that I had money saved before the proposal, and that we decided to be frugal, because I've been laid off, and today is my dear fiance's last day at his job. It's a few weeks before the wedding, and had it all happened earlier, I would be freaking out way more than I am now!
    We decided to cancel our little eccentric honeymoon to Eureka Springs, AR, and have a "staycation" here. We're going to do some of the things we've been saying we'll do together, like go to the zoo!

  15. After walking the path that all of you are about to tread more than 56 years ago I can attest to the wisdom of frugality. Spending big bucks does not equate to permanent happiness. In the current economic climate I encourage each of you to rise above the sales pressure that you each must be experiencing and make a concerted effort to not spend above your means. I speak from experience, it is not worth it.

  16. We had a generous budget of $6000, and by DIY-ing all that we could (invites, favors, centerpieces from Ikea, ipod DJ, lego cake topper), and calling in the talents of family and friends, we managed to come in under budget. We were married in Alberta, Canada, in the middle of an oil boom. However, because neither of us are actually employed by the industry, we struggled just to find an affordable apartment. I have friends who went deeply into debt to dazzle and amaze their guests, and I don't see the point. I think this topic is something that every bridal website should address, as the current economic climate doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon, and yet very few do…

  17. I actually got engaged as a result of losing my job (my boyfriend FINALLY decided to pop the question because he was worried about me not having health insurance). We were originally going to have a city hall kind of wedding and be done with it, but I've always wanted a sort of party with all of the people I hold dear to me (thankfully, there aren't a lot of those). My mom has been awesome in that respect. She's basically paying for the party (with a less than 3k budget mind you), and she's giving me free reign to have the wedding my style. I found a beautiful venue, where for only $40 per person you get awesome food, open bar for 5 hours, 1 hour free for the ceremony, tables, chairs, plates and cutlery, and they have an ipod music system so that takes care of music. My dress is less than $200, I bought the centerpieces at budgetcenterpieces.com (for about $14 a pop), the rings are titanium, and I made the invitations myself for $30 with invitation software that was clearance at Office Max. I've spent less than 1k so far.

  18. Oh, I'm so grateful for this post. You have no idea.

    The Big-Bad-Bank-Ugly hit just as I was about to mail the first of my non-refundable deposits for my wedding venue. I panicked and held onto that check for nearly two weeks.

    Our no-credit-card-save-as-we-go budget wedding is Aug 23,2009 and I was panic stricken about people not being able to attend because it's anywhere from a 3-6 hour drive for 99% of the people invited and then there's the overnight accommodations on top of that. I'm not as worried about the cost of the wedding nearly as much as the idea of people becoming too cash-strapped to attend. My dress came from ebay, Honey's wearing a suit he already owns and the flowers will come from the garden. We're all set to use the iPod.

    But…I still worry. Even on a very-reasonable <$9000/100 guest NY budget it seems so insanely extravagant.

    We seriously considered scrapping the whole thing. But we polled the family (75% of the guest list) and everyone said "don't be silly. Do it!"

    I mailed the check.

    And I have anxiety dreams nightly.

  19. We're in the typical Midwest-rustbelt situation ourselves; meaning that all the jobs are GONE and they aren't coming back. This has been the case for years, but in light of the recent economic situation, things have spiraled downward, including the fact that my dad is losing his job as well as several other of our relatives.

    In light of that, (and due to the fact that we're both students) a budget-wedding that my fiance and I are paying for 100% ourselves was a no-brainer. I'm lucky because my whole family is crafty, but it can still be frustrating to get on sites like the Knot (no-offense to high-budget Knotties!) and read about topics like "budget" honeymoon sites for $3,000 when I'm trying to figure out how to dry clean my prom shoes so I don't have to buy new ones. Sigh.

    At any rate (and though I'm probably overstating what's already been said)sites like this have been a wonderful place for me to go and not feel like crap for 1. Not having any money 2. Not wanting to spend tons of money 3. Not wanting to have a cookie-cutter affair.

    And that's my two cents. 🙂

  20. I really hope that Sara is right.

    Our wedding budget was based largely on a portfolio of stock that my grandfather had willed to me, which was poorly managed. Needless to say, my partner and I went from a $10,000 budget with 100 guests, to a $2,500 budget in less than two weeks (Sara, your wedding is inspirational!). I'm not complaining about this fact, but merely thinking how it will change a lot of things, especially since we're locked into the venue, which is half of our budget. It will be interesting to see how people while adjust, not only for couples planning a wedding for the future, but for those of us who are halfway through our planning!

  21. Great thread and all the more pertinent now that the whole world seems to be short of cash!

    I'm a big fan of DIY on all the bits that are "easy" (with a little help that is from friends and relatives) and only leaving the absolute essentials to an expert (and then negotiating like crazy to get the best price!)

    I got married 7 years ago and organized the whole thing in 3 months for less than $5000.

    I kept costs down by only spending money on the reception venue – an intimate place with hired marquee for a big party for friends and IMMEDIATE family only. OK it was a second marriage for me and we were paying for it but there was no way I was going to invite cousins etc I hadn't seen in 20 years!

    Flowers were free as donated by the lady/friend who does the church flowers. Catering costs were kept down by having simple tasty homely food including my favourite chocolate bread and butter pud! My dress was a display sample, invitations, favors, order of service etc were all hand made for just a few dollars and the only extravagance was our "mountain cake" (he proposed on top of Kilimanjaro!) – I had no time to make one and it was so cool!

    We had the best day ever and all our friends wrote US thank you letters for such a great party.

    So be as frugal as you want/need, you will have a great day no matter what!

  22. I found this article on your site and I really relate to what a lot of these offbeat brides are saying. My fiance and I have been engaged for two years now (he proposed while we were still in college), but I have had a hard time finding work since I live in Illinois. I'm a graphic designer and have been able to freelance from time to time, but planning a budget for the wedding is difficult when you've no experience at wedding planning. My fiance and I are getting various opinions from family members such as "$38 a plate is too high" to being told that members of my family won't come up north for my wedding because of a 3 hour drive.

    I've tried suggesting a civil ceremony to my fiance but he won't have it. I guess I'm more depressed about planning my wedding and this article has given me some hope (especially reading the comment someone made about having a wedding on a $4500. budget.

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