Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recession? Time to Slash the Flower Budget

A Reprint from www.nytimes.com
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Published: December 20, 2008

PITY Lauren Huber, 27, a Baltimore bride-to-be who began planning her wedding 12 months ahead only to see the economic downturn force her to forgo not just the icing on the cake, but the cake itself.

Tom Bloom Her fiancé, Ryan Priem, who is 28 and a salesman, saw his income drop, and the couple found themselves spending the $35,000 set aside for their March 2009 wedding on everyday living expenses. They began trimming costs from every aspect of their event.

The big hotel to which they had committed early in the process suddenly seemed unaffordable. So Ms. Huber sold her $3,400 Amsale dress on Craigslist and plans to wear a less costly one. She canceled the morning-after brunch, cut a half-hour off the photographer’s services and halved the size of the bouquets. Finally, she canceled the cake, as dessert is already included in the dinner she ordered.

“We can do without,” she said. “Dessert is tiramisù, so we’ll get pictures of us slicing that instead.”

She’s hardly alone. As the financial condition of the country worsens, the wedding industry, so long considered recession-proof, is seeing fairy-tale weddings stripped of their sprites, their sparkle and everything else that suggests splurge.

Some couples are slashing guest lists to include just immediate family and very dear friends, leaving aunts, cousins and the friends of friends out entirely, and bridal consultants say that they are seeing more couples postponing their events until they can be more certain they will have the money to pay for the wedding they want. Others are ratcheting up plans for quick, simple weddings that allow them to more readily take advantage of a safety net woven from the government and corporate benefits available to married couples.

Still other couples, armed with the skills they learned in a go-go economy, are trying to forcefully renegotiate with vendors to keep some semblance of their ideal wedding.

One bride had put down a deposit and locked into a contract with a site in a town south of Philadelphia, where she and her fiancé live. Given the amount of debt piling up from their graduate school studies, she suddenly thought that the $30,000 to $40,000 she had planned to spend on her wedding seemed ridiculous.

Furthermore, the downturn in the economy left the bridegroom’s parents unable to provide as much financial support as the couple had hoped for. And although the wedding venue has been accommodating, it is not willing to make a refund. The bride is now aiming for something in the under-$20,000 range. To get there she has cut the number of people she has invited from 200 to 115, and made her wedding dinner a less costly luncheon, hoping to save another $30 to $40 a person.

“You can negotiate prices with any wedding vendor,” said Kristal Joiner, the wedding coordinator at Event Source Northwest in Kirkland, Wash., a company that has seen plenty of clients seek to do just that recently. But businesses like Ms. Joiner’s, which specialize in supplying disc jockeys and masters of ceremonies, are also caught in an economic squeeze.

“We understand that people don’t have as much money these days,” Ms. Joiner said. “We can cut back on hours, or we can do a couple less speakers, or we’ll throw in an extra hour.” However, she added, “We have to charge what we’re worth and make money, so it’s a little difficult.”

The same economic forces that are encouraging couples to trim their expectations may actually be encouraging more of them to marry sooner, if less expensively. Some who earn their livelihoods in the wedding business report that they are seeing more couples opt for hurry-up weddings that will allow them to claim married-filing-jointly status on their income taxes for 2008.

“Whereas last year I did 197 weddings, this year I’m up to 299 weddings,” said the Rev. Marie April Gismondi, a nondenominational minister with the Church of Ancient Ways in Babylon, N.Y. “I’d say a lot more of them are those quick-I-want-to-get-married-this-week weddings."

Newport Wedding

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