Getting Hitched in a Bad Economy

That's right, throw conventon and caution to the wind

That's right, throw convention and caution to the wind

For The Nashville City Paper

Cupid works most diligently in the spring. What with the moonlight, the dogwoods and the balmy weather a “recreational” relationship can turn deadly serious. Spring is the season of proposals. Now we find ourselves deep in wedding season, June.

According to the Society of American Florists, the average wedding costs $16,000. Even if you have “disposable” income anywhere near this egregious amount, who wouldn’t cringe at spending the down payment on a house for what some consider a nice soiree for the parents; there are means to an inexpensive and memorable wedding.

Having very little money will force you to think outside the box. This is good. A few years ago, I went to a wedding on a farm in the country. The handwritten invitations announced who, what, when and where. At the bottom of the invitation the couple announced they would not be accepting gifts. In lieu of presents, they asked that attendees bring food. They had cut into thirds who should bring an entree, a side dish or a desert according to the first letter of the last name, a potluck wedding.

A great idea—but not for the stuffy.

The bride wore a long silk slip with spaghetti straps she bought for $65 and carried wildflowers. The groom wore a suit and the bridesmaids wore Capri bell-bottoms with white lace around the edges. Friends made a line and lit sparklers as the bride walked down the “aisle.” They one thing they splurged on was decent champagne ‘ there’s nothing more offensive than bad champagne. The cost? Under five hundred dollars, what some women pay for high heels, and it was the most buoyant wedding I have ever attended.

Be brave. Rent a distressed downtown loft and wear kilts. Decorate a boat dock with Christmas lights and set off fireworks. (One shell costs about twenty dollars and gets up to fifty feet in the air and you don’t need to hire a carny to set it off). Spend little but take months writing vows so breathtaking the in-laws forgot they had to make lasagna. It’s about love after all— or at least it should be.

Only ten percent of weddings take place on Sundays and only twelve percent in the morning. This is bargaining power when it comes to the ceremony or the reception. A Sunday mid-morning wedding is a very decent time for a wedding, and a brunch is less expensive than dinner. Rent a refurbished fire hall or a civic club that headquarters in an old mansion. Civic organizations rent for so much less money than a country club or a hotel it may well be worth having to print “Join us at the Kiwanis Club to celebrate our love” if the venue has atmosphere and you’re going to save $2,000. University chapels will drop rates considerably if you’re an alumnus.

Then there’s the great outdoors. Parks, especially ones with vistas, work fine for just a few dollars and make for a nice, intimate feel as the group stands around the vowing couple. You can head to the reception afterwards. In the age of computer and wedding fonts, there’s no need to have a professional do the invitations. You can buy card stock anywhere. Instead of inserting an RSVP with envelope, insert a white stamped postcard. This saves on stock and postage.

So maybe you’re not into the hayseed theme, or are a bit skittish about messing with custom. There are still ways to manage a delightful wedding for under a thousand dollars. Barter. If you can, do taxes or create brochures, trade those skills for whatever you can—make-up, hair, tables and chairs, an ice swan.

The only reason to go near a bridal shop is to look in the bridesmaids’ section for your own dress. Some of the lighter, ecru bridesmaid dresses make great gowns. If it fits, buy it and run; bridal shops will sometimes suggest a dress too large so they can alter it. Buy a dress at a consignment shop. Or pick a pattern, buy the material and have it made. All are much cheaper than buying retail at specialty shops. Don’t leave out the prom section of department stores, especially for the bridesmaids’ dresses. They’re less expensive and the look is more original. Or have one maid of honor and one bridesmaid and, if you want a walk on the wild side, just let them wear what they want.

Liquor is not something you can make, nor should you unless one of the skills you can barter has to do with stills, so you may as well splurge. But buy in bulk and make sure you can return unopened bottles. Use a caterer only for the fruit, cracker and cheese and vegetable platter. It adds elegance (not to mention decoration) to what you’re going to do next, which is rent chafing dishes. Yes, you, or you and friends and family, are going to make pan entrees, one vegetarian and one not. They can be cooked a day in advance and hauled easily. This works well only if you have great recipes and can cook for a group of fewer than fifty without needing therapy later.

Instead of hiring a professional photographer, videotape the ceremony and find one decent 35 mm amateur. They abound. Or put disposable cameras on every table and let the guests be creative. It’s fun and interactive and any lab worth its salt can color correct, transfer to black and white and blow up the shots of choice to 10 by 11.

Remember flowers grow outside. No need to spend any more than the gas it takes to get to a field of wildflowers or at least to a grocery store, which is where you will have ordered the tiered wedding cake anyway. It takes a bit of coordination to get the flowers to their destination in time, as their life is fairly short. If you feel the need to use a florist, don’t tell them it’s for a wedding; they may charge more if they know they are arranging for the stressed, the blissful and/or their relatives. Make a tape of your favorite music. It will mean more to you anyway. Intersperse it throughout the day with live music provided by friends.

It is, after all, Nashville.

No one remembers a stuffy wedding. Remind yourself to have fun. Think about the honeymoon in St. Thomas you can afford with what you’ve saved on the wedding or the house you can move into afterwards. At the very least, you got to invite more friends and family than if you splurged on a day that has, well, a fifty-fifty chance of remaining “the best day of your life.”


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