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 that involved a two-hour wait at the unemployment office and a bloody mary brunch afterward, we set about reworking our wedding in a way that would be easier on the wallet without sacrificing the elements of a very special day.
The first casualty: the pro videographer. I forfeited the $100 deposit and recruited a college friend who'd majored in broadcasting to record the ceremony. I sold my beloved Kate Spade wedding shoes online (via the great message boards on WeddingBee.com) and picked up a more practical pair of silver flats on eBay that I knew I'd wear again.
What happened to us isn't uncommon.
Weddings, typically one of the most recessionproof 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.
"It's not something that's going to deplete your bank account, but there are definitely ways around it to still have your dream wedding," said Sharon Stimpfle, deputy site director of WeddingChannel.com.
The easiest fix? Trim the guest list, Stimpfle said. 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 picked 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.
I nearly gave up on finding a dress after many fruitless visits to bridal shops. I refused to buy a dress if the shop cut out the label, and I wasn't loving anything I'd tried on with the label, either.
One bored afternoon, I lazily browsed pre-owned dresses on eBay. 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 left, but when I came back I'd received the congratulatory e-mail. The gorgeous silk-satin strapless dress was mine.
Post wedding, I got a tax deduction by donating my dress, veil and slip to Brides Against Breast Cancer via its website.
For my five bridesmaids, I selected gray chiffon dresses from Watters & Watters and ordered them from NetBride.com to save at least 40 percent on each dress. We also skipped the bridal shop for my flower girl's dress, opting instead for the affordable online retailer PinkPrincess.com.
I got all my paper goods -- invitations, save the dates, programs, maps, everything -- 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. 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.
The idea of 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. We killed two birds with one stone by putting three-tiered stands filled with cupcakes at every table.
We used stands from Martha Stewart's craft line from Walmart, though thrift stores would have been another good place to look for vintage cake stands.
As for the dumb things we did -- it's easy to get too excited about things at the beginning. Had I known we'd be a one-income household come wedding day, I wouldn't have dropped $100 on a customized wedding Website. Mywedding.com has fantastic, free sites that look just as good as the paid ones.
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.